500 Activities for the Primary Classroom – when you look for inspirations (book review)

Feline Fact_

We all know that teaching kids requires not only knowledge and patience, but also wild amounts of ingenuity and creativity – the younger the learner, the more creative the teacher must be! And since I’ve professionally come back to dealing with young learners and teens, the book I felt like browsing through really carefully addressed the needs of the youngest learners – especially knowing the author.

I met Carol Read when I was a rookie teacher in a primary school – she was invited by Macmillan, visited Rzeszów and clearly wanted to observe a typical English lesson. I was only happy to deliver – and I found her one of the nicest people ever; also, she was the first native speaker my students had seen and they loved her.

What is the book about?

You would probably say – it’s 500 activities for children… and you’d be almost right, because it’s far more than this – each chapter starts with really useful methodological content that will help you understand the approaches behind various activities along with “reflection time” – section where you can think over your ideas. Moreover, each activity is followed by comments and suggestions, and with years of experience Ms. Read has a lot of useful tips to share!

Who is the book for?

As the dedication states – the book is for every teacher who tries to bring out the best in every child. If you’re a fresh teacher who hasn’t ever taught a kid – it’s for you! If you’re an experienced educator who has spent more time with the adults and now wants to start again with younger learners (like your truly) – you’ll find it a great source of inspiration!

Contents

The book is divided into ten sectionslistening and speaking, reading and writing, Vocabulary and grammar, Storytelling and drama, Games, Rhymes, chants and songs, Art and craft, Content-based learning, ICT and multimedia and Learning to learn. Each activity goes with an awesome description reminding me of my favourite book ever – level (from A1.1 to B1.2), age, organisation (groupwork, pairwork etc.), aims, language focus, materials and procedures. So, apart from mere ideas you have a lot of material you can adapt to your own groups and their needs.

My favourite activities

Naturally, the first part I read was the one focussed on storytelling – and the first exercise is called “words in the story” where kids create a story about a Kraken. My cthultistic heart appreciates such an excellent beginning! I really enjoyed the exercise “story stepping stones” where children learn to identify and use key episodes in the story – a very useful skill when it comes to storytelling.

But there are more activities than this – you will find activities you may use in a classroom on a regular basis – listening grid, follow the route task or wall dictation. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love.

Recommendations

This is one of those books I can recommend for everyone – even if you don’t teach children it may still prove useful; perfect when you need to cover for a colleague… or when your own (or your friends’) kids want to have fun and expect you to come up with a creative idea – 500 Activities is a great help, as young learners develop their skills unconsciously, simply having fun.

And having fun is something not only kids like!

Read, Carol “500 Activities for the Primary Classroom: Immediate Ideas and Solutions”

Macmillan Books for Teachers 2007

ISBN 978-1-4050-9907-3

 

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Role-Playing Teaching (Part 7: For Those About to Roll)

Role-Playing Teaching(Part 7_For Those Aboutto Roll)

The following note is a rough translation of the post Erpegi na pierwszy raz available here. The author, Michał Laskowski, kindly agreed to me translating and sharing his work. It is originally meant for people who are already familiar with RPGs, so I believe you already know enough of theory and it’s high time to start playing on your own!

Two important things before you start reading: I took the liberty to shorten the original post, so if you’re Polish and want to read more, go to the original page. Also, some of the games presented by Michał are in Polish only and I didn’t share them here, so if you’re Polish… you know what to do.

Bored, ain’t you? Wanna play a game?

(…) One of the methods of introducing new people to the hobby is persistently telling stories about it, sending links to texts and videos entitled What is RPG?, and finally making an appointment specifically for the RPG session. (…) However, you can take people by surprise, with the game that is small, free and easy to use. Suited to a social meeting over a pint, the long train ride etc. Either way, it’s important to choose the game according to the interests of people who we plan to engage into playing RPGs:

For the travellers: the game suited perfectly for chilling out and worth every recommendation is Luna by Marta Kucik Kucińska, which won Polish Game Chef Award in 2014. Attractive (for a DIY) and recommended to try for the first time before it gets too dark. Once you get the rules, you may try playing under the starry sky to experience an even greater fun. (…)

For those who enjoyed Stranger Things (and Netflix shows in general): Outstanding Heroes and Extraordinary Threats (…) that will bring you great fun with colourful yet cliché adventures. (Something many people are surprisingly fond of, me included)

For those hungover and jet-lagged: the irreplaceable Norwegian game by Tomas HV Mørkrid Stoke-Birmingham 0-0. The game where you play the most average European ever. I do not want to spoil surprises here – this is the ultimate RPG!

Time to rock!

If you already managed to break the ice in speaking on behalf of your character (I have a feeling that this is a big challenge, even for the fairly outspoken people), we can try with more games. I believe that only then can one theorise on what RPGs are? and start playing more typical systems with character sheets, dice, and a typical Game master – Players structure.

Another RPG worth testing is Lady Blackbird. It’s already reached the status of one of the canonical classics. One of the best choices for a quick RPG (there is no character creation) (…).

From an old player’s library…

I wanted to mention a few published games that were released some time ago. Many of them may seem quite forgotten. Sometimes they may require chipping in a few dollars from the players (…):

Blood and Honor by John Wick Now a classic, made for all lovers of Japan and the Samurai. One of the most interesting elements is contributing to the storytelling – test results do not indicate the success itself, but the person who determines the consequence of the action. It’s a very engaging game for the whole team, especially that you start with creating own clan.

Dogs in the Vineyard by Vincent Baker. This alternative western story about young Mormons with just a hint of fantasy. Something that you want to show your friends from a drama club to show them that your kind of fun is also “real art”.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Another classic (…), perfect for chatting and sipping beer, and looking at the fireplace during long winter evenings.

Let’s roll!

As you can see, most of these games challenge the typical image of a Game Master as a guide followed by the players. It’s not because I despise the mainstream games. It’s a matter of pragmatism. After gamemastering a few sessions in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game, you will still be the one who knows all the rules of the fight, you’ll be an authority in matters of the world and the main creator of a plot during the adventure. If the players learn how to co-create the plot from the beginning, as well as using game mechanics, they will take the initiative much more easily,

7 ideas that might be used for Halloween (or any other spooky lesson)

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With the annual influx of Halloween-themed posts by my fellow bloggers I was like “meh, I don’t even like Halloween, I guess I only wrote about it once” – so I looked through my own posts and realised my memory is somewhat problematic (it probably goes with my age, ah well…). Having brushed the dust off my old ideas I found six activities more or less connected to this pleasantly grim festivity you may enjoy with your students.

1. The one with reading recommendations

If you want to include some reading in your classroom – after all we all love spooky stories, don’t we? – here’s my list of great books and stories you may enjoy with your students (regardless their age). Coraline is perfect for younger learners (only not too young), teenagers will love creepypastas and adults may appreciate Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party.

I am definitely going to spend my Halloween with Hellboy by Mike Mignola – one of the best graphic novels ever.

2. The one with zombies and survival tactics

Zombies are quite popular during Halloween (something I find quite adorable), so you may work with a proper coursebook English for the Zombie Apocalypse. It is a real coursebook you may use according to the authors, but you may also pick the role-plays scenarios and make your students survive (or die trying) the zombie outbreak.

3. The one with false friends turning out to be murderous aliens

Similarly to the previous idea, English for the Alien Invasion is a proper book you may use according to instructions (a very communicative course) or come up with your own project (including a life lesson on how not to befriend aliens too soon as they may prove to be murderous and treacherous creatures).

4. The one for those who prefer serious political issues

Not everyone likes Halloween – I’m not a fan myself, as I’ve got Halloween every Monday when I wake up and look in the mirror, huh. Instead I prefer including some facts about the 5th of November which we should remember indeed… and I believe no one tells us the story more frightening than Alan Moore and his V for Vendetta, the graphic novel that no longer is perceived as dystopian.

5. The one for boardgame geeks 

Halloween may be a good excuse to introduce one of the best games you can bring in to your classroom – Mystery of the Abbey, a great whudunit game with a twist. There’s a murder in a medieval abbey and players have to find the perpetrator by identifying all the monks. It’s a surprisingly communicative game for all ages and all levels of English proficiency.

6. The one for the children

I can’t help it – this is probably my absolutely favourite activity for Halloween. I love Scaredy Cat and each time I admire this cute story I adore it even more! A short story about a tiny kitten lost in a Halloween night has no speech bubbles, so it can be used by various groups on various levels… in various languages!

 

Ah, so there are six activities I used to enjoy in the past – but this year I’m only bringing in a story to my Advanced classes, a story by HP Lovecraft, of course, about cats and things that are more ominous than the Elder Gods with their blasphemous tentacles. I’ll ask my students to interpret the story in a more contemporary way which will definitely show them how important descriptive language is – especially the one by HPL. Ready? So listen:

7 …It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat…

Bored in the classroom? Let’s visit England!

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com

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

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.