English is not easy… but it’s wickedly funny! (book review for 18+)

English is not easy... but it's wickedly funny!

Last month I attended my favourite EFL teachers’ convention and at first everything was absolutely normal – training sessions, workshops, stalls – when suddenly something happened. Comments were made, pictures were taken and shared, cheeks got flushed – and it was all caused by a grammar book! Now, I’m not overly fond of grammar books, but, naturally the comments made me take a look at this one. And I loved it immediately, the way you love something mischievous, daring and enjoyable at the same time.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you “English is not easy” written by the amazing Luci Gutiérrez.

If you’re a sensitive soul who believes in proper teaching adults with colourful flashcards, maybe you should stop reading. Seriously. It’s a kind of a book adult students may love. Or hate. Or discuss the controversies (which conveniently turn out to be on every second page of the book).

But if you love Monty Python’s kind of nonsensical sense of humour and a little bit of sexualised approach to pretty much everything, if you enjoy somewhat scandalous sentences – and if you know your students well enough to be sure they share this kind of attitude, I don’t think you’ll find a better grammar book to bring not only educational value but also quite a lot of fun.

Dark humour, innuendos and addictions…

…mean it’s a perfect mnemonic tool! It’s virtually impossible to forget English phrases once you see such graphics, isn’t it?

Untitled design (1)

The sense of humour reminds me of one of my favourite books that I’ve used in the classroom, namely Shakespearean insults. Somehow the idea of learning not-so-polite expressions boosts students’ interest and keeps them more motivated (it also may make us question our reasons for learning, but that’s another story).

If you’re an experienced teacher, you surely know students are far more likely to memorise something if it has a taste of indecency – that’s how our brains are constructed, apparently. But if you think this books delivers only fun, you’re wrong. Behind the controversial facade, you can find a surprisingly sensible book on grammar.

Don’t judge the book by its cover!

There are 17 chapters in this book, and each chapter consist of several subchapters. They are focused mostly on grammar, but there are lessons on vocabulary, phrasal verbs, idioms and useful expressions as well. As it usually goes with grammar, it starts with subject pronouns and the verb “to be”, but the book covers also all tenses, relative clauses, passive voice, reported speech etc.

Untitled design

I believe you can use the book as a great visual aid – even when you explain all the grammatical nuances, some students may still struggle with memorising the correct structure and use of the item. Now, the graphics and sentences may be really useful as they are very clear (black and red), simple and eye-catching.

What I also like about the book is space – you can easily doodle on the pages, make your own visual connotations, silly drawings and sample sentences. I can see it used as an additional exercise for students who prefer kinesthetic approach to learning.

Recommendations

Personally, I find this book hilarious, and a source of great educational fun for both teachers and students. Naturally, it’s not for everyone, but that’s something one may say about any book. I know my students would be more than happy to catch up with the sense of humour and go with the flow, creating their own stories, making their own creative pictures and adding some form of adult-fun into their class.

And if you are a bored teacher who needs to remind oneself that English might not be easy but is, in fact, fun – this is a book for you. And what’s more, I think this book is something I might put on a wishlist of an EFL teacher.

If you’re ready to order, Preston Publishing, the publisher of this adorkably wicked book, has a neat discount for you. If you get a copy on prestonpublishing.pl and enter the code evil20, you’ll get 20% off (the code does not include sets or preorders and cannot be combined with any other offers or promotions).

Hope you’ll have at least as much fun as I have!

9788364211874

Gutiérrez, Luci “English is not easy”

Preston Publishing, 2019

ISBN: 978-83-64211-87-4

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Are you… afraid of the dark? (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 17)

Are you... afraid of the dark_ (2)

Summer means adventure, woohoo! Some people travel around the world, others stay home and spend time with friends. Both options are brilliant, especially when you are able to to travel without leaving your room – simply engage your friends in a session of a Role Playing Game and travel around the world… and beyond. Sometimes, however, you’re stuck alone in a place you’re not really happy with – and then you may also enjoy an RPG session just by yourself.

Here I am, writing about the awesomeness of Role-Playing Games as a perfect tool for boosting communication and relationships in the classroom. However, today I want to tempt you with an adventure you take on your own. Alone.

Alone against the dark…

Alone Against The Dark is an adventure for one player, set in the autumn of 1931, in the Lovecraftian universe of the Cthulhu Mythos (although you won’t be meeting the Great Cthulhu Himself, as the greatest mystery of the Call of Cthulhu is the fact that you basically don’t meet Cthulhu). Your friend goes missing and your goal is to solve his disappearance and ultimately to save the world from the calamity. Your journey will take you from New York City to Greece, Egypt, Germany, and Antarctica.

You will start your adventure as Louis Grunewald, a quiet linguistics professor from the Miskatonic University. You will fight the forces of darkness before time runs out — but in case Professor Grunewald is eliminated for some reason (in CoC it means a character either goes completely mad, or simply dies), you can successively assume an identity of a new investigator.

There are four ready-made investigators, enabling you to take on various roles as circumstances change in your search for the truth: Louis Grunewald, Lydia Lau, a story-seeking reporter for the New York Sun, Devon Wilson, a sailor on leave from the US Navy, and Ernest Holt, a wealthy industrialist.

I spent most of my 9-hour long train journey playing the game – I personalised the characters, prepared some sheets of paper and a pencil (making notes turns out to be crucial when trying to save the world!) and I must tell you that I think I need to follow the adventure again, only this time make different choices. My professor was lucky enough to survive for quite a long time, but well, there are things in this world elderly scholars may have troubles with… like falling down from an impressive height, physical assault or, well, supernatural creatures.

I find this adventure just brilliant for all of you who have already read about Role-Playing Games, but struggle with gathering the party before venturing forth. You can play the game in your own tempo and discover the magic of RPG by yourself. The universe of HPL and his Cthulhu Mythos are quite enjoyable for EFL teachers – imagine you wear a fashionable dress, switch on jazz music and with a cheeky smile face the unspeakable evil.

You can get the adventure in English here, only remember you might need a copy of a Keeper Rulebook (you may buy it here) to understand the rules. If you’re Polish, your life is easier, because you may get the adventure here in Polish, and instead of buying the whole rulebook, you can get a short starter.

You may think it’s a deal, but trust me, once you set on a trail of the Old Ones, you’ll spend your money on Keeper Rulebook and other adventures.

You should also buy a set of dice, but hey, you can download a free app like RPG Simple Dice.

Good luck, dear friend, and enjoy your adventure…

Costello, Matthew and Mason, Mike

Alone Against the Dark/ Samotnie przeciwko ciemności: zniweczenie triumfu lodu

Chaosium, 2018/ PL version Black Monk

ISBN: 978-156882-453-6

Creative Confidence – not only in your classroom

not only in your classroom

Once in a while I come across the book that changes my perspective on work or life in general. Last year I discovered SuperBetter and Jane McGonigal who seriously changed my life into a way better one. This time, I discovered brothers Kelley with their “Creative Confidence” and I thought I absolutely owe you a review of this book. However, I am only able to share some impressions, as it is quite impossible to write a review of something that made me feel like I can change the world if I only try.

Which in my case means “take over the world and become the Evil Empress of the World” but hey, aim high!

Flip! Dare! Spark! Leap! Seek! Team! Move! – all those action words are simply the titles of the chapters, but they pretty much show you what the book is like, full of action, positive vibes, and fun. You will find personal stories mixed with the research results and ideas that are meant to make you think – and they do, indeed. In my case, I had to take a break after ten pages or so to summarise ideas and switch the general concepts from the environment of an American university to a Polish edublogger and DoS… but the fact that you feel encouraged to try and think differently makes this book quite inspiring.

What makes the book worth reading? In Poland we have a saying “to let everything go and leave for Bieszczady” which globally would translate to “let everything go and leave for Iceland” (as both Bieszczady and Iceland are beautiful places but no sane person would ever start living there for good – and yes, I know Polish people are the greatest minority in Iceland which pretty much explains the Bieszczady saying thing). Anyway, the thing is – even when (or especially when) you’re a successful individual, quite well-off, with a stable relationship and a trusted group of friend, something suddenly snaps and you suffocate and feel you have to leave and start anew. This is pretty much what happened with David and Tom Kelley, brothers who had everything, except for one tiny thing: fun.

I’m not really comparing teachers to rich and successful businessmen, but the main question remains: it’s not easy to have fun once you’re supposed to be a pillar of a society, is it? As Alexander Woollcott said, “anything in life that’s any fun is either immoral, illegal or fattening.” Apart from this fact which is both sad and true, it’s difficult to have fun when you’re a teacher. You probably like your job, but the amount of paperwork, conferences and tedious routine makes it less and less exciting. That’s when you know you need joy – and creativity brings so much fun!

You will find a lot of ideas and inspirations to wake up your creativity and find new confidence. I think it’s a perfect book for the upcoming spring because the easiest visualisation of the effect of this book will show your creativity and the joy of thinking out of the box blooming like first flowers. I cannot share the ways of rediscovering the forgotten paths of creativity you will find in this book, bar one: the fragment that concerns gaming.

Author, futurist and game designer, Jane McGonigal talked to us recently about how video gaming can spark its own form of creative confidence. Jane makes a convincing case that harnessing the power of video games can have a major impact on life in real world. In the realm of video games, the level of challenge and reward rises proportionately with a gamer’s skills; moving forward always requires concentrated effort, but the next goal is never completely out of reach. This contributes to what Jane calls „urgent optimism”: the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, motivated by the belief that you have a reasonable hope for success. Gamers always believe that an „epic win” is possible – that it is worth trying, and trying now, over and over again. In the euphoria of an epic win, gamers are shocked to discover the extent of their capabilities

So maybe instead of letting everything go and leaving for Bieszczady/Iceland we may simply play a game… especially a game where you can act out a person living in such a wonderfully remote place – because the best thing about it you can always go back to your comfortable room, favourite pub and, yes, the Internet!

Kelley, Tom and David

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

ISBN: 978-0385349369

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!

Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers (book review)

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com

The best thing about teaching children is that you’re working on unspoilt minds that are so eager to learn and have fun. While teens seem to be at least slightly nonchalant when it comes to their educational process, while adults are so self-aware and need to get feedback on every step, children are wonderfully easy to please and literally only ready to grow and flourish. Some claim childhood is the only period when we actually acquire knowledge with ease, others believe childhood should be mainly fun and parents encouraging their offspring to learn another language can end up as innocent victims of the predatory educational market only fishing for easy money.

As usually, I find myself somewhere in the middle, believing children should have fun being kids, but at the same time we should encourage them to learn, especially when classes include games, songs and a lot of fun activities. Trying to broaden my horizons on the topic, I read a book by Jayne Moon “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”. As the author mentions in the introduction, “the book will help you to build on the knowledge and skills you already have, become aware of your beliefs about children and about teaching, re-assess your practice in the classroom, provide fresh ideas and new insights (…) and deepen your commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching children.”

You will find various topics discussed, starting with students’ attitude to learning English, managing the learning process, introducing effective teacher-pupil interaction, creating, adapting and evaluating various activities, planning, organizing conducting and assessing learning and teaching etc. Apart from the book itself the bibliography looks really inspiring, as it leads you to more publications on the topic (and each chapter has its own set of books).

What I really appreciate about this book is that it not only discusses the areas I mentioned, but also provides strategies for potential difficulties and actual procedures to deal with various issues (e.g. action plan to find out how raised expectations affect children’s behaviour and attitude to learning English). One of my favourite parts is the whole chapter focused on introducing and carrying out pairwork and groupwork (as mixed-gender pairing happens to be quite problematic at a certain age) which gave me a lot of ideas and activities on how to deal with this particular problem.

Yet another useful chapter I enjoyed was on creating own resources. Apart from practical ideas, the author encourages teachers to answer some questions first, like setting up and organizing educational and developmental criteria on preparing resources, which makes it easier to not only create own materials, but also adapt the ones we observe during other teachers’ work. We are surrounded by so many online resources now, that I really loved the short checklist to make sure the material we’ve chosen is not only fun, but also appropriate and suitable.

The book is a great source of information for all those who have just started their work with children, or who have had a longer break and return to educating this particular age group. I found myself nodding approvingly over some details I once knew but now forgotten, having been teaching mostly teens and adults for the past decade. I really enjoyed revising the basics and learning new things, that’s why I believe all of you who might be in a similar situation, will find the book equally useful. After all, children and their education is the area that gives many opportunities and possibilities for all teachers, so we shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s easier to work with the adults.

I’m sure you’ll find the read quite interesting, regardless of your present teaching groups – some ideas are relevant for all ages, and being a teacher means you can’t be too sure as to what groups you’ll teach next time.

Enjoy!

Jayne Moon, “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”

MacMillan Books for Teachers

ISBN-13: 978-1405080026

“Authentic Learning in the Digital Age” – can we connect technology and better education?

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com (1)

Traditional model of teaching may seem quite obsolete, especially when we look at technological advancement visible in all areas of our lives, including education. Even my blog reflects changes that have been influencing the whole TEFL process, most of them provoked by technological development. Even now, one of the most common questions regarding teaching focuses on technology – shall educators introduce technology in the classroom and if yes, to what extent?

Larissa Pahomov is a part of Science Leadership Academy, and the book she wrote offers not only her insight on creating an authentic learning environment, but also bears the mark of a true practitioner and some of the answers are the ones that make this book more than a guide for other SLA teachers.

“(…) Real learning happens anywhere, anytime, with anyone we like – not just with a teacher and some same-age peers, in a classroom, from September to June” (Will Richardson, Why School? [2012])

Trying to grasp the ideal learning environment, the book is divided into five core values:

Inquiry: students need to be able to ask their own questions in order to engage with their education

Research: students need to learn how to collect and interpret both data and sources of information

Collaboration: working together not only helps students to learn better, it also supports them in developing interpersonal skills essential for their future professional life

Presentation: students learn how to present themselves and their work appropriately and effectively

Reflection: a necessary part of a learning process to improve with each cycle of learning

Each part is detailed by a very organised set of information: description (how the value can transform the learning process and how a digital solution can enhance it), step-by-step outline (making the shift and various examples), solutions (many possible roadblocks and workarounds given), suggestions (how to implement the value not only in one classroom, but in the whole school) and anecdotes (mainly from ex-students, giving a very valuable feedback).

My favourite part of each chapter is the one focusing on challenges and ways to overcome them – and this is probably the highlight of the whole book. It is not very often that a publication mentioning collaboration states the most common issue connected with group projects like “my group-mates are not working as hard as me or doing what I tell them to” or a typical students’ excuse which is “we don’t have time to meet outside of school” – and yet it does and offers some insightful solutions.

I find this book highly valuable for anyone attempting to introduce technology in their curriculum on a regular basis, rather than using it as some kind of fun once in a while.
The sensible and down-to-earth approach has supported me in my DoS work to help my teachers realise the importance of using technology in the classroom and to answer their doubts and insecurities. I can truthfully say this was the most inspiring CPD publication I read in 2017 and I can only hope you’ll find it at least as useful as I have.
Enjoy!
“Currently, teachers and schools often fall into an embrace/reject dichotomy when it comes to using technology in the classroom. (…) this “digital divide” often reflects a misguided focus on the what of technology, instead of why and how. (…) adjustment means shifting away from looking at technology as an end in itself and toward using technology as a medium for all kinds of learning. To make that shift, schools and teachers need to be asking the following question: How can technology transform education?” (Larissa Pahomov)

Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through Inquiry
Author: Larissa Pahomov

Published: November 2014 by ASCD

ISBN: 1416619569 (ISBN13: 9781416619567)

What school leaders need to know…

is thiswhatwe needto know-

… About Digital Technologies and Social Media – it’s a book by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann written with many authorities on the topic on educational technology. Published in 2012 is an interesting read and a source of inspiration.

First of all you may sensibly ask whether a five year old paper book is not obsolete – after all, technological advance speeds up rather frighteningly. My answer is simple: of course, parts of the book are sometimes ridiculous (using RSS readers in the classroom sounds like history, doesn’t it?), but even though some ideas seem rather old-fashioned, it doesn’t mean the whole publication is a waste – quite contrary.

A series of articles touches various aspects of using digital solutions in the classroom, from blogging to online course managing systems. You can read about wikis, webinars, videos, social bookmarking or online mind mapping – but the best thing is that each article focuses not only on a digital tool, but also on its application in the classroom.

For example, the first article (Blogs by Kristin Hokanson and Christian Long) not only explains what blogs are and what is their educational rationale, but also introduces the Alice Project which turned out to be more than encouraging children to write a blog. We can read about technical steps and framing the whole process as well as after-project reflections – I found this really inspirational, because there’s nothing better than learning from someone else’s experience.

Apart from personal experience, each chapter mentions some potential uses of various tools that may still be useful – like a lot of ways you may use open source software, a full list of ideas on how to use digital videos to make your classes more interesting, etc.

Moreover, you can find tips that will make you think before you decide to implement a particular digital solution – like the three Rs, vital when it comes to including instructional video games in the class (repetition, reward and reason, useful not only in this case).

One of the things that caught my eye, however, was not connected to digital technology as a useful tool – it is a matter of responsibility, something we should teach our students along with technological solutions. We are going to read about responsible blogging, free open source software, protecting the school image etc.

To sum up, while I found some parts of the book a little bit outdated, the majority of the articles shed new light on some of the digital tools I’ve been using for a while. If you want to read a book that gives you a moment of reflection on your technological approach – that’s a great book for you.

You may also consider this book a nice gift for a fellow teacher (or a principal) who is not really up to date with technological tools in the classroom – quite often teachers feel awkward to start with a new solution, especially when they realise their students have a far greater knowledge on this topic. This book may be a good start on a journey, pointing out some basics and guiding through more problematic issues connected with using technology (responsibility, classroom management etc.).

Enjoy!

What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media

Scott McLeod (Editor), Chris Lehmann (Editor), David F. Warlick (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-118-02224-5
224 pages
November 2011, Jossey-Bass