English Language Day at the United Nations is celebrated on 23 April, the date traditionally observed as the birthday of William Shakespeare (1564). This day is also the day of of Shakespeare’s death (1616), and Saint George’s Day, which is the National Day of England.
Take a break from your usual routine, take a different perspective on the language, and dedicate a fun lesson to learn about the English language. If you think your students are up to some role-play and drama, dedicate a lesson to Shakespeare and drama. For ideas, visit the Green Room, our drama resource collection.
Here are six activities to help you get your students to do some research.
1 The English language by numbers
Can you guess which numbers go in these sentences?
- English is the official language in _____ countries.
- There are _____ letters in the English alphabet.
- There are _____ consonants in the English alphabet.
- According to data from 2010, _____ million people speak English as their first language.
- The second edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for _____ words in current use, but it’s impossible to count the number of words in the English language.
- About _____ new words are added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online each year.
- The first early English dictionary was published in _____.
- The Oxford English Corpus contains over _____ words.
Find the answers at the end of the post.
2 The most common words in English
How many of the 100 most common words (according to the Oxford English Corpus) do you know? Read this article on the BBC News website, then check out this list of the 100 most common words based on Oxford English Corpus. It’d be rather boring to use only a hundred words to communicate! A good reason to learn more words and read more books.
3 The most beautiful words in English
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it really is a subjective concept. However, there have been many lists which collect beautiful words in English. Create your own list and keep updating it as you learn new words! Say the words out loud and try to use them in your speaking and writing. You can even try to use them to write poems.
- Do you think of the meaning or the sound of the words when you put them on this list? Create two lists if you cannot decide.
Here are some of our favourite words (based on their sounds):
- butterfly | windowsill | peekaboo | squirrel | goldfinch | icicle | smithereens
Read this list of 70 words from 2004, created by the British Council. They asked more than 7,000 learners in 46 countries what they considered the most beautiful words in English language.
4 Beautiful lines from classic literary works
Read these sentences from classic novels out loud, and discuss how you feel/what you think about them. Do you have favourite sentences from classic or young adult novels? Why do you like them?
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” (J. M. Barrie: Peter Pan)
“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.” (Charles Dickens: Great Expectations)
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby)
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.” (Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights)
“She felt… how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.” (Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse)
Tip for the teacher: Read this selection created by the editors of the journal American Scholar. They chose the ten best sentences from novels. What do you think of them?
5 Read poetry
Poetry is probably language at its best. Read your favourite poem out loud, and do some poetry-based writing activities. You will find resources here:
6 Talk Like Shakespeare
It might be a challenging activity for lower level students, but above intermediate level your students will have fun with this. April 23rd is also Talk Like Shakespeare Day. Here are some resources to check out and experiment with:
Activity 1 Answers
1: 67; 2: 26; 3: 21; 4: 365; 5: 171,476; 6: 1000; 7: 1604; 8: 2 billion