Discovering Dragons

Discovering Dragons

Dragons are mythical beasts which do not exist, but they appear in folktales and children’s stories in many cultures around the world, from Northern Europe to China, but where do dragons come from? Early civilisations discovered large bone either on the surface of the ground or embedded in swamps or rocks. These people recognised a leg bone, a hip or a jaw bone, but, from the size of these bones, they did not appear to come from any living creature. These early archaeologists had discovered dinosaur bones!

These people did not know anything about dinosaurs but, in their imaginations, they created dragons as being the source of these bones. Now we know much more about dinosaurs. Unlike dragons, they do not breathe fire. That was the invention of story tellers.

More mythical creatures

The unicorn is another mythical beast, a horse with a single straight horn sticking out of its head. It was created in a different way. Travellers returning to Europe from Africa tried to describe a rhinoceros which they had seen. They said that it had four legs, like a horse, but it also had a single horn sticking out of its head. In their imaginations, the listeners created unicorns.

Many animals were created from travellers’ stories. For many years, many people believed in hybrid animals, a combination of two different creatures.

Perhaps the most famous of these is the mermaid, a creature with the top half of a beautiful girl and the bottom half of a fish. There are stories about mermaids in many different cultures. Some people believe that stories about mermaids were created by sailors. After many months of not seeing any women, the sailors saw sea lions and believed that they were mermaids. There is a famous children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen called “The Little Mermaid.”

The centaur is another mythical hybrid animal from Greek mythology. The centaur is half human and half horse. A centaur has the intelligence of a human combined with the speed and strength of a horse.

Another hybrid animal is the cameleopard. This was an animal with a head like a camel but with skin which was marked with dark and light patches, like a leopard. The cameleopard was believed to be an animal which was half-camel and half-leopard. The cameleopard was not a mythical creature. It was invented after travellers had seen a giraffe, and tried to describe it.

Another creature from Greek mythology was the minotaur. The minotaur had the head of a bull and the body of a man. As we can see in this picture, the minotaur also had feet like a bull. In Greek stories, the minotaur was always a terrifying creature. It was both noisy and very powerful. Like bulls in the real world, the minotaur was always ready to attack anyone or anything which came close to it.

Describing real animals

Some animals were created by artists who were trying to create pictures of animals which they had never seen. The picture on the left was painted on the ceiling of a monastery in northern Italy. It attempts to show an elephant being used in battle. The elephant has killed a soldier and is treading on his body.

Clearly, the artist has never seen an elephant, but he has heard or read descriptions of elephants and their use in battles. The artist knows about horses and has painted horses many times, but he has never heard of a horse which can carry a castle and many soldiers on its back. The artist has never heard of a horse with a long tube sticking out of its face.

Comprehension is a process of creating mental images from words which have been heard or read. This artist has used his imagination to create a picture from the limited information which he has. As with the work of our learners, it is not a perfect illustration of an elephant, but I think we can see what the artist means.

The German artist, Albrecht Dürer produced this remarkable woodcut picture of a rhinoceros in 1515, despite the fact that he had never seen the animal. In fact no rhinoceros had been seen in Europe since Roman times. The Indian rhinoceros, Clara, had been given, in 1514, to the Portuguese king, Manuel II for his private zoo. The animal was examined by scientists who wrote enthusiastic letters to their colleagues around Europe describing this amazing animal.

Albrecht Dürer read some of these descriptions and produced two sketches of the animal. Although these sketches have been lost, it is known that his famous woodcut was based on his second sketch. His picture of the rhinoceros is not an accurate representation of the animal but it is a very good attempt, allowing for his limited information. Dürer draws plates of armor like the metal plates which were worn by knights. In Dürer’s picture, the plates appear to be riveted together with steel rivets. This is not the same as the folds of heavy skin which can be seen on a rhinoceros.

Although Dürer’s picture was not totally accurate, it was the first representation of this animal which most Europeans had seen and became the iconic image of the rhinoceros.


Pair work. Have you got a pet animal or bird at home? Describe your pet to your class mate and ask your classmate to draw it. If you don’t have a pet, imagine a pet and describe it to your classmate.

Class work. Collect all the pictures and display them. Look at all the pictures. Try to guess which pet is kept by each student. Individually, make your own list of students and pets. Ask each student to describe their pet and mark your list with üor ×.

Writing. Imagine that you have seen a strange animal, fish or bird. Write a description of the imaginary animal, fish or bird. Show your description to two different students. Ask each of them, working individually to draw a picture of the animal, fish or bird. Which classmate has drawn the most accurate picture?

Pair work Game. Collect or print from the internet 12 pictures of different animals. Stick the pictures on cards. Cut the pictures so that they are about the same size. Organise the pictures in three lines of four pictures.

Sit facing your partner. Use a book as a screen so that you cannot see your partner’s desk.

Student A mixes the cards and makes a new pattern of three lines of four pictures.

Student B. Ask your partner to describe the picture in the A1 position. Match the picture to the description and put the card in the A1 position. Then ask about A2 then A3 then A4. Put the cards in a line. Then ask about B1, B2, B3, and B4. Put the cards in position. Ask about C1, C2, C3 and C4. Put the cards in position.

Now look at Student A’s pattern. Is your pattern the same?

Then play the game again.

Pair work Game. Student A chooses a picture from the 12 pictures above. Student B asks questions about the creature such as:

  • Can it fly?
  • Can it run fast?
  • What does it eat?
  • How many legs has it got?
  • Where does it live?

How many questions do you have to ask before you can guess the correct picture?

Nick Dawson 2014


Recipe for a good lesson

Introduction: Cooking and Teaching

The parallels between cooking and teaching are not as bizarre as you might imagine. A chef selects and prepares ingredients so that they are easy to eat, easy to digest and nutritious. The chef tries to make them as tasty as possible so that the diners will enjoy consuming the meal and will be eager to return for more. Teachers select language activities which are both enjoyable and have a strong learning value. The language activities may use either authentic, raw, language, or simplified, cooked language, which is easier to consume and comprehend. The teacher chooses language activities which are entertaining, interesting and have a high level of student participation. The teacher’s aim is to produce lessons which are both intellectually nutritious and easy for students to follow. The teacher hopes the lesson will be satisfying for the students so they will be eager to return and learn more..

Preparing a tasty lesson

Meals usually consist of a number of different courses; a starter, a main course and a dessert which might be followed by cheese and crackers, fruit or perhaps a strong cup of coffee. Similarly, lessons follow a programme of different phases. Each phase will have a specific structure and learning aim.

Meals are for nutrition but, like lessons, they are also social occasions. When learners come to English language classes, they come from their L1 world of work, travel, shopping or other lessons. On arrival, they need to ‘switch’ into English, so it is useful to start a lesson with an easy, amusing activity, which exploits previous knowledge and acts as an aperitif for the lesson. I often start by eliciting a summary of the previous English lesson. This does not require new knowledge or new language but stimulates the recall of half-remembered knowledge and language from the previous English lesson. It acts as a link between lessons in the learning chain of the language course. The communal recall of the previous lesson exploits the collective memory of the group and binds them together as a team, in the same way that clinking glasses and saying “Cheers!” binds a group of diners.


Starters are usually short, amusing, dramatic or interactive activities which exploit known language and, most importantly, do not conflict with the content of the main course. Teaching is a process of building – building new language upon the foundations of known language. A starter might refer to an everyday communicative situation, which is later exploited in the main course.

The Starter may be an analysis of the different phases of language interaction used in that context. For example, a restaurant meal will usually start with reading and consideration of a menu. The discussion of the menu is between the diners and does not include the waiter. Each diner makes choices from the menu. A diner, who is unable to choose, may ask the advice of other diners before coming to a final decision. The next phase involves giving the order to the waiter. This may be done by each diner individually, or a spokesperson for the group might tell the waiter about all the individual menu choices. Often a spokesperson may attempt to give a summary of the choices, but be interrupted and corrected by individual diners.

The choice from the menu encourages the diners to think ahead about the food they will eat, whetting their appetite and preparing them for what they are going to eat.

In a collective classroom, students do not usually have the chance to make choices from a menu, the teacher has prepared a set menu which will be shared by all the learners. Often, the set menu may be visible in the contents of a unit in the Student’s Book. The teacher might start by ‘talking through’ the unit, drawing attention to listening tasks, comprehension activities, reading tasks, games, songs, etc. This will whet the students’ appetite and give them an idea of what they should expect.

The language of menus

Menus should be comprehensible and written in language which is understood and valued by the diners. Unfortunately, pretentious restaurants often insist on describing their dishes in French. Themed restaurants sometimes list Tarzan’s Escalope, Jungle Salad, and Jane’s Fish Surprise. Diners are then forced to ask the waiter to translate the menu into plain English.

There is a wide belief that students should be informed of the learning value of each lesson. In the past, the learning value might be described in structural terms: forming affirmative and negative statements and interrogatives in the Past Perfect Tense. This was as valuable for the learners/diners as the restaurant which divided its menu into proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, sugars, fats and fibre. After the introduction of functional and notional language models, learning aims were described in similarly incomprehensible constructions such as “enquiring about the existence of defined amenities within defined locations.” ALTE’s ‘can do statements’ are a great improvement, but we have not yet discovered a menu language for lessons which is both comprehensible and valued by learners.

The main course

The main course of a meal or lesson contains the key learning content. Sauces and vegetables are often used to add flavour to the content of the main course. It is important to ‘sauce’ the content of main course of the lesson with elements of flavourful entertainment. Vocabulary tasks adorn and extend the language content, skills activities aid digestion and absorption of the content, songs and games make the content more memorable. Role play and drama activities help learners to place the content in context.


Some desserts, like profiteroles, are merely a piece of frippery intended to repay the learners with some sugary entertainment after a boring lesson. The dessert course in a lesson should contribute to the digestion of the main course. It should be entertaining and enjoyable, but should be chosen to make the language content of the main course entertaining and memorable. Some textbook authors use songs, others use picture stories or videos, but each is designed to leave the learners with memorable images, tunes or stories. Students don’t remember grammar tables or exponents of ‘can do’ statements, they remember images, tunes and stories. These become the ‘hooks’ by which they remember new language.

Nutrition and Learning

When teachers analyse their lesson plans, they sometimes add up the proteins of grammar or communication, the vitamins of vocabulary or skills, the carbohydrates of energy and entertainment.

The question which they should be asking is “What will my learners remember?”

Buon appetit! Enjoy your lesson.


Learning to spel rite

Mongrel and mess

The ‘pure’ English language is a mongrel created from many different languages. The spelling system is a similar mess and standard spelling is not a standard used by all English users. David Crystal’s entertaining book SPELL IT OUT: The Singular Story of English Spelling [Profile Books © David Crystal 2012] is an entertaining and highly readable story of how we got into this mess. If you are interested in spelling, I strongly recommend that you read this book.

Practical Help for EFL Teachers

In this article, I want to concentrate on practical procedures which EFL teachers can adopt for helping their students to improve their spelling.

Two Spelling Engines

David Crystal suggests that all English language users, both native speakers and language learners, use two different spelling engines. When we read aloud from text, we use the text-to-sound spelling engine and when writing, we use the sound-to-text spelling engine.

As English language teachers, we are aware that our learners have problems with both engines. When reading aloud, students often misunderstand or mispronounce words from the text. When doing dictation or attempting to write, we often see misspellings.

Text-to-sound Engine

When learners are reading aloud, or even reading silently, their brains are using their text-to-sound engine to convert the black signs on the page into sounds and meanings. This text-to-sound engine uses a lot of the processing power in the brain. Many graded story books are now available on Audio CD. If students listen to these recordings while following the printed text in their books, learners can hear the results of this text-to-sound process.

This is also true when listening to the teacher reading aloud from a text. By hearing the text, comprehension demands less processing power from the learners’ brains. Research has demonstrated that this improves the learners’ silent reading speed. If learners follow the printed text, their eyes continue to work and they begin to learn the sounds of different combinations of letters.

Teaching the text-to sound engine

When presenting a text to the class of learners, read the text aloud so that learners can hear the sounds. Then ask them to read the same text aloud. Either ask individuals, pairs or groups to read aloud. When learners have done this successfully, ask the whole class to read aloud in chorus.

Text-to-sound engine and grammar

When learners listen to a text read aloud, they not only hear the pronunciation of individual letters and letter combinations, they also hear the correct syllabus stress in words and the correct word stress in sentences.

When reading aloud, some groups of words are run together, while other groups of words, usually phrases, are preceded by pauses. We pause between ‘language chunks, at the end of sentences and make longer pauses between paragraphs. In this way, Learners hear and begin to learn, the patterns of syntax in English.

Letters and letter groups

By listening to and looking at a text being read aloud, students will learn the pronunciation of words, the sounds on individual letters and of letter combinations, both vowel combinations and consonant combinations.

Exercising the Text-to-sound spelling engine

As already suggested, listening to an audio recording of a graded reader or to the teacher reading aloud while the learners are following the printed text will provide excellent training for the Text-to-Sound spelling engine. The more that students read, and listen to recordings of reading, the greater will be the benefit for the Text-to-sound spelling engine.

Listening Bingo

Learners listen to the following text:

Alice and her big sister sat under a tree one sunny day. Alice’s sister had a book, but Alice had nothing with her. She looked at her sister’s book. There were no pictures or conversations in it.

‘ Why is she reading a book without pictures or conversations?’ she thought. ‘ I’m bored. I know! I’ll look for some flowers.’ Then she thought, ‘ No, it’s too hot for that and I feel sleepy.’

Suddenly, a white rabbit ran past her. It took a watch from its jacket and looked at it. ‘ Oh! Oh! I’m going to be late! ’ it said.

‘ That’s strange! A rabbit with a watch! ’ said Alice.

She jumped up and ran after the animal. It ran down a large rabbit-hole, so Alice went down the hole too. She didn’t stop and ask, ‘ How am I going to get out again ? ’

From Alice in Wonderland © Pearson Education 2008

Learners have a BINGO CARD as below:

tree watch jacket rabbit thought
animal pictures sister money book

Learners number the words as they first hear them. Notice that there is one word which they do not hear.

By using a recorded text, learners hear the words in context. This is much better than hearing words in isolation, as they would be, in a list.

Listening and silent reading

As mentioned before, during silent reading, learners need to create sounds in their heads to achieve comprehension. This uses a lot of brainpower which reduces the learners’ progress through the text and their ease of comprehension. Listening to the text being read aloud makes reading easier but it is only a temporary learning device, the ultimate goal is silent reading.

Teaching the sound-to-text spelling engine

Students learn spellings by reading. Sometimes, they are slow to transfer their knowledge of correct spellings from the text-to-sound spelling engine to the sound-to-text spelling engine. Learners need to write and write frequently and meaningfully. This starts with young learners labelling pictures and writing captions on their pictures. Later, they write organised lists, sort words into organised lists, write messages, texts, letters, articles, essays and so on.

Form filling is a useful early task because the printed form supplies the grammar and learners add the information. After filling a form, learners can re-write the information as a sentences. Consider the form below:

Name Jason Brown   My name is Jason Brown.
Age 9   I am nine years old.
Home Flat 23   I live in Flat 23.
Street 12, Park Road   It is at 12 Park Road.
Town Newtown   Park Road is in Newtown.
Email   My email address is
Pet A parrot   I have got a parrot.
Pet’s name Vera   Her name is Vera.

When students write, they create ideas in their heads as streams of sounds. Then they try to write those spoken words as written text. Before students start to write their own stories or messages, we often start with simple dictations. Once again, we can use the recordings from graded readers as an alternative to the teacher’s voice.

The Completion Dictation below does not ask learners to write full sentences, but only to complete a passage with a few words. Once again, the words are used in a simple comprehensible context. Learners will use their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar as well as their listening and spelling skills.

Completion dictation

Show the learners the text below. Give them a few minutes to read the text and guess at the missing words. Then read the text or play the recording. Ask students to write in the missing words.

Alice and her big sister sat under a tree one sunny _______. Alice’s sister had a book, but Alice had nothing with her. She looked at her sister’s book. There were no __________ or conversations in it.

‘ Why is she reading a __________ without pictures or conversations?’ she thought.

 ‘ I’m bored. I know! I’ll look for some flowers.’ Then she thought, ‘ No, it’s too hot for that and I feel ____________.’

Suddenly, a white rabbit ran past her. It took a watch from its jacket and looked at it. ‘ Oh! Oh! I’m going to be late! ’ it said.

‘ That’s ____________! A rabbit with a watch! ’ said Alice.

She jumped up and ran after the animal. It ran down a ____________ rabbit-hole, so Alice went down the hole too. She didn’t stop and ask, ‘ How am I going to get out ____________?’

You may need to play the recording several times and allow learners time to check their answers.

Using a graded reader at an appropriate level for your learners will ensure that it will be understandable and will contain suitable vocabulary.

Concentrating on vowel combinations

Frequent spelling mistakes appear when learners use the wrong pairs of vowels in a word. In this passage there are several words using vowel combinations. Exercises like this can focus attention on vowel combinations.

Alice and her big sister sat under a tr___ one sunny day. Alice’s sister had a b___k, but Alice had nothing with her. She l___ked at her sister’s b___k. There were no pictures or conversat___ns in it.

‘ Why is she reading a book with___t pictures or conversations?’ she thought. ‘ I’m bored. I know! I’ll l____k for some flowers.’ Then she th___ght, ‘ No, it’s t___ hot for that and I f___l sl____py.’

Suddenly, a white rabbit ran past her. It t___k a watch from its jacket and looked at it. ‘ Oh! Oh! I’m going to be late! ’ it said.

‘ That’s strange! A rabbit with a watch! ’ said Alice.

She jumped up and ran after the animal. It ran down a large rabbit-hole, so Alice went down the hole too. She didn’t stop and ask, ‘ How am I g___ng to get out ag____n ? ’

Tell the students that they need to write two vowels in each space. It may be two different vowels or the same vowel repeated.

Concentrating on consonant clusters

Consonant clusters such as ght or tch, ph, stl, qu, often cause spelling difficulties. Practise vowel and consonant clusters by asking learners to re-write and complete these sentences.

  1. Please, give me your camera. I want to take a __otogra__.
  2. It’s very dark in here. Please __i___ on the li___.
  3. Ele__ants are very big animals.
  4. I haven’t got enou__ money to buy the red train.
  5. Prince__ Eliza lives in a big, old, stone ca___e.

My grandmother likes … Practising double letters

Tell the learners “My grandmother likes apples, but she doesn’t like oranges. She likes carrots but she doesn’t like potatoes. She likes tennis and football, but she doesn’t like judo or boxing. She likes crosswords, knitting and doing needlework but she doesn’t like watching television or listening to music.”

Invite students to ask you what your grandmother likes.

The key to this game is that your grandmother likes any word which contains a double letter. Play the game until your learners discover the key. You will find that the leaners practise a lot of vocabulary before they discover the key!

Other Spelling exercises


Anagrams contain all the correct letters for a word, but learners have to write them in the correct order.

Every day, I ride to school on my _______________.                                [bccliye]

My tooth hurts. I must go to see the ____________.                                [dntstei]

I’m so hungry. Can I have a _______________?                                 [hmbrgraue]


Wordsearch tasks encourage students to look for letter combination and find the words from the word list. At this website, you can choose the directions in which words will appear.

Make your own worksheets online @

Wordsearch does not practise the meaning of words, only the spelling. If you want to focus on both meaning and spelling, use a crossword puzzle with meaning clues. Crossword puzzles and clues can be made at

Just for Fun

Misspellings can often create very humorous results. This was exploited by a brilliant American poet, Taylor Mali. Enjoy his poem at but don’t show it to your students!


Spelling in English is not consistently phonetic and does not appear to have any logical system. Although there is no system, there are regular patterns. Through hours of extensive reading, students learn to recognise these patterns and gradually become more accurate in their writing.

Today, most writing is done within word processing programs on computers and these usually contain Spellcheck applications which will underline misspellings in red and suggest likely corrections. Learners should be encouraged to use Spellcheck applications and learn from the suggested corrections.

Encourage students to make lists of their regular misspellings and use these to create spelling tests and exercises.

Nick Dawson 2014


Protected: History of English Playing cards


Playing Cards


Many of us are familiar with the standard European pack [AmE deck] of 52 playing cards which are used for playing both solitaire and competitive games. The pack is divided into four suits; hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs . What is the origin of playing cards? Why do the suits have these names? How did we standardise the design of the picture cards?
From history, we know that both Egyptians and Romans played number games. We have found numbered stones, used as dice, by Romans. Playing cards were first used in China during the 9th century. A woman from the Teng dynasty, in this period, published the first book of card games. By the 11th century, playing cards were used throughout Asia. Playing cards were used for informal games, gambling games and even for predicting the future.
Playing cards were introduced in Europe in the late 14th…

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Up to 99% better: Language in Advertising

Up to 99% better: Language in advertising



In their everyday lives, our learners are exposed to many forms of advertising, in magazines, on television, whilst browsing the Internet. Some of this advertising is in English. The texts and materials, which we use in English lessons, has been checked for accuracy and lack of bias. The format of our ‘comprehension’ exercises invites learners to believe that the texts are factually correct and accurate. Our lessons tend to persuade learners that information presented in English is trustworthy and reliable.

Are we creating a generation of English language learners who believe everything they read in English? Are we creating a generation of English language users who will easily fall prey to advertisements in English? How can we improve our lessons to provide better training in decoding and understanding advertising messages?

No Comparison

99% Better has no meaning, unless we indicate with what we are making the comparison. 99% Better is an example of the weasel words, used in advertising. Weasel words are words or expressions, which suggest a benefit or improvement, without providing any evidence. Weasel words are designed to make the customer feel more positive about the product or service without making any concrete statement about the quality. What do we teach our learners about weasel words? How much do we train our learners in interpreting the flaws in the advertiser’s persuasive message?

Up to …

Advertisements for broadband suppliers and mobile phone networks often say that their product offers a service of “up to” an attractive speed or capacity. But what is the meaning of “up to”? “Up to” describes the maximum speed or capacity. The average customer will not benefit from that maximum. From the customer’s standpoint, “up to” means “less than”. “Up to” is another weasel expression designed to lure the customer towards a purchase of the product or service.

Buy one, get one free

The BOGOF, buy one, get one free, offers in many supermarkets try to persuade the customer to buy more than is actually needed, in order to ‘save’ money. Bogof offers are usually made on fresh foodstuffs and other perishable products. As a result of bogof offers, customers fill their shopping trolleys with products which they don’t need. These products frequently sit at the back of shelves, or hidden deep in freezer compartments until they are eventually thrown away because they have rotted, or because they are beyond their “sell by” date.

Sell by …

The “sell by” date is another ploy used to persuade customers to buy more than they need and later throw away perfectly edible foodstuffs and perfectly usable products. In Britain, we discard vast quantities of food because it is past its “sell by” date. I am sure this is true in many other countries.

Special offer

Most retailers need to empty their warehouses which are filled with products which are old-fashioned, obsolete or getting close to their “sell by” date. These products are usually sold on “special offer”, in order to clear the warehouses and make space for newer products.

When the customer reads “special offer”, the customer should ask, “How special is the offer?” and “Why is the retailer making this offer?”

For a limited time …

Advertisers like customers to make quick purchase or adoption decisions, without making any serious evaluation of the product or comparison with other products available elsewhere. “Limited time” offers are designed to persuade the customer to make a quick decision, without thinking carefully or “shopping around” for other offers. The “limited time” offer creates an urgency and puts pressure on the customer to make an unthinking and perhaps, unwise purchase.

Eat before you shop for food

Customers, who are hungry when they enter a food shop, tend to buy more food than they need. They are most likely to buy unhealthy foods which will provide immediate satisfaction rather than more healthy food which will bring longer term benefits.

Customers with shopping lists usually spend less money and buy better food than those who shop without a prepared list. If you think carefully about what you need, you will shop quickly and be less likely to fall for the temptations of bogofs and special offers.

Modern, up-to-date, the latest fashion

Advertisers have persuaded us that “more modern” always means better. In many cases, this is not true. An older product may continue to be perfectly functional even when there are newer products in the shops. The advertisers want our money and so it is in their interest to persuade us to “buy new”.

Fashion is an extremely powerful weapon in the hands of advertisers. They know that we want to look good in comparison to our friends. If our friends follow the trends of fashion, advertisers try to make us feel guilty if we do not follow the same trends. Advertisers know that we like to be part of the tribe and our possessions will mark us as members of the tribe.

Fashion not only pushes us towards the new, the most modern. Fashion also makes us feel guilty if we are unfashionable. An unfashionable possession will mark us as “failures”, people who have failed to keep up-to-date with the latest trends.

On line shopping and advertising

More and more of our shopping is now done online. Pop-up advertisements regularly appear in the learners’ eye-space. The advertisements are very persuasive, creating a hunger in the customer. This hunger can be immediately satisfied with a few mouse clicks. Online shopping requires credit card payment. Credit cards withdraw money from your bank account silently, you do not hear the rustle of bank notes or feel the weight of coins. The credit card purchase is less real than the cash purchase, customers do not feel the emptiness in their purses and so the temptation to spend is much greater.


What can I do?

The ideas above will match your lifetime experience. Your learners are prey to the same weasel words and the same types of advertising. Individually, your learners may not have much money in their pockets but, there are many people at the same age as your learners and, together, these people represent a great deal of purchasing power.

Apart from the learners’ contribution to the national economy, at an individual level, the learners are each making useful and useless purchases. Their income, represented by their ‘pocket money’ gives each the chance to spend wisely or foolishly. A mistaken purchase may not represent the loss of very much money, but for the individual, it represents a tremendous loss. It may be a large part of the learners’ individual income.

It is often said that advertisers sell ‘dreams’ as much as selling products. Our learners are at an age when dreams are very important. The purchase of a product which does not work, or breaks after a few days, creates a disappointment which is hard to bear. Young learners invest a great deal of trust in their toys. The loss of Buzz Lightyear is as great as the loss of a pet, probably greater than the loss of an acquaintance or distant friend.

Language lessons

The paragraphs, above, will give you many ideas for may short language lessons featuring different weasel words. As far as possible, we should try to elicit interpretations of these words and expressions from the learners. For younger learners, it may be necessary to explain the interpretations of weasel words but you will discover that young learners are often more commercially savvy than you might expect.

When learners have understood the weasel words and interpreted the commercial meaning, we should ask learners to cite examples of this advertising technique in operation.

Learning to be sceptical

Start presenting learners with reading comprehension texts which contain fairly obvious factual mistakes. Ask them to find and correct these mistakes. Present texts which contain a mixture of fact and opinion [diesel is a fact, beautiful is an opinion]. Teach learners to identify and distinguish facts and opinions.

Learning to advertise

After studying some advertisements, invite learners to write some advertisements for personal possessions which they might wish to sell or services which they might wish to offer. Share the advertisements and invite learners to analyse each advertisement written by others, looking for weasel words, facts and opinions. Discuss the advertisements and decide which one may be most effective. Judge the advertisements in terms of honesty and dishonesty. Decide if honesty is always useful for the advertiser in advertisements.

By working as advertisers, learners begin to understand the motivations and methods of advertisers.

Wise Guide to Shopping

Invite learners, in groups, to discuss the possible advice given in a wise guide to shopping. Then working individually, or in pairs, invite learners to draft the advice for the wise guide. Share the drafts and, in class, decide on the most useful pieces of advice.


Advertisers, shop keepers and sales staff want you to take money out of your pocket and put it into theirs. Many website administrators have the same aim. The purpose of business is to make money. Businesses are not charities trying to help you.

Businesses, who are able to persuade you to take the most money out of your pocket, are judged to be most successful. For hundreds of years, they have studied the behaviour of customers, they know the customers’ weaknesses and they will exploit these weaknesses in order to take your money.

Language is often used as the medium of persuasion. Although you may be a wise shopper in your own language, your insecurity in English may make it easier to persuade you in English. Learning about the language of advertising and commercial practice in English can help to protect learners’ wallets, purses and bank accounts.

Nick Dawson 2014


History of English Playing cards

Playing Cards


Many of us are familiar with the standard European pack [AmE deck] of 52 playing cards which are used for playing both solitaire and competitive games. The pack is divided into four suits; hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs . What is the origin of playing cards? Why do the suits have these names? How did we standardise the design of the picture cards?
From history, we know that both Egyptians and Romans played number games. We have found numbered stones, used as dice, by Romans. Playing cards were first used in China during the 9th century. A woman from the Teng dynasty, in this period, published the first book of card games. By the 11th century, playing cards were used throughout Asia. Playing cards were used for informal games, gambling games and even for predicting the future.
Playing cards were introduced in Europe in the late 14th century, probably from Mamluk, Egypt. This pack of 52 Egyptian cards was organised in four suits; Swords, Sticks, Cups and Coins. In 1367, the authorities in Bern, Switzerland, passed a law making card games illegal. There is evidence of card games being played in Catalonia in 1371. Playing cards were being used widely in Europe from 1377.
Different European countries developed their own versions of the Egyptian cards, using different suits.
Countries Italy & Spain France Germanic Nations
 Hearts cups coeur (heart) hearts
 Spades swords pique (pike) acorns
• Diamonds money carreau (tile) bells
 Clubs batons or clubs tréfle (clover leaf) leaves

We can see these examples of early Spanish cards from the 18th century, the King of Coins and the King of Clubs. These cards were designed to celebrate Spain’s overseas possessions.
PC002 PC003
The number cards were more simple. Here we can see the 9 of swords and the 9 of clubs.

Notice there were no letters or numbers on these cards.
First references to Playing Cards in Britain
It is very difficult to know when people in Britain started to use playing cards. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales [1475] refers to people playing dice or dicing, but does not mention playing cards. If card games had been popular at this time, Chaucer would probably have mentioned them.
It is possible that playing cards were imported from mainland Europe because, in 1466, King Edward IV banned the import of “Cardes de Jouer”, or playing cards. This law was to protect English manufacturers, so we can assume that cards were being made in England from about 1450. In a letter written in 1484, Mary Paston describes playing “table card games.”
The evidence that playing cards were being used often comes from attempts to stop the games. In 1526, King Henry VIII, passed a law against “all unlawful games” including dice, cards and bowls. It seems that card games were often played at Christmas time, the only ‘free’ time which most families had. King Henry VIII loved gambling and often lost more money than he wanted.
There is evidence of widespread use of playing cards in England in about 1575, during the reign of Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. From this time, there were reports of people playing card games in small, rural towns outside London such as Stansted and Saffron Walden.
Origins of the English names for suits
The design of the English pack of playing cards is mostly based on French and Italian packs. The clothes worn by the characters on the picture cards reflects a stylised version of royal robes during the 16th century.
 Hearts is a simple translation of the French suit, coeur.
• Diamonds is more complicated. It is a translation of the French word, carreau, meaning a floor tile. But why should a floor tile be a replacement for coin, or money? In medieval times, decorated ceramic tiles were used by rich people to decorate and add colour to their palaces and castles. Tiles were an indication of wealth.
 Spades is also a translation. This time it is an attempt to copy the Italian word, spade, meaning a sword.
 Clubs has a more complicated history. The meaning is connected with sticks, bastone. In the early designs for this suit, the stick or club was shown as if it had been cut from a living tree. The icon for this suit is derived from the leaves growing from the stick or club.


What is a ‘knave’?
In some packs of playing cards, the second male member of the ‘royal’ family of picture cards is considered to be the ‘prince’, the son of the king and queen. In fact, a knave is a servant. In French, this card is called valet, meaning a male servant. In everyday speech, the knave is often called the jack and we can see the letter J on the card. Jack is an old English word meaning a person of ‘low’, or non-aristocratic birth. William Shakespeare makes a contrast between gentlemen and jacks.

The Joker
The Joker is an extra card added to the pack of 52 playing cards. It is usually a decorated card with a picture of a clown or jester. The Joker is a very lucky card, because, in some games, it can be used as a substitute for any other card in the pack.
Double-headed cards
If we look at modern playing cards, we can see that they are ‘double-headed’ so that the top and the bottom of the cards are identical. Notice also the edge markings of the cards so that their value can be seen even when the cards are ‘fanned’ in the player’s hand.
Card Backs
The reverse of all cards in a pack is printed with the same simple design. This is so that, when ‘face down’, it is impossible to distinguish one card from another. Cards printed on stiff card and covered with plastic can be used for many years without any noticeable damage.
Computer based card games

Traditional card designs are also used in computer-based games. These include a wide variety of ‘solitaire’ games for single players.
There are also many internet websites where players can play against distant opponents. Currently, these websites focus on casino-style gambling games such as poker and blackjack. There are also a few sites where players can play for simple enjoyment which do not involve money.
Today, cards are printed in a size so a collection, a ‘hand’ of cards, is easy to hold in one hand. They are printed on stiff card which is covered with plastic so that the cards are durable and can slide over each other very easily.
This makes it easier to ‘shuffle’ the cards: mix them up into a random sequence. Before a game is played, usually one player will shuffle the pack. Another player will ‘cut’ the pack by taking some cards from the top of the pack and moving them to the bottom of the pack.
For hundreds of years, playing cards have generated hours of simple enjoyment for families and groups of friends. In many families, children learn to assess and organise the resources in their ‘hand’. They learn to ‘take turns’ as they play. They learn to observe how their opponent is playing. Finally, when the game reaches its conclusion, they learn how to win or how to lose gracefully.
Nick Dawson 2013


EFL for learners with special needs

Dealing with special needs
How many of your students wear spectacles (glasses)? Are they less or more intelligent than the other students? Are they better or worse at reading comprehension? Are they better or worse at listening? Are they better or worse at grammar? Are they better or worse at vocabulary? We recognise and accept that some learners need special help, in the form of spectacles, but in all other ways, they are the same as other students.
Dyslexia is the name given to various forms of learning difficulty. It may be difficulty in reading, writing, spelling or concentration. In all parts of the world, many learners have to cope with this learning difficulty. Many successful and famous people were dyslexic including Winston Churchill, Michelangelo Buonarotti, Bob Marley and many others. They were all “slow” at school but were very successful in their adult lives.
There are many different forms of dyslexia, just as one learner’s spectacles will not help another learner. Dyslexia may be manifested in different ways; poor spelling, illegible handwriting, difficulty with short-term memory, difficulty in reading aloud, or many other ways.
It is almost certain that you have some dyslexics in your classes.
Teaching for these special needs
To be a successful teacher, we need to match our teaching style to the learning styles of our learners. Some learners learn best through looking at or drawing pictures. Others learn best by listening and repeating. Others by miming actions and acting out situations. Others by listening, repeating and singing. Some learn best through examining and solving problems. Some learn best by linking an emotional feeling to the language they are learning. We all use all of these learning techniques, but we will each prefer some techniques more than others.
If we are to be successful teachers, we need to give our learners all these different learning opportunities. If, in our lesson plans, we plan to include all these different approaches to learning, we will maximise our students’ opportunities to learn.
Multisensory teaching
Imagine that we are teaching the word “car”. We can look at and draw pictures of cars. We can make the noises that cars make. We can think about whether a car is hard or soft, heavy or light, slow or fast. We can sing songs about cars and repeat the names of the different brands of car. We can ask our classmates about their cars and find out which is the most popular. We can read about different kinds of car and write about our favourite car. We can think about the experience of driving a car, or travelling in a car.
In each of these activities, we are building a different kind of connection between the real object and the word “car”. In this way, we are helping the learners to build up multiple connections with the word and maximising the opportunities to learn.
It would be foolish to suggest that we can include all these activities for every new word in a lesson, but we should think about all these different types of connection and try to include them in our lesson.
Learning styles
The author, Herbert Puchta, described the human brain as the world’s most powerful computer, which arrives without an instruction manual teaching us how to use it. Learners who are new to foreign language learning, do not know how to learn. They need to discover their personal learning style. If we use this multisensory teaching style, learners will be able to discover which learning styles are most effective for them. Different learners will prefer different approaches but from our multisensory approach, learners will be able to make their choice.
Teaching styles
Each teacher has her/his own style of teaching. It may be copied from the way she/he was taught or it may be an extension of her/his personality. The teacher may use a lot of pictures. Another may prefer frequent repetition. Another may prefer mime, drama activities or role play. Another may like repeated copying and writing.
Unfortunately, her/his teaching style may not match the different learning styles of the learners. The most effective teachers that we remember from school, were those whose teaching style matched with our learning style. We liked those teachers and learnt a lot from them.
Teachers need to expand their teaching styles so that they can match the learning styles of all their learners.
Learners learn best when they feel comfortable and feel they are not going to be humiliated or embarrassed in front of their classmates. They don’t like exercises which are too easy. They enjoy a challenge, but only if the challenge is treated as an adventure, an exploration, a discovery. Learners like to feel that they are successful and their success is appreciated by the teacher.
Learners with learning difficulties like dyslexia often need more time than other learners. They can easily become stressed, if they are not given the time to complete a task. They may be perfectly capable of completing the task, but they need more time to do it.
Time-stress makes the learner feel uncomfortable and makes learning more difficult. Teachers need to give the learners the extra time they need. Learners want to be successful but they can often feel stressed when they are not given the time they need to complete the work.
All learners need to learn how to work faster, but we should be careful that we do not alienate the learners by demanding too much speed. Unfortunately, lessons start and finish at specific times and time stress can affect the teacher’s teaching style. We cannot and should not teach faster than our students can learn.
All learners make mistakes, but these mistakes are just learning steps towards perfection and accuracy. Teachers should recognise these mistakes as a natural part of the learning process. They are not crimes, but opportunities to learn the correct form. When we correct mistakes, we should always thank the learner for the contribution before correcting the mistake. Ask the learner to repeat the corrected form and praise the student for repeating the correction.
Fear of making mistakes creates stress for learners. If the teacher demands too much accuracy and makes the learners feel embarrassed about their mistakes, this will create stress for the learners and reduce their learning potential.
Reading and Writing
When young learners start to learn English, teachers usually start with an aural/oral approach which concentrates on memorising and reproducing the sounds of words. These learners, who have already gained some competence in reading and writing their mother tongue [L1], will often try to write English words using letters of their L1 alphabet and the sound values of those L1 letters. (A French speaking learner might write “okay” as “au quai.”)
When the teacher starts introducing the English alphabet, learners will discover that, in the English alphabet, the same sounds be written by many different letters or combinations of letters. [The letter ‘c’ sometimes sounds /s/ [once] and sometimes /k/ [cat]. Learners, whose L1 alphabet is consistently phonological (such as Russian, Arabic or Italian), will find the English alphabet very difficult and confusing.
All learners will find spelling in the English alphabet difficult. Learners with different types of dyslexia will have even more difficulty. Some dyslexic learners have problems in remembering word sounds, others have problems in remembering word pictures (spellings). A multisensory teaching approach maximises the gateways to learning.
Labels are very dangerous in education. Once we put a label on a child, we tend to treat that child differently. Labels can often be self-fulfilling. If we label a child as “naughty”, that child will be naughty, because we treat that child as a naughty child. It is good that we have now identified dyslexia, but we should be careful if we start having lower expectations of their work, compared with the work of other children. Dyslexia should not be confused with lack of intelligence. Dyslexic learners are equally as intelligent as other learners. Like the learner who needs spectacles, they learn strategies to cope with their dyslexia. They can expect to achieve as much success as any other learner.
200 years ago, females were labelled (by men) as being only suitable for sewing, cooking and producing children. Little money was spent on their education because it was thought that this money would be wasted. Today, we all know that this idea incorrect and foolish.
We must be careful that the labels “dyslexic” or “special needs” are not used as an excuse for expecting less from these learners. Multisensory teaching and stress-free learning will benefit all the learners.
Many interpreters who work at the United Nations are blind. Because of their blindness, language (including foreign language) has been very important in their lives. They are expert listeners. This helps them to be highly skilled foreign language interpreters.
Being left-handed
The world is designed for right-handed people. Books, clothes, can openers and scissors are designed for the convenience of right-handed people. We could say that a left-handed learner was a learner with “special needs”. Left-handed children learn to cope with the right-handed world and are capable of achieving as much success as anyone else.
Left-handed people are “different”, but they are only different because most people are right-handed.
Inclusive education
As teachers, our classes will contain learners with spectacles, left-handed learners, dyslexic learners, females and males. Our teaching, exercises and tasks should be appropriate for all these learners.
Nick Dawson 2013