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Drawing in Language Teaching on National Drawing Day

May 19th is National Drawing Day (at least in Ireland) and while it might seem to odd to use drawing in language teaching, there are a number of benefits to incorporating art in your language lessons. Art can be a source of discussion as students describe an interpret works of art. Students can also discuss and explain their own works of art and how they created them. Drawings and visuals can also be a way to present new vocabulary. Many teachers use pictures to help explain a new word. But a picture showing new vocabulary in context gets students engaging at a deeper level. This in turn improves their memory. Art also provides more for students to talk about.  And drawing is a way for students who lack vocabulary to express themselves.

And creating art can be a way of reacting to story, or a form of prewriting. Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp is a collection of unfinished short stories and is full of ways to incorporate art and drawing in language teaching, giving students many opportunities to create visual as well as written projects.

Ideas for using Drawing in Language Teaching

  • In many stories involving creating a new kind of pet (Pick a Pet, pp. 17-19) or designing a robot teacher (The Last Human Teacher, pp. 93-97), Taylor uses drawing as a planning stage before students write about their new creation.
  • Supplement 2.2 is a comic panel to retell the story or a particular scene. This photocopyable resource can be used with any story in the book or any story at all. Reworking of the narrative in a different genre is a great way for students to demonstrate comprehension of a story, pick out the most important parts, create a summary of sorts, and explore to what extent pictures can and cannot replace words.
  • Supplement 2.1 similar encourages students to illustrate a story and I particularly like Taylor’s suggestion on page 109 to create a poster for the story in the style of a movie poster. Again, this gets students crossing genre boundaries. It also forces them to pick what they think is most important. Or the most appealing in the story.
  • Another prewriting technique I like is Draw Label Caption. Students draw their story before writing. This allows them to think about the vocabulary they need and plan descriptions. Any writing project in Stories Without End could benefit from the Draw Label Caption prewriting technique.
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Teaching is Simple: Follow These Easy Steps

Isn’t it great how stock photos accurately portray what the teaching profession is all about? Look how happy that teacher looks. And it’s all because teaching is simple if you just follow these easy steps (a little teacher humor, if you’ll forgive me).

You too can be this confident looking in your classroom. You don’t even have to talk to the students. Or write anything on the blackboard. Or look at the students, even.
  1. Dress your students in bright colors from the same color palette. A colorful, jewel-toned classroom is the perfect learning environment. I’m sure that’s in Suggestopedia somewhere!
  2. Make sure the books on your desk are also colored with the same palette so everything harmonizes. For best results, don’t use books that have any titles or pictures on the cover. Those are distracting. Blank covers and blank pages not only color-coordinate better, but they also represent the blank tablet of your students’ minds, just waiting to be filled with knowledge.
  3. Make sure your students stay in the background, even keep a little blurry. Teaching is all about you. In the same vein, make sure your wardrobe stands out from your students’ clothes by wearing neutral colors.
  4. Be sure to never write anything on the blackboard. Keep it clean so that it makes a nice clear background for your photo ops. You also don’t want to get any nasty chalk dust on your clothes. That would interfere with your teacher look. Remember the better clothes your look, the more your students will learn!
  5. Don’t forget to strike a pose. Nothing says competent teacher like confidently crossed arms.
  6. Require that all your students smile too, especially when they are raising their hands. This proves that they all know the answer and that means that you are a good teacher.
  7. Remember every day to assign a different student the job of whimsically raising two hands. That means students are having fun in your class.
  8. Most importantly, don’t worry about turning your back to your students from time to time and smiling to yourself as you stare in the distance. Your students will respect you more. They’ll wait patiently for you. They certainly won’t call your name or repeat the word, “teacher” until you call on them. Or start calling out answers. You dressed them in jewel tones and they admire that. And they will never do anything bad behind your back like sneak a peek at their cellphone or hit each other or copy answers.

What do you think?

Any other lessons learned from this completely typical classroom scene? This is in no way meant to be teacher humor. I am very serious about this!

Note: This is a repost as the original blog post was lost when I last moved my site.

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$100 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card Giveaway

Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card Giveaway

I’m happy to be participating in a Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card Giveaway. You can enter through the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this post.

I’m particularly excited to be doing it during Teacher’s Appreciation Week! Our son is collecting flowers from our garden to give to his teachers tomorrow, we’re participating in the big TpT sale on the 8th and 9th (use code:THANKYOU18 at our Teachers Pay Teachers Store), we’ve set up a sale on our website shop (same code: THANKYOU18 to buy any paperback or ebook in our shop) and we’re also doing this gift card giveaway. Who doesn’t want to win a Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card for $100?

I really enjoy buying and selling on Teachers Pay Teachers. First, it’s a supportive community of teachers and teach-authors. Second, the products tend to be high-quality. Half the handouts and worksheets my son brings home from school come from TpT.  And while it can be hard to get your name out when you specialize in materials for older students or focus on ESL, I’m hoping this giveaway will help spread the word. If you like our products and want to help out, spread the word of this giveaway on your social media too!


Enter through the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post and good luck!

$100 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card Giveaway Details:  

Prize: $100 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card
Giveaway Organized by: Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher)
Rules: Use the Rafflecopter to enter.  Giveaway ends 5/13/18 and is open worldwide.
Are you a Teacher Blogger or Teachers pay Teachers seller who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your store and social media?  Click here to find out how you can join our totally awesome group of bloggers! 

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How to Do Reader’s Theater

Reader's Theater

What is Reader’s Theater?

In its simplest form, Reader’s Theater is an activity where students read a play aloud with the scripts in hand. They often do so without having memorized the script. They may not have props, act out the action of the play, or even move. There doesn’t need to be an audience besides the readers themselves.

Reader’s Theater can be used with scripts or stories or even poems. Sometimes the teacher or students rewrite stories in play form for the purpose of doing Reader’s Theater. This can be a great way to get students writing creatively.

Integrated Skills Through Drama Series from Alphabet Publishing

Why Reader’s Theater?

When using scripts written for the classroom like those in the Integrated Skills Through Drama series, the advantages of doing a script as Reader’s Theater are:

  • Learners experience both language and communication strategies in conversational contexts. They are able to feel the language from the inside and reflect on how expressions, words and phrases are used to attain conversational goals.
  • Pronunciation and intonation work is purpose-driven as actors work to communicate the emotional intention of their characters
  • The script is already prepared, giving students a language experience that can be practiced and then adapted to other contexts.
  • There’s no need for props, sets, costumes, or even a stage making it easier and quicker to produce.
  • A Reader’s Theater performance supports success by allowing actors to refer to a script. This saves time, which can be spent on ancillary skills work or even discussion of the themes of the play.


As written above, Reader’s Theater can be as simple as putting students in a circle, assigning parts, and having them read a script. However, it can be a lot more involved than that as well. Here are some considerations and decisions to make:

  • A play is a story that reflects human experience and can thus lend itself to rich discussion. Spend some time talking about the story. Have students listen to the play and/or read the script first and talk about the message. Share experiences and insights into the world of the play.
  • Also consider working on the characters motivations. After students are assigned roles, have them work out the back story of the character by answering Wh- questions. Who is the character? Where did they grow up? What are they good at? or where do they struggle in life? Importantly, what do they want? How are they trying to get what they want? This can help with the pronunciation/intonation work and how they use their voice.
  • Decide how much practice time to give. A good rule of thumb is students should be able to look up from the script half the time. Aaron Shepherd refers to this as “half-memorizing.” And to let students think about what intonation, rhythm, word stress, and volume they will use for each line, they’ll need time to read and mark up the script. For example, students may want to:
    • Add descriptions of action
    • Add lines
    • Practice motion
    • Note emotions and intonations
    • Highlight their part
  • Another helpful preparation activity is to use the characters and contexts to do role plays. Students can borrow language from the script and adapt it for new purposes.
  • As you prepare for a performance, you may want a narrator who can describe the scene and the setting. The narrator can even describe the action of the play if you do not want students to move or act out the action of the play. This may require writing in a narrator part or expanding an existing narrator’s lines.
  • Decide if the students will move while they read or remain stationary. If they will be stationary, will they sit or stand. And who will sit where? Often in Reader’s Theater, major characters are positioned in the middle while narrators sit on the ends.
  • If you want the students to move, decide how much they will move and how much of the action will they act out. This is called blocking. As noted above, if the readers are not going to be doing much acting with their bodies, the narrators will need to describe the action.
  • Because in Reader’s Theater, the students are on stage at all times, you need a way to show which actors are not acting in a particular scene. Students can turn their backs on the audience or look down, for example.
  • You may want students to have small props, particularly if the prop is important to the story. For example, a character who is always fiddling with their phone might hold an actual phone even if other props are omitted. If you aren’t using props at all, give students time to work out how they will mime using certain objects or doing certain actions.
  • Consider how students will hold the scripts if they are moving. Will they hold in one hand? How often will they need to look down and read? Are there any long speeches?
  • If there are scenes with specific settings, such as sitting in a car or speaking to someone who is up on a balcony, you might want to think about how to suggest that setting. For a scene in a car, students could pull two seats forward in front of two other seats. For a balcony scene, one student could stand on a chair or the other students could squat on the floor, for example.

Performing Reader’s Theater

Students can read for each other or for an audience from another class.

You can break the class into two halves, have them read to each other, and then discuss where they made different choices.

Because theatre is inherently dynamic, each cast will produce a unique production.

Extending Reader’s Theater

Reader’s Theater can be the culmination of the study of any piece of literature. After analyzing and reading the story, you can make a Reader’s Theater performance a kind of final celebration or showcase of the student’s understanding of the text.

Reader’s Theater can also be a prelude to a full performance. It can be a part of the rehearsal process in fact. Many performances of plays, TV shows, and films start with what’s called a table read where the actors read the script for the first time sitting around a table. They make notes of how they might read their parts as well as what parts of the script might need rewriting or adapting.

In fact, consider inviting actors to adapt scenes or add new scenes to reflect their changing understanding of the story. Perhaps they can improvise with situations that they want to explore. Ask what if questions, put the characters in new combinations, send them back in time or forward to see where decisions are likely to lead. In this way, Reader’s Theater offers a way to take language from the page and move it into the real world.

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Guide to Stories Without End

Teach reading and writing. with Stories Without End by Taylor SappOur latest book, Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp, came out last week. In case you missed it, or the subtitle “24 open-ended stories to engage students in reading, discussion, and creative writing,” wasn’t clear, the Stories Without End is a collection of 24 short stories that end on a cliffhanger. Students read short stories, discuss them, and then write their own endings: It’s an innovative and interactive way to teach reading and writing.

The stories themselves are pretty intriguing and creative themselves, so they generate a lot of discussion. Some have a science-fiction flavor and ask what life would be like if we could teleport or what if we could control the weather? Others raise issues relevant to everyday life, such as how can you tell if someone likes you or how should we arrange our families? Some are just fun, like “T-Rex Window” which tells the tale of a boy who may have a dinosaur outside of his window or he may have lost his mind!

Since Taylor’s idea for this book is such an innovative and original one, we wanted to share some suggestions for how to use the book in class with your students, a sort of teacher’s guide. Feel free to share in the comments anything that has worked for you as you use any of these stories in class. You can also ask any questions there too on how to implement these unfinished stories for students.

Before You Read

Teach reading and writing. with Stories Without End by Taylor SappBefore You Read Questions

The first page of every story contains a picture that relates to the story. It might set the mood for the story, illustrate an important element of the plot, or even introduce the theme. There are also a set of Before You Read questions in the left margin. The questions may refer directly to the image or not. The questions and any work with the image can be done as a class,  individually, or in small groups.

For the story “Joe and His Beans”, you can ask students to look at the picture and guess what fairy tale it comes from. They can describe what they think is going on in the picture. This is a good chance to make sure they know what a bean and a beanstalk is.

The Before You Read questions are usually straightforward and help introduce the theme of the story. For “Joe and His Beans” the questions ask students to think about fairy tales and specifically “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

You can extend this by asking what connection there might be between the story they are about to read and the fairy tale. Do they have any expectations of what might happen in this story? What does the title tell you? Does it sound like the title of a traditional fairy tale? Continue reading Guide to Stories Without End

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Teaching students to be honest: the pragmatics of brutal honesty

We’re not making this up. It’s National Honesty Day and we have some ideas for activities for teaching students to be honest. What is National Honesty Day?

The concept for the day was simple, ask direct questions without ulterior motives, and expect answers of occasionally brutal honesty. While these situations create difficult relations between people sometimes, it’s the first step on the road to utterly healing wounds and creating clear communication that allows proper understanding.Embed from Getty Images: Jessica Williams from the movie The Incredible Jessica James which features a scene where two people on a blind date decide to be completely honest with each other

Jessica Williams from the movie The Incredible Jessica James which features a scene where two people on a blind date decide to be completely honest with each other

Teaching students to be honest (how to ask direct questions and give honest answers) is complicated. Being “brutally honest” can be quite hurtful to the other person. So there’s a whole host of conversational strategies we use to mitigate that , depending on our relationship with the person we are talking to. We may use hedging language, or humor to soften the tone, criticize ourselves as well, give the other person an out, offer a pre-emptive apology, and/or surround the potential criticism with compliments. In other situations, we may revel in being brutally honest and talk about the benefits of getting honest, objective feedback. How can we teach students to navigate these pragmatic challenges? Through drama!

Using drama to teach pragmatics is a great strategy because characters in plays, much like people in real life, have goals for speaking that they achieve through their words. Plays come closer to natural language than other art forms because play scripts are meant to be read out loud. So how can you use a script to teach students to be honest?

Activity Idea: Teaching honesty with a Script

Find a script with a scene where one character is telling another character a direct truth or asking a direct question. Choose a scene where the truth may be hurtful to the other person, where being honest may be difficult. For example, there’s a wonderful scene in the movie The Incredible Jessica James where two people agree to be honest on a blind date that neither of them are enjoying if you can find a transcript.

  1. Share the scene with students. If possible, show them a recording of the scene, then let them read it themselves.
  2. Ask them to identify who is trying to be honest. What potential harm could the honest truth do? Could it hurt someone’s feelings, for example, or reveal a secret?
  3. Ask students to highlight the lines in the script that the character uses to introduce the truth in one color. What strategies does the speaker use to tell the other character he or she wants to be direct?
  4. Now ask the students to highlight the lines that try to mitigate the damage in another color. How does the speaker try to make the listener feel better or accept what they are saying?
  5. Finally, take a look at the result. Is the speaker successful at changing the listener’s mind? Why or why not?
  6. While students are analyzing the language be sure that they keep in mind the relationships and context. Dialogues between close friends use different language than dialogues between a boss and an employee.
  7. Now students can write and act out, or improvise, depending on their comfort level, their own scenes.  They can act out a similar scene but in a different context or the same scene but with different strategies and outcomes.

Here’s an example from the play Her Own Worst Enemy by Alice Savage. In this scene, two friends are discussing their futures. One of them, Aida, is a talented actress but she wants to pursue a career in science. The other, Vanessa, thinks she should consider acting. Here’s a short excerpt:

Aida: There’s no way I’m going to be an actor

Vanessa: (Surprised) Seriously? You really don’t want to?

Aida: Nah. It was fun. But I’ve got other plans. Anyway, how do they know if I have any talent? I’m their daughter. Of course they think I’m amazing.

Vanessa: Can I say something without you getting upset?

Aida: I don’t know. What is it?

Vanessa: I think you’re good, too.

Aida: Now don’t you start.

Vanessa: Yeah, yeah…I get it. You’ve got other plans. But I can’t help thinking. What if you get famous? Wouldn’t it be great to be in the movies?

Example of Teaching Students to be Honest

Vanessa warns Aida she is going to say something that Aida might not like. Because of their relationship as good friends, we can assume it will be something honest and something Vanessa thinks Aida needs to know.

What damage could Vanessa’s opinion do? Well, Aida might get angry.

Vanessa tries to mitigate this by 1) asking her not to get upset and 2) focusing on the positive-what if Aida becomes really famous?

It’s interesting to note that Aida is immediately defensive and she signals this by saying, “I don’t know.” She doesn’t say, for example, “of course you can tell me anything!” In thee same vein, at the end of the page, we see that Aida has not been totally convinced by Vanessa. She calls Vanessa’s speech crazy and is trying to persuade Vanessa that she won’t be a good actress.

Once students have analyzed this scene, they could imagine a similar scene where someone is trying to convince someone else they have talent or ability:

  • a teacher is trying to get a student to enter a science competition
  • a parent wants their child to play a sport
  • one student wants another to write for the school newspaper

They could also rewrite this scene so that:

  • Aida is persuaded by Vanessa
  • Aida gets angry and Vanessa has to calm her down
  • Vanessa tells Aida she’s not a good actress and Aida gets upset

So, if you weren’t planning to celebrate National Honesty Day in class, I hope I’ve changed your mind and given you an idea for an activity teaching students to be honest, and strategies to employ to tell a direct truth, then mitigate the damage. Leave a comment if you try this activity in class, or any other activity to teach the pragmatics of honesty!


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If the students love it, who we to argue?

Taylor Sapp, author of Stories Without End by Alphabet PublishingWhen I asked our latest author, Taylor Sapp, to collect some review quotes and blurbs about his new book, he did something I’d never thought of! Sure, he asked his colleagues and some big names in ELT for quotations. But he also asked students what they think.

And here’s what they said (only lightly edited):

“These creative, intriguing short stories that made me think and wonder what if? Absolutely amusing miscellaneous topics that I enjoyed”

“I think it’s useful because we can train a skill that we guess the stories even if we have a lot of vocabulary that we don’t know.”

“What make it interesting is that we created the end of the stories by ourselves”

“I think it can give some thinking. I think these stories are easy to understand and it is good for students because if it looks difficult, students think that they don’t want to do it before to read.”

“[These stories] improved my reading speed and are useful to extend reading skills.”

“We can learn new words and develop creativity.”

“Very interesting and easy to understand.”

“The book was really fun! All the English textbooks I’ve used had rather boring stories from random news or plain stories English teachers came up with but this is so unique. Topics are so diverse that any students could find topics she/he would be interested in. Students will get to learn so many useful vocabularies (including the words we wouldn’t learn in usual text books), practice thinking and writing in English and have discussions and create stories in English! I also liked the questions in the book. You always asked us interesting questions that make us want to talk. . . . I think your book teaches that to students with your creative stories about various topics. I just enjoyed the book as a continuous English learner! . . . Thank you so much for sharing such thought-provoking stories and a great English learning material.”

I love that the students talk about how the book is fun, but also helps them learn vocabulary, improve their reading skills, practice discussion skills, and try creative writing as well. And while some educators look down on the idea of fun as an important component of learning, but I’ve found that when students enjoy an activity, they are more engaged and more likely to work hard on it.

So check out Stories Without End if you want your students to be raving about you like this!

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I’m looking forward to trying this out with my students

Her Own Worst Enemy by Alice Savage Alphabet Publishing

I just wanted to share a kind review of Her Own Worst Enemy from Clare Mass, English Language Lecturer at Universität Trier, Joint Events Coordinator for MaWsIG, the IATEFL group for Materials Writers, and blogger at

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard about this concept: Integrated skills through drama? A play that is a curriculum? But what a great idea!

This book, Her Own Worst Enemy, for example, includes everything teachers need to introduce the key topics of the plot and to practise language whilst preparing to put on the play, as well as what to do afterwards and some advice on assessing students’ performance as language learners on this project! There are background readings, activities for writing and pronunciation training, and tasks to promote critical thinking as well as listening skills. These can all be used in any sequence the teacher deems appropriate, and would be usable with various sized classes.

The text seems to be around the B1 level, and may be too simple for more advanced learners, though the productive tasks would allow for differentiation. Age-wise I’d say it’s best aimed at teenagers or young adults who may find themselves in similar situations to the main character, trying to decide on a career path to choose, though I’m sure older adults would also find interest in Her Own Worst Enemy!

I am impressed by the way all of the tasks hold together so well with the themes of the play and also provide such varied language input and practice of relevant pragmatic functions. I’m looking forward to trying this out with my students next term.


I’m grateful she had time to share this 3 days before the IATEFL Conference begins! And so considerate of her to do so as Only the Best Intentions, the second book in the Integrated Skills Through Drama series just went up for preorder on Amazon.

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Can We Measure Rapport?

build rapport with students

We all know we’re supposed to build rapport with our students. But what are the concrete steps we can take to do that? What exactly do we mean by rapport? Is it something we can measure concretely? As it happens, the answer is yes

This article, The Importance of Establishing Rapport with Your Students, aims to demonstrate how rapport benefits learning. However to do that, the authors had to measure behaviors that build classroom community. In other words, they had to break  down rapport into specific behaviors. As a teacher,  you can use their scale backwards to build classroom community with your students!

So what are those behaviors that build rapport?

The authors of the article cited some key characteristics. Now these might seem like obvious qualities for a teacher to have. But, if we look at a few of the characteristics that are easy to implement in concrete actions, a pattern does emerge. For example, the researchers associated being happy, and enthusiastic with teachers that build good rapport. I\’m not a bubbly person by nature, but I do love my job. I think that comes through; students feel that you enjoy your subject and your class.

In addition, students appreciated classroom communities that promote class discussion. That includes letting students comment and ask questions as well as asking questions themselves. Students enjoy it when the teacher listens to them. Students also enjoy when the teacher is part of the discussion. It gives them a feeling of closeness.

The research also cited reliability as a factor, for example, answering emails.  I feel that reliability relates to respect. Students will respect you if you respect them.

Another concept related to rapport is immediacy, or openness. Using personal examples, telling jokes, smiling, and moving around the classroom are all ways to show immediacy. Students feel that the teacher wants to connect with them. On the other hand, teachers who stay at the front of the class can be seen as building a wall between them and the students. Teachers who never discuss their personal life similarly distance themselves from the students.

What do you do in your classroom to build rapport with students?

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10 Ways to Teach English with Plays

Why teach English with plays?

Plays are a natural resource for the English language classroom. They offer opportunities visit and revisit language in action, particularly if the play was written in natural dialogue. Furthermore, when students read an informational text, or even a short story, they aren’t always thinking about communication beyond the words. However plays are written to be spoken. That means playwrights must consider how their lines will sound out loud. That’s why plays reveal insights into the way speakers use fixed expressions, intonation, and gesture to convey feelings or wants, and to navigate relationships.  And they do so more effectively than other texts.

What’s more, producing a play, even in readers’ theater format, helps students loosen up and feel more confident “playing” with English and its many possible meanings. When students know what they are supposed to say, they can focus more on how to say it. In fact, when students have a script, they can practice different ways of saying the same line and explore how the meaning changes. Finally, producing a play can bring a motivating and much-needed sense of fun to the classroom.

Alice Savage, author of the Integrated Skills for Drama series, has written 10 ideas for extending the content or language of a script into a lesson. And we’ve turned them into images that you can download, print out, and add to your teacher room or classroom wall.

The activities can be used in any order and can suit a variety of goals. Some help students overcome insecurities about speaking and performing. Others foster critical thinking and writing skills, and some help ground pronunciation or grammar work in a relevant context. Pick and choose, adapt, and modify.

10 Ways to Teach English with Plays 10 Ways to Teach English with Plays 10 Ways to Teach English with Plays 10 Ways to Teach English with Plays


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