As a Spanish learner, I once faced the awkward situation of thinking I was having a conversation about new potatoes being on the menu, when in fact the hotel manager had diverged from the conversation to give me the news that there was a new Pope! Being in a Catholic Latin American country at the time, I should have been more aware of the context and cultural importance of the vote going on in the Vatican that week. However, my focus was simply on the words. Hence intercultural competence is so important and should not be ignored in the language classroom. It is especially so with English because it facilitates communication between so many people from diverse backgrounds (ELT Position Paper on Global Skills, 2019). Continue reading
Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night) – November 5th is an interesting date in the British celebratory calendar, where sparklers, bonfires and fireworks are all lit in the name of Guy Fawkes. But what’s the real story behind this British cultural event?
Interestingly November 5th has always been a date for celebration, long before the events that unfolded in 1605. But since Guy Fawkes and his accomplices failed to blow-up the houses of parliament, the date is used to mark their failure. It might seem an odd occasion to celebrate, but for 250 years it was the law to remember the failed plot!
The politics of the time are somewhat forgotten in present-day events; now Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire Night is really just a great excuse for a party! But still, the story behind it is well known in Britain, so it’s a great opportunity to get your students accustomed to some British culture as they learn English.
To help you, we have put together a variety of activities that can be used at various levels and with different age groups, including:
- Warm-up rhymes
- Secret mission cards
- Role play activities
- Reading and speaking activities
It’s all available on the *Oxford Teacher’s Club! Click the button below to download your own Guy Fawkes teacher activity pack, and spark some fantastic English dialogue with your class.
*Not a member of the Oxford Teacher’s Club? It’s free, and it only takes minutes to register! Join now and enjoy access to thousands of teaching ideas and activities for all ages.
As Halloween is nearly upon us, teacher trainer Stacey Hughes has been busy creating a collection of ghostly classroom activities for you to use with your class.
It seems that everyone likes a scary story. As autumn days grow shorter and darker, forcing us indoors, this is the perfect time to tell ghost stories.
Ghost stories and tales of the supernatural have been around for centuries and are a feature of nearly every culture. Though many people may not believe in ghosts today, stories about haunted castles, enchanted ruins and spooky spectres are still very popular.
Why do we like to be scared so much? One theory is that frightening stories cause a release of adrenaline which makes us feel a ‘rush’. Adrenaline is the same hormone that is released in a fight or flight situation, and, because there is no real danger, we enjoy this ‘thrill’. So we tell ghost stories around the campfire, go to frightening movies, read chilling novels – all in search of a spine-tingling sensation.
As Halloween approaches…
Why not use this opportunity to incorporate some ghostly language and tasks into your lessons? We have put together a variety of activities that can be used at various levels and with different age groups. We start off with our intermediate instructions and activities, including:
- Scary Collocations
- Ghoulish Word Forms
- Frightful Idioms
- Shadowy Web Quest
- Write your own Ghost Story!
How to use these resources with your class, whether in the classroom or remotely.
The below instructions correspond to the activities listed in the Halloween activity pack above. You can use these ideas to structure your lessons.
1. Introduce the topic of Halloween and find out what students know about it by asking them to respond in the chatbox or turn on their microphones one at a time. Put them into breakout rooms to brainstorm 10 words related to the topic of Halloween. Feed back in plenary.
Ask students why they think stories about ghosts and other scary stories are so popular. Put students back into breakout rooms to discuss, then feed back in plenary.
Choose one or more of the vocabulary activities from the handout to send to the students (via email or uploaded into a shared document folder – Google Classroom, MS Teams, OneDrive, etc). Ask them to use a dictionary to look up the words and complete the exercises. In the next videoconferencing lesson, check answers and follow up with one of the reading or writing activities in the handout.
Record a video to introduce the topic of Halloween, using pictures and introducing related vocabulary. Look directly at the camera as if you are speaking to the students to increase engagement. Give tasks and invite students to pause the video to complete them; for example: Pause the video for 30 seconds and write down all the words you can think of that are related to Halloween. Introduce words in the video, and ask students to post their words in a class forum.
2. Read a Ghost Story Show the cover of a graded reader that is the right level for your students. (see suggestions below). Follow the suggestions in the handout for reading a ghost story. Use breakout rooms or the chat box for student responses. If the story is a long one, do this over several lessons, or ask students to read a chapter or two before the next lesson for discussion. Pair students up and ask them to collaborate (e.g. via Teams, Google Classroom, WhatsApp, or other social channels) to write and record a dialogue between two main characters in the story. Students can then write a news article individually, and ‘publish’ to a class forum (e.g. on Google Classroom, Padlet, etc.)
Here are some readers we suggest you use for this activity, for more ideas check out our catalogue.
- Vampire Killer
- Zombie Attack
- The Real McCoy and Other Ghost Stories
- V is for Vampire
- The Turn of the Screw
- The Pit and the Pendulum and Other Stories
- Voodoo Island
3. Write a Ghost Story
Use one of the Cloze activities as pre-work for the writing activity and follow suggestions for laying the foundations from the handout. Students can start to plan in small breakout groups either in a zoom lesson or a forum or ask them to collaborate in a WhatsApp call to brainstorm ideas for the setting, characters, the scene, and action. Students write the story on their own. For peer review of their first draft give instructions in a video or live videoconference – ask them to comment on the setting, characters, scene, action and climax. Ask students to illustrate and publish their finished stories in a class forum or other shared online space (e.g. Padlet). Some students might like to read their stories or create a video.
Prepare students for the topic on ghosts and introduce them to the idea of a Webquest. A Webquest is an online search to find out information, and you can set one up on webquest.org. Alternatively, send the handout to students. Put them into groups of 3-4. Each person in the group can research different questions within the webquest and feed into a shared document (e.g. on Google Drive, OneDrive or MS Teams), or upload answers into a shared forum or space such as Padlet. After the webquest, use a videoconferencing platform to hold an online discussion about the information they discovered and their reactions to it: Would you stay in a haunted house? Do you believe in ghosts? Why do people like to go on ghost walks?
We also have a variety of activities perfect for beginners and younger learners, including activities such as:
- Finger puppets
- Loot bag
- Make a Halloween Mobile!
Need help planning your digital lessons, or looking for more ideas and fun activities you can do with your class, face-to-face or remotely? Take a look at the tips and resources on this page to help you along the way.
- teaching online focus paper
- guides to teaching young learners online
- guides to teaching teenagers and adults online
Found these resources useful? How did they work for you? Share your experiences with the teaching community by leaving a comment below, or by Tweeting us using the handle @OUPELTGlobal.
Vanessa Reilly, teacher, teacher trainer and OUP author, introduces her upcoming webinar on 27th and 28th May entitled: “Having fun with festivals – cultivating interest in the target culture in your young learner classroom.”
Just how important is the target culture to you when teaching English as a foreign language to young learners? Looking at a language from the point of view of speakers of that language and how they live makes the target language more real, not just a collection of words and sentences to be learnt.
All learners need to be introduced to the target culture, no matter how young or early on in their language learning experience, in order to provide them with the optimum conditions for success.
My webinar will provide an overview of the following:
Target culture in the very young learner and young learner classroom
Very early on in my teaching career, I remember reading Claire Kramsch’s book Context and Culture in Language Teaching, and this statement stuck in my mind:
If… language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching. Cultural awareness must then be viewed as enabling language proficiency… Culture in language teaching is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading and writing.”
So I started to explore:
→ What are the implications for primary age children?
If, as Kramsch proposes, cultural awareness needs to be an integral part of language learning, then I believe that as teachers of English we need to explore the many aspects of English-speaking culture appropriate for all learners, however young the children we teach.
→ What can we do as primary teachers?
We need to look at culture through a child’s eyes and consider what will motivate a Primary child to want to know more about the target culture. Having worked with children for nearly 25 years, I have found even young children are really interested when I talk about what children in English-speaking countries do that is the same or different to their world. I find activities based on festivals very motivational and the children quickly become engaged in the colourful, fun activities; so festivals are usually where I begin to introduce culture into the Pre-school and Primary classroom.
In my upcoming webinar we will look at bringing cultural awareness to young learners through festivals that are important to the everyday lives of children in English-speaking countries. In this very practical session we will investigate stories, songs, games and other mysterious things to enjoy with our Primary children.
Edmund Dudley looks at why it is important for our teenage students to learn about culture in their English lessons.
Millions of young people around the world are currently learning English, making it a truly international language. In addition, many teenagers regularly use English to communicate and interact with others online. This raises a number of questions about the cultural content of any English course for teenagers.
What do we mean by culture in the context of a language lesson?
Let’s begin by thinking about English-speaking countries. Take Britain as an example. When you think about British culture, what springs to mind? What examples could you give? Take a moment to think of three things.
So what did you say? Your answers reveal something about what you think culture is.
Perhaps you chose traditional rituals or ceremonies, such as the Changing of the Guard or carol singing in December; you might have gone for annual events, such as the FA Cup Final, the Notting Hill Festival or Hogmanay.
On the other hand, your examples of British culture might have been more linked to the day-to-day habits and behaviour of ordinary people: leaving the house with wet hair in the morning, queuing at bus stops, or buying ‘rounds’ in pubs.
All of these various aspects of culture are of potential interest to students. Day-to-day activities can be just as revealing as special occasions. If we want to get the full picture of life in English-speaking countries and communities, then thinking about how people eat soup can be just as interesting and revealing as learning about how people celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Whose culture are we talking about?
Given that English is used around the world, should we only be concentrating on the culture of English-speaking countries? Not exclusively. Any meaningful discussion of culture involves comparison and reflection. So, although in the lesson we might be looking at an aspect of life in Ireland, New Zealand, Canada or another English-speaking country, ultimately, however, students are being encouraged to think about themselves and their own culture. And besides, being able to describe aspects of life in your home country to others is a crucial part of sharing cultures and making friends when you are away from home or welcoming guests from abroad.
How can culture get students thinking – and talking?
Culture can be subjective. Think about words such as cold, sweet, crowded, angry, quiet, and dangerous: they are culturally loaded and so it is easy to disagree about what they mean. Take cold, for example. Two people from different countries might have very different views about whether a child playing on a playground swing on a spring afternoon should be wearing a coat or not.
Examples like this can be used as the basis for classroom discussions, role-plays, drama activities – even creative writing tasks. Does the child need a coat or not? Who is right? What does it depend on? And how can the situation best be resolved?
By looking at the situation as a cultural puzzle, we can challenge our students to try and interpret the situation from different cultural perspectives. Promoting empathy with others is not only a great way to promote tolerance and understanding, it also shines a new light on our own beliefs and assumptions. This is what makes dealing with cultural topics so interesting: we sometimes begin to see how the attitudes and values below the surface influence the way we see the world.
Is there now a global teen culture?
Young people are more connected today than ever before – even if they live on different continents. The internet is enabling today’s teenagers to create a shared global cultural identity. What do a teenager in South America and a teenager in Eastern Europe have in common? Well, for starters they are both probably comfortable using technology and also learning English at school. Then you have movies, computer games, apps, pop music and sport – all of which are probably shared tastes. The result is a new kind of international cultural identity: young, online and learning English.
Putting it into practice
Culture is there to be exploited, and our students are the ones who can benefit. Hopefully, they will not only learn something about various parts of the world, but will also gain fresh insights into their own culture and new perspectives on who they are, what they value, and what they aspire to.