The world’s greatest [a) job vocabulary b) modal verbs c) plural ‘s’ d) spelling] lesson ever

CC: Roland Zh, Occupy movement,
22 October 2011

I am  mad about post-it notes.  I first got obsessed with these 3M designed (thank you Dr. Spencer Silver) squares of joy when I read a blog post by Carol Goodey a little over a year ago.  And recently over on the Teaching English Face Book page, they highlighted a post-it note lesson plan from Larissa’s Languages.  So I thought I would share a lesson I ran last week which makes extensive use of word cards and post-it notes.  And as an annoying ranty type thing special awareness raising activity, I purposefully left out one piece of jargon that otherwise would be littering this post.  You get 25,000 bonus points if you can guess what it is?

Classroom time: anywhere from 50 minutes to 2 hours depending on how much fun your students are having

Level: mixed ability anywhere from upper-beginners to lower-advanced level.

Target language: modals including must/should/may, plural ‘s’, gerund usage, and so much more


  • A nice big thick block of post-it notes.
  • A set of job vocabulary cards (which you can grab right here)


Rocking Job Cards

Prep: open up your fresh pack of Post-In notes.  Print out one set of job vocabulary cards for each group and cut them up so that the words and the image/definitions are separate cards.


  • Break the students into groups of 3 to 4.  Or even better, leave it up to the students to break themselves into groups.  If you have mixed levels in your class, don’t sweat it, this activity is built to accommodate various levels.  Trust me.
  • Give each group one set of vocabulary cards, well shuffled.
  • Sit back and watch as the students start to try and match the vocabulary words to the pictures and the definitions.  If they do not start to do this on their own, put together one set for each group to show them how it’s done.  If you want, give a set amount of time to complete this task as students don’t actually have to match up every single job and definition to move on to the next step of the lesson.
  • Once the students have finished, ask them to pick, as a group, the 5 jobs they are most interested in and the 3 jobs they are the least interested in.  
  • Have the students line up the vocabulary cards for the 5 best and 3 worst jobs slightly to the right of the the left side of the desk like this:
  • Take a post it note and write, “Should be good at…” on it and slap it down at the top and just to the right of the 5 job cards.  Put one more post it note next to each job card.  It should look like this:
  • In my class, students didn’t need any explanation of what they were supposed to do.  They simply started to complete the sentences for each of the jobs.  
  • Once a group has completed most of the sentences, make any necessary error corrections in whatever way you like (I used a red pen, and felt oddly guilty about it).  Then take another post-it, write, “Must like to… or  Must like…” and place it above the job cards just to the right of the previous post-it note (the one with “Should be good at…”).  It will look like this:
  • If a group has almost finished up two rows, you can do some error correction and then slap down the next post-it note up at the top.  My third post-it note had, “may work in/on/at/Ø ….,” written on it


  • Once again, when a group has almost finished completing the row, do some error correction and then place another post-it at the the top, this time with the phrase, “Should be a … person.”  At this point, things will probably look something like this:

  • Finally, in the space at the top and to the left of the job cards, you can now put the final post it note down.  On this post it note, write, “We recommend…”  If students need a bit of direction, you can ask them to think about one person in the class who they think would be good at this job.  They should write that person’s name on the post-it on the left side of the job card.

  • Give groups time to discuss their recommendations with each other.  This can be a bit tricky as a sentence like “A nurse may work in a hospital,” will have to be converted into something more along the lines of, “Kenta likes hospitals,” or “Kenta doesn’t mind being in hospitals.”  This part of the activity could also be organised as a task in which, after a group explains their reasoning for having recommended a person for a certain job, the other groups are encouraged to change the recommend names and give the reasons for their changes.  The discussion continues until the two groups come to agreement on which students in the class best fit the jobs laid out on the table.
  • Pass out one more post-it note to each student.  Have the students write down on the post-it note what they thought was being taught in the lesson.  In my experience, students write down all kinds of things at this point.  In my last class, one student wrote “plural ‘s’ with like” while another wrote “using ‘-ing’ with the phrase good at.”  Not one student wrote “practice with ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘may'” which was actually my intent with the lesson.
  • Tell the students to now pick up all of the cards and post-it notes that they will need to study what they believed to be the main point of the lesson.  But they can’t just pick up the cards/post-its, they also need to explain to the other students in their group why they want to take those cards.  If more than one student wants a particular card/post-it, they have to negotiate with each other (and probably one student will be forced to make a new post-it or take some notes in the their notebook).
Optional extension activity:
  1. Pass out a sample interview script using the language from the above activity.  Have students who have been recommended for a particular job role-play an interview for that job.
  2. Have students write a cover letter as if applying for a job which they have been recommend for by other students.
  3. Role-play an interaction between an employment councillor and a person looking for work which uses the language from the above activity.
Last week I ran this lesson with a class of 12 mixed level students.  The amount of interaction and the depth of language being used varied wildly from group to group.  So did the pace at which each group progressed through the lesson.  I think it’s one of the strengths of the lesson that there is enough flexibility that higher level students never have to wait for students of lower ability to get through a particular part of an activity.  It’s also an interesting lesson to explore how different what we think we are teaching, and what our students are choosing to learn can be.  But I especially enjoyed listening to the students discussion at the very end of the lesson as they tried to collect the post-its/cards they wanted to take home.  As teachers, we know that students all have their own unique way to learn a language.  But it’s not something that our students probably spend much time dwelling on.  The final negotiation activity helped make that fact salient for the students in my class.  I hope that piece of awareness can help them see that by checking-in and depending on each other, they can use each others strengths and interests to not only learn a discreet piece of language, but to learn about learning itself.
Bonus awareness raising activity: the piece of jargon was ‘scaffolding.’  It’s a term I think only has meaning when you explain exactly what aspects of an activity lead to scaffolding and give examples of how it plays out in a real class.  And when you do give concrete examples such as, “Lower-level students can rely on the pictures of the jobs to help them understand the written definitions.  Higher level students will often reference the pictures as they explain the meaning of words within the definition to the lower level students,”  there is really no need to even use the word ‘scaffolding’ anyway.  But that’s just my pet-peeve of the month and I hope it will in no way detract from the usefulness and enjoyment of the post in general.

Special bonus update: Just wanted to say how pleased I was when Matthew Walker (twitter handle: @esltasks) over at ESLTasks posted a link to a blog post describing how he used this lesson in a teacher training program in Korea.  If you’re interested in teacher training, want to see how adults would handle a lesson like this, or just want to check out a great blog, I highly recommend Matthew’s blog:



8 thoughts on “The world’s greatest [a) job vocabulary b) modal verbs c) plural ‘s’ d) spelling] lesson ever

  1. Hi KevinI am mad about post-it notes, very mad, clearly mad, my students can tell. So I loved this lesson! I'll also think how I can adapt it to other vocabulary topic because I think it's quite possible (as long as jobs are substituted for other nouns standing for people?..).Post-its are good friends. A note from an addict: from every country I visit I bring a notepad, with local views, or some picture, etc. Thank you for posting this.Ann


  2. Hi Ann,It's nice to have another post-it note maniac on my list of people to call late at night when I run out of those oh-so-beautiful squares of lemon sunshine, pink whimsy, and blue remembrances. I think it's a great suggestion to set up the same kind of post it columns and use different nouns. I can see how it would work out well with places (a library must be quiet. It should have many books. etc.), or kinds of people. You could even do it to explore move past stereotypes (People think men should be…). Local flavoured post-its sound like a great souvenir. Much better than the shot glasses I have collecting dust at the back of a kitchen cabinet.Kevin


  3. Hi Hana,Thanks for the comment. I just checked out your FaceBook page. Very well designed language post-its you have there. Would love to try a set out in class and see what I can do with them.Kevin


  4. Hi Kevin,I like the look of this activity – I do similar things with my class and I love using post-it notes or just scraps of paper. I also agree with you about the 's' word – it's ubiquitous these days!I run a blog where I try to do activities like this every lesson with one group of learners (with varying degrees of success) so I'm also on the lookout for new ideas.I'll try your activity and let you know how it goes,cheers again,paul


  5. Hi Paul,Thanks so much for the comment. I've been dipping into your "So you want to pass the TESOL diploma" ( blog on and off for the past year. I'm currently studying for the dip and your blog has been a great help in getting organised. It's great to know that an activity from this blog might end up used in your classroom.I'm also excited to check out your new blog. Lots of good activities I can also use in my own classroom.Thanks,Kevin


  6. Kevin,

    Funny you mentioned this today. I am in the process of updating course material and decided to include your activity again with the next group of teachers. First run was a great success, so I thought I would do it again. Thanks for sharing it! Happy New Year!



    • Matthew,

      I’m beyond pleased to hear that. It’s great to hear that something that’s being used in the classroom is also being used in teacher training.

      Thanks for the update.


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