Mindfulness for Kids (book review)

As a DoS and a teacher trainer, I’m currently working with the EFL teachers dealing with the youngest students – and I must admit that something we generally call negative behaviours is becoming more and more common in the classroom.
Stresses of modern day life (let alone the self-isolation period, something children have to maintain often without the understanding of the pandemic) often end up with children’s anxiety, aggression outbursts or withdrawal.

It’s easy to say we should implement some simple mindfulness practices in our classroom (both online and offline) to help children calm down a bit. Naturally, I had been looking for those activities, but it was quite difficult to find something matching my criteria:

  • short
  • simple
  • fun
  • effective
  • adapted to the classroom environment

Lo and behold! Just before the lockdown I somehow found the book titled 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom by Tammie Prince, and I simply had to buy it and read it immediately. Was it a good decision and am I going to encourage you to get this book on your own, lockdown or not?
Well, read on.

Book organisation

Obviously, the book includes 100 mindfulness activities. Each activity takes a page and consists of:

  • a catchy title (like starfish hand meditation or breathing wand)
  • a quote from a practitioner (parent or child)
  • a summary of the idea
  • a step-by-step plan to introduce the activity
  • a teaching tip
  • bonus ideas
  • hashtags (so that you can find and follow the discussion online)

There are ten chapters focusing on various types of activities:

  • breathing
  • guided meditation
  • active meditation
  • gratitude
  • yoga
  • emotional intelligence
  • mindful colouring and doodling
  • calm down and relax
  • mindful walking
  • teacher’s mindfulness

Content

Mindfulness can be defined as the mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment while also accepting our feelings – writes Tammie Prince in introduction. However, she also realises that with a curriculum constantly growing, it’s virtually impossible to implement new classes using mindfulness practices to help relieve stress, learn controlling emotions or improve decision-making skills.

She proposes a set of simple activities that can be easily implemented in any classroom, in various age groups and various subjects. EFL teachers will find those activities beneficial not only for students’ mental health, but also linguistic development. Just look at this adorable idea that can be adapted as a great classroom project:

Idea 39, from 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom

What I find particularly interesting, is the section focused on teacher’s well-being. Ever since we all switched online, I’ve observed that some teachers get more and more stressed and frustrated – and I believe some of the mindfulness activities may be of great help. Like the one below, quite apt, isn’t it:

Idea 96, from 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Recommendations

I have tested this book on myself – and since I’m working with teachers who are currently quite stressed, I happen to share the feeling, so I was like Ahhh, whatever, my attention span is like 10 minutes at the moment, short activities for primary kids should work just well.
And… they do.

I particularly liked the colouring section with short and simple doodling activities – it only takes a few minutes, but helps me focus on what I’m planning to do and calm down a bit (which is quite important since people tend to be slightly more irritated than usual).

So, to answer the question: am I going to encourage you to get this book on your own, lockdown or not? – Yes, definitely yes!
And if you either teach young students or simply are a parent – that book will be a great source of inspiration to use while working with kids.

If it works for me, it should work well for 7 year old kids 🙂

Enjoy!

100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom (100 ...

Prince, Tammie: 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Publisher: Bloomsbury Education

ISBN: 9781472944955

Creativity is key! (book review)

I love creativity and I deeply believe every human being is creative (and not only human beings, honestly, the things my cats come up with…), and it’s one of the most vital aspects of our teaching job. As Alan Maley says, I passionately believe creativity to be central to learning, including language learning. When I saw his 50 Creative Activities published by CUP, I knew I had to take a look at the book.

not only in your classroom
My favourite book about creativity is Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley

The publication is a part of pocket editions of Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers – and I’ve already had a great experience with Jack C. Richards’ 50 Tips for Teacher Development. Again, the book is really nicely organised, so that you know what area you want to focus on:

  • Creative Writing
  • Working with Music and Sound
  • Working with Drama and the Voice
  • Playing with Language
  • Hands-on Activities

Content

The author explains how he sees the difference between creative products and creative processes – his ideas aim to achieve both, so apart from learning a language, students will also work creatively on a real product. I find this approach quite interesting, especially for adult, more advanced students. I have met people who claim they specifically want to learn the language, and they are not interested in games, role-plays and projects – this approach will suit them as they will know exactly which skills they are developing through creative activities.

Well-known activities like Poem From a Picture (a vocabulary-building activity) evolve into Recipe Poems (with a brilliant example, namely A Recipe for Drought). One of more interesting activities is Making Metaphors, a simple but powerful task that will make your students get into style a’la Coelho (I seriously consider Coelho’s style an inspiration for many activities). For braver students, you may introduce the activity called Moved by Music and encourage some proper dance moves in the classroom.

All of the ideas have a clear goal, are definitely focused on language development and are a great means to convincing your students that a little bit of fun is still useful for language learning. To quote the author:

Many of the activities favour more aesthetic modes of expression, such as the visual arts, music, drama and voice-work, and literature. Inputs like these are, of course, inherently creative anyway.

Recommendation

The activities included in the book are not labelled with optimal CEFR levels – they can be adapted to different levels and groups. It’s a brilliant technique to make teachers work creatively before they introduce any activity in their classroom. They are ready to use, however you will need to adapt them to your own group. You’re given various ideas and inspirations that will bring different results depending on the students, their level, the chemistry between them, and even the mood they share.

If you’re not afraid of creative flow, unexpected bursts of laughter and good fun – this book is definitely for you!

Enjoy!

Image result for alan maley's 50 creative activities

Maley, Alan, 50 Creative Activities

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers

CUP 2018

ISBN: 978-1108457767

Continue reading “Creativity is key! (book review)”

Perfect Tips for Teacher Development (book review)

Perfect Tips for Teacher Development

You may already know I’m a fan of CPD. The more I teach, the more I realise I have to learn. The more experienced trainer I am, the more people I meet who show me how to improve and develop. Conclusion? Once you set foot on the path of self-development, you should be ready for a proper journey with all its grim moments of self-doubt and breathtaking accomplishments of the goals achieved.
Master Tolkien explained it perfectly well:

Image result for It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

When I saw Jack C. Richards’ 50 Tips for Teacher Development, I loved it from the very first moment. First of all, this book is a part of pocket editions of Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers – and the idea of pocket editions is just brilliant, as they give you a small book with short chapters full of succinct information, references and questions for self-reflection. Secondly, this book covers the whole process of CPD, starting with individual rookie teachers (what can I do to survive the day without killing my students?) and finishing with the entire school environment, and how it can be adjusted to help teachers grow (what can I do to make my teachers attend my workshop without resorting to blackmail?). Thirdly, all I needed to do was read the first sentence:

For many teachers, professional development is like the weather: it just happens, and, if you are lucky, it may happen somewhere near you.

Organisation

A well-organised book is something I love, and in case of 50 Tips for Teacher Development, I have nothing to complain about. There are 12 main chapters focusing on:

  • reflecting on own CPD
  • learning about own approach, learners and the whole construct of the lesson unit
  • expanding own knowledge
  • creating institutional professional development culture
  • sharing own experience.

Content

Each chapter consists of a few short “lessons” to read and reflect on. What I really like about those lessons is that each starts with a clearly defined purpose, which is very useful in a book with so many varied topics. You will also know the rationale of the activity along with the set of procedures helping you to carry it out.

You can take up this book being at various points of your teaching career. First, as a rookie you will start with gaining more insight into self reflection, learn how to become a better teacher. Then you will get some guidance on how to experiment with your experience, and how to readjust and fix the issues that may be improved. Finally, the book offers a variety of ideas on how to share your skills, knowledge and experience… including networking during conferences!

Pro-tip: coffee and alcohol work everytime (depending on the stage of the conference). Basically, you see someone standing alone and drinking something – you go and network!

Recommendation

I am absolutely convinced I would have skipped some professional mistakes had I read this book 15 years ago. So, naturally, I would like everyone to read it – and it’s such a small book it’s easy to buy and make notes in it. It’s great for an individual teacher, and for a director of studies trying to motivate own team to become better professionals.

Even after 15 years of teaching and learning how to become a better educator, I’ve still found a lot of things I can reflect on and implement to work on my skills. I hope this convinces you to get your own copy – especially if you’re still in the New Year New Me mood!

Enjoy!

Image result for Jack C. Richards' 50 Tips for Teacher Development

Richards, Jack C., 50 Tips for Teacher Development

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers

CUP 2017

ISBN: 978-1108408363

Time management (not only) for teachers (book review)

Time management (not only) for teachers

It took me half a year to finish one book – seriously, and it’s not because I’m a slow reader, quite contrary. It’s a book addressing one of my greatest problems (apart from procrastination and struggling with taking over the world) which is time management, something a work-from-home person may have issues with – I sure did.

Now I procrastinate more efficiently.

Brilliant Time Management. What the most productive people know, do and say is a book by Mike Clayton, one of the most popular project management trainers in the UK. To be honest, I bought this thin, unassuming book in yet another attempt to organise my life even better. I have been given feedback on my organisation skills as mad, yet since I started working from home I’ve found new areas requiring more effort and better organisation.

Has this book helped in my endeavours to come closer to the perfection of time management and organisation? Well, I will say more at the end of my note.

Book organisation

You won’t be surprised if I tell you that the organisation of the book is brilliant – and I love well-organised publications! There are three main areas covered that will help you:

  • know how to prioritise tasks
  • understand how time gets wasted and how to avoid this
  • feel ready to tackle procrastination and make more time for self

Each part consists of theory (kept short and simple, my favourite style) and exercises – be prepared to spend some time to observe your own time management skills. Naturally, there are some stories to back up the theoretical stuff which is great as we know storytelling makes everything easier to remember. Plus, there’s a great summary after each chapter to remind you all the good stuff you’ve just learnt (and surely practised).

What’s in the book

If you take time to observe your own time management patterns, you will learn a lot about yourself. Like the multitasking thing – something I thought I had covered, and the book helped me realise I actually didn’t, as I’m more an elephant than an octopus (I’m not blabbering, it does make sense once you read the book, I promise).

Anyhow, after you spend time observing your time patterns, you will analyse the way you actually manage your time (something that was really interesting in my case). You will have the opportunity to experiment with various ways of managing greater chunks of time – and then you will move to something that usually causes problems (at least for me): prioritising.

Being a teacher means a lot of paperwork, tests, meetings etc. It’s not easy to find time and complete all the tasks, but you will learn some nice ways to manage everything, and, as a result, get far less stressed. You will also have the opportunity to use the approach that works great with both big and small projects – It’s called the OATS Principle, which stands for Outcome, Activities, Timing, Schedule.

Recommendations

I mentioned the exercises in the book. Frankly, it’s because of them that I read the book for half a year – I simply did all the exercises, one by one, and moved on with the further reading when I decided I was ready. I guess it was the best approach – you can’t focus only on theory because the book may leave “oh yeah, great idea” impression… and nothing more. Take your time, focus on each activity and soon you’ll see changes in your time management.

Has it helped in my work and general life organisation? Two months after I’d started working on my time management, I got praised for my task management and general task completion. The person that noticed my improvement is someone I look up to when it comes to work organisation, so you may take it for granted: this book has helped me a lot.

If you seriously plan to read the book carefully, taking breaks in order to complete various tasks, you will find this book really interesting, and maybe even potentially life-changing. Highly recommended, not only for teachers – but for all of us who want to work more efficiently and save more time for, well, designing schemes to take over the world or simply petting cats.

Enjoy!

Image result for mike clayton brilliant time management

Clayton, Mike: Brilliant Time Management. What the most productive people know, do and say

Publisher: Pearson Business; 1 edition (25 Nov. 2010)

ISBN-13: 978-0273744092

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

English is not easy… but it’s wickedly funny! (book review for 18+)

English is not easy... but it's wickedly funny!

Last month I attended my favourite EFL teachers’ convention and at first everything was absolutely normal – training sessions, workshops, stalls – when suddenly something happened. Comments were made, pictures were taken and shared, cheeks got flushed – and it was all caused by a grammar book! Now, I’m not overly fond of grammar books, but, naturally the comments made me take a look at this one. And I loved it immediately, the way you love something mischievous, daring and enjoyable at the same time.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you “English is not easy” written by the amazing Luci GutiĂ©rrez.

If you’re a sensitive soul who believes in proper teaching adults with colourful flashcards, maybe you should stop reading. Seriously. It’s a kind of a book adult students may love. Or hate. Or discuss the controversies (which conveniently turn out to be on every second page of the book).

But if you love Monty Python’s kind of nonsensical sense of humour and a little bit of sexualised approach to pretty much everything, if you enjoy somewhat scandalous sentences – and if you know your students well enough to be sure they share this kind of attitude, I don’t think you’ll find a better grammar book to bring not only educational value but also quite a lot of fun.

Dark humour, innuendos and addictions…

…mean it’s a perfect mnemonic tool! It’s virtually impossible to forget English phrases once you see such graphics, isn’t it?

Untitled design (1)

The sense of humour reminds me of one of my favourite books that I’ve used in the classroom, namely Shakespearean insults. Somehow the idea of learning not-so-polite expressions boosts students’ interest and keeps them more motivated (it also may make us question our reasons for learning, but that’s another story).

If you’re an experienced teacher, you surely know students are far more likely to memorise something if it has a taste of indecency – that’s how our brains are constructed, apparently. But if you think this books delivers only fun, you’re wrong. Behind the controversial facade, you can find a surprisingly sensible book on grammar.

Don’t judge the book by its cover!

There are 17 chapters in this book, and each chapter consist of several subchapters. They are focused mostly on grammar, but there are lessons on vocabulary, phrasal verbs, idioms and useful expressions as well. As it usually goes with grammar, it starts with subject pronouns and the verb “to be”, but the book covers also all tenses, relative clauses, passive voice, reported speech etc.

Untitled design

I believe you can use the book as a great visual aid – even when you explain all the grammatical nuances, some students may still struggle with memorising the correct structure and use of the item. Now, the graphics and sentences may be really useful as they are very clear (black and red), simple and eye-catching.

What I also like about the book is space – you can easily doodle on the pages, make your own visual connotations, silly drawings and sample sentences. I can see it used as an additional exercise for students who prefer kinesthetic approach to learning.

Recommendations

Personally, I find this book hilarious, and a source of great educational fun for both teachers and students. Naturally, it’s not for everyone, but that’s something one may say about any book. I know my students would be more than happy to catch up with the sense of humour and go with the flow, creating their own stories, making their own creative pictures and adding some form of adult-fun into their class.

And if you are a bored teacher who needs to remind oneself that English might not be easy but is, in fact, fun – this is a book for you. And what’s more, I think this book is something I might put on a wishlist of an EFL teacher.

If you’re ready to order, Preston Publishing, the publisher of this adorkably wicked book, has a neat discount for you. If you get a copy on prestonpublishing.pl and enter the code evil20, you’ll get 20% off (the code does not include sets or preorders and cannot be combined with any other offers or promotions).

Hope you’ll have at least as much fun as I have!

9788364211874

GutiĂ©rrez, Luci “English is not easy”

Preston Publishing, 2019

ISBN: 978-83-64211-87-4

Public speaking for teachers? Why not? (book review)

Why would teachers learn about public speaking_

There is only one excuse for a speaker’s asking the attention of his audience: he must have either truth or entertainment for them.
― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

At the moment I’m writing this very note and watching Kung Fu Panda, which is one of my favourite films about being a teacher. True, it may seem a bit unusual source of inspiration, but this is the way I live – looking for inspiration in various places. There may be ever so many materials designed for teaching English as a foreign language, and yet I still enjoy using alternatives that are not commonly identified with teaching.

Like Role-Playing Games, of course.

The main reason I bought Public Speaking for Success was the fact that I’m doing more and more workshops, and I realise I have quite a vast area to improve. Talk Like TED was really inspiring, so I decided to try the book by Dale Carnegie (famous for How to Win Friends and Influence People). To my surprise, even though the book is targeted at salespeople and presenters, teachers still may find it useful. After all, nowadays we need extraordinary means to engage our students.

This book will show you how to make your students pay attention to what you say, to present even the most boring facts in a manner so interesting your students will never forget them (it’s what my interpretation of kraken and zombies did to Present Perfect). You will also read a lot about how famous public speakers of the days of old used to prepare their speeches. And Abraham Lincoln, you will learn a lot about Lincoln (although it won’t be as exciting as Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter which is accidentally quite an interesting book).

Most of the book focuses on speech preparation and its delivery, but each chapter includes some down-to-earth exercises that will help you master public speaking. Following the exercises a reader will be able to practice proper pronunciation, resonance and emphasis (only the reader needs to practice everyday, something yours truly may find quite difficult to do).

The chapter that may be particularly useful for teachers is almost at the end of the book – chapter 14, focused on engaging audience. By the time you get there you will probably think “those ideas are so obvious! I’ve known it all!” – but this chapter sums up everything we really, really need to remember. Concise, surprisingly up-to-date (it’s funny to think, though, that short attention span of an audience was an issue almost 100 years ago…) and useful – something we may read before every lesson to memorise it.

For this reason only, I believe Public Speaking for Success may be also called Public Speaking for Teachers Who Want to Engage Their Students. I’ve mentioned it more than once, every lesson is a story worth telling, and to do so we must be great storytellers not only in choosing a tale, but also its exquisite presentation.

Live an active life among people who are doing worthwhile things, keep eyes and ears and mind and heart open to absorb truth, and then tell of the things you know, as if you know them. The world will listen, for the world loves nothing so much as real life.
― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

Last but not least: you can get this ebook for free! One of the best places on the Internet, Project Gutenberg, offers the ebook version of Public Speaking for Success for free! All you need to do is click here and download your preferable version. Then you may enjoy it as much as I have… only be aware it’s the original version from 1915, not the updated one.

Enjoy and let me know what you think about the book!

Public Speaking for Success: The Complete Program, Revised and Updated
Carnegie, Dale
Publisher: TarcherPerigee; REV and Updated ed. edition (May 4, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-1585424924

Creative Confidence – not only in your classroom

not only in your classroom

Once in a while I come across the book that changes my perspective on work or life in general. Last year I discovered SuperBetter and Jane McGonigal who seriously changed my life into a way better one. This time, I discovered brothers Kelley with their “Creative Confidence” and I thought I absolutely owe you a review of this book. However, I am only able to share some impressions, as it is quite impossible to write a review of something that made me feel like I can change the world if I only try.

Which in my case means “take over the world and become the Evil Empress of the World” but hey, aim high!

Flip! Dare! Spark! Leap! Seek! Team! Move! – all those action words are simply the titles of the chapters, but they pretty much show you what the book is like, full of action, positive vibes, and fun. You will find personal stories mixed with the research results and ideas that are meant to make you think – and they do, indeed. In my case, I had to take a break after ten pages or so to summarise ideas and switch the general concepts from the environment of an American university to a Polish edublogger and DoS… but the fact that you feel encouraged to try and think differently makes this book quite inspiring.

What makes the book worth reading? In Poland we have a saying “to let everything go and leave for Bieszczady” which globally would translate to “let everything go and leave for Iceland” (as both Bieszczady and Iceland are beautiful places but no sane person would ever start living there for good – and yes, I know Polish people are the greatest minority in Iceland which pretty much explains the Bieszczady saying thing). Anyway, the thing is – even when (or especially when) you’re a successful individual, quite well-off, with a stable relationship and a trusted group of friend, something suddenly snaps and you suffocate and feel you have to leave and start anew. This is pretty much what happened with David and Tom Kelley, brothers who had everything, except for one tiny thing: fun.

I’m not really comparing teachers to rich and successful businessmen, but the main question remains: it’s not easy to have fun once you’re supposed to be a pillar of a society, is it? As Alexander Woollcott said, “anything in life that’s any fun is either immoral, illegal or fattening.” Apart from this fact which is both sad and true, it’s difficult to have fun when you’re a teacher. You probably like your job, but the amount of paperwork, conferences and tedious routine makes it less and less exciting. That’s when you know you need joy – and creativity brings so much fun!

You will find a lot of ideas and inspirations to wake up your creativity and find new confidence. I think it’s a perfect book for the upcoming spring because the easiest visualisation of the effect of this book will show your creativity and the joy of thinking out of the box blooming like first flowers. I cannot share the ways of rediscovering the forgotten paths of creativity you will find in this book, bar one: the fragment that concerns gaming.

Author, futurist and game designer, Jane McGonigal talked to us recently about how video gaming can spark its own form of creative confidence. 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

So maybe instead of letting everything go and leaving for Bieszczady/Iceland we may simply play a game… especially a game where you can act out a person living in such a wonderfully remote place – because the best thing about it you can always go back to your comfortable room, favourite pub and, yes, the Internet!

Kelley, Tom and David

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

ISBN: 978-0385349369

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

How to Organise Phrasal Verbs? (book review)

How to Organise Phrasal Verbs_ (book review)

One of my most vivid memories from summer schools in England is the Arrival Day, when new students were picked up by young and happy people (usually 18-22 year old native speakers) from the airport and transported to school. Often it was an experience baffling for both parties – foreign kids couldn’t understand English teens and the latter couldn’t understand the fact someone didn’t get them. They thought they were perfectly understandable, but for those kids “alright, pick up your stuff and move along” was not the English they were used to.

Admit it, teaching phrasal verbs isn’t the most pleasant experience in the classroom. First of all, there are so many of them, they tend to be so illogical and a different preposition changes the whole meaning of the sentence. It makes learners believe the best way to deal with the wretched phrasal verbs is to avoid them, but we know that won’t do.

We need to be brave, though – we, the teachers, are meant to teach not only the adorable Present Perfect or crime-related vocabulary, but also the phrasal verbs. And if you – like yours truly – are not the greatest fan of those expressions that seem to be randomly mixed words with an extra weird meaning, I have a great solution for you!

Phrasal Verb Organiser is a great book written by John Flower who had apparently seen too many students suffering because of this ridiculous phrasal-verbish-conundrum… or maybe he had seen too many teachers struggling? Whatever inspired him to write the book brought us one of the most useful books ever.

Who is the book for?

Originally the book was designed for students, especially those who learn English on their own (“it is better to do a little at regular intervals, rather than a lot at one time, and then nothing for weeks”). However, I got myself a copy when I was a teacher and I found it a great help when teaching students on B2 level – it has helped me to provide the appropriate amount of phrasal verbs to help them move beyond the learning plateau.

How is it organised?

Surprisingly, you don’t start with the exercises – first you get started with the whole idea of a phrasal verb, with some sweet lies like “it is often possible to understand what a phrasal verb means by looking at its particles”.

As if I didn’t know that phrasal verbs are fragments of an ancient ritual of summoning demonic creatures from the deepest abyss of hell!

And then you may enjoy nine chapters titled e.g. verbs with down/up/off/out/two particles etc. Then you may enjoy common verbs (be, get, go etc.), phrasal verbs with nouns or adjectives and even phrasal verbs by topic (business, feelings, travel or even colloquial expressions). If you’re not sure about the meaning, the book provides a useful mini-dictionary.

How can I use it in the classroom?

Each chapter has the same organisation – you start with matching verbs and particles so that they can be used in sentences; there are also funny pictures illustrating some of the verbs. You can always check your answer with the answer key, so no worries! If you need a greater challenge, after each chapter there’s a summary where you need to use one phrasal verb matching a couple of sentences.

You can simply use it in the classroom once in a while, bringing in random chunks of phrasal verbs (“this week we’ll work on the verbs with up“).

Ideas for extra activities

But wait, there is more! If you want to create a real combo, you can use one of the ready-made tests (seriously, tests on phrasal verbs – that is evil!). You can also use the verbs in some classroom games (bingo?) or races. I found the topic-selected chapters really useful for my adult students, but I guess you might use the book in many creative ways (using a meme generator and making one meme per day with a phrasal verb sounds like a great idea for a competition!).

Recommendations

The book practises over 700 phrasal verbs with more than 1000 meanings. Truth be told, I don’t think I would be able to recall all of them, so I admit I still find it useful, not only for my students, but also for self-study. If your students are just a wee bit too formal, or if you feel your language skills are soon going to be used by the BBC – go for it!

And have a blast!