Murder | Energizer


Materials: Prepare chits of paper (no. of chits = no of Ss). If you’re lazy, write “Cop” on one, “Murderer” on the other and leave the rest blank. Or, fill the others with the names of celebrities. I like to use silly characters from Bollywood (Pappu Pager, Munna Mobile etc). Fold chits and place them in a bag or a box.

No. of Ss: Max 25.

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes

Procedure: Get the Ss to sit in  a large circle and give the following instructions:

  • We’re going to play a game called murder. Who do we need for a murder to happen? (Elicit: a murderer). And who do we need if we have a murderer on the prowl? (Elicit: a cop to catch him/her)
  • In a minute, each of you will receive a chit which has a character on it.
  • If your chit says “Murderer”, then you need to kill people in this room. The murderer kills by winking at his victim (clarify that winking involves one eye whereas blinking involves both your eyes).
  • If your chit says “Cop”, then your job is to catch the killer in action. You only get two chances to catch the killer so be careful about accusing without evidence.
  • If your chit does not say “murderer” or “cop”, then your job is to get killed. Look around the room at everyone. When someone winks at you, continue looking around normally and after a few seconds, act out a nice dramatic death.

After everyone’s received their chit, say “let’s start” to begin the game. The game ends when the cop catches the killer or there are no victims left.


  • Announce who the cop is before the game begins. This is recommended in smaller groups where the game will end quickly and abruptly when the murderer inadvertently winks at the cop.  
  • Have several killers instead of just one.


An optional way of linking the energizer to practicing language is to put Ss into small groups and ask them to use the sequence of events and characters from the game to create stories.  This works particularly well when you’ve used the names of celebrities. It could be an effective albeit morbid way of engaging teenage learners.

Image attribution: Wink by Diego Iaconelli | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

English through Yoga: Lesson #1


This is actually my second lesson inspired by yoga; the first was called Past Continuous Yoga and was designed for eight to eleven year olds. It was my maiden shot at writing a lesson for YLs and it won the Trinity College London’s lesson plan contest held at the Teacher Educator Conference in Hyderabad earlier this year. Trinity has compiled a sample of the entries into a document. I’ll post a link to that when they publish it online.

I’ve heard of teachers including yoga in their classroom routine usually as pre-lesson warmers but I don’t know if anyone teaches language through yoga. I became interested in yoga as an instructional medium through my friend Faredoon who at various times has been a hippie, actor and corporate trainer but always a lifelong practitioner of yoga and Vipassana.  I realize that the idea seems trendy and like many trends, questionable. I don’t know if it will work nor do I currently have an opportunity to test-drive these ideas. However, I do know that yoga heightens self and other awareness  and it improves breathing and sharpens concentration. These alone are surely attractive outcomes for any language teacher. The question is how to leverage them such that language teaching processes become seamlessly coupled with yoga derived activities.  Again, I don’t know the answer though I hope these posts will take me closer to it.

I’d love to hear your feedback if you are able to try this lesson out with your learners.


Title: Vowel stretches

Aim: Differentiate between commonly confused monophthongs (ɪ & iː, ʌ & ɜː, ʊ & uː, ɒ & ɔː, ɑː & ə, e & æ). I’ve picked pairs of sounds that learners in Western India generally interchange.  These can be replaced by other vowel sounds including diphthongs that are appropriate in your teaching context.

Audience: A2/B1 adult learners

Duration: 75 min

Materials: Yoga mats, a whiteboard you can move around, Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart, Stickups or flashcards with the target sounds,  a noisemaker (preferably a small brass bell), pairs of words with the target sounds from a book like Ann Baker’s Ship & Sheep.  Ss should be wearing loose, comfortable clothes and footwear they can take off easily.

Stage 1: Warm-up 

Lead the group in doing some warm-up stretches. This site has a list of simple stretches that you could use; a sequence of sukhasana, seated spinal twist, cat-cow stretch, and maybe end with the child’s pose.

Stage 2: Breathing exercises

If Ss are seated, ask them to continue sitting cross-legged in a circle.  

  • Close your eyes and visualize a swan gliding serenely over a still lake.
  • Just as the swan moves smoothly over the water, inhale and exhale through nose in a long and smooth manner.  Try to expand your breath as much as possible. 
  • Do this for 7 counts. Observe your breathing.  Then gradually breathe normally.

Ask Ss to stand.

  • Rest your hands gently on your stomach. Say any word in English in a loud voice. 
  • Now breathe through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Do this three times, inhaling and exhaling as deeply as possible.
  • Do the same exercise again but this time when you exhale say the word you’d said before in a loud voice.
  • Ask Ss to repeat the process but this time as they exhale, enunciate a single sound from the word they had said before.

Stage 3: Focus on sounds

  • Ask Ss to sit in a circle on the floor and focus on the sound they enunciated at the end of the last exercise – in all likelihood, they’ll be vowel sounds. If you get syllables, ask Ss to split the syllable into individual sounds.
  • What’s common among all of these sounds? Elicit that they’re all vowel sounds.
  • Say the sound again. When you make it, do you obstruct the air as it comes through your mouth? No.
  • Try saying the sounds that you hear others saying. How is it different from the sound that you made? What’s happening inside your mouth? How is the tongue positioned differently? What about your lips and jaw?
  • Derive that we shape the sound in our mouth using tongue and lips, creating different kinds of vowel sounds.
  • Pick up one of the vowel sounds shared by a student and demonstrate a short and long variant of it. What’s the difference? Elicit that one is a short sound and the other is a stretched, long sound.
  • Ask Ss stand in the mountain pose. Model a short sound and get Ss to repeat it in this position. Now, have Ss move into the Warrior II stretch and get them to repeat after you as you say a long vowel sound that you’ve paired the short sound with. Get them to do this a few times before you move to the next pair.
  • As you do each pair of sounds, get Ss to note the positioning of the tongue, lips and jaw.
  • The only pair I’ve selected which bucks the trend of short and long is e & æ. Maybe, Ss could do a half-warrior to demonstrate that æ is not a long sound but it has a different vocal quality than e.

Stage 4: Focus on form 

  • If using the IPA in class gives you an allergy, you can replace this stage with some drills or a review before moving on. 
  • Use the phonemic chart to associate the sounds you’ve taught with symbols. Point out what the colon does to the sound.
  • Use stickups or flashcards to do a quick review. Display the stickup with a phonemic symbol and nominate Ss to “perform” the sounds i.e. both the vowel sound and the mountain or warrior pose.
  • If more practice is required, get Ss to sit down in a circle and drill the sounds chorally, in groups and then individually.

Stage 5Controlled practice

  • I don’t like to do word association until this stage. A lot of teachers disagree with me but many learners in India have  had mispronunciation reinforced through their education – it’s not merely a question of L1 influence.  I find associating words with sounds too early in the lesson can often lead to minimal pronunciation change in words with the target sounds other than those drilled in class. 
  • Have Ss pair-up and sit cross-legged facing each other. They should sit such that one person from each pair faces the whiteboard while the other has her back to it.
  • Ask Ss to to place their palms on their partner’s palms.
  • Write the first word on the board e.g., TIN.  Ss facing the board push their partners hands while saying this word. Ss who can’t see the board listen to what the partner is saying and supply its minimal pair (TEEN) while pushing back their partner’s hands. Monitor and check for mispronunciation. Model if required; board the other word. Ask partners to swap words to repeat the process.
  • Continue with the next pair of words. After doing 8 pairs, ask partners to swap positions and do the next eight pairs.

Stage 6: Semi-controlled practice 

  • While Ss are doing the exercise in the preceding stage, write numbers against all the pairs on the whiteboard. 
  • Divide Ss into groups of three. Have them stand such that they can see the whiteboard.
  • Ask Ss what yoga poses they are familiar with. Ask them to demonstrate a few.
  • Announce a number. One Ss from each group creates a sentence using the minimal pair. When she says this sentence aloud, her group members repeat the sentence while doing an impromptu asana that involves stretching the arms or legs on a word with a long sound and constraining the arms or legs on a word with a shorter sound.
  • Ask Ss to keep swapping roles as you call out newer numbers. Encourage peer correction and creativity of movement.

Stage 7: Freer practice 

  • Get Ss to stand in two circles; inner circle facing out and outer circle facing in. 
  • Get each student to stand directly opposite another from the other circle in the tree pose or Vriksasana. In this pose, the hands are normally clasped above the head but to make things easier, ask Ss to clasp their hands in the “Anjali mudra” at their chests.
  • Ask Ss to talk to the other person about how they think improving English pronunciation might help personally or professionally. Ask them to think about how similar or different their partner’s perspectives are. They can also consider if there are any drawbacks to improving English pronunciation.
  • After a minute, ring the bell and ask Ss to lower their leg, thank their partner with a namaste and move one step to the left if they’re in the inner circle and one to the right if they’re in the outer one.
  • Get Ss to greet their partners with a namaste, get into the tree pose and repeat procedure.

Stage 8: Cool-down 

  • Get everyone to sit in a cross-legged position in a circle. Lead the group in doing a seated twist.
  • Ask them to share interesting opinions they heard from their partners. 
  • Point out sounds that everyone is doing really well with and sounds that they might need to practice. Inform them that you will send them an email that will have additional resources for self-study.
  • Now, get Ss to lie down in the corpse position and do a breathing exercise. You may want to accompany this with a visualization of the swan from the warm-up taking off and flying high in the air.


1. Baker, Ann. Ship or Sheep? An Intermediate Pronunciation Course. CUP: 2002.

2. Mehta, Silva et al. Yoga The Iyengar Way. DK: 1990.

NB. The asanas in this lesson are really simple ones meant for beginners and I’ve got them vetted by a professional yoga teacher. I don’t recommend replacing them with other poses unless you have an experienced practitioner present to help you out. 

Quote for thought

Divya Brochier

In her talk on action research at the iSTEK ELT Conference at Istanbul on April 27, 2013, Divya Brochier mentioned three insightful quotes which I’d like to share. Brochier’s session was on practitioner perspectives toward action research and overcoming her own apprehensions about action research and how that benefited her professional development. She begins by dispelling the notion that research is the preserve of academics and explains that “the essence of action research is that it is the right of every practitioner to be a researcher.” I particularly liked how she talks about the tendency to view action research as solely a problem-solving approach; things that go well also deserve to be studied and magnified. What Brochier said when she concluded her talk also struck a chord with me, “I believe in the potential of what’s going on in the classroom and I also think that in being & becoming actively aware, a teacher creates a space for professional growth within their own classrooms. And for me action research is one way of doing this.”

Three quotes


Where is the book in which we can read what teaching is. The children themselves are this book. We should not learn how to teach through any other book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves. In order to read this book, however, we need the widest possible interest in each individual child and nothing must divert us from this.

  – Rudolf Steiner     


Human beings are not built in silence but in word, in work, and in action reflection. To transform the world is not the privilege of some few persons but the right of everyone.  –   Paulo Freire

If you want to truly understand something, try to change it. – Kurt Lewin

Big fish, small fish | Energizer

There was a time early in my career when I used to train these insane 15 – 20 day programs: 20 (often completely degenerate) participants in a room for 9 hours day after day – sometimes in night shifts starting at 6 in the evening or the life-sucking graveyard shift that started at 11 PM.  It was next to impossible to manage without a huge repertoire of energizers back then. And we’d acquire new ones as frequently from squirreling around the Internet as we did from colleagues over breaks and after-work drinks. I was an on-demand energizer machine with participants bouncing all over the place at ungodly hours.  As I grew older and sporadically wiser, the realization that engagement isn’t solely delivered through energizers, dawned on me. These days, I find it challenging to recall energizers when I need them most. This is an effort to remember all those activities – neat & nutty – that might just help shake sleep and sloth out of learners.  Here’s one of my old favourites – Big fish, small fish.


Materials: none

No. of Ss: Preferably not more than 20.

Procedure: Get Ss to sit or stand in a circle. Extend your hands as widely as possible and tell Ss that this is “small fish”. Then, bring hands together so they’re only about 10 cm apart and explain that this is “big fish”.  Big fish swims clockwise and small fish swims counter-clockwise.  It sounds horrendously complicated but it’s not.  This diagram should help.

Big fish small fish

When student 1 turns to her left to student 2, she does “big fish” by bringing her hands close together.  Student 2 can either turn to student 3 and do another “big fish” or do a “small fish” back at student 1 by extending her arms out wide and thusly the game continues. Players get out if they get the actions wrong (put their hands together for small fish etc.) or get the directions wrong.  Point out that fish swim fast and Ss should similarly react quickly.

You should have them all laughing and energized in under 5 minutes (assuming they understood your instructions).

CuePrompter: activities across skills

During the ISTEK ELT conference last weekend, a delegate tweeted about a session that had activities with CuePrompter. Apparently, the activity involved a read & do version of Simon says.

From ISTEK ELT 2013
From ISTEK ELT 2013

It’s an interesting tool that allows you to paste any text you’d like(it doesn’t seem to do so well with non-Latin scripts, I tried with Chinese) and select speed, font size, and colour (white on black, black on white). While the prompter is running, you can pause, reverse, fast-forward as well as increase and decrease speed. Many thanks to Okan Önalan for tweeting about the site.


CuePrompter seems too versatile a tool to be limited to just a variation of Simon says. I brainstormed some other applications for it which would extend its use across other skills.


  • Ask Ss skim a text to answer a linear sequence of questions. Since the text disappears after a couple of seconds, Ss will be compelled (hopefully) to skim. This could also be a good exercise to help Ss get over regression – where Ss repeatedly read the same sentences or paragraph when it’s not required. 
  • Give Ss a set of statements and ask them to skim the text displayed by CuePrompter to decide whether they are true or false. Alternatively (this could be useful for EAP & ESP contexts), decide whether the information is available or referred to in the text.


  • Create a text that has synonyms of the target vocabulary. Give Ss a table or a bingo chart with the target vocabulary. Let the prompter roll and ask them to read quickly and write down synonyms from the text next to the words they have in their worksheet. Repeat until they get most of the words. 


  • Distribute a list of words to Ss and ask them to look up how they’re pronounced after class. To make it more interesting, you could run it as a jigsaw task and give out several lists. In the next session, ask students to teach each other words that might have appeared in their lists but not in those of others. Then, set the stage for a breaking news broadcast activity.  Pick up recent news items from the net and plant words from the lists you have distributed. Divide Ss into groups and name them after rival news channels.  Tell them they are competing for viewer ratings which they can secure by pronouncing all the words correctly.  Paste the text into CuePrompter and have a student from the first group read out the text as if it were a live news broadcast. Explain to the Ss that news broadcasters don’t get any prep time when it comes to breaking news – they have to read from the prompter without making any mistakes because there’s no second take. 


  • Most creative writing activities allow Ss a lot of time to think and write. But, what if you wanted to encourage the capture of spontaneous thoughts?  Create a series of prompts in a narrative (You enter a large room, what do you see? Suddenly, you hear a loud noise, describe it.)  Paste the prompts into CuePrompter and puts lots of ******** between each prompt. Ss read the cue quickly and start writing using the first thought that pops into their heads.  They have to write really fast because the next cue will come up soon.  When the prompter runs out of text, get Ss to proof-read what they’ve written and then teach them some discourse markers to connect their sentences and transition smoothly between events and actions. Let Ss rewrite their stories as a cohesive narrative before sharing it with the rest of the class.


  • A replica of the writing activity except Ss are in small groups and each time CuePrompter displays a prompt, Ss discuss it and collaboratively construct a story.  

I’d love to hear your feedback on these ideas especially if you get the opportunity to try them out with your learners.

Switching (unlikely) places: a writing prompt

img_0208The podium lawn at Essar House, Mahalakshmi has the springiest and prickliest grass I’ve ever rolled around on. I was doing all sorts of weird things on this grass (including rolling around) because a couple of weeks ago I attended Avid Learning’s workshop on Writing through Movement facilitated by Yuki Ellias.  There were lots of interesting exercises although not all of them transitioned well from doing crazy kinaesthetic things to the actual objective which was writing.  However, there was one activity which was a real winner. Here’s how it went.


Stage 1: T mimes

T: Are you familiar with mime? I am going to teach you how to mime something. How many of you wash your own clothes? Let me jog your memory.

T modeled actions which Ss repeated. (Wash a shirt Indian Dhobi style –  rinse an imaginary shirt repeatedly in a bucket. Spread on slab. Beat with stick. Scrub with soap and brush. Flip. Repeat procedure. Squeeze like you’re constipated. Shake out the water. Hang out to dry. Step back and admire)

Stage 2: Ss mime

T gets three volunteers to mime the whole sequence in front of the group. I think the objective of this step is to point out that Ss don’t need to faithfully replicate the original mime which is only meant to be a framework for exploring different actions.

Ask all Ss to work through the entire sequence once without anyone leading them.

Stage 4: Switch

Now, ask for three more volunteers but this time have them mime the scene as if they were the shirt!  Then, ask everyone to spread out (this is where the springy grass comes in) and now act out the entire sequence as shirts.

Stage 5: Write 

Ask Ss to write about the process of being laundered in the voice of the shirt.

Stage 6: Action replay 

T: Replay the entire mime in your head. Which part did enjoy the most or stood out for you for some reason? Reenact that moment. Do it over and over again until you’ve observed the moment completely. Notice how you move, how your body is positioned, how does the wind hit you, how does water feel when it splashes on you or when you’re dunked in the bucket or scrubbed on the slab.

Stage 7: Write again 

Ask Ss to write about that moment. Encourage them to reenact if required to get more inspiration.

Stage 8: Rewrite 

Have Ss cut the description of the moment down to a single sentence.

Stage 9: Share

Stick strips of masking tape on the floor of the room. Get Ss to write their sentences on the tape.  Ask everyone to go around and read each other’s writing.


I’ve done exercises where you mentally switch places with another person and try to write from their perspective. But, this was my first time switching places with an inanimate object.  It was novel, zany and enjoyable. So I thought about other activities that could be loaded into this frame.

1. Go through the process of making tea and then switch places with the tea.

2. Check-in a piece of luggage and mime how it gets manhandled & passed along until it reaches the flight. Then, become the bag or suitcase.

3. Mime brushing your teeth and then switch places with the brush.

4. Act out the journey of a pizza from the outlet to someone’s home and then transform into the pizza.

I know it sounds inane but it’s actually a lot of fun. More importantly, it challenges the participant to extend his or her language in really interesting ways.  So, it might be more appropriate for a B2 or a C1 learner. I also think concluding with conventional error correction might defeat the objective which is creativity and fluency in writing.  Instead, you could end with Ss discussing what they liked in each other’s work and how perspectives of the same event might be different.

Language, power & Game of Thrones

The relationship between language and power is well known and documented. In fact, discussions about English teaching and language education policy in India are rarely distanced from the narrative of power, class, and inequity. Less acknowledged, I think, is the power wielded by speakers when they conceal their proficiency over a language. It’s something we talk about at an anecdotal level – encounters with traffic cops in cities (Bombay, Bangalore?) whose language you’re not supposed to know, as they talk among themselves about how best to relieve you of the Rs.500 note that’s weighing down your wallet; haggling with Kashmiri antique merchants who have no clue that they just told you their reserve price as they mutter to each other about your stinginess; or the wallflower of an office helper who is privy to conversations about insider-trading deals he ought not to understand. Just as command over a language could translate into power, cloaking this knowledge may give you the upper hand.

In a case of fantasy fiction reflecting reality, last week’s episode of Game of Thrones concluded on this note of language, power, and a nasty massacre.  People who aren’t GoT fans may need a preface before viewing the video so here goes.

Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled royal of the kingdom of Westeros finds herself in far-flung  Astapor, negotiating to buy the city’s main export, martial eunuch slaves called the Unsullied famed for their loyalty and skill in battle. Negotiations proceed slowly through a slave translator of the Good Masters (the rulers of Astapor) who tactfully dilutes the pejoratives and invectives they throw at a seemingly clueless Daenerys. The deal is closed when Daenerys agrees to swap a prized baby dragon for 8000 Unsullied, an exchange her own advisors criticize as inane and to her disadvantage.  In the original book, A Storm of Swords, the dialogue is obviously in just one language so the impact of Daenerys’ linguistic deception is not immediately apparent save an old slaver who turns his head sharply when he hears her speaking his language. But, in the HBO version, you hear two languages and Daenerys’ triumph as she discloses her command over the language of her antagonists.

The impact of concealing language proficiency may not be so dramatic in real life but I reckon there definitely is an impact. I’d be interested in hearing your experiences with this subject.