Category Archives: Kids

All about teaching kids from 5 to 12 years old.

Once Upon a Time … (Lesson Shells) – Part 1

A lesson shell is a romantic name I give to stories and games that a teacher and their learners can create around a given grammar rule. In a grammar story or game, the main heroes and heroines are the grammar items and the general plot of the story is based on the grammar rule. Such stories and games help enormously to make grammar instruction easier and more fun for young learners and primary and secondary schoolchildren. Children start playing with the trickiest aspect of the new language thus overcoming the fear of grammar and vividly remembering the rules by associating them with the stories.

Just to give you the taste of a grammar story, here is the example of a story I created to explain why English verbs have various forms in the Past Simple. The story is called The Town of Verbs.

Once upon a time there was a town of verbs. Verbs lived happily in their beautiful town. However, they always lived in the present. There was no past for the verbs: every day was a new day in the town of verbs. But one day two little verbs – a brother and a sister – found an old trunk in their grandfathers’ house. Engraved on the lid of the trunk, there were two mysterious letters: ED. The little verbs got very curious to know what was inside of this huge trunk. So they opened it and all of the sudden, out of the trunk flew the memories about the past. They flew out of the window and spread in the air. All the verbs in the town could feel the scent and involuntary breathed it in. To their surprise, they started to recall their past! Their memories came back to them. Some verbs, like “play”, accepted their memories as part of their life and took them in their stride (played). Some verbs, like “try”, were very glad to recall their past because those memories, like a candle in a dark room, lit up their lives with warmth and happiness (tried). Some verbs, like “stop”, got very angry and frustrated at their memories (perhaps those memories were painful and unpleasant), so they tried to block them and build a wall between their memories and themselves (stopped). Some verbs, like “bring”, changed out of all recognition once they remembered their past life (brought). But some verbs, like “cut” or “let”, didn’t changed at all because they were very little kids and didn’t have memories about the past (cut, let).


As you can see the story gives the learner a clear image of various types of verb endings. Later on, you can go into more detail explaining to your learner how to identify the verbs which belong to one of the five groups, but this wouldn’t be difficult for your learners as the graphic foundation has been laid.

The idea of a grammar story or game (which I later called lesson shells) came to me absolutely accidentally. Some years ago I was teaching an 8-year-old girl – Katya – on the one-to-one basis. One day when I came to the lesson, Katya’s mother told me that the girl had got a low grade at school for the dictation on irregular verbs. She asked me to practice these verbs with Katya as she was going to have another dictation the next day. So there I was with a frustrated mother, distressed learner, my painstakingly prepared materials going down the drain and absolutely no materials to teach and practice those damn irregular verbs. What could I say to the mother in such a situation? Only what most teachers commonly say: “Yes, sure! We will do it!” The mother left, I look back at the sheepishly looking little girl, sighed at her miserable look and started talking to her. I felt so sorry for the girl that I began with expressing my sympathy for her situation and by putting all the blame on the irregular verbs. I told her that she was not guilty of that low grade, that this was totally the guilt of the verbs that (what naughty verbs!) had attacked her all of the sudden! Katya gladly agreed with me. She was already more agitated than before. Then I continued by saying that these verbs should be punished for what they had done and, as all criminals, they should be put in prison. At this point Katya was all ready to take revenge and punish those horrible verbs. This way I absolutely unknowingly won my learner’s full attention and assistance. Also, the form of the condolence I offered to my learner (the idea of the verbs-offenders) prompted the theme of the following activities we did to learn and practice the irregular verbs.

So what we did went as follows. I turned into Senior Police Officer and Katya was Junior Police Officer. Our first task in chasing and capturing the offenders was to make the composite sketches of the criminals so that it was easier for Junior Police Officer to traces them. What we did was to copy the verbs and their past forms on slips of cards. Then I collected the cards, shuffled them and spread face down all around the carpet. Next, Katya, Junior Police Officer, had to chase the verbs. All we did was the traditional matching game. But for Katya it wasn’t just another classroom game, it was the real mission! When all the verbs together with their accomplices (the infinitive + Past Simple form) had been collected, Katya reported to me, Senior Police Officer, about the successfully accomplished operation and demonstrated the verbs-offenders to me by naming them all in their pairs. Then on a piece of paper, I drew an improvised prison cells where the verbs and their accomplices were put. So basically, we made a detective story out of a simple classroom activity. The learner was much more motivated to do the activities and exercises I later prepared for the next lesson because she was not just doing familiar classroom tasks but playing a game where she had a specific role and mission. It was fun for both my learner and me.


Just by looking at the above examples of a grammar story and a grammar game you can see that such stories and games can be used both for introducing and practicing grammar. However, some rules should be followed when making up grammar stories and games. I will dwell on these rules a little longer in my next post on the lesson shells.

(To be continued)


Posted by on August 10, 2014 in Kids


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Oh, those storytellers!

When teaching kids on the one-to-one basis, discipline sometimes presents a rather big issue.

On the one hand, a teacher has to attend to the kid’s parents’ wishes on what material should be taught to their kid.

On the other hand, a teacher has to make the lessons interesting to the kid and not to his/her parents.

To make things even more complicated, teachers have to have the kid stay on the task but also to make regular breaks during a lesson so that the kid could have some rest.

Needless to say, it’s really hard to strike the balance.

I once gave 2-hour lessons twice a week to a 10-year-old girl. The two hours of extra study in the late afternoon after her school classes made it really hard for her (and me too) to focus on tasks. However, the girl was quite dutiful, energetic and cheerful, and we did a lot in our lessons. But (there are always some “buts”) at the same time she was extremely talkative.

She always had lots of stories to tell me. Whatever we did in class, she would come up with a new story that somehow was connected to the task at hand.

Over some time I realized that something must be done about this stream of stories, because they started to present a really big distraction. Why? Because we not only spent valuable time on the stories, but also because the girl used to tell them in her mother tongue. So no English learning occurred.

And this is what I came up with – STORY CARDS!

I made four cards of pink cardboard.


So at the beginning of each lesson, my student was reminded that she had only four story cards to use during the lesson. Whenever she wanted to tell me something in Russian, she had to ask for a Story Card. At the rest of the time, she had to speak English. However, she was never restricted on the number of stories. Yes, she could tell me only four stories in Russian, but she could tell me as many stories in English as she wanted! And she did! She started telling me stories in English. So by the end of the lesson, we sometimes had some unused Story Cards!

To make this activity even more attractive to your students, you can personalize the Story Cards by letting your students draw or write anything on the cards. They can also put some stickers or any other decorations they want.


So all you need is a colourful cardboard, a pair of scissors, colourful crayons, stickers and whatever decoration you or your student can possibly think of!

I hope you liked the idea of Story Cards!

So next time you have a kid who loves telling stories, try using Story Cards with them to gently encourage them to try to tell their stories in English.


Posted by on September 1, 2013 in Kids


Tags: , ,

“Save ya drama for ya mama” ;)

Today was the first time I had a drama lesson. This doesn’t mean that I had a lesson on drama but that my student and I did a sort of theatrical performance of a book.

My student’s name is Yasya. She’s a nine-year-old beginner who’s studied English for about six months.

Recently, we read a book “Colin’s colours” by Carol Read and Ana Soberon.

It’s a funny colourful book that teaches colours and, more importantly, useful phrases to express your sympathy such as “Oh no!”, “Oh dear!” and “Poor …”.

Firstly, I used this book to teach the names of “garden gang” members (caterpillar, bee, snail, butterfly and ladybird) and the names of some natural phenomena (rain, sun and rainbow). We did some vocabulary activities such as a wordsearch, crosswords and matching games. Then we had an extensive reading practice.

Usually, I stop at this point and go on to another book. But this time I felt that what we had done was somewhat insufficient. Quite out of the blue came the idea to make a play out of the book, which I thought would be a crowning final touch to reading the book.

So, this is how I found myself making a stage scenery for our puppet theatre. Here you can see different stages of the process.


Then, I made the puppets on sticks. The tricky thing about the play was that the characters’ emotions change throughout the performance: they are happy, then they are sad, then happy again. That’s why my puppets are two-sided: if you turn them you’ll change the puppets’ facial expression. Here are the smiling and sad sides of our characters.

At the lesson today, Yasya and I elaborated the original book by extending dialogues with greeting phrases and making the dialogues more personalised, i.e. we made each character repeat the same set of phrases while in the book the phrases are pronounced only twice by pairs of characters. This alteration helped my student (who acted out three roles while I did only two) to repeat the functional phrases over and over again until she knew them by heart. This technique proves to be very beneficial! 🙂

The final stage of our rehearsal was the performance itself. We invited Yasya’s mum and sister to attend our show. We arranged the chairs and distributed the tickets. We veiled the stage scenery with a curtain (which was just a piece of papar towel). And then, with the rise of the curtain and me whistling a tune, the performance started.

I was pleased that Yasya managed not only to remember her lines but to act them out very creatively. Both the spectators and the actors enjoyed the performance very much. By the end of the show the actors received almost the standing ovation! 🙂

Needless to say that this was a very positive and motivating experience for both parts – my student and her family and for me as a teacher. I realized what a powerful tool drama can be. It doesn’t only help learn the language but also provides a really strong motivational boost. There’s no any doubt that I’ll be using drama in my classroom in future.

Drama. Strongly recommended! 🙂


Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Kids