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Math English

You can do one lesson on math English. This is more a listening lesson where they follow instructions. First, tell them some simple math English.

Operation How to say in English Your instruction
x+y x plus y Add y to x
x-y x minus y Subtract y from x
xy x multiplied by (/times) y Multiply x by y
x/y x divided by y Divide x by y

Then give them some simple calculations to do. (Amazingly, they all seem to get it wrong, so maybe do these twice before you do it on the blackboard.)

Choose a number. Multiply it by 2 (or you can say “Double it”). Add 16. Divide by 2. Subtract the number you started with.

Then get their answers. (The answer should be 8.)

2x + 16
---------- - x = 8. Do it again if most of them are wrong, then show them this.

Another easy one.

Choose a number. Add the next highest number. Add 9. Subtract the number you started with.

This time you can tell them what number they started with:

x + (x + 1) + 9 - x = x + 10. So just subtract 10 from their answer to tell them their number.

More difficult this time.

Choose a number bigger than 5. Add 11. Multiply by 6. Subtract 3. Divide by 3. Subtract your number minus 6 (this is where they fuck up). Subtract your number plus 1. Divide by 2.

Get their answers. (The answer should be 13.)

6(x + 11) - 3
--------------- - (x - 6) ? (x + 1) = 26.

After this, do something different. Tell them you are going to prove that 1=2. They have to tell you what’s wrong using the new words.

Let x = y.
Then x ? y = 0; also, 2x - 2y = 0.
So x ? y = 2x - 2y
= 2(x - y) …………*

1 = 2.

Of course, to do this, you divide both sides by x ? y (when you get to *). But x ? y = 0, and you can’t divide anything by 0. This should be their explanation. Usually they just say x ? y = 0 and leave it at that. Tell them you know that. In fact, you told them that. So make them tell you more and coax the full explanation out of them.

Now prove that 2=3.

4 - 10 = 9 - 16
=> 4 ? 10 + 25/4 = 9 ? 16 + 25/4
=> (2 ? 5/2) squared = (3 ? 5/2) squared ……….*
=> 2 ? 5/2 = 3 ? 5/2
=> 2 = 3.

There are two ways for them to tell you why this is wrong. At * you divided the left-hand side by -1/2 and the right-hand side by +1/2. Or they could tell you that you have said (at *) that the square root of x squared is equal to x but, in fact, the square root of x squared can be +x or ?x. But you would have to help them and tell them this English also.

This can all be pretty funny. I have been called strange, stupid, etc. I counter with “Yeah, but I can tell you what’s wrong, but you can’t tell me.”

Finally, give them this to think about.3 men go to a restaurant for dinner. Dinner costs $25 so each man puts in $10. The waiter takes the $30 and brings back $5 change. Each man then takes back $1 and they leave a $2 tip. So now each man has paid $9 each and the waiter has $2. But 3 x 9 +2 = 29. Where’s the extra dollar?

Don’t write anything on the board for this. Make them listen and watch their faces. Here’s the answer. There are two ways of looking at what happened to the $30.

  1. 30 = 3 x 9 (each man paid) + 3 (in their pocket)
  2. 30 = 25 (meal) + 2 (tip) + 3 (in their pocket)

You can look at it one way or the other, but you can’t just take whatever numbers you want from two different equations. In other words, the $27 paid for the meal AND the tip and they have $3 in their pocket. This is just a trick with words (or numbers) to fill up the lesson.

Ambiguous Sentences

Come up with some sentences where the meaning is ambiguous. I only have one example because I only used this as a filler and haven’t taken it further to cover a whole lesson: “Kill the man in the black car with an USA flag.” Get them to tell you what this means. Actually, I got them to tell me what they would do if I gave them this instruction. Does the black car have a flag on it or do you kill the man with a flag. Get them to rewrite the sentence twice (once each for the two different meanings).

I think this is called a “misplaced modifier” so you might be able to find more examples on the internet.


An idiom is an expression that you can’t know the meaning of just because you know the meaning of each individual word in the expression. I explain this first and give them some examples they know. For example:

  1. Give sb. a hand ? of course, this doesn’t mean you cut off your hand and give it to them.
  2. What’s up?
  3. Be on time.

Then just let them try to guess the meaning of ones they have never heard before for the rest of the lesson. There are heaps of idioms on the internet. Ten minutes to prepare this class.

Sentence Auction

Divide class into teams. Give each team $3000 (say). Bids start at 400 and increase by 100 each time. Then start reading prepared sentences to them. If they think it’s right, they should bid. If they think it’s wrong, they should shut the hell up because they want another team to buy it (try getting this through their thick heads). Once a sentence has been bought, they win the money if the sentence is right or lose the money if it is wrong.

This class takes a bit of time to prepare. You need to have their textbooks and their workbooks/homework books. Then you need to have a look at the usage of the words they’re learning and the grammar that they’re learning. Look at the questions/exercises they do on a daily basis (for homework) and modify the sentences slightly so that the word usage or the grammar (or sentence structure or whatever) is a little different, some being correct sentences, others incorrect. The idea is to try to trick them. I warn them I’m going to trick them. I might start off with a couple of correct ones which they buy, then throw in one (a good one which they think is right, but it’s wrong) to confuse them, explain it to them when some sucker buys it and warn them again to be careful. Then continue. Try to control the game. If a team is forging ahead, try to suck them in. If a team is losing badly, tell them they can still win by thinking carefully (and buying a correct sentence which the others are too scared to touch). You need to save your best examples for these situations.

This lesson does require some thought and some understanding of what they are being taught, and it might take a couple of classes to conduct it well, but the beauty of it is that you can use it 2-3 times per term as they progress through their course. After doing it a few times, it’s easy to prepare.

Variation of “Guess the Word”.
Again, this is listening based because I can’t have a conversation with these students in class. Just say a sentence with a word missing (point to a horizontal line or a question mark on the blackboard when you get to the missing word) and they tell you the missing word. Again, you can use words they know in a different way to what they have been taught. I try to make them understand that you can’t rote-learn English (the way they are taught); that when they are taught a new word by their teacher, that is not the be-all and end-all of the usage of that word.
Form Sentences

This is to get them to think about their grammar. Tell them to make a sentence from 3 words that they have learnt (3 words from 3 different lessons or units they have studied, so they don’t recite the textbook to you). Remember the old hangman game. If someone gets their grammar wrong and the team can’t help them fix it, they are one step closer to death. Work on a short time limit. If a team can’t give you a correct sentence with all three words in it, give the next team a chance (with less time, since they have already had time to think about it). This keeps all the teams working. So for the first 3 words, Team 1 has first go; for the next 3 words, Team 2 goes first; and so on. I usually give about 10-15 seconds for someone to start talking, then give them an idea where there grammar is wrong and give them a bit of time to fix it. If I have to move on to the next team, I give them about 5 seconds for someone to start talking. A good game’s a fast game.

Here is an old favorite I play very often with my high school students. The students have to guess of what thing the person who is it is thinking by asking him or her at most 20 yes/no type questions. If no one guesses the answer after 20 tries, the answer is revealed. A "yes" answer earns the questioner another chance to ask, a "no" passes the asking on to the next player. Maybe your students are advanced enough to ask appropriate questions on their own, in my case to facilitate my weak ones I hand out a print I made with examples of questions. The first question on my print is, "Are you animal?/vegetable?/mineral? Then below that I have written outline style three categories of questions: animal, vegetable and mineral. Under the animal heading my first question is, "Are you human?" Then I have written questions like, "Are you famous?" "Are you in this school?" "Are you a man/woman?" "Are you Japanese?", etc. In case the animal is not human I have, "Can I eat you?" "Can I ride you?" "Are you bigger than a _____?" etc. Under the vegetable heading I wrote questions like "Can I eat you?" "Are you delicious?" "Are you in Japan?" etc. And finally under the mineral heading I wrote, "Are you metal/plastic/stone/wood?" "Are you (blue)?" "Do I have you?" "Are you in the classroom?" "Can I see you?" etc. By using the print my students get a feel for asking questions in English and I have found many no longer need to refer to the paper. I hope you have good luck playing this great word game.

This game is great for reviewing vocabulary. Place two sets of flashcards on the board. Draw a line on the board to separate team A from team B. Have each team form a row, straight from the board to the back of the room. (At this point you should have two rows of students facing the board.) The teacher should move to the back of the rows and whisper 3 or 4 of the flashcards into the back two students ears at the same time. The student at the back must whisper these cards to the student in front of him/her IN THE ORDER HE/SHE HEARD THEM. That student must whisper the flashcards to the student in front him, and so on, until the words have traveled all the way to the front of the row. The student at the front must jump out of his or her seat and grab the mentioned flashcards and stick them to the whiteboard in the order heard. After that round is over, the students at the front of the class move to the seats at the back, and everyone else slides up a seat. This game is a lot of fun, but it will make your class a little hyper!
Prepositions can be reviewed using this game too. Various preposition cards can be mixed in with the other words. The teacher can whisper a phrase such as "The cat is in the hat". The student at the front would have to form this phrase with the cat, in and hat flashcards
Here is game I play with Advanced Adult Learners, and they love it. I'm not sure how I thought of it, it came all at once, or it maybe a variation on a party game (again, I'm not sure). I call it "No Way", but my students call it, "The Lying Game". Each student (and Instructor) has to create three lies about themselves and one truth. A grid is placed on the board with the Students names in rows going across, and lies/truth 1 to 4 going down. The students then tell their 4 facts and after all of the grid is filled, the "Interagation phase" begins. The students one by ask questions to the subject, trying to discover whether he is lying or not. It requires focused listening skills and lying well requires a high level of speaking ability. The Winner is the one whom nobody guesses his truth. Second place goes to the one guesses most of the truths
Tic-Tac-Toe with a twist! SUCCESS GUARANTEED ALL THE TIME! All you need is a board and a marker/chalk. Draw a large square and divide it into 9 blocks by running two parallel lines horizontally and vertically in it. Assign random letters of your choice and put a small number besides each letter in each of the nine blocks. Then divide the class into two teams (boys & girls works best) and assign a symbol to each team i.e. Heart for girls and Star for the boys. Throw a coin to see which team will start first. The team that won the turn must agree on a letter from the nine blocks and tell as many words beginning with that letter as the number next to the letter indicates (so it’s important to mark the letters with smaller numbers if the vocabulary of students is limited). The team must not pause for more than 10 seconds between speaking up each word or it will loose turn. If the team came up with all the words, the team symbol will be written over the letter of that block. When the same symbol marks three blocks horizontally, vertically or diagonally, the team wins. When there is a tie and one team has more symbols on the square, it wins.
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