Pronunciation of Simple Past -ed Sounds/Activities and Exercises

Until I became an ESL teacher I had no idea there were rules for pronouncing the simple past of regular verbs! I guess that is probably the case for most native English speakers! But for our students it can be a confusing undertaking to correctly pronounce the –ed endings of the simple past. What follows here in this post are: 1) the pronunciation rules for simple past, and 2) exercises and practice activities, 3) two videos.

Verbs that end in: Pronunciation: Examples:
D or T sounds D Wanted, decided
UNVOICED sounds (k, f, p, sh, ch, th) T Cooked, worked, kissed
All Other sounds (A, B, E, G, H, I , J, L, M, N, O, Q, R, U, V, W, X, Y, Z) id Damaged, listened

Exercises and Activities for Pronunciation Practice of Simple Past:  (includes audio) (online practice) (includes audio)

Speaking Games:  Gone in Thirty Seconds. Although this isn’t geared specifically toward pronunciation practice of -ed endings, it’s wonderful for that very purpose.  The directions are written on the game, it’s easy, and the students seem to like it. And, playing the game helps to build relationships in the classroom!

Memories Game.

Traditional ESL Lesson:        

Rap Lesson:    

Using Stories in the ESL Classroom

Stories are a wonderful way for our students to practice the four skills. There are so many ways to use them in a class. They’re not just about reading.  Today’s post offers places to find stories, and then, how to use them in your classroom. What resources for stories do you use?

For all levels.  Each of these sites has readings of various levels. You can select the appropriate level for your class and go from there.

For lower level learners, complete with phonics instructions:

Stories for listening practice, complete with audio files:

How can you use stories in the classroom?

Besides reading and comprehension practice, what else can you do with a story? What are some other ways to use a story in the classroom? LEA, the Language Experience Approach, is a great way to incorporate story into the class. But, I am going to cover that in a separate post. Today is about both fiction and non-fiction stories.

Sequence the story. Depending on the length of the story, cut each sentence into strips. Give one set to each student/pair. Have them put them in correct story sequence.

Identify grammar structures.  For example, for the lower level students, have them find all the verbs. Or, identify the past tense verbs in the story.

Summarize the story. Have students retell the story to a partner.

Identify certain letter sounds. For beginner students, identify phonics you are working on, and have them identify them in the story. (A story can be a few simple sentences!)

Sequence sentences in the story.  Use some of the sentence strips from the “sequence the story” activity, and cut the words into individual words. Students sequence each individual sentence.

Rewrite the story. Rather than retelling the story to a partner, have the students rewrite the story in their own words.

Discussion. Use the story as a prompt for discussion about the issue.

Debate. If a story has two sides to it, have the students debate the issue. One group can be “for” the issue, and the other “against” the issue.

Identify sight words.

Illustrate the story. Students can draw a picture of the key parts of the story. Then, use the picture to tell the story to a partner.

Dramatize the story. Students in small groups can put on a skit to dramatize the story. Great speaking practice!

Practice asking/answering information questions.

Jigsaw. A jigsaw is when a group of students each gets a different part of the story to read and understand. Then, they are regrouped, to retell the story. Here is a link for how to use a jigsaw in the class.   Jigsaws are a little more challenging to do for the lower levels, but CAN be done. Just keep the story very simple.

Read aloud with a partner.

Audio recording. Students can record themselves if they have a smart phone. Students can use this for self-assessment, pronunciation practice, or even comprehension.

Story circle (more sequencing). Students rewrite the story one sentence at a time. Put students in a group. The first studens writes the first sentence. Then, the student passes the paper to the next student, who writes the next sentence, and so on, until the story is rewritten.


What can you do to get students to class on time?

Our classes have exact starting times, yet many students seem to trickle into class.  Do you wonder why? Is it because of their schedules? Is it the teacher? Is it the class? I am not sure we’ll ever know the complete answer to these questions, but one thing we can do is make the first half hour of class interesting and a reason to arrive on time. Additionally, you can avoid wasting time waiting for the late students to arrive. What do you do the first 30 minutes of class? How do you manage the “trickle in” effect? Here are some ideas to get you thinking about that first half hour, and how to manage it.

Songs. Sing together, or play a song and create activities using the song. Have students tell you their favorite songs and then use the lyrics for English practice. Or, the class learn the lyrics to a new song, and practice it as class begins.

Current events. Discuss local and national events.  Use local/national news broadcasts as prompts. Create vocabulary practice using current events. Practice identifying new grammar structures, summarizing, retelling, predicting, changing tenses, etc.

Pronunciation.  Play pronunciation games, or choose different pronunciation issues to focus on and practice.

Topic discussion. Give the students a particular topic to discuss with a partner. Possibly include question prompts to get them talking.

Weekend report.  For the Monday class, create an activity about events from the past weekend. Students could do a short, impromptu writing about what happened over the weekend, or it could be a speaking activity. Practice particular grammar structures while reporting, as needed.

Photos of local landmarks or places to see. Take photos of places around town that students might be interested in learning about. Or, popular places to visit. Then, students can use the photos as writing prompts, speaking prompts, or discussion topics.  You could also use photos of places that students regularly visit, such as a favorite restaurant, club, workplace, etc., and create activities using those photos.

American culture. Students are always interested to learn about American culture. Think about general American culture topics, and also local cultural events and customs.

Share personal photos or stories. It seems the students like to learn about their teachers. Share photos from vacation, about your family, a hobby, or whatever inspires you.

Video clips. Students can write about video, discuss with another student, practice retelling the story, identify specific grammar used in the video, sequence the story, and more.

Show ‘n Tell. We learned it in kindergarten, but adults enjoy learning about each other and other cultures too.  They can bring something that they created themselves, or an item that is important to them. Or, something from their culture they want to talk about.

Introduce students to a new website for English practice. Have them practice on the computers in pairs or small groups.

Tell a story or a joke.

American history. Talk about key historical people in American history, events, celebrations, etc.

Photos. Take student photos and then use those photos for activities, such as describing picture, making predictions, etc. They always get a kick out of seeing themselves onscreen!

Audio. Use audio recordings of classmates talking, and then use them as a warm up or introduction to class (with their permission, of course). Have students read short stories, and then the others can answer questions about the story. Or, record a dialogue between students and create an activity around it. If you have a smartphone, there are multiple smartphone apps available for voice recording.

Card games or board games. Games that are instructional, or ‘just for fun”, as long as done in English, will provide additional practice for the students.  Lower level students like Go Fish with phonics cards, for example.

Thanks to the TESOL blog for the inspiration and some of the ideas! The link to the blog is here: 



Interested in Culture? Want to Learn More about Your Students?

ESL teachers often seem to be intersted in cultures of the world and learning about others, don’t they?  The website I am going to highlight today is a smorgasboard or information! There are so very many ways you can use this information both in the classroom and for personal enrichment/understanding.  As you look at the site, think about how YOU could use this site in YOUR class.

What is the site?

What do they do?  “The Hofstede Centre’s main goal is to offer high quality education in the field of culture and management based on academic research and practical experience. The centre services all those who want to become certified and who have been certified by us in the fields of Intercultural Management (ICM) and Organisational Culture and Change Management (OC).”

How can you use this information? There are lots of different ways you can use the information here. One way would be to use it to make comparisons between two countries. Let’s say you are teachig comparatives in your class. In the computer lab the students could go to the website and select two countries to compare.  After entering the information a chart appears comparing the two countries.The students could use the information to practice using compartivies, expressing opinions, and asking questions for better understanding.

For example, when comparing Honduras and El Salvador, we can see how they are similar and where their differences are in areas such as, power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation, and indulgence. These terms are defined on the website and will help you undertand the comparison chart.  Here’s the link to compare Honduras and El Salvador:  (To compare two countries, go to the main page. Next, click on Cultural Tools. A dropdown box will appear, and click on “Country Comparison” and follow the directions. It’s easy to use!)

Possible ways to use the site:

  • gain insight and understanding about another culture
  • practice comparatives, in both speaking and writing
  • discuss culture and values
  • express opinions
  • learn new vocabulary
  • ask questions
  • read and interpret data.

To supplement this information, you can also visit the CIA Factbook website which provides information about each country’s literacy, health, economy, government, and other demographic information.

Building Literacy in the ESL Classroom

Teaching literacy in a multi-level ESL classroom can be a big challenge! There is so much to think about when writing a lesson plan for this kind of class! How do you include the lower level literacy students in your lesson, yet keep the higher level students engaged? Is it possible to meet the needs of such a multilevel class?

If you want to learn some of the tricks of the trade, you MUST come to hear Patsy Vinogradov, PhD, on April 11th! If you are going to give up a Saturday to attend a professional development course, this is the one not to miss! Not only does she have stellar academic credentials, she has published many papers on literacy education, and provides actual suggestions for activities that you can immediately use in your class!

Look at these websites for implementing literacy education into your classroom.  These are not merely academic or learning theory. They include practical tools for classroom use.


2)  This site has short videos that demonstrate literacy teaching methods. There are downloadable worksheets, flashcards, pictures, and other teaching tools. They also have a great article about the LEA method and teaching top down and bottom up. If you have never used the LEA method in your classroom, take a look at Patsy’s video, and begin to implement it! It’s “magic”!

Teaching low-literacy adults. Great demonstration from Reading Horizons.

One of the more recent published articles by Patsy Vinogradov, and Martha Biegelow, is:

Using Oral Language Skills to Build on the Emerging Literacy of Adult English Learners University of Minnesota, August 2010

Key Points from (quoted from site):

  • Balance meaning-focused and form-focused instruction
  • Connect instruction to learners’ lives
  • Use both bottom up and top down instruction
  • Connect the curriculum to issues that adults care about in the outside world (e.g., children, work).
  • Use students’ native language(s) as needed for clarification in instruction (e.g., directions regarding tasks and activities).
  • Vary opportunities for use of language in interaction and practice of language forms (e.g., communicative pair activities and short grammar drills).
  • Create learner generated texts. One way to do that is through the Language Experience Approach (LEA). LEA is where students share an experience, and then describe the experience to the teacher. The teacher transcribes the story. These words can then be used as a text for reading and then for a multitude of activities. Have the students:
    • Write about shared experiences
    • Transcribe conversations or student stories
    • Share learner-generated texts in newsletters
    • Write about a photograph or other visual
    • Write in a journal or dialogue journal
    • Provide texts for wordless picture books
    • Create photo books with captions
    • Create class posters.

Sign up for the professional development classes on April 11, 2015.

Get ’em moving?

It’s happened to everyone. You know that moment when you look out into the sea of faces, and you see it! The look on their faces that tells you they’ve had enough! The fidgeting in their seats, the talking, the general restlessness! And you still have an hour of class to go! What to do, what to do?

Get ’em up! Get ’em moving! That’s right, get them out of their seats and moving around! How, you say? Any way you can, from simple stretches to short, active games!  Movement awakens the brain, the body, the spirit. There are many resources with suggestions for physical activity in the class. The one that follows has activities that are explained very clearly, with illustrations and videos. Yes, it’s geared towards younger students, but many of the activities could be used, or adapted for use, in our adult classes. And, if nothing else, it might inspire you to try something new!

I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Once they start moving, their energy increases and their moods lift!

Want to learn ideas about quick, short (1-5 minute) classroom activites, then just click on these links and download the Take a Break Teacher Toolbox.  The Toolbox is filled with activities. Let me know what you think.

Here are a few suggestions from the Toolbox:

  • Breathing/Stretching
  • Stand up for: Read a short story. Identify a specific word for the students to listen for. Every time you say this word students must stand up, then sit back down.
  • What’s my job? Write these occupations on the board: firefighter, doctor, chef, basketball player, soccer player, dancer. Student must act out all the jobs, while others guess the job. A more physical form of charades.
  • Yoga
  • Brain teasers: Games and puzzles that incorporate physical movement
  • Walking breaks: take 2-5 minutes in class for a walking break.
  • Walk and Talk: put students in small groups. Assign discussion question. Students walk while they complete the activity.
  • Roll Some Brain Breaks: A board game using dice. Each square on the board has a different activity.

And for those of you who like to dig deep into all the details, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded a study about the impact of classroom activity on children. Again, not exactly our student population, but it makes one wonder how much of this information IS relevant for them.

Board Games for the Classroom


photo by bilk.byu

Seems to me that many folks like to play games, and it’s a great way for the students to practice their English. Here are some of the top BOARD GAMES for the ESL classroom.  Do you play any of these in your class?  What other board games do your students play in class? (The last 3 in this list are downloadable games and ideas from the internet.)

Scrabble.  Hundreds of ESL students have played this classic word game. In the game, students receive a selection of letters which they must use to make word in a crossword style grid. When you, the teacher, also play, you have the opportunity to introduce unusual vocabulary to your students. Straying slightly from the rules makes for a more enjoyable game for nonnative speakers. Try allowing use of the dictionary at any point for any player and refrain from keeping score.

Upwords.  Upwords is a game very similar to Scrabble. In this game, students use their collection of letters to build words on the crossword style grid. Unlike Scrabble, in Upwords players can place letters on top of existing letters to change a word that is already on the board. For example, on a player’s turn he may add a T to the word bash turning it into bath. In this game, your students will see the relationships between words and recognize patterns in English spelling.

Bananagrams. A relative newcomer on the game scene, Banagrams uses letter tiles to create a grid of words, but in this game no structure is permanent. Players start with a set number of letters and use them to create their own word grid. When one player has used all of his letters, everyone must draw another tile and incorporate it into their own structures. Each person can rearrange his word grid as desired. This game can be fast paced when higher-level students play, but even with less advanced students it is a ready source for learning new vocabulary. In addition, it teaches students flexibility with words and spelling structures.

Scrabble Slam. Similar to Upwords, Scrabble Slam uses cards printed with letters to modify an existing word. In this game, there is only one four-letter word on the board and all players must use their own cards on this word. By the traditional rules, everyone plays at once, and the player to use all of his cards first wins. However, ESL classes may want to take turns playing on the word so your class has time to think and absorb each of the words that are created.

Scattergories. Scattergories is a way for your students to practice using the vocabulary they already know. In this game, students receive a list of ten categories. With a roll of the 26-sided die, a letter is designated for the round. Players must then think of a word which begins with that designated letter to fit each of the categories. Answers may be something like the following: boy’s name/Tom, food/tomato, city/Toronto, game/tic-tac-toe. A timer is set, and when time is up the group reviews the items they listed. Any words that more than one player listed are eliminated. Each remaining word is worth one point. This game can be a challenge for students still learning the language, but it can easily be adapted for lower level students. Feel free to define your own categories, linked, perhaps, to a unit you are studying in class and then continue as usual.

For a simpler version of this game, you can just give the students a category and a time limit. Students must write as many words as they can think of. Whomever has the most words is the winner. Or, you can give them 1 point for a correct word, and another point if it is spelled correctly.

Catch Phrase. Catch Phrase is a word guessing game in hot potato style. The starting player has a disk which gives him a word. He can say anything to get the rest of the players to guess the word on the screen. Once that word is guessed, he passes the disk on to the next player. That person then does the same. After a random amount of time, the disk will signal that time is up, and the person holding the disk at that time receives a point. The goal of this game is to have as few points as possible. To make the game easier for your ESL students, you can challenge each person to have his word guessed before the timer buzzes. Then reset the disk and send it on to the next player.

Taboo.  In this game, players must get their team to guess a given word, but each word comes with related vocabulary that cannot be used in the description. They key in this game is to think of another way to give the clues on the card. Players do this by using similar but not the same vocabulary. You can modify this concept and have your students write out clues for a given word, avoiding the vocabulary on the card. Limit the description to four or five sentences. If the class can guess the word from the clues that are provided, the writer scores a point. You can feel free to use vocabulary that the class has studied or select specific words from those that the game supplies. This game challenges your students to be creative with their language use – a skill that is useful for all language learners.

Balderdash. The game of balderdash is best reserved for advanced students. In this game, on his turn, a player is given an obscure vocabulary word. Each player must create a false definition of the word in hopes that the other players will believe it is the true definition. When playing this game, the teacher should be moderator every turn and correct any grammatical problems in the fictional definitions as well as write the correct definition on an identical slip of paper. Then s/he should read all of the definitions to the players who must vote for the one they think is correct. Any player that guesses correctly scores a point as does any player who receives a vote from another player.

Funglish. Quickly find and play tiles on the easel to get players to guess as many words on a card as you can.  Score points for successfully giving clues and for correctly guessing words.  To win, have the most points after three rounds of play. This is a wonderful game for practicing adjectives.

Jenga. Though not a traditional board game, Jenga can be a handy resource for students to get to know each other. Using any list of icebreaker questions (you can try these: 50 Most Amazing Conversation Starters) , write one question on each block. Then when your class plays the game, each person must answer the icebreaker before placing the block on top of the pile. By doing this, your students get speaking practice while getting to know one another better. Besides, it is always fun to see who makes the tower fall!

I-Spy Books. Create your own board game with pictures from an I-Spy book or any other pictures that contain a plethora of objects. On a piece of paper, have your students write the letters of the alphabet from a to z. Then let them look at the picture for a set amount of time (three to five minutes is good) and try to identify an object that begins with each letter. Of course, it will be nearly impossible to find an item for every letter, but by using creative vocabulary and having keen eyesight, your students will be able to fill in more letters than they might think. This is another game that is good for vocabulary development and is less threatening for beginning level students.

Mistakes and Ladders.  This games combines spelling and a board game. Download the game here:

Dominoes. While not technically a board game, dominoes shouldn’t be forgotten! There are many variations on this game for your students to practice spelling, vocabulary, or phonics using dominoes. Click on the link for games:

Bogglesworld Games.  Our friends over at have many board games for practicing everything from basic vocabulary to verb tenses.  Lots of choices here.

Listening Practice and Activities

Like most things on the internet, the resources for listening practice are abundant. Of course, you can always use and only listen to the video. Or, you can access some of the websites that focus on listening skills.  Here are a few of them, and they cover almost every topic imaginable relevant to the ESL classroom.

Randall’s ESL Lab. Link:     Probably one of the more well known sites, Randall’s ESL Lab has three levels: easy, medium, difficult. In my experience, those labels don’t really correlate to our class levels here at Wake Tech. You’ll need to evaluate each video yourself for appropriate level, but there are lots of choices and follow up activities, such as:

Eslpod.  Link:     This site includes a subscription membership for enhanced activities, but the actual podcast is free. They offer a variety of topics relevant to the ESL classroom. Included in the paid subscription are:

  • An 8-10 page guide for every new podcast episode
  • Complete transcripts (ESL Podcast and English Cafe)
  • Definitions
  • Sample sentences
  • Comprehension questions
  • Additional explanations
  • Cultural notes
  • Podcast newsletter
  • Information on new products and services.

Listen a Minute.  Link:     This site has a variety of listening activities that are listed alphabetically.  It’s free, and includes a transcript for each podcast. Follow up activities are:

  • gap fill
  • word jumble
  • Discussion
  • Survey
  • Spelling
  • Homework suggestions.

VOA News. Link:     Voice of America has been around for a long time, sharing news throughout the world. And, they also have a site dedicated to incorporating news stories into English practice. There are tons of videos and audios. You can select between levels 1, 2, and 3, but these levels don’t correlate directly to Wake Tech class levels. For listening practice, there is an audio section, and they also have the following podcasts:

  • As It Is
  • American Mosaic
  • In the News
  • The Making of a Nation
  • Science in the News
  • This Is America
  • Words and Their Stories

In addition, this site is chock full of resources other than listening activities. Take a look at their Word Book, which is a dictionary of words used in their podcasts, organized by subject.

5 Minute English.  Link:     Listening activities and comprehension questions.

Worksheet and puzzle generators

There are hundreds of websites available to educators to help in the creation of worksheets and games.  Using a website or any online resource can help you save time, so that you can focus on the more important aspects of being in the classroom! Who wants to spend time cutting and pasting when you can quickly click and create!

Worksheet makers and printable materials. Tools for Educators offersfree printable worksheet makers, online teacher tools and a host of to make materials for lessons, get lesson plan support and printable materials for classes.

Paragraph Scrambler. Type the paragraph. Press “scramble” and DONE!

Free Flashcard Maker.

Puzzle makers.  Create crossword puzzles, word search puzzles, and more word games at these sites.

Cloze creator.  Simple to use. Enter your text, and then highlight words to omit. Then, you can copy and paste into a document. To see how to use this site along with a video, click on this link. It’s pretty cool, and would be great to use in a computer lab.

 Exercise Generator. Create exercises on this BBC website. It’s free, but you must register before using it.

 PAID SITES: This site has lots of different options for classroom use (quiz/cloze/drag and drop/embed on web page). $25.00 annual fee  Here’s an example of how to use the site with student generated activities: Multiple options for creating worksheets, bingo cards, reading activities, word walls, spelling activities, and lots, lots more. $29.99/year.  Multimedia platform. Free and paid versions available.  Reading activities, worksheet and game creator.  $19.99/year.

Short, minimal prep warm-up and filler activities

The last minutes of class can be challenging because you want the students to remain involved, yet there’s not enough time to start another lesson or long activity. What do you do? Like most teachers, I have my “go to” fillers, but thought it would be nice to try some new ideas. What are some of your favorite fun, short activities? Here’s a list of some of the classics! What are your “go to” fillers? What new ones have you tried?

20 Questions-practice yes/no questions. One student thinks of a person or object. Other students ask yes/no questions to guess the word. They can only ask 20 questions total. The student can only answer yes or no to the question. Pictionary– Student A draws a picture. Student B guesses what it is and says/writes the word. Can play this as pairs or teams. Charades-Student acts out word or phrase. Class guesses the word. Chain Story– Can play in small groups or as class depending on size. First student says a sentence. The next student adds next sentence, and so forth, until they have created a story.
Why/Because– Give each person two index cards or two small scraps of paper. On one card, each person should write a question that begins with the word ‘why’. Then on the second piece of paper, each person should answer his or her question starting with the word ‘because’. Then collect all the questions  in one pile and all the because answers  in another. Mix up each pile and then read one why card with one because card. The combinations can be very funny, and then after reading all the random match ups you can have your students match the correct answers with the correct questions. Telephone-Students in two teams. Line up. Teacher says word to the first person on each team.Student #1 whispers word to student #2 who repeats word to student #3 and on down the line. At the end of the line, compare original word to end. Same or different? Do it with words, phrases, sentences. Would you rather? Similar to “Vote with your feet”. Ask students a question and have them walk to a side of the room to indicate answer. Example: Would you rather eat pizza or vegetables? Use silly or serious questions. White board slam-Also known as the fly swatter game. Write words, or letter sounds, on the board. Two teams. One student from each team at the board. Teacher says word or letter sound. Students “hit” the word/sound with flyswatter or hand.
Open questions-Extra time in the classroom for any and all questions for the teacher. Read aloud comprehension-Teacher or student reads aloud to class, or partner, and then check for comprehension. Hangman-Just like the childhood game. Teacher thinks of a word. Teacher writes a space for each letter of the word. Students guess letters. Try to fill in the word before the “hangman.” Line up/Get in order-Students create “line ups” according to prompt. Example:  Line up according to birth month.
Scrambled sentences-Words in a sentence are out of order. Student puts words in correct sequence to make a sentence. Example:  house big is The = The house is big. Picture dictation-Student A dictates a drawing to student B. First, student A could actually draw a picture, then dictate it to student B. When finished, compare pictures to check comprehension. Scrambled words-Students unscramble vocabulary words. Example:  husoe = house Describe the picture-Project a picture onto the whiteboard, or give students magazine pictures. Have students describe picture. For lower level students this can be writing a list of words. For higher level students, have them write a paragraph. Vary according to student level.
Categories– Multiple ways to play this game. Give students a category and time limit. In pairs, write as many things as they can. Biggest list wins. Hot Seat– Students in two teams. Put two chairs facing away from board. One student from each team in the chair. Teacher has a vocabulary list. Teacher writes one word from list on board. The team members describe the word, using definitions, synonyms, etc. to their teammate who is in the hot seat. The students in the hot seats, listen to their teammates and try to guess the word. The first student to say the word gets to change places with someone else in their team. This wins the team one point. The other team has to keep the same player in the hot seat until he/she answers correctly first. Then, the teacher writes the next word, etc. Vote with your feet-Teacher makes a statement. Class stands beside the “Yes” or “No” answer. Example:  You speak French. All the French speakers go stand by the word “Yes”. Good for assessing, showing similarities between students, checking comprehension, and polling the class. Taboo-The objective of the game is for a player to have their partners guess the word on the player’s card without using the word itself or five additional words listed on the card.

Links to warm-up activities and fillers:

Books with great ideas for short activities, and/or with minimal planning required:

Zero Prep, by Laurel Pollard

Zero Prep for Beginners, Laurel Pollard

Index Card Games, Raymond Clark

Five Minute Activities, Penny Ur, Andrew Wright