7 reasons for going to teachers’ conventions

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edunation.com.pl

I spent the last weekend in Warsaw where edunation ladies had organised an event for Directors of Studies and proper teachers. It was the first event of its kind and it reminded me a lot of fantasy fans’ conventions I used to coordinate *sniff*. Good times…

I made new friends and learnt a lot of more or less useful things, but the most important thing about this weekend is the sense of empowerment and motivation that only comes after intensively spending time with people who share your passion – exactly like fantasy fans’ meetings.

Only the teachers take shower more often, I guess.

I don’t think you get a similar feeling after those typical free teachers’ conferences organised mainly by publishing companies and focused on their products – and nothing’s wrong with that, but the event I had opportunity to take part in was focused on CPD and continuous growth of DoSes and teachers.

It makes me think of the greatest benefits of attending such meetings (either fantasy conventions or DoS-cons*):

1 Learning

Since you’re supposed to take part in lectures and workshops this point seems rather obvious, but there are more ways you can obtain knowledge apart from listening – you can always talk to lecturers after their presentation and from my experience they’ll feel really appreciated and will probably share useful books or articles worth reading. Moreover, there are many publishing companies around – it’s a good idea to check their new CPD books and check new textbooks.

2 Asking questions – and getting answers

There is no better place to share your concerns without being judged – your fellow teachers will be eager to help and at least brainstorm all possible solutions to the problem. Naturally, you can share your doubts on the Internet, but there aren’t as many trolls and haters when you reveal your weakness offline.

3 Gaining perspective

Problem sharing isn’t usually one-sided business, so it will probably lead to other teachers referring to their own troubles – which is just great as there’s nothing better than learning from the experience of others. Moreover, you will be able to get invaluable feedback and, equally important, perspective. I wish I had the opportunity of talking to more experienced and understanding teachers those thirteen years ago when I started teaching…

4 Networking

If you feel like sharing your professional experience there’s nothing better than going to a conference full of people who are genuinely interested in what you want to say. You can meet someone who suddenly becomes your inspiration – in my case it’s Beata Topolska who gave a great lecture about blogging and managed to put my ideas into proper frames. You’ll see my blog change very soon and I must say all I needed was Beata who gave me the push.

5 Meeting people

It would be really tiring, if you only met people who inspire and motivate. Fortunately, there are lots of attendees just like you – people who love their job and want to develop and grow, who have their successes but also problems – and who, just like you, sometimes feel simply overwhelmed. You can meet people who listen and talk to you, who understand you and don’t blame you for professional doubts.

You can make real friends.

6 Having fun

Apart from lectures, there are workshops and networking sessions, and many activities you may try just to have fun. The event last weekend had a photo booth with lots of funny accessories, a make-up stall and a massage spot! Didn’t make it to the last point, but I had a stunning make-up and was ready for a party. Because yes, there are parties – teachers and parties are like a house on fire after all!

I’m not going to elaborate that point, though.

7 Food

Well, honestly, you don’t always get cupcakes with logos on top, but the mere chance of having at least one should prompt you to take part in such events.

FYI, my CUPcake (gods, forgive me this flat pun) was scrumptious.

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Are there any more benefits you expect from going to teachers’ conferences? Maybe you’re tempted with freebies, or maybe it’s the unlimited amount of coffee you may drink without anyone noticing your addiction?

I want to send a big THANK YOU to Monika and Gosia who were the best companions I could wish for – you’re awesome, girls!

 

*if there was not a term coined, there is now, what else would you call a convention for directors of studies?

Twinkl Imagine – check, communicate and chill out

Some time ago I decided to join Twinkl group for bloggers who test this platform and share their ideas. In case you don’t know what Twinkl is – it’s a mine full of jewels like lesson plans, resources, interactive activities, presentations, posters and loads of ideas for teachers, parents and caretakers. Oh, and homeschoolers.

I’m not going to write the usual – you need to log in and enjoy the massive amounts of materials by yourself. To be honest, I feel like a child in a sweet shop – there are so many things, in so many languages, you need a moment to cool down. But once you do (and stop downloading every second thing you click on) you’ll find more than “just” teaching resources.

One of the features I loved immediately was… a calendar. Seriously, there’s a Teaching Resource Calendar with ever so many events and lesson plans ready you can actually have a lesson ready for everything (including Stilton Cheese Rolling Championship [May 2nd] which is something I absolutely feel like popularising as I really love Stilton cheese).

The tool that caught my attention, however, is called Imagine. It’s a creative resource with a new image every day which you can use as a stimulus to discussion, learning and teaching. If you don’t like “image of the day”, you may choose another from a great selection of topics (apart from fractions and rainforests, you can pick dragons or fairy tales, yay!) – and each topic has more than one set of ideas! But what you are offered is far more than just a photo.

First, you may choose your students’ age – either KS1 or KS2. In the first version, we have topics adjusted to children’s level, the latter option gives us more activities – and activities we have galore! We’ve got such varied options as think (as a warm-up), solve (a little bit of Maths to wake you up), discover (nice questions prompting students to do some research), respond (which may be used as a composition), discuss and reimagine (which adds a bit of design and art approach, perfect for making visuals).

But wait, there is more! You can get some awesome cross-curricular ideas and resources which may be a perfect opportunity to change your EFL lesson into a proper CLIL experience. So, in a topic “colour” you can implement some Maths (Venn diagram, for instance), Geography (Holi Festival in India) or Music (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Weber).

Not enough? Very well then – apart from activities and cross-curricular ideas, there’s also a “book, text, film” section where you can get even more inspirations on the topic – perfect not only for a teacher, but also for a student who wants to read more about the theme of the classes.

Now, I do realise I sound pretty hyped, but I think Imagine may be a perfect solution for those days when I feel pretty zombified and have no idea for a nice warm-up – all I do is log in, show a photo and off we go! Or in case of sudden need of covering for another teacher – I may simply find a nice topic (I’d certainly go for Myths) and have a proper lesson, discussion and even a nice homework!

By the way, when you look for various sources in Twinkl try using InspireMe – it’s a really funny search tool, but it works like Pinterest, you may spend ours getting inspired, again, and again, and again…

Enjoy!

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Pure nonsense in the classroom

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My ultimate goal in teaching is, as I’ve probably mentioned it already, having fun – you can’t seriously expect me to be prim and proper at all times, now, can you? It’s rather difficult to keep a straight face when your students make you cry from laughter, and that’s something that happens to me only too often (bless my students!). With April Fools’ Day writing about humour is inevitable – especially that I don’t really like pranks and yet bringing humour to the classroom is surely one of my favourite aspects of teaching.

Don’t we enjoy comedies in English, especially famous British humour? I’m lucky to teach EFL as I can introduce students to my ever-favourite Monty Python (The Parrot Sketch kills me everytime), Top Gear specials (US Special is the best for English classes) or Jay and Silent Bob (for mature students though). I remember one of my tutors at university – I mean, I don’t really remember the classes, but I remember fun we had when we were watching Fawlty Towers or Clerks in the classroom. Good days.

Naturally, I can’t show a funny video on every class but I can make my students comedians on their own right by bringing in pure nonsense (in moderate measures, otherwise one can easily get confused). I do realise not everyone feels comfortable when it comes to being a class clown and a teacher at the same time, but from my perspective presenting yourself as a person with a healthy distance to oneself helps students being more relaxed and distanced to their own learning failures. After all, mistakes aren’t always “just wrong”, sometimes they’re also hilarious.

Pure nonsense may be perfectly used during explaining grammar rules, when you can create great sentences to reflect the theory. For instance, instead of using the absolute classic “If it rains, I will stay at home” as an example for the 1st Conditional, you may use something your students were chatting about. In my case, as a result of a lengthy discussion on the role of alcohol during teenage parties, an example created by my students was “If you drink Jack Daniel’s in Scotland, people will look at you with mercy”. It doesn’t look funny unless you’re in the group, but for them it is the sentence that connects grammar to the real life and quite funny moment of the lesson they probably won’t forget for a while (also they’ll hopefully remember that apostrophe).

Another way of using pure nonsense as a means of teaching a language is picking an optionally fictional character and using it as an example for grammar rules or vocabulary. I have to confess that a character chosen by my young adult group is a prominent and slightly paranoid Polish politician who’s undergone rather gruesome adventures in ours classes (“Antoni M. will have organised seven military units before the beginning of the war” – to show Future Perfect… and you don’t want to know the story with “infrared” and “outer space”).

Yet another idea of using nonsensical humour is quite specific and very much dependent on the students you teach – if they’re into fun, you might use their names as examples, naturally exaggerated and somewhat distorted, so you must be sure you won’t hurt your students’ feelings. For example, I have a student who used to eat lots of sweets and once came with sugary powder. It took us a minute to start teasing him about drug dealing etc. He took it as good fun (he was a new student who thus got a status of personality in the group), so for months it’s been a running joke. Once in a while someone says “I’m so knackered today, must’ve been Karol’s new drugs” – we also use the character of Karol the Teenage Drug Dealer while making sentences etc. It’s really great fun but, as I mentioned, you need to be absolutely sure you won’t offend anyone. You can start with yourself: “When Monika’s students read this post, they’ll probably call a lawyer to protect their intellectual property”…

What about you? Do you like using nonsensical humour in the classroom? If not, maybe you’ll get inspired to give it a go?

Enjoy!

Can we keep our students focused in the classroom?

bored-students

indianlink.com.au

I really dislike this season of the year when winter slowly changes into spring. I feel tired and lazy and somehow uncomfortable in my own skin – and when all I hear around is “wee, spring is coming” I feel like crawling into my bed and missing November (my favourite month of the year, seriously). It’s quite easy for me to understand my students being somewhat slow and sloppy, so here are some tricks I use to keep them focused in the classroom because hey, spring or no spring, the Passive must be reviewed.

First of all, change the pace. Shorter but more varied exercises seem to work almost always. When students finish grammar, make them sing a song, act a short scene, come up with a joke. After a short break get back to exercises, but once they finish a decent part of the drill give them a short topic to discuss, a quiz or a short film (Film English is a purrfect source of those). It’s not so much about being unpredictable as not letting them get bored.

Food is always a good idea to relieve the tension of grammar revision classes. I have already written about food here (click!) and I still find it one of the easiest ways to bring fun to the classroom. I usually teach by the book: two units – revision – test. The review before tests is usually the worst part of the routine for my students, so I try to brighten it up as much as I can – by bringing films, making projects etc. My students, especially teenagers, love baking cakes for those classes, as – a scientifically proven fact! – sugar intake boosts your mood and no amount of grammar exercises can destroy its beneficial effect. One of my groups made a recipe project – I brought 500 Cupcake Book and everyone picked one recipe to translate. Now, they’re supposed to bring the results of translation next week when we can judge the quality of translation while reviewing the aforementioned Passive for the test. I will definitely post some photos on my fb page unless I fall into sugar coma… (edit: so far I haven’t – click! to see what my talented students made)

Online quizzes – not only the ones about language! Everyone knows you can use quizizz, quizlet or kahoot but have you thought about something different? I’ve started collecting music quizzes as it seems to be a nice break for my students – and I can use it to share some cultural things English students should know (like watching at least one western, seriously, teenagers!). I’ve tested the ones on my padlet and now I can share them with you and ask for collaboration – if you find any interesting music quizzes share them with me!

Made with Padlet

Chilling out – as simple as it sounds, it may be not so easy to conduct. It’s quite important to keep the balance and allow only for sensible chillout that can be beneficial for the class and not leading to greater laziness. What can we do? We may take the group to the café and enjoy one lesson with a cup of tea or coffee. We may go for a short walk where students are supposed to record a short message, write down all the things they can name in English or do a short survey with unsuspecting passers-by. The idea is to introduce something unusual, simple and entertaining for our students to give them a chance to recharge their batteries.
Finally, introducing nonsensical sense of humour – which is my favourite thing to do regardless the weather or season of the year – but as humour can be quite a sensitive issue I’ll write about it in another post.

Hope you’ll get inspired by some of those ideas 🙂

Enjoy!

English for _very_ special purposes

Last year I got hooked on Stranger Things – a great TV series, especially for geeky 80’s kids (like yours truly, I guess, can’t wait for s02). I guess zombies, aliens, demogorgons and all supernatural things have been quite a thing for a while, and thanks to Netflix we can binge on tv series (btw, thanks netflix for ruining my social life) and it would be a real waste if we couldn’t incorporate it into our classes.

I love creating lessons around tv series (I’m not a whovian, but “Blink” is a great episode to use in the classroom and “Yellow Fever” from Supernatural is simply hilarious – just to name but two) as it shows quite natural language and speech flow, brings some cultural references and is a nice way of learning by fun (which is my favourite way of acquiring knowledge).

Apart from creating lessons around fantasy and sci-fi tv series I’m really glad when I see proper books directed at low-level students, allowing them to be part of the supernatural hype:

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English for the Alien Invasion is written by the same team who committed English for the Zombie Apocalypse (a really good book for pre-intermediate students, I wrote about it here). This time the threat is from the outer space, cunning and intelligent. Beware, it’s not for the light-hearted 🙂 The story focuses on the boy called Dani, Captain Black, Doctor Green and a bunch of aliens, of course. Unsuspecting Dani meets an alien and befriends him only to be lured to the spaceship – will he be able to run away? Will Captain Black manage to inform the President about the danger? Will Doctor Green be able to help? Will humanity survive?

The book is divided into 10 units (from Making Contact to Saving the World) and two sets of flashcards. Each unit makes a 45min PPP-type lesson with similar stages: warm-up, listening exercise followed by reading comprehension, working on important phrases and production phase – creating own conversation or role-play. There are also various ideas how flashcards can be used in the classroom (learning vocabulary, short tests, memory game and story game). I find organisation of the book way better than the previous one and apart from being well thought of, there is still some space to put teacher’s own ideas (fragments of Close Encounters of the Third Kind maybe?) which is always a good thing.

EAI is perfect for elementary students for more than one reason. First and foremost, it’s a lot of fun. Who hasn’t seen at least one episode of The X-files? We can put a lot of fun into English classes and it’s as important for beginners as for any other level. Secondly, for people who have just started learning a foreign language, each attempt of communication in English is like talking to (and listening to!) aliens. We can add some humour into our classes by pretending “aliens” are native speakers of English – not only will it relieve some stress, but it may also be a great pretext to talk about cultural differences and cross-cultural communication.

I hope you’ll get inspired by the idea – it’s always good to be prepared for the worst! And if you are interested in the book, you can get it here.

Enjoy!

I didn’t do my homework… – project idea (not only for young learners!)

 

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Some time ago I spent a Black Friday weekend in Manchester – yes, I guess I must have gone mad – I do like the city very much (surprisingly, because I support none of the local football teams), but going there in the heat of the international shopping spree wasn’t exactly the best idea ever.

A highlight of my visit was definitely the John Rylands Library – a magnificent building with impressive interiors and amazing atmosphere (generally Manchester’s libraries are awesome, I fell in love with Manchester Central Library, best place ever!). And it was its small bookshop where I noticed a book which immediately caught my eye: I Didn’t Do My Homework Because by Davide Cali and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud.

The book is basically a list of perfectly illustrated, funny, weird, amazingly impossible excuses a student could use… but they usually don’t.

Unless I, as a teacher, make them to 🙂

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When I was browsing through this book I immediately thought about a project for younger learners. Perfect for a period right after a winter break, when they don’t feel like, well, doing anything. The list of excuses the book offers is great, but my students can surely do better.

Last week I got quite tired with my group full of teenagers who clearly hadn’t felt like doing their homework for a while. So I set up a common account on Storybird, chose a pattern, showed them some ideas and asked them to write their own book. Here is the result being a nice homework, a fun activity and an adorable souvenir for yours truly (my absolutely favourite thing is the alien insects clearly inspired by the X-files).

CLICK: I didn’t to my homework because… by LeniweBuly 🙂

Be sure, though, once you go with this project your students will never again say they forgot to do their homework… be prepared for alien abductions, chupacabras, evil bunnies and alternative worlds galore.

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However, even older students may enjoy this book and the ideas – who doesn’t have any problems with homework? I personally believe, English classes give the opportunity for adult students to feel childlike once again – after all, the process of learning is (quite unfairly in my opinion) identified with children. I don’t believe those serious mothers and fathers won’t enjoy making up stories on why they didn’t do their homework. Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest drawing pictures, but making a list of the most creative excuses (a contest with a prize maybe?) seems to be a nice activity to help your students relax, perhaps before a test or not so enjoyable grammar part? Or maybe as a way to practise some phrasal verbs?

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I believe a project like this may be a great fun in winter or early spring when we all feel rather discouraged and wouldn’t mind having a little funny activity to catch a distance and remind ourselves English lessons are fun.

Because that’s one of our tasks as teachers: not only teaching, but also showing our students they can use their linguistic knowledge and abilities to actually have fun 🙂

Enjoy:)

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Make your own e-book with Storybird

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oupeltglobalblog.com

When I was a teenager (ghastly times) my English lessons were mainly focused on following the book with a sprinkle of additional exercises (unforgettable drills by Thomson and Martinett). If I were to admit why I got to like this language I’d have to say a huge thank you to my primary school teacher who decided I should take part in an English contest and spent long hours teaching me actual communication. I didn’t win, but it was enough for me to look past the boring school classes and remember there’s more to learning a language.

I’m really annoyed by the fact that classes today – in ordinary schools – happen to look pretty much the same. It’s probably one of the reasons I gave up on the state educational system and decided to work with language schools, where I can experiment, bring new ideas, broaden horizons (both mine and my students) and put actual fun into our classes. This year I’ve started using Padlet (so far so good!), but there’s a tiny little project I’m planning to use once my students feel bored and will need a spark of creativity – Storybird.

I came across this website and just thought ooh, looks nice, I’ll give it a go… and disappeared for a few hours just to come back with a picture book about cats (duh, obviously). How come I haven’t seen this wonder earlier? This is my own story. Not about me, mind, I just saw some kitten pics and, well…

I might look lonely – enjoy 🙂

Naturally, the curse of a teacher made me think of how I could put Storybird into good use in the classroom. Here’s what I came up with:

Traditional use: Let’s Make a Story! – we can use the platform as an individual or group project when we’re discussing things like storytelling. Students register on the platform and make their own story. The great advantage here is that an account is free both for students and teachers, but there is an option of adding parents so they can observe progress their prodigy make. We can also start a story in the classroom, students will come up with its development, then choose the best one – we put the chosen one as a continuation, read it aloud and ask students to continue, and so on – to make it more of a class project.

Parental control may be a great thing in My Own Dictionary project – here Storybird is a tool for students to make their own dictionary of the words/phrases they tend to forget. Ideally students would add a word or two after every lesson to make it a really nice thing (let’s say, one page of words would be one month of learning). The best thing about this project is the possibility of printing out their dictionaries as a form of a course accomplishment.

The last idea I had about this adorable site was using it as a form of a webpage – choose a particular theme (cookbook? short stories? urban legends? favourite things?) and, as the whole group, collaborate by writing one page about the topic given. It’s a nice way to practise traditional writing – definitely looks less boring!

Also, in my next post I will give you a nice idea which topic you can choose to make a nice book – stay tuned!

I hope you’ll like these ideas, and if you want a short tutorial on how to work with Storybird – here it is.

Enjoy!