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!

Make your own e-book with Storybird

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oupeltglobalblog.com

When I was a teenager (ghastly times) my English lessons were mainly focused on following the book with a sprinkle of additional exercises (unforgettable drills by Thomson and Martinett). If I were to admit why I got to like this language I’d have to say a huge thank you to my primary school teacher who decided I should take part in an English contest and spent long hours teaching me actual communication. I didn’t win, but it was enough for me to look past the boring school classes and remember there’s more to learning a language.

I’m really annoyed by the fact that classes today – in ordinary schools – happen to look pretty much the same. It’s probably one of the reasons I gave up on the state educational system and decided to work with language schools, where I can experiment, bring new ideas, broaden horizons (both mine and my students) and put actual fun into our classes. This year I’ve started using Padlet (so far so good!), but there’s a tiny little project I’m planning to use once my students feel bored and will need a spark of creativity – Storybird.

I came across this website and just thought ooh, looks nice, I’ll give it a go… and disappeared for a few hours just to come back with a picture book about cats (duh, obviously). How come I haven’t seen this wonder earlier? This is my own story. Not about me, mind, I just saw some kitten pics and, well…

I might look lonely – enjoy 🙂

Naturally, the curse of a teacher made me think of how I could put Storybird into good use in the classroom. Here’s what I came up with:

Traditional use: Let’s Make a Story! – we can use the platform as an individual or group project when we’re discussing things like storytelling. Students register on the platform and make their own story. The great advantage here is that an account is free both for students and teachers, but there is an option of adding parents so they can observe progress their prodigy make. We can also start a story in the classroom, students will come up with its development, then choose the best one – we put the chosen one as a continuation, read it aloud and ask students to continue, and so on – to make it more of a class project.

Parental control may be a great thing in My Own Dictionary project – here Storybird is a tool for students to make their own dictionary of the words/phrases they tend to forget. Ideally students would add a word or two after every lesson to make it a really nice thing (let’s say, one page of words would be one month of learning). The best thing about this project is the possibility of printing out their dictionaries as a form of a course accomplishment.

The last idea I had about this adorable site was using it as a form of a webpage – choose a particular theme (cookbook? short stories? urban legends? favourite things?) and, as the whole group, collaborate by writing one page about the topic given. It’s a nice way to practise traditional writing – definitely looks less boring!

Also, in my next post I will give you a nice idea which topic you can choose to make a nice book – stay tuned!

I hope you’ll like these ideas, and if you want a short tutorial on how to work with Storybird – here it is.

Enjoy!

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!

We’re all Doctors Strange here :)

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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)?

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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!

Cultural awareness in the classroom

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9gag.com

If I got a penny each time I hear I’ll understand English culture when I go there for holidays I’d be the richest teacher ever. If I got a penny each time I bite my tongue and do not engage in a lengthy discussion every time I hear this phrase, I’d be surprisingly wealthy as well.

Because it doesn’t work this way, now, does it?

Cultural awareness is defined as the understanding of the differences between oneself and people from other countries or backgrounds, especially the differences in attitudes.

Now, when an unsuspecting foreigner begins his quest he’s like a child, focused on himself, not on the outside world – he’s more concerned about his well-being, work. school, daily routine etc. With time, he begins to open up to the surroundings and that’s where the first problems occur, since it’s virtually impossible to find the differences between two different worlds when you don’t even know where to look for them. As helpful as they usually are, local people won’t be much of the help because they don’t know where to look for comparison – they need to know which one of the perfectly understandable issues (like the national hobby of queuing in England) seems strange to a foreigner.

Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge may grow into resentment, fear, sometimes even hate – especially now, when we’re being told we’re living in a global village and it seems the world is not much of a village with all the varying customs, traditions and beliefs; when there are people who claim multiculturalism leads to terrorism and for all of us, who professionally deal with foreign languages, it’s an obvious lie. It is the lack of cultural awareness that makes people scared, and it is fear that leads to hatred.

Our role, as language teachers, as people who try to overcome cultural barriers, who deal with a foreign culture even more often than their native one. Our role, I believe, is to show cultural differences, to explain them, to broaden our students’ horizons in a real world, not only in a virtual classroom of grammar and vocabulary.

The key to understanding people is their language, naturally – but there are so many sources on British, American etc. culture, comparative works – even classic comparison of the most common BrE and AmE counterparts may be a beginning to a lengthy discussion about cultural differences. We are the ones who may give our students the knowledge about the world they are trying to travel to, we may give them something to make their life in new conditions easier, more comfortable.

We may – and I firmly believe we should.

Nowadays, more than ever, our role is important. People who wouldn’t listen to friends will listen to us, even if it’s only to have an argument. It is our task to make people, especially the young ones – they seem cynical, aware of differences, but the truth is I’ve often been surprised by the maturity they can show. I remember when a transgender politician became quite famous in my country and my students found it quite funny, we talked about things we don’t like about our bodies (teenagers are really sensitive about it) – and then I told them: think about it, there’s only one thing you dislike when you look in the mirror, now, think about a person who looks in a mirror and everything is wrong, the whole body is wrong, it’s not really you – how terrible it must be…

They’ve never found the topic funny anymore.

Facebook in the classroom?

Have you ever felt tired with your students checking their mobiles and Facebook updates in the classroom? Maybe you’re annoyed with their “I was just checking the word in the dictionary” when you perfectly well know they’re simply messaging their Facebook friends? Well, what can I say: if you can’t fight’em, join’em!

Naturally, I don’t encourage any teacher to ignore the students and focus on their own mobile during the lesson (though, sometimes, it may be a good tool, pretty much like pretending to be bored or annoyed with their whining). I’ve been using Facebook in my teaching style and here are some ideas I’d like to share.

Teaching sites

I love Facebook reminding me of new stuff the British Council publish on their wall (they have so many sweet profiles – for teachers, young adults, teenagers and people into English Premier League). There’s something new and inspiring every day, well, but since most of you found me via BC’s Facebook page, you probably know this. There are many sites you can use to get an easy access to materials, ideas, new friends and tutors.

IATEFL – a group for EFL teachers focused mostly on conferences, meetings and basically CPD. Highly recommended if you’re into this kind of thing (there’s going to be the big conference soon, with most presentations streamed for everyone to see, lovely thing).

Messenger

I find this communicator the best way to get to my students and vice versa: I often receive messages like “I’m sorry, I’ll be late”, “Forgot my books,  which pages should I copy?” or “Could you give me some additional exercises on…”. The key is to set your profile so that everyone can message you without adding you as a Facebook friend.

Groups

I’m pretty much into blended learning, so I usually experiment on my groups. With the group I share a flex model course at my language school I decided to try using a closed group on Facebook. At first I was sharing materials, presentations etc., but now my students share their ideas, photos, experiences not always connected with English, but always in English. I do realise such activities depend on the group, but I recommend giving it a go.

Own page

Having your own blog or website is a nice idea anyway, but linking them with your Facebook profile makes more people notice you and opens more possibility for discussions and cooperation. I’m planning to make my blog’s fanpage soon enough because on your page you can share things difficult to put up as a blog post – popculture news, posts of fellow teachers, some song, TED presentations and, last but not least, cats 🙂

Truth be told, once you get into using Facebook in your teaching/learning process it is difficult to leave it – there are so many options, ideas and possibilities you could literally spend days browsing, learning, discussing and chatting. So my advice is: give it a go, but watch out as it’s a real time-consuming monster – our students know something about it!

Enjoy 🙂