Can we keep our students focused in the classroom?

bored-students

indianlink.com.au

I really dislike this season of the year when winter slowly changes into spring. I feel tired and lazy and somehow uncomfortable in my own skin – and when all I hear around is “wee, spring is coming” I feel like crawling into my bed and missing November (my favourite month of the year, seriously). It’s quite easy for me to understand my students being somewhat slow and sloppy, so here are some tricks I use to keep them focused in the classroom because hey, spring or no spring, the Passive must be reviewed.

First of all, change the pace. Shorter but more varied exercises seem to work almost always. When students finish grammar, make them sing a song, act a short scene, come up with a joke. After a short break get back to exercises, but once they finish a decent part of the drill give them a short topic to discuss, a quiz or a short film (Film English is a purrfect source of those). It’s not so much about being unpredictable as not letting them get bored.

Food is always a good idea to relieve the tension of grammar revision classes. I have already written about food here (click!) and I still find it one of the easiest ways to bring fun to the classroom. I usually teach by the book: two units – revision – test. The review before tests is usually the worst part of the routine for my students, so I try to brighten it up as much as I can – by bringing films, making projects etc. My students, especially teenagers, love baking cakes for those classes, as – a scientifically proven fact! – sugar intake boosts your mood and no amount of grammar exercises can destroy its beneficial effect. One of my groups made a recipe project – I brought 500 Cupcake Book and everyone picked one recipe to translate. Now, they’re supposed to bring the results of translation next week when we can judge the quality of translation while reviewing the aforementioned Passive for the test. I will definitely post some photos on my fb page unless I fall into sugar coma… (edit: so far I haven’t – click! to see what my talented students made)

Online quizzes – not only the ones about language! Everyone knows you can use quizizz, quizlet or kahoot but have you thought about something different? I’ve started collecting music quizzes as it seems to be a nice break for my students – and I can use it to share some cultural things English students should know (like watching at least one western, seriously, teenagers!). I’ve tested the ones on my padlet and now I can share them with you and ask for collaboration – if you find any interesting music quizzes share them with me!

Made with Padlet

Chilling out – as simple as it sounds, it may be not so easy to conduct. It’s quite important to keep the balance and allow only for sensible chillout that can be beneficial for the class and not leading to greater laziness. What can we do? We may take the group to the café and enjoy one lesson with a cup of tea or coffee. We may go for a short walk where students are supposed to record a short message, write down all the things they can name in English or do a short survey with unsuspecting passers-by. The idea is to introduce something unusual, simple and entertaining for our students to give them a chance to recharge their batteries.
Finally, introducing nonsensical sense of humour – which is my favourite thing to do regardless the weather or season of the year – but as humour can be quite a sensitive issue I’ll write about it in another post.

Hope you’ll get inspired by some of those ideas 🙂

Enjoy!

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:

alien_20cover

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!)

 

i didnt do my hw 1

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 🙂

i didnt do my hw 2

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.

i didnt do my hw 3

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

Commercial Christmas or Christmas commercials?

2221965_orig

projectcomenius.weebly.com

It’s not easy to come up with Christmas-themed lessons, especially when you teach the same bunch of students yet another year and they’ve already had enough of Christmas at school (be it their own or their children’s). This year, I accidentally went for a pretty nice Christmas theme inspired by commercials and a fellow teacher’s blog post.

The theme of my Christmas-related classes is its commercial aspect. For some people it’s the most dreadful thing in the world, but for me the season starts with John Lewis’ TV spot (my absolutely favourite is the 2013 one, the Bear and the Hare with Lily Allen’s nostalgic voice in the background). It’s quite easy to run a short debate on commercials and their influence on our lives, and then it’s just perfect to use the film I found On The Same Page (it’s just brilliant! thank you!).

After watching these inspiring ads I initiate a discussion about the commercial side of Christmas – how annoying it is to go into a shop fully decorated for Christmas right after Halloween, how some commercials can be real tearjerkers (yes, I still want to share some cheesy Christmas spirit even if I’m the Evil Empress of the World in the Making). I’m sure everyone has at least one spot they’ll watch whenever it’s on (like We All Need Warmth by Quechua, awww!).

You may pick some commercials from my padlet here. (Please do not hesitate to add some if you know any nice Christmas-themed commercials!) Each video may be used to ask some questions connected not only with commercials, but also with social issues – mostly family and friends, but also animal care etc.

The last Christmas commercial I have in mind is the one that already went viral – made for Allegro, a Polish auction website.

The discussion that follows this short film may be connected with various aspects. With elementary levels we may talk about difficulties we have while learning, with pre-int students we may talk about our own learning methods, with intermediate+ levels we may discuss the difference in learning (or language acquisition) between younger and older students, and more advanced groups can talk about the impact of migration on family lives and the decisions migrants face.

I hope you’ll have fun with the commercials – and enjoy your Christmas classes!

Are we really creative?

albert-einstein-creativity-quote

Source: ist.greenville.edu

Ten days ago I took part in a great webinar by Agnieszka Gągała from Szkolimy that was focused on creativity – you know it’s a great webinar when it’s 9 p.m. and you’re still having fun. We discussed the concept of creativity as a way of thinking characterised by originality, flexibility, fluency and elaboration, but we also took part in some games/exercises on creativity as well as original and lateral thinking (if you want to practice some lateral puzzles, you may want to have a look at one of my previous notes). I do recommend taking part in Agnieszka’s webinar, so whenever you see her workshops around, definitely join them! You can have a look at it here (Polish only, sorry!):

Apart from having fun, I was reminded of this famous TED talk by Ken Robinson, “Do schools kill creativity?” and the perfect statement regarding the role of creativity in education:

So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

Now, creativity is one of the most important values for me, not only in teaching, but in everyday life. And, sadly, it’s one of the reasons I stopped working in public education system where I struggled to bring some fun into exam-oriented environment. I’m afraid our education system is so focused on tests and somewhat wrongly perceived linguistic competence, that there’s not enough place for communication skills, cross-cultural experiences and, well, having fun. Students are locked in classrooms with grammar books and vocabulary exercises instead of actually using the language, because the main goal of school is test preparation, and the main expectation of parents is that their child passes those tests. This is really sad, and I must admit I absolutely respect those teachers who fight to change this state of things.

I have been working with kids and teenagers for a few years now, and I must admit that one of the saddest things I’ve observed is the lack of creativity. When I meet new students it usually takes 4-6 weeks to make them think out of the box and it’s honestly quite heartbreaking for me, because I remember myself when I was their age, some weird ideas (when I was 16 I seriously planned to study mechanics and become a president) and I feel really sorry for children who are simply not used to balderdash, being constantly reminded to focus on their future career.

It is definitely easier to work creatively when you work in a private language school, and I love it – using those parts of books I like, bringing in fun, making students talk and actually have fun using the language they’ve acquired through grammar-and-vocabulary-exercises. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever heard was when one of my students told me after our last classes: “you know, I’ve made progress, and I can speak English without fear… and I don’t even know when this all happened”. One of my personal highlights.

Being creative is the key to opening, unblocking someone else’s creativity – but I’m not really sure that being a “creative teacher” is enough, I’d say that being a creative human being is more important here. I believe we, teachers, should not only bring creative classroom activities, we should focus on unblocking this aspect in our students’ mindsets. I’m nor really sure that attitude is something anyone expects us to do, but in a world where creativity is clearly needed yet restrained by the career-focused environment, it’s the teachers that should take at least part of responsibility for students’ creative growth. After all, we’re here not only to share knowledge, we’re here to teach and there’s more to it than preparing creative games for the classes.

And I want to quote Sir Ken Robinson to finish my note:

We have to be careful now that we use this gift (of the human imagination) wisely (…). And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way – we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.

I’d love to know what you think about creativity and its importance – please, share your comments and if you liked my blog, follow it on Facebook.

We’re all Doctors Strange here :)

itsnpt-765x1024

littlebitofthyme.com

 

Sometimes you get inspired by the weirdest things and in my case I blame it on the newest film by Marvel Studios – Doctor Strange. The film inspiration is nothing new in my life (remember Kung Fu Panda?), however after watching the film I came across a short article by a paramedic and all I could do was nod – and since it’s my blog, I feel like sharing my reflections with you – or rather noting them down so that I won’t forget them in the future.

People become teachers to share their knowledge. During our courses we’re being told that teaching is vital in the society, that it’s not a mere job, it’s a vocation. It’s partly true, I can’t deny it – but in this way every job is a vocation and we aren’t special flowers here. This not a job, but a vocation phrase is now more and more often used by those teachers who want to emphasise their superiority, by those parents who expect schools to deal with their children’s behaviour, by governments who apparently believe that vocation is so powerful teachers don’t need to be well paid (greetings from Poland!).

To be honest, this approach is one of the reasons I don’t work with the state educational system – I really and truly believe teaching is just a job. I love it, yes, I try to develop my teaching and DoSing skills, but when I get back home (and do some teaching-connected work, well, it does come with the job, doesn’t it) I’m not a teacher anymore, I’m a personnel of two cats, a whodunit reader, an RPG player – and it’s a gaming comparison that springs to my mind.

When we play games, we’re the heroes of the stories – just like in our life (only our life rarely includes dungeons or dragons), but in real life, when we do our teaching job, we’re not really heroes, we’re actually background to someone else’s life. Before we start teaching we’re told we’re the most important factor in the classroom, but we are not. Our classes, books, materials and ourselves are simply background to someone’s development. And it’s this particular student, and their (in my case linguistic) knowledge, and personal growth – that is the most important aspect.

I deeply believe that the most important role of a teacher is that of a facilitator, and once I realised that, I’ve become more open to my students’ actual needs, more likely to be more than a teacher – a partner on our way to get their knowledge. Not the most important person in the process, because this role belongs solely to the student.

I really do love teaching, and frankly, I enjoy being in the centre of attention that goes with teaching – but slowly I’m trying to put my students in the limelight, to let them shine and, to put it in a pretty RPG way: to become a quest-giver, encouraging students to take their own education as a quest.

And yes, this quest-giving is a job, because when the students have collected their party and went on the adventure, we’re still there, waiting for the next would-be adventurers to show them the way, equip them with weapons and bid them farewell, never taking part in the proper quest.

Instead of being told empty phrases about vocation, we need our own Ancient One to tell us this simple truth: It’s not all about you.

How do we learn (and how can we use Padlet in the classroom)?

thumb-4fb027a3a3084510904f00b790f43f05

I don’t even remember how I came across Padlet, but since one of my vices is being overly organised (I’ve realised I’m overly organised when I noticed how many people laugh at me or stare in disbelief once they see me do admin work), that was love at first sight – and obviously, as a properly infatuated teacher, I’ve decided to share my ideas on making Padlet an awesome tool in teaching both inside and outside the classroom.

This year I’ve decided to start my classes with a very important topic, which is learning itself – I have observed how many people simply don’t know how to study efficiently (my junior high class), how to find time for extra study (my high school class) or simply forgot how to study at all (my adult class). As a proper master I came to help and created the padlet below to use in class and show my padawans the Way of Learning. You can see the padlet below (yes, it’s a tiny one, if you feel like adding your own links here I’d be more than happy!).

CLICK on: How do we learn?

I started my classes with showing this adorable drawer full of highlighters and post-it notes and we had a chat about our ways of learning etc. Then we moved to discussing types of students and identifying ourselves, trying to get 2-3 learning methods that would work with us.

We made a circle and got a visual of our daily organisation and discussed the possibilities of learning in non-traditional situations (audiobooks while commuting? Memrise while waiting for a sports club?). We also had a chat about morning routines and how we can make them as pleasant as possible (if it’s possible at all, huh).

I put emphasis on note-taking and presented it as a main focus this season (one of my observations being that especially young people have problems with proper note-taking). We talked about doodling in the class and how we actually can change it into far more productive note-taking (embellishments, pictures, short comments etc.). There is a theory that once you copy draft notes into a neat and proper note within 9 hours after classes it’s much more effective than doing it later (or not doing it at all for that matter).

We discussed tips, elements of learning online and I was really pleased as my students seemed really into adding this board into our lesson – so I’ve decided to make it an all-year project. I prepare a board before the lesson and use it with my class (the perk is, students only scan my QRcode instead of googling stuff and have all the materials ready). I find it really nice with younger students as they love using mobiles in the classroom and Padlet is a really user-friendly mobile app, they can add their own ideas and I don’t have to print photos, articles etc.

With my adult group, however, I’ve decided to go full Flipped Model – I give them a QRcode to the next class and they have to read articles and cover vocabulary before the lesson. It motivates them to prepare for classes and I find it a better way of making them do something outside the classroom rather than giving them boring homework 🙂

How long will we work like this? I’m not sure, but if you want me to write about it, let me know 🙂

And if you liked this post, follow my page on Facebook for more useful stuff.

Enjoy!