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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

Great Bits of Creative Instruction in a Communicative Classroom

joint article by teachers who attended a Pilgrims course in 2012, edited by Claudia Bustos


Stretching lexis
Chunk food for the brain
Skeleton chunks
A good gossip
Closing note


We are eight teachers from Slovakia, Spain, Poland, Greece, Greenland and Germany. We teach not only in primary and secondary schools, but also in adults’ education. No matter how different our backgrounds might be, our students seem to have the same problems in all four communicative skills. How much effective and real their oral production could seem by just adding a couple of fixed expressions in between, softeners. Often they ask: What does this word mean? The answer is: Well, it depends on the context. Learners tend to get frustrated. So why not start teaching them chunks in a fun way and from the beginning?

Another issue we all observe in the classroom is that learners often listen to their teacher but don’t listen to their classmates and this takes up time and energy as we have to repeat. The solution to this problem: listen actively; everybody likes a good gossip, so why not let them do what they enjoy and learn English at the same time?

Together with Paul Davis, our inspiring teacher trainer, we created the following lesson plans called “Stretching lexis”, “Chunk food for the brain”, “Skeleton chunks” and “A good gossip”.

Stretching lexis

Authors: Brita Toft Hyldgaard, Lydia Houghton


Level: Beginners

Time: 10 – 20 minutes, depending on the number of learners in the class.

Outcome: Recycling and revising vocabulary. Practising any given grammar structure. Lexical chunking.

Before class: Make word cards using vocabulary from a text you have just finished with the class.

In class:

  1. Have learners form a circle.
  2. Lay word cards faced down on the floor.
  3. Ask learners to pick up one card each.
  4. Ask one learner at the time to read the word on the word card.
  5. Choose 4 – 5 words and discuss in which context these words appeared in the text. Explain that the same words can appear in many different contexts and chunks.
  6. Pick up a word card yourself. Demonstrate how to make a chunk with the word (e.g. ‘a green bike’).
  7. Have learners think of a new chunk with their word on the word card (without sharing it with a partner).
  8. Show the learners a stem of the grammar structure(e.g. ‘For my last birthday I had a …’). Have the learners repeat the stem.
  9. Model the activity with the first couple of learners in the circle.
  10. Have the learners repeat the grammar structure and their chunk in the order they are sitting in the circle.
  11. At each new turn the learner must say: the grammar structure and their own chunk and the previous chunk(s) in the correct order. (e.g. ‘For my last birthday I had a green bike, a cool t-shirt and a new iPod’).
  12. By the end of the activity have all learners repeat the grammar structure and all chunks together (in the correct order).


With big classes the learners can form two circles.

The learners can write their own chunk on the back of the word card.

Any grammar structure can be practised (e.g. ‘For my last birthday I had a …’, ‘I like …’, ‘I don’t like …’).

The activity can be done with word cards or pictures (e.g. food).


Allowing repetitions in a memory circle will help the learners become more fluent and reduce their anxiety to speak a foreign language.


Level: All levels

Time: 10 – 20 minutes, depending on the number of learners in the class.

Outcome: Recycling and revising vocabulary. Lexical chunking.

Before class: No preparation.

In class:

  1. Have learners write their own chunks on the board (using the chunks from part one).
  2. Ask learners to decide which ones they think are most likely or unlikely and make up two lists with their opinions.
  3. Enrich the learners’ own chunks with others you think the learners should know and write them on the board, too.
  4. Once the task is finished, ask them to write a short story using at least two of the chunks that have been learnt.


This activity can be done separately from part one. If done as a separate task, use any lexis you want to revise from a previous text.

The number of chunks used in the stories depends on the amount of chunks made up at the end of the task.

The writing activity can be done at home or in class.


The teacher should not correct the learners’ own chunks only enrich them. The short story needn’t be longer than 100 words.

Chunk food for the brain

Authors: Marcela Kováčová, Katja Kunzemann

Level: Pre-intermediate up

Time: 45 minutes plus

Outcome: Learners enrich their lexis through finding and using collocations based on their course book vocabulary. They also learn how to use the British National Corpus.

Before class: Make sure your learners have the vocabulary list of the current unit of their course book, and that you have the access to the BNC (British National Corpus) website ( or ), either on data projector or on learners’ laptops or tablets.

In class:

  1. Ask learners to work alone for two minutes. They should look at the vocabulary list of the current unit in their textbooks and choose 5-7 single words they like.
  2. Ask them to write down the most likely collocations of their words in five minutes.
  3. Ask them to choose their favourite collocation and write it on the board.
  4. Together with learners go over the collocations and discuss how likely they think they are.
  5. Show learners the website of the BNC or BNC/BYU and explain how to find out about the frequency of a collocation. Check the collocations that are on the board.
  6. Ask them to work in pairs and write a short dialogue in which they use some of their favourite collocations. They have ten minutes to do that.
  7. Ask learners to read the dialogues to the class. Help if necessary.
  8. Let them practise their dialogues several times but in a different ´environment´ - e.g. back-to-back, pretending they are making a phone call, standing away from each other pretending they are in a busy street, in a quiet library, playing tennis, etc.
  9. For homework, ask them to check the BNC to find out the frequency of the rest of their collocations.


To make the activity more challenging for more advanced learners give each of them a list of numbers.( A: 10 words, B: 9 words A: 8 words, etc…). They have to limit each utterance to that exact number of words.


The use of the internet motivates students to work on their lexis and they also become more aware of chunking. The BNC enables them to become more independent learners.

In step 8 we asked the learners to practise in different positions, which is artificial. However, it gives them an idea of realistic environment, e.g. when they are sitting back-to-back they can’t see each other, like in real phone calls. When they are standing apart shouting at each other it feels like in a real busy street. And when they are playing tennis they need to move, as they usually do in real life. Repeating the dialogues with collocations also helps students remember the new lexis.

Skeleton chunks

Authors: Ewa Marchewka, Despoina Antoniadou

Level: intermediate to advanced

Time: about 30 minutes

Outcome: revision of lexis to describe personality and appearance

Before class: have a sheet of paper (A4) for each learner

In class:

  1. Hand out the sheets of paper to the learners
  2. Pair learners and ask them to draw one of their neighbours.
  3. Ask them to show their drawings to the whole class
  4. Tell them to write 10-15 adjectives, describing the person’s character or appearance
  5. Ask them to read them aloud and check if necessary
  6. Ask them to make up some likely lexical chunks with five of their adjectives
  7. Ask them to choose their favourite one and get them to write it on the board
  8. Check with whole group if necessary, e.g. smart clothes, red nose but not smart nose
  9. Ask them to write two sentences, with the lexical chunks from the board
  10. Pair the learners
  11. Ask them to show the sentences to each other and choose two favourite ones
  12. At the end ask them to make up a story, using the first sentence as the beginning and the second one as the end (speaking not writing)

Follow up:

  1. Divide the learners into groups of three
  2. Ask them to choose one listener and two speakers
  3. Speakers ask questions about the personality or appearance of the listener for about one minute, ask listener to listen carefully (they are not allowed to speak while they are interviewed, they don’t have to remember everything)
  4. Then the listener answers questions. ( remind them- they don’t have to answer all the questions)

Homework: Ask learners to write down their stories


Revision of lexis, concerning constructing and using lexical chunks. Also improving learners’ speaking skills by enabling them to communicate about everyday topics. Practicing active listening techniques for efficient speaking.

A good gossip

Authors: Claudia Bustos, Alena Čibiková

Level: Pre-intermediate above.

Time: 25 min. (5 min. for warming up + 20 min. for main activity).

Outcome: Active listening (Question forms + Reported speech).

In class:

Warm up: Clockwise start a chain of words beginning with the letter the previous word finished with (i.e.: appleeatterribleelevennever).

Main activity:

  1. Put the learners in a group of three.
  2. Ask two of them to sit face to face.
  3. Ask the third one, the listener, to sit with his back to the other two.
  4. Ask the speakers to talk about the listener, “a good gossip”.
  5. The listener has to listen to them actively e.g.:
    A: Do you like John’s socks? C: (listens)
    B: Yes, they’ re really nice.
    B: Do you know where he got them?
    A: No idea! But I’d like to know it.
    B: ……
  6. After that, the listener should summarize what the other two said using reported speech.
  7. wap roles. Repeat this activity to each person in the group.


  1. A grammar aim could be different according to the level (elementary, pre-intermediate, etc.)
  2. For lower levels ignore the summary part.
  3. Instead of a summary the active listener can answer the questions about his/her appearance. (i.e.: Do you like John’s socks?)
  4. To practice writing it is possible to ask the active listener to write down his/her answers.
  5. In children classrooms the teacher should specify the topic and questions in order to make it easier for children (appearance, personality).


As question forms seem to be difficult for learners, this exercise helps them to be more fluent in this area, while improving their active listening and communication skills.

Closing note

We hope you and your learners will find our activities useful and have as much fun as we had.
Great thanks to our lecturer Paul Davis for inspiring ideas and for his support!


Please check the Methodology for Teaching Spoken Grammar and English course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.

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