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!

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.

7 Free Online Courses in October

7 Free OnlineCoursesin October

This year’s IATEFL Poland conference was just awesome – I had so much fun and I can’t wait for the next event which is, as you know, eduOctoberfest, a month full of webinars (2 sessions per day!). Alas, you need to pay for this event and it is in Polish, yet fear not for here I come with a bunch of free online courses you may enjoy in October!

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

Starts: 29/09/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people who know that one never stops learning

This course will help you learn more about your hidden capabilities and assets as well as how to learn more effectively. You will see how to tackle procrastination and use some mental tricks to help you focus, relax, and reframe (reframing is key). More than this, you’ll be exploring how and why to keep yourself in the “mindshift” mode. I believe this course is great not only for teachers (as teaching is lifelong learning), but also for their students: maybe it’s not a bad idea to incorporate this course into your classes?

2 English in Early Childhood: Language Learning and Development by the British Council

Starts: 21/10/2019

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: parents, teachers or practitioners interested in teaching languages

The thing about the adult is that they tend to extrapolate their educational experience on children – and children learn in a totally different way! This course will show you how and why children learn best through play and what parents and practitioners can do to enable children to get the most out of a learning experience. I guess this course will be great for not only parents, but also those teachers who have just started teaching kids and are not quite sure what to do with them.

3 Creative Writing Specialization by Wesleyan University

Starts: 7/10/2019

Duration: depending on module

For whom: aspiring writers

This is more than just a course, it’s the whole specialization in writing fiction. You may pick the course you like: the craft of plot, the craft of character, the craft of setting and description, the craft of style – and pursue it for as long as you want. If you think of writing in English – and writing beautifully, this course will definitely be of help.

4 Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms by Relay Graduate School of Education

Starts: 21/10/2019

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: teachers who want to integrate character-based objectives into own teaching

This course explores key ideas of positive psychology and shows how teachers can apply those lessons to maximize student engagement in their classrooms. You will learn how to observe your own strengths of character – to see those of your students, how to introduce character-building activities in your class and how to integrate those lessons into our daily lives.

5 Planning for Learning: Formative Assessment by the National STEM Learning Centre

Starts: 7/10/2019

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: teachers who want to apply formative assessment for learning approaches

If you haven’t used FA yet, you should definitely start as it’s something that may create your classroom a far better place, which is more friendly for both students and teachers! You’ll plan to identify your learners’ thinking, clarify learning goals, and learn how to use success criteria, and develop your classroom questioning to adjust your teaching approach and respond to student learning. Experienced mentors support this course until 22 November 2019.

6 Managing ADHD, Autism, Learning Disabilities, and Concussion in School by the University of Colorado

Starts: 30/09/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers working with SEN children

In this course, you will learn about the most common developmental and behavioural disorders affecting children such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, learning disorders, and concussions. You will learn about recognising and diagnosing various learning disorders and disabilities, so if you work with children (any, not only whose with diagnosed SEN), this may be the right course for you.

7 The Science of Beer by the Wageningen University

Starts: self-paced

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want to know more about beer

Being a teacher, it’s important to be a responsible drinker and to know what effects beer has on your health. This course will definitely help you learn all about beer, including how it’s made, the raw materials used, it’s supply chain, how it’s marketed and the effect of beer consumption on your body. Fun fact: it’s a course made by students supervised by professors and experts in the field, so maybe this will inspire your students to create their own MOOC?

And you can celebrate the Oktoberfest… for science!

I hope you’ll find something useful from the list above, and this October will be educational for all of us.


It’s alive! Alive! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 19)

It's alive! Alive! (1)

There is no blog post today, and the reason is very simple – this weekend I have two sessions on IATEFL in Gdańsk, Poland, so I’m preparing my presentations, materials, looking for appropriate outfits… so much to do that I have to skip this week on my blog.

But I’m alive! And more than that – I even went live once, so what you can do today is actually watch my first workshop on RPG in teaching ever – it was recorded last year, on Zlot Nauczycieli Angielskiego. I talked about RPGs, showed some easy exercises and was terribly stressed!

It’s funny, watching myself only a year ago and seeing how much I’ve changed. What exactly changed? Well, you can see it if you come to my sessions, this weekend in Gdańsk.

Meanwhile – Role-Playing Teaching: Madness is Magic. Enjoy!

Back to Basics: ClassroomScreen for IWB

Back to Basics_ ClassroomScreen for IWB

The thing about technology is that we’re all supposed to use it, and for those teachers who only start their adventure with education, or those who return to teaching after a long break, it may be quite overwhelming, to switch on an IWB… and have no clue on what to do next.

I believe there is an application that may be a great beginning of the adventure with technology in the classroom – it’s a simple page with many widgets easy to use for most non-technological activities in the classroom.

Meet ClassroomScreen!

What you need to do is simply open ClassroomScreen on your laptop and project it in your classroom. That’s it – but since I’m not taking part in the competition for the shortest blog post ever, I shall elaborate a little bit.

You can use all your favourite widgets here – clock and calendar, and timer (something really useful during various activities), for starters. Obviously, you can type and draw there, you can also upload various images and draw on them. You can also use various backgrounds, so you may upload the one that matches the lesson topic.

I like the traffic lights option – you may use them for students’ self assessment (red if they don’t understand the material, yellow if they have some issues, green if everything is clear) as well as classroom management – green light may mean students are working as a class, yellow may mean groupwork and red may be for individual work.

The widget I like most is definitely work symbols. You may clearly indicate what kind of activity you’re doing at a particular moment – silence, whisper, ask neighbour or work together. It’s a brilliant widget for longer exercises, requiring various forms of activities – all you need to do is switch the icon and everyone knows what to do.

Another useful widget is QRcode generator – you may immediately share anything you want, just paste the link and generate the code. Ask your students to read it with their mobiles and presto! – they all can read an article, see a film or do the exercises you’ve shared.

Monitoring classroom noise level may be a perfect solution for all those working with big groups or small kids (or big groups of small kids) – all you need to do is use the microphone widget to set up noise level and your students may observe how loud they are. Let’s say, they’ll be given a sticker is the noise bar doesn’t get red, and chances are you won’t get prematurely deaf.

Random name picker is the best solution for “why meeeeeeee agaaaaaain” kind of students – just write your students’ names in the text field and roll dice. Why am I asking you again, Brian? Because the computer said so!

The feature I find particularly useful is that you may use widgets more than once – you may use two timers (for two groups), divide your class into three groups and give them various work symbols etc.

I hope you’ll find this site as adorable as I have – sometimes simplicity is key, and in this case I’m more than happy to use it and have quite a lot of fun. So it looks like I’m going to have a break from canva, youtube, quizziz and twinkl, and introduce a little bit of good old-fashioned IWB screen.


7 Free Online Courses in September


Can you feel Back To School vibes? I sure can, and to be honest, I love it. The very first day of school is my favourite one to have a cup of tea (necessarily with cornflower, I love blue cornflower spots in my tea) on my balcony, relaxing… and looking at kids trotting back to school. Call me evil, but I do enjoy some schadenfreude! Nevertheless, I’ve always liked September (in a childlike way as I have my birthday then), getting new school stuff, the smell of new books – and, of course, new things to learn!

Today I have some brilliant courses that I hope you’ll find useful in some kind of Back to School style:

Understanding ADHD: Current Research and Practice by King’s College London

  • Start: 2/09/2019
  • Duration: 4 weeks
  • For whom: people with ADHD and anyone working with children and adults with ADHD

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? What are the symptoms of ADHD? How is ADHD diagnosed? With more and more ADHD students, teachers should be more aware of potential issues stemming from this disorder. You will learn about the latest neuroscientific and psychiatric research, discuss the core challenges faced by those with ADHD and learn an empathic understanding of the experiences of people living with ADHD.

Start Writing Fiction by the Open University

  • Start: 09/09/2019
  • Duration: 8 weeks
  • For whom: anyone with an interest in starting to write fiction or improving their fiction writing, recommended for 16+ students

Ever wanted to ditch teaching and become a writer, sipping coffee on a balcony with a view on a sea and not being bothered by others? On this online course, established writers – including Louis de Bernières, Patricia Duncker, Alex Garland, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Tim Pears, Michèle Roberts and Monique Roffey – will talk about how they started writing. You will learn how to create great characters, perfect plot… and undergo some critical remarks by your fellow classmates.

Corpus Linguistics: Method, Analysis, Interpretation by Lancaster University

  • Start: 16/09/2019
  • Duration: 8 weeks
  • For whom: people interested in the study of language

I did my MA in linguistics and I swear I had oh so many opportunities to use it in the classroom as people want more than learn a language: they want to know how language works! With this course you may not only broaden your horizons, but encourage your students to embark on a great journey to understand the language. Corpus linguistics is the study of language presented by the “real world” text – something we come across everyday.

Understanding English Dictionaries by Coventry University, the Alan Turing Institute and Macmillan Education

  • Start: 16/09/2019
  • Duration: 6 weeks
  • For whom: anyone studying or teaching English

Admit it – when was the last time you used dictionaries in your classroom? Like many other teachers, I stopped using them the minute I discovered Google on my mobile – truth be told I still entertain my students with some activities, but I think this course offers much more than just a bunch of activities. You will learn how dictionaries are created and who decides what words go in.


What Makes an Effective Presentation? by Coventry University

  • Start: 16/09/2019
  • Duration: 2 weeks
  • For whom: anyone interested in developing their presentation skills 

Being a teacher requires presenting ideas in an interesting, eye-catching way. We’ve seen many workshops that were destroyed by the mediocre presentation, and this course will help you evaluate and improve your presentation skills. Moreover, at the end of the course you will also have the opportunity to deliver a mini presentation and receive feedback from your peers. I think this course may be a great idea to take in the class, with your students: this way they’ll learn English and some other skills at the same time.

Filmmaking and Animation in the Classroom by Into Film

  • Start: 23/09/2019
  • Duration: 3 weeks
  • For whom: anyone who would like to enrich their lessons through the creation of films and animations

This course will help anyone working with young people aged 5-19 to engage them in learning through simple filmmaking and animation. You’ll discover how film and animation can be used as powerful tools for encouraging active learning and enabling students to establish strong connections with any area of the curriculum. I believe this may be a great course to start in the classroom and turn into a long project.

Using Technology in Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning by the Chartered College of Teaching

  • Start: 23/09/2019
  • Duration: 4 weeks
  • For whom: teachers and education professionals in either the primary or secondary school setting

It’s not easy to start with technology – there are so many solutions to the problems one hasn’t even thought of! Fortunately, this course will not only show you the areas where technology supports effective teaching and learning, it also helps you select appropriate technologies and implementation approaches – you will be able to choose applications you really need in your classroom rather than try everything and panic.

That’s it – seven courses that may influence your back to school mood and hopefully make this school year the best ever.


Get Ready For School: Teacher’s Pack

Get Ready For School_ Teacher's Pack

Sometimes I take a look at my old notes (after all I’ve been writing this blog for a while) and once in a while I see a post that makes me go like “aaah, yes, that was a great exercise, I had so much fun with my students“. And then, I either share this post on my regular #tbt (throwback Thursday) or, well, forget about it.

But this time I had a plan! A plan so cunning you could pin a tail to it and call it a fox*. I’ve read through my blog (almost 200 posts!) and found all the notes that may be an inspiration before you embark on yet another year-long school adventure. All of the ideas were tested on human beings and all of us not only survived, but had quite a lot of fun.

First class

You may start your course with some listening activities, where you all listen to students’ favourite songs – you may not only assess their listening skills, but also learn something about your new pupils. If you want to start a new course with good vibes, you should go with my lesson on Storytelling (with a lesson plan): a simple lesson on making stories with a little twist.

You can still have some fun outdoors! Get inspired by my three ideas that will make the beginning of your class as pleasant as a summer trip. On the other hand, if the weather is bad, you may simply use one of 7 lifesaving apps and bring some fun to the classroom – as a promise of all the fun you are certainly going to have during the whole course.

If you want to start something new and haven’t yet tried the station-rotation model, I recommend my lesson plan on Dyatlov Pass Incident – it’s brilliant for teens that are on B2 level, as the whole lesson brings new things: new lesson format, fascinating topic and real-life skills on how to organise a debate.

Introduce a project

If you’re feeling lucky (and ambitious), you may start your first classes by introducing self assessment. This is something that can be easily transformed into a year-long project and end up as a lifelong attitude, if your students are brave enough.

It’s good to start your class by boosting students’ motivation – you may introduce nice mobile apps your students may use at home to improve their skills.

If you’re into year-long projects, encourage your students to start their own cookbook! You can a) make them do something useful (a website and some food) b) relax while they share their recipes, c) eat delicious food. When it comes to projects, this is my favourite one. Yay to free food!

And here’s another project that may be either a short one or a long-running thing. The whole thing is about excuses, excuses, excuses… regarding homework. Why didn’t they do their homework – again? Answers may be typical (and boring), but make something good out of this by making your students create stories (more or less believable) which should be noted down and finally used to create a real book.

Change in classroom management

Adopting a testing system is usually quite challenging, both for students and teachers. Why not include a bit of fun there and go fully online? I recommend quizizz, something that made my tests maybe not extremely enjoyable, but at least mildly amusing. Oh, and if you want to give your students a little cheat sheet with all English tenses to revise, you might use mine.

One of the most important things, from my perspective as a student, is information about the lesson goal – I want to know what I am going to learn, which activities I have to complete and what’s the final outcome. The one and only Ewa Torebko wrote a brilliant post about it and honestly, you simply have to read it!

As you can see, there’s quite a lot of ideas to start a new school year with, so you can choose the one you like most and give it a go!


*do you know who’s the author of this phrase?