Posted in Odds and ends

Number 1 Bestseller: A Short Guide to TEFL

I feel slightly naughty posting this but I might never be Number 1 in any chart again.

Thanks to all of you who have bought a copy. And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back?

Thanks Mum But you didn't need to buy so many copies!
Thanks Mum But you didn’t need to buy so many copies!
Posted in Games and activities

The Pixar Pitch Lesson

What do these animated movies have in common?

Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Up, Ratotouille and Brave (The winner of the best animated film at the Oscars in 2013).


All of these movies were made by Pixar, the animated film studio linked with George Lucas of Star Wars fame and the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. Pixar has in less than 20 years become the most successful animated film studio since Disney. These films have been critical and financial smashes but why has this company succeeded where so many others have failed?

In his new book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink talks about pitches – concise verbal or visual presentation of an idea for a film made by a screenwriter or director to a producer or studio in the hope of attracting financial backing – and how Pixar have created a simple but incredibly effective template.

The Pixar Pitch Template uses the following sequence adverbs to create a basic storyline.

Once upon a time….

Every day…

One day….

Because of that…..

Because of that….

Until finally….

Reading this part, I realised that it could be adapted to create a simple but effective integrated skills lesson for EFL students:

For this lesson, I have used a simple Engage, Study and Activate plan based on the Harmer model. Follow the link below to read more: ESA method.


ENGAGE –  Tell the students briefly about the last good film you saw. Put them in pairs / small groups and ask them to tell each other about the last good film they have seen. You could board these 3 questions:

What was the last good film you saw?

What type of film was it?

What happened in it?


(You might have to prepare this part before the lesson).

Read a short pitch for a movie you think the students will have seen. Here is an example. As the students if they can you guess which film it is?

Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy called Peter who lived with his aunt.

Every day he went to school where he was often bullied and made fun of because he was a science nerd.

One day he went to a science expedition where he was bitten by a radioactive spider.

Because of that, he developed superhuman powers which meant that he was incredibly strong and fast, could climb walls and could sense danger before it occurred.

Because of that, he started to use his powers to take revenge on people who had made his life unpleasant and realised he could use his new powers to become rich, famous and successful with women. However, he made many enemies and they wanted to destroy him.

Until finally, he realised that with great power comes great responsibility. Instead of trying to become rich and famous, he had to use his powers to become a force for good.

Look out! It's Spiderman
Look out! It’s Spiderman

Simple isn’t it! With this simple template, you can create a simple and concise plot description. Provide the students with this template and briefly analyse the sequence adverbs and pronunciation features.

In order to provide students with a suitable model for a pitch, the teacher should ask them to identify key pronunciation features here such as word stress, intonation, and rhythm. Drilling each component of the pitch might be an effective way to do this and you could provide a simple handout on which they could note down phonological features and practise delivering the pitch in pairs.


You have a range of options here. You could:

  • Ask each student to prepare a pitch for a well-known movie. Then, do a mingling exercise in which the students pitch to each other and try to guess the movie.
  • Give the students a series of genres (horror, romance, comedy etc) and perhaps a location (New York, a language school, an office, a small village) and ask them to create a basic story on their own.Then put them in pairs and give them roles. Student A is a screenwriter and Student B is a producer. A pitches to B and then change roles.
  • Do the above but divide the classes into screenwriters and producers and do a mingling role play. Change roles so everybody has the chance to pitch and listen to a pitch.
  • Put students in small groups and give them a few ideas or pictures to create a story idea. Give them time to create a collaborative pitch and ask them to choose somebody to deliver the pitch in front of the whole class.

I hope you can try out this lesson with your students and I’d love to hear how it goes.

If you like this blog, why have a look at my new Ebook:  A Short Guide to TEFL


Posted in Spanish learners

10 problems Spanish learners have when speaking English

Sometimes it feels as if you’re banging your head against a brick wall. No matter how many times you tell your Spanish students to say: “She has blue eyes” they continue to say “She has eyes blues.

cats eyes
Blue eyes or eyes blues?

What’s their problem?

Are they lazy?

Are they stupid?

Do they not listen to you?

Before you start blaming THEM, think about your own second language learning history for a minute.

Are there any mistakes you make over and over again?

If your answer is NO, I’m not convinced you are being 100% honest.

The truth is that we all make mistakes when using our second language.

It’s entirely natural to do so because our use of our second language is always influenced by our native tongue.

In this blog, I’m going to point out 10 reasons why Spanish speakers make certain errors. Knowing about these problems may help you and your students find ways to resolve them.

1. How many vowel sounds are there in Spanish? How many in English?

Spanish has 5 vowel sounds and English has….12. The other problem is that the length of the vowel sound is not an important feature which leads to classic misunderstandings such as: In Spain, there are many hot bitches!

2. Consonants also cause problems for Spanish speakers. Some English phonemes have equivalents in Spanish but others are distinctive sounds.

Ζ /∫ / ð / ν / ʤ / ʒ /  h have no real match in Spanish.

How many consonant clusters can you spot?
How many consonant clusters can you spot?

3. Consonant Clusters are far more common in English than in Spanish. A simple word (for native English speakers) like ‘breakfast’ is tough for Spaniards who will often pronounce it ‘brefas’ and omit the ‘f’ and the final ‘t’ because they are attached to another consonant. They also need a run-up to manage names like ‘Stephen’ and insert a vowel sound before the first cluster of s / t and will often say ‘Estephen’.

4. The relationship in English between pronunciation and orthography (sound and spelling) is a nightmare for Spanish speakers because these two aspects are joined at the hip in their language. Words sound as they are spelled and are spelled like they sound. This is clearly not the case in English.

5. Whereas English is generally categorised as a stress-timed language, Spanish is usually considered to be a syllable-timed language. In English, we would put the beat on the content syllables in this sentence:

The Beatles were bigger than Elvis.

A Spanish speaker might pronounce each syllable equally and this might sound robotic to English speaker ears and we might struggle to identify the key content.

The / Beat / les / were / big / ger / than / El / vis.

6. The Spanish language doesn’t really have contracted forms in the same way as English. This means they can’t always hear them (I’ll see you tomorrow: Yes, I see you tomorrow) or they misuse them (Are you Pedro? Yes, I’m).

El gato black

7. In English, an adjective comes before a noun (black cat) but the noun generally comes before the adjective in Spanish (cat black). The other problem is that we talk about ‘black cats’ in English but ‘gatos negros’ in Spanish. In other words, the adjective has a plural form which it doesn’t in English.

8. Asking questions with auxiliary verbs is a minefield for Spanish speakers. They often omit them and just use an affirmative form:

You are happy?

Sometimes they remember the auxiliary but put the main verb in the past tense to make sure they are understood:

Did you went to the party?

Question tags are also problematic due to the fact that there is a one-size fits all tag in Spanish (You are hungry, no?) unlike English which is far more structurally complex.

9. Subject personal pronouns (I, You, She, He, We, It, They) are often unnecessary in Spanish as the form of the main verb identifies the subject. This is why you’ll hear Spanish speakers say things like:

Is Bob here?’  ‘Yes, is here.’

It is possible to pass the exam?’  ‘Yes. is possible.’

dog and cat
Friends for real?

10. False friends. Your Spanish students may surprise you with the depth and complexity of their vocabulary. However, these words are often cognates (similar words in two languages such as intelligent and inteligente) and derive from Latin. This can be beneficial to Spanish students who can often understand complex authentic texts in English. On the other hand, just as English speakers often change English suffixes to Spanish ones to form words (apparently to apparentemente), Spanish speakers often try to use a Spanish word only to find that it has a very different meaning in English.

This is a topic I’ll be returning to in a future post but I’ll leave you with one of my favourite excuses for missing a lesson:

Pedro: ‘Sorry professor, I couldn’t assist the class because of my strong constipation.’

So, next time, you groan inwardly or outwardly about a repeated error made by your Spanish students, cut them some slack but explain why they are wrong.

Bibliography:  Swan, M & Smith, B. Learner English. Cambridge. 2001.

Are there any other major differences between Spanish and English which cause problems?

Posted in Games and activities

Last minute Love Lessons

Whoops! You’ve completely forgotten that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and haven’t planned anything with a romantic theme for your classes.


Don’t panic – Here are 3 last-minute love lessons / activities for you to try with very little preparation needed.

TIP: Talking about relationships can be uncomfortable for students who don’t want to discuss their personal lives. In order not to invade their privacy, encourage them to create imaginary characters.


  • Briefly introduce the concept of ‘speed dating’. It may be unfamiliar to some cultures.
  • Divide the students into men and women. If you have an unequal number, just ask some of the students to play a member of the opposite sex.
  • Arrange the seats in two lines facing each other, one line for the women and the other for the men.
  • Give each student a photo of a single man or a single woman (you could ask them to draw a face) and create a profile for their portrait (age, name, job, interests, favourite movies or music etc.).
  • Tell them they are single people looking for a partner and their aim is to find somebody who wants to go on a date with them.
  • Let them show the portrait/ picture to their partner.
  • Do a trial run by asking the students to chat to the person sitting opposite them for 2/3 minutes and try to charm them.
  • Then, ask the men to stand up and move one seat to the right. Give them they 2/3 minutes to chat to their new partner.
  • Continue the activity until all the men and all the women have had a 2/3 minute chat.
  • To finish, ask the students to write down their first and second choice for a date.
  • Collect the slips of paper and see if any if any of the choices corresponded, if a man choose a woman as her number 1 and she also choose him as her favourite.

Great for: 2nd conditionals “If you were to go out with me, you’d have the night of your life.”


2. Round-robin romantic story

  • Create a simple handout on an A4 sheet of paper. Draw a picture of a man and woman at the top. Write the following questions on the page. Leave enough space after each question so that students can write their answers. Tip: fold the sheet 3 times and you’ll have enough space for 8 questions.

Who was the man?

Who was the woman?

Where were they were they met?

What was he doing when they met? What was she doing?

What did they say to each other?

What did they think of each other?

What did they do after they met?

What happened in the end?

  • Hand a sheet to each student and ask them to write their name at the top of the sheet and an answer to the first question.
  • Wait for all students to finish, ask them to fold the sheet below their answer. Tell them to pass the sheet to the person to their left. The next person can see the second question but not the first answer.
  • Ask your students to answer the second question, fold, pass the sheet to the next person.
  • Continue until all of the questions have been answered.Collect all the sheets and then hand them back to the person whose name is at the top.
  • Finally, let the students read the stories. Some of them will be nonsense but a few are bound to make sense.
  • Ask them to correct any errors.

Great for: Practising narrative tenses.

  • Love is in the air

3. Dating Coach role-plays

  • Give each student a portrait photo. Tell them that the person in the photo is single and ask them to create a profile for the person in the photo.
  • Then, ask them to write down 3 reasons why this person is single (they have poor dress sense, terrible personal hygiene, embarrassing habits etc.)
  • Put the students in small groups of 3 (make sure the groups are mixed in terms of gender) and ask them to discuss a series of dating-related questions such as

What should people do to find a partner?

Where should they go on a first date?

What should men/women wear on a first date?

What topics should / shouldn’t they talk about on a first date?

What behavioural habits turn people off on a first date?

Who should pay the bill?

  • Get some whole class feedback and then move onto the role play.
  • Assign a role to each member of the group of 3: Man on a first date, woman on a first date, and dating coach.
  • Rearrange the chairs/desks to make the classroom resemble a restaurant/bar/cafe and play some romantic music to get the students in the mood.
  • Ask the men and the women to act out the blind date (remind them that they should behave according to the profile they created) and tell the dating coach to observe the date and make notes about how each participant performed.
  • Give a time limit (I find between 5 and 10 minutes is fine for Intermediate level learners) Stress that they are to assess their dating performance not their English speaking ability: Were they polite? Did they listen attentively to their partner? Were the conversation topics appropriate?
  • When the ‘date’ ends, ask the dating coaches to provide feedback on the participants’ performance.
  • Change roles / groups and repeat the role play.
  • The teacher can monitor and note down errors and examples of good language which could benefit the whole class.

Great for: Modal verbs to give advice in the past and present.

glass wine


Love is in the air…do dee do dee do dee dee…

Have a great Valentine’s Day.

Posted in Odds and ends

Free gift: A Short Guide to TEFL (90 pages)

As a special gift for followers of this blog:

I have written an e-book for people who are:

  • thinking of becoming TEFL teachers
  • people who are currently doing the course
  • newly-qualified teachers.

It is currently for sale as an e-book for Amazon Kindle readers – at $2.99, it’s the price of a cup of coffee.

A Short Guide to TEFL
A Short Guide to TEFL

The good news is that I am offering it as a free pdf document for followers of this blog until Tuesday 12 February.

I only have one small favour to ask:

If you like the book, please write a complimentary review on Amazon UK.

smile-16134 or 5 stars would be great!!!

So, for your free copy become a follower of this blog and I’ll send you the e-book next week.

Thanks for your time,

Dylan Gates

Posted in Spanish learners

Lost in Translation: The answers to last week’s quiz

Here they are…..the answers to last week’s quiz about Spanish titles of famous English language movies.


1. Casarse esta en Griego – My Big Fat Greek Wedding
I think you’ll agree that the Spanish title is far less likely to offend than the original.

2. Milagros inesperados – The Green Mile
‘Unexpected Miracles’ is probably a better title than the original. I saw the film a few months ago and can’t remember seeing a mile…and it certainly wasn’t green!

English classes
My poor little angel

3. Mi pobre Angelito – Home Alone
The Spanish title sounds far too latino for a film starring Macauley Caulkin, probably the palest actor ever to grace the silver screen.

4. Experto en Diversion – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
I’m sensing a theme here. The Spanish titles are bland and far more literal than their Anglo-American counterparts.

5.  Secreto en la Montana – Brokeback Mountain.
There’s a mountain and it’s got a secret.

It's got a secret!!
It’s got a secret!!

6. Que paso ayer – The Hangover
‘What happened yesterday?’ is a succinct plot summary if nothing else. Somewhat lacking in inspiration these Spanish titles, don’t you think?

7. Vaselina – Grease

All together now, sing along with me:

Vaselina is the word

Vaselina is the word, that you heard

It’s got groove it’s got meaning

Vaselina is the time, is the place is the motion

Vaselina is the way we are feeling

8. Muertos de risa – Shaun of the Dead
It’s a comedy about dead people. Mmm, well it does what it says on the tin, I suppose.

old man laughing
He died laughing you know!

9. Amor y Desafio – Jerry MacGuire
As neither Jerry nor MacGuire are familiar names to the Spanish, I understand the change. Why not call it something like Jose Martinez though?

10. Perdidos en Tokio – Lost in Translation
A sensible choice, marketing the film directly at the many Japophiles in Spain.

So, how many did you get right? If you know any other amusing film titles in Spanish or English titles of Spanish movies, I’d love to hear them.