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September Reflections

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There is something truly exciting about September…You are full of energy and enthusiasm after summer holiday. You are surrounded with some beautiful young people radiating joy while telling you their summery stories. September is the time of year when you reflect on the previous school year, and think about what went well, what could be improved this school year, and what you want to focus on in the coming year.

 

What went well last year

I learnt a lot from my students, colleagues and through my PLN. There were a lot of wonderful opportunities at the library to learn by listening to my students, collaborating with my colleagues, and sharing thoughts and ideas with my colleagues and friends from all over the world. Writing and blogging, reading books and listening to podcasts helped me to hone my English language skills.

Students were my constant source of inspiration. Students who loved spending their time at the library, reading, preparing tasks, and making video clips for their Aviation English classes… I enjoyed chatting with them, helping them with English, and recommending some useful books and sites for learning. They were particularly interested in: how to enrich their vocabulary in order to speak English fluently.

I truly enjoyed autonomy to plan my work and activities with students and teachers at the library. I had more time to read for pure pleasure, or to do what I found useful for my professional development. And I was so fulfilled.

 

What could be improved

I should not be sensitive to the general opinion that a profession of a teacher-librarian is uninteresting, or not as dynamic, challenging, or important as teaching.

Also, I should improve my time management skills. I usually work late and spend a lot of time online (I enjoy reading and writing at night). A lot of coffee (or green tea) usually helps in the morning, but I hope to change this habit soon. Also, I tend to do the stuff I enjoy doing first, and to put off till later something so dull and formulaic like cataloguing books, for example, and thus there are so many books waiting to be put into my computer programme b++.

 

What I want to focus on in the coming year

Collaborating with teachers on some CLIL/TBLT projects, writing articles for my two blogs: English language teaching & my Library blog, and also for our school e-journal Vazduhoplovac (Aviator).

I’ve been musing lately about starting an English club at the library for the students who are interested in improving English. There is a large smallish, but lovely group of students who read my blogs, and who have told me lately that they would like to spend more time at the library reading and speaking English with me. Some of them told me that their classes were boring and they were not willing to speak English for fear of making grammar mistakes.

I am currently thinking about how to provide the students with lots of structured opportunities to hear and read English. These are some of the tenets that came to my mind while thinking about this idea: 

  • students should be responsible for their own learning (we should explore the language and learn together)
  • we negotiate the syllabus, topics, time and the way the students want to learn, each month (process syllabus)
  • students enrich their vocabulary by doing a plenty of language activities and tasks (more time for student-generated language)
  • grammatical concepts are presented in context, students are encouraged to reflect on the form and purpose of the structure before giving a name to it (inductive approach)
  • students reflect on their learning (discussing, creating portfolio, learning log, an online journal or using Twitter)

 

Some materials and activities that could be interesting for students:

Graded readers – for practising extensive reading (e.g. Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals, OUP)

ELT magazines for teenagers, Airport magazines and brochures (for TBLT/CLIL projects)

Love – in literature & music & art (project work/ or: Five Love(ly) Lesson Ideas activities)

Flash fiction (Students write six word stories/ short stories up to 100 words: about themselves, or they look through the window, or choose a photo in their mobile phone, etc. and write whatever comes first to their mind/ a tweet up to 140 characters on the book they have read or the film they have seen recently)

Spooky Science (Instruction for play: two decks of cards, one in Serbian and one in English. Each deck contains: 54 cards with questions and four multiple-choice answers, 4 Joker cards and 2 master cards for the Judges with all the right answers. Two players from the same team collect more cards than the opposing team and win the game.)

Logic and Conversation: What are Grice’s conversational maxims (reading on the Net, and discussing logical thinking & logical fallacies)

Podcast – Cultural differences (Luke’s English Podcast: 381. Discussing cultural differences (with Amber and Paul)

#FlashmobELT  (teachers’ resources bank: activities created by teachers for teachers)

Interesting blog ideas: Cool things that happened today/this week/this month (writing & speaking activity)

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This idea might sound pretty unrealistic for a Serbian public secondary school: motivating teenagers to learn English on their own, without grading them, just helping them to explore the language and see the importance of reflecting on how and what they have learnt! I promise to write about the English club, or some other similar learning adventure in the ensuing months.

My Top Ten Favourite Podcast Sites

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21st century skills in action. (a photo and tweet by @C_Hendrick)

Teaching is a lifelong learning process of finding out about new philosophies, new methods and strategies, learning from the experts, learning from colleagues, and also learning together with your students. Good teaching is not about knowing how to use a lot of educational apps and following the 21st century skills trend without truly questioning it, without realizing what a really meaningful learning is.

One of the most effective ways of using the Internet for learning about the world and for practising English both inside and outside the classroom is podcastListening to podcasts (on a daily basis) can be very useful for improving your listening and speaking skills. Podcasts give you the chance to listen to various accents and varieties of English, and also to listen to the topics you are really interested in. Almost all of the podcasts are free to download (you can upload them to your mp3 player, or just listen to the file on your computer too).

Podcasts that I enjoy listening to are not intended just for the English language learning. They cover many subjects from science to philosophy, art, social science, linguistics, etc., and they are for all the students/teachers who are curious and passionate about learning.

 

This is a list of my ten favourite podcast sites:

Latest (national and international) news stories, a lot of insights, intelligent analyses, big political stories with lively discussion and expert comments and analysis, the best new comedies, and a lot more can be found on BBC Radio 4.

If you have an inquisitive mind and thirst for knowledge you’ll enjoy fun and interesting podcasts on Radiolab. You can read on the site: Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.

Space Place Musings: Podcasts are for those who are fond of science and earth & space exploration.

Open Culture offers 100s of cultural and educational podcasts ready to load onto your iPod.

A Podcast about Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics is an excellent podcast site for English language teachers.

“The social world is a world we create, that we all have in common. In this series of illuminating podcasts, hear leading social scientists present their perspectives on how our social world is created, and how social science can help us understand people and how they behave. Each podcast includes a downloadable written transcript of the conversation.”

  • Philosophy Bites – podcasts of top philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics…

You can enjoy listening to Philosophy Bites interviews (podcasts) of excellent lecturers, and they are arranged by theme here.

New Statesman runs two weekly podcasts covering politics, policy and the arts.

This is ‘the world’s leading forum for debate and intelligent discussion. You can listen to most interesting discussions and enjoy in the company of some of the world’s sharpest minds and most exciting orators.”

 

I suggest using podcasts in the English language classroom: while discussing various topics that are relevant to your students you can learn with your students, too.  You can get your students to do a project work, or debates/discussions on:

  • the philosophy that planet Earth does not belong just to us humans, but to all species
  • how to save the life on our beautiful planet, how to adapt to the impacts of global warming (with focus on environmental issues and the fact that developing countries generally have less capacity to adapt)
  • how to fight against greed and hatred and ignorance
  • how to encourage independent and rational thinking and fight against dogmatic, irrational beliefs
  • how to deconstruct all of the messages we’re getting that are false, that may be racist, or sexist
  • how to change our ideas about masculinity and femininity, how to fight against gender stereotypes, or cultural stereotypes, etc.

The most important of all is to teach our students how to have a skeptical look at the facts. They need to learn to question the truth of what they’re told by asking themselves: Can I prove it? Can I test it? Is it evidence-based? How accurate is it? Our students do have to learn logical thinking, the process of argument, the process of presenting facts, of proving their point of view; they need to learn that our first thoughts are very often not our best thoughts, that disagreement can be negotiated, and so on.

“Philosophy teaches its students to become thoughtful and reflective, and so to know themselves better. By so doing it opens them up to being careful about their own ideas and habits of thought. It is a matter of opening the questioning mind, taking charge of ideas, rather than being enslaved by them.” (Why there should be a philosophy GCSE, by Simon Blackburn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge).

Listening to podcasts will bring a fresh impetus to our language learning/teaching. Also, hearing some intelligent discussions by great lecturers, their perceptive insights and interesting ideas can broaden our horizons, and even make us change some false beliefs. And, changing one’s opinions or strong beliefs is usually much more difficult than most of you think.

Thank you for reading the post. If you have any idea about how to use podcasts in the English language classroom, or if you have your favourite podcast site(s), please share in the comments.

Why is doing tasks the best way to learn? (some thoughts on TBLT)

 

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When you think about the job of a librarian, the first thing that comes to mind is something to do with books: buying, cataloging, preserving, recommending books to students and teachers. In this post I wanted to show that an English language teacher-librarian is also a key pedagogical partner for teachers in school.

During this school year I talked with students about the books they loved, about how to learn effectively, how to find reliable information on the Internet, how to write well… I can remember many great moments, but the highlight of the school year was my participation in a few TBLL activities at the library. My main aim in the post was to illustrate how TBLT (task-based language teaching) was feasible, and effective in EFL/ESL secondary school classroom, and how an English language teacher – librarian could participate and help students do the tasks successfully.

In March this year a group of 4th year students (Milica, Dušica, Anastasija and Andrea) prepared a task and created a video clip for an ESP class. My participation in this task was in providing the students with the materials they needed, taking some photos, and giving them some help with pronunciation (of the words like: process, circumstances…). I was glad that they liked my ‘Aristotle philosophy box’, and that they used it while making the clip. And we had a lot of fun. 🙂

 

English for Specific Purposes TBLT Lesson:  A plan of evacuation of a building

A group of four 4th year students (B2 level) created a clip (about 8 minutes long) – A Plan of evacuation of Hogwarts (which was set on fire by Lord Voldemort). They told me that the idea came to their mind as their teacher Jelena J.M. loves Harry Potter books. That was a fabulous idea, and very funny, too!  They recorded the Hogwarts news at the library, and the commercials: magic wand & magic chalk, in the school corridor. Ministry of Magic presented an elaborate plan of evacuation of the building. (Unfortunately, I could not embed the clip in the post as my blog does not support it, but I really enjoyed watching it.)

Pre-task
The English language teacher introduced the topic by giving some explanations and helped the students to recall some language (key vocabulary regarding a plan of evacuation of a building) that might be useful for the task. The students took notes and spent time preparing for the task.

Task
The students completed the task using the language resources that they had.  The teacher-librarian assisted and offered encouragement while the students practised and rehearsed their roles. Then the students made a video clip with their smartphone at the library, and in the school corridor.

Planning
The students prepared a short oral report to tell the class what happened during their task. They then practised what they were going to say in their groups. The teacher-librarian helped the students to clear up any language questions they had.

Report
Before the English language teacher played the video clip to others in the classroom the students reported back to the class what had happened during their task.  The teacher gave the students some quick feedback on the content.

Analysis
The teacher then highlighted relevant parts from the text of the recording and the language that the students used during the report phase for analysis.

Practice
Finally, the teacher selected language areas to practise based upon the needs of the students and what emerged from the task and report phases. The students then did speaking and writing practice activities to increase their confidence and make a note of useful language.

 

What is the task-based approach?

TBLT is a strong communicative approach to language instruction which aims to provide learners with a natural context for language use. As learners work to complete a task, they have abundant opportunity to interact. Instruction is organized in such a way that students will improve their language ability by focusing on getting something done while using the language, rather than on explicitly practising language forms, as in more traditional methods of instruction. Content selection is based on the needs of the learners and they are encouraged to activate and use whatever language they already have in the process of completing a task. The most important tenets of the TBLT are: the provision of opportunities for learners to focus not only on language but also on the learning process itself, and the linking of classroom language learning with language use outside the classroom.

My thoughts on TBLT (regarding my TBLT experience)

  • TBLT is a learner-centred approach, and the focus is on collaborative learning.
  • The active involvement of the learners is central to the approach.
  • It offers learners a rich input of target language.
  • The students are exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns (the focus is on meaning as well as on form).
  • It is enjoyable and (intrinsically) motivating.
  • It can be used together with a more traditional approach.
  • It involves a high level creativity and dynamism on the part of the teacher.
  • It requires resources beyond the textbooks and related materials generally available in EFL classrooms.
  • Some students may object to task-based language learning in that this type of instruction is not what they expect and want from a language class.
  • Teachers (or facilitators) should take into account the learning context, and they need to negotiate with learners to ensure that they are motivated and happy to learn in that way.

As I don’t know much about TBLT, this was an interesting and useful experience. I’m interested in exploring TBLT in the next few months. I also hope to do a lot more collaborative projects with the English language teachers at my school (not only ESP, but General English, too).

 

Further reading on TBLT

Mike Long, Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

Real Tasks Guide Long’s TBLT by Geoff Jordan https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/real-tasks-guide-longs-tblt/

Dave and Jane Willis, Doing Task-Based Teaching, OUP 2007.

http://www.willis-elt.co.uk/conferences.html

David Nunan, Task-Based Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

http://www.educ.ualberta.ca/staff/olenka.bilash/best%20of%20bilash/task-based%20language%20teaching.pdf

Rod Ellis, Task-based Language Learning and Teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

 

Teaching culture as an integrative part of EFL

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Kalemegdan Park and Statue of Victory (in Belgrade) at dusk, photo taken by Ljiljana Havran

If we want to provide our students with genuine skills for effective use of English, culture must be incorporated as a vital component of language learning. Teaching culture should be integrated into the second language curriculum in ways that engage learners actively in the acquisition of language and culture.

 

What do we understand by the word ‘culture’?

Culture…

  • reflects the values of a society
  • frames our attitudes and experiences
  • provides us with patterns of behavior, thinking, feeling, and interacting
  • influences our expectations of what is appropriate or inappropriate
  • affects every aspect of daily life

Cultural misunderstandings arise mostly out of culturally-shaped perceptions and interpretations of each other’s cultural norms, values, and beliefs.

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, has defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. The “category” can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders.

The importance of teaching culture to the EFL students

Linguists have long recognized that the forms and uses of a language reflect the cultural values of the society in which the language is spoken. Cross-cultural pragmatics, intercultural communication, and intercultural learning are some of the areas of applied linguistics that study the link between language and culture.

Studying culture gives students a motivation to study the target language. It also plays a useful role in general education; studying culture, students could also learn about the geography, history, etc. of the target culture. Furthermore, it aids the growth of tolerance for differences, because communication with and about people from different backgrounds enables students to learn more about their lifestyle, their values, and customs, which in turn increases understanding and empathy, and eliminates ethnic stereotypes.

Linguistic competence alone is not enough for learners of a language to be competent in that language (Krasner, 1999). Language learners have to understand that, in order for communication to be successful, language use must be associated with other culturally appropriate behavior. They should also know that behaviours and intonation patterns that are appropriate in their own speech community may be perceived differently by members of the target language speech community. Language learners need to be aware, for example, of the culturally appropriate ways to address people, express gratitude, make requests, give or receive compliments, agree or disagree with someone, etc.

EFL teachers should identify key cultural items in every aspect of the language that they teach. Cultural information should be presented in a way that does not place value or judgement on distinctions between the students’ native culture and the culture explored in the classroom. Kramsch (1993) describes the “third culture” of the language classroom – a neutral space that learners can create and use to explore and reflect on their own and the target culture and language.

Learning to be intercultural involves much more than just knowing about another culture: it involves learning to understand how one’s own culture shapes perceptions of oneself, of the world, and of our relationship with others. Intercultural communicative competence is an attempt to raise students’ awareness of their own culture, and in so doing, help them to interpret and understand other cultures. Raising intercultural awareness implies the development of skills for successful communication, i.e. competent and peaceful interaction with people who are different from us.

Ways to develop intercultural competence 

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A cafe in the centre of Belgrade, photo taken by Ljiljana Havran

Students are eager to explore the world around them and there are numerous topics and activities related to various cultures that EFL teachers can use in their lessons.

You can:

  • Make your students think about a funny experience they once had related to cultural issues or misunderstandings. You can encourage them to share their funny stories and experiences (for example, by sharing your own experience first). Then they can discuss a few similarities and a few differences between the two cultures.
  • Use photos in class exploring new topics about various cultures and lifestyles and answering questions together. A photo can also expose students to unusual places/customs/food etc. that they might not be familiar with, promoting discussion and engaging students’ interest. It also gives the teacher a chance to learn something new and it enables a lesson to take the form of collaborative discovery.
  • Get your students to make quizzes about their own culture and the culture of the target language – several rounds of general knowledge questions to be answered in teams.
  • Teach students about the different foods, art and songs that have value in different cultures by incorporating important elements of cultural celebrations into an English language classroom. Films and music are often vital and engaging depictions of contemporary culture, as well.
  • Read articles or extracts from books, newspapers, magazines or websites written by people who have visited the students’ town, country or region. For example, there is a good source of articles from the travel sections of newspapers such as The Guardian or The Independent, the guidebooks on the Net such as Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, or extracts from books by travel writers, such as Colin Thubron, Bill Bryson, Jan Morris, etc.
  • Get students to recount their experiences if they have visited the target culture. If there is no such source available, students can do a valuable creative writing activity – imagining a journey into the target culture, predicting the problems and misunderstandings they may encounter and creatively resolving them.
  • Produce a guidebook, poster or webpage for visitors to their town, country or region. This should not only describe famous sites and places to visit, stay or eat, but also give visitors advice about what they may find strange or unusual about their own culture.
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American Culture through Serbian Eyes by my student Maja Gašparović, who created this lovely brochure about her eight month stay in Colorado, USA, in April 27, 2007

For further reading: Culture in Second Language Teaching, Elizabeth Peterson and Bronwyn Coltrane, Center for Applied Linguistics 

Five Love(ly) Lesson Ideas

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Hand-holding shadows – Photo taken from ELTpics –  by Sandy Millin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license 

In this post I wrote about the five Lesson ideas about LOVE I’m going to try out with a group of teenage (intermediate/upper-intermediate level) students next semester.  

LESSON 1

ONE SUMMER by Steve Turner  

Aim:

  • to stimulate students to think and speak about the feelings of missing someone
  • show the students an unconventional use of words in poems

Lead-in

Ask the students:

Is there somebody who is far away from you and you miss him/her badly? How do you feel? 

Task 1: 

Ask the students to read silently the poem which is presented in a paragraph. Then, they try to make their own version of the poem by breaking the poem into separate lines the way they like.

One summer you aeroplaned away, too much money away from me, and stayed there for quite a few missed embraces. Before leaving you smiled me that you’d return all of a mystery moment and would airletter me every few breakfasts in the meantime. This you did, and I thank you most kissingly. I wish however, that I could hijackerplane to the Ignited States of Neon where I’d crash land perfectly in the deserted airport of your heart.

Steve Turner 

Task 2:

Teacher hands out / reads out the original version of the poem “One Summer” by Steve Turner for comparison. Students read / listen to the poem carefully.

ONE SUMMER

One summer you

aeroplaned away,

too much money

away from me, and

stayed there for

quite a few

missed embraces.  

Before leaving

you smiled me that

you’d return all of

a mystery moment and

would airletter me

every few breakfasts

in the meantime.

This

you did, and I thank

you most kissingly.

I

wish however, that I

could hijackerplane

to the Ignited States

of Neon where I’d

crash land perfectly

in the deserted

airport of your heart.

Steve Turner

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Photo taken from – http://www.morguefile.com/

Task 3: WORDS

  1. Do you like the poem? Do you find it romantic/interesting/playful/funny….?
  2. Are there some strange words in the poem? What do you think they mean?

e.g.

  • aeroplaned away >>  travelled by plane somewhere far away
  • kissingly >>  with love
  • hijackerplane  >>   have an important position in someone’s life
  • deserted airport of your heart >>  most inner and unrevealed part of someone’s heart and mind

Follow-up

Use your own title (e.g. Missed embraces, A deserted airport of your heart, etc.) and:

  • use the keywords in the original poem to make up a new poem
  • rearrange the lines of the original poem to make up a new poem

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Authentic materials in EFL classroom

Using authentic materials in EFL classes will engage students and keep them exploring and playing with English in a way that will help them improve the language, and will also prepare them to use it in real life situations.

In this post I described two aviation English lessons I designed for upper-intermediate level students a few years ago, in which I used the authentic materials from the Internet.

This post was also part of an assignment I completed for a Serbian online seminar (which I attended this school year) about developing information and media literacy in our schools.

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Learn English with Dreamreader

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I learned a few days ago about Dreamreader.net, a very useful website for English language learners. The site was created by two EFL teachers who live and work in Japan, Neil Millington and Brad Smith. Several years ago they decided to create a site dedicated to offering students and teachers a free way to practice their English reading skills. I was curious about how the website came to be developed and read the post “The story behind the site.” where the teachers share their motivations for starting the site.

The site is a really great resource for EFL/ESL learners with a nice selection of activities/materials on a wide variety of topics. Not only does it offer academic English reading practice but it also features fun and easier content. There are five categories on the site: Easy English, Interesting English, Fun English, Practical English and Academic English. Most of the lessons across the sections have additional downloads such as worksheets (pdf) and audio for teachers/students to use. The website is very neat, easy to use, and it is updated regularly with new content.

You can learn more about the site by reading Michael Griffin’s latest interview on his wonderful blog where he spoke to Neil Millington, whom he met at a conference in Cambodia this year.

I also enjoyed reading the great post Dream Reader by Hana Ticha where she described her lesson and some lovely ideas she tried out with her students, and demonstrated how teachers can exploit the articles from the blog Dreamreader in a very effective way.

If you want to improve your English, go to dreamreader.net , explore the site and enjoy learning English on your own.

You can also follow dreamreader.net on Twitter. Read the rest of this entry

The first class – tips and ideas

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The first class meeting of any course is one of the most important classes, much more important than many teachers realize. It can greatly influence students’ opinions about the course and the teacher, as well, therefore the first class is also the most challenging of all the classes you will have during the semester.

The first day of class is the time to introduce yourself and the course, gain the students’ interest, create a positive classroom atmosphere and foster teacher-student rapport.  What is, also, very important, the first day is an opportunity for you to get to know and begin to evaluate your students and assess their language skills.

From my own experience, after experimenting and reflecting a lot during many years on establishing the goals for the first day of class and strategies to meet these goals, I believe now that:

  • as the first class sets the tone for what is to follow, teachers should behave the same way they will behave for the remainder of the semester
  • in the first class of the semester, and when a lot is happening, there is no need to cover everything to the point where students are overloaded with the course information
  • it is important to create a relaxed atmosphere conducive to a positive learning experience, this being an essential starting point for effective learning in any classroom

The first class should be well structured with a variety of activities and an appropriate pace. These are some of the first class ideas I have found interesting and useful for my (intermediate and upper-intermediate level) students:

1.  Students ask the teacher whatever they feel is important to know about the course.

(apart from the course related questions, they can ask you some personal questions, if they want to, and of course if you are willing to respond to such questions)

This is an activity for fostering teacher-student rapport. It also creates an environment where meaningful questions about the course are not only wanted but expected. Students usually want to know what is in the syllabus, how much work to expect, and what the teacher’s policies on attendance are.

While you do not want to discuss personal information such as, for example, your age, a divorce, etc., there are some things you would want to share about yourself (how you would like to be called by your students, your educational background, why you are enthusiastic about your job or the course, etc.)

2.  Teacher writes a few things/phrases about herself/himself on the board. Students ask questions in order to guess and find out what the phrases are about.

This is a fun activity for creating a positive learning atmosphere and teacher-student rapport, fostering students’ interest and curiosity, and also a very useful way for practising making questions.

3.  Interview your partner about her/his expectations of the course. Tell the class what your partner’s expectations of the course are.

This activity communicates key elements and expectations for the course. This is also an opportunity for the teacher to discuss the roles/responsibilities of the teacher and students, and is beneficial to the teacher and student because it draws the students into the course content.

4.  Finish the sentence: A good way to learn English is…

Give students the following sentences (on the whiteboard, on an overhead projector, or as handout). Tell them they can agree, disagree, change the sentences, or add their own sentences. This can lead into a class discussion about how to learn a language, as well as past experiences learning a language.

A good way to learn English is…

  1. Speaking English in class with a professional English teacher.
  2. Speaking English with other students in the class.
  3. Speaking English in a café with a native speaker of English (not necessarily a teacher).
  4. Living in a country where people speak English.
  5. Watching films and TV in English.
  6. Reading books and newspapers in English.
  7. Repeating what the teacher says in class.
  8. Keeping a notebook of new words.
  9. Doing some English homework (writing or reading) very often.
  10. Having lots of tests in class to help us remember.

5.  Flash fiction (or Microfiction)

e.g.

  • look through the window / choose a photo in your mobile phone, etc. …and write whatever comes first to your mind (in 100 words)
  • write a story in just six words
  • write a tweet on the book you have read recently (140 letters)

Flash fiction is a short form of creative writing to use in class. This activity does not require students to write a lot, but they must stick with the 100 word / six word / 140 letters… rule.

This is a great way to practise editing and reformulating ideas. You have to condense the idea of a story into one image or idea. It also requires students to have a very good grasp of English, and particularly to have a large vocabulary to be able to express themselves in different ways and control their writing.

Twitter is the ultimate modern short form of writing (or flash fiction) with the restraints of 140 characters.

You can find a lot of six word stories on: Six-Word Memoirs and your students can also submit their six word stories there.

I found some of the activities I described here on the Internet, or I heard about them at various seminars. As I have used them for so many years I no longer remember where it was from originally (so I cannot reference it).

Cool things that happened during the winter holidays

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How to enrich your vocabulary

 

Wordle1 Read the rest of this entry

The Simple Joy of Reading

The aim of the activities described in this post is to encourage the habit of reading books and to kindle imagination and creativity in your students. 

The use of video as a starting point for a lesson

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Recipe for A Good Teacher

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These four months I’ve been reading many wonderful blogs and thinking a lot about what makes a good teacher. The thing is that all teachers who really love teaching English spend a lot of time reflecting on their teaching and pondering the new methods that will be more useful and motivating for their students.

You may find this post a little ridiculous or silly, but I enjoyed a lot writing this recipe for a good teacher. Actually, I was inspired by a great activity from an amazing book Teaching Grammar Creatively by Gunter Gerngross, Herbert Puchta and Scott Thornbury. It was about the teacher’s favourite cocktail – Cosmic Cocktail for which he got the recipe from a magician many years ago. Students should guess the ingredients (e.g. milky way, comet, stars, galaxies, planets, honey).

You write the following model text on the board (it’s not the same as in the book, I slightly changed it), and afterwards they create their own texts based on that model.

I have blended everything nicely,
a bit of the milky way,
a comet
several stars
three planets
and four galaxies.
I have added honey
(I like it sweet you know)
I have boiled it for half an hour
and stirred it carefully.
Maybe you would like to taste it:
my wonderful cosmic cocktail.

The ingredients of my recipe for a good teacher are: understanding, patience, imagination and creativity, kindness, ordered mind and consistency

TEACHER COCKTAIL

I have blended everything nicely,
1 Head full of understanding
2 Heaped cups of patience
1 Heart full of love.
I have added ordered mind and consistency
Sprinkled generously with kindness
And plenty of imagination and creativity.
I have boiled it for half an hour
and stirred it carefully.
Maybe you would like to taste it:
my wonderful teacher cocktail.

Reading and speaking: Twitter joke

READING AND SPEAKING: British pair arrested in U.S. on terror charges over Twitter joke’

AIMS: For students to practise reading and speaking and to revise vocabulary and grammar they have learnt this term 

LEVEL: B1+

SKILL FOCUS: reading and speaking

TIME: 45 minutes

CLASS SIZE: 20-30

MATERIALS: handout

CLASS INTERACTION: pairwork and groupwork (groups of 3/4 students)

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LEAD-IN

1.  Ask students a few questions about the Internet and social networking sites they use.

  1. What do you usually do on the Net?
  2. What social networking sites do you usually use? Why?
  3. Have you ever used Twitter?
  4. What do you know about Twitter?
  5. Do you find the warning sign funny? Why? Why not?

2. Pairwork – Before reading the story about a pair of British tourists Leigh and Emily, ask students to read the prompts in order to predict what happened in the story.

Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Bunting / British tourists / trip to Los Angeles / airport / passport control / security officials / arrested / terrorist / excited tweet / destroy America / commit crime / passports and bags confiscated

READING 1

3. Ask Ss to read the text ‘British pair arrested in U.S. on terror charges over Twitter joke’ to find out what really happened and whether their predictions are right or wrong. 

READING 2

4. Students read the text once again in order to find out if the sentences are true (T) or false (F).

5. Ask students to match the sentence on the left with a sentence with the same meaning on the right.

KEY VOCABULARY

6. Groupwork – Ask Ss to do the crossword.

7. Aviation English vocabulary  –  Ask students to match the word with its meaning.

SPEAKING

8. Ask Ss to summarise the story in a few sentences.

  1. Why were Leigh and Emily arrested at Los Angeles airport?
  2. How long were they detained by the US guards?
  3. What did the US officials suspect them of planning to do?
  4. What did the US officials do to the British pair?

FOLLOW-UP

9. Group discussionHave you or someone you know ever had an unpleasant experience at an airport?

Twitter joke_for students

Twitter joke_lesson plan

Grammaring

Looking down 19 Read the rest of this entry

The Arctic Light

THE ARCTIC LIGHT

This was filmed between 29th April and 10th May 2011 in the Arctic, on the archipelago Lofoten in Norway.

Watch the video clip and answer the questions:

1. Did you enjoy the magnificent show of colour and light? Can you describe the colours?
2. Did you like the background music composed by the young and talented composer Marika Takeuchi? Why?
3. What were you thinking about while you were listening to the composition? How did you feel?
4. Did the photographer have a very difficult trip? What happened to him during the trip?
5. How long has the photographer been going up there to take photographs and make the film of the Arctic light?
6. Was he happy because he had succeeded in making such an amazing film about the Arctic light?

Creative Writing

ImageThis activity was inspired by a great post by Jo Cummins Creative Writing Prompts 

WRITING PRACTICE:

Aviation English

Level: B1, B2

Write a short story of about 200-250 words.

1. You have 30 seconds to list items you can find at an airport. Write the story that includes all the words in the list but don’t set your story at or near an airport.

2. Use the following words in a short story: aeroplane, jazz festival, musician, baggage limits, saxophone, weapon, hold, fragile.

3. Amy Angler, 37, from Los Angeles, California, likes to always feel in control. She is strong-willed, determined and perfectionist. Put Amy at an airport where her plane is announced cancelled. She is on her way to the most important meeting in her career. What does she do?

4. Juliet Moore and Jason Tidwell meet on an aeroplane after his break up. One of them has a fear of flights.

5. The story starts when your protagonist says the wrong thing while going through airport security. Another character is a ski instructor who has stolen a photograph that belongs to your protagonist.

6. The story starts when your protagonist finds an old book on a friend’s shelf. Another character is a scientist who invents strange planes.

7. The story starts when your protagonist goes on round the world trip. Another character is a pilot who has a gift for poetry.

You could stick the stories up around the walls and the students could read them and vote on which was the most interesting, the funniest, the strangest, etc.

Listening practice – Dreams, dreams

Reading or listening practice every day is a very good workout for your brain and the best way to improve your English. Practise listening to English and enjoy soft melodious voice of Lily Allen.

LISTENING PRACTICE

1.Complete the lyrics of the song with the words below.

stories reminiscing reminding feeling
remember memories dreams friends

“Littlest Things”

Sometimes I find myself sittin’ back and __________
Especially when I have to watch other people kissin’
And I __________ when you started callin’ me your miss’s
All the play fightin’, all the flirtatious disses
I’d tell you sad __________ about my childhood
I don’t know why I trusted you but I knew that I could
We’d spend the whole weekend lying in our own dirt
I was just so happy in your boxers and your t-shirt

[Chorus]
Dreams, Dreams
Of when we had just started things
Dreams of you and me
It seems, It seems
That I can’t shake those __________
I wonder if you have the same __________ too.

The littlest things that take me there
I know it sounds lame but it’s so true
I know it’s not right, but it seems unfair
That the things are __________ me of you
Sometimes I wish we could just pretend
Even if only for one weekend
So come on, Tell me
Is this the end?

Drinkin’ tea in bed
Watching DVD’s
When I discovered all your dirty grotty magazines
You take me out shopping and all we’d buy is trainers
As if we ever needed anything to entertain us
the first time that you introduced me to your __________
and you could tell I was nervous, so you held my hand
when I was __________ down, you made that face you do
There’s no one in the world that could replace you

[Chorus]

2.Use the words from the exercise 1 and write a poem or a short story.

Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow

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The brain needs exercise in much the same way our muscles do, and the right mental workouts can significantly improve our basic cognitive functions. Thinking is essentially a process of making neural connections in the brain and since these connections are made through effort and practice, scientists believe that intelligence can expand and fluctuate according to mental effort.

 

READING PRACTICE

Read the text Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow, Swedish Study Suggests Then read the sentences below and decide if they are true (T) or false (F).

  1. The author of the text suggests that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in a good state of health.
  2. At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy in the city of Uppsala, young people with a knack for languages go from having basic knowledge of a language such as Arabic, Russian or Dari to speaking it fluently in the period of 13 months.
  3. The Swedish scientists have measured brains before and after language training and suggest that language learning makes the brain grow.
  4. As a control group, the researchers used physics students at Umeå University – students who study very hard but do not study languages.
  5. The scientists were not surprised that different parts of the brain developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to make during the course.
  6. The areas of the brain in which the changes occur are thus linked to how easy one finds it to learn a language and development varies according to performance.
  7. Previous research from other groups has indicated that bilingual or multilingual groups have no chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

 

[Answers: 1.T,  2.F,  3.T,  4.F,  5.F,  6.T,  7. F]

 

Complete the sentences with the words: BRAIN or MIND. Check their use in a dictionary: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/

Marie has an amazing __________ (= is very intelligent).
That can’t possibly be the right way to do it – use your __________!
Her __________ was full of what had happened the night before, and she just wasn’t concentrating.
Of course I’m telling the truth – you’ve got such a suspicious __________!
The poor child inherited his mother’s __________ and his father’s looks.
He’s got __________ but he’s too lazy to use them (= he is clever but lazy).
I just said the first thing that came into my __________.
I’m not quite clear in my __________ about what I’m doing.

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/10/portraits-of-the-mind-visualizing-the-brain/65292/

The Music of Language

Intonation is the “music” of a language, and is perhaps the most important element of a good accent. Every language is different in terms of its intonation. When you listen to a French speaker, a Spanish speaker, an Italian or German speaker – even if you can’t make out the words, you can still hear from the intonation and the rhythm which of the languages you’re hearing.

Stress, rhythm and intonation, or prosody of a language, are the most distinguishable characteristics of a language. Learning prosody of a language takes many years, and some people acquire this function very well; for others, it may involve a lifelong struggle. The details of a language’s prosody depend upon its phonology and it is really a matter of the importance of having some background knowledge of phonetics and phonology that helps you to understand the learners’ problems.

There are a lot of English language teachers who are not native English speakers and who are very good teachers but, however hard they try, their pronunciation isn’t really anything like a native accent of English. In my opinion, it is a serious problem when an English teacher can’t manage a very good pronunciation, and what the pupils are hearing from their teacher doesn’t sound at all like what they’re hearing on recorded exercises.

 Why do we have to learn intonation?

 According to Professor Peter Roach ‘the most important thing about doing exercises in intonation is to sensitise yourself, so that if you are trying to sound a little bit more like a native speaker of the language you’re learning, you just get a feel for the way the pitch moves.’  And he thinks that the more you practise these things, the more you absorb the characteristic rises and falls – the melody of the language if you like. Even if you find it difficult to do really finely targeted exercises on ‘is this a rise or is it a fall, is it coming on the second syllable or is it coming on the fourth syllable’. Even if you can’t cope with those, you can get something out of these exercises by just absorbing the feel of the prosody of the language.

AUTHOR PODCAST INTERVIEW 

A LECTURE ON PROSODY 

Peter Roach is Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at Reading University, principle editor of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, and Cambridge has just published the fourth edition of his highly popular course English Phonetics and Phonology. If you love the ‘music’ of the English language I highly recommend it to you.