EFL Sensei, Readymade Activities and Lesson Plans for the Busy English Teacher

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If you’re not in the know, EFL Sensei is a very usable resource for first timers and pros alike; the creation of Becki Benedict and Shawn Weldon, two EFL teachers with a decade of teaching experience each. The site offers ready to use activities, games, handouts, and lesson plans that can be easily downloaded, printed, or shared. What’s more, it’s nicely designed and easily navigable, which is not always the case even among some of my favorite EFL sites

EFL Sensei 01

While a lot of the activities and games seem more geared toward teens and adults, many could easily be modified for use with young learners. Benedict has also condensed her years of experience into easily digestible and convenient EFL folk wisdom on the Tips page, which is very readable and divided into topics that any teacher would be interested in learning more about. And if you’re nostalgic for the days when Friends was still on the air (which I admittedly am not), and you’ve always wanted materials to teach your students, then you’re in luck (click the link and scroll down)

I’ll be writing again on this site after I’ve tried some more of their activities in the classroom but EFL Sensei has definitely made its way onto my “go to” list for whenever I need a few new ideas.

A Little ESL Humor: Let’s Sing the ABCs!

Here’s some of that behind-the-scene teacher action that students never get to see:


Free Flashcards from MES English


Earlier this week I wrote about the great flashcards available from ESL Kids, but I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention another valuable site called MES English. If you’re not in the know, this site is a smorgasbord of freebies that include worksheets, worksheet generators, flashcards, flash games, videos, phonics materials, and even its own FREE curriculum which I’ve briefly written about.

But as for the flashcards, there is an enormous variety to choose from.

Flashcard topicsadjectives, animals, bathroom, bedroom, body parts, buildings, chores, Christmas, classroom, clothing, countries, daily routines, days, descriptions, Easter, family, fantasy, feeling/emotions, food/drinks/desserts, fruit, future tense Halloween, health, hobbies, house, insects, kitchen, living room, months, music/instruments, nationalities, nature, numbers, part-time jobs, passive verbs, past tense, people/jobs, phrasal verbs, places, the playground, plural nouns, prepositions of place and movement, pronouns, object and possessive pronouns, question words, recess activities, school building, school subjects, science, the five senses, shapes and colors, signs, sports, St. Patrick’s Day, super powers, Thanksgiving, time, tools, transportation, Valentine’s Day, vegetables, verbs, and weather.

The cards come in the standard A4 size in pdf or powerpoint format, but there are also mini cards that can be used to make games of concentration as well as simple bingo cards. There are student handouts as well.

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Best of all, you can use all these vocabulary words to make your own word search puzzles, crossword puzzles, and board games, as well as listening tests, where students either match, write, or circle the answers.

One drawback, though, is that the flashcards from MES English are not labeled on the front, back, or margins with what the card is supposed to be describing. Mark Cox, the creator of MES English, writes on his site that:

This is a personal preference as my experience has led me to believe it is more of a distraction than a benefit. I want the students to see the images and associate the words they are producing with the concepts or objects they are studying. With the words on the cards, they become reliant on reading as opposed to remembering.

Fair enough, but I would prefer to have the option. In the heat of teaching sometimes you can forget what the flashcards are supposed to be and it can be embarrassing to be umming and ahhing in front of the class, even if only for two or three seconds. But then, maybe that only happens to me.

Now having said all that, I do like the way Mark has included the indefinite article on this set of animal flashcards. It’s obvious to the experienced teacher what a help that could be to a young learner. So maybe Mark has is right after all.

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And if you’re interested, Mark had a podcast called ESL Teacher Talk that ran from 2007 to 2010 which is still available for download from iTunes.

Free Flash Cards from ESL Kids

I always let out a large groan whenever I see the price of the flashcards that accompany course books. In South Korea, just for example, the teacher cards for OUP’s seven volume Let’s Go series go for about $75 per book. Not a problem for private schools, but a huge nuisance for private teachers. Fortunately for members of the latter group, this week I’ll be writing about great sites that provide high quality flashcards (among other things) at no charge.

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ESL Kids is the creation of Nick Ramsay, an English teacher based in Japan, and a valuable resource for free customized flashcards, games and song sheets. There are a wide variety of topics to choose from which you can download, print, laminate and use in the classroom to compliment or use instead of ‘official cards’.

Flashcard topics: actions, alphabet, animals, body parts, buildings, Christmas, classroom, clothes, colors, days of the week, dinner set, Easter, emergency services, family, feelings, the five senses, food & drink, fruit, Halloween, months, musical instruments, numbers, occupations, playground, presents, rooms, shapes, sports, St. Patrick’s Day, things at home, transportation, Valentine’s, and weather.

You can choose whether you want the name of the card written on the front or not, as well as your preference of size.

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The worksheet generators at ESL Kids also use the same vocabulary to make writing practice sheets, text-only flashcards, tracing worksheets, trace and match worksheets, rock scissor papers games, dice games, die templates, spelling quizzes, bingo games, multiple choice worksheets, slam games, drawing sheets, board games, word search puzzles, scrambled word worksheets, and spinner.

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Good stuff, isn’t it? Actually, while writing this I’ve been wondering why I don’t use this site more often.

A Little ESL Humor: The Power of Ten Ten?

Years ago my wife introduced to me a great flick called The Power of One, so it was with great pleasure that I introduced to her The Power of Ten Ten.

My Review of Newsmart, the Latest and Greatest in Reading Comprehension with the WSJ

A while back I stumbled across Newsmart, a great new(s) site for students to experience reading one of the world’s top English language newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, at no charge. At first, I thought lawsuits would soon be on the way, but as it turns out Newsmart is produced with the blessing and cooperation of the WSJ. Anyway, it’s a super easy to use service and – with a few tweaks – one that has a bright future in ELT.

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Students can select from a collection of news stories gleaned from the WSJ proper. While reading they can also complete mostly multiple choice questions on vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension, crafted by professional content creators from ELT Jam. Readers are then given a score based on how many articles they’ve read and the accuracy of their answers, which then appears on the left side of the screen. Even better, like in my Boy Scout days, you get badges for your effort. The latter may seem a touch trivial, but you should never underestimate the power of small awards and just how immensely satisfying it is to have your achievements recognized (however humble they may be, as in my case).

The site itself is beautifully crafted, devoid of the advertising and other junk that clutters up competing sites. There is a large variety of articles to choose from, and thus something for everyone. A search box, though, is strangely lacking, which means having to spend several minutes scanning all the articles for the one you may have glanced at a couple of weeks ago but then forgot to click on the star-shaped ‘save for later’ button at the top of the page. And surprisingly, no app is yet available for iOS or Android, although I imagine there must be one in the works, since so many students would inevitably want to use this service while on the bus or metro.

Each article mentions how many points can be acquired in the three categories of questions, important for those trying to game the ranking system. More importantly for educators, the learning objectives are conveniently presented at the beginning of the text.

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The questions can be accessed by clicking on the color coded words spread throughout the article.

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Like this comprehension question:스크린샷 2014-03-01 오후 1.59.51

This vocabulary question:스크린샷 2014-03-01 오후 2.00.35

Or this short grammar exercise:스크린샷 2014-03-01 오후 2.01.36

Overall, not bad, eh? (…as I give away my nationality.)

The site is the creation of Dan Teran, a partner at the New York-based venture development firm Prehype, in cooperation with Nick Robinson of ELT Jam, Collins Learning, and of course The Wall Street Journal. It’s free for now, but that won’t last forever sans advertising, although in an exchange of emails Dan and Nick have reassured me that some version of the site will continue to be free going into the future.

Newsmart is already a powerful tool for individual study and it has the potential to be a great classroom tool for teachers. There’s nothing simpler than emailing links to articles you’ve assigned for homework, not to mention there is already a scoring metric in place. But going through some of the articles, I couldn’t help but think it lacked the convenience of Breaking News English, a similar site I reviewed last year.

Sure, the production values are not even close to Newsmart, but on BNE you can download the entire article, comprehension questions, and answer key as a pdf file, distribute it to students, and go over the answers in class. Now Newsmart may have a very good reason for NOT doing this, namely any method that makes it easier for students to use their material offline inevitably reduces the number of site users, but it could be a feature offered as part of a premium service. BNE also offers downloadable MP3s of their articles being read aloud in both American and British accents, which makes it easier for students to check and practice their pronunciation.

Then there are sites like The Day, whose articles come with discussion questions and can also be downloaded for classroom use. And there really should be some way for teachers to see how their students are getting on in the aggregate, much like the set up OUP has for its online homework, as I’ve written about here and here.

So as an educational tool, I still think there is some work to be done. As a business model, though, Newsmart could and should be replicated for other major newspapers like The New York TimesThe Financial Times, and The Economist, just to name a few that I’d like to see be made available. The whole thing might be free now, but I could be convinced to to pay quite a bit for it if it were more classroom friendly.