Gone on holiday

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The three cups

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Pen up the nose

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This trick is horror, a slippery slope. If you let them do this, never expect them to behave: D:D

There is this one particular student of mine who is 9 now, a very active, energetic and clever boy who is quite on the bossy side, with a clear view of what he wants most of the time. This is just  to say he’s not the type of student who will wait for your instructions, does the exercises and harvests the teacher’s welldones. And he loves acting, loves magic tricks, loves the internet.

He arrived at the lesson with the determination to learn a new trick, I’d prepared one that he found uncool, so he started looking for better tricks on YouTube. After having seen a couple of tutorial videos (with me reassuring myself with the mantra “this is no waste of time, this is authentic listening”).
Finally he ended up with a tutorial in which someone makes a pen disappear-in his nose. Lovely. Definitely no. This is too dangerous, one might hurt themselves, nose bleeding, what is his little brother really wants to push the pen up his nose? (Once he swallowed a balloon!!)

He convinced me, giving me the chance to discuss the possible harm caused by practicing and performing the trick, we agreed on a pen that has no sharp point and he promised he’d reveal the trick to his brother and watch out for him.

  • Age: the older, the better, the trick itself can cause injuries (10+)
  • Level: A2+
  • Group size: one-to-one or very small groups (2-3) to allow you to carefully conduct the trick
  • Language: how to describe an object you like
  • Skills: speaking, a little reading and writing

Step 0

Ask your student(s) about favorite objects.

What’s your favorite / Do you have a favorite


thing in your schoolbag

piece of clothes






piece of jewellery ?


Then ask them yes/no questions and list their answers (YESes and Nos).


Is it big?

Is it bigger/smaller than a grizzly bear?

Is it in one colour?

Does it have yellow?

Does it smell good?

Is it soft/hard?

Is it fluffy/shiny/furry/matte, …?

Do you use it a lot?

(Sometimes you’ll have to explain your questions, hmmm…)

Based on the list of YESes and nos ask them to reconstruct the information.

e.g. 1 yes, 2 no –> It’s big, but smaller than a grizzly bear.

(You can write this or make a voice recording.)

Step 1

Perform the trick

(Learn it from here.)

Tell them about your favorite pen and do the trick.

See the reaction, wait till they recover.

Repeat it as many times as it’s exciting. Ask them to guess how you’ve done it.

Step 2


Tell them you’ll reveal the trick if they complete a mission. The mission is to put the parts of story/text in the correct order (textivate.com) or put the missing words back into the text (cloze makers, educaplay.comlearnclick.com), perhaps segment the text that you give them without spaces. (miniwebtool.com/remove-spaces/)

Here is an example text to use with this trick:
Ladies and gentleman, let me show you my favourite pen. It is long and thin, it has a lovely colour, and you can write with it like this, or you  can draw something. As i said, i love it. I even love the smell of it. Hey! Where is it? Is it in my nose? Is it in my head? No, it isn’t. It’s in my hand.

Step 3

Reveal the trick

Ask them if they know how the trick is done. If they know it, good! Then let them try and draw their attention to the dangers of the trick. (No poking the pen inside the nose, no sharp pen or pencil, etc.)

You can discuss or just view what exactly is inside our noses and heads, you might want to show them anatomy pictures of the head, an interactive anatomy app for kids or videos:


Here you can talk about the fact that nothing can possibly get into our heads through the nose without harm, as there is no space for anything in there. Even if in the trick it seems like the pen is inside the magician’s head. They can experience that something that looks like something is not necessarily true.

Step 4

Let them practice the trick in front of the mirror or the camera and screen. They can even record themselves. They will most probably reflect on their own performance and refine things, if not, you can help, but avoid being prescriptive.

Step 5

The story that accompanies the trick

Ask them if they are pleased with the ‘my fav pen’ story. If they have a different idea, let them use that, help them with the language and make sure you have a story written down.

(You can exploit it in many different ways, like above.)

Here they might need some pronunciation drilling before the final recording.

Step 6

Record the trick and share the videos. Warning! 70% of grandmothers hate any kind of tricks that involve things vanishing into and/or out of the mouth or nose.

You can always edit the video together, using an editing program, app or tool. Funny voice effect can spice it up.

If the ‘talk’ part of the performance is not flawless you can send them the voice recording of the story together with the script, they will find a way to learn it, then record the trick later.





This is a version by one of my most autonomous young learner 🙂
He did the video editing nearly all alone, he just needed my YouTube channel:

The scarf trick

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I learned this trick from two of my secondary school students, who quite arbitrarily used it in a totally different video once (doing a magic trick was completely their own choice, I hadn’t even mentioned magic before that project).

I completely forgot about it till the moment I quickly needed 5 easy tricks. I wanted my student (a 3rd grader) to watch 5 ‘magic trick revealed’ videos (autonomy, decision making, listening), short of time to see many videos on YouTube, I suddenly remembered this trick. Eventually this one was chosen.

  • Age: 7-99 year olds
  • Group size: one-to-one or larger groups, divided into pairs or threes
  • Possible target language: weather and climate, illnesses probably
  • Skills: all four skills, mainly speaking and listening

Step 0

Set the scene

Mime you are cold. Take a long scarf out of your bag or pocket and wrap it around your neck. You can ask them if they can lend you a hat, a pair of gloves, etc. You can just mime putting on certain pieces of clothes. Or you might want to use a longer piece of elastic band to mime putting on clothes, like in this video.

Now you can do any TPR activity to revise/learn the names of clothes. Simply give them instructions to put on pieces of clothes,  you can prepare instruction cards, one student picks a card, doesn’t show it to anyone, mimes the action, the others find out the piece of clothes, saying “hat” or guessing “Are you putting on a hat?”, saying “You’re putting on a hat.” (Print flashcards from here  or here. )

If you have access to computers and internet connection you can play around with these:



Step 1

Perform the trick

(You can learn the trick from here)

Do it at least three times, you know, repetition. Make sure they understand the frame story.

Step 2

Their turn

Ask them if they can perform the trick. If someone really knows how to do it, ask them to do it but not to reveal it yet. If there is someone who wants to try it, just give them the scarf and let them try. (Don’t give way to naughty remarks if the ‘magician’ is not successful.)

Try to get them to say the words you say during the trick, some kids believe it is the magic of the words that makes the trick work.

Step 3

Reveal the trick

If they can’t do it, do the trick once more and ask them if they want you to reveal the secret. They will probably say yes, they really want that: time for some language work, weather and clothes vocabulary is very handy here.

You may want to use worksheets, look around here:



Then show them how the trick works. This is a fairly complicated one and usually takes many repetitions. This is good, you can easily get them to repeat the ‘talk’ that goes along with the movements.

This was our text:

I live in Hungary. In Hungary winters are very very cold.  We need a scarf. If you don’t wear a scarf, you can catch a cold.

Step 4

The text

Ask them if they like the text or if they want to use their own story. In that case it’s time for some more language work. Help them formulate the story in English and make sure you have a written version that they can learn, manipulate, etc. Now you can do all sorts of writing and memory drills, order the  parts of the text in cards, turn it into a jazz chant, anything.
This is a chant we used:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/89980771″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Step 5

Practice, record, reflect

Let them practice the trick in front of a mirror or record them on camera, see the videos and let them reflect, decide what to change and what to refine, let them spot what to practice and make commitments.

Step 6

Final performance

If you have time, you can record the video. If you run out of time (which usually happens to us) prepare a voice recording or a video with the script of the text, send it to them or post it on their blogs so that it is available for practice at home and you can record the trick next time.  (There are lots of online cloze and quiz creators that allow you to easily and quickly create clickable exercises using the text created in the lesson.)

The end product:

Mr Coin Overworked

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  • Age: 12+ ys
  • Level: A2+
  • Group size: one-to-one or groups, divided into pairs or threes
  • Possible target language: work, holiday, describing a situation, present
  • Skills: all four skills, mainly speaking and listening

Step 0 

Set the scene 

Ask your students if they think a magician is a good job or not.

  • Well-paid?
  • Exciting?
  • Stressful?
  • Tiring?
  • Easy?
  • Creative?

Does a magician

… work long hours?

… work flexitime?

… need a lot of training?

… have workmates? 

Ask them is they want to learn a magic trick. If they are older they might say no. Then say okay, test, then. (Just kidding….)

Step 1


Tell them to describe a very stressful job. (Write a paragraph individually or in pairs.)
Let them share their stressful job with the others. Talk about ways to relieve stress. Hopefully holiday will come up.

Step 2 

Perform the trick

This is a slightly different version, a domino brick instead of the coin:

Ask them if they know how to do it. If there is someone, let them try. If they succeed, that’s great. If it is not so smooth or they fail, thank them and say they are a great help and encourage them to try and find out the secret. 

Step 3 

Reveal the trick: listening

The basis of this trick is  hand movement called ‘French Drop’.

Show them this video and make them do the online interactive quiz. If they have internet access, they can do it individually or in pairs. If you can use it (IWB or projected, do it as a whole-group activity, if you can play only the video offline, do the quiz on a worksheet.)

Now they know the secret, let them practice in front of a mirror or with cameras they can record videos and analyze the first performances.

At this point they really need the story that will distract the attention of the audience.

Step 4

Before the story

Before creating the story recycle/elicit ‘holiday/vacation’ vocabulary.

Students can create mind maps,  brainstorm phrases that go to the categories transport, accommodation, things to do and see on holiday, travel documents, things in your baggage, etc.

There are plenty of  online exercises to practice these (as homework, if applicable):









 Step 5

The story

This is a possible version of the story to accompany the trick, feel free to alter it of use your own/your students’ version:

This is Mr Coin.

He is really stressed out because he has a very tiring job. He badly needs a vacation, so he packs his luggage, books a flight and a hotel and goes on a seaside vacation.


His boss can’t find him. Where is he?

The boss keeps calling him but he doesn’t answer the phone. Maybe he’s in Africa, riding on an elephant.

Mr. Coin is lost. Nobody can find him!

Wait a minute, he is on your head! 

Once you have the story (on the whiteboard, class blog, in notebooks, etc.), do some drilling to memorize it (disappearing text, dictation, memorizenow.com, running dictation, etc.)

 Step 6

Record the final version 

Let them decide on a range of things like background, costume, lights, music, ask them to plan the video quickly and record it or leave it for homework.

Follow up: 

  • Writing:

Watch someone else’s video and write a review using the ‘THINK’ principle.

  •  Speaking:

Dub each other’s videos and record it with an editing app. (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker) 

Make a story to the trick that has nothing to do with jobs or holidays.

Traveler coin trick

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  • Age: 7-12 year olds
  • Group size: one-to-one or groups, divided into pairs or threes
  • Possible target language: body parts, coins, places, things to do on holiday, things to do with coins
  • Skills: all four skills, mainly speaking and listening

  Read the rest of this entry »

Believe me, nearly every young learner likes magic

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The following map shows a possible procedure of how to exploit magic tricks to harness them to smoothen language acquisition.

It has taken shape in the past one year, 8-10 children in pairs, small groups and one-to-one lessons. This is just a set of guidelines, be flexible with it. Click on the picture to make it bigger.

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