Something old, something new – marrying the two.

Some lesson material works again and again regardless of its age and for me, one of my golden oldies for practicing the simple past and simple past question forms is Willie the Kid from Streamline Departures by Bernard Hartley &Peter Vinney, OUP (






The wild west theme works well with male students and also matches a character set and background from the Puppet Pal App.  Thus, we have language input in the form of a story and output in the form of an interview between a journalist from The Dodge City News and the sheriff delivered via a puppet show.


This is a brief summary of how we worked through the lesson.

This comic strip was projected on the board and used to elicit the setting and possible scenarios. Students then worked on vocabulary in Spelling City.









As students had newly been introduced to the simple past, their work mainly concentrated on learning the endings of regular past verbs.  Students then listened to the story and filled in a gapped text which again focused on regular past verb forms. This can be done with a pencil and paper or if a digital copy is preferred,  words can be blanked out using the white pen  in Skitch by the teacher, and the worksheet sent to the students as an image . Students then use an annotation app such as Neu Annotate to fill in the words, then listen to check their answers. An alternative is to send students the original text and get them to highlight all simple past verbs using an annotation tool.








This is an old fashioned form focused,  consciousness raising activity which students enjoy because  it helps them manipulate the target language at an early stage of learning it and it is achievable.  Whilst doing this kind of activity essentially constitutes substituting the iPad for the book, I think it still has a place in iPadagogy because it is a scaffolding step on the way to potentially public, student generated digital product centering on the use of language they are acquiring.

Students next asked and answered questions about the story orally. All prompts came from the online teacher’s book found at the  


These questions help students automatize simple past question and answer forms, so that when they come to analyze the language, they have a visual and audio memory of form. Simple past question formation was then elicited onto the board using ‘Write and Slide’ sheets.




This language structure work was left on the board for peripheral learning and as a resource whilst students produced their own questions during the communicative language activity.




Students worked in groups of three to produce their interview puppet shows. so that they had three screens were available to them at once: one student had the original text, another wrote up the interview dialogue and a third prepared the characters and background for the show. Each student contributed to every production stage.









Once students had written and practiced their interviews, they found a quiet spot outside the classroom to record them. Finally, we had a class screening of different productions.

The puppet show interviews varied both in the questions they asked and in the way they began and ended their dialogues. Some groups even had the sheriff’s horse or Willie the Kid’s horse speaking. All groups used simple past question forms and answers, although they did not all use them correctly.  The results were much the same as when I first used this activity in 1985. However, I feel that students had a more personalized, sustainable experience of my Willie the Kid lesson now that it is delivered with the  iPad.  This springs from our using the Spelling City App which enables students to work on vocabulary at their own pace and to be able to repeat an activity as they see fit. Each time students open an exercise they have a clean slate. A variety of games focus on different features of the target lexis including pronunciation, spelling, meaning and the sentence grammar of the word. The competitive gaming element encourages students to concentrate and they appear to learn words more deeply, than if they were doing paper based vocabulary exercises. Secondly, students take their recorded interview away with them. It is no longer transient as it was in 1985. In the past, students took away a written version of the dialogue, but now they have both the written and spoken versions and they are accessible where ever they are. They can share them with pride, revise from them and use them to evaluate their own performance. The Puppet Pal interviews can also be stored in an e-portfolio as evidence of  progress.  Thirdly, the prefabricated characters and background scenery encouraged student creativity. I have done this activity many times, but have never had a talking horse giving his opinion before.






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