From Goal Setting to the Effect – workshop with Luiza Wójtowicz-Waga

From Goal Setting to the

I’ve been learning Spanish for a while now and it’s been a great time, save for a time when my profesora was replaced by a native. The new profesora was a really nice lady, I guess, and a teacher with an impressive potential for development; the thing was, however, we had no proper coursebook and relied on her materials… and I had no idea what was going on in the class, what new skills I developed, what things I was supposed to learn. I tried talking to her DoS, but soon I got frustrated and eventually I quit.

This “traumatic” experience made me an advocate for a clear specification of the lesson goal and, naturally, sharing it with students. So when Luiza, who’s a highly experienced trainer and a very inspiring woman, invited me to her workshop on goal setting, I was on cloud nine.

Goal setting a’la holiday planning

Goal setting is pretty much like going on holidays, explains Luiza. First, you choose your destination and then you plan your journey and pack your luggage.

The most important aspect of a goal, though, is its relevance. Guided by Luiza we worked hard trying to make our goals SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound) and then making them appropriate for our students’ needs (depending on their age, type of classes etc.). To make this task more challenging, we worked on sign-posting methodology – addressing the goal not only at the beginning and the end of the lesson, but keeping it visible throughout all activities.

Do I even need this?

The most difficult activity was, as always, defining the goal and making it relevant both from students’ perspective and from teacher’s viewpoint. “Do I really need this?” was the question we imagine our students ask, and we planned our goals accordingly.

“Student learns how to describe a photo” doesn’t really sound exciting for any student, but we can add a little bit of magic by paraphrasing it into “student can describe a crime scene basing on a photo”. The activity will be pretty much the same, but suddenly the goal sounds more useful – and that’s why students’ brains will accept the unavoidable necessity of acquiring knowledge with ease.


Sugar, spice and everything nice

I’m not going to reveal all the secrets I’ve learnt – but we discussed Test-Teach-Test approach, an amazing activity-planner idea by Ewa Torebko (I’m going to share it soon, because this particular idea deserves a separate note, it’s sooo awesome), von Restorff effect and John Hattie’s ideas.

Things I’ve learnt? How important the last exercise is, how easily you can manage the whole goal-setting process and how important summary of the classes is.

If you ever have the chance to attend this workshop – do not hesitate, simply put your name on the list and prepare for a great time: six hours of learning, fun and meeting new, friendly and inspiring people.

Just be sure to take the next day off work, your mind will be buzzing!


Role-Playing Teaching (Part 1:Why do we play games?)


Why do weplay games (3)

I guess I’ve mentioned more than once that I really love role-playing games and I can tell they’re pretty much like educational process – I’ve decided to write a series of short blog-notes about this phenomenon, explaining why games, especially RPGs, are so vital in my approach to teaching.

Some of you have probably heard about RPGs, but I need to clarify one important thing – I’m not going to talk about computer games (so-called cRPGs), I’m going to focus only on good, old pen-and-paper ones (yeah, like Dungeon & Dragons or Warhammer) as their construction and communicative aspect are the most important aspects.

Before I get to RPGs themselves I want to focus on the idea of a game – it can be easily observed that games are more and more popular in TEFL, and in teaching in general, they are enjoyed by students and teachers alike and I wonder: have you ever thought what is the reason of the enjoyment?

Well, before answering this question, the main problem is the game itself. Have you ever tried to define it? Ludwig von Wittgenstein tried (and died, oops), and came to conclusion that each explanation we’re able to construct only restricts the concept of the game – thanks, philosophers! Fortunately there were some academics who got inspired by Wittgenstein’s endeavours and tried to define it nonetheless.

In his book “Games People Play”, Eric Berne (who was a psychiatrist, but he also came up with an idea of transactional analysis, one of the most wicked ideas from a linguistic point of view) defined game as “an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. (…) Every game (…) is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting, quality”. Marta Wołos in her study gives her own classification of the game, based on ludicity of a game, existence of rules, established and repeatable structure, an element of choice or chance and artificiality of the world of the game.

So we know that the game is a series of established and repeatable activities/transactions where the participants know the rules and try to use them (or cheat, but that’s still playing according to rules), where the world is artificial and there is always an element of chance or choice.

Now, to the main question: why do we play games? When we look at the cultural aspect, we can see how imitative children games teach archetypes and social roles without which society can’t exist. At least Jung said so.

But what about the adults? What about games we bring to our classrooms?

One might think playing games is a form of escapism (quite a common theory when we talk about video games), however there’s more to that. Eric Berne says games are helpful in relieving the tension caused by social pressure. The opportunity of playing games is also helpful for people who are shy or not keen on showing emotions in public. Johan Huizinga (probably the first person to look at the games from a scientific point of view) mentioned four aspects that make games enjoyable: direct competition between players (e.g. snakes&ladders), chance activities (like gambling), mimicry (acting out in role-plays) and pleasure of movement (most games for children).

Everyone enjoys either some form of competition, or a little bit of (safe!) gambling. People like showing emotions by acting out someone else. We all feel that playing a game is a way of relaxing from everyday life and its stress.

That’s why we play games – unconsciously looking for a way of learning by proxy, trying to introduce some fun into tedious classes. How many students have you met who claimed there were “too many” games in the classroom and they “didn’t feel they were learning”? It’s because they associate games with pastime, and not with educational process. Now, you and I know better, right?

Role-Playing Games are special snowflakes when it comes to playing games. They are amazing not only from the educational perspective, but also from psychological, linguistic and sociological point of view. I am going discuss RPGs in the next part of my short series.

If you want to read more on the topic:

Berne, Eric (1996): Games People Play, Ballantine Books

Wołos, Marta (2002): Koncepcja gry językowej Wittgensteina w świetle badań współczesnego językoznawstwa, Kraków: UNIVERSITAS

Huizinga, Johan (1938): Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture (you can read it here)

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953): Philosophical Investigations (you can read it here)


5 free online courses in August

Tidal Rise

Aaaaand my summer break is over – I didn’t write literally a single word during the past fortnight. No, I wasn’t chilling out, I was doing a total makeover of my flat: painting walls, changing floors – I really love the results of my endeavours, especially that I have learnt something really valuable: doing physical work puts your mind at ease. Sure, you may revise your Maths while calculating the amount of paint you shall need for this particular wall, but I didn’t think about my work, teaching, CPD – and even though I’m slightly tired physically I do feel mentally rested.

Still, I’m not going to do similar makeover in this decade, thank you very much.

August is actually on, so this time I have only 5 online courses you may still catch up on and enjoy while the summer lasts.

1 Becoming a Confident Trainer by TAFE SA

If you’ve just started working with adult learners it’s a course for you: focusing on gaining confidence, and understanding an idea of a trainer as someone who presents concepts in a professional manner, is an effective communicator and has developed an awareness of the learning needs of their learner group.

The course started on the 7th of August and ends on the 5th of September.

2 Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom by the Museum of Modern Art

This is a very interesting course focusing on integrating art into classroom environment, ways that you can incorporate inquiry around a work of art into your classroom and types of resources that you can access to supplement your lesson development and planning. It may be a really nice idea if you have a IWB in your classroom and want to show something special.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 4 weeks.

3 Teaching Tips for Tricky English Grammar by University of California, Irvine

That is a really great course for fresh teachers – it literally shows you some problematic areas of grammar common for most learners, and it gives you ideas on how to explain grammar so that you avoid your students’ frustration. It’s on the intermediate level (so you may recommend it to your students as well) and the issues include e.g. nouns, quantifiers, articles, word formation and phrasal verbs.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 4 weeks. You need to be able to make videos of yourself demonstrating your teaching, using a webcam or phone.

4 K-12 Blended & Online Learning by University System of Georgia

If you’re interested in incorporating technology in your classroom and your work with young learners either in a public school or in a private language centre, you may be really interested in what this course has to offer. You will not only focus on technology, but also on specific content and even creating syllabus! Frankly speaking, this course would be my pick of the month.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 8 weeks – plenty of time to learn.

5 Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach by University of London, UCL Institute of Education

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) is the most common method alternative to the old PPP – and in this course you will get familiar with this approach. TBLT uses communicative tasks as the key unit for creating language learning activities. You will explore how TBLT and teaching second language reading can be successfully integrated in practice through analysing task-based reading materials.

The course starts on the 14th of August and takes 6 weeks.

As you can see from my set, Coursera doesn’t seem to have summer break! If you’re still on holidays you can spend some time on learning – and if you do, let me know which course you’ve chosen.

Enjoy your learning and your summer break (if you’re lucky to have one)!

Bored on your summer break? Let’s make a board game!


You might have noticed I like games. Role playing games are the best, sure, but board games are also fun, especially that they are usually easier to adapt to teaching environment (although I have been thinking about introducing RPGs to my language school…). I am lucky to work with teachers who share my view on games and possibilities they create in the classroom and quite often we just discuss new games and how to use them in class.

Dixit is a well known game and I think everyone has already played Story Cubes. I still find Once Upon a Time a great teaching aid bringing in fun, and Mystery of the Abbey is the game everyone loves (I guess due to the possibility of cheating, huh). It may be financially difficult to buy all the board games we’d like to have, so I create them with my students – be that a simple pattern or a complex adventure (Deadly Islands – love this idea).

We’re getting more and more games in our school, but still there are some beyond our reach – too complex to explain in class, not communicative enough, or simply – impossible to buy (out of stock, waiting for second print, huh). And since we all know that desperate times call for desperate measures, we basically change the official ideas into DIY games.

One of the games we recreated was When I Dream – a beautiful game by Chris Darsaklis, impossible for us to buy, but easy to adapt to teaching needs. What we need is: a lot of “dream-cards” with random words (always nouns – paper, knife, book etc.), a sleeping mask and some “role cards”, namely “fairies” and “imps” (and, optionally, “tricksters”). We made the cards using own imagination, business card paper, pen and a laminator – and that’s it, we’re ready to play!

We start with assigning the roles – one player is a Dreamer, so he wears the sleeping mask. The other players are secretly given their roles (good fairies or naughty imps – there should be more fairies than imps). Then the “spirits” draw a dream-card with a word and try to describe it to the Dreamer using one word each – fairies will try to help the Dreamer by giving most obvious connotations, however imps will try to mislead the Dreamer by using other words to keep him off-track. The whole round lasts 60 or 120 seconds (up to you and group’s level) and the Dreamer may guess the word at any time – the word is then placed to the fairies side (if the guess was correct) or to the imps side (if the fairies didn’t win). I usually write the words the Dreamer says on the board, as they will come useful later on.

After some rounds like this (4-6 words), the Dreamer is allowed to take off the sleeping mask and story-tell his dream using the words he guessed (the words on the board really are helpful then) – but he doesn’t know yet which words he guessed correctly and which not.

Then the Dreamer and the fairies get a point for every card in the fairies pile, when the imps get one point for every card in their pile. The Dreamer also scores one point for every word he used during his storytelling (he might actually use the words he should’ve guessed before, so he’ll score point for them as well).

Optionally you may include a trickster who changes sides as the games goes by, sometimes being a fairy, sometimes an imp – the tricksters gets points according to how well balanced the two teams were at the end of the round, gaining extra points if they managed to equally balance the two piles.

This game is extremely easy to understand and absolutely fun to play regardless the language proficiency level. It helps students to revise vocabulary, and by forcing them to react quickly (they don’t have much time to come up with nice connotations) it makes them actually start thinking in a foreign language which is one of the most difficult aspects of learning a language.

What I find nice about this game is its ability to adapt to various languages, so that you may create versions for all the classes you need. It may be used as a nice warm-up or a funny cool-down, with all age groups and in any type of classes.

I hope you’ll try to give it a go – let me know if you had fun Dreaming 🙂

7 free online courses in July

7 Free Online Courses

Summer break is perfect for online courses – you don’t have to do lesson preparation, your mind is free to wander: now’s the time to study! I do realise not everyone is a die-hard fan of online courses like yours truly, so my shortlisted courses are rather summer-like, short and pleasant. Whether you’re a Director of Studies or a teacher, I’m sure you’ll find something for yourself. The course I recommend most is definitely Coaching Teachers (and it’s suitable for DoSes and Teachers alike, trust me), it gave me really good feedback on my own awkward behaviour during after-observation appraisal – very useful!

1 What is leadership by Deakin University

This course will explain what leadership is and how the concept changed over the years.  It will investigate the role model of a leader and how to use personal power. It may be really useful for those teachers who are DoSes at the same time or simply struggle with maintaining discipline in the classroom.

It starts on the 10th of July and lasts 2 weeks – so it’s pretty short.

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

The course focuses on children’s language acquisition, effective communication and measuring not only progress, but also challenge we create for the youngest learners. It may be really useful not only for EFL teachers, but also parents who very often want to make their children take up an opportunity in educational possibilities.

It started on the 3rd of July and lasts 6 weeks, but with estimated 2 hours of work per week seems rather a light course.

3 Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics by Universiteit Leiden, Meertens Instituut (KNAW)

The course is useful if you want to get a fairly quick introduction into linguistics. This may also be a nice idea for those who have finished their universities, but want to revise their knowledge. Yes, there will be Chomsky in the curriculum. The interesting things is that the level of English in this course is very low, so this is something your students may enjoy.

It started on the 3rd of July and lasts 6 weeks. The amount of time you’ll need may vary, depending on your knowledge of the subject.

4 Get Organized: How to be a Together Teacher by Relay Graduate School of Education

I’m a firm believer that organization is the key to success – mind, I love improvisation, but within some organised frames. Now, this course is designed for classroom teachers who juggle time-sensitive tasks and exhausting teaching schedules. With an eye toward long-term sustainability, The Together Teacher examines the purpose of planning ahead, provides tools for tracking time commitments, deadlines and tasks, and helps teachers develop a personal organization system that interacts with their day-by-day practices. Sounds purrfect!

The course starts on the 10th of July and lasts 6 weeks (there are a lot of things you need to organise apparently).

5 Teaching Adult Learners by Central Institute of Technology

The course focuses on how to engage adult learners through collaborative learning, instructional skills and design, as well as looking at the role technology is playing in terms of promoting engaged learning environments. It is recommended for those teachers who change their scope of teaching from young learners to adults.

It began on the 3rd of July and lasts 4 weeks.

6 Coaching Teachers: Promoting Changes That Stick by Match Teacher Residency

This is the course I took before even starting my journey as a DoS – and I recommend it to everyone. The course focuses on learning and practising strategies for coaching teachers to make meaningful, long-lasting improvements in their instruction. You will learn what the Four Horsemen of Observed Lesson look like and will never be surprised during post-observation assessment.

It starts on the 10th of July and lasts 5 weeks.

7 Learning Mindsets & Skills by Match Teacher Residency

My pick of the month! Following the success of the previous course (Coaching Teachers) I’ve decided to study with MTR once more. The course is designed to explore underlying concepts behind Learning Mindsets & Skills as well as the the practical applications of those concepts in various educational environments. Sounds lovely!

It started on the 3rd of July and lasts 3 weeks – nice and short.

I hope you’ll find something that will suit your needs and interests. If you pick Learning Mindset, let me know, that would be lovely meeting online!

If you know any other interesting courses – share them with me, and together we shall rule the MOOC world!



Summer school madness – 8 tips from a survivor

Summer school madness

I remember my first summer school (Taunton 2013, six weeks) and paraphrasing Lana del Rey’s Summertime sadness into summerschool madness – we should’ve made a staff choir, come to think of it. Being a DoS, however, means working full time, so I can’t go and join my friends working with various summer schools, but a friend of mine is joining a summer school in England for the very first time and asked me to write some tips for summer school virgins. Here we go, then – if I managed to survive, so will you!

1 Don’t panic! and choose a proper school

The most important thing is to pick a good school, where not only students but also teachers are well taken care of. You will need materials, resource books and a good DoS (or ADoS) to help you through. Apart from reading opinions on the Internet check whether the school has British Council Accreditation – you want to make sure your future workplace is a good school. British Council does inspections to make sure those schools have proper standards, so picking an accredited centre would be my priority.

2 Pack your things sensibly

Surprise – you’re not going to the end of the world, even if you travel from the continent! You’ll probably be able to buy most of the things you need on the spot, but if you have your favourite cosmetics – take them with you as the brand may be unavailable in the UK. Remember to take an adapter if you need it. I’d recommend taking an e-reader, no need to take books (though I’d invest in 700 Classroom Activities, my favourite teaching tool ever). You will be sent a vademecum from your school, so pay attention to dress code, but also remember you’ll probably go on school trips, so make sure you’ve got some suitable clothes. And shoes.

3 The Internet

Well, this might be a tricky point – you will probably be located in a normal school and the Internet protection in the UK is much higher than in most EU countries, so you may get a nasty surprise when your news page turns out to be blocked (possible nudity). I’ve encountered a school blocking google, so yeah, things may be fun. If you want to avoid it, simply buy a UK phone number with a good data package. My friend recommends getting a Giff Gaff, as you can order your SIM card to your country and actually have it before you go to the UK. However, what surprised me was how many hotspots in a city can be out of reach, compared to Poland.

Oh, and the only browser on school computers was IE, so… remember, remarks about poor technological development of the country may be considered rude.

4 The Madness

Had anyone told me this before I joined LAL I’d probably smile, but here it is: summer school is madness. You live in a bubble of contained space and extremely intensive time with pretty much the same people, there has to be tension, you can’t escape it. The good things will be beyond perfection, the bad things will create drama (honestly, you will see adult people cry) – you need to realise that there will be simple events intensified to the level you’ve forgotten since you left your boarding school. There will be adult people behaving like teenagers (and teenagers behaving like teenagers, so at least that will be normal) and there’s nothing wrong with it. Being a summer school teacher is not a summer chill, you will have more responsibilities than just teaching… and, something you’ll probably never get used to, the rest of the staff will not understand how serious business teaching is. This may be one of those things that create tension, but, as I say, it is absolutely understandable in summerschool madness.

5 Other teachers

This is probably the best aspect of a summer school – your colleagues. You will meet so many people from various environments, you’ll have so much time to discuss teaching methods, compare your ideas and learn new things. And due to the Madness, you’ll make a special bond with these people (sometimes known as We Survived attitude) that will last longer than the summer. I have made real friendships and I am really grateful to my LAL mates for suffering my recalcitrant self. Kudos!

6 Teaching

Right, there will be students, probably from various countries and this is both wonderful and somewhat scary. You will have a lot of cross cultural issues to learn, remember, explain etc. You probably will develop some weird kind of preference (I really liked working with Russians and Germans, especially a certain magical group in 2014), and there will be students you won’t ever forget (again, the Madness, you will see those kids everyday and they will be far-away-from-home teenagers, sometimes they will look up to the only authority they know – a teacher, just be sure to listen to them, they are bound to have their dramas and there will be no parents to help). When it comes to teaching – it is summer school, after all, so leave that copy of grammar drills and go for full fun and communication!

7 Food

It was the summer school experience that taught me British food can be actually delicious. Only during British summer could I eat crisps with vinegar and actually enjoy it, but as I usually picked Taunton in Somerset (adorable place and lovely local people!), I discovered proper cheddar (something I couldn’t get in Ireland, sorry Dublin) and Blue Stilton which is one of my guilty pleasures. But there was clotted cream and Thatchers Gold… and they have cider festival in Somerset which means I always came back home heavier than I left.

8 Experience

You will either love it or hate it, it is an experience so intensive it will leave you drained and in need of another holidays. You will meet a lot of people, some of them will make you a better person and some of them will make you see red. If you are single, you might as well finish summer school in a relationship. But it is one of the most educational periods of time, not only from a professional point of view, but also personally. Is there any piece of advice? Sure:

Keep your eyes open and let your horizons broaden. Don’t be petty. Laugh whenever you can. Make friends. Learn. Curse hot and cold taps only when nobody hears you.


This post was heavily inspired, so I need to give credit where credit’s due.
Gosia – thank you for making me write this post.
LAL – the summer school with which I worked for three unforgettable summers. May there be more in the future.
My fellow LAL teachers: Kasia, David, Dave, Shonie, Filip, Ania, Gizella, Michal, Sandrine, Summyyah, Kait (my long-lost twin), Mark, Rozenn, Agata, Merve, Gocha, Viorica, Ndrew – that would be lovely seeing you again
Sebastian, Ivan, Georgii, Christopher – friendship is magic. Always.

Can fake identity be useful for teachers?

fake identity

I’ve always believed being a teacher is like being a performer (in my case usually a clown but hey, still better than Kenneth Branagh trying to impersonate Hercule Poirot), a psychologist (at least when it comes to being quiet and listening) or a Game Master (trying to organise a year-long campaign for a bunch of ungrateful players). I guess the similarity to Role Playing Games is the closest to my perception of the role of a teacher, and I’m certainly going to write something about it (probably during holidays when I have more time to let my mind roam free), but today I’m going to show you something you might not have thought of using, and which proves that a teacher role for today is almost a secret agent!

There have been rumours of a female Bond, you know…

No, I’m not going to encourage you to secretly dispose of the students who forget their homework (it’s not a coincidence they won’t give teachers licence to kill, I’m afraid), I am merely going to show you Fake Name Generator and prove it to be an excellent teaching aid.

1 Present Simple exercise (A1+)

It’s not always easy for people to talk about themselves and that’s one of the most common exercises to practise Present Simple. It may be easier to prepare fake portfolios using the Generator and let them describe particular character and their personal details and then get creative and think of their daily routine, likes and dislikes etc.

2 Creating characters for role-plays (A2-C2)

It’s much more interesting to create a role-play when the characters are quite different from real students. Instead of making a debate with a bunch of bored teenagers we may give the very same topic to discuss, but ask our students to assume the roles given (and thanks to the Generator we may create the characters on the spot!) challenging them to not only readjust their arguments to their characters’ viewpoints, but also change their range of vocabulary and even accent (if they’re fluent enough).

3 Business English (A2-C2)

Similar to the previous ideas, it may be easier for students to engage into conversations with fake characters – in this case it would be a teacher who acts a generated person. I find it highly useful in HR-centred areas, as you can arrange many communicative situations with various characters debating possible business problems, yet distancing from them at the same time by using fictional characters.

4 Total immersion (B1-C2)

Now, if your class is into experiments, you might ask them to try and create characters with the Generator at home, and pretend to live the life of their fake identities for a week or a month. You need to come to classes dressed a little bit differently (just a small accessory would do to emphasise our identity), change your small talk (“how’s your boss?” “still looking for work?” “kids and wifey ok?” etc.), you may even write emails to one another. It’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of learning.

5 Teaching tool for checking apps online

As a teacher, the Generator may prove surprisingly useful when you want to check an app or a website and they ask you to log in or give your email. Now, the emails given by the Generator are real and working – so you may use fake identities to check new things out before you decide you want to sign up for them. It’s pretty much like being a secret agent, isn’t it?

Here are my favourite ideas on bringing fake identities to life – inside and outside of classroom. You may give them a go – or you may encourage students who are reluctant to sign up for Facebook and can’t join your group to check things out. Fake Name Generator isn’t really a teaching tool, but as I try to prove – everything can be a means of education if you’re willing to try. And if you do, maybe you’ll come up with your own ideas on how to use the Generator?