Kitbull by Pixar – because friendship is magic – lesson plan

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I love short films by Pixar! They are just adorable! I remember when I first saw For The Birds and Presto and just felt my little black heart melt. Then Piper which is seriously beyond adorable – and, naturally, Boundin!

When Pixar released a new short film on 18.02 I knew I had to see it immediately and once I watched it I knew it would make a brilliant lesson on fear, courage, love, friendship and trust. A lesson we all need – just watch this short (you might need a tissue though):

It’s a great story to follow. With lower levels it might be necessary to prepare some guiding questions (e.g. What kind of cat is it? – it may be necessary to introduce the expression a stray kitten), but with more advanced students it’s great to make them think about the next event.

My choice of “stop and ask” is as follows:

0:57 – Let’s talk about this animal. Is it happy? Does it have a home? Is it a nice and snuggly kitten? Why do you think he’s alone? For more advanced learners: What happened to him? Was he left by his mother or thrown away?

1:23 – What about the dog? Is it a nice and friendly dog? Do you think the dog and the cat will be friends? For more advanced learners: Do you recognise the dog breed (pitbull)? Are those dogs generally friendly?

2:03 – What is the difference between those animals? Are they happy, sad, angry or scared? For more advanced learners: Compare the differences between the animals and their body language.

3:10 – If you have students who are not possessed by cats, they may ask whether the kitten is normal. Anyone who has ever had a cat will say yes, this is a typical cat behaviour, nothing to worry about. The question, however is – what do you think happens next?

3:34 – Why is the cat afraid? For more advanced learners: Why do you think the dog was given a plush toy to rip apart? Why do you think the man patted him on the head?

3:52 – What happened to the dog? For younger learners it may be safer to explain the dog was beaten by his owner, for older students it may be a good idea to explain dog fighting and the fact that pitbulls were often bred for fights. This may lead to the discussion on animal cruelty, and it’s up to you to follow the discussion now or schedule it as an after-film activity.

4:19 – What will happen now?

4: 42 – Why did the cat scratch the dog? Was the dog angry? Was the cat angry? It may be a good moment to elicit the answer that sometimes when someone is afraid of something they don’t run away but attack. For older learners it may be a good point to notice that sometimes it’s the fear that leads to violence.

6:02 – What happened? Was the cat afraid? Why do you think he approached the dog? Do you think they will become friends now? What will happen now?

6:39 – Why did they run away? What will the man do? What will happen with the dog and the cat?

6:58 – Are the pets happy now? What do you think happens with them? How do they live?

7:31 – What happened? Was the cat afraid of the woman? Why? Was the woman afraid of the dog? Why? Was the dog afraid of the woman? What do you think happens next? What would you do?

Follow-up activities (various levels):

  • Is it easy to make new friends?
  • Share the story of your best friend.
  • What do you think comfort zone is? Should we stay in it? Is it easy to leave it? How do we leave our comfort zone?
  • Is fear the source of prejudice? How can we overcome it?
  • Can an animal be a best friend of a human?


For little children – draw a picture of the cat and the dog happy in their forever home.

For kids – make a comic strip about an average day of the cat and the dog with their new family (use Present Simple).

For teens – write the story from the perspective of the cat/dog.

Adult students, let’s roll! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 13)

Adult students, let's roll

I started playing RPGs when I was 15, so writing a post on why RPGs are awesome for teenagers would be an easy choice, but since games come so natural to younger learners, I want to share some aspects of RPGs that are really beneficial for adult learners of English.

Taking off the pressure of being correct.

One of my favourite activities with adult students who are hesitant about speaking is to pretend to make mistakes in their native tongue and asking them what they would do if a foreigner asked them something in broken language. They invariably answer they would try to understand them nonetheless and that’s how I try to make them see that people will try to understand their English even when their language is somewhat faulty. Then I ask them to communicate in the native language and make as many mistakes as they can. They usually have a lot of fun and feel much more at ease afterwards.

This is exactly the case with RPGs. By assuming a role it’s easier for adults to make mistakes – after all it’s not real them who say something incorrectly, it’s just a character. By distancing themselves from the role, they are more open, courageous and eager to communicate, even at the cost of making a mistake.

Making friends.

It’s not easy to make new friends once you’re an adult – workmates, children, everyday duties and responsibilities take so much time one doesn’t really have time for friendship. But trust me on this, you can meet new people and make actual friendships. Playing RPGs means making decisions, doing things together, working on plans and experiencing adventures – and it may sound funny, but our brains don’t really see the difference between imaginary experiences and the real ones. That means we start to feel the sense of belonging with our “team”, common responsibility for decisions (the good, the bad and the silly ones).

What does it have to do with your classroom? Have you ever worked with a bunch of friends? The relationship between your students – and you, of course – gets stronger and you become far more supportive. People feel more comfortable and we all know learning in a comfortable environment in a company of friends sounds like a real adventure!


When it comes to adventures, RPGs are a real gift to your brain. It will happily play along being deceived, being offered a quest of fun, not a mundane duty of learning. Think of a brain of an adult person, tired of dull routine – and suddenly facing new challenges! And even better – those challenges are still an element of the game, so potential failure will not result in stress.

In her book “Superbetter”, Jane McGonigal presents the results of the research which clearly shows that people playing games are more daring, ready for a challenge and less prone to stress. By playing RPGs our students not only practise English, but also develop their mind.

Regaining childlike curiosity.

How come children are so thrilled when it comes to learning new things and yet we lose this natural curiosity once we start formal education? Our brains too soon get used to the familiar and boring ways of school subjects, tests, exams, papers etc.

No wonder learning quickly loses its charm and becomes yet another duty, but with RPGs we may conceal the educational goal behind the pretence of fun and playing games. It makes our brains catch its second wind and actually start enjoying learning, as it comes in a form of entertainment, not another dreary lesson.

Uncovering new areas to study.

Playing RPGs makes your brain wake up – and wake up hungry for new knowledge. You won’t even realise when your students will start looking for new words and idioms to improve their communication – after all everyone wants their voice to be heard in the game!

More than that, if you decide to pick a system set in a somewhat realistic world, your students will suddenly try to scavenge for information they would normally be quite uninterested in. I remember when I started reading on various things I wanted to learn just to make my character more realistic and credible.

Means of escape.

This might be a bit tricky, just like with computer games. On one hand, RPGs may be a lovely way to relax a little bit and learn something new. On the other hand, one needs to be aware of the potential danger of escapism – and it’s ever so easy to run into the imaginary world!

Nonetheless, it’s a great fun and adventure for an adult learner to experience something unusual, take a bunch of new-made friends and go on an adventure… and learn a language, communicate, still grow and regain this childlike attitude to new things.

So let’s add some RPG into our classes!

Dear teacher, vulnerability is not weakness

stay as you are

I spent my winter break reading some good CPD books, and one of them was Brené Brown and her Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. If you haven’t watched her TED talk – which is in the top five of most watched TED videos – you should stop reading and listen to the person who shows you how important shame, empathy, courage and bravery are.

I remember when I got my first job in a public school and I went there on the first day of school, just like a first grader. I was nervous and stressed, and curious, and excited. I didn’t know anyone there, so I felt quite lonely, but I was sure I would meet new friends, colleagues and people who would hopefully help me start my work according to school rules, someone who would take care of me – an inexperienced girl who had just got her BA.

Guess what – I didn’t meet anyone like this. For the next months I struggled with a class of six graders with the only help from my fellow teachers being condescending “you’re a teacher, you should know how to deal with this”. Fortunately I met a classmate from my university and although we had never talked before, we became friends, simply because we were equally lonely, inexperienced and scared.

None of us had a mentor, or simply a more experienced teacher, who would tell us not only how to actually teach, but who would show us how to basically deal with kids, their parents – and, unfortunately, other teachers. I am lucky because my parents are teachers, so I, more or less, knew how to deal with my work. However, it ended up with me quitting two years later, never to truly return to a public school.

Mind, the pupils were great, after a while I got the hang of the ancient magic of dealing with kids and I had a lot of fun with my students – in fact, I still keep in touch with some of them. I also enjoyed “my” parents, as they usually were quite helpful and understanding. What I couldn’t, and didn’t, accept was the lack of understanding from other teachers.

I don’t want to go into details, but I know I am not the only one, that most of us share my experience of being thrown in at the deep end. I am a good teacher – that’s a fact – but I think I might have become a good teacher earlier, had I been taken care of, shown the ropes and guided properly. However, there were the things I had to learn by myself, which took a while and even now it makes me cringe slightly whenever I think of my teaching approach those fifteen years ago.

Fast forward to me working in Ireland. It was the first time I met a person called a Director of Studies who actually talked me through the school rules, observed my classes and (gasp!) gave me feedback, then observed me again and kept track of my progress. And when I had a problem, I could go and see her and she would listen to me and actually talk about it and help me find a solution without (gasp again!) judging me! That was amazing!

Ever since I came back, I worked in private language schools with various DoSes, and I used to ask for help… until I became a DoS myself (which is a funny story to be told another time). And I recruited my “own” teachers, and sometimes I saw my own reflection – people who had this huge question in their eyes “Sweet Cthulhu and his blasphemous tentacles, what am I doing here?”.

And I remember discussing lesson plans. Talking about the class discipline. Recommending books. Going for coffee, or for a pint, just to talk some things through. And now I’m DoSsing on a larger scale and I still see how many of us, teachers, have questions and issues and way too many reservations to express them, share them and ask for help.

And what I think, what I deeply believe in, is that we all should listen to Brené Brown and accept the simple fact that we aren’t perfect. We all struggle. We all have issues. There is no reason we should be afraid to share our insecurities. If you are an experienced teacher you probably remember when you asked someone to help only to be patronised – and this exactly is the reason we should be more open to our younger colleagues. Once we stop the vicious circle of judgement, we have an opportunity to create a system where vulnerability is not a weakness, and asking for help is an act of courage to be supported and enjoyed.

Imagine an educational system where it’s OK for teachers to openly admit their issues and share them with colleagues in atmosphere of mutual understanding. Imagine teachers carrying this attitude to the classroom and teaching it by showing – making the students believe that it’s OK to feel insecure, that everyone has issues once in a while and that there are people who are willing to help instead of judging.

We can’t change the whole system, but we can do our part, bit by bit, open up ourselves, allow ourselves for vulnerabilities, and then approach others with empathy rather than criticism. And at the end of this rather lengthy post I want to quote Brené Brown:

And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh.” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems, I think, that we see today.

Brené Brown, The power of vulnerability

7 Free Courses Online in February

7 Free Online Coursesin February

February is a month simply asking for a winter break. Most people go skiing or flee to some warmer spots on the map, others prefer staying in and relaxing. Whichever is your choice, I’m sure you might think of a nice and enjoyable course to enjoy during this winter month.

Becoming a Better Teacher: Exploring Professional Development by the British Council

Starts: 4/02/19

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers who want to improve their skills

One of the more interesting courses by the British Council shows you not only areas you may improve as a teacher, but also explains the idea of CPD, emphasises the importance of peer observations and demonstrates there’s nothing as good as Kolb’s cycle for a self-reflection. I believe it’s a perfect course for February – you can still feel the tingling of New Year Resolutions, but you’ve probably experienced your first downfall (statistically – if not, I salute you). This course will put you back on the track to mastering your teaching ways,

Creating Apps in the Classroom by the QUT

Starts: 4/02/19

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: teachers who want to discover what apps are and how they might be used

You probably use some awesome apps (if not, check my recommendations here). This course will show you the basics of creating your own application. Who knows, maybe that will inspire you to create a real breakthrough in teaching? Good luck, and remember that you will be asked to sign up for a free, online app creation site. For those with limited internet access, the software may be downloaded and used offline on a PC.

Teaching Phonics in Early Childhood by the QUT

Starts: 4/02/19

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: teachers who want to discover the power of phonics

A friend of mine has recently said that once she hadn’t understood the idea behind teaching phonics, but since she’d started working with children it all suddenly made sense. You have an opportunity to discover the importance of phonics in learning English. You will learn about an appropriate strategy for teaching code-related literacy in early childhood settings – and this may influence your teaching style.

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

Starts: now 🙂

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone interested in education

We all know education changes – and recently it’s been changing quite rapidly. Formative assessment, alternative education, even technological impact influence the educational process… however, not the system. Some thoughts, ideas and practices have remained the same or similar. This course will be a great opportunity to discuss the changes not only in the whole educational system, but also our individual approach.

Orchestrating Whole Classroom Discussion by the University of Pennsylvania

Starts: 30/01/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: every teacher who wants to encourage great classroom discussions

This course will help you inspire, start and monitor a great discussion in the classroom. You will learn how to set goals for discussion, select texts and prepare text-based questions to guide the conversation – and prepare students for the whole-class discussion. This is a great idea if you struggle with this area of teaching English.

Assessment for Learning by the University of Illinois

Starts: 30/01/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in current debates about testing

Who likes tests?

Yeah, just as I thought. This course is an interesting study of various testing systems, and the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to assessment. You will not only try to define “standardised assessments”, but also discuss new opportunities, educational data mining and the actual purposes of assessment, evaluation, and research. Sounds quite interesting, especially if you hate your present testing system!

How to Survive Your PhD by the Australian National University

Starts: self-paced

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: all those brave people who decided to get PhD

Having realised that between one-quarter and one-third of all research students never finish their degree, I’ve never made an attempt to get one. I know some courageous people who decided to walk the path of despair, so I think this course may be a great thing for them. You will learn how to understand the common emotional experiences of research students, help them cope with the emotional challenges of research study and even become more effective research supervisors.

Hope you’ll find the course that’s just perfect for you – enjoy!