Songs In the Key Of ELT – Wish I Was Skinny

An occasional series of lesson ideas using songs you’re not likely to hear in a coursebook…


Artist: The Boo Radleys
Song: Wish I Was Skinny

Written by: Carr, Martin, James


Wishing I was skinny
Wishing that the whole world knew my name
Wishing I was thrilling, that I would never be to blame
Wishing I was kissing a girl with lips smooth as pearl
Wishing I was pretty
Wish that I could twist the world ’round my finger
Wishing I had money, wishing for the time to spend it all
Wishing I was pretty
Wish that I could twist the world ’round my finger
But I would always love you

I guess that would never change

Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Objective: Practicing wishes and regrets

1) Before you play the song, ask the students to get the gist of it on the first listen. What’s it about? Can you hear any words or phrases?

2) See how much they are able to get from the song. Obviously what they get depends on their listening ability, and even at an advanced level I wouldn’t expect them to get much more than a fragment of the idea.

3) Share some of the key vocabulary from the song. In my class I wrote it on the board, but you could use this Wordle if you have the means.

Play the song again and ask the students to note down as many of the singers wishes as they can, using the vocabulary to help them.

4) Check to see how they did in understanding what he was wishing for. This is their chance to really comprehend the song, so use the time to discuss what the wishing phrases mean:
Wishing I was skinny – I wish I was slim (and therefore attractive)
Wishing that the whole world knew my name – I wish I was famous
Wishing I was thrilling – I wish I was exciting
That I would never be to blame – I wish I could do anything I wanted, without consequences
Wishing I was kissing a girl with lips smooth as pearl – I wish I could could kiss a really pretty girl with really smooth lips
Wishing I was pretty – I wish I was attractive (unusual for a man to describe himself as “pretty”)
Wish that I could twist the world ’round my finger – I wish I could make everyone do whatever I want

Wishing I had money, wishing for the time to spend it all – I wish I had lots of time to spend lots of money (suggests he doesn’t want to work)

5) Now they know what the song is about, ask them to write down the singers wishes in a variety of ways. My students were revising ‘wishes and regrets’, so they wrote things like:

“He wishes he was better looking.”

“He regrets eating so many donuts.”

“He thinks “If only I could meet a pretty girl”.”

6) Because this was a revision activity, I stopped there, but you could then go on to ask your students to write their own wishes and regrets at this point.


Fake news – a lesson plan

Fake news, post-truth, and alternative facts are three buzz terms that seem to sum up this strange time we live in. It’s something that fascinates me, and as a language teacher I feel that I’m in a position where I can not only discuss this with my students of all ages, but also help them to become more critical in how they interact with the news that comes their way.

This is essentially what I have been arguing in my talk English Teaching in the Post-Truth Era which so far I have done at conferences in Brazil, the UK and Belgium. In order to support the talk I have prepared a lesson plan to be used with teen and adult students, as well as many of the resources and articles I mention in the talk. The lesson is designed to introduce students to the notion of fake news and teach them some strategies to become better, more critical readers. It is adapted from a lesson plan by the Anti-Defamation League (link) with elements taken from here.

Fake news – lesson plan

Fake news – lesson powerpoint

Note: I haven’t included any explicit language activities as the plan is designed to be used with a variety of ages and levels. I think there are numerous opportunities to include language points in the lesson depending on the needs of your learners. My suggestions are introducing relevant news and internet related vocabulary at the beginning; functional language to discuss advantages and disadvantages (before slide 4); more specific lexis related to websites (links, hyperlinks, gifs, menus etc) (before slide 6); any interesting or difficult vocabulary that emerges from the video, or you think needs to be pre-taught for lower levels.

Useful links

Teaching Resources

ET Professional article with plenty of links and resources for teachers
My lesson plan for brelt using a fake news story
Global Digital Citizen Foundation
IFLA “How to spot fake news” infographic
Project Look Sharp
Help Save The Endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
Scott Bedley on teaching his students to become fact-checkers
Tyson Seburn on Fake News

Resources for lesson activities

Uberfacts Twitter page
Some examples of April Fool’s pranks
Newsela – reliable news stories for young people
The Onion – satirical fake news


Evaluating information: the cornerstone of civic online reasoning (An executive summary by Stanford History Education Group)
News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016 (by Pew Research Center)

Fact Checkers

Politifact (US Politics)
The Washington Post Fact Checker (US politics)

Post Truth and Fake News

Oxford Word of the Year
Yellow News
Fake news in Brazil
Teach fake news says OECD
Wikipedia on the Daily Mail
Snopes on the Fukushima Daisies
Facebook on fake news

I will attempt to keep this list up to date. If you would like to recommend a resource or let me know that a link is broken, leave a comment below.

I’ve Heard of TTT vs STT, But What Does That Really Mean?

This article was originally posted on the BELTA blog.

A few years ago I wrote this cheeky post, reminding teachers that sometimes it’s a good idea to shut up for a while. I’m returning to this idea in a slightly more reflective way due to this post on Brainpickings about the twentieth-century novelist, poet, playwright, and psychiatrist Paul Goodman who examined “the nine types of silence present in life” in his 1972 book Speaking and Language.

Goodman says:

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”

In our training as teachers we are often told about the balance between teacher talk time (TTT) versus student talk time (STT), but I think this is far too simplistic. For a start, it forgets about silence. Silence is an essential part of any lesson and the idea of getting to the end of a lesson without any of it sounds horrible to me.

Apologies to anyone reading this who teaches young learners as I have a feeling you may be scoffing at this idea. I teach adults and teenagers, so this is a realistic goal for me.

Our students have to be silent for a number of reasons. There are times when they need to listen attentively, whether it’s to you, to another student or to audio or video. They will probably have to do some reading or writing at some point, even if it’s only for a moment to complete an activity or to read a grammar explanation. Perhaps the most difficult one for teachers and other students is the thinking time some students need when asked a question. Extraordinary levels of patience can be required to wait without rushing in.

I also think that the idea of STT and TTT are too basic. What kinds of STT and TTT are taking place? Here are some possibilities.


  • Student talks to class very briefly (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer)
  • Student talks to class briefly (e.g. Answers a question in the coursebook with a sentence)
  • Student talks to class for medium duration (e.g. Answers the question “How was your weekend?”)
  • Student talks to class in long form (e.g. Gives a presentation on a subject)
  • Student interviews a partner using pre-prepared questions
  • Student has a conversation with partner with no preparation
  • Student has a conversation with the teacher
  • Student repeats phrases (drilling)
  • Student participates in a group discussion
  • Student leads a group discussion
  • Student talks about something irrelevant to the lesson to another student, possibly in L1


  • Teacher engages one student in spontaneous conversation
  • Teacher leads a group conversation
  • Teacher offers ‘hot correction’ during a productive activity
  • Teacher answers a student question on language
  • Teacher answers a student question on culture
  • Teacher answers a student question on something irrelevant to the objectives of the lesson
  • Teacher explains a grammar point
  • Teacher explains how vocabulary is actually used in the real world

… and I’m sure there are more examples.

All of these exchanges are potentially worthwhile in a lesson, and equally there are times when they are inappropriate. In order to evaluate whether we are using the student’s time productively, we need to have a better understanding of exactly what is happening in that period of STT or TTT. There are times when a teacher spending a few minutes to make sure his students really understand what is going on is very valuable, but if he or she doesn’t know when to stop and continues rambling on for too long, it has become a problem. Equally, we want our students to produce as much as possible, but if they ‘over-produce’ and don’t allow other students a chance (and we’ve all had those students…), we’ll have to step in and do something about it.

Also missing from the equation are other forms of input such as recorded audio and video (from both authentic sources and from coursebooks), and listening to other students (if we think of this as being from a student’s point of view) which should also be taken into account.

All of these inputs and outputs need to be assessed in the same light – are they justified? Is this the right time for this to be happening, and if yes, for how long? If no, what should I be doing instead? A more nuanced approach to TTT vs STT will lead to more reflective, analytical, and ultimately, better teachers.

This article was originally posted on the BELTA blog.

150 ELT blog post ideas for when you’ve hit writers block

sts work copy 2

I saw this list the other day, and I thought it was perfect for adapting for ELT bloggers. So I present, ripe and ready for your Pinterest board… 150 ELT blog post ideas for when you’ve hit writers block

  1. Product review – something you use in the classroom which isn’t a book
  2. Describe your perfect classroom
  3. Describe your perfect student
  4. Describe your perfect boss
  5. Invite someone to do a guest post (but only if they have a track record or you trust them)
  6. Tell us who you are. Who you really are.
  7. Top 5 resources
  8. A day in your life
  9. Or a day in someone else’s life
  10. Write about the ELT scene in your country
  11. An activity idea
  12. Top 10 blogs you read
  13. Wishlist – what would change about ELT if you could?
  14. What’s your favourite app to use in class?
  15. What’s your inspiration?
  16. How do use photos in the classroom?
  17. 5 go-to activities
  18. Describe project work with students
  19. Last minute lesson ideas
  20. What’s in your teacher’s bag? In other words, what do you take to every class?
  21. What’s on your phone, apart from apps, that you use in the classroom?
  22. Top 5 apps
  23. Can you use apps like Instagram in the classroom, or is it not worth it?
  24. Five things that make your students happy
  25. What’s your recipe for the perfect class?
  26. Is there a difference in teaching in the daytime to the night time?
  27. Blogging tips
  28. 20 Facts about yourself
  29. Quick & easy homework ideas
  30. Does it matter what you wear to teach?
  31. Songs you use with your students
  32. Fitness & health tips for teachers
  33. Have a clear out
  34. Teacher of the day / week / month / year
  35. Review of a conferencests work copy 4
  36. Places to watch webinars
  37. How you stay organised
  38. 5 Things you learned this week
  39. Seasonal post eg. favourite Halloween lesson ideas
  40. Do you have a routine?
  41. Teach paperless
  42. How to eat well quickly
  43. How you choose your photos
  44. Behind the scenes of your blog
  45. Why you started blogging
  46. An experience/story you went through
  47. An old favourite activity that never lets you down
  48. Tell us about a time it went wrong
  49. Disappointing things about teaching
  50. Monthly favourites
  51. Your teachers bucket list
  52. Favourite places to get away from work, online or offline
  53. React to another blog post
  54. 10 quotes you love
  55. The moment when everything changed
  56. The awkward student
  57. Top budget book buys
  58. A post about methodologies you don’t use
  59. Blogging goals or resolutions
  60. Favourite TV series’ for students to improve their listening
  61. What you did in your first year as a teacher
  62. How do you treat yourself?sts work copy
  63. A recent event you attended
  64. Is it different teaching in winter as opposed to summer?
  65. Blogging advice/your success
  66. How you promote your blog
  67. A personal post about something you deal with
  68. The unteachable student
  69. How you achieve clear instructions
  70. Favourite writing topics
  71. Campaign to change things for the better
  72. Interview a professional/blogger
  73. Professional inspirations
  74. Where should I work?
  75. Crafting in the classroom
  76. Things you’ve learned since turning __
  77. Gift ideas for teachers
  78. Currently trending
  79. A new release
  80. Working at home
  81. Places you want to teach
  82. How to develop online for free
  83. How to make a class go smoothly
  84. How to manage time
  85. How to stop your students from falling asleep
  86. Things to do when you’re bored of teaching
  87. Then & now pictures
  88. Your school experience
  89. Things you’d tell your younger self
  90. Guilty pleasures
  91. Book review
  92. Books to read
  93. Affordable software
  94. How to curb unhealthy habits in your teaching
  95. How to curb unhealthy habits in your students
  96. How to overcome writers block
  97. What is currently inspiring you
  98. How to teach ____
  99. Recently watched presentations
  100. What blogging has taught you
  101. Favourite stationery
  102. A before & after
  103. Find an influence from outside ELT
  104. Underrated & overrated ideas in ELT
  105. What does every student need to learn?
  106. Write something funny
  107. Write something in a different person’s voice
  108. 10 life lessons
  109. Job interview tips
  110. DIY activities
  111. Places you’ve traveled to in the classroom
  112. Highlight milestones, launches & important events
  113. Share a free resource
  114. Flashback post on your life
  115. The best advice you’ve receivedsts work copy 3
  116. Pros & cons post
  117. A diary entry
  118. An open letter
  119. A link roundup
  120. An FAQ
  121. A beginners guide to blogging
  122. Tips for improving your instructions
  123. What I learned from ___
  124. Your process for creating & publishing blog posts
  125. How to make money blogging*
  126. A free printable worksheet
  127. A comparison post (eg Dogme vs Demand High)
  128. Your blogging mistakes
  129. New methodology ideas
  130. Tell us a story
  131. A tradition of yours
  132. Products every teacher has to own
  133. Summarise an #eltchat
  134. The best ways to teach vocabulary
  135. Grammar – overrated or the backbone of language learning?
  136. Your workplace
  137. How you improved (or need to improve) your boardwork
  138. A new routine
  139. How to get ready for a class in 10 minutes
  140. A 5 minute activity
  141. Favourite youtubers/youtube videos
  142. Top 5 websites to learn from ____
  143. How important are qualifications, really?
  144. Let’s collaborate
  145. Thoughts on learning online
  146. How do you deal with new students arriving during a course?
  147. How to switch off and relax
  148. ELT specialities – have you taught something or someone not many people have?
  149. Why bother testing?
  150. Revisit and rewrite an old blog post

And don’t ever say you’ve got nothing to write about again!

*Let me know if you write this one 😉

Thanks to my pal Daniela Sanchez Medina for the drawings.

Book review – 50 Activities For The First Day Of School


50 Activities For The First Day Of School, published by Alphabet Publishing, is, as the title suggests, a highly practical resource book for teachers looking for ways to add some variety to their first day activities. The author, Walton Burns, has created this ebook as a handy guide containing a variety of tasks mainly for lower level learners, although they are easily adaptable for all abilities and ages. In fact, one of the book’s main strengths is the flexibility the activities have, and it’s easy to imagine them being tweaked for use in any lesson.

Walton starts with the most famous of first day activities, Getting To Know You. This is such a classic of English teaching, you could forgive him for a lack of originality. And while he does include familiar tasks like Find Someone Who…, he also includes more unusual tasks like Snowball Fight, where learners write questions and throw them around the classroom, and Time Capsule in which students leave messages for themselves to open at the end of the course (the version of this involving filming interviews with the students which they watch on the last day I found particularly interesting). As a result, I found this chapter to be full of great ideas, ready for use by teachers. 

The second chapter looks at Assessing and Evaluating, and includes ways of encouraging the students to produce in English with whatever they are able in order to allow the teacher to get a sense of their level. Personally, I’ve never done specific activities with this in mind, preferring to get a sense of the students’ level over time, but I enjoyed these tasks and I think they have a lot of potential, particularly with lower levels.

The final chapter contains 6 activities for setting the tone in a course, a crucial and easily underestimated part of a first lesson. While I enjoyed the activities he included, I felt that this chapter could perhaps have been expanded to include a greater variety of tasks.

This minor criticism aside, the book is a very good resource for teachers, particularly those in the first few years of their careers, looking to add some variety to their lessons. It’s always a good idea to have a suite of activities to rely on, but these tasks can easily become stale. Walton Burns book is a great help in keeping your first day activities fresh and motivating for your learners.

The ebook is available here. It is accompanied by a support website containing online resources including printouts. Find out more about the author Walton Burns here.

Songs In The Key Of ELT – New York I Love You

It’s time for the third part of my extremely occasional series of lesson ideas based on songs, especially the kind of songs that don’t usually appear in coursebooks. Here’s a track by one of my favourite bands of all time…

Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Song: New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
Written by: James Murphy


New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

Like a rat in a cage
Pulling minimum wage
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, you’re safer
And you’re wasting my time
Our records all show
You are filthy but fine
But they shuttered your stores
When you opened the doors
To the cops who were bored
Once they’d run out of crime
New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing
Your mild billionaire mayor’s
Now convinced he’s a king
So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect
In the neighborhood bars
I’d once dreamt I would drink
New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out
There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout
Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall
New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
Like a death of the heart
Jesus, where do I start?
But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown
And oh.. Take me off your mailing list
For kids that think it still exists
Yes, for those who think it still exists
Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
Maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And just maybe you’re right
And Oh..
Maybe mother told you true
And they’re always be something there for you
And you’ll never be alone
But maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And just maybe she’s wrong
Maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And if so, is there?

Handout: here
Level: Intermediate / Advanced

1) Ask if any of your students have been to New York. If they have, ask them to share their experience (if they haven’t, skip to 2). Make a note of any descriptive language the student(s) use to describe the city and put it on the board when they’ve finished. 

2) Ask the students to write down as many words and phrases as they can to describe New York. If you have students who have been there, you can ask them to add to what you’ve already written. If they haven’t, elicit a few suggestions and put them on the board first before asking them to add to them.

3) Collect their suggestions and go through them, making sure the meaning is understood and the students have an idea of how they are used. A quick online search brought up these suggestions, although if you have students who are this good there’s probably not much point teaching them!

If you want to, you can go into some quite detailed language work at this point. If you think the learners would benefit from this kind of work, I say go for it.

4) Tell the students they will hear a song about New York. Ask them to listen and think about the singers opinion of the city. Take feedback as a class. They will probably only have a rough idea of what he is singing about, but hopefully the tone of his voice should suggest disappointment. They may also understand the idea of ‘bringing me down’. Or they may just hear “New York, I love you” and not hear the rest of the line. Either way, it’ll be interesting.

5) Looking at the words to this song in the Oxford 3000 text checker, there are very few individual words that I think the students would find difficult, but together as phrases, I think it becomes a lot more tricky. 


For example:

shuttered your stores
New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing 
(he’s being sarcastic)
So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect 
(there are many boring people now in the city, he knows this sounds disrespectful and he doesn’t mind)
There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout
(there are plenty of good things, but there are a lot of bad things too)
Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall
(a reference to New York’s small and intimate living spaces, it means that you know bad things are happening even if you can’t see them)

There’s a lot of ambiguity, double meaning, irony, dark humour and cultural referencing here, so I don’t think it’s worth spending a lot of time on the vocabulary. You can explain some of the phrases if you wish, but I don’t think the students need a detailed understanding of the song, rather they should use it as a springboard to reflect on the complexity of living not just in a big city, but anywhere.  So next I’d give them the handout of the lyrics and play the song again, asking them to underline any phrases that demonstrate how he feels about New York.

6) After listening, I hope they would notice the following phrases:

bringing me down
wasting my time
freaking me out

Those are the ones I think are particularly worth talking about with the learners.

7) Ask the students what they think he means by the phrase

But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown

(But despite everything, he knows that NYC is the only place where he can live. Also notice how he sings “Maybe I’m wrong” and “Maybe I’m right”, which suggests that he can’t make up his mind.)

8) Ask the students if they identify with the singer when they think about where they live. Ask them to divide a piece of paper into two columns, and write 5 things they love about their city / town / village etc in one column, and 5 things they don’t in the other.

9) Ask them to share with a partner and discuss the similarities and differences. When they’ve finished, put all their ideas on the board, also in two columns, and together identify the recurring themes.

10) Put students in groups of threes or fours (not including their previous partner) and ask them to discuss the issues raised by these lists. Do they think there is anything specific that can be done to improve the negatives and maintain the positives? You could extend this into a project where they identify problems where they live and suggest a plan of action.

To see more of my Songs In The Key Of ELT, click here.

Book review: Punctuation…? by User Design


Readers of this blog will remember a previous post in which I argue that punctuation errors by students shouldn’t be ignored…

There is a temptation to ignore (punctuation errors) which must be resisted, I think. It’s very easy to think that the priority must be the vocabulary and grammar, and while I would agree with that, it doesn’t have to come at the expense of form. If the students are writing in the first place, they need to understand that in a professional capacity, which is how most students will use their writing abilities in English, poor writing can create a lasting and damaging impression.

So you can imagine how pleased I was when I had the opportunity to get my hands on the book Punctuation…? by User Design. The book is a handy and accessible guide to the rules of punctuation, accompanied by witty and original illustrations.

Each chapter describes how different punctuation marks, from the often confusing apostrophe to the underemployed semicolon, are used in text that clearly and directly explains the rules. As a teacher, I particularly appreciated the straightforward nature of the descriptions and in this respect the book is an excellent resource for teachers who wish to have a quick and easy reference for checking students work and explaining the functions and use of punctuation marks to their students.

I also enjoyed some of the more esoteric punctuation marks described. These include the pilcrow, guillemets and the interpunct. Admittedly, these aren’t very useful for your everyday teacher, but if you’re a bit of a word nerd, you’ll find them interesting.

What sets the book apart from other reference books are the illustrations. Each entry is accompanied by a series of humorous drawings which provide the reader with an amusing visual representation of the rules and examples in the text. I especially enjoyed the apostrophe snakes and the colon footballers, but any of the David Shrigley or Spike Milligan-esque figures with their long noses and longer limbs are a part of the unique look of the book.


All in all, I’d recommend Punctuation…? as a handy guide for teachers who need a convenient guide to that most underrated aspect of English writing, punctuation.

To find out more about Punctuation…? click here to go to their website where you can see more images and find out all the places it can be bought.