Bored in the classroom? Let’s visit England!

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I love visiting England and frankly speaking, it always feels like home, be it greyish Yorkshire or sunny Somerset. I’m not overly sentimental, but I try to convince my students that England isn’t always rain and fog (unfortunately, huh), English food can be delicious (oh, Sunday roast or sticky toffee pudding, how I miss you!) and English people aren’t even half as snobbish as in Downton Abbey.

Not all of them, at least.

What I lacked was a nice book focused not only on culture itself, but using cultural topics as an element of a proper, language-oriented lesson. I used to prepare such classes by myself (with a little help of the Internet), but when at IATEFL conference I saw a book, titled Let’s Visit England by Polonsky, I knew I had to buy it.

So I did – and it’s become one of my favourite books for B1/B2 students.

First impressions

I really like the layout as the book’s subtitle is Photocopiable Resource Book for Teachers and it’s clearly designed to be as copier-friendly as possible (including coil binding).

When I opened the book I saw the table of content and – boom, immediately Unit 1, “The Geography of the British Isles”. Wait, where’s the foreword? Actually, nowhere, as the authors – Roman Ociepa and Mateusz Kołodziejczyk – apparently didn’t feel like wasting space; and indeed: at the very end of the book we have… a map! A great table of units and all you can find there: general topics, collocations, highlights and fun corners – that’s really helpful when picking a topic, especially when you want to match it with a coursebook lesson. You can also find a short and simple note on how to use the book.

Having satisfied myself with technicalities (reading “how to use the book” section is quite important and saves you troubles, seriously) I got back to Unit 1… and almost immediately decided to use for my first classes with a group of B1+ teens.

What is it about?

There are 15 units in the book and each lesson is planned for 90-minute classes and contains exercises on reading, listening, speaking, writing and vocabulary. So we’re travelling through geography of the Isles, the history of the UK and specifically England, education, games, science, literature, films, popculture, cars and famous landmarks.

What I like about the book is the variety of exercises – starting with warm-ups, we have vocabulary exercises, a bit of word-building, some collocations, fill-in-the-blanks etc. You don’t have to use them all, mind, but they’re varied enough not to get bored easily. And even though word-formation exercise is something you may skip, I’d suggest you spend some time on the Fun Corner – really engaging tasks, being educational and funny – frankly, my favourite part of the unit.

Best things in the book

There are so many delicious morsels in this book! Music – not only about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but Black Sabbath, David Bowie and Kate Bush also got recognised. “How to read numbers” – an adorable section in each lesson, great thing. There’s Agatha Christie mentioned as a best-selling novelist which is just lovely. But the thing that touched my heart was a simple mention in the fill-in-the-blank exercise about Invictus by Henley that it was used in Mass Effect 3 (along with Casablanca and Star Trek, but still – it’s pure gold when someone in an EFL book refers to a game).

Any problems?

Well, it’s a bit too short (15 units only) and the structure is quite repetitive (text-vocab-questions-word-building-collocations-project-retelling the story-highlight-fun corner) and while I perceive such a plan as nothing more than a suggestion, I know many teachers would go exactly, well, by the book – which may simply kill the potential of the exercises. So if you’re an inexperienced teacher, remember to add something from yourself – change some instructions and the whole lesson will be more enjoyable.

Recommendation

I can recommend this book to every teacher for all B1/B2 students – teenagers and adults alike. I’m sure it’ll bring a lot of fun, provoke a lot of discussions and will be a nice way of introducing Cross Cultural Communication.

The thing is, Polonsky encourages to visit not only England, but also Scotland, Ireland, the United States… and even Poland! So I’m sure even if you’re not into this publication, you’ll find something to your liking.

Enjoy!

Let’s Visit England, Photocopiable Resource Book for Teachers by Roman Ociepa, Mateusz Kołodziejczyk; Polonsky 2016; EAN/ISBN: 9788363630010

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Bring some colours to your classroom (autumn lesson ideas)

shopping

I know that your favourite season is probably summer – especially with the holidays, right? Well, the break from school is over but, with rainy days coming, your work may feel like an unbearable drudgery. Luckily for us all, I have some ideas to share – and I tested all of them and must say they’re guaranteed to bring some colours to your greyish classroom!

Create your own game!

One of the things about autumn is that your students seem not so active anymore, so you can enjoy activities that are less loud and adapted to more pen-and-paper type of creativity. One of my favourite activities is creating a board game – we play a lot of them, so it’s quite an easy work to come up with their own.

Or so they think.

I did that with teenagers and adults, and everyone liked the opportunity of revising something while creating and playing a colourful handmade game. You can come up with a contest and the group whose game was voted the best can get a prize.

When I Dream: making your own board game

Another game you may create on your own is When I Dream… a game perfect for autumn when all you dream of is closing your eyes and slowly drifting towards… hey, no napping! Get some pumpkin-spiced latte and try to play a game where your classmates create a dream for you – will you guess all the clues they’ve hidden?

The Colors of Evil

It’s a short film that will definitely brighten up your classes – be your students old or young. It’s a charming story of a cute and fluffy demon with the most valuable lesson for English students, namely: work on your spelling!

You know this joke among the cthultists – “I was browsing my old Latin book and suddenly I summoned Yog-Sothoth!”

The best thing is, the film has a great potential for follow-up activities and I’m sure they may be as colourful as the story itself: a little role-play maybe? Acting out an interview with the demon? Creating a short graphic story?

Writing poems? Easy peasy!

I can see your smiles slowly waning but wait – seriously, writing poems can be fun… especially now, as autumn in all its colourful glory simply inspires everyone to get at least a bit poetical. Even if your students don’t seem charmed with the idea, try to liven them up and show them, step by step, that they are able to write a poem – and a good one!

The sense of accomplishment is profound – they will tell you they couldn’t believe they would be able to write a poem in their native language and here they are, having written it in English!

Not doing homework? Great!

I simply love the activity. By autumn, after the first days of school are over and all new school-year resolutions have already died, the first excuses for not doing homework begin to sprout like mushrooms. Not that I’m surprised as I have already come up with a nice excuse for not writing this note on time (I’m on sick leave, see? purrfect excuse!) – so I can be not only forgiving, but also entertaining, as changing lame excuses into most improbable ones  – and then making a proper project with the wild ideas seems to be an activity that is funny, creative and team-building (which team has the best excuses?) – perfect to clear the autumn fog!

Scaredy Cat

I don’t work with children anymore – not as often as I used to, at least – but one of the cutest activities I’ve ever come up with was the one based on Scaredy Cat by Heather Franzen Rutten (I got her permission to use this story). Now – a tiny scrap of a kitten lost in a big strange world: isn’t this a situation most children can relate to? And when fear seems to overwhelm the little feline – presto! here’s an old, wise cat who shows the tiny mite that his fears are unnecessary as the strange world is full of potential friends. Add to this story absolutely cute pictures and you may enjoy many follow-up activities adjusted to your students’ preferences: role-plays, graphic stories, diaries…

I’m an Evil Teacher, aye, but the story makes my heart melt, honestly…

Now, those are the ideas tested by myself – and the memories they awoke while I’ve been writing this note made me smile, because those lessons were like colourful jewels in my previous school year. May this one be as memorable, and as vivid for me, for you – and for our students.

Enjoy!

 

7 lifesaving websites for EFL teacher

7 websites

I already made one list of my favourite websites months ago, but there are so many great things you find while websurfing that I’ll probably make more of such sets.

Also, it can be easily seen that I love making lists.

Being a DoS I happen to be a “victim” of non-English language teachers complaining that English teachers “have it easy”. Well, I have to admit that’s quite true… So let’s use some of the great sources we may find online – and here’s my present top seven:

1 Twinkl

I’ve already written about some features that are great for teaching English (Spring Poems – lesson plan and Twinkl Imagine), especially communication. But the site itself is far more than that and I encourage everyone to browse it a bit – I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking. I’d definitely use Twinkl for CLIL classes. Perfect source for home schooling as well.

2 Truetube

It’s one of the websites my fellow teacher showed me (thanks, Krzysiek!) and I find it a great source of topics perfect for teenagers and young adults: culturally relevant, sometimes taboo, sometimes controversial – great for discussion, and full of various authentic accents, awesome help for the students who love debating serious issues.

3 Elllo

When we’re talking about accents and listening, I have to admit Elllo is top of the tops. It’s an online library of thousands of free lessons with audio or video materials for all language levels. It’s a real treasure chest with each lesson having audioscript, grammar part and a quiz. You can use it in the classroom or encourage students to use the exercises at home.

4 Lyrics training

Students usually like learning a language by listening to music. This website provides you with literally everything: popular songs, fill-in-the-blank exercises on four levels (from beginner to expert) and it’s not only in English! Now the teachers of other languages may brighten their lessons with Rammstein or Despacito (oh, sweet Cthulhu).

5 Busy Teacher 

Warning: you may spend hours browsing through this website and finding more and more useful stuff: articles, posters, warm-ups, review materials and lesson plans galore! Seriously, with this site you’d be able to teach a proper 120-hour course without even a page from a coursebook. Awesome help from a busy teacher… to a lazy one.

6 Flo-Joe

If you’re stuck with Cambridge exams, or simply want to prepare your students for their FCE, CAE or CPE test – that’s the best source you’ll find on the Net. All the exams are clearly explained, and there’s a lot of exercises on skills development. There are also practice tests, and there’s never too many of those!

7 Film-English

I’ve used this website more than once, as it’s the perfect source of films and communicative exercises connected to various topics – friendship, growing up, life as it is… You can adapt those free lessons to various needs, age groups and language levels and have fun with all your students.

 

I hope you’ll like the websites I’ve shortlisted today – they’re really helpful for teachers who want to bring something new to the classroom… Or who are basically quite lazy (like yours truly).

Enjoy!

Bro, do you even canva?

teaching is a journey

Robert Greene said “creativity is a combination of discipline and childlike spirit”. I know, believe me, as I spent my May mini-break making various Canva projects and my head is spinning with more or less motivational quotes.

In my case: motivational quotes that I change into de-motivational quotes, I’m the evil teacher, after all.

Canva is a perfect tool to make your own projects, posters, postcards, Facebook graphics and whatnot – the only limit is your own creativity. And the best thing about it is, naturally, the fact it’s mostly free.

What you do is simply create an account – and the rest is easy. You start with choosing appropriate design – may it be a card, a poster or a Facebook post (what’s important here is a general layout). You can explore e-books, presentations, blog covers etc., but if you need something particular, you can also create your own design.

Once you’ve decided which design suits you best, there are some layouts you can get inspired with (i.e. pick a ready-to-go option and simply change text). It usually takes me quite a lot of time to browse through all those projects – some of them are free, some of them cost around a dollar or two, but the price is more of an issue connected with the background. However, choosing a layout may take some time, but if you’ve already taken some time on Pinterest, you’ll know when to stop.

Now, the background is useful when you decide to use a photo (again, free, one-dollar-per-photo, or, the best option: uploading your own). You can choose from a variety of background ideas, however, unfortunately, most of them require payment (1 USD, sure, but still). The good thing is, you can upload your own background and proceed with your project.

When we have our design or background+photo chosen, it’s time to put some text inside – be that motivational quote by a superhero (“Hulk smash!”) or a simple “revise irregular verbs for the Monday test”. I’ve always admired those neatly arranged menus and witty quote boards in those hipsterish cafés I never openly admit to visiting… and hurray! Canva gives me ready layouts to put my words into arrangement so lovely they somehow look more impressive.

Try uploading Hodor’s photo and finding a great text layout for his unforgettable quotation “Hodor, hodor hodor. Hodor…” – behold the power of design!

You can add a finishing touch by choosing additional elements – photos, icons, charts etc. and you can admire your artwork. It’s beautiful, easy and ready to download: and before you do it, remember to pick the most suitable file type (e.g. for Facebook you’ll need a jpg, as pdf doesn’t go well with it).

I’ve already used Canva for my blog and my Facebook fanpage, but I’ve got some ideas on how you can use it in your classroom:

  1. As a group project (e-book cover with a blurb, presentation, birthday card etc.)
  2. As homework (recipe, magazine article, letter)
  3. As an element of a lesson:
  • menu project when you’re talking about food and restaurants
  • business card when talking about making first impressions
  • flyer when making plans for holidays
  • Facebook event cover when planning a future party – etc.

As you can see – possibilities are endless! Naturally, you can try available software like Photoshop to create similar, if not better effect, but simplicity of Canva and the fact it’s an online tool gives you the possibility of engaging students for the whole lesson and at its end present their final project (+15 to their sense of accomplishment).

The only problem is that you need computers or laptops – Canva works neither on tablets nor on mobile phones (shame, I know).

If you’re still not sure how to use Canva, next week I’ll share a plan of the lesson I enjoyed with a bunch of teenagers on intermediate level only two weeks ago – we tried to lure spring by creating poems and although so far we haven’t succeeded, at least we had some fun.

 

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…).

cake

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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Homework? Smile in the morning!

Grumpy-Cat-Purina

Have you heard that even if you fake a smile, you genuinely start feeling happier? At least that’s what American scientists say, but is it true?

Me and my B2 group have decided to give it a try, hence the homework, perfect for grey November:

Put a board with the word SMILE next to your bed and force yourself to smile as the first thing in the morning. Remember to make notes on your feeling! After a week we will check the notes and see whether we have felt happier or not really.

‘Teacher, does it include Monday?’ asked my student.

‘Monday, I believe, is absolutely crucial.’