Posted in Conversation Classes, Reading Classes

Proficiency book club, lesson 1: The Destructors by Graham Greene

short stories

This is the first in a series of lesson plans for proficiency level students based around short stories from the book:

The Oxford Book of English Short Stories edited by A. S. Byatt.

Short stories are perfect for the ESL classroom because as the name suggests they are short. They are also an excellent way to introduce students to a wide range of authors and literature. This particular collection contains works from some of the greatest English writers. Including Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf and the author with which I’m going to start this series Graham Greene.

The hope is that by introducing students to these authors in this short format (some of the stories run to only 4 or 5 pages) their interest will be piqued and they will go on to attempt the longer, more well-know works. Even if they don’t these stories are a fantastic way to introduce vocabulary and stir discussion.

Class structure

This series works, as the title suggests, like a typical book club: Each week you set a different story for homework to discuss the following week. The majority of the stories can easily be read in under half an hour

The Destructors

If you haven’t bought the book don’t worry because somebody has helpfully posted  a pdf of the story:

Click to access destructors.pdf

I chose to start with Graham Greene’s “The Destructors” for the simple reason that he is one of my favourite authors. It is also a story which stirs a lot of opinions. The main theme is the mental scars left on the survivors of the the London blitz during the second world war.

A good analytical essay of the story can be found here:

The essay: “The effects of war in The Destructors, by Graham Greene” by Holly Huffstutler gives a good analysis of the socio-political background of the story. Here is a link to a copy with some key parts underlined:!284&authkey=!ANvo-Ct70jFmtb0

Lesson Plan

The students will have read the story for homework so start the class by asking for any queries on vocabulary. Some examples of things that might come up are listed below:

  • (pg 311) Ignoble
  • (pg312) crippled, lav – toilet, to pinch – to steal, to be in a bleeding funk – to be stressed or angry)
  • (pg 313) bribe, to draw lots.

Then put the students into groups and give out the following discussion questions:!285&authkey=!AD2MBt2sCAB27pQ

  • What was your initial reaction to the story?
  • What’s the story about? What happens?
  • Describe the different characters.
  • Where and when does the story take place?
  • What are your feelings about the boys at the end of the story?
  • What good qualities do the delinquents have?
  • Explain Blackie’s motivations for re-joining the gang after losing the leadership.
  • What does Mr. Thomas (Old Misery) represent in the story?
  • Why are the boys suspicious of Mr. Thomas’ generosity with the smarties?
  • What are Trevor’s reasons for wanting to destroy Mr. Thomas’ house?
  • How do you explain the burning of the money and the way they treat Mr. Thomas?
  • What is the importance in the ending of “The Destructors”?
  • Does “The Destructors” portray a world without hope?
  • In what ways are the boys in “The Destructors” by Graham Greene isolated?
  • Is destruction a form of creation?

After the discussion have a feedback session so students can share their opinions. You may want to explain a little about the London Blitz:

You might like to point out that the story features in the film “Donnie Darko” in one of the first English class scenes. You could show a clip of the scene to the students and see if they agree with the main character’s assessment of the story.

Next week: Solid Objects by Virginia Woolf





Posted in Conversation Classes

Complaining in English


Just a quick note…

Before you use these materials… We’ve created a new podcast aimed at B2+ level English students and teachers alike. You can listen for free at our SoundCloud page below. You can download teacher’s notes to accompany them from our Facebook page or from this blog. All comments and feedback welcome! Give us a like and a share 😉

Complaining in English

In this class students will learn some useful phrases for making complaints, discuss complaining and practice the language in a role-play.

You will need:

The handout with phrases for complaining:

Complaining in English (language)

Complaining discussion questions handout:

complaining discussion

Complaining role-plays handout:

Complaining roleplay


Put “to complain” and “to make a complaint” on the board. Ensure that students understand them both.

Put students in small groups (3-4)

Tell them to think of a time when they made a complaint. Tell them to tell their classmates the story:

  • Where were you?
  • Why did you complain?
  • How did you complain?
  • What was the result?

Tell students to listen carefully to their classmate’s story because after they are going to tell the rest of the class the same story.

Give the class 5-10 minutes to swap stories. When they have finished each group takes it in turns to tell the rest of the class each complaining story. This helps to recycle the language, also people love telling stories about complaining! Especially if they got some good freebies out of it!

Hand out discussion questions

Put students in pairs (A + B). Students ask and answer discussion questions.

Brief feedback to the rest of the class.

STUDENT A’s QUESTIONS (Do not show to Student B)

1) What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘complain’?
2) Are you a complainer?
3) Who do you usually complain to?
4) What complaints do you have at the moment?
5) Have you ever complained in a restaurant, hotel, airplane or train?
6) How often do people complain to you?
7) How often do people complain about you?
8) Do you have any complaints about English?
9) What are your biggest complaints about your friends?
10) Do men or women complain more?

STUDENT B’s QUESTIONS (Do not show to Student A)

1) What kinds of things do you complain about?
2) When was the last time you complained about something?
3) Have you ever written a letter or e-mail of complaint?
4) Do you like complaining?
5) What is your complaining style – polite or aggressive?
6) How often do you complain to yourself in public?
7) Do you think complaining relieves stress?
8) Do you like to watch when other people complain?
9) Have you ever got a better service after you’ve complained?
10) Why might people complain about you?

Hand out Complaining in English

Tell students to read through the sheet briefly in pairs.

Then go through and clear up any vocabulary problems and emphasise the cultural note.

Cultural note

It is important to remember that English is not as direct as other languages. It is important to be polite and follow rules for socially acceptable behaviour. For example, it is normal, when making a complaint, to start by saying “sorry” or “excuse me”, even though you haven’t done anything wrong. Being polite will help you get what you want.


In a shop

You’re in a shop and the assistant gives you the wrong change.

Excuse me, I think you’ve given me the wrong change.”


Sorry, I think this change is wrong, I gave you £10 not £5.”

In a hotel


Excuse me, but there’s a problem with the heating in my room”

Sorry to bother you, but I think there’s something wrong with the air-conditioning.”

I’m afraid I have to make a complaint. Some money has gone missing from my room.”

I’m afraid there’s a slight problem with my room – the bed hasn’t been made.”

Hotel worker

Normally the worker will apologise deeply for the problem and promise some immediate action.

I’m so sorry sir / madam, I’ll send someone up to look at it immediately.”

I’m sorry to hear that, I’ll get someone to check it for you.”

Hand out role-play cards

There are two complaining role-plays so each student has a go at being the customer and the worker. Encourage students to use as much language from the previous handout as possible.

Complaining roleplay:

Student A: You are staying in a 5 star hotel, there is a famous rock band staying in the room next door, it is 3am and they are having a wild party, throwing televisions out the window and keeping you awake. You have an important business meeting at 9am.

Student B: You are the receptionist in a 5 star hotel, it is 3am a guest has come to complain about noise, there is a famous rock group staying in the hotel, they have paid €1million to have a party in their room. The hotel is full.

Student A: You are checking out of your hotel. When the receptionist gives you the bill it is very high, you have been charged for 2 bottles of don perignon Champagne from the mini bar and 2 “adult” movies on the TV, you didn’t drink any champagne and you didn’t watch the movies.

Student B: You are a hotel receptionist, student A is coming to complain about his / her bill.

Wrap up:

Who was the best complainer?

Which role was easier in the role-play?

Posted in Recommended Websites

Support the English Disco Lovers!

disco balls

The English Disco Lovers (EDL) is a campaign set up by some open-minded Londoners in retaliation to the rise of the English Defence League (EDL) a racist far right organisation in the UK.

The idea is to replace the English Defence League with the English Disco Lovers at the top of all Google / facebook / twitter searches.

All you have to do is share the English Disco Lovers website on your blog to help fight back against racism and bigotry.

Here is the website:

The more times the link appears on other websites (blogs for example) the further up the google listings it goes.

Posted in Conversation Classes

Christmas conversation lesson


This is a topical lesson plan for the festive season based on comparisons between a traditional British Christmas and Christmas celebrations in the student’s countries.

You will need:

The lesson plan:!278&authkey=!AOWfTUkqHy7AtDc

The discussion questions handout:!279&authkey=!ACygXSBVrDDA5H4

The Christmas in England powerpoint:!127&authkey=!APSM9pHn8j56pvg

The cracker jokes handout:!130&authkey=!AN8mCLV6wHxpSuQ

Brainstorm Xmas traditions in (the country you’re teaching in) in small groups.

Feedback traditions and put on board.

In pairs or small groups students discuss the following:

How many of these traditions do you follow?

Describe and compare your normal Christmas with your partner.

What do you do on Christmas eve? Christmas day? Boxing day? Kings Day?

If you have children what traditions do you follow? Father Christmas? Caga Tio (a Catalan Xmas tradition)?

When do you give presents?

What do you give?

What did you used to do when you were a child?

Do you still follow the same traditions your parents did?

Who in your family is the most difficult to buy presents for? Who is the easiest?

How have other cultures influenced Christmas celebrations in your country?


Christmas is too commercial.

But the statement above on the board, split the class into two teams and assign “for” or “against” to each team. They then have 5 minutes to brainstorm their arguments. Then give them 5-10 minutes to debate the topic. Debate structure should be:

  • 2 minutes for each team to present their argument, the other team mustn’t interrupt, they should make notes ready for the 2nd phase.
  • 2nd phase 5 minutes open debate. Students attack the oppositions arguments and try to defend their own.
  • 1 minute each for a closing statement. Why each team thinks they have won the debate.

Teacher decides which team wins, but as it’s Christmas a draw is probably the fairest result!


British Christmas

Ask students to brainstorm a British Christmas.

Tell students that they are going to watch a presentation about Christmas in England. They have to watch and try to memorise as much as possible.

Show presentation “Christmas in England”

In groups students try to remember as much as they can, in the correct order.

Cracker Jokes

If students hadn’t heard of them before the presentation will have introduced them to Christmas Crackers. Hand out copies of the cracker jokes and have the students tell them to each other. They will get some fairly easily but some might need a little explaining.

Posted in Games

Adventure Game 2

Game board

This is an adventure game that works best with kids or low level adults.

Download the game board and instructions here you will also need 2 dice:

Game board:!275&authkey=!ANCVAjV4J-oSn9g

Game instructions:!276&authkey=!AFCw3ws1u4W1-Zk

The game is a simple problem solving task using a board based on the cult game “Angband”. Letters and other symbols represent different monsters and characters that the students encounter. For example, a “V” is a vampire, whereas a “D” is a dragon. These boards are easy to make, just use Microsoft paint and children really enjoy the adventures. Most importantly they learn new vocabulary and practice it thoroughly.

In each room students are presented with a different scenario and must work out the solution in order to continue the adventure.

Here is the solution to the adventure:

Dungeon game instructions

Students start game in room one (top left corner), they each have 10 hit points.

Room 1

Question monster – What is the capital of Germany?

1st chest contains special soft shoes for sneaking.

2nd chest contains a delicious hamburger.

Room 2

Contains 4 sleeping vampires and a closed window, it is sunny outside.

Solution: Put on special shoes and sneak past vampires to open window which lets the sunlight in and kills them all. Students must roll higher on the dice than the teacher. If they roll lower the vampires wake up and bite them -1 hit point

Room 3

Contains a very fat man and a locked door.

Solution: Give hamburger to Fat man, fat man gives you a gold key, unlock door.

Room 4

Contains a pit full of snakes and a rope.

Chest contains 2 gold coins.

Solution: Use rope to swing over pit of snakes, students must beat the teachers roll on a dice. If they roll lower snake bites them -1 hit point.

Room 5

Contains 2 question monsters and a shop. Shop keeper has a gun with 6 silver bullets and a big block of ice, they cost 1 gold coin each.


Who is the fastest man in the world? Usain Bolt

What is 24 X 4?   96

Solution: Answer questions and buy gun and ice with coins.

Room 6

Contains a huge fire breathing dragon! There are lots of bones on the floor.

Solution: Give the dragon the block of ice to cool his fire. SS must roll higher than teacher.

Room 7

Contains 3 Werewolves!

Solution: Shoot the werewolves with the silver bullets. Students must roll higher than teacher three times. If they run out of bullets they must go and ask the shop keeper for more.

Room 8

Contains lots of small hungry dogs, If students try to enter the dogs bite them, and a big treasure chest.

Solution: Go back to room 6 and collect the bones, give them to the dogs. Stusents open the treasure chest and get lots of treasure, congratulations.

Teaching ideas:

Depending on the level of the class you can present the adventure in different ways. For example you can start by teaching the vocabulary the students are going to need in the adventure:

verbs: sneak, open, shoot, put on, give, buy, etc.

nouns: bones, treasure chest, gun, bullet, rope, window, shoes, coins, bones, ice, snakes, etc.

For higher level students I also had them retell the adventure in the past once they had completed it. “In this room we sneaked past the vampires and opened the window.”

Follow up:

Children make their own adventure games in small groups. They can draw the easily on paper with letters representing different monsters. Alternatively if you have access to computers they could create them on MS paint. Then they swap maps and complete each others, or the whole class plays each group’s map.

Posted in Writing Classes

Future Composition


This is a simple homework exercise for teenagers to practice some future tenses.

Download the handout here:!273&authkey=!APnXkGeFZZa4pPk


Title: Me at 30

Write 120 words about how your life will be when you are 30 years old.


  • The future continuous for activities in progress at a specific time in the future:
  •  I will be living in a small flat in Madrid. I will be working in a music shop.
  • The future perfect for actions completed between now and your 30th birthday:
  •  I will have finished university. I will have married a nice man / woman.
Posted in Vocabulary Classes

British slang activity

New British Pub In Falls Church, VA

This is a short fun activity to teach higher level students some British slang.

Here is the handout:!270&authkey=!AMuzyf2uZLvmlkE

There are several ways you can introduce the vocabulary:

  • For small classes of 2-4 people you can print out a copy of the table below, then leave the slang words in one block but cut out the definitions individually, the students then try to piece the table back together.
  • For a larger group without a computer and projector you could write them all on the board and have students try to come up with definitions in small groups. If they have trouble you could then write up the definitions in a different order and they have to match them.
  • If you have a computer, projector and smart board you can use a fun game on to pre-teach the vocabulary. If you click the link below you can access a flashcard set I have made with the terms. Scroll down to the games section and select the game “scatter”. This is a great game for introducing new vocabulary, I’ll let you explore it for yourself.

Here is the target language:

Gutted Very Disappointed
Dodgy Untrustworthy / dangerous.
The Bee’s Knees Really good.
The Dog’s Bollocks Excellent / the best
Alright How are you?
Nosh / Grub Food
Taking the piss out of Making funny insults about a person.
Knackered Tired
Jammy Lucky / Flukey
Fit Attractive
A fiver / a Tenner 5 pounds / 10 pounds
Ta Thank you
Two sandwiches short of a picnic. Stupid.

After teaching the target language split the students into pairs and give each pair a section of the story below. The students now have to translate the story into slang.

Once they have done this have them read it out to class.

Below you will find the story translated.

The story in normal English, hand this out for the students to translate into slang.

  1. I went to my friend’s house to watch the England game the other day. I walked in and said “how are you?” he gave me a beer and I said “thank you.” England lost 4-1 to Germany. My friend and I were very disappointed. We decided to go for some food. The closest pub was selling burgers for £5. When we got to the pub there were some other friends there “How are you?” I asked and they said “Good thank you.”
  1. The pub was in a slightly dangerous part of the city but the burgers were really good. My friend John is very lucky, he always wins money on the gambling machine but tonight he put £10 in the machine and didn’t win. I put £1 in and won £10, “you lucky bastard” said John.
  1. Then a really attractive man / woman walked in, I decided to buy him / her a drink. He / She was really attractive but stupid. I spent £10 on drinks for him/ her but then she got very tired and decided to go home, I didn’t get his / her phone number and I was very disappointed because he / she was very attractive.
  1. Then my friend Pete arrived, he is stupid and he was very drunk. We all said “hello Pete, how are you?” John and my other friends started making funny insults about Pete. He didn’t understand because he’s stupid so he said thank you! I didn’t have any more money so I asked Pete if I could borrow ten pounds, but he only had five pounds. I had one more drink and started to feel tired. We went to the kebab shop next door, there were some dangerous men in there, they started making funny insults about us and we almost had a fight.

The story translated:

 1. I went to my friend’s house to watch the England game the other day. I walked in and said “alright?” he gave me a beer and I said “ta.” England lost 4-1 to Germany. My friend and I were gutted. We decided to go for some grub/nosh. The closest pub was selling burgers for a fiver. When we got to the pub there were some other friends there “alright?” I asked and they said “Good ta.

2. The pub was in a slightly dodgy part of the city but the burgers were the bee’s knees. My friend John is very jammy, he always wins money on the gambling machine but tonight he put a tenner in the machine and didn’t win. I put £1 in and won a tenner, “you jammy bastard” said John.

3. Then a really fit man / woman walked in, I decided to buy him / her a drink. He / She was really fit but two sandwiches short of a picnic. I spent a tenner on drinks for him/ her but then she got knackered and decided to go home, I didn’t get his / her phone number and I was gutted because he / she was very fit.

4. Then my friend Pete arrived, he is two sandwiches short of a picnic and he was very drunk. We all said “hello Pete, alright?” John and my other friends started taking the piss out of Pete. He didn’t understand because he’s two sandwiches short of a picnic so he said ta! I didn’t have any more money so I asked Pete if I could borrow a tenner, but he only had a fiver. I had one more drink and started to feel knackered. We went to the kebab shop next door, there were some dodgy men in there, they started taking the piss out of us and we almost had a fight.

Follow up:

Students write a story for homework using as many of the words as they can. The one whose compositions included the most correctly used slang words wins.

Also for the following class quickly recap the slang words and then award points to students who use them correctly in class.

Posted in Games, Grammar Classes

Grammar: The future


This class is composed of a powerpoint presentation explaining different ways of talking about the future and a grammar betting game to practice afterwards.

Grammar explanation presentation:!269&authkey=!ABDso4m8bIbeqfk

Place your bets gambling grammar game:!268&authkey=!AFWO_RrAMckakGY

Posted in Games

Call my bluff game

Game – Red Herrings / Call my bluff – you will need big English dictionaries.


Here is the handout with examples of strange English words and the correct definition, students have to invent fake definitions.!267&authkey=!AIvDEVoJg4J4mVo

Use the sheet Red Herrings to introduce the game. Choose one of the examples from the sheet and put it on the board.

There are strange words with 3 possible definitions, put SS in teams, pairs or threes depending on numbers. SS have to decide which is the correct definition, encourage them to explain why they think it is correct, they should use modal verbs of deduction:

  • It can’t be number 1 because
  • It could be number 2 because
  • It must be number 3 because

Each team gets 1 point for each correct guess.

Do 2 examples if necessary. Then you can either give the students the strange English words with the correct definition (on the handout) and they have to invent to fake ones, or you give them the dictionaries and they find strange words themselves.

Students must prepare 3 definitions (1 real, 2 fake) with a sentence example. Teacher must check definitions and sentences for accuracy before they’re used in the game, if there are mistakes it is obvious which ones have been invented.

Give SS time to write their definitions and correct them, then play the game as a class, each team reads out a word and the 3 definitions and the others must guess which one and explain their decisions. SS get 1 point for a correct guess and the team whose word it is gets 1 point for each team they tricked the others into guessing a fake definition.

Posted in Conversation Classes

Community spirit conversation class


Easy conversation class based on the idea of community spirit in a big city.

Download the handout here:!266&authkey=!AFJyOwVMUBU-YqE

Split the class into small groups and tell them to discuss the questions.

Then have a feedback session, some questions generate some interesting discussion, for example: whether or not to confront a burglar.

Which neighbourhood of the city do you live in?

Have you always lived in this part or did you use to live in a different part?

If so which do you prefer and why?

How many of your neighbours do you know personally?

Do you invite them to parties or to dinner?

Do you give them Christmas presents or cards?

Do you have any annoying neighbours?

Have your neighbours ever woken you up by having a party or playing loud music? What did you do?

Do you help each other with things? For example do they look after your pets when you go on holiday?

Do you have an annual festival in your neighbourhood? What happens? Do you usually go?

Do you feel a sense of community spirit?

How much crime is there in your area? Do you feel safe?

Have you ever been a victim of crime in your area? What about your neighbours?

What would you do if a burglar broke into your house? Would you confront them?

What would you do if you saw someone breaking into your neighbour’s house?

What would you do if you saw tourists on the metro with their handbags open and their wallets in their back pockets? Would you warn them about pick-pockets?

What would you do if you saw someone having their pockets picked?

Has anyone ever tried to pick your pocket? Did they succeed?

What would you do if you saw someone asleep on the metro near the end of the metro line? Would you wake them up? Would it make a difference if they were a man or woman? Young or old?

What would you do if you saw a fight in the street? Would you try and stop it?

What would you do if you saw some children bullying another child in the street or in the park?

What would you do if a group of teenagers were having a party in the street outside your house and keeping you awake?