Letting Them Be Experts


This is my reflection on the latest 30 goals challenge: Let Them Be Stars proposed by Cristina Monteiro Silva.

I remember a colleague once saying that we almost watch our students grow up as they go from level to level. When they start out in the beginner and elementary levels, their language skills are so low, they seem like children. As their language improves, they “grow older and older”. At the time, I thought there was some truth in that, but later as I reflected on it, I thought about how condescending that sounded. How hard it is not to condescend to someone who doesn’t speak your native language as well as you do. Why are we teachers shocked when we learn that Habib who can’t conjugate the verb “to be” is speaks Arabic, Chinese, French and German, has a PhD in engineering, and runs his own company? Would you want to be treated like a child if you went to Russia to learn Russian? I think Cristina came up with a lot of great ways we as teachers can remember that our students may not speak fluent English (or be the ideal student) but they are still often accomplished people.

My favorite method was #4:

#4 With older students I have another suggestion:  Assess their speaking skills and simultaneously let them be the STARS. For 10m they can talk about anything they want. They prepare their presentation at home and can use whatever multimedia they wish (powerpoint, prezi) if they wish. As they choose themes they’re usually good at they feel more motivated and at the same time impress their peers with the knowledge they have about a specific subject.

I once did something like this in the framework of an activity called The Expert Game with high school students in Kazakhstan. It was truly amazing to listen to them talk. Even at the age of 16, some of them had accomplished so much. One girl was a competitive ballroom dancer. Another was a model. One guy did hip hop dancing. I had artists, singers, academic competition champions sitting in that classroom and not even known it. Of course, some of them talked about playing video games or their favorite movie, which is ok too. It was surprising how much they knew about their hobbies. For nine months I had struggled and fought with them to pay attention and do their homework (this was an extracurricular class in high school that parents paid for separately and I couldn’t give them grades so there was little motivation to pay attention).

I do think that letting them open up and tell me about their lives showed them that I was interested in them as human beings. Certainly they loved talking about themselves and I really did enjoy getting past that teacher-student conflict that seemed never-ending! So I think letting students share their talents in one way or another really does build strong rapport and let you get to the teaching part of your job.

Apple Pie and Ice Cream

Last year, Tailor Made English put up a lesson plan competition to plan a lesson for a classroom where the power had gone out 5 minutes before class. I was working on something about intonation and emotion but never finished it in time for the contest. I just found my notes so I thought I’d share them. These are just notes, so they’re a little sketchy.

I decided to challenge myself beyond the original challenge and imagine a pitch-black classroom! I was thinking that a classroom where students couldn’t see each other was a perfect opportunity to practice intonation. Students can’t use notes or body language or facial expressions. They have to make their voice work. To implement this in a normal classroom you could:

  • turn out the lights.
  • have students sit in a circle facing out
  • blindfold students, if that’s comfortable.
  • have them pinky swear that they will not open their eyes.

Warm Up

First, students need to be able to recognize each other’s voices. So pick students at random to 1) say an odd fact about themselves. Students have to guess who is speaking….

If you are intrigued by this idea, please check out the complete activity at Intonation and Speaking Skills in Dialogue on my Teachers Pay Teachers Store!

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Is there any better place to turn to start a discussion of a holiday than the Charlie Brown special about it? This comprehension and discussion lesson plan has students watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, discuss the true meaning of Christmas, and also be introduced to traditions like the Christmas pageant and snowball throwing!

Note: This video does quote the Bible and while it does not preach, the religious meaning of Christmas is referenced as are parts of the birth of Christ. Some students might not be comfortable discussing such things so do be sensitive.


  • Students will learn about traditions surrounding Christmas in America.
  • Students will be able to discuss different meanings of Christmas.
  • Students will be able to discuss the commercialization of Christmas
  • Students will have fun watching a fun cartoon.

This lesson plan has been moved to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. You can purchase and download the complete A Charlie Brown Christmas Lesson Plan there, including a guide to the video, key vocabulary, comprehension and discussion activities and ideas for extension.

What Happened Here? Another VoiceThread Mystery

I still think this is one of the best ways to use voicethread, to put up odd pictures and scenes and have students leave speculations on it. So here’s a scene I ran across the other day at the shopping mall. Feel free to comment away with theories and ideas.

Discussion Lines

A month ago, I wrote about a way to do discussions (Pyramid Discussion), so continuing the theme of explaining some basic techniques that can be applied to a variety of situations, here’s my second favorite way to do discussions: Discussion Lines.

It works well for:

  • questions that every student can answer
  • getting students to speak quickly and fluently
  • generating a lot of opinions or ideas or answers in a relatively short amount of time
  • getting students to talk to a lot of different people.


Have your questions or topic of discussion ready. There are a couple of ways to do this. Because students will be switching pairs a lot, you can either have a different question for each pair, or have them discussion the same question/questions with a variety of partners.

The Method

  1. Put students into 2 lines facing each other. The lines should be even so every student is facing another student. If not, you get to play too.
  2. Give students their first question or topic and a time limit. When you say, “go”, they discuss the first question.
  3. When the time is over, the student at the head of one line moves to the bottom and everyone moves over one. So now they have a new partner to talk to.For example, you have these two lines:

    Bob, Jane and Sarah
    Steve, Ling and Ali.
    Bob moves down next to Sarah. Then Jane, Sarah and Bob step one step to the right So now the two lines are:
    Jane, Sarah, Bob
    Steve, Ling and Ali

  4. Now the students can answer the same question or take on a new question. When they are finished, the student at the head once again comes on down and everyone moves one over to face yet another partner. You can keep cycling until you run out students if you like.

Besides “choosing” activities, students can have a series of statements to agree or disagree with. Or they can be actually agreeing on how to manage an activity such as a group project. They could even be discussing the meaning of a proverb or reading or saying.

This is an old activity, one I think I learned from the back of the Straightforward textbooks. Other variations from my dear readers?