StoryBits Kids

Some time ago I wrote about StoryBits, a simple yet creative tool to implement storytelling into your class. I found it a pretty nice “last resort” tool as you can use it when your class gets awkwardly silent – just pick a card and think about something you can use it for.

This autumn brought a much-welcome variation of the original game, StoryBits Kids. Just like in their “older” version, eight relatable characters wait for your students to give them names, create background stories and take them on the adventure. 54 scene-cards you may use to prompt a story – any story, as the scene-cards are just the inspiration, the story is all yours.

And just like with its “older” version, you will find a manual with some creative examples of how to use the cards for teaching storytelling, describing, comparing and labelling. You will also find some sample (and simple) activities that will rock your classroom.

If not enough, go to where you will find even more tips and ideas.

Naturally, I had to come up with more activities… again, because the cards simply make you more creative.

It was the weirdest day of my life!

Look at the pictures on StoryBits. They look quite ordinary, right? But hey, most supernatural stories start like a regular day. “It was just a typical day, I was playing with a cat and my brother was trying to learn how to ride a bike… when suddenly aliens attacked / I got a call from the FBI / I saw a ghost”. The idea is to describe the first picture as a beginning of a regular day just changing dramatically when something unusual happens.

How I met my best friend

Kids like to pretend they’re someone else (not only kids, but somehow it’s more acceptable for them), so ask them to imagine they’re 90 years old and having a chat with their great-grandchild who asked them about their best friend. They need to pick any card and try and make a simple story based on it. It should include three parts:

  1. The day we met
  2. When we grew up
  3. Now

Naturally, make your students tell their stories in an old and squeaky voice, they’ll love it. If you can, you may ask the student to sit on a chair in the middle of the class, wrapped up in a blanket, and other kids would sit around pretending to be grandchildren and asking additional questions – they will have a lot of fun.

I spy with my little eye…

The things that start with a letter M. Mugs? Meeting? Monsters? My Little Pony? Ask your students to write down as many things starting with a given letter as they can see in a card. Make sure to tell them adjectives and descriptions count, they will make their little grey cells work pretty hard to review all the words they remember.

Itty-bitty spider

This activity is great for pairwork, or groupwork. Simply, take any card and one person has to say “and suddenly a giant spider appears…” – and determine the place (somebody’s forehead, the middle of the table etc.). The rest of the group is supposed to either describe or – even better – act out the reactions of the characters on the picture.

These are some of the first ideas that sprung to my mind – however, I’m sure StoryBits Kids will prove to be a much more versatile tool. Just like with its “older” version, when you get your copy (and you may buy them here), be sure to make your students pay attention to all the details, they’ll have more fun.

I think StoryBits Kids is a great present idea for kids… Or teachers (if you still haven’t chosen a gift as a secret Santa, you may find this a nice and useful tool for every teacher). To prove the point, now you can order your StoryBits (not only Kids!) with a 10% discount using the code “evilmonika”. The discount ends 30/01/2020, so hurry up – visit and get your favourite set.


I received this product for free, courtesy of IceBreaker.

7 Free Online Courses in December

7free onlinecoursesin December

It’s just started to snow in my place and I’m absolutely happy. Let it snow, let it snow – and let’s stay home, naturally. Winter break means family time, staying in, eating a lot of food, baking gingerbread and generally relaxing and having fun.

Naturally, relaxing means taking care of one’s body and mind – and what’s better than learning something new? My pro-tip for online courses in December is watching online classes and baking cakes or cookies at the same time. Bliss! If you want to give it a try, I have a batch of seven free online courses to accompany your culinary endeavours.

Conflict Management Specialization by the University of California, Irvine

Start: 2/12/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone looking for an advantage in the workplace of the future

Conflict management is something crucial in our work as teachers, but it’s useful in various situations. In this course, you’ll learn to strengthen your personal and professional relationships by constructively addressing conflicts. You’ll build skills aimed at managing conflicts, and in the final project, you’ll analyse a specific conflict and outline an approach to management and resolution.

Designing the Future of Work by the University of New South Wales, Sydney

Start: 2/12/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone looking for an advantage in the workplace of the future

We live in interesting times, that’s for sure. There are so many predictions that soon our workplaces will be completely taken over by the robots and it’s obvious one have to understand how to design a secure future. This course will help you answer the questions about how jobs will change and what challenges employers and employees face.

Testing Times in the Classroom: Challenges of 21st Century Education by the University of Exeter

Start: 9/12/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in education, including teachers, students, and parents

Are schools focused on assessments? Does the classroom affect children’s creativity? We all probably say “yes”. This course will help you look at possible educational alternatives for the future and see whether changes are possible. What’s more, you will look at education from various perspectives, linked to economic progress and business or corporate activity. It may be really interesting for those who are educators and need a fresh perspective on their work.

Explore the British Empire through six controversial themes by the University of Exeter

Start: 9/12/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in imperial history

You can’t understand Brexit without understanding the Empire. This course will take you on the journey to explore the British Empire through six themes – money, violence, race, religion, gender and sex, and propaganda. You’ll get to hear the stories of the fascinating individuals who contributed to both its rise and fall. I would definitely recommend this course not only to teachers, but also to more proficient students who can learn something more than just the language.

Take Your English Communication Skills to the Next Level by Georgia Institute of Technology

Start: 9/12/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in successful communication

This course is part of the “Improve Your English Communication Skills” specialization, and it focuses on key cultural influences on communication, email accuracy and style, delivering a successful presentation and maximizing your English communication skills. This course may be really interesting for teachers who work with more advanced students, for students who think of studying abroad, business people and everyone interested in successful communication.

Advanced Grammar & Punctuation Project by the University of California, Irvine

Start: 16/12/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: advanced students of English interested in grammar

This course is designed for students who are quite proficient in English. In this course, you will create a portfolio of the difficult or interesting English grammatical structures, which will help you review the material you’ve learned and create a memorable project. I think this course may be not only fun for your students, but also a very useful tool and inspiration for a teacher.

Academic writing for clarity and meaning by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Start: self-paced

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: university students and contributors to academic publications

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to write in a complex style to express complex ideas. Ernest Hemingway knew better than that and presto! he received the Nobel Prize. While this course doesn’t aim at creating new Hemingways, it will surely help you to articulate complex ideas with clarity and meaning. I think we all might find this course particularly useful.

I believe these courses will be really useful for us not only as teachers, but also learners – they will help us see various perspectives on the topics we think we know all too well. Learning something new is always like a little miracle for our brain.


Time management (not only) for teachers (book review)

Time management (not only) for teachers

It took me half a year to finish one book – seriously, and it’s not because I’m a slow reader, quite contrary. It’s a book addressing one of my greatest problems (apart from procrastination and struggling with taking over the world) which is time management, something a work-from-home person may have issues with – I sure did.

Now I procrastinate more efficiently.

Brilliant Time Management. What the most productive people know, do and say is a book by Mike Clayton, one of the most popular project management trainers in the UK. To be honest, I bought this thin, unassuming book in yet another attempt to organise my life even better. I have been given feedback on my organisation skills as mad, yet since I started working from home I’ve found new areas requiring more effort and better organisation.

Has this book helped in my endeavours to come closer to the perfection of time management and organisation? Well, I will say more at the end of my note.

Book organisation

You won’t be surprised if I tell you that the organisation of the book is brilliant – and I love well-organised publications! There are three main areas covered that will help you:

  • know how to prioritise tasks
  • understand how time gets wasted and how to avoid this
  • feel ready to tackle procrastination and make more time for self

Each part consists of theory (kept short and simple, my favourite style) and exercises – be prepared to spend some time to observe your own time management skills. Naturally, there are some stories to back up the theoretical stuff which is great as we know storytelling makes everything easier to remember. Plus, there’s a great summary after each chapter to remind you all the good stuff you’ve just learnt (and surely practised).

What’s in the book

If you take time to observe your own time management patterns, you will learn a lot about yourself. Like the multitasking thing – something I thought I had covered, and the book helped me realise I actually didn’t, as I’m more an elephant than an octopus (I’m not blabbering, it does make sense once you read the book, I promise).

Anyhow, after you spend time observing your time patterns, you will analyse the way you actually manage your time (something that was really interesting in my case). You will have the opportunity to experiment with various ways of managing greater chunks of time – and then you will move to something that usually causes problems (at least for me): prioritising.

Being a teacher means a lot of paperwork, tests, meetings etc. It’s not easy to find time and complete all the tasks, but you will learn some nice ways to manage everything, and, as a result, get far less stressed. You will also have the opportunity to use the approach that works great with both big and small projects – It’s called the OATS Principle, which stands for Outcome, Activities, Timing, Schedule.


I mentioned the exercises in the book. Frankly, it’s because of them that I read the book for half a year – I simply did all the exercises, one by one, and moved on with the further reading when I decided I was ready. I guess it was the best approach – you can’t focus only on theory because the book may leave “oh yeah, great idea” impression… and nothing more. Take your time, focus on each activity and soon you’ll see changes in your time management.

Has it helped in my work and general life organisation? Two months after I’d started working on my time management, I got praised for my task management and general task completion. The person that noticed my improvement is someone I look up to when it comes to work organisation, so you may take it for granted: this book has helped me a lot.

If you seriously plan to read the book carefully, taking breaks in order to complete various tasks, you will find this book really interesting, and maybe even potentially life-changing. Highly recommended, not only for teachers – but for all of us who want to work more efficiently and save more time for, well, designing schemes to take over the world or simply petting cats.


Image result for mike clayton brilliant time management

Clayton, Mike: Brilliant Time Management. What the most productive people know, do and say

Publisher: Pearson Business; 1 edition (25 Nov. 2010)

ISBN-13: 978-0273744092

Hansel, Gretel and the police (no-prep lesson idea)

Hansel, Gretel and the police

We’re done with Halloween, but long murky evenings, cold days, hot chocolate and sweater weather simply invite you to do some nice storytelling, with a mandatory twist. And if you were to think of dark stories where you can come up with a twist, your first idea would probably be the Grimm brothers and their wickedly educational masterpieces.

I used brothers Grimm as an inspiration for a great lesson idea that worked well for my students (both for my teens aged 13+ as well as adults), so naturally I want to share it with you – so whenever you feel slightly mischievous and have no lesson plan ready, you may go with a tale and a twist.

And the twist is extremely simple: the tale is over, the good side wins, the bad side is severely punished (and usually mauled or dead)… and suddenly a police officer appears ready for collecting statements and asking with a frown “well, well, well… and what has happened here?” – and this is exactly where our lesson begins.

Whole class – warm-up and reviewing the story: 15 mins

If you want some pre-class preparation, ask your students to either revise a tale (like pre-read Hansel and Gretel – it’s a good exercise for weaker groups as they will revise vocabulary) or just do it together in the classroom. Just don’t read the story aloud, make it a storytelling experience.

Groupwork – who is who: 5 mins

You will need to divide the groups in teams. The first team will be culprits and/or accomplices, the other team will be the police/prosecutors. In the case of Hansel and Gretel I divided my group in three teams. One team would be Gretels, the other Hansels and the third – the police.

Groupwork – creating alibi/making questions: 20 mins

Now it’s time to divide your students in teams and ask them to prepare their plans. The culprits prepare their version of the story, the accomplices their own, trying to corroborate the version of the culprit and the police creating the list of questions to help them find the perpetrator.

The important thing is that the culprits and their accomplices do not prepare their versions together – that means all Gretels work together and all Hansels work together, and both teams work independently.

Groupwork – acting out the interrogation: 30 mins

This activity is the main part of the lesson. We create teams with one culprit, one accomplice and one police officer and ask them to act out the interrogation scene. If you know students might need more help, you may assign more “police” to the interrogation (perfect for good and bad cop cliche). Give them 30 minutes and ask to find out the real course of events.

Whole class – summing up the interrogation: 10 mins

Each team will definitely want to present their own story – give them an opportunity to discover the truth! Probably each team will have their own version, but that’s something that will make this activity even more interesting. Enjoy and let them laugh!

Whole class – summing up the lesson + vocabulary/grammar: 10 mins

Every lesson should end with a proper summing up, all the lexis and grammar covered, asking for feedback etc. Don’t forget to include it in your lesson – it might have been fun, but your students have learnt something. Be sure to show them the educational value of the lesson!

Now, I showed my idea on Hansel and Gretel as this story provides many opportunities for twists: “But, sir, our father and stepmother told us to leave and never come back! It’s literally child neglect, that’s what!” Imagine, though, such scenario with Little Red Riding Hood and an evident murder of a wolf (“which is a crime as it’s a protected species! – and you say, miss, it pretended to be your grandma and ate her whole though she’s standing right here next to the carcass? And the hunter was so conveniently nearby?”), or even Hamlet (“you say the Prince was a mass murderer?”).

This lesson works best when your students are clearly tired and going like “can we just talk in English today” – they will love this idea and won’t even realise how much they’ll learn. More than that, you can use this scenario as a project for a crime-related lesson. I’m sure your students will enjoy this as much as mine did.


7 Free Online Courses in November


I love November – it’s my favourite month of the year! Whenever I can, I take a week off just to chill a bit and enjoy the bliss of a minibreak. The best thing about November break is that you can relax knowing that in 6 weeks you’ll have yet another winter break! So let me warn you – there will be no blognote next week.

Some might say I’ve taken a week off just because there’s Witcher 3 on Switch and I’m planning to spend the whole week playing… and yes, they are correct!

Between helping Geralt find Yennefer, Ciri or his sanity, I have grand plans to complete one of those promising online courses I found. As usual, I share them with you – maybe you’ll find the course I should take this month?

Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach by University of London International Programmes and UCL Institute of Education

Start: 4/11/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: teachers interested in using Task Based Teaching approach in reading

Teaching reading in EFL class may be somewhat boring and tiring, so if you want to try Task Based Approach, you may find this course particularly interesting. TBT uses communicative tasks as the key for language learning activities, and by the end of this course you will be able to integrate such tasks into your own teaching.

How to Write a Resume (Project-Centered Course) by State University of New York

Start: 4/11/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people writing their first resume

This is a great course to run in your actual classroom with your teenage students, as there is nothing better than using English to master some real-life skill, in this case – writing a resume, so definitely something everyone does at least once. In this course, your students will review resume best practices and explore current trends. This course will help prepare an eye-catching resume that lets the professional strengths shine.

MOOC: How to make a MOOC? by Novosibirsk State University

Start: 11/11/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people interested in making their own MOOC

This course made by Novosibirsk State University and Lektorium, one of the largest MOOC publisher in Russia, covers the process of creating modern online courses. The authors will share their experience, secrets and life hacks. You’ll learn basic trends in online education and find out which stages are included in developing an online course, and what is important on each stage of course development. Best hands-on experience if you want to make your own course!

Understanding IELTS: Speaking by the British Council

Start: 18/11/2019

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: students and teachers preparing for IELTS

This course focuses on the speaking part of IELTS. You’ll concentrate on the three parts of the test and learn about the four criteria that are used to assess spoken English. The tips and techniques will help you succeed in the exam. You may be also interested in other Understanding IELTS courses by the British Council as they give a complete guide to everything you need to know as you prepare for the IELTS test.

Assessment for Learning by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Start: 25/11/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers who are interested in various forms of assessment

To assess or not to assess? With so many theories, we’re trying to keep up with the teaching trends, add a little bit of something that worked for us when we were kids… and as a result creating a bit of chaos in our classroom. Well, this course won’t give you an answer whether to assess or not, but it will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of approaches to assessment, leaving the final judgement to you – which kind of assessment will prove the best in your teaching approach.

Improving Your Study Techniques by the University of Groningen

Start: 25/11/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: students and teachers interested in developing their study skills

This course is just brilliant for the whole-classroom experience, a nice project everyone can enjoy. We all know that good study skills are vital for all of us and yet we all struggle to study effectively. Here you will learn to apply the ‘three-step model’ of studying: previewing, summarising and revising. You will make a realistic study plan and learn how to tackle procrastination, deal with stress and keep motivated while studying.

American Education Reform: History, Policy, Practice by University of Pennsylvania

Start: 25/11/2019

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: people interested in education in the USA

An in-depth study about the history, policy, and practice of the American education reform. This course will take you on a journey starting in the Colonial Period and Early Republic, through the National Period, the Progressive Era right up to post-1983 model of education. You will learn a lot about the US system of education.

And that, as they say, is that. I think the courses I found look so nice that my adventures with Geralt the witcher may be quite endangered. I guess I might pick a course or two… but first, let me complete just one more quest.

Enjoy and see you in two weeks!

Have a Purrrfect Lesson! (7 Lesson Ideas)

Have a Purrrfect Lesson!

If you’re not really into dark and grim Halloween but still want to enjoy some cheer, you will find my ideas quite inspiring. Here’s what I thought – if I were to prepare a lesson that may be perfect for Halloween… but not too halloweenish, I’d go for something that may symbolise Samhain, but not overly extravagant.

Hence – cats. Mysterious, dangerous, but also fluffy and adorable. Black – associated with witches and demons, but also most likely to be left in shelters. You may talk about cats not only during Halloween, believe me – I can talk about cats all year long, but since I do realise not everyone is cat-crazy, I only stuck to seven activities you may enjoy in your classroom with both younger and older students.

Scaredy Cat (for young learners)

It’s an adorable story by Heather Franzen and everytime I look at it I love it even more. A charming story of a tiny kitten that goes on the Halloween adventure and meets an unlikely friend is a tale everyone will enjoy.

I wrote some lesson ideas on how to use it in your classroom, so all you need is click here and prepare for awwwww

Kitbull (for teenagers)

Kitbull is an endearing story by Pixar and a few months ago I wrote the whole lesson plan you may use to talk about unlikely friendship, animals’ rights and the power of trust. All you need to do is click here!

Everybody Wants to Be a Cat (for teenagers and adults)

Do you remember this classic by Disney:

And the idea for the activity is simple: to find the answer to the question why everybody wants to be a cat? Why are cats the overlords of the internet, the royals of memes, the owners of our hearts?

This exercise may be an interesting challenge for people who actually dislike cats, but this is exactly why I enjoyed it with a group of doggy-fans. Looking for logical reasons for which cats, to put it bluntly, rule, was a really interesting experience. Naturally, the reasons were not fully logical (“witchcraft, witchcraft, cats are the spawn of satan”), but fun nonetheless.

And to be honest, it was somewhat predictable to see cat-lovers never minding statements about cats being the spawn of satan…

For Cat’s Eyes Only (for teenagers and adults)

Have you ever tried to look at the world from a different perspective? What about the viewpoint of Mr Whiskers? John Wick wrote a funny little RPG called Cat: A Little Game about Little Heroes, where you impersonate a feline character and embark on many adventures (no, it’s not the film John Wick, and he’s into dogs anyway).

The idea is simple: try to describe something from a cat’s perspective. Like, a classroom – it’s completely different when basically you’re very small. Try something more challenging – describe crossing the road as a cat. Or a bath. Or, if you’re really into Halloween mood, a vet appointment.

This task may look very simple, but I tried it with various groups and it always brings us some surprises and discoveries – the world seen from 20 cm above the ground does look different!

I also used this activity as a warm-up when we discussed disabilities, it was way easier for my students to open up to others’ difficulties.

Purrr me a story, fluffy storyteller (for teenagers and adults)

Have you ever wondered what a story would look like if it was told by a feline? Imagine Hansel and Gretel told by the witch’s favourite pet? Or Cinderella – picture a fat cat smiling lazily and purring something like “a little mouse told me…” Yikes!

But stories are not only fairy tales. Try to describe a historic event from a cat’s perspective. What would Marie Curie’s cat tell about her everyday life? Or about Adolf Hitler, a well-known supporter of animal welfare? This activity will make your students not only communicate in English, but also do some proper historical research.

Pretty much, pretend you’re a cat… for science!

As you can see – these are but few ideas, there are as many options as hairs on my cats’ fluffy tails. I hope you’ll have fun 🙂


And yes, this cat in the picture is my cat. His name is Nyarlathotep and he is one of the reasons I have instagram 🙂

More stories: StoryBits

More stories_ Storybits

It looks like November is more of a storytelling month than I thought – last week I shared the storytelling coursebook (remember about the contest, you can win a copy of the book!), and today I’ll show you the magic of pictures: Storybits.

The universal way of communication – images, are here employed to help develop stories and boost language skills.

Eight characters that are really relatable only wait for your students to give them names, create background stories and take them on the adventure. 54 scene-cards you may use to prompt the story because the authors themselves remind you that hey, scene-cards are just the inspiration, the story is all yours.

And frankly, this immediately made me warm up to the project!

What I really like about StoryBits is that you will find some examples of how to use them for teaching vocabulary, writing, speaking and grammar. You will also find some ideas for running collaborative and competitive storytelling (which is brilliant as some groups respond better to teamwork and others prefer a touch of competitiveness). You need more? No need to ask – you will also find some sample (and simple) activities that will rock your classroom.

If not enough, go to where you will find even more tips and ideas.

Naturally, I had to come up with slightly more wicked activities…

What could possibly go wrong?

Pick any scene-card and simply describe what’s on the picture. The question is simple – what could possibly go wrong? You could add a bit of competitiveness by dividing your students into teams and making them come up with as many misfortunes as they can only think of. The winning team is the one that creates the highest number of hardships… But don’t forget to acknowledge those who are the most creative!

I didn’t do my homework…

I do understand my students tend to forget about their homework, I used to forget about it as well. One of my favourite activities about homework demonstrates we can get pretty creative when it comes to finding excuses. Now, you can use Storybits to make the excuses even more creative. Just pick a random card and try to make a story imagining the situation prevents the main characters from completing their homework before the next day lesson. So here they are, facing the teacher and trying to explain why they didn’t do their homework.

Storytelling chain – Brazilian soap opera

I like cooperative games hence my idea of a storytelling chain. Remember we have 8 characters? Let’s try to play as a big group (up to 15 people) and use all the cards to make a long story following each character’s complex life – pretty much like a Brazilian soap opera. The important thing is to keep up with the plot! This game would be similar to Once Upon A Time, but the winner is the person who cal recall the whole story. This activity may be followed up by a nice composition referring to the story.

Paulo Coelho style

You know Paulo Coelho, right?  He has his followers and haters, but his style is unmistakable. You can’t be the second Coelho (and that’s good, I think one is more than enough), but you may still have some fun paraphrasing him. How? Well, by extrapolating everything to a perfect life metaphor. Because everything is like life – short/long/wired/oblong/stinky, you name it. Just go with the flow… only don’t forget to choose the card first! You may even play some kind of Dixit variation where you go with a Coelhian metaphor and other players may find the cards that reflect the deep meaning of your message.

These are some of the first ideas that sprung to my mind – however, I’m sure StoryBits will prove to be a much more versatile tool. When you get yours (and you may buy them here), be sure to pay attention to all the details, you’ll have more fun.


I received this product for free, courtesy of IceBreaker.