Building Connections – practical lesson ideas

APPI, the Portuguese Association for English Teachers,  held their 33rd National Conference in Lisbon from the 3rd to 5th of May. It took place at Instituto Universitario de Lisboa and this year´s theme was “Building Connections”. I had the pleasure to attend a few, truly inspirational talks/workshops on Sunday and because I can´t just keep what I learn to myself, here are some practical lesson ideas that will hopefully get you inspired, too!


  1. Ann Margaret Smith – Making Connections – developing an inclusive classroom

In this thought-provoking lecture, Ann Margaret Smith from ELT well (UK) suggested some practical ways we can use to develop a collaborative classroom culture.

How to make everybody in the class feel like they belong?

What can we do to support our learners? The problem is that nothing works for everybody and as teachers, we need to try to get to know and understand our learners, their strengths and weaknesses. According to Ann, it´s the teacher´s role to manage the classroom and try to make it inclusive adjusting the following:

  • physical environment (check the light, limit the noise level)
  • course materials (clear pages, a lot of opportunities to recycle)
  • classroom dynamics (pair work, group work, mingle activities or individual tasks – pair or group them accordingly to their needs)
  • integrated skills (bring in supplementary activities – make it real)

Students, on the other hand, need to understand that it´s ok to be different. They should value diversity and the benefits it can bring to the group. They ALL work towards the same aim.

How can we help the students better understand their own needs and build a sense of the group as a learning community?

  • create a questionnaire (language needs)
  • the peer needs analysis (students interview each other)
  • class survey (students learn from each other – How do you learn vocabulary?)
  • discussions (It´s good for them to share learning strategies)
  • board games (make it age and level appropriate)

 It´s crucial to get our students to think about HOW they learn and it´s our role to help them really get to know themselves.

Thank you, Ann!


2. Katherine Stannett – Looking Beyond the Classroom

In this extremely practical lecture, Katherine from National Geographic Learning (UK) spoke about how we can use real lives, places, and stories to teach language while encouraging our learners to find out about the world.

In the activity called `Wow! What an amazing world`, Katherine took us on a virtual trip around the world that started with the tree climbing goats of Morocco:

goats on the tree

Source: google images

Katherine showed us how to use the above picture (or ANY picture) in a language classroom to help our students improve their English in a memorable way and, at the same time, encourage them to find out more about the world through a series of short activities:

  • Basic questions

Have students answer some basic questions about the picture:

Where are the goats? Why do you think they are there? What´s the weather like? etc.

  • Language work

Have students work in small groups and think of other animals that climb trees.

  • Personalisation

Have students work in small groups again and answer a few questions connected with the image:

Do you like climbing trees? Why/why not?

What food do you eat that comes from trees?

  • Creative

Students make up a silly story about why the goats are in the tree.

Students choose two goats and write speech bubbles for them.

Free image links:

Thank you, Katherine!


3.  Claudia Correia – Tic TALK Toe

In this hands-on workshop, Claudia Correia from Texto Editora (Portugal) presented us with a series of practical speaking ideas for using game elements in the context of learning ( Gamification). Here are a few of my favourite ones:

  • (Human) Guess Who?

Divide the classroom into two teams. One student from each team comes up to the front of the room. All the other students stand up. The two students in front of the room choose a person each (they keep it a secret) and they start asking questions (just like in the original game):

Are you wearing glasses? (the student who is wearing glasses sits down)

Have you got brown hair? (the students with brown hair sit down and so on)

Through the process of elimination, students will eventually have two people standing!

To make it more fun, students can use crazy costumes and accessories!

  • Perfect Peter

Prepare two equal sets of flashcards (action verbs). Give the two sets out to the students (two different verbs each) and have the same verbs written on the board:

go   play   read   sleep   run   eat  etc.

Tell the students that they need to find out what Perfect Peter does every day. Choose one verb to start with (e.g. play) and say:

Perfect Peter plays every day.

Ask the students:

Who´s got `play`?

The student with the verb `play` needs to disagree and use the other verb he/she has got:

No, Perfect Peter doesn´t play every day. He reads every day!

The student holding the verb ´read` disagrees and the game continues until all the verbs are crossed out and we finally learn the truth about Perfect Peter. The last student tells the whole class what Perfect Peter does every day!

3. Last Word

Choose a category ( Things that grow/Things in the house/Things that are yellow, etc), and have the students stand in a circle. Students take turns saying words that belong to the given category – they can´t repeat the words. If they repeat a word or can’t say any more words, they need to sit down. The last man/student standing wins the game.

All the above games will definitely get the entire class involved and I am trying them out with my young learners next week! Thank you, Claudia!


4.  Luke Tilley – Communication in the classroom and out of it

In his very practical lecture, Luke from British Isles (Portugal) gave us a few practical ideas on how to encourage students to speak more in class and how to bring in other cultures into their world.

Luke feels that everything now is far too immediate. The expectation is disappearing with technology. We don´t feel the anticipation anymore. If we want to heat up a meal, we simply use a microwave for it. Isn´t it the excitement of waiting that makes the event more enjoyable? The Penpal Project – one of the ideas in the talk – was an attempt to slow down, go old school and give the students in Portugal the opportunity to exchange old-fashioned letters with students from Greece:


The project lasted for the whole school year and the waiting time was around 2-3 weeks. The waiting time made it EXCITING! Students were truly looking forward to hearing from their new Greek friends and were always looking forward to…WRITING back!

An idea for the next school year, perhaps? Thank you, Luke!


Happy Creating!

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