How do I improve reading fluency?


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I received this question this morning from an experienced ESL teacher:  ‘I am preparing a lesson on accurately reading words, sentences and phrases out loud.  My pupils are 14 years old. What activities can you recommend for this Shelley?’


Luckily her question isn’t only about reading fluency, it is also about speaking fluency since she would like students to be able to read well out loud. I would recommend reading the passage many times until it becomes fluent.  After all practise makes perfect.  She could also try having the kids read it out in a high pitched voice,, boys and girls.  Then someone else reads it in a very low voice, someone else with sadness, another in a panic.  It’s a bit of fun and is an excuse to review the same passage over and over and have fun with it!


You can also have students repeat the passage (working in pairs) to different rhythms. That is quite challenging and takes some practise, it’s brilliant for fluency. Check the game CHANTS in the Teen/Adult games book for a full description of that idea.

She could also give the students the reading passage. Students are to read out their text with a rhythm in the background. Use a metronome or have the class or a partner clapping rhythmically as the beat. Students are free to fit the text into the beat as best they can. Some students who are musical will do this well naturally and for others it will be much harder. If you try this yourself first you will see that it is excellent for encouraging fluency, as often one is obliged to run many words together quickly to fit into a beat. 

Be sure to do a clear demonstration first using a slow beat and a faster  

The pace of the beat should not be too fast. One beat per second is quite slow, and you could use this for beginners. Here are some examples of how the first words of this game’s explanation can be read. The syllable in bold indicates where the beat falls, which is when the other students clap.




This is one syllable per beat. You don’t want this, as it is dreary and too slow.




This is much better, and students have to say the word ‘dialogues’ quite quickly to fit it into the beat.


Give—stu—dents—short—di-a-logues ly—rics—from—songs


This is far more musical – the student has started on the upbeat with ‘give’.


Remember repetition is the mother of skill so you just need ways to make it fun.


If you are reading this blog and you’d like more ways to liven up your teaching then please visit Teaching English Games or check out my books on Amazon.


Thanks for reading!
All the best
Shelley Ann Vernon

Olympics themed summer course ideas


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Last week, a teacher emailed me to ask, ‘Can you help me prepare a vacation course on the Olympics?’ No problem!
When faced with preparing a five-day course it can be somewhat daunting thinking about “filling” the vast stretches of time between 9 am on the first day and 5pm on the last day.  It’s helpful therefore to think of it not as five days but many hour-long lessons.
I would normally keep the morning for intense language learning and the afternoon for related activities such as crafts, cooking, dressing up, songs with choreography and more active outdoor games.  In this teacher’s case since they were focusing on The Olympics I suggested they could think about inventing an athletics track and running an Olympics competition. Obviously you don’t want the most sporty kid to win everything, so you can diversify your Olympics with gold medals for the best picture, the best actor, the best singer, the best hair, the best dancer- whatever, so every child has a medal at the end of the course.  You could also include making the medals in a craft hour when the kids are tired.  There is loads of scope for miming sports and guessing what they are, playing Simon Says + the sport, playing a sport like rounders but to have the right to bat the child has to name particular vocabulary or repeat a short dialogue.
I suggested breaking the morning down into:
1. Drilling new vocabulary and grammar through games
2. Board games and quizzes
3. Working on words for a skit or a song
In the afternoon after lunch I would work on choreography for a song – why not choose a national anthem to tie in with the Olympics theme!? This can be dance moves or actions and/or acting out the story told in the song.  Let those who enjoy dancing do the dance moves but don’t force it on everyone.  Those self-conscious ones who are too shy can do actions they feel comfortable with instead.
Next I suggested working on putting a skit together using language taught during the morning. This builds gradually over the course so that by the end the skit may be performed, with props, by heart, to parents.  I have a couple of skits on sports in my plays and skits book that would be ideal, you can either download them on your Kindle or smart phone or order from Amazon in paperback – see more information here.

Recommended resource for summer courses.  Kindle, paperback and PDF instant download formats.


Finally, at the end of the afternoon, I would play more language games, but boisterous ones where the children run to the end of the garden (or hall) to collect the correct flashcard, play egg and spoon race (to vocabulary you choose), play Twister (using body parts vocabulary) and so on.  The games always have a language purpose but they are less intense than the morning sessions as children will be tired and in need of some fun and play time.  After all the kids are on holiday and if they don’t enjoy the classes they might not show up the next day!
At the end of the course it’s a good idea to put on a show to parents so they can see what they have been paying for, and feel included in their child’s education. Don’t worry, a show may seem daunting but if you break it down it’s easy!
Here are some ideas for content: 
1. Two skits (like those from my plays and skits book).
2. Two songs that the children choose and they should at least be able to sing the chorus and act out the verse.
3. Show off all the vocabulary and language from the units you have covered through vocabulary games that you perform in front of parents.
4. Stage a quiz where one pupil asks the questions (that you have prepared on cards and the other kids are in teams.)  Make sure each team have a buzzer as you could stage it like a TV show.  All the questions come from the work you have been covering during the week – e.g. hold up a picture and they name the word, or you hold up a picture of a tennis racket and a question mark – that means they make a question such as “do you want to play tennis?”
The kids will be very motivated by the idea of showing off to their parents and being the center of attention in a TV show, plus children focus mainly on the short-term so it gives them a purpose for their lessons that is much closer to reality for them than some future point in their lives when it may be useful for them to speak English.

How can I involve parents at my school Open Day


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Question:  I have an open day coming up for parents at my language school to sell our summer vacation English camps.  We will be giving a demonstration class and I would like parents to be involved.  How can I include parents in a game?




You could play the egg and spoon game with the parents and kids together.  Mix up the parents and children though otherwise the parents will probably win!  The egg and spoon race is from the preschool games book and has teams running to the vocabulary you name, or answering a question in English before running with the egg and spoon.


If you want to show something more serious then play a quiz where participants answer all types of questions from vocabulary, to easy questions like: What’s your name? Where do you live?  What colour is this?  Do you like fish? This is basically a giant revision quiz of themes you have been teaching all year.  Parents can be on one team and kids on the other.  Make sure the children win, but it can be close!


Here is the egg and spoon race taken from my preschool games book:

You will need either potatoes or boiled eggs and spoons for each team/person.

Play the classic egg and spoon party game where children race from point A to point B balancing a boiled egg on a spoon. I suggest using potatoes instead of eggs and possibly serving spoons to make it easier. Show the children how to hold the whole handle of the spoon in the middle rather than holding it at the end, as it is a lot easier to balance the potato that way. There is no need to race; completion is the aim. The 5 year old children might enjoy it as a race. If you have too many children to send them all at once, send them in batches.

Step One: Listening

For listening and learning new vocabulary lay out pictures and tell each batch of children or each child if they are going individually, to go to a certain picture, or two or three pictures, before returning back over the start line. The aim is for the child to complete the course without dropping the potato, and also to go to the correct pictures.

 Step Two: Speaking

For speaking, the children must go to the picture at the end, jump on it three times without dropping the potato, while naming it (once on each jump) and return. Swap the pictures around or put out new ones between goes to make it more demanding.

Read more ESL articles and tips here.

“Your resources are already saving me heaps of time and lessening the anxiety from having such a hectic and mixed teaching schedule.  I’m teaching kindy (4 students) , elementary (15 students) and middle school (50 students).”  Anthony Bennett, S. Korea (3 to 5 and 4 to 12 English teaching games)

Teaching One to One


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Most teachers at some time in their career have to teach one to one classes. They find this situation a very different, challenging experience with unique possibilities and unique problems. With this in mind, a teacher wrote to me last week for some advice on teaching on a one to one basis, they had some unique challenges that included added pressure from the students parents and here is my response:


The Problem:


I am teaching a boy in South Korea but he’s just not interested.  He pays no attention to me, says he doesn’t like English and goes off to play with his toys. What can I do?


The solution:


This boy may be afraid of failure, or he may have been put off learning English from too much pressure from parents.  That said you still need to find a way to attract him and make him want to learn with you.


I would try this: scrap the idea of wanting him to be interested in learning English and instead spend the hour playing with him.  I have tried this with my nephew and once we played with all his cars in his bedroom we then made a Channel Tunnel crash.  We piled up the cars, made massive tail-backs, the helicopters and fire-engines were there and the scenario developed.


playing with cars

Playing in English can help a reluctant child learn.

Now, you must be thinking – how does this help me teach him English?
While you are playing together you can just be naming things in English, like “here comes the ambulance.” or ask him, “where shall we put the ambulance?” and give the ambulance to place in the scene – without expecting him to say anything in English (that’s the key)!


Once you build up a rapport together you’ll be able to line up all the toys and then he has to name the toy in order to get it, and make up a scene with it. Make sure you talk to the parents first, explain what you want to do and why and see if they would agree to it.’
Watch the video here for more ways to get started on teaching English using fun games and skits.


Try this!


Play games that HE likes, and find ways to bring English into them. He might like aiming at objects or throwing them in a bin, try doing  that game together whilst you speak English and he just takes the objects, or picks up the objects that you name.  Just don’t expect him to speak in English yet, and focus on building his trust.

Are you trying to convince your students parents? Here are some of the advantages of teaching one on one:

  • The student has the undivided attention of the teacher, meaning he has more opportunity to engage in real communication, have more feedback and you will have a better understanding of the learner’s needs.
  • The student has more control over the aims of the class, the pace and the materials.
  • The student has more opportunities to use the teacher as a resource – to ask questions, to see models of language, and to practise their newly developed language skills.
  • The student can develop a real and productive relationship with the teacher.

Download our fun games and skits for children here.

Easy Games to teach tenses


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Today I received a question on how to teach tenses using my games, and here is my response to the teacher.


For a student to learn to use tenses correctly he or she needs to understand them, learn them by heart and practise them in context, but this can be boring! So why not try doing all this practice by disguising the boring bits.  Here’s how!




The teacher can explain a tense using translation and comparison with the native language, time-lines, pictures, actions and examples.  Students can then do a treasure hunt, searching for examples of the tense by reading pre-prepared passages.  Ask students to make up a sentence that uses the tense and one other word, such as “red” or “angrily”.  This is more of a challenge, and more fun than simply making up a sentence that uses the tense.


The student then has to learn the tense by heart, including irregular forms, and be able to fill in the blanks correctly.  Here are two games that are perfect for learning a new tense.

Game One is especially designed for adults. 



Since the aim is for students to incorporate this tense into their daily use of English it needs practising endlessly, both in class and out of the classroom.  To encourage this, ask the students to create quiz questions for each other using the tense and play board and quiz games to practise.  To continue with tenses, use fluency activities such as debates, role-plays and creative writing tasks to give students the chance to use the tense in context. If you see many errors revert back to drill games to get back to basics.

You’ll find a host of those in my classroom activities book for teens and adults.  The free sample games that I also send out may all be used to drill tenses too, so try these and let me know how you get on. Order your copy here today.

Suffixes and Prefixes

A teacher asked me today how to teach suffixes and prefixes.  Here is a lesson I prepared for her, teaching one child only, but the ideas may be adapted to a larger classroom.

Here is a good explanation of a suffix from the BBC. I suggest that you print this explanation out and give it to your student(s).  Read it through with her and then ask her to think of a noun, any noun, and see whether she can add a suffix to it that turns the word into a verb.  Then try with the same nouns and see if you can make adjectives out of them, or adverbs. HINT: Use the chart on the above link to help you.


Next take a pile of words (write these on paper) and place them face down on the desk.  You turn up the first card and try to make a word with a suffix.  “Dog” – a word  that has a suffix with “dog” is “dogged”, which is an adjective meaning persistent – well done, you keep the card!

Now it’s your student’s turn.  Use a mixture of verbs, nouns and adjectives such as these: carpet, clever, tie, basket, ski, intelligent, weather, computer, sock, play, picture, will, picnic, potato, good, bad, dream, cinema, film, light, duck, hour.  Each one of you has a turn at making a new word using the root word plus adding a suffix.  USE THE LIST of suffixes and the dictionary for help! You might not succeed with every word, but that’s not a problem!

Use this reference website in class to quickly look up words and see what they mean, or if they exist.

Then play battleships.  You have blank grids ready to use in the appendix to the teen book.  Fill in your battleship grid using words that have suffixes.  I wouldn’t do prefixes as well since that would make rather a dense lesson for an intermediate- don’t forget you can let your student use the dictionary if she likes.  Stick to suffixes for the whole lesson and do prefixes next time.


This should take you quite a while and it’s a challenging lesson. For homework ask your student to learn all the words you covered by heart with all the possible suffixes.  Give her a test when she comes back to the next lesson.

Try that and let me know how it goes. It’s a practical lesson – some theory introducing the suffix and what it is, and then diving right into working with the suffixes.

In the next lesson you can do prefixes, which are the same thing just that the extra bit goes at the front. Here is a list of the most common ones to use in your lessons.

Take the list of prefixes from the previous link, and ask your students to pick out a random word, such as “door”.  As the teacher, you try to make a word with a prefix plus the chosen word ‘door’ e.g. misdoor, subdoor, predoor and undoor etc.  There are no real words here, so there are no points for you!  Now you pick a word for the class to use, e.g. “dress”.  Your student will then try the prefixes and will come up with words such as ‘undress’, so they score a point.

Next play a game of luck using a pack of cards with words or pictures on them.  Round one: you take the prefix “un” and your student takes a different prefix.  Turn over a word or picture card and both groups will see if either of you has a new word using the prefix.  The person able to make a word takes that word or picture and keeps it as a point.

It’s a game of luck so it doesn’t matter that your English is better.  As soon as someone earns a point, swap prefixes and go through the cards again.  You need lots of words or picture cards for this since you’ll go through them fast. Most of the time you won’t be able to make a word, and that’s OK.  It’s just a different way of working with the words and prefixes so your lesson on prefixes isn’t exactly the same as the one on suffixes!


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