Vicky Loras's Blog

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lesson plans

Are You Playing or Learning? – Both!


VickyReadingontheFloorI am in my nineteenth year of teaching and I have taught in Greece and Switzerland so far, the latter being my home for the best part of the past seven years. I teach students of all ages and levels. When people ask me why I like teaching Young Learners, I tell them that I love it because it is

  • creative
  • I learn so much from my little ones
  • fun!

First of all, let us look at who these lovely little people we call Young Learners are. We have Very Young Learners (VYLs), who are 3 – 6 years old and then we have Young Learners (YLs), who are 7 – 12.

When I teach them, as do many teachers I know and have seen when visiting their classes, I love to incorporate the element of fun. Children learn in a much more pleasant environment and much more effectively, I believe. To be honest, all students and even adults like the element of fun in their classes!

Sometimes however, I have been asked the following question: “Are you playing, are you just having fun, or are you learning?” I have been asked this both by parents of students or caregivers, and also by a few teachers – rarely the latter category, but it has happened!

I understand their concerns, and especially in contexts where children need to follow a specific methodology in order later on in life to sit for a language exam. However, I still think that even in those contexts, fun can be part of the lesson – if not the whole time, even ten minutes at the end can help!

Fun ideas are loads to be found, either from colleagues, other teachers we connect to on social media, or social media themselves as resources, like Pinterest for instance.

(Image taken from

Some fun ideas I use in my classes are:

  • Story Cubes! They are dice with pictures on them and I discovered a specific kind from a Canadian teacher, Aviva Dunsiger, whom I am connected to on Twitter. They are called Rory’s Story Cubes and there different categories. Kids shake them, throw them on a surface and depending on the pictures that come up on the dice, they have to put them in the order they want and then they can tell the story they have just created. They come up with some really fun and funny stories, and above all they practise their speaking skills (they can even write down their story as a small task in class) and learn and consolidate a lot of vocabulary! If you do now want to buy cubes, you can even make your own. There are so many templates online and you can draw or stick pictures on them – even better, along with the kids! They will love it and again, learn so much.
  • You’re the teacher today! Sometimes I let the kids know beforehand that in the next lesson they can be the teacher for a while. They can teach us something as long as they do it in English! I go and sit along with the other kids, either in the chair of the teacher-student or on the floor with the kids. Some teach us dances, some bring in things like their favourite Lego creations…and they just love teaching us! They love the responsibility that comes with it and they always take it very seriously.
  • Books! Some teachers and parents say that their kids do not love books…well, I think that children need to be exposed to them first of all. There are books all over my school. Not only on bookcases, but also on plastic boxes and baskets on the floor, on the window ledges. You can just see them picking them up on their own, finding the topics they like and sometimes they want to read them out loud in class! What could be better? We can also organise trips to bookstores or libraries with them. Read-alouds once a week or as often as we deem necessary. Kids just loving listening to grown-ups read to them, especially if we change our voice for every character!

These are only some ideas for Young Learners. The list is endless!

Let’s keep in touch! I would love to know what you do with your kids. Just remember to have fun with them and they are still learning no matter what.

The day k d lang came to our class…with Godot (Pt 1)

This is a long story…that can be explained in this post only a little. Along with our students, it can lead us to many places!

Let’s start from the very beginning. k d lang (she writes her name in lower case, just like  e e cummings : ) is a Canadian singer, with a golden voice, and my absolute favourite female performer. Her song Constant Craving is one of my all-time favourites. I just love the instruments used (especially the accordion is haunting and beautiful), the lyrics are amazing and k d’s voice spectacular.

The other day, I was listening to the song (again) and paying much closer attention to the video, which I have seen more times than I remember…and it hit me. I looked at the characters…they reminded me of something. Are the men in the theater where k d is, playing in Waiting for Godot? I did that play in university, in my very first year in a class called Introduction to Drama. I loved that play so much, that it became the main topic of a paper I wrote then. I checked the story behind the video, and it really is k d in a theater, where this play is being performed!

Can I use her song AND the play in class? Sure – I can try!

Here is how I am thinking of using it – let me know if you have any different ideas! I am positive that my students will take me to other places that I had never imagined before, so this is just a rough idea.

I am thinking of using it with B2 / C1 / C2 level students, because some of the vocabulary and themes can be a bit challenging for lower levels. So then for my classes, it will be mainly teens and adult students.

I will show them the title first. Some initial rough questions:

  • What do you think it means?
  • What does to crave mean?
  • Why does she call it a constant kind of craving? Guess what the song is about! (The artist herself has never clearly, in as many interviews as I have seen, mentioned who or what the source of inspiration for this song is. There is no correct or wrong answer in songs, poetry or literature anyway, I believe. They can all be left open to interpretation. We want our students to produce written or spoken language in English.)

I will let them listen to the song and watch the video then. 

  • What is the singer doing? What do you think her feelings are and why?
  • Where is she? Why do you think so?
  • What are the people in the theater doing: The audience? The people on stage?

Then I will give them the lyrics. You can see them and the activities in a document called ConstantCraving_LessonPlan and feel free to do anything you like with it, change it, create it from the beginning, anything!

  • We can go through the lyrics one by one and discuss, thoughts that come to our minds, feelings, anything.
  • They can choose a word or phrase that strikes them and write a small poem or short story.
  • They can perform / present their poems or stories in front of the class (if they feel comfortable, or we can do it with them / for them) – perhaps even with the song playing softly in the background, to give a more dramatic tone : )

Here is my favourite live performance of the song, for your pleasure – happy listening!

Waiting for Godot will be the next post – Part 2! Stay tuned. 

Remembering Terry Fox @terryfoxcanada

Terry Fox (Image take from Reuters)
Terry Fox
(Image take from Reuters)

Another academic year started here in Switzerland a month ago. One of my students that I have been teaching ever since I came here in 2009, came back to classes full of enthusiasm to tell me that next year, he will be going to Canada on a student exchange program!

Now my joy is double – he is going to my birth country for the first time, and he is staying there for a whole year! The things he will learn and he experiences of a lifetime he will have! I asked him whether we could incorporate various lessons about Canada into our classes and he agreed. I will be sharing them from time to time on my blog.

Today, I introduced him to one of the most inspiring Canadians – Terry Fox. I remember being inspired when I was in Grade 1 in Canada and our teacher was telling us about him. Terry lost his leg to cancer when he was 19 years old, but that didn’t stop him from deciding to run a cross-Canadian marathon when he was 22, with an artificial leg. He did this to raise money for cancer research. He eventually ran 5,373 kilometres, before cancer had spread to his lungs and was the cause of his death. The legacy he has left Canada and the world is tremendous.

There is a treasure trove of lesson plans from the Terry Fox Foundation that helped us a lot today and we will be going back to it with my other students as well.

We also watched this inspiring and moving video of Terry Fox’s amazing feat. A Canadian hero that continues to inspire us many years later.

Work and Motivation – A Lesson Based on Dan Ariely’s TED Talk

Dan Ariely (Photo from YouTube)

Like many educators I interact with, I really love TED Talks. Some of them are really very good, some inspiring – and some can be used in class too! I love that we can not only watch (parts of the) videos with students, but each video has an interactive transcript (in many languages as well!).

I first found out about Dan Ariely three years ago, when a student of mine at a bank was raving about Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational. He told me what it was about – I read it and loved it. He inspired me especially when I found out he had been a burn patient and all the things he did to keep himself motivated in such a truly difficult situation.

Needless to say, I have watched almost all of his talks and read lots of his material. In today’s class, we watched the first 6-7 minutes of Ariely’s talk.

  • Before that though, we talked about what motivates us either to work or study or both (they work in full-time jobs and study full-time too – I share their agony as I am doing a MA too!). I made a wordweb on the blackboard and we write down all factors around the central idea of motivation and feeling good about what we do.



  • We then watched the video fragment, talked about it and we especially liked the experiment with the Lego. It was a great idea! They gave people Lego pieces to build Bionicles for three dollars. They gradually reduced the amount, while secretly destroying the creations and giving them back the same pieces to build a ‘different’ Bionicle.
  • I then gave them part of the transcript, from which I had removed words that they had to fill in, and also removed words that had to be made into derivatives of other words (they will be examined on Reading Comprehension in October, but I believe it is equally important  for them to read and comprehend in their work and studies as well, and learn new vocabulary and enhance the words they already know. I like them to be able to expand their skills into their everyday lives as well and not only to concentrate on the exam). Here is the document with the gaps and the answer key.
  • We discussed any problems they had with the text and also did some speaking about motivation that came up on the spot.
  • As a final task in class, I gave them a topic to write a proposal on (it is at the end of the gap-fill document).

Here is Dan in action: 

Feel free to leave a comment, how you would use or have used TED talks, or any other ideas you come up with and wish to share!

Storytelling and Language Learning with Picture Dice

One of the things I love about being connected on social media is that I get new ideas for my teaching practically every day. It must have been three or four years ago, when I was on Twitter and I saw an educator (apologies for not remembering who it was!) posting about using story cubes in class and then a lot of teachers got into the Twitter discussion, talking about how there were using them in class, others said they were also discovering them then and there like me…I found it a brilliant idea and they work a treat, not only with Young Learners, but also with my teenage students – I have also used them with adults and they loved them!

I also mentioned them in one of the workshops I did about three weeks ago, invited by the amazing Larissa Teachers Association in Greece! The teachers there have inspired me to write this post.

On to the picture dice, or story cubes now…

They can be used as a filler at the end of the lesson, for them to unwind and still learn, as a warmer for the beginning for the class – even though they might get really excited and not want to continue with other things – including the adult students!

One of our children telling us a story! (@LorasNetwork)
One of our children telling us a story! (@LorasNetwork)

This is not an advertisement for the specific product, but I also got this idea from a teacher on Twitter. There are actually ready-made story cubes, called Rory’s Story Cubes and they come in various topics. Actions, Voyages, Original, and many more. They are actually quite affordable and their material guarantees that nothing will happen to them.

How we use them:

  • The student holds them all together and shakes them, and then throws them on the table or floor as they would with normal dice. Then, they have to spend a few minutes thinking about the order in which they want to connect the nine cubes, in order to tell a story.
  • Sometimes, if we have time, we mix up two or three boxes and they can make an even longer and funnier story!
  • Two or three students can work at a time, preparing what they want to say and then, when the time comes for them to tell their story the collaboration and improvisation that comes up is spectacular!
  • One student throws the dice and starts telling the story, while the other(s) have their backs turned to the storyteller and they try to guess which picture the storyteller is talking about!
  • Students practise so many things with this game. Their grammar, and mainly their tenses and also vocabulary. They learn new items of vocabulary and they use them again and again in their next games, and they do it in a fun way too!

If you prefer not to buy, and create your own, or even better create your own along with the students, I have found a Paper-Cube-Template, online, which you can print on thick paper or cardboard so that it is even sturdier to use and lasts longer.

We can then:

  • Draw or cut and paste pictures on them with the students so they can create their own character and stories.
  • Add splashes of colour on each side of the die, so they can learn the colours, if they are beginners – we can do the same with numbers, or words, anything!

There is an educator in Istanbul, Evridiki Dakos, who did something last year that was terrific! She created her own huge dice using cardboard boxes, and then laminated them with clear tape so they would be more durable and the pictures could stay in excellent condition. Here is a collage of her work and you can find more super ideas from Evridiki on her blog, ELT Teacher Development.

Evridiki's amazing creations!
Evridiki’s amazing creations!

The Disabled Access Friendly Campaign (@DAFCampaign) – Thank you!


I have decided to write this post as a huge thank you to the Disabled Access Friendly Campaign, started by the equally amazing Katie Quartano and Paul Shaw in Thessaloniki, Greece. It started in 2010, after an article in the Athens News was published under the title of A day in the life of a disabled person. The campaign was born as a Facebook page and at this very moment has 976 followers!

DAF has a great website full of free lesson materials, created by teachers all around the world – lesson plans and videos listed by level A1 to C2, according to the CEFR. They are designed to create awareness in the ELT classroom and outside of it. If you have any great ideas about lessons, share them with Katie and Paul!

A few days ago, they included me among their Ambassadors. I am deeply honoured and happy to be part of this great project! I will do my very best to help spread this great campaign. Other ambassadors are Hassan Ait Man, Julia Aliverti, Lindsay Clandfield, Jeffrey Doonan, Adir Ferreira, Ben Goldstein, Jamie Keddie, Sue Lyon-Jones, Gerard McLoughlin, Eleni Nikiforou, Waleed Nureldeen, Aleksandra Strahinic. 

The best news lately has been that the Disabled Access Friendly Campaign has won an ELTons award for Innovation in Teacher Resources. If you click on the link you can see a video of Katie and Paul’s red carpet interview (at 34:25 mins), the winning announcement and their acceptance speech (at 1:32:33).

Congratulations to everyone at DAF and thank you again so much for everything you do!

Watch this video The Wheelchair, from the Disabled Access Friendly YouTube channel, with David Gibson and Luke Prodromou:







The Day Sting Came to Our Classroom – A Lesson Plan on “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You”

As I have mentioned in other blog posts, I love teaching with songs – and students love it too, even if they have never heard the specific songs before! I must admit that very often I use songs I personally love – and today’s is one of them. Sting is one of my favourite artists and the particular song is super too, I think.

I have also realised that I have a lot of lesson plans with songs and I will share them more often in the future!

The song I have chosen and have used with my students in Greece and now here in Switzerland is If I Ever Lose My Faith in You. Depending on the context and country, it could be slightly controversial – but the activities I have created are pretty neutral. I hope you enjoy them and if you have more ideas, feel free to share in the comments!

Here is the video:

And the lesson plan.

Conferences, Workshops and Swapshops – PD in Focus 1

(from bottom left) Tyson Seburn, Steve Muir, Fiona Mauchline, Eva Buyuksimkesyan and myself at TESOL France
(from bottom left) Tyson Seburn, Steve Muir, Fiona Mauchline, Eva Buyuksimkesyan and myself at TESOL France

After last Sunday’s webinar for BELTA Belgium, I have decided to start a series of posts, each one focusing on every point raised in my presentation, both for novice teachers and experienced ones. As I mentioned in the webinar, a good teacher is a constant learner – so regardless of the years one has been teaching, Professional Development should always have a pivotal role.

Let’s start with the first point – which is also one of my favourites: conferences, workshops and swapshops, the latter being a new kind of event and one that I find very interesting.

  • First of all, it helps tremendously to know which events we will attend and where. As we are all educators and work hard to earn our income, it is crucial to plan our events based on our budget. There are so many things going on, either at our own local level or internationally. An easy and practical way to find out where various conferences are going on is to look at Tyson Seburn‘s amazing ELT Calendar on his blog.

Second, it also helps to be a member of an association as we can get a lot of perks, such as free attendance to events, or at a discount (even the magazine or newsletter, electronic or paper). It is impossible to be members of all the associations we would like to, but nowadays most of them are affordable and allow us to register for multiple ones.

Now, on to the whywhy should we attend all these events? Don’t we already have enough to do, besides teaching, marking, preparing?

  • These events serve as a boost, a nice charge-up of our skills, ideas and motivation! A lot of educators including myself feel fully charged after a conference or workshop. You are just ready and looking forward to using the ideas you got in our own classroom, changing your methods, experimenting to see how the students will respond. Sometimes it might be the case that these ideas don’t work, but at least you have tried something different.
  • Suggest ideas! A lot of sessions, or workshops, are highly interactive – the speakers include the audience as well.So that way you can come forward and mention an idea you have used in your own classroom, or how you would use the idea you just heard from the speaker. Instant feedback. (I just love these sessions where everyone can take part!)
  • Conferences are not only the sessions themselves. Breaks are amazing opportunities to meet new people or come together with people you already know and talk with them, share your own experiences and compare your contexts, share ideas you got if you have attended different sessions. Networking, as it is called. Some of the best discussions I remember having have been during lunch or coffee breaks.
  • You can listen to great speakers from all around the world. How great is that? : )
  • Present! It might seem intimidating (and I am definitely far from being an experienced speaker) but it is a great experience. It is a great opportunity to share your ideas with others and do something new.

Swapshops: They are a relatively new kind of event. What happens there is that everyone can present an idea of their own – a lesson plan, idea, technique that they see has worked for their classrooms and would like to exchange with the other teachers. Usually it is a timed presentation 7-8 minutes, or more. It is so interesting! I love how everyone participates and the enthusiasm is contagious! You can leave a swapshop with a lot of ideas.

Any other reasons you consider conferences and events as a great way of developing professionally? Feel free to add a comment.

Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.
Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.

Using Advertising in the Business English Classroom

Continue reading “Using Advertising in the Business English Classroom”

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