5 steps to get ready for back to school (Part 2)



Not only do they make your classroom brighter and more beautiful, but they can also be a great learning and revising tool for your students. Here I’m going to talk about permanent displays such as ABCs, numbers, routines, classroom language or rules charts and will also delve into temporary posters and those based on themes.

Permanent displays

These are displays that are useful throughout the year. It’s hard work the first couple of years getting them ready, but once you have made or gather a nice collection of them you just need to put them up at the beginning of the year and take them down at the end.

My must-have displays are:

Routine chart. I usually start the class with ‘What’s the weather like?’ You can get a nice one like the one below or just simply make one by laminating cardboard and using velcro. You could also use a plain pocket chart with date and weather flashcards.



Weather flashcards

Weather flashcards 2

Weather flashcards 3


Abc charts. Many coursebooks come with an abc frieze which can sometimes make your life a lot easier. If that’s not your case, or you don’t totally like the one you have, you can just as easily make one with the letters or with letters and pictures.


ABC Train

Letter and picture

ABC Cards

Numbers chart. It’s really helpful to have the numbers and how they are written up and visible on a chart on the wall so that the children can have a look at any time needed.




Number flashcards

Classroom rules. The first day I like to set up the rules in order to avoid conflicts later on. A good way to remind them is to have them around at all times on the wall so that they can easily be ‘refreshed’ when needed. The one below is just one of great displays you can find at www.schoolslinks.co.uk



Classroom rules

Temporary or theme displays

Every time we are dealing with a new theme we can involve our students and make beautiful flashcards and posters about it. If we are reading a story we can make a poster with the characters and the main vocabulary. We can always use the plain pocket chart for it but if we want to have them handy at any time during a certain period of time we might want to consider having a theme corner where some charts are displayed for a while.



Story patterns

Finally, if you aren’t lucky enough to have your own classroom and by the time that you go to teach your English class the walls are already full of stuff the other teacher put up, don’t panic! You can always use the corridor 😉

Did I forget one? What are some of your ‘must-have’ displays? I once knew a teacher that would carry around a ‘How do you say _____?’ sign from class to class…Important indeed!

5 steps to get ready for Back to School (Part 1)


Material organization

Here in Spain, parents are asked to buy pencils, glue, erasers and so on. Sometimes, they are also asked to give money to buy supplies needed by the school for the year. But whatever the case, at the beginning of the school year we find ourselves with 25+ kids with their hands, and backpacks, full of material to organise. Sometimes we the teachers are the ones responsible for organising them and  sometimes we just teach English in that classroom which means that the material is already organised but even though there is always margin to arrange things to each teacher’s liking.

Here are a couple of useful tips on how to arrange material in the classroom.

2 important things to think about beforehand:

– Who is going to organise the material?

– Who is going to have access to the material?

Who is going to organise the material?

Let’s start with the first question which can either be done by the teacher, the students or a combination of both. If you decide to do it yourself, think about how your class is going to flow, if you are going to do crafts often you might want to have the material readily accessible for every class but if you are only going to do crafts during special celebrations you can have them out of reach(and out of sight) until that day.

That said, students can easily be involved in this process. Use your first class to present or review classroom items. For this,  you can use Ken and Karen’s story, My schoolbag. Organise the class in groups and ask them to make labels for the different items and then ask them where they think will be the best place to put them. If possible, follow their recommendations, if they’re not feasible explain why and suggest a new location.

Always remember, whenever students are involved and have a say in something they are more willing to use them, to feel responsible and to care about them.

Some links to labels are:

Stationary labels

Classroom labels

Classroom organization

Who is going to have access?

You might think that the only way to have materials survive until the end of the year is if you are in control of the material all the time. If this is the case, you might need to set up a routine for the way you distribute and collect all the material without wasting too much class time. Think of commands you can teach your students that are simple to understand and use them to follow instruction and learn key language at the same time.

If you want to involve your students, place the material so that it is easily accessible, not only in an open cupboard but also at their height where they can actually reach. You need to think how they are going to be allowed to take and put back the material and how they can be responsible for it. Setting up different groups can be an option or pairs of students responsible on alternate days can work. To ensure you still have material in good condition at the end of  the year my suggestions are: involve your students when placing and labeling the material and use group pressure to help stop naughty students from spoiling the group’s material.

Even if it’s not your classroom you can always ask for a little space where you can store and label your English class material. This helps students to reinforce the classroom vocabulary and can add some excitement when using different material during the English hour.

What’s the situation like where you teach? Do parents contribute to the school’s materials? Do the children need to buy books every year or are they loaned? I’d love to hear what it’s like in other places.

Welcome back to school!

Using Kamishibai with the story Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?


Here is a video I recently took in one of my classes after working with this book for 5 weeks with two thirty minute classes a week.  It is a class of  twenty-five 4-5 year old children learning English in a public (state) school in Spain using Kamishibai theatre with Bill Martin Jr’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? Anything you think could be improved? Anything you particularly like? Comment section is open!




Boo Boo

Halloween is just around the corner and I have the week ahead to put in practice many activities related to this festival that seems to have taken hold around the world. The thing is that every time I want to focus my teaching on celebrations I find that, on the one hand it’s a wonderful way to teach culture and diversity but on the other hand I don’t see the point of teaching seemingly useless vocabulary such as jack-o-lantern, witch or reindeer. That’s why I have decided to not only have a cultural purpose but also a language one and use this opportunity to review or consolidate other topics.

Vocabulary Pumpkin words
Prepositions Where’s the pumpkin?
Do you have…? Do you have a pencil in your pumpkin?
Rhymes Pumpkin rhymes
Colors Pumpkin color
Alphabet Alphapumpkin
Numbers Two pumpkins rolling in the park
Cross Curriculum Growing pumpkins

Pumpkin words

Every year students are exposed to Halloween vocabulary, whether we like it or not, witches and skeletons are usually within the first 100 English words a child learns. A good way refresh this year-in year-out vocabulary is to  make a mini book that will be a good reference tool for the following activities. We can also have a poster on one of the walls ready to check a word at any time:

Halloween word booklet (from http://www.activityvillage.co.uk)

Halloween word poster 1 (from http://www.activityvillage.co.uk)

Halloween word poster 2 (from http://www.activityvillage.co.uk)

Where’s the pumpkin?

Let’s review some of the prepositions by decorating a house for Halloween. This activity can be done in several ways, I like to do a picture dictation:

Have students cut out the pictures on page 2 of the worksheet. Give instructions, asking them to stick them in various places, such as: The pumpkin is in front of the door, the cat is on the roof and so on. Note that there are many picture to stick, my suggestion is to have some selected for following the teacher’s instructions and the rest  to decorate the house as they want, writing the name beneath each of them. All teacher know that kids love to have an outlet for their own creativity.

Worksheet (from http://www.activityvillage.co.uk)

Do you have a pencil in your pumpkin?

Have students make a pumpkin basket. Use little flashcards from other topics, it can be just pictures or just words. Tell students to work in pairs. Choose a topic to review and tell students to put some flashcards in the basket. In turns they ask:

-Do you have a pencil in your basket?

– Yes, I do. Do you have a crayon in your basket?

This is a great way to review vocabulary while be in the Halloween mood. This can of course be changed for “Have you got” if you are teaching with UK coursebooks that have yet to change to the simpler American/International form. They can later use the basket for their treats!

Pumpkin rhymes

There are many activities to recognise words which rhyme. An easy rhyme is ending in -at such as cat, bat, hat. For me, it’s easier to find these kinds of activities in Literacy books for native speakers than in EFL books, but this will probably(hopefully?) change with time.

There is one magazine that I particularly like that is The mail box. Even though it is intended for native speakers and covers other areas (Science, Maths) I find it a great tool especially preschool,  grade 1 and grade 2-3 as these can in many cases be used directly without adapting them, or can be used in a grade or two higher than originally intended for non-native speakers. After all, in the end we are teaching children and many of the techniques and ideas can be transfered to ESL.

The picture shows some examples of the worksheets you can find there (in the magazine).


We can practise the alphabet while focusing on Halloween. We can use capital or lower case (small) letters. Print one worksheet for each student. Have the students color the letters they hear. You can make it more festive by picking the letters from a Halloween bag like a bingo or play any exercises dealing with the alphabet that you find on the coursebooks CD’s. You can practise the whole alphabet or just a few letters each time like in the picture.

Worksheet 1: Capital letters (from http://www.makinglearningfun.com)

Worksheet 2: Small letters (from http://www.makinglearningfun.com)

For more activities related to the alphabet check Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Stay tuned for more activities.

My Very Hungry EFL Caterpillar





The very hungry caterpillar is a must-read book for native English speaking children. This book has also some valuable features which make it a wonderful resource that can be used in the EFL class.

There are thousands of web pages and ideas out there and as in previous posts, I like to try to find the most inspiring ideas that can be used in the EFL class. The best thing is that these activities are not solely limited to EFL, but include math activities, literacy activities and even crafts. Some of these activities can be used in exactly the same way would be done with native kids of the same age while others have been adjusted due to the different amount of input and vocabulary between native English speakers and students of EFL.

Keep in mind that this lesson plan is only a suggestion, as every group is different in size, time available each week and so on. Feel free to pick and choose activities and create your own lesson plan.



  • Very young learners. From 3 to 7 years old.


  • Get to know a popular story.
  • Enjoy listening to a story.
  • Act out the story. Participate.
  • Learn the main vocabulary of the story.


  • Food items
  • Numbers
  • Days of the week
  • Colours


  • The very hungry caterpillar book (big book version is a bonus). Worksheets below. Shaped labels.

The story

You can find some suggestions of how to use stories by clicking the tab above. Lets start by watching a nice video of the tale.


If you are using this book at the beginning of the academic year or you haven’t yet prepared a mini office for your students, you can make one while doing these activities and continue to add parts such as colours, numbers and so on. The great thing about mini offices is that you can use them while dealing with this book and then use it as a reference tool throughout the rest of the year.

Incentive chart

Before starting the activities you might want to hang an incentive chart on a bulletin board. Depending on the group you might want to focus on different aspects such as: behaviour during the activity, finishing the activity in the time given or tidyness. You can print the following model or create your own one:

Incentive chart (www.makinglearningfun.com)


Worksheet 1: Trace the number

Make a copy for each child of the worksheet 1. Ask the children to trace the numbers. As they finish sit down with them individually or in small groups and repeat the numbers while pointing.

Note: This will be part of the mini office.

Worksheet 2: Stick circles and form a caterpillar.

Make a copy for each child of worksheet 2. Give them round shaped labels of the same or different colours. Ask students to stick as many circles as the number shows like in the example above.

Worksheet 3: Create a mini book.

Make a copy for each student of worksheet 3: number 1, number 2, number 3, number 4 and number 5. You can work on a number every day or focus on one every week (depending on the time available). Give children round shaped labels. Ask students to stick the labels on the number, raising awareness of the number shape. Then ask them to trace the number. Finally ask them to colour the fruit. Go around the tables asking students which number is which.


worksheet 1

Worksheet 2

Worksheet 3: number 1, number 2, number 3, number 4, number 5.

Other worksheets

Here are some other worksheets you can practice with your students (from http://www.makinglearningfun.com)

Other resources

There is a wonderful teacher’s guide where you can find activities like this mini book. Have a look at the sample pages available on their web page: Teacher created resources


Worksheet 1 and 2: Make a very colourful caterpillar.

Note: It would be ideal to read books about colours such as Brown bear, brown bear what do you see? before this lesson so that students are already familiar with colours.

Make a copy for each child of worksheet 1 and/or worksheet 2. Worksheet 1 consists on colouring the circles, cutting them and sticking them on another piece of paper (little children might not have yet acquired the ability to cut on their own). Worksheet 2 is easier and only requires them to colour the circle following the colour names.

Note: This will be part of the mini office.


Worksheet 1

Worksheet 2

Days of the week

Prepare some flashcards with the name of the days of the week, the food items and the numbers from 1 to 5. In this activity we will use a pocket chart.

Hang the pocket chart low enough so that children can easily reach the strips but high enough so that everybody can see the result. Ask students about the story: On Monday, the hungry caterpillar ate… Place Monday on the pocket chart while talking and elicit the number and the food item, then place them. You can demonstrate another or if you see some children are getting the idea, or you have used the pocket chart before and students are familiar with it, just call a child and have him or her place the flashcards in order as in the picture.

Some beautiful flashcards are (from http://www.makinglearningfun.com)






Worksheet 1: Make an alphabet caterpillar.

Make a copy of worksheet 1 for each student. Use alphabet charts, magnets, sand boxes and so on to demonstrate the letters of the alphabet. Older students might already be familiar with them whereas first-years might need to work on it throughout the year.

Note: This will be part of the mini office.


Worksheet 1

Food items

Worksheet 1: Spelling

Make a copy of worksheet 1 for each student. Ask the students to cut it into four squares. Following the look, say, cover, write and check technique, tell students to practice the spelling of each word by folding the name bellow as in the picture.

Worksheet 2: Words and letters

Make a copy of worksheet 2 for each student. Show them the difference between a letter (show a magnet letter) and a word (show a flashcard). Ask them to colour green the circles with a word and blue the circles with a letter.


Worksheet 1

Worksheet 2

Mini Office

We are ready now to make our mini office. Ask students to cut or help them cut the worksheet with the colours, the numbers, the days of the week, the fruits flashcards and the alphabet. Stick them on the mini office as you wish and it will be ready to use.

As this book has been so popular for years with both kids and teachers, there are loads of games associated with the story available, from card games to puzzles. This is truly and oldy but a goody, years of teacher experience around the world has built up a treasure chest of ideas. I hope this brief collection of activities can as useful in your classes as they are in mine.

Useful web pages:

Making learning fun

Eric Carle’s web page

Teaching heart


First school

The virtual vine

The best children’s books: 2-4 year-olds


I always love to find new lists of must-read books, best books, top ten books and so on. It gives me the chance to either discover books I haven’t seen before (not having been raised on English books) or to rediscover some. This time it’s a list from The Guardian The best children’s books which has made me think of the possibility of using them in the EFL class. The list of books chosen for 2-4 year-old native speaking children can be used in EFL for students from 3 to 7 year-olds and the list goes like this: (descriptions from Amazon)

The elephant and the bad baby, by Elfrida Vipont

The Elephant takes the Bad Baby for a ride and they go ‘rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta down the road.’ They help themselves to ice creams, pies, buns, crisps, biscuits, lollipops and apples, and the shopkeepers follow them down the road shouting and waving. All ends well as the Bad Baby learns to say ‘Please’ and his mother makes pancakes for everyone.

The snail and the whale, byJulia Donaldson

One tiny snail longs to see the world and hitches a lift on the tail of a whale. Together they go on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins, and the little snail feels so small in the vastness of the world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, it’s the tiny snail who saves the day.

My friend Harry, by Ken Lewis

Like many small children, James has a special soft-toy friend. He’s an elephant called Harry. He and James go everywhere together – around the farm, on holiday, to bed. Then, one day, James starts school – and Harry stays at home. Will James miss his special friend?

Where the wild things are, by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are is one of those truly rare books that can be enjoyed equally by a child and a grown-up. If you disagree, then it’s been too long since you’ve attended a wild rumpus. Max dons his wolf suit in pursuit of some mischief and gets sent to bed without supper. Fortuitously, a forest grows in his room, allowing his wild rampage to continue unimpaired. Sendak’s colour illustrations (perhaps his finest) are beautiful, and each turn of the page brings the discovery of a new wonder.

– Dogger, by Shirley Hughes

Dogger is the endearing story of how Dave’s beloved Dogger was lost and found. Winner of the 1977 Kate Greenaway Medal, Dogger is a timeless classic which, in simple words and detailed pictures, shows the distress the loss of a toy causes a child, as well as the reality of family life. Filled with humour and Shirley Hughes’ deft touch, this is a book for young readers to tackle by themselves, as well as a delight to read aloud.

– Not now, Bernard, by David Mckee

A humorous story in which a young boy is exasperated by his parents refusal to listen to him, so he decides to make them take notice.

– Gorilla, by Anthony Browne

Hannah’s father never seems to have time for her and so she is often left alone and lonely. She loves gorillas and longs for one for her birthday. On the night before her birthday she wakes up to find a parcel, containing a toy gorilla, by her bed. Disappointed she goes back to sleep. Later that night though, something magical happens–a real gorilla appears and takes her on a magical journey.

-Once there were giants, by Martin Waddell

Once there was a baby in the house – and to that baby, Mum and Dad and Jill and John and Uncle Tom were giants. But little by little, that baby grew up – until she became a giant too. This book is explores the stages of life and development.

– Goodnight moon, by Margaret Wise Brown

Perhaps the perfect children’s bedtime book, Goodnight Moon is a short poem of goodnight wishes from a young rabbit preparing for–or attempting to postpone–his own slumber. He says goodnight to every object in sight and within earshot, including the “quiet old lady whispering hush.”

I have left a story that I personally like a lot for last, one that also has many features for the EFL class. It has a repetitive pattern, simple and everyday vocabulary and alliteration which helps with the practice of some ending sounds.

Just be careful, your kids might want to sleep after listening to this story!

Mini offices in the EFL classes


Continuing my literacy tools series for English classes, I’m now going to have a look at mini offices.

What is a mini office?

Mini offices are reference tools for students to use during individual work. It promotes autonomous – independent learning.

How can I get one?

You can make it yourself, or with the help of your students.

You need:

– a file folder

– photocopy of alphabet charts, colors… all the resources to create their own mini office

– glue

– laminating film and laminator or packaging tape

Mini offices for kindergarten level native speakers are made with two or more file folders attached together. For ESL students from 3 to 8 yr old I believe 1 file folder is more than enough. For older students you can make bigger and more elaborated ones with several file folders.

I use the one-file-folder style so that putting them together is quite easy. You just have to choose which charts you want to have in your mini office (some might need to be coloured by the students), arrange them and finally glue them.

How can I use it?

Use the first lessons to create them and then use them throughout the year. Some charts will be nicer if your students color them and this will help students to feel involved in the process. You can use many different charts. The most common ones in native speaker classrooms are: colors, alphabet, shapes, numbers, left and right, days and months, family words, coins, phonics, star words and earth-state-country. I’ve come up with a list of those that can be useful for an EFL class. I have divided it into basic items and other possible alternatives.

Basic charts:

– Alphabet:

ABC chart

ABC chart and star words

Letter chart

– Colors

Color words

Color words (half size)

– Numbers

Tally marks, fingers, numerals and numbers

– Days of the week and months

Days of the week and months of the year (full size)

Days of the week (half size)

Months of the year (half size)

Months of the year

– Family words

Family words

Family words (half size)

Family words (full size)

– Pets

Pets (adapted from http://www.teachingheart.net/minioffice.html)

Other possible charts

– Word walls

Word walls

I suggest having an empty page where students can record the new words of each unit.

– Phonics

Phonic chart

Vowel chart


Short vowel

Long vowels


Phonic chart

– Question words

Question words

– Clock

Clock face

You can find a mix of charts to use in mini offices

Kindergarten office

K mini office

Why should you use mini offices in your English class?

Mini offices are conceived to be used where individual work takes place. This way students can work independently and autonomously. Basic concepts which appear in every lesson such as colors and numbers can be reviewed. Teachers can have more time for students who need more help while the others have the means to answer their own questions instead of constantly asking the teacher “How do you write …?”

Web pages

To write this post I have used the following pages: