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 🙂

Meow!

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 mystorybits.com 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.

Enjoy!

I received this product for free, courtesy of IceBreaker.

Stories (not only) for Halloween – book review

Stories (not only) for Halloween

I’m not a fan of Halloween – I believe there’s no point in scaring evil spirits away if they manage to roam free on earth just once a year. Yet the long and mysterious October evenings prompt us to spin dark tales accompanied by the sound of rain and wind against windows.

Every story is a lesson worth learning

I’m a fan of stories – I could do a lot to hear a good tale. From fairy tales, to creepy pastas, from RPG sessions to TV series, I believe every story is a lesson in disguise, ready to be learned and enjoyed. So when I hear of an opportunity to learn English by storytelling, I immediately jump at the occasion to test it.

I’m a fan of well-organised teaching tools, I like when you start working with a book and it’s like a proper tour guide that takes you on a journey where you learn the language, but you still know where you’re going.

Learning English through stories

These are probably the reasons I was told I’ll like Angielski: Historie by Preston Publishing. 15 characters, 67 stories, audio versions and a lot of exercises – what’s not to like? You’ll meet a typical American family whose life gets somewhat disturbed by George Clooney, a traditional Japanese family that moves to the US and quickly discover they are not as traditional as they thought… and since it is I who reviews this book for you I must say you’ll also read some darker themes with creepy Disney employees and real Italian mafia (oh, you’ll also visit Russian labs, Chinese factories and meet a translator who gets some really interesting texts to work on…).

All in all, the stories are good – the “I really had fun reading them” kind of fun. Each story is followed by a short dictionary and a set of follow-up questions. In-between chunks of stories (“months”) you’ll find more exercises where you can practice grammar, vocabulary, use of English etc. To make it all the better, it’s perfectly organised from very simple texts to more complex tales. Brilliant!

Listen to the story

A nice feature is definitely the audio part, as you can not only read, but also listen to all the stories. And, what I find particularly interesting, you may choose either British or American version – which may be a great treat for more advanced students who want to see the differences in pronunciation and accent. What is more, you’ll find a short guide at the beginning of the book on how to work with listening material and how regular listening (even if it’s just in the background) will help you develop your potential.

Activity ideas

Apart from being a nice self-study book, I got inspired with some ideas on how to use this book in the classroom:

  • Spot the difference! – choose one story and play both audio versions. Ask your students to note down the differences between British and American English.
  • What happened next? – once you cover the whole storyline, discuss with the students what happened after the story finale. Will Denise become a ballerina? What about Ronnie Perkins and his father?
  • Get to the bottom of it! – some stories leave some space for interpretation. Wouldn’t you like to know why Nancy didn’t call her husband that one night? And did Ines break up with her boyfriend? (I mean, it’s not in the book, hmm…). Make stories a little bit darker, funnier, add a twist – your students will love coming up with new facts and their interpretation!

Contest time!

The best stories need good listeners. As I said, I love storytelling, and using storytelling in the classroom is my favourite way to teach English. Preston Publishing has three copies of Angielski: historie to give to three people who will share their favourite storytelling activities.

How to win a copy? Simply describe your favourite activity either in the comment section below or on my FB page below the link to this note. On 31/10/2019 I will choose three that I like best and contact the winners.

Good luck!

I received this product for free, courtesy of Preston Publishing, in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

Angielski historie z ćwiczeniami

Preston Publishing

ISBN: 978-83-66384-07-1

Angielski historie z ćwiczeniami - Opracowanie zbiorowe

Games: Innovation at No Cost (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 20)

Games_ Innovation at No Cost

Ever since we are born, we are surrounded by stories – our parents share fables, family tales and all those adorable „once upon a time there was a girl as naughty as you… do you want to know what happened to her?”

That was my parents’ approach, you can tell they are teachers, right?

Then we start spinning our own childish stories, learning the differences between truth and lies – and from then on, we never stop creating our own versions of events. Even if we end up believing we’ve lost all creativity to become the dullest creatures in the world, we still create stories, because that’s exactly what makes us human – fantasies we create.

Stories and games

Stories help us understand the world we live in, various relationships, social codes and behaviours – and once we understand the theory illustrated by stories, we keep practising by means of games.

In 1964 an American psychiatrist, Eric Berne, wrote a book „Games People Play” to show various kinds of games and game-like activities we practise in building social relationships (functional and dysfunctional). This book, albeit somewhat outdated, presents not only the dynamics of social interactions, but also shows the simple fact that we all play games and they are absolutely natural to us.

Children „play house” (or „play grown-up”) to study the family roles and models, then they introduce variations by playing with other children and eventually they modify and develop the game to base on another concept (e.g. classroom, party, being a superhero etc.). As you can see, we are immersed in stories and games even before we start our formal education.

Games are good for our brains

Our brain weighs around 1300 grams which makes it seven times heavier than a hamster. It burns around 330 calories a day just being there, and if you want to burn such amount of energy in a traditional manner you have to jog for 30 minutes, or sleep for almost five hours.

And just like hamsters our brains keep going and going, and going…

Roy Baumeister says that each day we have limited amount of willpower used by our brains on learning, decision making or resisting temptation. The brain gets weary with constant repetition, lack of challenge, same old things. However, games help alleviate the tiredness of the brain as they keep it entertained. We can take much more if we believe it’s fun.

Dr Hunter Hoffman and dr David Patterson created a game called „Snow World” and have been using it at Harborview Burn Center since 1996. It is confirmed that playing a VR game alleviates the pain during wound care. They describe the spotlight theory of attention as a perfect way for a brain to escape the boring routine, unpleasant experiences or even excruciating pain.

Now, if games can ease the agonising pain, maybe they can also ease the pain of education?

Playing games for science

A friend of mine works as a teacher assistant for the kids with SEN. She’s an avid RPG player and decided to introduce a simple adventure to her small group of kids. She was eager to try, but she was also slightly worried about one of the kids who’s autistic and not yet ready to communicate. To her surprise, he started not only to answer her encouraging conversation starters, but he also started to initiate the conversations himself! For him, small talk itself is a waste of time, but he realises the importance of small talk in the context of obtaining the information to complete the adventure, his mission.

In her absolutely brilliant book „Superbetter”, Jane McGonigal says that scientific research corroborates the theory that games provide more than just sheer enjoyment – they provide models of better selves. What is more, she says, while we play, we focus on the game, giving it so-called flow of attention, a state of being fully absorbed and engaged, the state of total immersion in the game. It helps people literally feel better, make one’s brain relax and achieve the same results as a training of mindfulness.

You actually use this theory bringing games and fun activities to revise the material before tests. It’s obvious everyone studies better when they’re relaxed and don’t think about grading. Playing games, and RPGs in particular as you may use short scenes to practise specific constructions and long adventures for more advanced levels, to practise communication skills. RPGs don’t involve grading, but instead you are given XP to further develop the skills and attributes of the character.

The scientists at Cornell University, New Mexico State University and Grenoble School of Management prove a very interesting, although quite obvious, point – taking obstacles as challenges strengthens our willpower and increases the chances of success. The interesting experiment was conducted on a group of people who tried to lose weight. It turned out people who consider exercises and diet as tasks to be completed feel the need to compensate (e.g. I ate four balanced meals today, so I deserve this ice-cream). As a result they consumed more calories than before. On the contrary, people who treated exercises and diet as fun (a beautiful walk instead of a healthy walk) did not feel this need. Do you remember when I said one of my students told me she learnt so much during our course without even realising it, only having fun? That’s exactly how it works.

What is more, games may give our students something more than fluency in the language. Games give you the epic win, something that helps you realise your potential as far greater than you originally thought.

David and Tom Kelley, design innovators and educators, in their famous book „Creative Confidence” refer, again, to Jane McGonigal:

Jane makes a convincing case that harnessing the power of video games can have a major impact on life in real world. In the realm of video games, the level of challenge and reward rises proportionately with a gamer’s skills; moving forward always requires concentrated effort, but the next goal is never completely out of reach. This contributes to what Jane calls „urgent optimism”: the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, motivated by the belief that you have a reasonable hope for success. Gamers always believe that an „epic win” is possible – that it is worth trying, and trying now, over and over again. In the euphoria of an epic win, gamers are shocked to discover the extent of their capabilities.

We may not be able to change education, lessons in general or even the material we are supposed to teach. But what we are able to do is to take our students on a journey, where they will find more than the fictional characters. They will find new creativity, confidence and friends, because playing games with others is a powerful team building tool. All in all, a good starting pack for the future.