Role-Playing Teaching: IATEFL speech transcript

Role-PlayingTeaching

Introduction

Hi and hello. My name is Monika Bigaj-Kisała and I’m a teacher of English, a worshipper of two cats, a socially awkward extrovert and a gamer. But first and foremost I am a storyteller and during the next 45 minutes I will take you on the journey where I will share my stories and you will spin yours, with superheroes, coffee and the Great Cthulhu.

Brene Brown says we all are born storytellers and by the end of our meeting I want you to discover your potential as a super-hero of your own story.

21 years ago I was 15, waiting for my diploma for reaching the finals of the regional English language contest, which was quite a big deal at that time. Fun fact, I had started learning English properly only two years before. I started attending English classes when I was 11 and for 2 years I had classes with an Ukrainian teacher who would start with lessons focused only on pronunciation drills like “hit-lit-wit” to be followed the next year by translation of English jokes. No grammar, no communication. Then we got a less unusual teacher and she would start with Present Simple and the verb “to be”, and pretty soon she discovered I actually know some English and can communicate quite decently, although I had no appropriate education. So she started to hone my skills and two years later I turned out to be a pretty good student.

The reason behind my linguistic abilities wasn’t a great teacher, nor was my natural talent. The two aspects responsible for improving my English were Cartoon Network and computer games. I spent my free time watching cartoons in English and that helped me develop my receptive skills, but playing games – Elvira, King’s Quests, Alone in the Dark – was what made me produce. I had to understand the meaning and act accordingly. There were no online games as it was ages before the Internet and in order to get a game you had to catch a dinosaur and ride it to the nearest game dealer, but still, games were communication. A game ordered me to do something, I had to understand and react, and the game judged whether my understanding was correct.

But then I didn’t appreciate the educational approach of the games, I only found it a source of fun.

One of the things that have set me on the quest of finding Holy Grail of the RPG in TEFL was the tedious environment of the coursebook-oriented curriculum. After years of using the same scheme of lessons, I started to dream of a course where changes would be part of its curriculum. And what gives RPGs such allure is certainly their variety – declaring actions (as acting out is not really a necessity), following the plot and building a story is similar everywhere, differences are in the worlds – and those are aplenty.

Jerzy Szeja explains that narrative Role Playing requires a person leading the game (GM: Game Master) and at least one player who impersonates a character (PC: Player’s Character). The world is described in a particular system of a narrative RPG along with the rules and mechanics.

RPG may be compared to children’s games where participants play different roles (e.g. cops and thieves), but a GM is the person who makes all the difference with outlining the proper plot and acting out other interactive characters.

The basic semiotic model of communication in RPG, looks rather simple:

GM describes the setting and NPCs actions.

PCs declare actions (sometimes after discussion to decide the way of behaviour).

GM describes the result of the actions (often based on mechanics).

And the whole cycle repeats itself.

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Glitter and Fun: 5 Magical Things About Teaching Adult Students

Glitter and Fun_ 5 Magical Things About Teaching Adult Students

If you think adult students are boring and focused mainly on learning, you may be underestimating their inner children. Today I’ll share with you some magic you can enjoy with your students.

I started my career of a teacher in a primary school and survived two years (not because of children who were awesome and I still stay in touch with them, adorable bundles of joy and horror but because of the merciless educational system that promotes tests and coursebooks and not fun and communication). Then I worked in a teachers’ training college (and that was so much fun), moved to Ireland for a spell (one day I’ll write a book on Brazilian students in Ireland!) and when I got back to Poland I returned to teaching all age groups.

You probably know I love teaching teenagers – some say it’s because I’m quite immature myself. I enjoy teaching children – they’re so honest and pure when it comes to expressing themselves. But there is something about the adults that I had pleasure to teach that convinced me magic is not lost once you grow up – all you need to do is let them find their inner kids and see the miracles happen.

1 Friendship

It’s quite impossible to make friends with kids and teens, but sometimes a group of adults turn out to be a group of people who are not only interested in learning English but also spending time together even after classes. I guess the reason behind this is that it’s quite difficult to make new friends once you turn 30 (unless you’re a part of a fandom) and if you spend two or three hours per week with the same people and you don’t talk shop, you may consider them first classmates, then mates and finally proper friends.

To tell you the truth, I do have some long-lasting relationships that started with English classes and I find this aspect of my work most precious. And they it all started with “today I’ll take you to the pub and we’ll have a pint, and play a board game in English…”

2 Storytelling

I love storytelling and I believe this is something that motivates people to speak English – we all have stories we want to share. It’s fun, making stories with kids, but they’re usually fantasy-based tales, with teenagers you should be prepared for weird and sometimes incoherent stories, but with adults you may try various genres, topics and ideas, be that crime story, romance or psychological drama. They will provide plot twists, interesting characters and all the fun younger students won’t include like…

3 Inappropriate jokes

Say what you will, sooner or later the adults bring in some more or less inappropriate topics (in-laws, bosses, politics, religion, partying and, naturally, sex). As a teacher I have heard some jokes that made me blush (and I have some serious suspicions that was my students’ aim), but I’ve never told them to stop, as long as the jokes were not meant to hurt or offend others.

I believe the ability of telling a lie and a joke in a foreign language is the best proof of one’s linguistic skills, so let them joke as much as they want – it makes our classes funnier and people are more engaged and friendly towards one another.

4 Realisation teaching is a job, not a hobby

One of the things I love about the adult students is mutual understanding of the work-oriented attitude. Even if teaching them is my job, I know how I sometimes feel after six hours of teaching, so when they are knackered after a particularly long day at work I can show some sympathy. On the other hand, the adult students don’t take you for granted – unlike kids and teenagers who presume you teach them because it’s fun (oh the joyous deception).

Such realisation helps both sides of the process, as teachers are conscious of students’ requirements and students realise that the classes are teachers’ work and not pure pleasure of spending time with them.

5 Glitter and stickers

Most people don’t believe it, but my experience tells me the adults are even more eager to earn a sticker for a well-written test, perfect homework or active participation in the classroom than the actual kids! Naturally, the idea of rewarding adult students with stickers requires a proper attitude of a teacher who has to present stickers as a long-sought prizes, otherwise the whole trick won’t work out. But once they get the point, there is nothing they won’t do to get a sticker.

And then you bring some glittered stickers and all hell breaks loose, trust me.

Why do I find it awesome? Because learning a language is an experience childlike to the core – and it’s so much easier to grasp this experience when you embrace your inner child, learn to laugh at mistakes and enjoy the process of learning new things.

Stickers, jokes, friendships – they are all means to use the language the way it’s meant to: to meet new people and have fun with them. Business, studies, tests come later – but making adult people feel like children, enjoy studying and communicating and have fun while learning – something they have probably forgotten – this is the most rewarding feeling a teacher may enjoy.

Have fun!

Instant ideas for awesome classes

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com (3)

It’s my birthday note – the first one, as I haven’t yet celebrated my own birthday on the blog. I want to thank you all for encouragement and support, for visiting my page and following me on Facebook – you’re awesome! – and, especially for my new readers I want to share a list of my most popular blog entries – they’re full of ideas you may adjust to various groups of students, so I believe you’ll find them useful.

I hope you’ll enjoy them!

10 lifesaving websites for ESL teachers

Sometimes you are just too tired to come up with a new activity, game or warm-up. I consider myself a lazy teacher (not for me the industrious cutting and laminating) so I made a list of the best websites that would save the day when I’m not really at my best.

Even if you aren’t as lazy as yours truly, try those websites and spice up your classes with a bit of something new.

10 short warm-ups to revise vocabulary

I love warm-ups, every teacher I’ve ever observed knows that! In my opinion, this stage of the lesson is crucial, as we make our students get into the world of our English lesson. It’s like the first impression – we only have one opportunity to make it awesome. A good warm-up may change our tired students into enthusiastic study-machines!

And start the class with them working from the start instead of observing us with “show me what you’ve got” attitude.

Teacher, let’s watch a film…

Whether you work with younger children or older learners, you’re bound to hear “teachaaaaaa… could we watch a fiiiiiiiiilm”. Some time ago I made a list of the films I could recommend for various age-and-stage groups.

Seeing there’s no Deadpool on the list I think I should update it, but for the time being you may use it as help to share nice films with your students.

Fill in the gaps with a bit of fun

We all have our type of English exercise that we dislike. As a student I really hated fill-in-the-blanks tasks, so as a teacher I’ve made sure my students have better fun on their classes.

This is the result of my endeavour with making fill-in-the-gap exercises fun in the classroom.

It worked for me, I must say…

7 Useful Websites for Teaching Kids

One of the recent notes proves I’m not the only one using technology to make my classes more interesting for kids. Here you’ll find a set of websites that will make your classes more fun, which is extremely important at the beginning of the school year when it’s really difficult for younger students to get back into the school routine.

Naturally, you should be careful with the amount of fun. English is also a means of teaching children how to suffer silently…

7 YouTube channels to spice up your lessons

It might be worrying, knowing that watching films is such a popular activity (at least judging by the notes popularity on my blog), but I’m not really surprised here, as the YouTube channels I shared in this post are simply fun, highly educational and basically awesome.

From funny culture-related channels to those pronunciation-oriented ones, you’ll find something for yourself and your students of various ages and linguistic levels.

Lateral puzzles, literal fun 🙂

Lateral thinking is key to creativity, and the ability to think out of the box is a skill highly praised among the employers. While the educational system per se is bound to limit students’ creativity to the significant extent, we can still introduce exercises that will help our students cherish their natural originality of thinking.

This note provides certain ideas on how to use English-related tasks to boost lateral thinking in our students… and ourselves.


It’s been some time since I started writing this blog, and I am really grateful for the support and encouragement from you. I’m planning to change some things on the blog to make it more exciting, so stay tuned!

Happy birthday to me and muchas gracias to you!

How to survive a school year when it’s only September?

Everyday is Margarita Day

Can you feel those back-to-school vibes? I sure can, as my work gets more intensive around this time – and once the school year is fully on and all the good teachers are back to work it’s time for me to slow down and relax a bit – but there’s still some days ahead, before I can relax.

Although I’m planning to take annual minibreak in November to visit Sheffield.

If I look from my DoS’s perspective, I’ve already survived a back-to-school time before an actual back-to-school madness and I’m still hyped, creative and eager to try new things (I’m quite lucky my new job is full of challenges), so I’ve decided to share some of my ideas on how to unwind and survive yet another year without sanity loss.

I believe in a theory which denies the traditional approach to dividing people into extroverts and introverts and proposes a new term – ambivert – for people sometimes feeling extremely social and sometimes preferring to stay in and enjoy solitude. Being a teacher means working with people and for me it’s fun – but sometimes I get tired and overwhelmed, and I need to recharge my batteries. Since sharing is caring, I propose a deal – I will share my ways to unwind and I would love you to share yours.

Ready?

1 Playing RPG

This may sound funny – my first idea to relax after spending too much time surrounded by people is to play games with other people. Somehow, believe me, it is relaxing – we never talk shop, we just enjoy the company and have fun. Having adventures in an imaginary world is a great reminder that spending time with people is fun, not only work. A nice session or two is all I need after a fortnight away from home, spent in various cities, with various people and constantly working – it reminds me that it’s people who boost my creativity and make me laugh.

In other words, playing RPGs with people helps me relax after spending too much time with people. Seems legit.

2 Reading… and writing

I love reading and I’m rather uneconomical when it comes to devouring literature. One of the highlights of my linguistic proficiency is the possibility of reading English books in original. Agatha Christie, Lucy Maud Montgomery, J.R.R. Tolkien or H.P. Lovecraft – they all are great fun to read in English. But being able to write in English is also something I enjoy – to be honest, the whole idea of my blog originated from my belief that leaving Ireland and returning to Poland would affect my English, so I decided to write a blog just to practice. The rest is history – I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve been writing a note per week for more than a year now and that’s something that makes me proud – and meanwhile writing in English has become a sort of relaxing habit for me.

3 Making and baking

When my head is buzzing it’s time for some creative work – scrapbooking or baking. I can switch off my brain and just enjoy making pretty things – only my evil heart requires me to watch crime stories at the same time to include some balance in nature.

The point is to keep your hands busy and your mind free – probably that’s the reason many teachers enjoy creating materials, laminating them etc.

4 Learning

I’m not posting monthly lists of awesome online courses for nothing – I enjoy learning. Watching education programmes (How It’s Made) or tutorials on YouTube is also enjoyable. I believe learning something new is important when you work as a teacher – you gain a better understanding of the issues your own students may encounter.

I remember when I started learning Spanish and suddenly I had a lot of common topics with my students, as if some kind of invisible barrier was gone. They saw me note only as a teacher, but also as a learner and it was a nice team-building experience.

5 Discovering

It’s good to leave your comfort zone once in a while and discover something new. It’s really refreshing to try something new – let’s say, once a week? It may be waking up earlier than usually, going for a walk to the place you haven’t been yet, cooking a new dish, learning a new dance or go on a drive in a car.

Why is it good for you? Simple – you get tired and bored because you teach the same things, probably in the same school, for a while. Trying something new, something you may feel slightly anxious about, makes your brain feel challenged and hungry for new experiences.

Feed your brain.

6 Playing video games

Some like them in a single-player mode, others prefer multiplayer versions, but video games are always fun – and a great way to relax.

My dad, who used to work as a Maths teacher in a primary school, would get back home and play Doom or Duke Nukem for an hour or two – that really helped us to unwind and change him from a teacher to a parent. It has worked for years, so I feel quite safe continuing the tradition (only I’m more into RPG than FPS).

If you want to learn more about the benefits of playing video games you might want to listen to Jane McGonigal or read her book “Superbetter”.

7 Volunteering

As if my work (which includes a lot of writing, both in Polish and in English) and blogging weren’t enough, my way of being a volunteer is based on writing – I work with Fundacja Felineus trying to help save cats and kittens from my region. Sure thing, it’s not much, writing heartwarming stories of poor abandoned pets – but at least it’s something that makes me happy: supporting those who sacrifice their own time, money and home to help those in need. It was proven that helping others makes you happier, so I can only encourage you to try, I’m sure you’ll feel better, so find a cause you want to support and make our world a little happier place.

You may wonder why I haven’t chosen any sports, well, as Maria Czubaszek said “through sports to injuries” – you may choose your preferred sport, but I won’t take any responsibility for the choice… unlike with the video games.

Enjoy the school year!