Teacher inspiration: Kung Fu Panda

Ever thought an animated film could be a source of inspiration? Last weekend, I went to see Manowar in Warsaw and it took me 10 hours by coach — fortunately it was a very comfortable one, so I could watch films, listen to music and chill. So, I decided to watch Kung Fu Panda. Again. Mostly because: a) it’s a good film, b) dubbing is really nice c) music is awesome. But this time, instead of enjoying the movie, something else caught my eye and that was enough for a change of a whole perspective.

We know the main character is Po the Panda, who loves kung fu and ends up as a Dragon Warrior in a classic tale of “from zero to hero”. But try to look at one of the supporting characters, Master Shifu, Po’s unwilling teacher. He’s a real, proper teacher, having his good and bad moments, moments of hype and days (years) of feeling hopeless.


I have corrected your tests… (pinterest.com)

Usually in action films like this one (remember Karate Kid?) a hero meets the teacher ready to take an apprentice and bestow his knowledge upon him. This is not the case. Master Shifu is a deeply disillusioned teacher whose favourite student turned into an evil monster (still badass, though) and he’s not been able to put his trust in any student since. He’s doing his duty all right, being an awesome kung fu master, but he’s not putting his soul into teaching, and he doesn’t really see his pupils as real persons (which actually results in high-spirited Tigress being jealous and yearning for Shifu’s approval).


Kicking your student’s ass is not acceptable. Unfortunately 😉 (fanpop.com)

It is Po, a hopeless panda who changes Shifu’s attitude and, as he quotes “brings him peace”. At first though, they have a very ill relationship, mostly due to Shifu’s efforts to train Po the way he trained other students and there is a difference between a monkey and a huge panda, after all, isn’t it? It is his old friend and mentor, Master Oogway, who asks him to believe in his new student’s potential. Shifu is reluctant at first, but he accidentally realizes that with teaching methods adjusted to an unusual student the whole educational process may actually make sense.

And, obviously, it does.


You amuse me with your efforts (twitter.com)

This film reminded me of one of most curious aspects of my job — I am always happy with ambitious and proficient students, I like them and enjoy the classes. But it’s those neglected and lazy ones who may bloom and surprise you, those you’ll be remembering with pride, those who will remember you. There are those students, once in a while, practically made for you to teach and if you’ve ever had this powerful yet inexplicable relationship, you know what I mean when I say: you’re a teacher only because of those few special students. I’ve met less than ten of them, girls and boys. I still keep in touch with most of them and I hope to meet many more such hidden jewels.

However, usually we just do our job, mastering our students’ skills and making sure they properly pronounce “beach”. Our days may vary but sooner or later we find our job tedious and meaningless. We run out of ideas, our students don’t feel like learning, and it’s probably a foggy, rainy day to add to our misery. So, whenever we feel down we may just watch Kung Fu Panda, think of Master Shifu and, well, if he achieved his inner peace maybe so can we?

Oh, and in the film he’s a red panda. Now, red pandas are awesome: they’re really cute and somewhat neurotic.

Pretty much like teachers 🙂


“Didn’t be”? Seriously, years of studying English and you go with “didn’t be”? (z7.invisionfree.com)


Scrap winter projects

One of my hobbies is scrapbooking, cardmaking etc. I really enjoy making lovely cards while watching TV programmes, usually about murders and crimes to save the balance… Well, since my students might yet grow up to be criminal masterminds, I, as the Evil Empress of the World (in the making) feel obliged to show them a way of putting their undoubtedly creative minds to use without doing anything illegal.

Hence, the scrap projects.

My adventure with scrapbooking started when I lived in Dublin, fair city. I kept collecting bits and bobs – postcards, coasters, tickets, you know, all the typical touristy stuff I’m sure you have aplenty at homes as well. I felt like making something to keep all the stuff together neatly organised, so here came my first project — a handmade book about the time I spent in Dublin. It’s a perfect way to keep only good memories, by the way!

Surprisingly, I’ve happened to use my projects in the classroom — it’s quite attractive for the students to see some actual real-life materials along with the “been there, done that” stories as an addition to the book material and better than checking things on their own on the Internet. So from students’ perspective this sole reason is enough for you, as a teacher, to collect some souvenirs from the countries you’ve been to.

Apart from a valuable classroom material, scrapbooks can also be an inspiration for the students — especially the younger ones — during classes and that’s the idea I want to share today.

For example, you can ask your students to make a holiday-based scrapbook during their summer holidays so that they hopefully won’t forget English — it’s quite a lot of work, but you may organise a contest with some nice prizes. If you don’t know whether you are going to teach the same group after a break, you can make a mini-project about their dream holidays or school trip in the classroom.

You could also use this technique to make brainstorming vocabulary games or as a way to get students’ ideas together. You can, for example, present the works in the classroom as posters. Organising your vocabulary using scrapbooking ideas is useful for all types of learners: visual learners can see the connections, auditory learners focus on the brainstorming activity, reading/writing learners have everything noted down and the most difficult group to teach English, kinesthetic learners, can finally learn something by actually making something.



New Year, New Year

Do you believe in magic of New Year’s resolutions? I used to be hopeless with them, but then I just decided to rephrase the resolutions so that they seem more sensible (like: start going to the gym, instead of: get fit. Semiotics, what’s not to love?). Even if I don’t really believe any of my students makes an honest resolution to get better in English, well, discussing resolutions is one of the nicer ways to review some grammar constructions we definitely need to remind after – in case of my students – two weeks off.

Past tenses and constructions

All those questions focusing on holidays, New Year celebrations and everything that happened during the break are an excuse to revise past tenses: Did you spend the holidays with your friends? But you had planned to spend time with them… Oh, you used to do this before you got married.


You can revise all the conditionals using New Year’s holidays as a bait:

If my plans come true, I’ll be the richest person in the group. Or-

If the weather was better, I would be skiing now… Or-

Had I known how difficult it is to lose weight, I wouldn’t have eaten so much.

Future tenses and constructions

Naturally, the most obvious idea is to do a proper revision of forms of expressing the future – with the cynical explanation of using “will” for promises, rather than “going to” or Present Continuous (since my native language isn’t as flexible when it comes to expressing the future, I really appreciate diversity of English here).

It would be easy to ask the students to say something about their resolutions, but I’d rather turn it into a short game or a funny activity, for example:

  • Ask students to make a few drawings about their resolutions, then ask them to work in pairs and guess partner’s ideas;
  • Classic miming game: divide students in groups and ask them to show most common New Year resolutions, who guesses first, gets a point;
  • Taboo: a student has to describe a popular resolution, but cannot use keywords (like: with the I’ll get fit phrase, they cannot use: gym, sports, exercises etc.);
  • Ask your students to make a classic resolution list, but make them funny and/or unrealistic. They’ll have lots of fun!

I hope you’ll enjoy these ideas in your classroom. All the best in 2016 and may all your resolutions come true!