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?

Homework:

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.

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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!

Mindshift.

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
TEDxHouston

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!

7 Short and Simple Cool Down Ideas

short and simple cool down ideas

It’s the middle of winter, so if today isn’t the best day to share my favourite cool downs, I don’t know what is! I think warm ups are far more popular, but the exercises at the end of the lesson are equally important as they help students remember the things they’ve learned that day and close the lesson in a friendly, relaxed and enjoyable manner. Below you will find my favourite cool down ideas – maybe you’ll find them as useful as they were for my own students.

The good thing about the ideas below is that you only need pen and paper – and that’s it, enjoy!

Picture dictation

It’s a very simple activity, where one student draws a picture and then describes it to the other student… who has to draw whatever he hears, but without looking at the original picture! It’s really funny, creative and boosts not only memory (if you ask your students to include the words they used during the lesson), but also communicative skills.

Visual vocabulary

One of the funniest activities I know. Ask your students to make some visuals for the words they’ve learnt during the lesson, for example:

This will boost their long-term memory, but you may collect their pictures and use them for the next classes, maybe as flashcards or maybe as warm-ups.

20 Questions

It’s a very simple game, where one person thinks of a word and the whole group has to ask questions (maximum 20) that will help them determine the thing the first student thinks of. You can enjoy this activity in the whole classroom, smaller groups or even pairs. Apart from practising communication skills, you may give an extra challenge and ask students to include some grammar constructions they have learned.

Chain story

This activity is perfect to revise the vocabulary and create the story at the same time. You start the story (e.g. Once upon a time I met a talking cat.) and the students, one by one, have to continue the story, but they need to include any word they’ve learnt that day. It’s one of the funniest activities as it requires quick thinking (after all the story has to make sense). It’s also useful when it comes to developing communication skills and practising grammar and vocabulary.

Quick scrabble

We don’t have time for traditional scrabble, but we may create our own game. Here students work in pairs. One student starts by writing a word horizontally, and the other writes another word diagonally, but needs to use at least one letter of the first word (just like in the crossword). You may use it later in the classroom and ask students to write clues to their words (and then, during revision, use it as an exercise for another group). It’s a great activity for practising vocabulary,

Miming

It’s a brilliant activity for younger students, but I’ve met quite a number of adults who were also enjoying this exercise. You need to ask students to mime a word or a phrase they have learnt during the class, so that other students can guess it. The student who guesses correctly gets a point. You may also divide your class into two teams and make it a competition. It’s a nice game to revise vocabulary, but also practise some abstract thinking.

The longest sentence

Ask your students to write on the board as many of the words they remember from the lesson… and then ask them to work in pairs and make a sentence including as many words from the board as they can only think of. It’s a nice exercise to work on vocabulary and writing skills, but the sentences you’ll read will probably be quite funny.

As you can see, these simple exercises are short, easy and definitely funny. They are great not only as nice class finishers, but they help your students relax and have fun before they leave your enjoyable classes and move on.

7 Free Online Courses in January

Have you already decided on your New Year resolutions? In case you plan to focus on your self-development, I have an interesting choice of online courses you may start this month. Some of them are more demanding and others are more fun, but I’m sure you’ll find something suitable. It may look like all of my ideas are connected with changing career, but it’s a New Year – if not now, when?

Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential by McMaster University

Start: 4/01/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people who want to boost their career

Mindshift is a key word nowadays – you can see yourself more opened to new ideas and opportunities. If you think of changing your career or boosting it, you may find this course really inspiring. It’s always interesting to see that most obstacles are usually created in our own minds.

Successful Career Development by the University System of Georgia

Start: 4/01/2019

Duration: 7 weeks

For whom: people who want to succeed in their career

Being teachers, we usually got our jobs by simply applying for them. This course, however, will help you find a job that you dream of. You will explore the idea of a mentor, the importance of networking and even the ways LinkedIn works. Among other useful abilities, I think the one described as “asking for help” may be quite an important one.

Converting Challenges into Opportunities by the University of California, San Diego

Start: 7/01/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people who feel too much pressure at work

We all – both teachers and students – live in a really competitive environment. This course will familiarise you with the concept of Design Thinking and how out-of-the-box thinking may change your attitude to life obstacles. Ever since I took a short Design Thinking course with Luiza Wójtowicz-Waga I must confess it’s changed my approach to… challenges and opportunities.

Strategic Career Self-Management by the State University of New York

Start: 7/01/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people interested in their career self-management

My parents worked in one school for 25 years – can you imagine? We change our workplaces more and more often with constant pressure and expectations. The ability to “manage oneself” will soon be the most important skill on the market. This course will make you focus on your portable skills and build your portfolio. If you need help in boosting self-confidence and defining your skills – this course may be a great option!

Success – Unleash Yourself by the University of Agder

Start: 7/01/2019

Duration: 9 weeks

For whom: people interested in successful careers

“Have you ever wondered why some people seem to attract success while others work very hard, but do not achieve what they want? Are you interested in changing your own life and being more successful?” – the authors of the course offer you a professional journey to the place where you’ll overflow with self-confidence and readiness for changes. New Year, New Me Big Style!

Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters by University of Maryland, College Park

Start: 07/01/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers and people looking for a new job

Sure, this course may be helpful if you think about changing your job, but I find it a great idea to use it with a group of students of EFL who will soon start looking for their first job. They will not only learn how to write good resumes, but also practise their writing skills.

Psychology of Personal Growth by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Start: 8/01/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people interested in CPD

The course will take you on a journey through the process of personal growth, starting with high hopes, through disillusionment, lack of belief and regaining self-confidence. You will focus on romantic love and explore its cultural background. If you want to explore your emotional life, this may be a good course for you.

As you see – you don’t think of changing your career, you may still enjoy those courses to boost your skills, self-confidence and motivation.

Enjoy!

English Idioms? A piece of cake! (book review)

One of the books I usually use in my classroom (sooner or later) is the one on English idioms. It’s quite difficult to make a nice lesson on idioms because you have to find some nice examples, create some fun exercises and set everything in context. But lo and behold! For there is a book with 60 units full of idioms that are ready to go. If you want to make a nice gift for a student (or a teacher) of EFL – here it is.

English Idioms in Use by Michael McCarthy and Felicity O’Dell is a great book that may be used both in the classroom and for self-study purposes. There are 60 nice units organised so well that everything is already set in various contexts. What is even better, the first chapter explains what idioms are and how important it is to know them.

Idioms to Talk About

The first part of the book deals with idioms according to the topic area that the are used to talked about. For example, there are idioms connected with anger (e.g. to be out for blood or ruffle someone’s feathers), dealing with problems (e.g. make do or bring to light), even structuring and talking about arguments (e.g. a can of worms or the acid test). I use this part when I see that the Use of English part in my coursebook might need some supplementation.

Idioms from the topic area of…

The second part focuses on idioms according to the image they are based on. Here, you can find idioms referring to colours (e.g. red tape or green with envy), weapons and war (e.g. bite the bullet or stick to your guns) or food (e.g. be the greatest thing since sliced bread or have a sweet tooth). I use this part when the topic of the lesson requires some invigoration (like combining idioms with, for example, the dreaded topic of environment).

Idioms using keywords

It’s quite easy to guess what this part deals with – you can find a lot of idioms referring to words like heart (e.g. someone after my own heart or have a change of heart), line (e.g. draw the line at something and draw the line under something) or ground (e.g. prepare the ground for something or suits me down to the ground). I found this part a nice idea for a last resort when my students don’t want to work on the lesson, I’m absolutely discouraged and the weather is really disastrous – that’s a nice way to break the routine and introduce something new.

Unit structure

Each unit is divided into two parts – theoretical explanation of idioms along with some exemplary uses, and exercises where one can practice the idioms. Naturally, there is the answer key to double check all the doubts, useful for self-study approach… and for lazy teachers, too.

Recommendation

There are a lot of idioms in English and some of them may be quite obsolete, however it’s always better to know them all, rather than not – especially if your linguistic level is quite high. To be honest, I find this book rather interesting to study myself, there is usually something new I come across. If I were to recommend an educational Christmas present for a good student or a teacher who needs more resources, I would certainly go for this option.

But maybe it’s good to add something more to such a gift, like a good novel, chocolate or a pair of socks, of course… 

Idioms in Use
McCarthy, Michael and O’Dell, Felicity
Cambridge University Press, 2002
ISBN 978-0-521-78957-8