Stuart Mill English

How to Learn, How to Teach English

Website Review:

In short: One of the five best ESL sites on the internet. They have everything. They’ve been putting out great material for 15 years and let’s hope they never stop. Their own menu bar says it all: Articles, Lessons, Techniques, Questions, Games, Jokes, Things for Teachers, Links, and Activities for Students.

The site is organized perfectly. There’s no distracting advertising. If you have a slow connection, this site will still load quickly. What more could you want?

For students: The “Activities for Students” button will take you to this site, There, you’ll find many fun things you can do to improve your English.

For teachers: You can learn from the articles and use the lessons, techniques, etc. Why not contribute as well? See if you can get an article published. You’ll learn a lot while preparing it and give a little back to the community of teachers and students around the world.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning Styles and Lesson Planning

Learning Styles and Lesson Planning

Some thoughts on learning styles and four activities for the classroom

The truth that different people have different learning styles seems pretty darn self-evident. If you think about yourself, you can probably pretty quickly decide if, for instance, images (visual learner) help you when learning. Or maybe songs and sounds (auditory learner) stay with you easily.

Fine and dandy. But what does it mean for the ESL classroom? If you’re exclusively teaching cellists how to speak English, then you can probably build a bunch of auditory lesson plans and everyone will be happy. Most classrooms, though, will have a mix of styles.

So, you need to try to incorporate lots of different styles into your lessons. In much the same way that not every student needs every explanation you give, not every student will get the most out of each activity. But they’ll all benefit more than if you only taught to one learning style or didn’t think about learning styles at all.

Moreover, thinking about learning styles is an easy way to increase the number of memorable moments in the classroom. Memorable moments are the funny or interesting or emotional moments in a classroom that the students will remember the next day—and hopefully attach the target language to. Pictures, sounds, and objects are all likely to coincide with memorable moments.

Finally, thinking about learning styles is an easy way to break lesson plan writer’s block. If you’re in a rut and need some new ideas, focusing on learning styles is a nice way to get yourself out of the rut and put some fresh ideas into your classroom. In other words, “how do I teach the past tense?” can be tricky. “How do I teach the past tense in a visual way” is easier.

To review, if you’re always thinking about learning styles, three things will happen:

  1. You’re students will learn more because their learning style will be used at least sometimes.
  2. Your classes will be more memorable.
  3. It’ll be easier for you to come up with activities. You won’t get stuck because you’ll have a way to start thinking about how to make activities.

To illustrate the point, below are four of the big things we teach in the classroom (vocabulary, speaking, writing, and grammar) and an activity inspired by thinking about learning styles.


Visual Style: Give each student three to five new words. If you have access to a computer lab, have your students go into the lab and do a Google image search for their words. They should click on one of the pictures and write a sentence or two that describes it and uses the targeted vocab word. (For instance, if they Google “width”, they might see an image of a ruler under a nose. They could write “The width of the nose was 1.5 inches.” When everyone finishes, return to the classroom and have the students describe the pictures they saw.

Notes: It’s a good idea to not distribute all the words right away. Then, when some students finish quickly, you have some extra words to give them.

If you don’t have a lab, you can also give this as homework and have the students report on it for the next class.

Instead of searching on the internet, students might search through magazines and find pictures related to their words.


Physical Style and Visual Style: Bring in a deck of cards and think of four topics that you’d like the students to speak about. For example, you could use this for a review day and have them speak about four topics you’ve already covered in class. Explain what hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades are. Draw the symbols on the board. Next to the symbols, write the topics you’d like them to discuss. Ask the students for an example discussion question on each topic and write those on the board too.

Now, walk around the room and have each student draw two cards. Depending on the suit they get, they should write discussion questions on that topic. You’ll probably have extra cards. Students who finish quickly, should draw more cards until everyone has written at least two questions.

Once everyone has written their questions, everyone should stand up and find someone to ask their questions to. Their partner should draw one of the student’s cards to determine the order of the questions. After they’ve asked and answered, they should find someone new to ask their questions to. Repeat it as many as times you can.

Click here to read about this activity in more detail.

And click here for another Physical activity using origami fortune tellers.


Logical Style: Writing an introduction to an essay can be tricky for students. This is especially so because the common English way to write an introduction (triangle pointing down, from general to specific) is often very different from how introductions are written in other languages. A Russian introduction, for instance, is more like a star. (If that doesn’t make any sense, then now you know how your students feel.)

So it can be helpful if they have a fill-in-the-blank (logical) method for writing their introductions.

Explain to the students that the introduction should look like this:

First sentence: Introduce the general topic. (e.g. Lots of people love animals.)

Second sentence: Narrow the topic towards the specific question. (e.g. Dogs and cats are the two most popular animals in the world.)

Third sentence: State the exact question that the essay will address. (e.g. It is an interesting question: Is it a good idea to own a pet?)

Fourth sentence: State your exact opinion on the topic (thesis). (e.g. I firmly believe that owning a pet is a good thing.)

Note that the example sentences aren’t the most amazing sentences and the introduction isn’t the most amazing introduction. This is on purpose. The examples you give should make the structure clear. It’s easier to do that with simple sentences. You’re not teaching them style write now. You’re teaching them a structure, so focus on it.

After presenting the whole thing, take a step back and have the students practice writing sentence three, sentence four, sentence one, and sentence two (in that order because they get progressively harder). Then have them practice writing whole introductions. Give them topics that match what you’ve been working on in class.

Note: The memory is a little fuzzy, but this idea was probably inspired by Cambridge’s TOEFL Prep book, which is excellent and can be found here.


Auditory Style: Playing a song can be great, especially if the targeted grammar is in the song. The song “If I Had a Million Dollars” by Bare Naked Ladies is super for teaching present unreal/second conditional.

You’ll, of course, first need to get the song. If you have a laptop, you can just load the video on YouTube before going to class.

Before introducing the structure of the conditional, play the song for the class. It’s a wonderful thing to do at the beginning as a warm-up activity. The students can just listen to English for a few minutes and allow their brains to switch into English-mode (so to speak).

Now have the students all write down twenty things they want to do, but can’t because they don’t have enough money. Model it on the board by writing: I want to go to France, but I can’t. I don’t have enough money. I want to buy an airplane, but I can’t. I don’t have enough money.

While the students work, on the top of the board, write: If I had a million dollars…

Then, below it write the following phrases:

  • I’d buy you a house
  • I’d buy you an airplane
  • I’d buy you forty cars
  • I’d buy your love
  • I’d build a tree fort in our yard
  • I’d take a spaceship to the stars
  • Well, I’d buy you a fur coat
  • Well, I’d buy you a new mobile phone
  • We wouldn’t have to walk to the store
  • We’d take a limousine ’cause it costs more
  • Well, I’d buy you a green dress
  • Well, I’d buy you France
  • Well, I’d buy you a monkey
  • I’d be rich

Play the song twice more. Students should write down the phrases they hear in the song. Most of the ones on the board are in the song, but not all of them. And there are some in the song that aren’t on the board.

Review which ones were right.

Now show the students how to change their sentences into the conditional. (e.g. I want to buy an airplane, but I can’t. I don’t have enough money becomes “If I had a million dollars, I’d buy an airplane.”

Next, explain the structure of the second conditional (i.e If+past simple, modal+bare infinitive) and show them some other uses. (e.g. If I saw a bear, I would run. If I met the president, I would tell him to lower taxes. Etc.) Then, explain that it is for impossible situations and the result.

Finally, have students write some of their own examples.

(If you’d like to learn more about learning styles, this is a pretty good site.)

July 1, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment