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!

I didn’t do my homework… – project idea (not only for young learners!)

 

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Some time ago I spent a Black Friday weekend in Manchester – yes, I guess I must have gone mad – I do like the city very much (surprisingly, because I support none of the local football teams), but going there in the heat of the international shopping spree wasn’t exactly the best idea ever.

A highlight of my visit was definitely the John Rylands Library – a magnificent building with impressive interiors and amazing atmosphere (generally Manchester’s libraries are awesome, I fell in love with Manchester Central Library, best place ever!). And it was its small bookshop where I noticed a book which immediately caught my eye: I Didn’t Do My Homework Because by Davide Cali and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud.

The book is basically a list of perfectly illustrated, funny, weird, amazingly impossible excuses a student could use… but they usually don’t.

Unless I, as a teacher, make them to 🙂

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When I was browsing through this book I immediately thought about a project for younger learners. Perfect for a period right after a winter break, when they don’t feel like, well, doing anything. The list of excuses the book offers is great, but my students can surely do better.

Last week I got quite tired with my group full of teenagers who clearly hadn’t felt like doing their homework for a while. So I set up a common account on Storybird, chose a pattern, showed them some ideas and asked them to write their own book. Here is the result being a nice homework, a fun activity and an adorable souvenir for yours truly (my absolutely favourite thing is the alien insects clearly inspired by the X-files).

CLICK: I didn’t to my homework because… by LeniweBuly 🙂

Be sure, though, once you go with this project your students will never again say they forgot to do their homework… be prepared for alien abductions, chupacabras, evil bunnies and alternative worlds galore.

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However, even older students may enjoy this book and the ideas – who doesn’t have any problems with homework? I personally believe, English classes give the opportunity for adult students to feel childlike once again – after all, the process of learning is (quite unfairly in my opinion) identified with children. I don’t believe those serious mothers and fathers won’t enjoy making up stories on why they didn’t do their homework. Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest drawing pictures, but making a list of the most creative excuses (a contest with a prize maybe?) seems to be a nice activity to help your students relax, perhaps before a test or not so enjoyable grammar part? Or maybe as a way to practise some phrasal verbs?

i didnt do my hw 4

I believe a project like this may be a great fun in winter or early spring when we all feel rather discouraged and wouldn’t mind having a little funny activity to catch a distance and remind ourselves English lessons are fun.

Because that’s one of our tasks as teachers: not only teaching, but also showing our students they can use their linguistic knowledge and abilities to actually have fun 🙂

Enjoy:)

i didnt do my hw 5

Back to basics – dictionaries in the classroom

How often do you use ordinary dictionaries in your classroom? Maybe, like yours truly, you are so much into technology you happen to ignore those old-fashioned tomes? Or maybe the memories of “building up your vocabulary” for Use of English exam during uni times are so traumatic you don’t even want to introduce this torture to your students?

Well, in this case you have definitely missed workshops by my colleague Beata who proved that even dictionary classes can be engaging and entertaining. Seeing my obvious disbelief, she was kind enough to lend me the book that actually made me bring my dust-covered old friends back to the classroom.

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Dusting my collection, looks like I used those books ages ago.

 

This unusual book is simply called “Dictionaries” and was written by John Wright (it’s a part of Resource Books for Teachers by OUP). It’s divided into four parts dealing with various topics in which a teacher can use a dictionary to help develop particular areas of linguistic proficiency. We start with lessons on how to actually use a dictionary (not surprising for those teachers who have already encountered students who are not really able to look for words in alphabetical order). The second part is focused on headwords – my favourite part, here you can find some interesting exercises on pronunciation and generally the phonetic system. Working with meaning deserves a separate part and it’s mainly about vocabulary development, idioms and collocations. The next part combines using dictionaries and original texts (e.g. newspaper articles) to introduce in the classroom topics like memory strategies, register, homonyms, etc. The final chapter focuses basically on vocabulary issues like differences between British and American English, connotations and vocabulary organisation.

I had been quite sceptical about this whole idea of dusting my dictionaries and bringing them to my classes (especially when we can use things like my beloved thefreedictionary), but I decided to leave my comfort zone and start this new year with some oldies but goodies. The exercises that caught my eye were as follow:

Phonemic bingo (elementary+) – develops awareness of phonemic symbols. Students make a bingo grid with e.g. 2 long vowels, 2 diphtongs, 2 short vowels and 3 consonants, then teacher dictates words and students fill in their squares.

Sight and sound (upper-intermediate+) raises awareness of onomatopoeic effects and sight/sound groups. Students look up in the dictionaries words connected with a given sound/sight and then for example, write the diary of a person with a splitting headache.

“It’s a sort of…” (elementary/intermediate) provides practice with the structure “it’s a sort of…”, superordinates and skimming. Students get a text with blanks and work on them basing on context to realize they don’t really need to know the exact meaning of each new word, but it’s enough to now what the general meaning is. I find it a really valuable exercise for my adult students who try to remember every word.

Quick quiz (elementary+) provides practice with wh- questions and helps with contextualizing new vocabulary . Students get the teacher-made quiz referring to unknown words with wh- questions (e.g. “who wears a nappy?”), and work in pairs with dictionary to solve test. It’s a really nice warm-up, or even an exercise to introduce vocabulary before a reading exercise.

Collapsing a page (preintermediate+) encourages learning vocabulary by association. Students work with a random dictionary page (10-15 headwords) and pair up as many words as they can using any justification apart from “beginning with the same letter” (e.g. two irregular plurals etc.). Then they pass their page on to the next group /pair who must guess the pairing rule.

Words and feelings (intermediate+) works with dictionary codes (e.g. derog.) and practise positive/negative connotations. Students in pairs find positive/negative connotations for simple words (fat/thin).

Find a proverb/idiom (intermediate) gives practice in finding idiomatic expressions in dictionary entries. Students get the key words that occur in proverbs/idioms and find English sayings in the dictionary.

“Would-be” vocabulary (intermediate+) focuses on the usefulness of the new vocabulary. Students work with text, find the words they don’t understand and put them in three groups: words useful for me now, words useful for me when…, words useful for me if…

Weather words and global warming (intermediate+) focuses on vocabulary development, especially weather words. Students work in groups trying to come up with cities starting with every letter of the alphabet in various continents, Then they write a weather word to go with each place, they don’t have to make sense (e.g. Fez may be “freezing”), because then they prepare a weather report for one area in the world explaining how global warming is responsible for the changes.

I hope you’ll like the ideas I found – if you want to get more, get yourself the book 🙂

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.

Video exploitation

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

Photo Collage Maker_duTNaO

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!

Stories of horror and fantasy – not only for Halloween

We all enjoy scary stories, especially the fantastic ones, when we can be sure nothing that bad will ever happen to us (or so we hope). Halloween seems to be a good time to share some of the English literature masterpieces with our students. From my perspective, most of my students know the most famous films (unfortunately the younger ones rather appreciate Saw than Hitchcock’s Birds), but they have no idea who Edgar Allan Poe or Howard Phillips Lovecraft were (they usually recognise Stephen King, but I’m not writing about King here).

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Thinking about Halloween it was the latter author that sprung to my mind – a lot of people have heard the name of Cthulhu, but not even half of them know that it’s a being created by HPL and not a pop-cultural concept. So I thought: why not share some of the stories with my students?

And then I thought: oh, and Neil Gaiman. And A Series of Unfortunate Events. And Ann Rice with her vampires galore. Oh, and that story by Agatha Christie… Looks like something I could share on my blog actually – so here we go:

  • Young learners (10+)

It never ceases to amaze me how bloodthirsty children are. Their stories can reek of gore and twisted sense of humour. I guess it’s a way of playing with the taboo, but if we take the real, uncensored Tales by the Grimm brothers, well – I think they might love them.

If you’re not into eye-gauging stuff by the Grimm brothers, you may show your students the eerie world of Neil Gaiman. Coraline would be my book of choice, but I think kids may love The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or The Graveyard Book just as much.

But still, as probably many teachers would agree, it’s A Series of Unfortunate Events that can introduce the world of horror and fantasy to young learners of English, especially with the adorable emphasis on explaining new vocabulary to the reader. I think that the hardships of the Baudelaire siblings don’t grow old.

  • Teenagers

Creepypastas seem to be a perfect tool to make your students read, Google, research and explore. You can choose from various sites, for example creepypasta.com and include them in your lesson plans (my absolutely favourite one is Russian Sleep Experiment).

You can also use random short stories as an incentive for their own written compositions.

When it comes to books I’d recommend Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, they are the predecessors of modern stuff known as teenage paranormal romance (Twilight etc.), but it’s way better written, and full of existential suffering we love when we’re 17 😉

I believe teenagers might love Stardust or Good Omens by Neil Gaiman (the latter written with the late sir Terry Pratchett) – maybe not scary per se, but those are definitely worth reading fantasy stories. 

  • Adults

Have I mentioned Neil Gaiman? I’m sure adult learners will appreciate his Neverwhere or American Gods, or – if they are into weird and scary – The Sandman (which could be a perfect way of presenting a graphic novel as a form of art).

I guess that adult students should have no problems with reading Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie. It’s not too scary, I admit, but it’s a really good story and it may give the adults the pleasure of reading an authentic text, solving a crime and experiencing a bit of cultural event, a Halloween party – which may not be celebrated in the students’ native culture.

If you teach adults who are quite proficient in English, I wouldn’t hesitate to share with them the masters of horror and fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher could be easily used as a source text in the classroom) or the ever-underestimated Howard Philips Lovecraft. While HPL’s ideas of the Elder Gods exist somewhere in pop-culture, his stories, sadly, don’t get as much recognition as they deserve. I would share with my students my two favourite stories: The Colour Out of Space and The Dunwich Horror, but be sure to explain historical background, the idea of pulp fiction etc.

I hope the stories I shared will be found useful in your teaching and you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

Cthulhu ftaghn!