“I can see somebody…”: Improvise a scary story by looking out the window


I love the idea of having students tell each other scary stories, campfire-style, but it took me a while to find a way to scaffold students into it. This is the activity I’ve settled on for scary story telling in class. I’d love to know about other ways of sharing scary stories in class, and to hear suggestions about this one.

Activity: “I can see somebody…”

(Speaking plus writing extension)

Level: Pre-intermediate and up


A window to look out of

What students do:

A student stands at the window, looks out, and says “I can see somebody…” creepily. Other students ask questions, and the storytelling student imagines and improvises answers about a made up character, trying to scare everybody (or maybe choosing to go for laughs).


Example of possible language:

-I can see somebody…

-Is it a man or a woman?

-It’s a man.

-What does he look like?

-He’s tall and slim.

-What’s he wearing?

-A suit.

-Is it expensive?

-It looks expensive, but a little old.

-How old is he?

-His head is down, and he has long hair, I can’t see his face. But I think he’s young.

-What is he doing?

-He is just looking down. And he is shaking his head.

-What is he looking at?

-Maybe…his feet. Actually he doesn’t have any shoes, just bare feet. He’s looking at his bare feet and saying something to himself.

-Does he know you’re looking at him?

-I don’t know. Oh – now, he’s looking up. His hair is over his eyes, but his mouth is so big! It is so huge, I think it’s impossible. He is smiling at me with his huge mouth and saying something.

Possible procedure:

Stand at the window and say “I can see somebody…” creepily, and see if questions start to come. If they don’t, prompt some. Imagine and improvise a scary character.

Once your story starts to feel finished, ask if students feel scared. If they say no, that’s great – challenge them to be scarier than you.

Students take turns standing at the window, saying “I can see somebody…”, and being asked questions. Hopefully, a variety of stories will emerge, some scary, some supernatural, some silly. When a story feels finished, ask other students how they feel (not how scary or well-crafted the story was).

Writing extension:

I like doing writing as a follow up to this because many students give me stories with lots of fantastic details and atmosphere-building.

I normally ask students to write a story called “I saw somebody/something…” using past tense, and prompt them to write about where they were, what they saw, and what happened.

If I really want to drive home the point about details, before writing I will tell two stories and ask which one is scarier. One story is something like, “I left work late, but I forgot my bag, so I came back, but I saw some kind of monster. It chased me out of the building.” The other story is this story again, but with details, such as: my bag had a book I had to return to my friend so I really had to go back, the lights were off in the building and the elevators didn’t work, the only light in the staircase was a pink and yellow glow from signs outside, the creature in the stairs was tall and slim and breathing like a sick dog. I ask students which story was scarier and why, and we brainstorm ways to categorize some of the details.

This is a writing activity where my students are often eager to read each other’s work.


I think the scariness of this activity is mostly fun and creates a context that helps students engage with describing details. It has worked well with most middle school groups I have tried it with. But of course it’s possible a student could get upset or too scared, and a couple of times I have deflated the activity by pushing things towards silly and funny. (If you don’t think this activity could be very scary you might like to take a look at this picture from the movie Halloween. But not if you’re going to be cleaning up your classroom alone at the end of the day.)

My classroom window looks directly onto another building, so I get students to look into a window in that building. It’s important they’re actually looking somewhere it would be possible to see something – when I have said, “Just imagine you can actually see the street through my window,” they can’t do the activity! (One clever student described my reflection, which was a real horror story.)


I originally adapted this from an activity called ‘Looking out the window’ in W H Lee’s Language Teaching Games and Contests (1986, p. 183), which is a more general imaginative activity, not a scary one. I think there’s all kinds of ways to adapt the idea of standing at the window and describing something imagined. In a book on creative revision which I really like, Barry Lane says good writers use details to make something so exact and real “you go to the window and look” (1993, p. 22). I like how using the window in this way can help students access creativity, and how it gives students a chance to command the classroom’s imagination and interface between the classroom and the world beyond.

Lane, B. (1993).
After the end: Teaching and learning creative revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lee, W. R. (1986). Language games and contests (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Top photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @eltpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/


‘Curse you!’: a Halloween activity with playful teasing. Plus review of ‘Spot It! Halloween’.

Next week is Halloween!

I love Halloween. I think it offers lots of opportunities for ELT classrooms, like subverting things a bit, playing with identity, and dealing with scary things in a safe way.

I’ve been trying out a couple of Halloween activities and I’ve made a goal to blog about them. Hopefully I can share another one or two over the weekend.

With this one, it took me a while to settle on cursing as the best way to frame things, but I think it works to get out language and enables playfulness. The idea of ‘a curse’ is easy to demonstrate (by saying a couple at people) even if the word isn’t one students have encountered.

I’m still experimenting with the settings on this one and would love to hear any suggestions.

Activity: ‘Curse you!’

Level: Pre-intermediate and up.

Some Halloween-related pictures to reveal OR Spot It! Halloween
A bell/buzzer (optional)

What students do:
Students see a Halloween-related picture, and race to be the first to ‘curse’ another student with the most horrible, disgusting, frightening curse they can think of (without being actually mean).

Examples of possible language:
“You will eat this frog.”
“You will go through this door and you will be in a horror world.”
“If you go into this house, you will meet a ghost.”
“While you sleep, this rat will crawl on your face.”
“This potion will make you unable to talk to anybody who you like, forever!”

Possible procedure:

Elicit the meaning of ‘curse’, or (more likely) demonstrate it by pretending to be a witch and saying a couple of curses at people.

If you are revealing pictures:

Two students are face to face, with a bell/buzzer between them (or, agree on a way to ‘buzz in’).

Reveal one picture at a time.

Students race to ‘buzz in’ and curse the other student. They try to give curses more than they get.

Another way to set this up might be to have students be ‘free’ after they say a curse (or a certain number of curses), and then be replaced by another student (perhaps lined up behind them). This way, stronger students can chime out of the activity while other students get more opportunities.

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This slideshow needs *a lot* more pictures:

Using Spot It! Halloween:

Spot It! cards are round cards with lots of pictures. Two cards always have one picture in common, often at a different size and angle. In all variations of Spot It!, players race to find the pictures in common between cards.


Two or more students sit around a table, with a bell/buzzer in the middle. (The bell/buzzer is not totally necessary – but it helps to get students to stop and listen to each other’s curses, and it reduces damage to your precious cards! An alternative is to have students put their hand on another card, as in Snap!).

Deal a card to each student, face down.

After ‘3, 2, 1!’, students turn over their cards.

When a student notices a picture their card shares with another card, and are ready to say a curse, they ring the bell, say their curse, and pass their card to the other student, who then puts this new card on top of their old card. Remaining students then continue competing to get rid of their cards by cursing each other.

With more than two students, after the first curse and especially when only two players remain, it might be obvious that everybody has seen the picture shared by the cards. In this case, students could do Rock, scissors, paper! to decide who can curse.

After many rounds, the winner is the student with the least cards.

A note: some students struggle with Spot It!, and this game might exclude them. An alternative might be to have students play in teams. In a lot of cases, though, I’ve found that students who struggle at first quickly improve.

Playful teasing

A lot of the things we do in class focus on being really polite, and it can be nice to subvert this a bit. I also think friendly teasing is an important skill! With adolescent students especially, having the possibility of getting nasty be present but not taken up by anybody can build positive relationships. (I guess teachers need to be prepared for the possibility of somebody being actually nasty, though.)

I also think playful teasing doesn’t pressure students to really reveal anything, but it can be as (playfully) personal as they are comfortable taking things. Letting students control how personal and expressive their use of language is helps with my adolescent students.

Finally, in classes where all students share a first language, I find being mutually playful with language can help students feel purpose in using English to communicate with each other.

This has fallen flat with some students. I made the mistake of trying it when I had two classes mixed together (another teacher was on leave), and it totally bombed. Even if this doesn’t require students to be totally comfortable with each other, it was big a mistake to try to go into it cold with students who didn’t know each other!

Review: Spot It! Halloween

Spot It! is also known as Dobble! It’s is a versatile game that lends itself well to ELT classes. There are a bunch of versions, as a quick search will show you. Finding the picture that different cards share requires visual processing and attention. Sometimes adding non-language cognitive requirements to language games is fun and challenging, and maybe it helps students to improve fluency. As I noted above, some students do just struggle with Spot It! more than others, and teachers might need to manage this.

So far I’ve only used the plain/original version and this one. An obvious thing to do is just to play the game (there are several permutations suggested by the booklet that comes with the cards) and add vocabulary to it, but you might not always think the pictures cover vocabulary you want to work with. I think the way I’ve used the Halloween cards is a bit more interpersonal and meaningful.

Spot It! cards come in a nice, conveniently sized, easy-to-store tin. The cards aren’t impervious to bending and tearing but they’re hardy enough. The Halloween pictures are great fun. I like using Spot It! in class and I want to find some more ways to integrate the card game with the language use.

Eleventeen + 1 answers (11 things blog challenge)

Both Anne and Alex have tagged me in the 11 things blogging challenge! I’m very grateful to be included after just beginning to blog. It does mean my second entry is a bit of a self-indulgent overshare though!

I met Anne and Alex through #KELTchat. They are both very thoughtful and generous people with lots of teaching wisdom. Anne intimidates me with her ability to dart around the country more often than I bother to travel around the Seoul metro, simultaneously getting other things done. And Alex is a very astute and skillful frequent #KELTchat moderator. I admire both of them.

This is how the 11 things challenge works:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger(s).
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

My 11 random facts:

1. You guys, I was a pretty heavy Livejournal user in the early 00s, and in those days these things were referred to as ‘memes’. It was via these things that I first encountered the word ‘meme’, which I originally thought was pronounced ‘me-me’, as in ‘this is an excuse to talk about me-me-me’. I loved doing them.

2. When I was a little kid I had recurring nightmares about Big Bird.

3. I was going to write an honours thesis about two Hitchcock films, but then I didn’t do honours.

4. I put ‘u’s in ‘honours’ because honours isn’t a thing in America, right? So even though I have embraced ‘color’ and now ‘colour’ seems weirdly ornate to me, it feels strange to type ‘honors’.

5. I am a bit of a Doctor Who fan, but I haven’t seen all extant serials or read many of the books or anything.

6. The food I most miss from home is my mum’s spinach and feta pie, with beetroot on the side.

7. I still have one baby tooth. A dentist in Australia assured me it will fall out when I’m eating steak one day.

8. When I was little I wasn’t allowed to watch commercial TV stations and my parents were very worried about me ‘becoming Americanised’. As a result I loved American TV and pop culture passionately.

9. This pattern may extend to Halloween, which is my favorite festival and I’ve really embraced doing Halloween activities with students in Korea.

10. What with answering two x 11 questions, I’m a bit worried about the length of this post and its intense me-me-ness!

11. I would probably be embarrassed to share 11 truly random facts about myself.

Anne’s questions:

1. What was your very first job?

My first job was working for an educational software company. My first education related job! At the time I was very wary of the idea of teaching, but I liked making education-related content.

As far as first jobs go, it was weirdly ideal and dangerously high-expectation-setting. I had to make interactive questions related to Australia’s K-12 English curriculum. I had a lot of scope and freedom to be creative.

My manager was a former primary school teacher. She was thoughtful and attentive and nurturing and generous.

There were some drawbacks and odd things about the company, though, and I wasn’t there that long. I went on to do much more procedural jobs in which I was not treasured and nurtured by former primary school teachers.

2. What is your most valuable possession?

I am going to answer this question in terms of money value! And the answer is my Macbook Pro! I had been meaning to get a new Mac for maybe a couple of years. Finally I splashed out in October. ‘All the video editing I will suddenly start doing’, I reasoned, ‘Will make this totally worth it.’ Still no video editing actually done.

3. Where do you want to go to retire?

I am probably a person who shouldn’t retire. Given a big sprawling expanse of time to do what I want with, I get intimidated. Like writer’s block, except liver’s block.

If I do retire, and obviously it may not be a choice, I think I shouldn’t treat it as retirement. I should have projects! Lots of projects to work on. And I should pay somebody to be – not a secretary or encouragement-giver, but more like a pretend boss. They can keep tabs on me and nag me about where I’m up to on all those projects.

And so maybe to maintain continuity and life momentum, I should just remain living in the same place. This assumes that at some point before retirement, I will have a stable place of my own to call home. This is not something that really seems likely so far.

4. What is the most important thing you learned from your parents/ parental figures?

This is a difficult question! So I’ll answer with one anecdote that came to mind.

As a kid I would see dad during school holidays. Whenever he took me to a beach or park or anywhere in nature, he was very strict about not souveniring things.

If everybody took a shell/picked a flower/pulled pretty leaves off the plants, he would explain, the whole place would be destroyed quickly. But! Didn’t he understand that it was the holidays, and I didn’t see him all that often, and the specialness of the occasion meant it was okay. And! Didn’t he understand how much I REALLY, REALLY wanted this one pretty thing I had found! He would insist I think it through logically – how many people do you think come here every day? Every year? If everybody takes stuff away, how long will it take before it’s totally ruined?

At the time I really thought he was being unnecessarily cold. But I appreciate it now. I’m not saying I’m particularly good about being careful about my impact on nature OR avoiding emotional decision-making – I probably need to improve on these. But I think to whatever extent I have developed the habit of thinking rationally rather than emotionally, dad’s insistence helped me.

5. Mountains or Ocean?

Even though I’m not particularly beachy, growing up not far from places like Byron Bay has made me incredibly snooty about beaches.

Mountains are more of a novelty for me, and I think I should make more of them during my time in Korea.

6. Most beautiful thing you have ever seen?

This question is hard!

I’m not good with seeing beautiful things once. It seems like so much pressure to cram them into your eyeballs.

I like mundanely everyday beautiful things, like drizzly weather.

7: What’s your favorite blog post you’ve written?

This is my second blog post here. But, when I Livejournalled, I wrote some movie reviews I thought were okay.

8. Favorite education quote?

“Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be!” – Arthur C Clarke

(I should probably have a better answer, but honestly that’s the only quotable teaching quote that popped into my head.

And I do like it in various ways.)

9. Have you ever done something adventurous? Please share!

I don’t know that it’s super adventurous, but my favorite travel-y thing that I’ve done in Korea was go to Okpo Land.

I think I read about Okpo Land on Wikitravel on my phone. It wasn’t something I pre-planned for a long time, I was just travelling in places around Busan.

Okpo Land was a theme park on Geoje Island that closed in 1999. It sat abandoned for a long time, on a cliff overlooking Okpo City. It was closed off but Wikitravel assured me there was a big hole in the fence and it was easy to get into.

It was pretty much exactly how you imagine visiting an abandoned theme park would be. It was spooky and cartoonishly colorful and hilarious and a little bit sad.

Okpo City has now demolished it. I’m sad, but I understand why you wouldn’t want an abandoned theme park on a cliff overlooking your city. I’m glad I saw it while it was there.


10. The correct number of hours of sleep is ______ in 24.

Eight. Nine or more for teenagers. Alternate sleep cycle arrangements, such as sleeping in two four hour blocks, are acceptable. I do not necessarily meet my own sleep standards.

11. What is something you do that has absolutely no connection to TESOL?

This question highlights that for the past year, I haven’t done enough outside my job. I think that’s okay because it was in this job that I realized how much I’m into teaching. But I should commit to also having a life in 2014.

Alex’s questions:

1. What’s your mantra?

Oh it’s another trite quotable quote from a scifi author:

“Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

As a teenager I started to see Sturgeon’s law as the miserable truth of the world. But now I interpret it to mean “Ninety percent of everything is crap, and that’s fine”. As in, it’s fine to accept that there’s so much crap in the world, and it’s fine to be crap a lot of the time, but any and all ways you can find to maximize the ten percent of non-crap are an improvement, and any things or any people in the world who help to maximize the non-crap are worth treasuring.

2. Is teaching incredibly simple or incredibly complex?

I used to wade around in Dave’s ESL Cafe and Waygook.org a lot. They can be very negative places, and I don’t go there much any more. I do remember this thing this one guy at one of those places posted once (no doubt in the midst of a vicious flame war), which was something like ‘Teaching’s serious and you have a responsibility to keep improving yourself as a teacher, but also teaching’s not rocket science or surgery and nobody’s going to die because you do a bad lesson’.

I think teaching is very complex and something you can keep developing a richer and more complex understanding of, but teaching is also a very natural part of being human. It’s not like doing surgery because it is something that almost everybody can do, and does do in some form (and they do it at least without killing people, mostly).

I think this can kind of relate to the ninety percent crap rule – there’s a lot of teaching that’s not great, but also any improvements we make on that teaching are great because they’re improvements.

3. Are you good at making friends now you’re older? Why or why not?

Up until early adulthood I tended to have a few best friends and not a lot of casual friends. I think I’ve gotten better at having casual friends.

4. Music or literature?

I majored in English literature, but now I don’t read literature! So I need to be honest and say music! And probably music you would judge me for!

5. What would your ideal coursebook look like?

I want a coursebook for older elementary school and middle school students who are lower level.

I don’t want it to cover a lot of language. Just the beginner and very lower intermediate language they have been taught and re-taught but haven’t really learned. And of that language, not all that much per book.

I want not to have that much material on each page.

I want it to have lots of communicative activities and interactive activities.

And I want it to have content that interests students in this age group. By which I don’t mean, photos of Miley Cyrus from 2009 and ‘blogs’. But just … interesting stuff. I want it to be connected to young adolescents’ culture.

6. What’s the worst cocktail you’ve ever tried?

It’s not a cocktail but in uni my friends would make ‘punch’ which involved a big plastic tub and everybody contributing different alcohols (but you were guaranteed wine from a box was a big part of the mix). But they’d put some tinned peach chunks and parsley in it to make it classy.

7. Have you ever eaten dog? If not, would you?

I’m not against eating dog, because I think logically to be against eating dog you’d have to be against eating pig and other animals of similar sentience. But I wouldn’t try it because I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about various dogs I have loved.

8. What’s your favourite student error ever?

I’m sure I have a million hilarious student error stories to share! I can’t think of any right now though!

Oh recently my class of adults were playing pictionary. I had written things on cards for them to draw. One thing was ‘Two zebras playing chess’, but the student read it as ‘Two zebras playing cheese’. I like that she gamely went ahead and tried to express this surreal idea in picture form.

9. What’s the most important thing that you try to convey to students?

That in our classes everything’s okay as long as you’re not harming anyone, and that you don’t need to worry about being ‘bad at English’.

10. What’s your favourite gangsta rap tune?

11. What one law would you abolish or introduce to your current country of residence?

I feel out of line making bold moral statements about things Korea should do, but if I could magic one sweeping government change (kind of failing the ‘one law’ part of the question here) it would be for Korea to give much more support to single and unmarried mothers. In saying this I acknowledge my own country’s totally abysmal history regarding unmarried mothers.

And now a creepy long-haired girl will skuttle up out of the internet and devour my soul

because I’m not going to tag forward. I don’t know enough bloggers who aren’t tagged already! Oh well. I accept my horror fate.

Love/hate – my experience using a #flashmobELT activity


Mike posted this idea on the #flashmobELT lino board – a place to crowdsource ELT activity ideas. #flashmobELT is a great idea about sharing activities and also sharing follow-through experiences. Ann Loseva and Mike have written posts explaining it. I used this activity, and I also posted an activity I use on the lino board in return.

I like Mike’s idea because it’s so elegantly simple and it has in-built communicative pressure (‘sound convincing’).

Well, what’s a public school teacher to do with such an elegant idea? Turn it into something that involves sweating away over the laminating machine!


Most of my students aren’t advanced enough to do the original version. I initially chose it to use with my higher level middle school 3rd grade ‘free talking’ class. We’ve done ‘talk for 30/60/90 seconds’ activities before and this seemed like an engaging twist on that. So I mentally put this activity aside for them.

Meanwhile, I was grasping for things to do with my middle school 1st grade After School class. This class is a mix of one or two higher level students and some quite low level students who joined recently. The low level students are low by the standards of 1st grade overall and struggle to get out much language at all. Maybe later I could post a deeper reflection about my problems and challenges coming up with appropriate activities for the class. But the short version is: I recently embraced using vocabulary and sentence games with them, and I was looking for some more games that might be fun.

So I decided to turn Mike’s lovely elegant fluency activity into a simple sentence game. I made and laminated the cards above, and made a really quick Google presentation with pictures of things like spiders, puppies, snow, our city…

In class:
-We used examples to work out an ‘I love/hate ~ because…’ pattern together, which I put on the board.
-I modeled choosing either a love or hate card and holding it up, before revealing the prompt on screen and making a sentence. (Students got it without trouble, which was great because even when I think there couldn’t possibly be any confusion about an activity i have modeled they will still ask the co-teacher for translation.)
-I gave students a love and a hate card each and had them choose one and hold it up before each reveal.

The students were engaged enough that we continued for 25 or 30 minutes. My presentation ran out of topics, but I just started searching for things in Google Images. A picture of cute cartoon poos was a popular choice.

Because it worked well, I re-used the activity as a warmer for my final (ever) class with regular 3rd grade middle school students, but it evolved a slight variation:

-I chose two students (sometimes from ‘teams’) to come up to the front of the class, where I offered them one love and one hate card between them.
-The two students did rock-paper-scissors to decide who could choose first. The loser was stuck with whatever was left.
-I revealed the prompt and asked the students why they loved or hated it – normally beginning with the student who had an easier answer to come up with. Then we decided whose answer sounded more truthful.
-The students chose who would replace them.

Here are some things I liked about this activity:

-Maybe the cards detract from the elegance of the idea, but they did make the experience more tactile, which I think was helpful for younger and lower level students. It was also a way of committing to ‘love’ or ‘hate’ with body language – students had to hold up the card in front of them for everybody to see.
-There was some good humor in the reveals of the topics, and here again the body language added to the experience. It was funny in a slightly-teasing-but-not-really-mean way to have students standing in front of the class holding up their ‘love’ card while a picture of cartoon poos appeared behind them.
-By having a pattern to follow which students were willing to correct each other on, the activity combined attention to accuracy with communicative pressure (‘give a good answer quickly and make it sound convincing’). This is a genre of sentence game I have recently come to quite like.
-This is a ‘game-that’s-not-quite-a-game’, because there’s not necessarily a goal or winners or anything. Games like this can be really useful because they’re flexible and leave you room to make it up as you go along in class.

Here are some possible problems:

-Some students could obviously offer more than just a basic sentence, but done this way the activity didn’t encourage it.
-Students sometimes seemed mildly annoyed they couldn’t give their real answer (here Ann Loseva suggests it might be worth giving students the chance to share real answers).
-There’s a risk of real teasing, as opposed to playful teasing. (I like using activities that involve a degree of playful teasing, but it’s a fine line.)

Overall it was an engaging activity that got some involvement from almost all students.

As for my higher level 3rd graders who I wanted to hear express immediate love or hate eloquently at length? With their finals over and acceptance or rejection from foreign language high schools already decided, those good-for-nothing cartoon poo lovers never turned up for After School again. ㅜㅜ