English for _very_ special purposes

Last year I got hooked on Stranger Things – a great TV series, especially for geeky 80’s kids (like yours truly, I guess, can’t wait for s02). I guess zombies, aliens, demogorgons and all supernatural things have been quite a thing for a while, and thanks to Netflix we can binge on tv series (btw, thanks netflix for ruining my social life) and it would be a real waste if we couldn’t incorporate it into our classes.

I love creating lessons around tv series (I’m not a whovian, but “Blink” is a great episode to use in the classroom and “Yellow Fever” from Supernatural is simply hilarious – just to name but two) as it shows quite natural language and speech flow, brings some cultural references and is a nice way of learning by fun (which is my favourite way of acquiring knowledge).

Apart from creating lessons around fantasy and sci-fi tv series I’m really glad when I see proper books directed at low-level students, allowing them to be part of the supernatural hype:

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English for the Alien Invasion is written by the same team who committed English for the Zombie Apocalypse (a really good book for pre-intermediate students, I wrote about it here). This time the threat is from the outer space, cunning and intelligent. Beware, it’s not for the light-hearted 🙂 The story focuses on the boy called Dani, Captain Black, Doctor Green and a bunch of aliens, of course. Unsuspecting Dani meets an alien and befriends him only to be lured to the spaceship – will he be able to run away? Will Captain Black manage to inform the President about the danger? Will Doctor Green be able to help? Will humanity survive?

The book is divided into 10 units (from Making Contact to Saving the World) and two sets of flashcards. Each unit makes a 45min PPP-type lesson with similar stages: warm-up, listening exercise followed by reading comprehension, working on important phrases and production phase – creating own conversation or role-play. There are also various ideas how flashcards can be used in the classroom (learning vocabulary, short tests, memory game and story game). I find organisation of the book way better than the previous one and apart from being well thought of, there is still some space to put teacher’s own ideas (fragments of Close Encounters of the Third Kind maybe?) which is always a good thing.

EAI is perfect for elementary students for more than one reason. First and foremost, it’s a lot of fun. Who hasn’t seen at least one episode of The X-files? We can put a lot of fun into English classes and it’s as important for beginners as for any other level. Secondly, for people who have just started learning a foreign language, each attempt of communication in English is like talking to (and listening to!) aliens. We can add some humour into our classes by pretending “aliens” are native speakers of English – not only will it relieve some stress, but it may also be a great pretext to talk about cultural differences and cross-cultural communication.

I hope you’ll get inspired by the idea – it’s always good to be prepared for the worst! And if you are interested in the book, you can get it here.

Enjoy!

“Language Learning with Digital Video” by Goldstein and Driver

With the autumn rains come project ideas for children and teenagers – I want to share some ideas I gathered this summer (oh, it seems such a long time ago!).

I wrote about an absolutely smashing book I read from Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers, but it’s not the only one. “Language Learning with Digital Video” by Ben Goldstein and Paul Driver, surprisingly, doesn’t focus on funny youtube videos with cats and ideas how a teacher can use them in the classroom, but it includes two parts – video exploitation (still, no cats) and video creation.

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The chapters included in this part cover video and text, narrative, persuasion, music and topic. Some of the activities are very useful especially for fresh teachers who still struggle with time management and for those teachers who don’t feel comfortable around digital stuff and want to try it out step by step.

I really like Be the commentator activity because commenting sports events is something that we usually do in our native tongue and doing it in English may be real fun (also, it’s my soft spot as I’d like to be a footy commentator, but there are no women pundits in Poland, shame!). The variation is Penalty shoot-out and I believe it may be hilarious to watch some famous matches again just to give a good comment (just not the Champions League 2008 final, thank you very much).

There are also some interesting activities focused on advertising guidelines, where students are looking for the commercials using particular categories (humour, emotional pull, call to action etc.), which may lead to a lesson about ethics of advertisements.

Naturally, there are far more activities connected karaoke, videoke, film trailers, mash-ups etc., so everyone can find something suitable.

Video creation

The title sounds promising and the chapter is indeed full of useful techie stuff (how to make/where to buy a green screen), however, when it comes to software I’m afraid authors focused only on Windows (and Windows Movie Maker isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, that’s for sure) and Apple (seriously, guys).

The activities are divided into four chapters – straightforward, medium, challenging and elaborate. Again, some of them are quite easy, others are more complex, some are relatively short, others are way too long for my 120hrs course (2-3 hours in class + work outside the classroom).

The activity I’m definitely going to try is staging and recording political speech, young adults are quite into politics and that would be a nice idea to have a project lesson on preparing candidates, speeches, proper recording environment etc. Similarly with recording the news and/or weather forecast.

The activity I liked best, though, is The Invader, where students play the roles of alien infiltrating the local population in order to collect data useful for preparing an imminent full-scale invasion (exterminate! exterminate!). They are supposed to walk around the school grounds (I’m lucky to have my school literally at the town square) filming some objects and trying to identify them and their role to impact their plans for invasion.

I hope you’ll have a look at the book as I’m sure you’ll find something for yourself. Enjoy!

Oh, and just to make things clear, I am not sponsored by Cambridge University Press – unfortunately 😉

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“Language Learning with Technology” by Graham Stanley

Summer, chillout and sun – it means I finally have time to stay in and read! When my school bought a bunch of nice CPD books I snatched the one by Mr Stanley who’s one of the people I truly respect (I even wrote about his IATEFL plenary three years ago) and would love to read everything he’s written. I was sure I’d love the book…

…and since I’ve just finished it I’m happy to confirm my presumption.

The subtitle is quite promising – “Ideas for integrating technology in the classroom” and I’m delighted to confirm that this is exactly what the book consists of: ideas, examples, useful links and everything I love about a good “how to teach” book.

We have 11 chapters here, from integrating technology and building a learning community through particular skills, project work, finishing with assessment and evaluation. Each part includes several activities with examples and useful links. I’ll just mention the few of them I’m really eager to try:

Digital camera scavenger hunt (vocabulary):

Prepare a list of items to be found and photographed around school, divide the class into teams and give them 10 minutes to find and take photos of the items. Lovely warm-up for classroom vocabulary.

Learner-generated quizzes (vocabulary):

Ask your students to create quizzes for one another, looks like great fun and it may be even better when you make it a pairwork activity. The sites you may use are Quia, Quizzlet or Vocabtest.

Memory posters (vocabulary):

Pretty much like mind-maps, only your students may work in groups to create their posters which is way cooler and more interactive – just have a look at Glogster or Mixbook. It may be a great idea for a project work as well!

Authentic word clouds (grammar):

Paste an authentic text into a word-cloud creator (e.g. Wordle) and give the word-clouds to students before reading, so that they have to connect the words into a coherent idea. After some time you may help them by writing a title of the text.

Coded message trail (reading):

It’s like treasure hunt, only you create clues and use a QR code generator to code them. Next, you place the codes near the places you’ve chosen for a trail, make sure your students have their mobiles with a barcode-scanning app (at least one per group) – and enjoy one of the best activities, especially in the summer (in the city). You can find all instructions at QR Code Treasure Hunt.

Story Starters (writing):

I’m not going to describe the activity here, I’m simply going to leave a link to this magnificent activity and let you enjoy its endless possibilities (groupwork, homework, maybe a written composition for a test?).

Crazy tales (writing):

One of my most favourite activities – at least for my students – which I used to do myself. What you do is simply write random words in specific categories and then put them in a story creating a completely crazy, but usually hilarious, tale. I’m really happy I don’t have to come up with them by myself anymore, now I can use MadTakes or Crazy Tales. Yay!

Translates to SMS (writing):

My students crave for natural English and translating “normal” English into a text message is not only educational, but also highly enjoyable. I used to bring handouts, but now I can use Transl8it.

Phonetics apps (pronunciation):

I’ve always found it most problematic to help my students with pronunciation development, I usually recommended Spelling Bee you can find at thefreedictionary.com, but there are some useful apps my students can use: Phonetics Focus by Cambridge, Sounds Right by British Council and my favourite Sounds by Macmillan.

But wait, there’s more! No, seriously, there are loads of useful activities and if you’re into technology I’m sure by now you’re fairly convinced to get the book. But I guess the book is also for those teachers who don’t feel comfortable with technology, aren’t really sure what to do. I’m sure you’ll find here something you like – like I have.

Enjoy reading and implementing Mr Stanley’s ideas and if you liked this post, please, follow my fanpage on facebook for more useful stuff!

Teacher Training Essentials by Craig Thaine

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And so, for a while I’ve been a DoS at my language school (hence my erratic posting, let’s say I’ll try to stick to a post per fortnight, that’s more realistic, I hope). Now, I did expect working with teachers to be pretty much like cat herding – been a teacher for so many years I’m absolutely aware of some aspects of the job, but actually my fellow teachers are kind and patient and let me experiment with them a little bit. Apparently they are far less recalcitrant than I am.

I’m considering the idea of taking my DELTA exam this winter, but I’ll have to organise my reading list etc. as I simply can’t afford the course. So I’m self-studying and I’d like to review the books I’m reading. The book I’ve just finished is “Teacher Training Essentials” by Craig Thaine – a sensible position for all teachers, from pre-service to experienced ones. The book consists of three main parts, and each workshop includes trainer’s notes and worksheets (which automatically gives the book +20 to the general impression):

Classroom methodology

This chapter focuses mostly on teacher’s language (giving feedback, error correction, very useful), lesson planning, teaching particular skills, teaching exam classes (this is focused on FCE exam, though), exploiting authentic materials, promoting learner’s autonomy etc. While those issues may sound as if they’re good for a fresh teacher, there are some nuances appropriate for the more experienced ones.

Developing language awareness

This part focuses on, well, explaining grammar in such a way that students believe you actually know what you’re talking about. So, not only explaining tenses, but also making them aware of the context, functional language etc. I’d say this part is perfect for fresh teachers or, for that matter, native speakers (it must be really hard to explain grammar aspects you live with to students who have never come across e.g. Present Perfect before).

Background to teaching

I find this chapter most interesting, and indeed, all the workshops here are addressed for all types of teachers. Here we can find an overview of concepts connected with SLA, sociolinguistic perspectives, procedures associated with course design and – last but not least –  clarifying the role of test validity and reliability.

To sum up, I find this book really useful for EFL teachers at various stages of experience, you can find here not only ideas, but also help to conduct your own workshops, discussions and meetings.

And if you liked my post – feel free to “like” my facebook page and share your ideas with me.

Enjoy!

Halloween with a zombie apocalypse? Sure thing!

With Halloween approaching, a teacher has to come up with some entertaining ideas. I’m not a fan of classes dedicated directly to the occasion, I prefer running a normal lesson with a little twist. Some time ago I tried storytelling with Scaredy Cat by Heather Franzen (I still love this cute little story and regardless of how murderous students I teach, I find them appreciating these activities as well), but this year I’ve decided to go with something new — namely, the apocalypse.

Zombies have become a rather common topic in my classroom, especially on Mondays, when some of us look somewhat zombified. Somehow, the apocalypse is also quite a popular topic (all those environmentally-centred lessons in ESL books are rather pessimistic, admit it) — so when my ex-DOS found a book called English for the zombie apocalypse I simply had to buy a copy. Was it a good purchase?

Well, it depends.

The book consists of 10 lessons describing a story of a man who tries to escape zombies in his city — he finds a girl and her brother, they all escape to wilderness, the inevitable happens (one of them gets bitten and slowly turns into an undead) and finally the survivors ride towards the setting sun. Classic.

Each lesson starts with a dialogue introducing the situation, some follow-up questions and — what’s most important — some useful conversational phrases and drills with a short role play scenario (“you’re running away from zombies and meet a stranger. Introduce yourself and ask for possible help”).

Overally, I think the book is targeted at students around pre-intermediate level, and I’d rather recommend it for young adults and students who watch TV (The Walking Dead series proves to be really popular) and are pop-culturally aware, otherwise the purpose of the book makes no point. Truth be told, communicative exercises are useful not only in zombie-centred environment, but if you have a group of students who don’t get the zombie apocalypse theme, I’d rather not risk introducing the book. Unless they feel like giving it a go, of course.

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Using the book in the classroom:

You can use the book in the classroom either using all the units at the same time (it can take one or two classes) or just the chosen ones (focusing on giving the directions or making apologies for example). While Halloween may be a good excuse to simply focus on the idea of a zombie apocalypse, you may also use the lessons throughout the course, showing your students that communicative skills can be vital when the undead attack.

You can make a project lesson with your students trying to come up with further lives of the survivors – students may write a story, record a video or simply create a lesson similar to the ones in the book. Naturally, you may also use the book as a basis for a lot of speaking activities focusing on survival and countless ‘what-if’ situations.

Hope you’ll enjoy your Halloween 🙂

Quick review: “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener

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Being a teacher means you have to learn at least as much as you teach, so when my language school got a copy of “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener I had to borrow it for a while. It’s easy to read and logically organised (I love properly organised handbooks) and, naturally, I’ve decided I might share some of my thoughts on the book.

Let’s put this straight: this book is primarily for the beginners, new teachers who struggle in the class, have lots of questions, doubts and uncertainties. Had I read this book 10 years ago it would’ve helped me so much, as the things mentioned here are exactly those my professors never bothered to mention. However, I believe you can always learn something new.

And learn something new I did 🙂

The book is divided into seven sections:

1. The classroom

Basically, it’s about the classroom as a place, how we can organise furniture, arrange stuff so it suits our teaching needs best. It’s a really nice idea, it even has pictures (yay!), and for all of you who, unlike me, do not struggle with a tiny classroom, it could be a chapter full of useful tips.

2. The teacher

This chapter focuses on a teacher, how we can work on our behaviour, body language etc. to make teaching smoother and, what’s important, more learner-oriented. There is, however, one thing I can’t agree with: when the general rule given by the author is ‘be yourself’ – I’ll write a separate post on why I believe a teacher shouldn’t really be oneself, especially a fresh one 🙂

3. The learners

It’s a short analysis of who the students are and how can we communicate with them. Naturally, you can find them some things that seem obvious to an experienced teacher, but, as I mentioned, this book is mainly for the beginners. And, to be honest, there are some things about the students we tend to forget – and it’s nice to be reminded what.

4. Key teacher interventions

Still staying in the learner-oriented environment, this chapter focuses on some specific situations that may take place in the classroom. Most of the ideas here are really good (eliciting, questioning, signposting – my favourite thing, why haven’t I ever thought of putting the day plan on board so that my students know the agenda? must definitely try this!), but the subchapter ‘Being catalytic’ made me laugh – let me just quote an example of a dialogue:

Student: Should I enter for the First Certificate exam?

Teacher: What do you think?

Student: I’m not sure. There are some problems.

Teacher: Tell me what the problems are.

Student: Well, my mother will be in hospital next month, and I won’t be able to work on my English so much.

Teacher: How will that affect your studies?

Now, if I were a student and my teacher asked me that question, I’d at least question his sanity, not to mention empathy. Really, Mr Scrivener, would you EVER go with a scene like this?

5. Facilitating interaction

Ever had the problem of getting students communicate in English with you or with each other? You’ll find some useful tips here. Personally, my favourite part is about validation of students’ answers, how to stop doing this automatically, but make students more involved in the task.

Also, this part includes some brilliant ideas on how to make random groups. I loved the techniques of dividing people into groups based on favourite colour, music etc. Will definitely use it in my classroom!

6. Establishing and maintaining appropriate behaviour

Each and every teacher has some problems with discipline at some point. This chapter includes some useful advice on how to deal with misbehaving students. I’d recommend this chapter chiefly for the fresh teachers who still struggle with this particular area. Getting your own ways and methods certainly takes time and is quite a painful process, but some ideas in this chapter may significantly shorten it.

7. Lessons

This section focuses on in-lesson teaching, warm-ups, cool-downs, ways of running tasks and approaches to materials and resources. Now, I find those tips really nice, there’s never too much of warm-ups and cool-downs!

Overall, I believe the book is worth giving a try even if you’re an experienced teacher; some new techniques and approaches are always useful, plus it’s good to revise your own classroom management – after a long period of teaching we must be careful not to get stuck into a routine, even if it’s working well with our students. Some ideas encourage you to leave your comfort zone and try something new – each section finishes with some ‘Questions for reflection’, where we can relate to our own environment and think some ideas over.

Enjoy 🙂

Teaching insults or Shakespeare? Why not both?

Some say the language we teach should be fine and proper. It is the responsibility of a teacher to ensure that students use complex grammar and sophisticated vocabulary, we should introduce our students to the beauty of English literature…

Is it just me or does it sound boooring?

Mind you, I love reading, I even enjoy poetry (Keats stuns me every time), but I’m not delusional and I realise most people learn English to communicate, not to appreciate literature as they usually have no time (adults) or simply hate reading when they’re told to (teenagers).

And imagine modern students enjoying William Shakespeare!

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It’s obvious that our students would rather use a more common version of English. To be honest, their register tends to be rather low – after all, it’s something they watch on the TV and not all films and TV series are as linguistically challenging as True Detective.

Ones of the most common issues are, obviously, swearwords. Since English is not their native language, my students – especially teenagers – don’t realise how heavy various expressions can be. I think it’s worth a try to make them understand that the f-word, while carrying impressive diversity, is not always a proper choice (and bloody sounds better anyway)…

We must also realise that people live online, they play and chat. And it’s more than likely they are being offended and offensive. Life.

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Fortunately, we can make our students familiar with old Will and bring some fun to the classroom at the same time. I found this book in Glastonbury and loved it – so when I could get my own copy, naturally, I did.

Well, that’s simply a generator of Shakespearean insults. With a dictionary (woohoo). It’s funny, it’s interesting, it’s enriching one’s vocabulary. Pure awesomeness 🙂

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I find it a perfect idea for one of those gloomy, lazy and waiting-for-spring-to-come lessons. When I told my students we could have a lesson on insults, they immediately loved the idea. When I told them it would be William Shakespeare, their smiles waned a bit and they asked about something more modern. But when I told them the idea behind the plan, they had to agree with me.

After all, what’s better than insulting people in the language of brilliant literature? Nothing else gives you a sense of well-deserved superiority.

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How to incorporate the insults in a lesson? Well, I thought of one of those days where one just feels an unstoppable urge to mutter something offensive, in a situation like:

– having a total noob in your team when you’re playing online,

– there’s someone who doesn’t know a thing about your area of expertise and yet corrects you constantly,

– your friend giving away your dirty little secret.

And so on, and so forth – you can ask your students to make dialogues with their favourite expressions, or simply –  to go on a rant.

Enjoy 🙂