UNO is a trademarked game from Mattel

Think UNO is just a quiet game of number and color matching?  Think again! 

UNO is a great game for getting your students speaking!  I use it to get my students to practice all of the following language:

  • This is a…
  • That is a …
  • These are …
  • Those are…
  • What is this?
  • What is that?
  • What are these?
  • What are those?
  • Not
  • Colors
  • numbers

Here is an example of how I use it in a class where students are learning to use the basic sentence structure, “This is a …”:

Deal out seven cards to each student and play the game as usual, only students must say what they are laying down.  For example, if a student is going to lay down a yellow 2, she must say, “This is a Yellow 2.”  The play then goes to the next student.  Let’s say he lays down a Green 2.  He must say, “This is a Green 2.”  Play the game in this fashion until one of the students lays down all of the cards in her hand and wins.

The special cards in the deck are as follows:

  • This is a Wild Draw 4
  • This is a Wild card
  • This is a Green Draw 2
  • This is a Red Skip
  • This is a Blue Reverse

When the students start contrasting ‘this’ and ‘that’, bring that to the game.  Now, students must say what the previous student laid down before saying what they are about to lay down:  “That is a Yellow 2.  This is a Blue Skip.”

As the students progress further, the expectations for play expand as well.  For example, when the students are learning plurals, and the contrasting words ‘these’ and ‘those’, support this by incorporating them into the game.  When a student has two or more of the same card in his hand, he can now lay them all down at once, saying, “These are Red 7’s”.  The next student must then say, “Those are Red 7’s before saying what he is about to lay down.  In this game now, students are contrasting ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’, and ‘those’.

Have your students learned ‘not’?  Throw it in!  Now when a student lays down a card, she must first say what it is not, and then what it is:  “This is not a Green 9.  This is a Blue 4.”  And for added fun, the students can be allowed to say anything that their card is not:  “This is not a gorilla!  This is a Blue 4.”

And of course, you play the game in which students ask questions too!  In this case, the student would lay her card down and ask the next student, “What is this?”  The next student must answer, “That is a Green 8,” before laying down her own card and asking the next student the appropriate question.

As you can see, there are a lot of options for using UNO to support the language you are teaching.  Give it a try, and let us know how it goes, and how you might have used it differently!  Or maybe you have another card game that you like to use to get your students talking.  Please let us know.  We’d love to hear about it!


The Oasis of The Seas

This is a lesson guide for The Oasis of The Seas from the textbook, Trends, Business & Culture Reports, Book 2. You can download this lesson to try out in class.

One of the schools I taught at in Japan was an intensive academic prep program for students getting ready to study in universities abroad. 

In the speaking and listening courses, my job was to get the students talking as much as possible, to work on group tasks, and give presentations.  One of the best tools I had for this was our textbook, Trends, Business and Culture Reports, as it allowed me to have the students run their own lessons.  Here is an example of how I would do it (or rather, how the students would do it) using the reading and exercise pages The Oasis of the Seas.

The day before class I would choose one student to be the “Teacher,” and give him or her the first page of The Oasis of the Seas.  The student was to read the story and prepare to lead the class through the reading and exercises on the page.

Before class the next day, the “Teacher” was to write the questions from the Discussion Questions section on the whiteboard. 

He or she would then greet the students and make small chit-chat with them for a minute or two, asking them how their evening was the night before, etc.  The teacher would then introduce the topic for the day – Traveling – and explain that they were to start by discussing the questions on the board.  He or she would then read each question in turn, and ask the students if they have any questions about them.  If yes, the teacher would answer the questions, and then say, “Okay, let’s go, up, up, up!”, to which the students would stand up, get into pairs, and discuss the questions, the teacher changing the pairs every 10 minutes for a total of 30 minutes discussion time.

The teacher would then have the students sit down and take out a notebook and pen for dictation.  He or she would then ask the students to write the questions as he or she spoke them from the Comprehension Questions section.  The students could ask the teacher to repeat the questions as necessary until they had all of the questions written in their notebooks.

Then, the teacher would explain that he or she was going to read twice the story called The Oasis of the Seas, and that they should listen and take notes on a new page in their notebooks.  The teacher would then read the story twice while the students listened and took notes.  When finished, the teacher would ask the students to get into pairs and work to answer the questions from their notes, stressing that the answers must be complete sentences.    

When the students were finished, the teacher would ask the pairs in turn to read and answer the questions.  The teacher would not let on whether the answers were correct or not, but respond with, “I see,” or “Really?” or “Okay, interesting.”  Then, the teacher would hand out the two pages of The Oasis of the Seas, and ask the students to check their own answers with the reading.  Once this was finished and the questions gone over again to make sure of the answers, the teacher would then ask the students to practice the reading aloud in pairs, working on fluency and pronunciation.

By this time, at least half of the 90-minute class period would be finished, and I would then take over, thanking the “Teacher” for his or her work. 

I would then move the students through the rest of the exercises in The Oasis of the Seas and end with setting up the Presentation Task section, giving them one week to research one of the famous buildings listed in the section, or one of their own liking (no two students could do the same building), and prepare to give a presentation to the class, covering the information asked for, and other information they think is interesting.

If you try this in class, let us know how your students responded.  We’d love to hear from you!

Selling Wellness

This is a lesson guide for Selling Wellness from the textbook, Trends, Business & Culture Reports, Book 2. You can download this lesson plan to try out in class.

Health and medicine are major topics in our social and media discussions.  How well your students understand the news articles and conversations happening around them determines the extent to which they can make informed decisions about their well-being.

Of course most beginner-intermediate ESL students have learned about the body, and how to talk about simple ailments, but Selling Wellness, from Trends, Book 2, challenges students to take their skills in reading, listening, and discussion around health and medicine to the next level.  Starting off with a short paragraph on prescription drug sales in the United States, Selling Wellness engages solid intermediate-level students with reading and discussion exercises that center on health and exercise, taking medicine, pharmaceutical advertising, and the growing epidemic of pharmaceutical drug abuse and unintentional deaths by overdose.

Selling Wellness also includes a simple review of body part vocabulary, commonly-used idioms dealing with illness, and a survey exercise that can be used either in-class, or as a homework project.    

The way I run this lesson…

I start off with writing the questions from the Discussion Questions section on the board.  Students stand and discuss the questions in pairs, changing partners every five or ten minutes.

Next, I tell students to take out a notebook and prepare to write the questions from the Comprehension Questions section.  I then dictate the questions, which the students write in their notebooks.

After this, the students turn to a new page in their notebooks.  I then read the report twice, and the students take notes.  Then, students pair up and work out the answers to the Comprehensions Questions.

Finally, I hand out the two pages of Selling Wellness to the students, and the students work to check the answers to their questions, and practice reading the paragraph for themselves out loud.

From here I have the students drill each other using the Selling Wellness Drill section.  With this, students change pairs, with one student turning his or her paper over, and the other student asking the questions.  The partner listens closely to each question and gives a full answer.  For example, if the question is, “Are Americans taking less medicine?”, the student should answer, “No, Americans are not taking less medicine.  They are taking more medicine.”  This is a great listening-and-response drill, and it further reviews the information given in the reading.

Next I have the students work out the Identification: Body Parts section, and then move on to the Discussion Exercise 1 section.  For this discussion section, I give the students five or ten minutes to write out their ideas on their own, and then I put them in small groups for discussion.

Finally, depending on the amount of time left in class, I either set the students off to survey each other using the Survey Exercise section, or I assign the Survey Exercise as homework, giving them parameters on how many people they must ask, etc.

Another option for teaching this lesson would be to make it even more student-centered by having the students themselves run the class!  See my blog entry titled, The Oasis of The Seas.

Please share your ideas…

Or maybe you have your own ideas on how to run this lesson.  Please share your ideas!   I would love to learn about any other ways you get your students talking and learning about health and fitness.


Swimming With Sharks

Download Swimming With Sharks and try it out in class!

On the lookout for games…

In my kids classes I am always looking for ways to anchor the question and answer dialogues they are learning with ‘real world’ application. Of course, there’s only so much that the ‘real world’ actually enters the classroom to allow repeated practice of such basic dialogues as What’s your name?, How old are you?, Where do you live?, Do you like…?. Do you have…?, What’s this?, and What’s that?  So I’m always on the lookout for games that can serve this purpose. Swimming with Sharks is one that I regularly use, and that the students really love to play.

Swimming With Sharks is a game that is introduced in Phonics & Spelling, Book 2, and is designed to get the students to practice reading and speaking the three-letter words they are learning. The game is very simple. Students place a game piece (an erasure, or some other small personal object) on Start. Then, each student takes turns rolling a die and moving their game piece that many places on the board. They have to then say the word they land on out loud.  If they land on “net”, they can climb over the net to the next space, thereby getting further along on the board to the goal of reaching the safe space of the ship. If they land on “red”, they must go back to the previous “red”, or back to start. And if they land on the “shark’s nose”, they must go back to start.

To use the same game to practice dialogues, I use a separate Swimming With Sharks game board that has blank spaces along the board instead of words. When students land on a blank space, they must ask another player a question. If the student cannot think of a question to ask, he or she must go back the same number rolled on the die. Likewise, if the student who is asked cannot answer the question, he or she must move their game piece back that many spots on the board. The same rules apply for landing on “net”, the color “red,” and “shark’s nose” as in the game in Phonics & Spelling, Book 2.

What games do you use to get your kids talking?

This “blank” version of Swimming With Sharks can be used with any set of questions-and-answer dialogues you want your students to practice. Download it!  It’s on us.   Let us know what games you use to get your students talking!

If you like to play board games in your classes, take a look at this Blank Game Boards Bundle from Donald’s English Classroom.  It includes Swimming With Sharks and a whole lot more!


Valentine is the 2nd reading from Stories For Young Readers, Book 1. Download this file and try it in class!

Introducing Valentine

I remember the first time I introduced my students to a story from Stories for Young Readers, Book 1.  It was a private class of 6 fourth graders that I had been teaching once a week for about three years.  I had followed the Phonics & Spelling series from ABC & Phonics, Book 1, and they were now starting Phonics & Spelling, Book 4.  I decided to introduce the story, Valentine, from Stories for Young Readers, to see how they would respond.

I handed out the first page, which includes a picture of Valentine and her sister, and the passage about them.  Before I said anything, I just let the students look at the page.  For a few moments they talked amongst themselves about the picture, smiling and wondering what it was all about.  And then naturally, knowing that the words above would tell them about the image below, they moved to the passage and started reading!

It was slow for them, yes, but they were doing it, saying with confidence the words they knew (which were most of them), and working out those that were new.  I simply walked around helping  as necessary.

I asked for volunteers and six hands shot into the air!

After they had worked on the passage for a while, I told them to follow the words on the page as I read it.  I read it twice, the second time a little faster than the first.  I then asked for volunteers to read, and six hands shot into the air!  They all took turns reading the passage, and I could see that they were all so proud of themselves!

I then handed out the second page, with the questions and puzzle.  Each student got a chance to read one of the questions, and everyone would work out the answer together, and then write it on the line provided.  Once this was finished the students dived into the puzzle, racing to see who could finish it first, and yet helping each other as they went.

From that introduction I knew I had the perfect supportive material for what the students were learning in the Phonics & Spelling series.  Every story sparked interest, and engaged the students with exercises that were useful and fun!


Now in Japan!


Stories for Young Readers, Books 1 & 2 are now available in Japan!

I.P.I. (Independent Publishers International), Japan’s leading distributor of language teaching materials from around the world, has officially released Stories for Young Readers, Book 1 and 2! We’re thrilled that teachers will now have these textbooks available at local bookstores!

You can purchase from David Paul’s ETJ Book Service for special discounts!

To be kept up to date on all our teaching materials, please add your name to our mailing list!

[mc4wp_form id=”58″]

History of Publishing

Stories for Young Readers was first published in 2000 when we three Kinney brothers, Donald (me), Robert (my twin brother), and Michael (the Younger),  were living and working in Saitama Prefecture in Japan.  Bob was teaching at a private, all-boys junior high school. Given few resources for teaching, he began creating his own lessons with pictures, questions, and puzzles that he hoped would inspire the boys to learn, or at least pay attention!  These lessons eventually turned into the first edition of the textbooks.

We solicited several of the big ESL publishing companies with our book proposals but were roundly, though politely, rejected.  Undaunted and confident that there was a place for our textbook ideas on the market, we took the bull by the horns, invested in desk-top-publishing software, and began designing the books on our own.

The first print run of the books was through a Japanese company that, unfortunately, turned out very bad.  The books arrived packed in newspaper, glue seeping from the spines, and ink that could be rubbed off with your fingers.  The books had to be returned twice before they were even tolerable! It was a nightmare.

Mike, our younger brother, took a stack of the books to a book fair in Tokyo, located the English Resource Bookstore kiosk and asked if he could place our books on their table.  Surprisingly, they agreed and the books sold!  A couple weeks later, they contacted us by fax requesting distribution rights, and so our publishing career began.

It took nearly three years to sell that run of books and we were learning to negotiate heavy boxes of books in our living space.  Over the years, the number of boxes became so great that we had to buy a large shed to store them outside.  We started by selling faxed orders for individual books but eventually convinced the English Resource to order by the box.   We also tried different methods for getting the books the one mile to the local post office; a large cart that rattled and swerved on and off the sidewalks, bicycles with one or two boxes strapped to the back, and finally a post office pickup system that worked as well as the drivers were grumpy and officious.

Nearing the final boxes of that first run, we were determined to make Stories for Young Readers better.  Bob consolidated the stories into a single textbook, and I designed a new cover on my new Adobe Illustrator program, replacing the cranky Quark Express that caused us so many printing headaches.  We located a printer in Singapore (half the cost of printing in Japan!), made arrangements for international shipping, and in 2003 Stories for Young Readers, 2nd Edition was born. A few weeks later, a 2nd edition of Q&A also arrived to replace the impossibly hokey first edition.  These were minimum 1,000-book runs and we were having to split the boxes between our apartments; books in the living room, books in the kitchen, and books in my bedroom!

(If you ever decide to have a book printed, I strongly recommend Saik Wah Press Media Pte Ltd in Singapore.  They are very professional, offer a quality product and their representatives are 100% there for you and your publishing goals.)

In the interim, I had written a five-book phonics series for the kindergarten students I was teaching.  In 2005, unsure if we could find  a place in an already crowded phonics market, we ordered print runs and submitted the textbooks to Nellies Bookstore (English Resource having been bought out). The series was curtly rejected.  A few months later, they contacted us and agreed to begin selling them.  Why the turn around, I’m not sure, but the phonics series solidified our presence in the publishing market in Japan.

By 2010, Bob had completely reworked Stories into a solid, grammatically sound series of graded readings.  By this time, we knew our time in Japan was going to be coming to an end soon.  We were longing to return to the U.S. but didn’t want to be saddled with inventory or have to manage inventory in Japan from the U.S.  That was when we learned about print-on-demand publishing at CreateSpace, a subsidiary of  It was a perfect solution for us and the Global Edition of Stories for Young Readers debuted on this printing platform.  Just as we were getting ready to leave Japan, our books were opening up to a world market through

We made licensing agreements with I.P.I. (Independent Publishers International) who took on the phonics series and bought out our inventory – but was still on the fence about the newest Stories for Young Readers series. This year, 2017, I.P.I. agreed to begin publishing Stories, and we are thrilled that these textbooks will continue to be available in Japan.

The Last Story

When Robert passed away in June of 2013, he had plans for a third book in the Stories for Young Readers series.  This was the first installment in that book and the last story he wrote and illustrated.  At the time that he wrote this, he was teaching at Saitama University and was deeply interested in fairy tales and their histories.  As he said in a discussion, he thought the story was useful as a parallel to larger cultural issues and would be useful for promoting discussion in class.  You can click on the image to make it larger.  Enjoy.