We’re all Doctors Strange here :)

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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!

“Language Learning with Digital Video” by Goldstein and Driver

With the autumn rains come project ideas for children and teenagers – I want to share some ideas I gathered this summer (oh, it seems such a long time ago!).

I wrote about an absolutely smashing book I read from Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers, but it’s not the only one. “Language Learning with Digital Video” by Ben Goldstein and Paul Driver, surprisingly, doesn’t focus on funny youtube videos with cats and ideas how a teacher can use them in the classroom, but it includes two parts – video exploitation (still, no cats) and video creation.

Video exploitation

The chapters included in this part cover video and text, narrative, persuasion, music and topic. Some of the activities are very useful especially for fresh teachers who still struggle with time management and for those teachers who don’t feel comfortable around digital stuff and want to try it out step by step.

I really like Be the commentator activity because commenting sports events is something that we usually do in our native tongue and doing it in English may be real fun (also, it’s my soft spot as I’d like to be a footy commentator, but there are no women pundits in Poland, shame!). The variation is Penalty shoot-out and I believe it may be hilarious to watch some famous matches again just to give a good comment (just not the Champions League 2008 final, thank you very much).

There are also some interesting activities focused on advertising guidelines, where students are looking for the commercials using particular categories (humour, emotional pull, call to action etc.), which may lead to a lesson about ethics of advertisements.

Naturally, there are far more activities connected karaoke, videoke, film trailers, mash-ups etc., so everyone can find something suitable.

Video creation

The title sounds promising and the chapter is indeed full of useful techie stuff (how to make/where to buy a green screen), however, when it comes to software I’m afraid authors focused only on Windows (and Windows Movie Maker isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, that’s for sure) and Apple (seriously, guys).

The activities are divided into four chapters – straightforward, medium, challenging and elaborate. Again, some of them are quite easy, others are more complex, some are relatively short, others are way too long for my 120hrs course (2-3 hours in class + work outside the classroom).

The activity I’m definitely going to try is staging and recording political speech, young adults are quite into politics and that would be a nice idea to have a project lesson on preparing candidates, speeches, proper recording environment etc. Similarly with recording the news and/or weather forecast.

The activity I liked best, though, is The Invader, where students play the roles of alien infiltrating the local population in order to collect data useful for preparing an imminent full-scale invasion (exterminate! exterminate!). They are supposed to walk around the school grounds (I’m lucky to have my school literally at the town square) filming some objects and trying to identify them and their role to impact their plans for invasion.

I hope you’ll have a look at the book as I’m sure you’ll find something for yourself. Enjoy!

Oh, and just to make things clear, I am not sponsored by Cambridge University Press – unfortunately 😉

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Make your own cookbook – project

cupcakes

Everybody likes food, even if not everyone is keen on cooking. Every EFL book contains a chapter about food and it’s one of the most popular topics – favourite food, dishes we hate, weird meals people enjoy around the world etc.

Food is also quite a nice topic for class projects, because there are so many ideas you can use: design a restaurant + its menu; plan a family meal for 12 people; make role plays focused on buying food/eating out etc.

You can prepare a “mini Master Chef” project, where students prepare simple things (like sandwiches) and then describe them using nice and elaborate vocabulary (lots of fun, even with adults!).

The idea of a common cookbook sprung to my mind when I was reading “Language Learning with Technology” by Graham Stanley and I saw one of the ideas. Then I thought about my lower secondary school students and a wild idea they came up with. It was a small group of friends and we’re all quite fond of one another, so let’s say I wasn’t overly surprised when they proposed a challenge – one cake per fortnight, homemade and delicious.

The first cake was made by Gustaw (a spinach cake and believe me, it was scrumptious) and then each of us brought something to share. It was a really nice idea, it was fun, delicious, and enjoyable – we had a normal lesson, but somehow it was different because, well, everyone’s happier after a slice of cake (and raspberries, mmm…).

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Gustaw, a cake and a knife

Anyhoo, after reading Mr Stanley’s book and his idea of creating a proper, albeit virtual cookbook, I’ve thought I might actually give it a go with the aforementioned group – adding some educational aspects to making delicious food. Simply – make a common website where everyone can publish their recipes, in English, naturally!

You can create a website for free on Wix or Weebly  and I’m planning to do it in October. I believe this project may be valuable not only educationally, but it may be a perfect portfolio my students may use even after they finish their course.

I hope you like my idea and enjoy implementing it in your course.

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Guess what I’m talking about – a nice way to welcome new students

In the book I’ve mentioned before, Mr Graham Stanley writes about an activity I want to use to familiarise my new students with our school – it’s a really nice activity for both old and new students and it brings some nice ideas for similar tasks and homework.

The whole task is based on listening for gist, but preparation is key: you ask a a few people from school’s staff to talk briefly about something (something I enjoy doing, a birthday present I really liked, my favourite food etc.) without mentioning what they are talking about. You may also take photos/videos of those people if they agree.

In class, play the recordings and ask students to guess what the person is talking about. Once they guess, play the recording once more and ask them to note down the words that made them think they know the answer.

The reason I find this activity useful is not only its purely educational aspect, but also the social potential. I’m planning to record short speeches by the people my new students have already met, so they’ll get a sense of familiarity (very important, especially for those individuals who join a group of students that already know each other).

To continue the activity, I want to make my students record themselves in pairs in a similar way and then listen to the recordings as a whole class activity (a very nice idea for getting to know one another). I also plan to give them homework of recording one person (a friend/a family member) and themselves – it’s a very good way to encourage students to record their own speech and work on their pronunciation.

I hope my students will find this activity as enjoyable as I do 🙂

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“Language Learning with Technology” by Graham Stanley

Summer, chillout and sun – it means I finally have time to stay in and read! When my school bought a bunch of nice CPD books I snatched the one by Mr Stanley who’s one of the people I truly respect (I even wrote about his IATEFL plenary three years ago) and would love to read everything he’s written. I was sure I’d love the book…

…and since I’ve just finished it I’m happy to confirm my presumption.

The subtitle is quite promising – “Ideas for integrating technology in the classroom” and I’m delighted to confirm that this is exactly what the book consists of: ideas, examples, useful links and everything I love about a good “how to teach” book.

We have 11 chapters here, from integrating technology and building a learning community through particular skills, project work, finishing with assessment and evaluation. Each part includes several activities with examples and useful links. I’ll just mention the few of them I’m really eager to try:

Digital camera scavenger hunt (vocabulary):

Prepare a list of items to be found and photographed around school, divide the class into teams and give them 10 minutes to find and take photos of the items. Lovely warm-up for classroom vocabulary.

Learner-generated quizzes (vocabulary):

Ask your students to create quizzes for one another, looks like great fun and it may be even better when you make it a pairwork activity. The sites you may use are Quia, Quizzlet or Vocabtest.

Memory posters (vocabulary):

Pretty much like mind-maps, only your students may work in groups to create their posters which is way cooler and more interactive – just have a look at Glogster or Mixbook. It may be a great idea for a project work as well!

Authentic word clouds (grammar):

Paste an authentic text into a word-cloud creator (e.g. Wordle) and give the word-clouds to students before reading, so that they have to connect the words into a coherent idea. After some time you may help them by writing a title of the text.

Coded message trail (reading):

It’s like treasure hunt, only you create clues and use a QR code generator to code them. Next, you place the codes near the places you’ve chosen for a trail, make sure your students have their mobiles with a barcode-scanning app (at least one per group) – and enjoy one of the best activities, especially in the summer (in the city). You can find all instructions at QR Code Treasure Hunt.

Story Starters (writing):

I’m not going to describe the activity here, I’m simply going to leave a link to this magnificent activity and let you enjoy its endless possibilities (groupwork, homework, maybe a written composition for a test?).

Crazy tales (writing):

One of my most favourite activities – at least for my students – which I used to do myself. What you do is simply write random words in specific categories and then put them in a story creating a completely crazy, but usually hilarious, tale. I’m really happy I don’t have to come up with them by myself anymore, now I can use MadTakes or Crazy Tales. Yay!

Translates to SMS (writing):

My students crave for natural English and translating “normal” English into a text message is not only educational, but also highly enjoyable. I used to bring handouts, but now I can use Transl8it.

Phonetics apps (pronunciation):

I’ve always found it most problematic to help my students with pronunciation development, I usually recommended Spelling Bee you can find at thefreedictionary.com, but there are some useful apps my students can use: Phonetics Focus by Cambridge, Sounds Right by British Council and my favourite Sounds by Macmillan.

 

But wait, there’s more! No, seriously, there are loads of useful activities and if you’re into technology I’m sure by now you’re fairly convinced to get the book. But I guess the book is also for those teachers who don’t feel comfortable with technology, aren’t really sure what to do. I’m sure you’ll find here something you like – like I have.

Enjoy reading and implementing Mr Stanley’s ideas and if you liked this post, please, follow my fanpage on facebook for more useful stuff!

Cultural awareness in the classroom

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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.