Have a Purrrfect Lesson! (7 Lesson Ideas)

Have a Purrrfect Lesson!

If you’re not really into dark and grim Halloween but still want to enjoy some cheer, you will find my ideas quite inspiring. Here’s what I thought – if I were to prepare a lesson that may be perfect for Halloween… but not too halloweenish, I’d go for something that may symbolise Samhain, but not overly extravagant.

Hence – cats. Mysterious, dangerous, but also fluffy and adorable. Black – associated with witches and demons, but also most likely to be left in shelters. You may talk about cats not only during Halloween, believe me – I can talk about cats all year long, but since I do realise not everyone is cat-crazy, I only stuck to seven activities you may enjoy in your classroom with both younger and older students.

Scaredy Cat (for young learners)

It’s an adorable story by Heather Franzen and everytime I look at it I love it even more. A charming story of a tiny kitten that goes on the Halloween adventure and meets an unlikely friend is a tale everyone will enjoy.

I wrote some lesson ideas on how to use it in your classroom, so all you need is click here and prepare for awwwww

Kitbull (for teenagers)

Kitbull is an endearing story by Pixar and a few months ago I wrote the whole lesson plan you may use to talk about unlikely friendship, animals’ rights and the power of trust. All you need to do is click here!

Everybody Wants to Be a Cat (for teenagers and adults)

Do you remember this classic by Disney:

And the idea for the activity is simple: to find the answer to the question why everybody wants to be a cat? Why are cats the overlords of the internet, the royals of memes, the owners of our hearts?

This exercise may be an interesting challenge for people who actually dislike cats, but this is exactly why I enjoyed it with a group of doggy-fans. Looking for logical reasons for which cats, to put it bluntly, rule, was a really interesting experience. Naturally, the reasons were not fully logical (“witchcraft, witchcraft, cats are the spawn of satan”), but fun nonetheless.

And to be honest, it was somewhat predictable to see cat-lovers never minding statements about cats being the spawn of satan…

For Cat’s Eyes Only (for teenagers and adults)

Have you ever tried to look at the world from a different perspective? What about the viewpoint of Mr Whiskers? John Wick wrote a funny little RPG called Cat: A Little Game about Little Heroes, where you impersonate a feline character and embark on many adventures (no, it’s not the film John Wick, and he’s into dogs anyway).

The idea is simple: try to describe something from a cat’s perspective. Like, a classroom – it’s completely different when basically you’re very small. Try something more challenging – describe crossing the road as a cat. Or a bath. Or, if you’re really into Halloween mood, a vet appointment.

This task may look very simple, but I tried it with various groups and it always brings us some surprises and discoveries – the world seen from 20 cm above the ground does look different!

I also used this activity as a warm-up when we discussed disabilities, it was way easier for my students to open up to others’ difficulties.

Purrr me a story, fluffy storyteller (for teenagers and adults)

Have you ever wondered what a story would look like if it was told by a feline? Imagine Hansel and Gretel told by the witch’s favourite pet? Or Cinderella – picture a fat cat smiling lazily and purring something like “a little mouse told me…” Yikes!

But stories are not only fairy tales. Try to describe a historic event from a cat’s perspective. What would Marie Curie’s cat tell about her everyday life? Or about Adolf Hitler, a well-known supporter of animal welfare? This activity will make your students not only communicate in English, but also do some proper historical research.

Pretty much, pretend you’re a cat… for science!

As you can see – these are but few ideas, there are as many options as hairs on my cats’ fluffy tails. I hope you’ll have fun 🙂

Meow!

And yes, this cat in the picture is my cat. His name is Nyarlathotep and he is one of the reasons I have instagram 🙂

More stories: StoryBits

More stories_ Storybits

It looks like November is more of a storytelling month than I thought – last week I shared the storytelling coursebook (remember about the contest, you can win a copy of the book!), and today I’ll show you the magic of pictures: Storybits.

The universal way of communication – images, are here employed to help develop stories and boost language skills.

Eight characters that are really relatable only wait for your students to give them names, create background stories and take them on the adventure. 54 scene-cards you may use to prompt the story because the authors themselves remind you that hey, scene-cards are just the inspiration, the story is all yours.

And frankly, this immediately made me warm up to the project!

What I really like about StoryBits is that you will find some examples of how to use them for teaching vocabulary, writing, speaking and grammar. You will also find some ideas for running collaborative and competitive storytelling (which is brilliant as some groups respond better to teamwork and others prefer a touch of competitiveness). You need more? No need to ask – you will also find some sample (and simple) activities that will rock your classroom.

If not enough, go to mystorybits.com where you will find even more tips and ideas.

Naturally, I had to come up with slightly more wicked activities…

What could possibly go wrong?

Pick any scene-card and simply describe what’s on the picture. The question is simple – what could possibly go wrong? You could add a bit of competitiveness by dividing your students into teams and making them come up with as many misfortunes as they can only think of. The winning team is the one that creates the highest number of hardships… But don’t forget to acknowledge those who are the most creative!

I didn’t do my homework…

I do understand my students tend to forget about their homework, I used to forget about it as well. One of my favourite activities about homework demonstrates we can get pretty creative when it comes to finding excuses. Now, you can use Storybits to make the excuses even more creative. Just pick a random card and try to make a story imagining the situation prevents the main characters from completing their homework before the next day lesson. So here they are, facing the teacher and trying to explain why they didn’t do their homework.

Storytelling chain – Brazilian soap opera

I like cooperative games hence my idea of a storytelling chain. Remember we have 8 characters? Let’s try to play as a big group (up to 15 people) and use all the cards to make a long story following each character’s complex life – pretty much like a Brazilian soap opera. The important thing is to keep up with the plot! This game would be similar to Once Upon A Time, but the winner is the person who cal recall the whole story. This activity may be followed up by a nice composition referring to the story.

Paulo Coelho style

You know Paulo Coelho, right?  He has his followers and haters, but his style is unmistakable. You can’t be the second Coelho (and that’s good, I think one is more than enough), but you may still have some fun paraphrasing him. How? Well, by extrapolating everything to a perfect life metaphor. Because everything is like life – short/long/wired/oblong/stinky, you name it. Just go with the flow… only don’t forget to choose the card first! You may even play some kind of Dixit variation where you go with a Coelhian metaphor and other players may find the cards that reflect the deep meaning of your message.

These are some of the first ideas that sprung to my mind – however, I’m sure StoryBits will prove to be a much more versatile tool. When you get yours (and you may buy them here), be sure to pay attention to all the details, you’ll have more fun.

Enjoy!

I received this product for free, courtesy of IceBreaker.

It’s alive! Alive! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 19)

It's alive! Alive! (1)

There is no blog post today, and the reason is very simple – this weekend I have two sessions on IATEFL in Gdańsk, Poland, so I’m preparing my presentations, materials, looking for appropriate outfits… so much to do that I have to skip this week on my blog.

But I’m alive! And more than that – I even went live once, so what you can do today is actually watch my first workshop on RPG in teaching ever – it was recorded last year, on Zlot Nauczycieli Angielskiego. I talked about RPGs, showed some easy exercises and was terribly stressed!

It’s funny, watching myself only a year ago and seeing how much I’ve changed. What exactly changed? Well, you can see it if you come to my sessions, this weekend in Gdańsk.

Meanwhile – Role-Playing Teaching: Madness is Magic. Enjoy!

Get Ready For School: Teacher’s Pack

Get Ready For School_ Teacher's Pack

Sometimes I take a look at my old notes (after all I’ve been writing this blog for a while) and once in a while I see a post that makes me go like “aaah, yes, that was a great exercise, I had so much fun with my students“. And then, I either share this post on my regular #tbt (throwback Thursday) or, well, forget about it.

But this time I had a plan! A plan so cunning you could pin a tail to it and call it a fox*. I’ve read through my blog (almost 200 posts!) and found all the notes that may be an inspiration before you embark on yet another year-long school adventure. All of the ideas were tested on human beings and all of us not only survived, but had quite a lot of fun.

First class

You may start your course with some listening activities, where you all listen to students’ favourite songs – you may not only assess their listening skills, but also learn something about your new pupils. If you want to start a new course with good vibes, you should go with my lesson on Storytelling (with a lesson plan): a simple lesson on making stories with a little twist.

You can still have some fun outdoors! Get inspired by my three ideas that will make the beginning of your class as pleasant as a summer trip. On the other hand, if the weather is bad, you may simply use one of 7 lifesaving apps and bring some fun to the classroom – as a promise of all the fun you are certainly going to have during the whole course.

If you want to start something new and haven’t yet tried the station-rotation model, I recommend my lesson plan on Dyatlov Pass Incident – it’s brilliant for teens that are on B2 level, as the whole lesson brings new things: new lesson format, fascinating topic and real-life skills on how to organise a debate.

Introduce a project

If you’re feeling lucky (and ambitious), you may start your first classes by introducing self assessment. This is something that can be easily transformed into a year-long project and end up as a lifelong attitude, if your students are brave enough.

It’s good to start your class by boosting students’ motivation – you may introduce nice mobile apps your students may use at home to improve their skills.

If you’re into year-long projects, encourage your students to start their own cookbook! You can a) make them do something useful (a website and some food) b) relax while they share their recipes, c) eat delicious food. When it comes to projects, this is my favourite one. Yay to free food!

And here’s another project that may be either a short one or a long-running thing. The whole thing is about excuses, excuses, excuses… regarding homework. Why didn’t they do their homework – again? Answers may be typical (and boring), but make something good out of this by making your students create stories (more or less believable) which should be noted down and finally used to create a real book.

Change in classroom management

Adopting a testing system is usually quite challenging, both for students and teachers. Why not include a bit of fun there and go fully online? I recommend quizizz, something that made my tests maybe not extremely enjoyable, but at least mildly amusing. Oh, and if you want to give your students a little cheat sheet with all English tenses to revise, you might use mine.

One of the most important things, from my perspective as a student, is information about the lesson goal – I want to know what I am going to learn, which activities I have to complete and what’s the final outcome. The one and only Ewa Torebko wrote a brilliant post about it and honestly, you simply have to read it!

As you can see, there’s quite a lot of ideas to start a new school year with, so you can choose the one you like most and give it a go!

Enjoy!

*do you know who’s the author of this phrase?

Dice rolling against teen angst! ( Role-Playing Teaching: Part 18)

Dice rolling against teen angst!

In my Role-Playing Teaching section I have already written about RPGs and their positive influence on children and adults – it’s high time to write about teenagers. This article may come as the last in the series, but for me they are a group that may benefit most from using RPGs in their educational process, or simply benefit from playing RPGs. Believe me – I was such a teen.

And weren’t I an angsty one…

Looking at the areas that RPGs address, it may be somewhat surprising that they are covering the areas known as 21st century skills – and yet, this is so. Playing RPGs in English may not only help teenagers progress in their English studies, but also help them develop other skills they will certainly use as adults.

Teamwork

We live in the age of individuals – sounds trivial, but that’s the truth. That’s why the importance of teamwork is even greater, and learning teamwork while having fun is the best way of learning one’s leadership skills, the ability to discuss things, ways to convince others to change their perspective. I can’t think of a better way to develop skills helpful in successful working with others than cooperating with friends trying to achieve common goal.

Creativity

In games, we can have a lot of adventures and challenges that don’t often happen in a real world, and unconventional problems require unconventional solutions. This calls for the power of creativity, and working on creative methods with a bunch of friends (who share the same goal) is like connecting a little power-plant to the brain. A good RPG session makes you feel happy, refreshed and ready for the next challenge!

Problem solving

Creativity results in many interesting solutions to problems arising throughout the adventure. This leads to many heated arguments and passionate discussions as players usually want to push their idea as it, obviously, is the best idea. This is a perfect lesson of negotiation, cooperation and responsibility – because if your plan, designed to be perfect, turns out to be a failure, you’ll have some explaining to do; which is great as it teaches you to think broader and listen more attentively.

Communication

Naturally, not all communication focuses on conflicts and problem solving. Usually players are a bunch of friends, but as the time in game runs faster than in real life and there are some objectives to be achieved, players need to communicate both in-game and out of it. It usually means either asking for advice – which turns out to be somewhat difficult for teenagers, but not as difficult as asking for help, and that’s something RPGs teach you as well.

And who knows, maybe this is the most powerful thing you learn…

Feedback

There are people who can skilfully give feedback, but for most of us it’s an art that is quite hard to master. Playing RPGs gives you great opportunities not only to listen to feedback of other players, but also share yours. The good thing is that you share feedback with people you like and who like you, you learn which expressions may be hurtful and how to speak criticism so that nobody gets hurt.

Friendship

Last but not least, friendship – which is magic, obviously. Fantasy fans create a sociocultural group called fandom. But within this huge group there are smaller ones – some encompass your favourite systems, some include people that share your sense of humour, and if you’re willing to open up a bit and travel to a nearby convention or two, you’ll find people that become your kin: people who are like your family – not always your best friends, but always there when you need them.

Like the girl who answered my phone at 2 a.m.
and let me spend the night at her place.

And this is something teenagers need, a sense of belonging somewhere, identifying with a group – and if you think about alternatives, kinship with a bunch of people who read books, play games and have fun with one another is not the worst option, is it?

As you can see, there are some areas RPGs may support and develop in our students. The only question is – which system would they pick as there are oh! so many.

Enjoy!

5 Instant Fillers for Awkward Silence in the Classroom

5 Instant Fillers for Awkward Silence in the Classroom

We all experience classes that suddenly go awkward – a topic we hate and really can’t elaborate on, students that only want to fall asleep or a memory of a cup of coffee when another’s been due for a while. Or sometimes things go awry and you end up with a bunch of students debating something that has nothing to do with the lesson, having a laugh over something someone said or simply daydreaming.

This is something I find particularly often when I work with teenagers and adults, they are usually tired after their regular school or work and their brain uses every excuse to chill a bit. Now, sometimes it calls for a game or a nice role-play, but sometimes, to put it bluntly, I can’t even, so I use my last resort: fillers that are always there, ready to use. Naturally, the fact that they work for me doesn’t mean they will work for you, but after some alterations I’m sure you’ll find them useful.

Alphabet race

This is my favourite filler for topics I’m not overly fond of (like environment, the ways I went to avoid talking about environmental issues…). I ask my students to think of the topic of the lesson and write as many words connected to it as they can. Now, depending on a group I choose one of the following:

  • writing one word per each letter of the alphabet
  • writing as many words starting with a particular letter

I give them 3-5 minutes and the winners decide on the homework. It’s a great game as students can do it either individually or in groups, makes them think and puts everyone back on the lesson track.

Good news

It may sound weird, but it’s a nice filler, especially when the mood is somewhat down. Just give your students 5 minutes to google a good piece of news that happened today (you can find quite a lot of sources of positive events) and refer them to the whole class. It’s a nice, short activity that helps everyone relieve the tension of a bad day (or Monday). No good news? Make them create their own!

Role-Play

Obviously, I love role-plays. You don’t have to start a game to enjoy a little bit of role-playing. Something that works well for my older and more aware groups: divide your students in two or three groups representing major political forces in your country, each group decides on assuming fake identities of the most prominent politicians of the chosen party. Then give them a simple question somewhat connected to the lesson topic. They are supposed to debate the question, however they will probably shout, laugh and behave their absolute worst, and that’s the point of the exercise! Just make them stop after 3-4 minutes, you’ll have your happy and invigorated students again.

Poem

Writing a poem is a good filler – just go with some rhymes (one of the pages I recommend is rhymezone). Writing simple poems is one of my favourite activities for all ages and levels (you will find my old post here). Just four verses per group on a topic loosely connected with a lesson or with a word students have learnt a moment before – you’ll see them working and having fun, and return to the regular lesson relaxed and happy.

Devil’s Advocate

What if a topic you’re about to discuss is so common and boring nobody really feels like discussing it? Well, encourage your students to play devil’s advocate, finding some arguments against their own conviction and reasoning. This may sound silly, but your students will soon realise how interesting this activity is, making them consider the aspects they have never thought of before. This teaches not only flexible thinking, but also empathy.

As you see, my ideas may be great for some groups, somewhat inappropriate for others – but feel free to readjust them to your needs and introduce a nice activity covering your lack of interest in the lesson.

Have fun!

Roll your summertime with kids! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 16)

Roll your summertime with kids!

Last time when I wrote about Role-Playing Games, I wrote about a great game for children, Bumbleberry Forest. I focused on more educational aspects of this system, so today I want to give you some reasons why playing RPGs with children may be a great idea for everyone involved – especially now, with summer break approaching.

Family Time

If you’re Polish you may visit a group on FB called “Mamo tato zagrajmy w RPG”, for parents playing RPGs with their offspring – you will learn far more on the subject there. It’s a lovely group full of genuinely nice and supportive people, and if you can’t speak Polish, you may try using English – they’re all quite familiar with it.

You will learn how great RPGs may be when it comes to building and maintaining relationships – not only between parents and children, but also between siblings, which may be a solution to constant quarrels. After all, having arguments with your ally is different than telling off an annoying younger brother, isn’t it?

If you’re a parent, do consider RPGs as an idea for family fun during rainy summer days, long trips or simply long and lazy afternoons!

Friendship (is magic)

One of the universal truths of the world is simple: you must gather your party before venturing forthAt the risk of repeating myself I say – nothing builds friendships better than a common quest, a party of people you have fun with and, naturally, challenges which make you rely on your teammates. RPGs have it all – and more. Players will soon share their little jokes, will refer to previous adventures and build a real team, ideally with no peer pressure, only mutual understanding.

RPGs are a great way to make children build healthy relationships, trust others and get self-confident. Naturally, we talk about kids here, so they need to be supervised, however, building of team spirit is easier than in sports: in sports there’s usually someone better and someone worse, and in RPG, in an imaginary world, we are all who we want to be.

And even when we fail, it’s because of the silly dice!

Never stop learning questing!

We all know about natural childlike curiosity – children ask questions and are interested in everything until they go to school. Fortunately, it isn’t a case with RPGs, where the heroes never just learn – they embark on a quest to gain the knowledge! And the knowledge isn’t easy to get, oh no! There be dragons, and monsters and all beasties possible guarding this powerful treasure.

And the treasure itself may be a magical phrase in English that make people do something for you (pretty please), a recipe for favourite cookies (something that needs to be immediately tested!), a mathematical formula that will reveal a path to wisdom required to understand a spell… Once you do this little mindshift and show knowledge as what it really is – priceless treasure, your kids will stay curious at least a while longer.

Self-development

A friend of mine works as a teacher assistant for the kids with SEN. She’s an avid RPG player and decided to introduce a simple adventure to her small group of kids. She was eager to try, but she was also slightly worried about one of the kids who’s autistic and not yet ready to communicate. To her surprise, he started not only to answer her encouraging conversation starters, but he also started to initiate the conversations himself! For him, small talk itself is a waste of time, but he realises the importance of small talk in the context of obtaining the information to complete the adventure, his mission.

In her absolutely brilliant book „Superbetter”, Jane McGonigal says that scientific research corroborates the theory that games provide more than just sheer enjoyment – they provide models of better selves. What is more, she says, while we play, we focus on the game, giving it so-called flow of attention, a state of being fully absorbed and engaged, the state of total immersion in the game. It helps people literally feel better, make one’s brain relax and achieve the same results as training of mindfulness.

I don’t want you to encourage children to play games to become better selves, but think of it as added value – all you do is have fun with kids, and at the same time they grow, develop their soft skills, build relationships, learn how to deal with challenges and how to cope with failure…

Not bad for a game, is it?