Classroom Posters for the First Day of Class

These are my two favorite classroom posters. They provide great first day of school activities to help students get to know each other. What’s even better is that the bonding and team building goes beyond the first day. All by themselves, students start congregating around these posters to chat and talk about themselves.

The first poster invites students to share some words in their own language. By letting students bring their own language and identity in the classroom, you’re showing that you know they are more than the sum of what they can express in English and that learning English doesn’t mean forgetting their past. One of the big surprises with using this poster is how fast students start teaching each other words using English as their medium, of course. They start demanding to know things in English so they can translate into their own language! Furthermore, students start thinking about register, tone, difficulties of translating, pragmatics, and social context. Breaks and time before or after class will always find a student staring at this poster.


The second poster is a simple world map and I love this one I found with all the flags on it. A simple day one activity is to have students label their country with their name. Then have them look at the map and their classmates’ countries of origin. Get them to form at least one question about one other student’s country, such as what do you eat there, what is the weather like, why is your flag like that. Students find the person they want to ask and briefly share information about their home countries. This is another one that gets students hanging out during breaks, studying who is from where and discussing their countries of origin.


Both posters are for sale in my Teachers Pay Teachers store in multiple sizes: 24 x 36, A2, legal, and letter. Purchase and download the In Your Own Words Poster and the World Flags Map Poster.

The Five Paragraph Essay: Love It or Hate It

There’s been a bit of a debate lately online on the five paragraph essay. It started with this post: Let’s Bury the 5-Paragraph Essay: Long Live Authentic Writing by Brian Sztabnik. Mr. Sztabnik made some good points that I have talked about on this blog before: the 5-Paragraph essay doesn’t really exist outside of the classroom and teaching such a inflexible structure and format to our students does not teach them how to write well. However, Mr. Sztabnik did seem to imply that teaching any kind of structure would be detrimental to our students, which I thought was taking the argument a bit too far.

Robert Sheppard then wrote In Defense of the 5-Paragraph Essay on the TESOL Blog, arguing many good points, but not quite convincing everyone. I wrote a response on my facebook page, which I reproduce below:

This is an interesting post in defense of the five paragraph essay. But it demonstrates the exact reason I dislike the five paragraph essay: the assumption that this structure is the basis of any writing at all outside of the classroom.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teaching the 5-paragraph essay. It’s a great testing or evaluative tool as Sheppard points out. It also might make for a nice brainstorm or pre-writing before creating a finished text.

I also agree with Sheppard that structure or format is not confining. Writing does need to be structured and organized. Authentic writing is always structured and organized. The problem is that the five paragraph essay is structure invented for a writing test. It’s a very teacher-centered structure that makes it easy to grade a particular set of writing skills. However it is not the structure from which other genres and structures vary. A novel is not a variation of a five paragraph essay and neither is an annotated bibliography or a literature review or a diary entry. It is a great teaching and evaluation tool as Sheppard points out and no doubt uses to the benefit of his students.

It’s really not a useful structure for a book review, lab report, business case study, personal letter, reflection paper, business memo, grant proposal, application essay, or any text I can think of except perhaps a speech or sermon, since oral genres tend to require strict organization and repetition to help listeners comprehend the point.

When I discovered the genre approach to writing, promoted in the US by Nigel Caplan and John Swales and Ken Hyland, I saw how to teach students clear organized and beautiful writing by teaching them all the wonderful ways writing is put to use in authentic texts.

And recently when Mr. Sheppard’s post was shared on TESOL’s Second Language Writing IS mailing list, I discovered Nigel Caplan and Luciana C. de Oliveira’s answer to Mr. Shepperd’s post: Why We Still Won’t Teach the 5-Paragraph Essay.

I thought this paragraph:

Contrary to common myths (as Dana Ferris and John Hedgcock demonstrate), the five-paragraph essay does not work as a crutch that students will later discard, it does not teach skills that transfer to “real” academic genres, and it does not even guarantee success on standardized writing tests.

Was particularly interesting. I hadn’t seen any research to that effect but I find unconvincing in many situations the idea that we teach students a very complicated “crutch” or “scaffold” and then expect them to throw it away. I’ll have to add that Dana Ferris and John Hedgcock workbook to my teaching library.

What do you think of the 5-Paragraph Essay?

Then and Now

This is one of my go-to activities for having students compare verb tenses. It’s really nice in that it allows for a lot of flexibility on which tenses you want to practice. You can limit it to the present and past simple or throw in the present perfect and continuous tenses. You could even work the future in.

The activity involves students sharing details of their lives from the present and another time period. This requires them to pay attention to meanings of various verb tenses as they relate to times of events, changes or lack of changes, and how verb tenses relate to each other.

Then and Now- The Differences Between Past and Present Lesson Plan

Listening and Speaking Activities for Adult ESL Learners

I love large compendiums of activity ideas. Resource books full of simple, easy to adapt activities are the lifeblood of teaching in my opinion. And if there happens to be a free resource, available on the Internet so I can access it anywhere, that’s even better!

So here’s a really nice one put out by the Colorado Department of Education: Listening and Speaking Activities for Adult ESL Learners 

The resource also shows how the activities align to the BEST Plus Assessment and CASAS Listening Basic Skills Content Standards. Fortunately, as a private teacher I don’t have to worry about that stuff but it’s a nice way to get an idea of what exact speaking or listening skill is involved.

Whose Is It? An activity to practice possessive pronouns | English with Jennifer

This is another collection of activities to practice possessive pronouns. The one described in the post is really fun. I’ve done things like it before. I’ve even done variations where I just take stuff off of student’s desks, which makes them laugh very hard (and can be a great way to bust a student who is reading a book in class or texting on their cellphone).

The one I ended up adapting is the “Whose Is It?” handout and it’s just been updated to be more workable online, which is nice. But it would make a great in-class exercise as well.

Whose Is It? An activity to practice possessive pronouns | English with Jennifer

It's Not Mine, It's His: 3 Powerful Possessive Activities

When I was looking for an exercise on teaching possessive pronouns, I came across this page with some really nice ideas. I like Busy Teacher because it has some nice generic adaptable ideas for activities like this one:

It’s Not Mine, It’s His: 3 Powerful Possessive Activities

I really liked the Goofy Cards. But then I love any activity that has students making sentences or stories with minimal prompts. And if those sentences turn out to be silly, so much the better.

Free Getty Images

Getty Images’ embed feature lets you share images on blogs and social media. Embed photos and get attribution links already formatted for you.

Source: Find Images for Blogs & Social Media with Embed | Getty Images

I was not aware that Getty Images gives you access to their images, photographs and pictures if you want to use them non-commercially. I wouldn’t try to use them on my blog as I do sell some lessons here. The other limitation is that you have to embed them, so you can’t download them and use them.

However, you can download a small, comp image of any Getty Image if you want to spec an image and have your editor see what you have in mind. This might not work perfectly if you need the image to be quite large . The comp images are pretty small and stamped with a watermark. Obviously you are expected to buy the actual image for proper use.

Still it’s nice to have another resource of quality, free images for bloggers.