Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Alien Abduction - Linkers game

This post is going to be a little different from previous ones. I thought I'd write up something work-related since that's all I seem to have done this year.

I came up with the idea for this game when trying to find extra practice materials on linkers for my teenagers. It's based around unit 9 of English in Mind 3, which is all about conspiracy theories and the supernatural, with a grammar focus on linkers of contrast - although, despite, however etc. But as I started putting it together I spotted an opportunity to pull in some previously studied conjunctions for review, and so I added if and unless, for conditionals and when, while and as soon as for time.

Language Focus and Level

The game is a board game for intermediate level and above and takes between 30-45 mins, depending on how much lead-in you do. The game involves the following linkers, which are all covered in previous units of English in Mind 3:

even though
in spite of
as soon as

The game also includes vocabulary connected to conspiracies and the supernatural (ghost, UFO, alien,evidence etc.) which comes from the book, but I've tried to keep it fairly simple and included lots of everyday language too. the download includes a blank game board so you can adapt it for your own syllabus.

Google docs - click here to download

Possible lead-in

How much time you spend on language review before playing is up to you, but it's important for students to understand the aim of the activity - to practice using the linkers with the correct syntax and verb forms. Here's what I did with my EM3s

1. Write the conjunctions used in the game on the board in a jumbled order and have students work in pairs to put them into 3 groups, then check and put the list on the board.

CONTRAST - although/even though, in spite of/despite, however
CONDITION - if, unless
TIME - when, while, as soon as

At this stage I like to show  although/even though and despite/in spite of as pairs - they have the same meaning and behave the same way within sentences.

2. Elicit an example sentence for although/even though from students and write it on the board.

3. Then ask students to work in pairs to create examples for the other linkers. (for weaker students you can have them find examples from their textbooks).

4. Elicit examples from different groups until you have an example for each linker on the board.

5. Remind students/check understanding of the structures - what parts of speech or verb forms can follow each linker, whether they can come at the beginning or the end of the sentence etc. (you could give a controlled practice activity at this point if you think it's necessary).

I usually leave this all on the board during the game so that students have a reference to check themselves and each other. With stronger students you could gradually erase it as the game progresses and they start to get the hang of it.

Playing the game

Divide the class into groups of 4 and give one board, dice and set of cards to each group. Each player will also need a counter of some sort ( pen caps, coins, paper clips and erasers will do). There is also a copy of the rules that you can print and distribute to each group if you want.

Shuffle the cards and deal 7 to each player. Place the rest of the cards face-down on the space marked CARDS.Place all counters on the alien space marked START.

The first player must roll the dice and move forward the number of spaces shown. and make a sentence using the clause on the space and one of their cards. They can complete the sentence any way they like,The other players listen and decide if the sentence is correct. If it is, player one can discard their card. If not, the group should try to correct it together (with your help if necessary) and player one keeps their card and their turn is over. 

Discarded cards should be placed at the bottom of the deck in the centre.

If a player can't use any of the cards in their hand, they must draw a new one and their turn is over. 

Play continues around the board and the winner is the first player to get rid of all of their cards.

If a player lands on a square that says Make your own sentence, they must stay on that square, but they can make a sentence using any square(s) from the board or their own ideas plus one of their cards.

Wildcards can represent any of the linkers, but the player must clearly state which linker they have chosen.


You can use the alien square in a number of different ways. I haven't specified this in the rules handout so you can choose what will work best for you and your students. If a player lands on an Alien, any of the following could apply.

  1. Miss a turn.
  2. Pick up a card from the deck.
  3. Exchange one of your cards for the first card in the deck.
  4. Nominate another player to pick up a card from the deck.
  5. Change places with another player.
  6. Make your own sentence.
  7. Exchange cards with another player
  8. Discard any card from your hand.
  9. Move forwards/backwards x number of spaces.
Or you can try 

The abduction rule

If you have a large class with several groups, the player can choose a person in another group to change with. Each player takes their cards but continues the game in the new group with the other's counter and position on the board.
This has the potential to be a bit noisy and disruptive and the game will obviously take a little longer to complete. On the other hand it can keep students active and working with different groups means they'll be exposed to more interpretations of the sentences.

Follow up Ideas

Once the game is finished, encourage groups to share the best/funniest sentences from their game with the rest of the class.

During the game make a note of good examples and examples of common mistakes. At the end of the game write them on the board for error correction and feedback.

Have students choose, say, 5 clauses from the board and write their sentences in their note books for further practice.

Students choose one sentence they liked from the game to become the first sentence of a story, which they could write in class or for homework.


If you wanted to make it a little simpler, you could omit some of the linkers, and focus only on one function - for example, linkers of contrast. Just remove the other cards from the deck (you might want to make some extra copies of the ones you want to keep too).

I hope you find this useful. If you decide to use this, let me know how it worked out in the comments below. And if you have any suggestions or other ideas on how to use this materials I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Gerunds and Infinitives with songs

A few days ago I was looking for something to help my pre-intermediate teens with verbs followed by either a gerund or to-infinitive. The course book we use presented the structure through a pretty uninspiring text, so I wanted something a little bit more engaging.

I found this great worksheet by Sticky Grammar that takes extracts from lots of different songs. Students complete the lyrics with a gerund or infinitive form and then listen to the compilation track to check.There's also some videos on YouTube with more examples: here and here.

However, my students are encountering these patterns for the first time and so I want something a bit more simple. I created my own version of this activity using only gerunds and infinitives with to. There are no bare infinitives or two-object verbs and, for the most part, the initial verbs are in present simple.

To make it a bit more challenging I put the songs on the worksheet in a different order from the video. So you could have students simply put them in order on the first listen if you want to make it a little easier or tune their ears in first.

The way I see it you can use this in two ways.
  1. As an introductory/consciousness-raising activity - Students listen to the songs and complete the lyrics at the same time. Then the difference in verb forms can be highlighted and worked on.
  2. As a review activity - Students try to complete the lyrics before listening. Then play the video for students to check. This has worked well for me at the top of the lesson after the structure was introduced.
Here's the worksheet

And here's the video

I hope you find it useful. :)

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Pizza Recipe

This is a bit of a departure from my usual blogging, but people keep asking Mat and me for the recipe for our pizza and I figured this was as good a place as any to share it.

This pizza, particularly the sauce has evolved slowly. We started off over a year ago with shop bought pizza bases and a jar of tomato paste mixed with water and a few dried herbs, then Mat dusted off an old wheat beer dough recipe of his, which obviously deserved a better topping, and so I switched it up a gear with fresh garlic and chopped tomatoes. Several iterations later and we have this.

Vanessa's Sauce

2-3 garlic cloves (or more if you really love garlic/are afraid of vampires)
1 can/carton of chopped or crushed tomatoes (250-300g)
1/2 cup of red wine
2-3 tbsp of tomato paste - a little less than a 1/4 cup
2 tbsp of dried Italian herbs
1 tbsp of dried basil
a splash of Worcester sauce
pepper to taste*
olive oil for frying

  1. finely chop or mince the garlic and fry in a little olive oil for a few minutes until it just starts to brown.
  2. add the tomatoes and wine and simmer on a low heat for about 10 mins.
  3. add the tomato paste and stir well. Let it simmer for another 10-20 mins - if you want your sauce really thick, leave it longer.
  4. add the dried herbs, Worcester sauce and pepper toward the end of the cooking time.
This usually makes enough for 2 large pizzas, but we tend to use quite a lot of sauce on ours so it could go further. It keeps well in the fridge for about a week and it can also be frozen.

*I never add any salt because tomato paste is already quite salty.

Mat's Base

1 packet of dried yeast
1tbsp of olive oil
12oz of room temperature wheat beer
3-4 cups/500g of flour
garlic powder (see above)
1 tsp salt

  1. Add all the dry ingredients (except the yeast) in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix the yeast with a little bit of water and the olive oil.
  3. pour the beer into the yeast mixture.
  4. Add to the dry ingredients and stir, kneading when it becomes unstirrable.
  5. Cover with a dry towel and leave to rise for about an hour.
  6. Divide the dough in half, knead again and roll/flatten it out.
  7. Place on an oiled pan or tray and bake for about 3 mins as hot as your oven will allow.
  8. Remove from the oven, add sauce, cheese and whatever else you fancy, and bake for another 10 mins.
This dough rises well, so unless you're going for a deep dish thing it doesn't need to be too thick. We usually use half and then freeze the rest. It'll take a few hours to defrost, then just knead it a little and it's ready to go.

You don't have to just make pizzas with this. We've made:

Garlic knots -  knead grated cheese into the dough roll tit out into long thin sausage shapes and knot them, bake until they start to brown on top (don't know the timing, we kinda just watched them). use the sauce for dipping.

Pizza muffins - Divide the dough into a muffin pan, stuff some cheese into the top of each one, bake and pour a little sauce on top of each one, or use it for dipping.

Rosemary garlic bread - we added dried rosemary and fresh minced garlic to the dough, sliced it half way and spread it with a mixture of butter, minced garlic and Italian herbs (we really like garlic).

Pretzels - same dough recipe, rolled out and knotted into pretzels. Boil 9 cups of water with 2/3 cup of baking soda, dunk the pretzels one at a time for about 30 seconds, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with salt, bake until they look done.

Monday, 28 July 2014


Well now, I am the worst at bloggering. A quick glance at my post list tells me that the last time I wrote anything was at the beginning of October, and that post is still in draft. I suck.
What makes it worse is that there are lots of funny/interesting/scary stories I could have been sharing, and I'll try to get some of them on here soon. Or at least, soonish. Main thing is, I'm still in Russia; 3 years and 4 months last time I checked. But I'm not in Moscow any more.

Last summer I left EF and took a full-time job at the Saudi School. I say full time; they have a pretty elastic approach to the academic calendar. Myself and another colleague from EF were taken on (and later joined by two other ESL teachers) to continue teaching ESL to the students and help with the schools application to become accredited by the IBO to teach the International Baccalaureate.

It was a year full of challenges. We started with nothing, and were responsible for selecting and ordering course materials, writing course plans and testing and placing students. Basically we had to build an ESL department from scratch. And then there were all the school policy documents and guides that needed to be in place for the IBO application. We wrote most of those too, working very much in isolation from a faculty whose attitudes to the IB programme ranged from distrust to outright hatred, and with a boss whose management philosophy was essentially 'delegate delegate delegate!' I very nearly burned out completely before Christmas.

I stuck it out till the end of the academic year, and gained some valuable teaching and administrative experience, but by new year I was already thinking about where to go next. The boy was also contemplating a change of scene; Time to get out of Moscow, the city that never sleeps, away from the all the familiar western fast food chains and coffee shops and 'Ex-pat nights' to somewhere we can further explore Russian culture and practice our Russian without getting funny looks. It's sounded like a great idea, and after a few months of searching and several Skype interviews we found a school that would take both of us on and provide us with an apartment that we could bring our cat to (Oh yeah,we have a cat now. Her name is Bazarova and she is a beautiful moron).

So here we are in Tolyatti (sometimes spelled Togliatti in English), home of the Lada, 600 miles east of Moscow on the Volga in the Samara oblast, near the Zhiguli hills.

Basically here:

I found this map on Google. Turns out it's from the website of a Russian brides company.

We've been here a week and so far all is well. Not a lot of work to do just yet so we've got plenty of time to get our bearings.

Does anyone still read this by the way?

Monday, 8 April 2013

String Theory

I'm sitting in a café downstairs from head office inspecting the passport that has just been returned to me and the new visa it contains that tells me that I have to leave Russia on the 3rd of July.

Originally that had been the plan; go to Moscow, see some cools stuff, pick up a bit of the language and get some teaching experience. I figured 2 years with a well-renowned (albeit soulless) language school on my C.V. would be enough to get me onto the masters course I wanted, or back to Central America, teaching there. But now I don't want to leave, and though I will be over the border by the 3rd, I am already well on the way with plotting my return.

I suppose the fact that I even had a plan in the first place should have aroused suspicions. Thinking any more than 12 months ahead in anything other than abstract terms seems to me to be an Olympian feat of mental gymnastics. My brain just does not bend that way.

The new plan is still technically a plan, though it's far from fixed and may not entirely work out. But I have options and so I'm comfortable with that. The one thing that is certain is that whatever I do I want to be doing it in Moscow, a move that brings with it a different set of apprehensions.

When I was a child I used to have a recurring dream that everything I touched became attached to me by a piece of thread. I would try to cut the threads with a knife or a pair of scissors, but then I just be came attached to them too, and running only made the threads longer and thicker. Eventually I would get so tangled up I couldn't move at all.

Sometimes I feel like the threads are still there, connecting me to all the people and places that I've come into contact with. Some of them are tenuous, spidery things and other's are thick knotted ropes. they are not as indestructible as those in my dreams but they still pull at me from time to time.

My worry is that the longer I stay in one place the more threads there are tying me there, and the stronger they become. Before, it was easy; the stronger threads anchored me home, the centre point from which I was free to wander off an explore without feeling lost. But what happens if I end up tethered between two homes? Will I be stuck in a tug of war between The UK and Russia? Does it restrict my movement in other directions?

I have said in the past that I felt if I didn't leave Moscow soon I may never leave. I'm not completely sure how I feel about that, but I know that at the moment this is where I want to be, so I guess we'll see.

Things I've learnt recently:

  • What perfective and imperfective verbs are.
  • That hitting each other with branches in a sweaty wooden box is a perfectly delightful way to spend an afternoon with friends. And a good way to banish a hangover.
  • Spring is apparently taking a gap year.
  • Trying to discuss politics with a 15 year old is nothing short of masochistic.
  • My boyfriend makes better cookies than I do.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Things I learned in 2012

  • To read the label on the washing powder more carefully. Автомат = clean clothes, everything else = foam party.
  • That being buried in the snow by your friends will make you ill but is totally worth it.
  • That sometimes people die too young, without any warning, and next time it could be you. So stop fannying about and make the most of life.
  • That real estate agents are the same the world over.
  • That seasonal affective Disorder is a thing, and it makes me a sad bunny.
  • That cleaning is more fun after a few vodkas.
  • That I don't hate kids as much as I used to. But I still don't want any of my own.
  • How to stop arterial bleeding with my knees (in theory at least).
  • That I'm a clumsy drunk who should not be allowed to head-bang or dance on tables.
  • That I sometimes put too much trust in the wrong people. Some ex-pats come to Moscow to make a fresh start, and some bring their demons with them. Friendship is a two way street, and finding out that someone is not only on a totally different street, but that their street isn't even on planet earth is not cool. I will choose who I confide in much more carefully this year.
  • How to turn a pumpkin into a pie.
  • That I like living on my own, and that Russian landladies are evil witches.
  • To walk away from situations/relationships that make me feel like I'm compromising my values. People change; sometimes they change their punk t shirts for high heels and become the kind of woman they spent the previous year pitying.
  • That I am good at my job (even if I do slack off a bit sometimes) and some people are beginning to recognise that and have faith in me to do more.
  • That I am a feminist, and unfortunately a lot of people have no idea what that actually means.
  • That putting your passport under your pillow on a train 'to keep it safe' only works if you remember that you put it there.
  • That I have pretty eyelashes.
  • That falling for guys who are arseholes/afraid of women/don't tell you they're married/already have 2 girlfriends/hate your friends is probably a waste of time.
  • That I can write good. Sometimes people even read stuff wot I put on the internets.
  • That I want to stay in Russia.
Happy New Year my lovelies! x