Review: Barry Reinvents Himself

Barry Reinvents Himself is a TEFL-lit novel by C.Cotterill (aka Twitter’s @ContinuouslyT).

After being kicked out of a minor prog-metal band, Birmingham-based Barry looks to shake his old image and bounce back. Lured by images of an old college mate living it up in SE Asia, Barry opts to take a CELTA, dragging fellow band reject Russel along for the ride. Shady schools, dodgy colleagues, frustrating students and a series of bad decisions follow. Barry dabbles in/with politics, spirituality and live listening lessons. Russel’s development as a teacher is stifled by long hours and habitual drinking. The pair have no idea where they’re going or what they’re doing. Will the duo’s bond remain intact? Will Barry find himself? Will either of them find love? (more…)

‘so’, ‘such a’, and cheap cocktails

Another one of my ‘making things up as I go along’ reflections. This time, something that actually worked!

The materials from one of our in-house, pre-int lessons the other day reviewed so/such (a) in the context of travel / holidays / hotels, that sort of thing.

The task was ‘describe a place you’ve visited or hotel you’ve stayed in, and shoehorn in some such a nice place/so lovely style phrases’. It was alright. Apart from that none of the students seemed that bothered about each other’s stories, none of them felt much like using a ‘so/such a’ phrase, and none of them really needed to either. But hey, that was the lesson aim, so I kind of had to run with it…

I spent some of the task time listening/assisting/etc, and the rest zoning out thinking ‘if I’m supposed to get learners using this language then I’m failing – so what other tasks have a got up my sleeve?’

I scribbled down (i.e. typed out on the IWB) a dialogue like this…


More creative displays and success criteria

We’ve been doing a module on travel. Last week, students wrote about their most memorable trip. Here’s the latest (sunny) display. I need to mount this on some nice coloured card and frame it a bit better, but I was really impressed by the students’ work!

Actually, it’s not the displays that I was most impressed with. I’ve been working on some of the techniques for highlighting success criteria that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I’ve also taken on board some of Kirsten Anne’s ideas from last month’s post on writing codes.

One of the displays includes a key which explains various content / language points students had to use in their writing:

Students used the symbols to highlight where they used each language point in their writing:

(note: I still need to correct a few things!)

I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science. I’ve seen Kirsten Anne marking books for her primary classes and these techniques are pretty standard. Still, it’s a great way for learners to show they understand the target language and can use it effectively. It makes my marking a lot easier too!

Click here for another example of a creative display.

Introducing travel – student quiz

This came up again recently. There’s nothing wrong with ‘Where the hell is Matt?’, that will always be a classic. However, I like to mix things up, personalise, find different ways to engage my students. This worked well…

First up, a bit of teacher/student rapport building. Stick pictures of your own travels around the room. Get students to guess the country where the pictures were taken. You can make them obvious…


or not…


Anyway, good for checking prior knowledge, and gets the class doing something straight away.

Then do a bit of sentence completion:

My top travel destination would be…  because…

Get students to complete the sentence in their notebook first (this will help you gather info!)

Then do a whole class mingle. Tell the students they have 5 minutes to ask as many people as possible about their top travel destination. They should make notes to remember what they hear – after the activity you will give them a quiz…

While everyone is chatting, listen/ask questions/look at notebooks etc. Gather info on each of your students’ responses during the 5 minutes.

When time is up put the students in pairs. Tell them to share their information. Then look at the data you’ve gathered and ask them 10 questions, e.g.

  • Which student’s top travel destination is Brazil?
  • How many students said that England was their top destination?
  • Who said they would like to see Big Ben?
  • Etc…

Obviously some students will hear questions about themselves – encourage them not to give the game away. When you’ve finished check scores and announce winners.

It’s fun and personalised. Young learners enjoy it! These stages take about 20 minutes in total, depending on level.

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.