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Teaching Beginners with

Zero Prep and WOW! Stories from Real Life

An Alta Book Center Presentation

TESOL 2014

Portland, Oregon

Laurel Pollard

Educational Consultant

Teaching Beginners with Zero Prep and WOW! Stories from Real Life An Alta Book Center Co-authored by Laurel Pollard, Dr. Natalie Hess, and Jan Herron 1 " id="pdf-obj-0-22" src="pdf-obj-0-22.jpg">
Teaching Beginners with Zero Prep and WOW! Stories from Real Life An Alta Book Center Co-authored by Laurel Pollard, Dr. Natalie Hess, and Jan Herron 1 " id="pdf-obj-0-24" src="pdf-obj-0-24.jpg">

Co-authored by Laurel Pollard, Dr. Natalie Hess, and Jan Herron

Zero Preparation Activities

What if your reviewed every activity you ever used or heard of, choosing only the ones that are the very best teaching teaching/learning practices?

What if you selected from that collection only the activities that take NO TIME for the teacher to prepare?

And then, what if you collected only the ones that are flexible enough to use with different content, at different levels?

We did that. Here it is. Enjoy!

There are TWO Zero Prep books

Zero Prep: Ready-to-Go Activities for the Language Classroom, and its sequel, Zero Prep for Beginners. Both of these resource books bring you activities that

are the very best for learning take no time for the teacher to prepare before class are adaptable for level and content (routines)

When you include Zero Preparation routines in our lesson plans, you have more time to relax, reflect, and recover your vision!

Sample activities from

Zero Prep for Beginners

Zero Prep for Beginners © 2001 Alta Book Center Publishers at All rights reserved. Permission to photocopy must be obtained from the publisher.


Students laugh a lot in this activity. For once, it is correct to be incorrect! AIM: Vocabulary review, practicing simple affirmative and negative sentences, practicing this vs. that (see extension) Procedure:

  • 1. Review objects in the room, including students’ clothing and parts of the body, by walking around

the room and saying things like, “This is a window.” Students repeat these statements chorally.

  • 2. Bring two students up to demonstrate the activity. They both stand near a window (for example).

One says to the other, “This is a window.” The listener responds, “Yes, this is a window.”

  • 3. They do this with a few objects.

  • 4. Independent work: Students pair up and walk around pointing out objects and using the two

sentences. Continue this for a few minutes.

  • 5. Students sit down.

  • 6. Do the activity again, this time with negatives. This is where it really becomes fun! Stand near the

window again with a student. Point to it and say, “This is a door.”

  • 7. Prompt the student to respond, “No, this is not a door! This is a window!” The class chorally repeats

both sentences.

  • 8. Do a few more examples. Each time, be sure to stand near the object.

  • 9. Independent work: Students pair up and walk around, pointing to something and saying that it is

something else. 10. Continue as long as students are having fun.

Variation: To support low beginners, have students write these two sentences on a note, which they hold behind their backs:

This is a _______________. Yes, this is a ________________.

And for step 6, students add negative sentences to their notes:

No, this is not a


This is a ____________.

Students may refer to these as they work. But the notes should always be behind their backs when they speak!


  • 1. Students switch partners and go around the room again. (They can switch several times.)

  • 2. With more advanced beginners, stand farther from the object sometimes so you can contrast that

and this. “This is a window. That is a door.”

Zero Prep for Beginners © 2001 Alta Book Center Publishers at All rights reserved. Permission to photocopy must be obtained from the publisher.


Beginning language learners understand much more than they can express in their target language. Here’s a task that gives them plenty to read and listen to, then allows them to demonstrate their comprehension with one­word answers.

AIM: Listening comprehension, reading review A story from the student text or another source


  • 1. Input: Tell a story, demonstrate something, show a picture, or do a reading with your class.

  • 2. Say something that one character said (or might have said). For example, say, “Please let me go to the dance!”

  • 3. Ask the class, “Who said it?”

  • 4. Choose one of the options below:

a. Volunteers call out the name of the character, for example, “Cinderella!” b. Pairs or small groups consult until they reach agreement; then you call on one student from

each group to answer. (This option activates more students.)

Variations: With more advanced students, teams can make up the things characters would say. They call these out to another team, who must tell who said it. You may set this up as a competitive game.


Dictacomps combine Dictation and Composition. Students reconstruct a sentence (or longer passage). They have clues to help them: a list of key words from the passage.

Dictacomps are wonderfully adaptable! Use them for pre-reading, reviewing material, recycling vocabulary, or reinforcing a grammar point. They can also be used to teach details like punctuation and spelling. Best of all, students get immediate feedback when they correct their own work!

Zero Prep for Beginners © 2001 Alta Book Center Publishers at All rights reserved. Permission to photocopy must be obtained from the publisher.


This activity uses all four skills. Students not only remember what they read, but also think about how to retell it. To reinforce what they have learned, they re­create it one more time by writing it.

AIM: Reading practice, summary practice MATERIALS: A short reading passage from the student’s textbook or another source


  • 1. Choose any short reading passage.

  • 2. Read the first line of a passage or read until the end of the first sentence.

  • 3. Students repeat chorally.

  • 4. Students repeat individually.

  • 5. Say, “Choose a word!” (Sometimes you will make a more specific suggestion, such as

“What’s the action?” “Where did this happen?” “Who did it?”)

  • 6. Students call out words.

  • 7. Write on the board a key word (or more than one) for each sentence.

  • 8. Continue this process for each sentence until you’ve reached the end of the reading passage.

  • 9. In pairs, students read the passage to each other.

    • 10. Without looking at the reading, volunteers retell the passage by looking only at the

important words on the board.

  • 11. Students write the passage by just following the words on the board. (Even if they only get

a few words right, this is good practice!)

  • 12. Students compare their written passage with the original text.

Zero Prep for Beginners © 2001 Alta Book Center Publishers at All rights reserved. Permission to photocopy must be obtained from the publisher.

Stand For Your Word

This activity gives students a feeling that they own certain words. It’s a short, fun activity that benefits students at all levels. One more reason to do this often: it gives students a chance to stand and sit again rapidly several times. This helps them wake up!

Aim: vocabulary review, reading review, grammar, spelling

Materials: A passage that students have already read or heard and understand well


Students take out a piece of paper.

Give each student a word to listen for. (The same word may be given to several students.)

  • 3. Be sure students know what their words mean. They may get help from other

students or from you.

  • 4. Read the passage out loud while students listen.

  • 5. As soon as a student hears his/her word, they stand up, then sit down quickly.

Repeat this stage a few times if it is challenging for them.


  • 6. Students trade words.

  • 7. Students hold up their new word and call it out. (Again they get help with

meaning, if necessary.)

  • 8. Read the text aloud again while students stand up each time they hear their

new word.

  • 9. Repeat steps 6 - 8 several times.

Taking it even further:

  • 10. Write the words on the board in the order that they appeared in the text.

  • 11. Students look at the text and read out the sentences where "their words"


  • 12. Students read the whole text and answer questions about it.

Note: Stand for Your Word is NOT GOOD for general comprehension. However it is EXCELLENT for

Working the big muscles – getting oxygen to the brain

Distinguishing words in a stream of speech (useful for

beginners in English) Learning parts of speech: students can stand up for nouns until

they are very clear on what a noun is, then go on to other parts of speech. Sight-sound correspondences in literacy training; choose words with a sound that students are learning to spell.

Paying attention to unstressed (but important) words. Students who skip the verb ‘be’ in their writing or don’t hear pronouns well will improve if they ‘Stand For’ these words!


(Exit Tickets) (Zero Prep 5.19)

For the teacher: This activity gives us valuable feedback about what our students got (and didn’t get) from a lesson.

For the students: A quick, individual end-of-class review reinforces for each student what they have learned – very satisfying!

LEVEL: Intermediate—Advanced AIM: Writing practice, feedback for teacher about what students are learning MATERIALS: Blank index cards


  • 1. When students come into class, hand each a card. Tell them that at the end of

class you will ask them to draw or write on the card something they learned

today and give the card to you.

  • 2. Be sure they put their cards away.

  • 3. Allow one minute at the end of class for each student to write his or her note to

you. Because the time is so short, students are concise, and you need only a few

minutes after class to read their notes and incorporate what they have said into your planning.


  • 1. Once students are accustomed to this, once they have come to expect to write

you this note, they become more aware during the class of what they are and are

not learning. This leads to increased student responsibility for their learning and more questions during class.

  • 2. In conjunction with “One-Minute Feedback,” let students determine the pace of

the class by asking such questions as, “Are you ready to move on?” “Do you need

more time with this?” “Should we practice this some more, or is this enough?” When we remember to do this, our classes stay in that exciting “challenge zone” where students are neither bored nor overwhelmed.

WOW! Stories From Real Life:

A Low-Beginning, Multi-Skills Textbook

WOW! Stories From Real Life: A Low-Beginning, Multi-Skills Textbook Sometimes I thought my students wouldn't need

Sometimes I thought my students wouldn't need every step in the Notes to the Teacher. But I followed the recommended sequence, and my students loved it! They also remembered what they'd learned. I think I've been moving too fast, not giving them time to really learn. This book is helping me become a better teacher.

Libby Swanson, Adult Ed ESL teacher Eastside Learning Center, Tucson

Who is this textbook for? Low-beginning ELL students, upper elementary, teens, and adults

The stories: Students love these eight stories because they are true they are surprising they resonate with students’ own experiences, hopes, fears, and dreams.

The exercises:

We’ve provided more exercises than you’ll find in most other books! Use them all, or skip the ones your students don’t need, or use some as a warm up or review .

Many ways to use a single page. The student pages look simple –

as they must, for low beginners. But our teaching suggestions will help you get the most from every page. Beginning students need plenty of re-cycling and practice – and these exercises provide that, without ever being boring! Lots of interaction, both student-student and teacher-class.

Teachers tell us they didn’t know their low-beginning students could say so much!

Plenty of basic words “Act It Out!” for kinesthetic learning

“About Me” to activate students’ own ideas and experiences

What’s unique:

“On Our Own’: Carefully designed activities that students can do independently – even at this low-beginner level! This gives you a chance to monitor, think, and relax. Progressive Cloze: a fun, highly engaging way to learn vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and punctuation – unique to this book. And students can do it on their own! More exercises and activities – and the pictures without captions – as a free download on ALTA’s website How many hours of instruction? About 40, for most classes -- 5 hours for each of the 8 units

This is Page 1 of a 3-page story from WOW. Copyright 2008 Alta Book Center

This is Page 1 of a 3-page story from WOW. Copyright 2008 Alta Book Center 11

The exercises in WOW promote DEEP LEARNING from Simple Pages

Here is one example of how you and your students can make the most of every page in a student book:

Picture Story

(I) marks steps that students can do independently.

  • 1. Students look at the story to get the general idea. (I)

  • 2. Read the captions aloud; students point to each picture.

  • 3. Read the captions aloud; students say each caption after you.

  • 4. Read a caption aloud. Students read the next caption.

  • 5. A student stands and reads the first caption, then calls on the next reader. (I)

  • 6. A student stands and reads a random, out-of-order caption, then calls on a

classmate to read the next caption. (I)

  • 7. Read key words; students point to them (a scanning exercise).

8a. Read key words; students circle them. 8b. In pairs, students take turns reading aloud what they circled (they can read

just the word or the whole sentence it’s in). (I)

  • 9. Reading with Mistakes: Read the story, making a few factual mistakes.

Students hold up their right hand for a correct sentence or their left hand for an

incorrect one. Students tell you how to correct the false sentences.

  • 10. Find the Picture: Students cover the captions. Demonstrate first: say a

caption, then say, “Find the picture!” Students point to that picture. Pairs continue the activity, taking turns with roles: A says, “He pays for books. Find the

picture!” B points to the correct

picture. .


Two Application Exercises from WOW

About Me

  • 1. Steven is a student at New York University

    • I am a student at _______________

      • 2. Steven pays for books.

        • I pay for ______________.

          • 3. Steven drinks orange juice.

            • I drink ______________________.

              • 4. Steven eats crackers.

                • I eat ____________________.

                  • 5. Steven washes his clothes in the library bathroom.

                    • I wash my clothes _______________________.

                      • 6. Steven is a good writer.

                        • I am a good ___________________.

                          • 7. Steven likes his new life.

                            • I like ________________________.

Read the sentences and your answers to a partner.

Talk With Your Classmates

(a mingle)

Write about yourself here: I eat ________________________________.

Stand up. Tell your sentence to one classmate.

Talk with other classmates. Say the same thing, and listen to them.

Want to get the most out of every page?

Ask Laurel for our bookmark,

A Thumbnail Guide to the Teacher Notes!

Other exercises in the student book

More Reading and Comprehension

Write the Words You Hear (a dictation) Find the Answers (scanning) Questions and Answers Circle Yes or No Find the Picture What Happened First

Vocabulary Activities

Listen, Repeat, and Write Categories Matching Sentences with Pictures Act It Out Put the Words in the Spaces

Application activities

About Me Talk to Your Classmates

Activity Wrap-Ups and Interaction



And the

Notes to the Teacher include

instructions for even more ways to use the readings:

Silent Reading Pair Reading Sentences With Mistakes Strip Story Sentence Match-Up

Cloze Exercises (Fill in the Blanks)

-- are holistic; students learn grammar, spelling, and vocabulary all together, in context

-- provide a great deal of independent work, allowing teachers to breathe and think

-- allow students to work at their own pace -- can be done by individuals, pairs, or small groups

WOW: Stories From Real Life proudly introduces

Progressive Cloze:

  • 1. Students do the first version of a fill-in-the-blanks exercise, 1A.

They correct their work and put it away where they can’t see it. They immediately do 1B, a clean copy of the same version. They self-correct this one too. Of course they’re more successful this time because their corrections from the first attempt are fresh in their minds.

  • 2. They do a second version. This is same text but with different blanks to fill in –

and more of them. They do 2A and correct their own work, then hide it. Then

they do 2B, and correct it.

They’re guessing, remembering, then self-correcting

their own mistakes immediately – and learning swiftly!

  • 3. This is the last and most challenging version of the same text. Perhaps whole

phrases are missing in 3A and 3B. This would have intimidated them if they had seen it first, but by now they are prepared. They do this exercise twice, and by the time they’re finished, they are justifiably proud of what they can do!

(You can easily turn any text into a cloze exercise. Just Google “cloze maker” and paste in your text.)


Steven is a

at New York University.

He is poor. He ________ (etc.)

for university tuition.



a student at New York University. is poor.




Steven is

student at New York ________.

________ ________

for university tuition.


Natalie and Laurel hope you and your students are as excited about WOW as our field-test teachers are!

Please contact Laurel if you want to talk about how you’re using our book.

Educational Consultant Tucson, Arizona

520 891 0855


Published by ALTA Book Center 1-800-ALTAESL

Zero Prep: Ready-to-Go Activities for the Language Classroom. Pollard, Laurel, and Natalie Hess

Zero Prep for Beginners. Pollard, Laurel, Natalie Hess, and Jan Herron.

WOW! Stories From Real Life: a low-beginning multi-skills text. Hess, Natalie, and Laurel