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

Advertisements

7 Free Online Courses in December

Winter is here – maybe it’s snowy in your place, but here in Poland it’s just grey and dull (and cold). I managed to find some fine hot chocolate, just to spend my evenings reading and learning. Like every month, I found a set of lovely free online courses, so you may spend your winter break learning something new. 

English for Teaching Purposes by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Start: 3/12/2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers planning to teach in English

This course on English and teaching methodology aims to help university lecturers do their teaching in English, in line with university internationalisation policies. If you are a teacher of a subject other than EFL, you might be interested in this course. Moreover, you will learn how to integrate all aspects of CLIL to put together their own English-medium course on their particular subject.

Performance Assessment in the Virtual Classroom by University of California

Start: 3/12/2018

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: teachers working in a virtual environment

If you teach in a virtual classroom, you know that assessment is still very much important, but it has to be approached in a different way than in the traditional classroom. This course will present formats of virtual assessments, assessing special populations, including at-risk, gifted, and special needs students, and learning management systems as related to performance and assessment.

ICT in Primary Education: Transforming children’s learning across the curriculum by the University of London

Start: 3/12/2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: teachers interested in incorporating ICT in primary education

The materials in the course are based on studies carried out for the UNESCO Institute of IT in Education, Moscow. You will discuss a variety of useful tools and resources for integrating ICT as well as how children perceive the use of technology in a school context. You will also learn about learning design, infrastructure, negotiation with parents, communities of practice, policies, staff development, pedagogical innovations, differentiation, affordable access, and teaching support.

Shaping Your Professional Brand by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Start: 3/12/2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people who are interested in building their own personal brand

If you think of building your personal brand, you may find this course particularly useful. You will learn how to manage your own approach and be prepared when things go wrong. An interesting item is a study on an effective strategy for apologising, and how to engage in disputes professionally.

Learning How To Learn for Youth by Arizona State University

Start: 3/12/2018

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: people who want to stop procrastinating and want to start studying

This course looks really awesome! You will basically learn how to learn – you will study the strategies that will turbocharge your learning, including test-taking tips and insights that will help you make the best use of your time on homework and problem sets.

Magic in the Middle Ages by Universitat de Barcelona

Start: 3/12/2018

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people interested in medieval culture, beliefs and practices from the perspective of History and History of Science

This course looks like fun, especially with the approaching Solstice. Naturally, I wouldn’t encourage you to study magic – but I think such course may be quite interesting for long, winter evenings. You will learn which spiritual practices were allowed in medieval Europe and which ones were related to the devil.

For science, naturally!

Kickstart Your Career: Getting Ahead at University by QUT

Start: 10/12/2018

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: students starting their university experience

If your students don’t really know what to do with themselves, I’d strongly recommend this course. They will be able to use this course to find out how to get the most from their university education, how to choose a course of study and how to investigate possible future roles and pathways in the profession they will eventually choose.

I hope you’ll find a nice course for yourself 🙂 

Self-reflect December Challenge

It’s almost December which means 2018 is almost over! How?! I mean, last time I blinked it was summer! And with the End Of Year Month I have an idea for a little challenge I want to share with you and make it a nice game where we can reflect on 2018 a bit.

I’ve never been good when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, but I think reflection is quite important when one wants to develop one’s skills and broaden one’s mind. Was it a good year? I guess it wasn’t a bad one, neither for me nor for you and if you look at the set of questions you will see how much you’ve learnt, how much you know and how inspiring this year has been.

You may download the picture with the challenges and do your own little self-reflect sessions. You may share it on Facebook (I’ll be definitely doing this challenge on my page!) or your own blog. The greatest benefit of such challenge is to sum up your whole year as a teacher, remember the best moments and believe 2019 will be even better.

  • Day 1: your favourite activity from 2018
  • Day 2: most memorable story from 2018
  • Day 3: the best piece of advice you were given in 2018
  • Day 4: the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a teacher
  • Day 5: your favourite memory as a student
  • Day 6: the funniest story from 2018
  • Day 7: your favourite coursebook in 2018
  • Day 8: a new idea you implemented in 2018
  • Day 9: your favourite teaching aid in 2018
  • Day 10: the best joke you’ve heard in 2018
  • Day 11: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student
  • Day 12: your favourite teaching website in 2018
  • Day 13: the person who inspired you in 2018
  • Day 14: the moment in 2018 you realised WHY you’re doing your job
  • Day 15: your greatest challenge in 2018
  • Day 16: your strongest point as a teacher
  • Day 17: most motivational idea/quotation/picture in 2018
  • Day 18: 3 reasons why you became a teacher
  • Day 19: your favourite teaching application in 2018
  • Day 20: a piece of advice you would give to a rookie teacher
  • Day 21: the best CPD book you read in 2018
  • Day 22: your greatest frustration in 2018
  • Day 23: one thing you want non-teachers to understand
  • Day 24: your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018
  • Day 25: your personal success in 2018
  • Day 26: one thing you plan to change in 2019
  • Day 27: your greatest discovery in 2018
  • Day 28: which superpower would make you a Super-Teacher
  • Day 29: one area to improve in your teaching in 2019
  • Day 30: how do you plan to start your first lesson in 2019
  • Day 31: the most important thing you want to remember tomorrow 🙂

Since I believe self-reflection is great not only for English-speaking teachers, Polish teachers will find the challenge available in our native language. Share it, spread it and let’s have fun together!


Enjoy!

Teach’em with Rhythm

Teach'em with Rhythm

Rhythm of the language is crucial if you want to speak fluently. And what’s better to learn a rhythm if not implementing in in the class? One may think playing with rhythm is something only the youngest students will enjoy, but recently I’ve discussed this topic and I want to share some ideas even the most adult and mature students will find amusing.

Provided you, as a teacher, enjoy it, of course 🙂

Chants

I myself remember chants as slightly boring (dreadful one potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four, five potatoes, six potatoes, seven potatoes more), but you can add a little bit of zest to it and create your own chants, or even better – engage your students into creating them!

In one of my favourite board games, Mystery of the Abbey (perfect for EFL classes, if you enjoyed Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, you’ll love it!), there is a card that makes all the players chant literally everything they want to say, and as the plot is set in a medieval monastery, the chant is supposed to resemble church chants. Now, people I’ve played with forget the winners, the plot and the rules, but they never forget chants.

What I mean, pick a simple tune and make your own chant. It may a list of irregular verbs to the tune of Baby Shark – something your students would find amusing (silly, but not too silly). And maybe, one day, they’ll turn out to be new Al Yankovic?

You can find more on jazz chants on onestopenglish.com

We Will Rock You

One of the scenes in the new film Bohemian Rhapsody shows pretty much what the power of rhythm is about:

I’m sure if you start the beat, pretty much everyone will know which song it is. You can use it in your classroom as a warm-up activity, but you can do more than that. For example, give the rhythm while reading key vocabulary for the lesson and ask your students to repeat after you to the same rhythm pattern. Then change the pattern to a quicker one, asking them to catch up, then slow down.

You may ask one student to give a pattern while the rest of the group follows it repeating the words. If it’s too easy, prompt another student to change the beat so the group has to readjust.

This way will help you not only make your students remember the words better (connecting word repetition with rhythm boosts long-term memory), but also help them open up a bit. It’s easier to repeat the words with others, especially when you have fun at the same time! This is a big step for all those shy students who are afraid of speaking aloud – if you practice speaking with others, in a friendly atmosphere, it will be a great encouragement to start speaking on their own.

Body Language

Clap! And stomp! And shake it! Learning a language comes with mistakes, sometimes embarrassing – and it’s important to create an atmosphere of fun, where all the students can feel safe and free to make silly mistakes. Make them move a bit, so that they relax, clapping and stomping while repeating vocabulary is a nice idea.

The process of learning a new things is a very childlike experience, and usually adult learners want to seem serious, dedicated and focused. Engaging them into activities requiring using body language releases tension and makes people more open. They may feel quite embarrassed at first, but after a while they will feel more relaxed.

As to children and teens, it’s a great idea to include some body language while listening to songs or repeating vocabulary – they need movement and some jumping and stomping will be a great activity for them.

If you want to read more about the rhythm of English, try this article on fluentu.com.

Enjoy!

7 Free Online Courses in November

iloveyouso

November is my favourite month – I love long, rainy evenings, my cats demotivating me early in the morning, hot tea and general slowing down – as if we’re all getting ready to summarize the whole year, ready for New Year resolutions… or simply falling asleep. I know most people feel rather sad in November, but I believe there’s nothing better to cheer you up like a nice online course. You can enjoy it at home, listening to raindrops or favourite music…

And if we’re all supposed to die, we may as well die educated, right?

Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach by University of London International Programmes and UCL Institute of Education

Start: 29 October

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: teachers who are tired with PPP model 🙂

Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) uses communicative tasks as the key unit for creating language learning activities – if you’re tired with the old Presentation-Practice-Production style, that’s the course for you! You will not only explore the concept of TBLT and reading, but also work on creating your own reading tasks. Sounds great for long evenings!

Communication Skills for University Success by the University of Sydney

Start: 29 October

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want to study at an English-speaking university

If you prepare students for further education at an English-speaking university, this course may be a great idea both for you and for them. You will explore communication in academic culture, various assignments and approaches to presentations etc. Your students may appreciate this course, but it may be a nice tool for you to introduce various argumentative devices in your classroom.

Learning to Teach Online by University of New South Wales

Start: 5 November

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people who want start teaching online

Technology is probably the most important factor responsible for changes in education. As my favourite phrase goes “students don’t need classrooms anymore, they can learn anytime, anyplace and with various people”. The important thing about online environment in the classroom is how to use it as a tool, not as a goal. This course will help you reflect on how to use technology responsibly in the classroom.

The Teacher’s Social and Emotional Learning by University of Colorado Boulder

Start: 5 November

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: all the teachers

We all need help and understanding – teaching takes its emotional toll and SEL (social and emotional learning) is something to help you diagnose your own issues and reflect on them. Most of us can’t rely on anyone’s help but their own, and I believe this course may be a great beginning of a new adventure.

Becoming Career Smart: How to Sell Yourself by Deakin University

Start: 5 November

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: people who are considering a career change

The profession of a teacher isn’t always the one recognised as the important one – this may cause some issues when you think of changing your work. This course will help develop your capacity to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and increase your knowledge of credentials (the skills and capabilities you have built during your life and career). Even if you still decide to work as a teacher – you’ll know your great points!

Start Writing Fiction by the Open University

Start: now

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: those who want to do something during long winter evenings

Have you ever thought of becoming a writer? Well, you may try writing a new Harry Potter this winter! This course is recommended for students aged 16+ as the participation in this course involves reviewing work posted by other learners.

The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece by the Trinity College, Dublin

Start: now

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in Ireland or medieval history

The Book of Kells manuscript, which you can see at Trinity College Dublin is one of the most famous things to see in Ireland. On this course you will use the Book of Kells as a window through which to explore the landscape, history, faith, theology, and politics of early medieval Ireland. It may be a great beginning of a winter storytelling contest in your classroom!

Long November evenings seem perfect for online courses. I hope you’ll have fun with anything you choose.

Enjoy!

7 Ideas for Engaging Homework Online

Ideas for Engaging Homework Online

Everything in moderation, including moderation, of course – that’s my motto when it comes to the idea of homework. There are those who believe in the magic of Thomson and Martinet, there are also people who prefer to teach without any homework at all. Maybe the key to success is not limiting homework or getting rid of it, but changing our approach? What about adjusting homework to our students’ needs and interests?

Teaching EFL seems much easier – at least in terms of homework – than other subjects. Students (schoolchildren and adults alike) usually understand the importance of learning the language, especially now, with the opportunities of travelling abroad, with more and more people working or studying abroad, with online games forcing people to communicate… All we, as teachers, need to do, is to shift our mindset; we live in a world where literally everything and everyone encourages people to learn English, even more – students themselves realise its importance and are mostly keen on learning after school. We must not spoil it with dull grammar drills on paper copies that are so easy to be forgotten, lost or ignored.

I believe we should share our enthusiasm, our true passion for not only teaching but using English and adapt homework to our students’ needs, styles of learning and interests. Homework assignments may be yet another way to personalise our approach and show our students the benefits of taking responsibility for their own educational process. Today, when there are many tools online ready to use, we can share them with our students, enabling them to study on their own and develop not only their linguistic skills, but also broaden their horizons.

1 Online grammar exercises

There are many useful websites for students to do their drills and doing them online may give them result immediately after they finish, without waiting fr the teacher to correct their work. You may create a padlet with all the useful exercises and tell your students your next graded test will be based on those exercises, thus motivating them to work after class.
Examples: englishgrammar.org, perfect-english-grammar.com

2 Videos

Everyone likes watching videos as homework – so why not use it more often? You can pick an interesting video summing up the lesson or introducing the next topic, you may also ask students to write a composition referring to the video. Here you may base on your students’ interests, changing boring homework into fun activity.
Examples: ed.ted.com, www.ted.com, youtube.com, truetube.co.uk

3 Listening

Listening exercises aren’t very varied in the classroom, mostly referring to the coursebook content, so we may assign a song or a podcast as an interesting homework activity – this may be their contact with “real” English, not the somewhat strict classroom environment.
Examples: lyricstraining.com, elllo.org

4 Mobile applications

Asking students to use a chosen application on their mobiles on a regular basis may prove to be a true homework of a 21st century. We may ask the whole group to use the same application in a manner of year-ling competition, or adapt various apps to our students’ individual needs, enhancing individual approach.
Examples: memrise, knudge.me, 6 minute English, various applications by the British Council

5 Tests

Apart from having fun in the classroom, you may assign a test as homework – be it a ready-made grammar test or a self-designed vocabulary check. There are many various online test applications, however for teenagers I recommend quizizz as it’s free, funny and you can use various memes.
Examples: quizizz, kahoot, quizlet

6 Class blogs

This form of a schoolyear-long project may be a great idea for a focused class of students who are already familiar with self-assessment. You may decide various topics the blog should be written about – school life, books, film, celebrities etc., but why not design a blog on classroom notes from English lessons? That would be a great help for absent students, not to mention general help before tests.

7 HiNative

This application is designed for students learning foreign languages (not only English). You may ask questions about language and culture to native speakers around the world – and get the answer, and what is even better – you may be asked questions about your native language as well. This may be a great tool for students who want to learn more about culture, or those who need to try communicating with native speakers but are somewhat shy.

It seems quite obvious, that with such availability of online sources, we should feel encouraged to use them on a regular basis, not only in the classroom, with the help of IWB and other tools, but also as homework activities, giving our students the chance not only to feel more at ease with the idea of extra activities, but also actually enjoy them.

The full post was first published in “The Teacher” nr 5(159)/2018

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!