Stuart Mill English

How to Learn, How to Teach English


Name: Celebrity (An elaborate game of pulling words out of a hat.)

Time: 30 minutes to 2 hours

Level: Lower Intermediate or above

Prep Time: None

Materials: Pen and Paper

Primary Objective: Review vocabulary

Other Benefits: Improve circumlocution (finding a way to say something when you forget the word)


Ask each student to write three vocab words from the past unit. Write the words on the board (and add any important ones they forgot).

Divide up the words amongst the students. They should write the words on small pieces of paper. On the opposite side of the paper, they should draw a picture of the word.

(It doesn’t matter if the drawings are bad. Drawing will help them remember the words for later and help students describe the words once the game starts.)


Put all the words in a hat. There are two teams and four rounds to the game.

Round 1: Have a student from one team come to the front of the class and draw a word from the hat. Short of actually saying the word, they can say or do anything they want to get their team to guess the word. If they don’t know the word, they should describe the picture.

Once their team guesses the word, they draw another word. They have one minute to get as many as possible. If they pass on a word, there’s a 15 second penalty.

Now, the other team goes for one minute. Go back and forth until all the words are gone. Count how many slips each team got and write the totals on the board. Put all the slips back into the hat.

Round 2: Same as Round 1, but erase all the words from the board before it starts.

Round 3: In this round, students can only say one word to get their teams to guess the word.

Round 4: In this round, students can’t talk at all. They can only use gestures.


Depending on how much time you want to spend on the game, you can cut any step. For instance, you could just choose the words, put them in a hat and go right to the game.

Some students are very quick to draw pictures and others are slower. To avoid the problem of too much downtime for the quick ones, you might not assign all the words on the board right away. Leave some and assign them to the early finishers.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | Lesson Plans | , , , , | 1 Comment

That Belongs in the Kitchen!

This is another one-hour conversation activity. For an introduction to the series, click here. Enjoy.

Name: That Belongs in the Kitchen!

Prep Time: 10 minutes (enough time to collect the materials)

Materials: 15+ kitchen items—the more the better (or pictures/drawings of kitchen items)

Primary Objective: Become familiar with kitchen conversations

Other Benefits: Improve descriptive skills


Pre-Speaking (20 minutes)

Have the students write ten things people often do in a kitchen. Write a few examples on the board before they start (e.g. make eggs, eat pasta, etc.). Tell the students they should be specific. “Cook” is not a good activity. “Cook chicken” is OK. Walk around and monitor them while they write activities.

Now, place all of the kitchen objects where everyone can see them. Also, put a stack of white paper with the objects.

Choose a kitchen activity that you will demonstrate. Pick out the objects that you need to demonstrate the activity and demonstrate it. If the students can’t guess what you’re doing, draw a picture of any missing objects. (For example, if they can’t tell you’re making eggs, draw some eggs.)

Then, ask the students to name the objects that you used. Write the names of the objects on the board.

Do it again. Then, have a few students do it using one of their activities.

Write the names of any unused items on the board.

Speaking #1 (15 minutes)

Distribute the kitchen items to the students. With whatever object(s) they have, they should answer these questions:

Which activities on your list can you do with this object?

What other objects do you need to do this activity?

Model it for them before they start. After they finish with one object, they should pass it to another student. They should repeat the process with all of the kitchen objects.

Speaking #2 (15 minutes)

While the students are passing the objects around, write these questions on the board:

What are the most important things in a kitchen?

What does every kitchen need?

Do you have any unique/strange items in your kitchen?

What is the most interesting thing in your kitchen?

How often do you cook?

Do you like cooking?

Who is the best cook that you know?

How often do you eat dinner with your friends/family?

How often do you eat alone?

Is it a good idea to eat with other people often? Why/Why not?

Is your kitchen clean?

They should discuss these questions in pairs or small groups.

Post-Speaking (10minutes)

Hold up each object and ask the class for several activities that you can do with each object.

Finally, ask the “Speaking #2” questions to various students. Ask follow-up questions as appropriate.


Hide the objects from the students’ view. (For example, put them under boxes or outside the door or just have everyone close their eyes.)

Now, reveal one object to one student (but not to everyone else). The student should describe the object until the class guesses what it is.

For a super long extension (if you’re in a country where English is the main language), you could take a field trip to a restaurant and visit the kitchen.


Ideas for Homework: Prepare a dinner at your home and take pictures of each step. (They can use the cameras on their phones.) At the beginning of the next class, show the pictures in groups and guess what was going on.

Modification for Lower Levels: Reduce the number of objects and only choose the most essential kitchen items. (So, skip the whisk and stick to forks, etc.).

During Speaking #1, change the questions to: What is this object? What do you need this object for? Write sample answers on the board.

During Speaking #2, write sample answers next to the questions.

Modification for Higher Levels: It should still be OK. Make sure to include some lesser know objects (e.g. spatula, spice rack, etc.). You might have the students suggest some more questions for Speaking #2.

Modification for Small Groups: It should be OK. For Speaking #1, you can distribute the objects evenly and then ask the students to ask follow-up questions. It might go a little quicker, so be ready to do the extension.

Modification for Private Lesson: Instead of passing the objects around, you might just trade objects back and forth with your student. You could also go to a restaurant. When your food arrives, make sure to discuss what was needed to make it.

Modification for Different Themes: Just pick objects related to a different theme and change the questions to suit the theme. For instance, if it was clothing unit, you could bring in clothing items. If it was travel unit, you could bring in pictures of different places. For a nature unit, you could bring in plants, pictures of animals and camping supplies.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | Conversation Lesson Plans, Lesson Plans | , , , , , | Leave a comment


What’s circumlocution? Why is important? How can I teach it?

Vladimir was a great student I knew in Russia. Vladimir had terrible grammar (“For me very to like football.”) Vladimir knew maybe (but probably not) 500 words of English. Why was Vladimir a great student? Because Vladimir had great circumlocution skills and that was all he needed.

Circumlocution skills allow a student to find a way to speak despite missing important vocabulary or grammar. Vladimir, when asked what he’d done yesterday evening, replied “I went…big box of water.” Swimming. Got it. “You went swimming?” “Yes, I went swimming.”

Vladimir has a shaky foundation of English, and he won’t be able to express his views on the downfall of the Communist state unless he expands his grammar and vocabulary, but Vladimir can do more with what he has than a lot of students who do have better grammar and vocabulary.

In short, circumlocution lets students get the most out of what they already know.

One other note: Sometimes, you’ll have lessons that are primarily about speaking. The students don’t want to do homework (maybe they’re too busy). Circumlocution is an excellent thing to work on. It might be the only thing worth working on.

Twelve Ways to Teach Circumlocution

First and foremost If students are practicing circumlocution, they need to stop using translating dictionaries during a speaking exercise. The whole point is to get by with what you already have.

Guess the Word Put words that you’ve previously studied on slips of paper and then into a hat. Divide the class into teams. Students should pull slips from the hat and try to get their team members to guess the words. They can do anything short of actually saying the words.

Draw the Word One student should describe a picture and the other student should draw it.

How do you do that? There are some things that we’re all familiar with, but which are really hard to explain in a foreign language. How do you change a light bulb? How do you make eggs? How do you unclog a toilet? These can be essential skills, so they’re even better to practice.

How’s that work? Everyone is familiar with some pretty complex things. See if you can get any of your students to explain stuff like “how does a car engine work?” or “why is the sky blue?” or some other such questions. They’ll have real trouble, but eventually they’ll get there.

Create a Dictionary This is a good long-term project, but the more time students spend writing definitions, the better their circumlocution skills will be.

Favorite Songs Someone once said that writing about music is like dancing about art. They meant it’s really hard to do well. So, why not have your students try this impossible task? They’ll be grasping for words and circumlocuting like mad.

High-Low Pairs Rather than letting your students work with a partner of a similar level, put them with someone who is very far from their level. Give them a set of questions they have to ask. Then, make them report on each other. The high level student will have had to speak more simply for the low-level student to understand. The low level student will have to use circumlocution to report on their partner.

Guess the Movie Have students describe well known movies until their partner guesses the movie.

Hidden Object Bring in a bunch of objects on a theme (kitchen, sports, etc.). Have one student hold the object where the other students can’t see it. They should describe the object until the other students guess what it is.

First Say This Ask the students simple questions like “what’s your favorite color”. They should answer, but the first thing they say should be a line you hand them like “My mother makes the best cookies” or “I’ve never been to Paris”. They should go from the line you hand them to the answer to the question.

Keep It Going Create two characters and put them in a situation. (e.g. a divorced doctor and a hungry businessman are at the zoo). In front of the class, have two students talk to each other as the two characters. After two minutes, two other students should replace them. Repeat it many times.

July 9, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , | 1 Comment