RSS Feed

Category Archives: Professional development

The First Term Round-Up


The first term has flown. During the last four months I have enjoyed writing a few posts on my library blog (about book recommendations, one collaborative project), and an article for the school online magazine.

At the end of September I observed an experimental (bilingual) class dedicated to Shakespeare’s 400 year anniversary. The experimental class (Hamlet – the characters) was prepared by my two colleagues: Jelena J.M., an English language teacher, and Ksenija D., a Serbian language teacher. The main aim of the class was to make this difficult topic easier and more interesting for the 4th year students by creating a correlation between the two subjects. The class was enjoyable, the speaking activities and video clips were perfectly chosen, and the students were engaged and interested. I shared my impressions about the class later with my colleagues, and I told them I was going to write a post about that on the library blog.

The library blog posts and my school e-magazine article ‘All the world’s a stage and all the people in it merely players” (on some phrases coined by the Bard), were aimed at encouraging our students to use the Internet for learning on their own, and to motivate our teachers to collaborate and share their good practice, thoughts and ideas.

Our school library is bright and almost always packed with students reading books and magazines, tapping away at the computers, chatting, playing chess… I am really happy to have met Anne Hendler (my PLN friend) in October – she was my guest at the library. You can see Anne in the first picture above. Anne blogs at livinglearning and is @AnneHendler on Twitter

The beauty of the job of a teacher-librarian is that it is never boring. You have some stimulating (or semi-stimulating) conversations with your colleagues, students, school managers, and parents each day. By listening carefully you gain insights into the teaching/learning process at school, and so you have an overview, a bigger picture of the school life and learning.

Here are some issues I have been pondering lately. I hope my thoughts and suggestions are useful:

1.  Teachers are compelled by the school managers and curriculum to devote most of their time to testing and grading students (i.e. preparing formal lesson plans and tests, and doing some unnecessarily bureaucratic work). Students cram for tests in order to get the highest mark and then they forget all they have memorized soon after the test. The tests have a considerable backwash effect on the lessons and made them insufferably boring.

Teachers deserve a better teacher training

Teachers must advocate better teacher training. Most teachers lack knowledge and skill in reflecting on teaching/learning, candid lesson planning, providing monitoring and feedback on their students’ understanding, formal and informal assessment, classroom observation, etc.

“Excellent teachers display a deep representation of pedagogical subject knowledge [the ability to present key concepts to suit the prior learning and ability of the target students]. This is much more than straightforward academic subject knowledge; academic subject knowledge is certainly essential but it does not distinguish expert teachers.” [For more information please read: What makes an excellent teacher by Geoff Jordan on CriticELT

Geoff J. writes in his article The lose-lose folly of coursebook consumption  about the detrimental effects that using coursebooks in ELT has on both teachers and learners:

 “Coursebooks pervade the ELT industry and stunt the growth of innovation and teacher training. The publishing companies that produce coursebooks also produce exams, teacher training courses and everything else connected to ELT…”


Students must be proficient users of the Internet

2.  We often assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they are equally savvy about the news and information they encounter online. In my experience, the students are not skilled in finding relevant information online; they are not discerning in evaluating digital content; they do not recognise acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; they struggle to separate fact from fiction online (they don’t know when news is fake).

The skills like digital and media literacy have to be taught at schools as an element of a broad, challenging and comprehensive computing curriculum (and not as a vague part of the 21st-century skills*). It is very important for students to be able to understand ways to use technology safely, respectfully, responsibly and securely. Students also have to be able to judge whether or not a publication or an internet site is trustworthy. They have to know whether a scholarly article is regularly cited.

Some useful links to help you judge information:

Evaluating information



Quote Investigator | Tracing Quotations

*“21st-century skills” (any digital learning or use of technology, thinking critically, solving problems, communicating and collaborating effectively) has become a buzz term in ELT today.

I have really enjoyed a series of Mike Griffin’s blog posts on “21st-century skills” buzz entitled Please teach them English. The form of the post is very inventive – it was written as a series of emails and diary entries. The post was prompted by an initial post written by Mike (as a series of emails written by an imaginary language school manager) and then continued with the help of a few guest writers (an imaginary English language teacher and two students with different views). Michael Griffin’s blog is another ELT blog I highly recommend because of Mike’s always interesting, fun and thought provoking posts.


Reading makes you smarter

3.  According to the library statistics (the number of students at the library and the number of books borrowed per year) I could write in my annual library reports that our students love reading books. Statistics, as you know, can be very misleading. Our students borrow the books that are on the (Serbian language & literature syllabus) reading list because they are more likely to get a higher mark if they bring the books to class. They generally do not read them, they mostly read the book forewords or reviews before literature classes.

Teachers forget that it is not the pace that makes the classes great. Students should have more time to read, think and dream.. One of the most important goals of the literature classes must be to motivate students to read for pleasure.

Here are some useful ideas: get your students to do tasks/projects: e.g. recommending the books they have just read/enjoyed reading, making quizes about the books and writers, writing a reading diary, creating the reading lists for each school year (with the teacher and school librarian). The Perfect Classroom Gift: A Gift of Words by Jane Hancock is a lovely idea I tried with the students and we had a lot of fun. My gift of words for you – a quote by Emma Goldman:



Thanks for reading my blog 🙂


September Reflections


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)


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


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)


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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


Some thoughts on blogging and using Twitter for PD


I believe in lifelong learning, and I have always thought that learning is more an adventure than a journey. An adventure is more exciting, it implies that you love to try something new and challenging, and that you enjoy exploring and discovering about the world on your own.

My blogging and Twitter adventure started about three years ago when I created this blog as an assignment for an online seminar. Blogging helps me to improve my writing, and to reflect and develop my own thoughts about EFL teaching and learning, and education in general. While diving into many topics, I can get insights and learn by viewing from different angles and discerning the differences about the topic. I am sometimes confused because of many contradictory ideas, but, through blogging I can clarify my thoughts as when I write something down and explain it in such detail in a blog post I end up understanding it myself.

In one of my first blog posts I compared learning a language to playing the piano, and teaching to conducting an orchestra. This image sprang to my mind while thinking about my classes which sometimes were as enjoyable as the piano concerto in the post, usually they were quite good, but I can remember some disharmonious lesson failures. Creating a good classroom dynamics and atmosphere conducive to learning can be difficult even for an experienced teacher.

I enjoyed musing and composing a poem Teacher cocktail, about what makes a good teacher (the post was inspired by an activity from Teaching Grammar Creatively by Scott Thornbury, Gunter Gerngross and Herbert Puchta).

However, nothing in ELT is as simple as it often seems to so many people, and it is really impossible to make a recipe for a good teaching. The way we teach depends on the context, purpose of learning a language, our students and their abilities and preferences; it also depends on our beliefs, knowledge and skill.

I described my struggle and Challenges of introducing and using communicative language teaching in my school.  In My dream job and reality  I wrote how an exploitative educational system and teaching against our beliefs and opinions about what is right and professional can considerably dampen our enthusiasm. We must advocate better professional development, and press for improved conditions and for change (as it is obvious that ELT has become an industry focused much more on making a profit than making a genuine quality).

One of the prevailing Misconceptions regarding learning & teaching is that course books are useful for students because they provide them with controlled grammar / vocabulary practice and give them a sense of improvement. Course books give students the feeling that they can control what is going on, they know the main grammar rules and vocabulary (that is used in the course book), they can pass tests and may have the illusion that they know language well. However, learning a language is much more complex than learning grammar: students can recite grammar rules, but cannot sustain a conversation as they lack vocabulary and fluency.

In the post About truth, knowledge and Russell’s teapot I explained that not to be absolutely certain is one of the essential things in rationality.  I pointed out the importance of distinguishing between pseudoscience and scientifically valid ideas mentioning some well-known neuromyths in ELT.

The beauty of the unknown is about the importance of valuing intellectual curiosity and sceptical reasoning. We should appreciate “unknowledge” and the likelihood of surprises much more than “our incomplete, imperfect, infinitesimal-in absolute-terms knowledge”.

Knowledge isn’t a matter of owning a truth by making it familiar and then asserting its ideal presentation, but quite the opposite – an eternal tango with the unfamiliar (Hegel).

The greatest pleasure of browsing books at a library or a second-hand bookshop is serendipity of finding something that you did not know existed, and that is deeply interesting or connected with your intellectual interests of the moment.


On Twitter I follow some great English language teachers, linguists, some art, science, philosophy teachers, writers, astronauts…. I particularly like people who are open to new ideas, and who are not afraid to express their opinions freely. Also, I think that ideas should be open to robust debate. We live in a culture where people often form their “opinions” based on superficial impressions or passively accept some ideas without investing the time and critical thought into it. Thus controversy is good as it makes us reflect and change such opinions.

What I especially like about Twitter is the short length of tweets (140 characters) which forces the writer to be succinct, and the random character of tweets which makes Twitter lively and dynamic.

I mostly tweet about English language learning/teaching, books, music, science… I am pretty selfish on Twitter as I tweet what I find interesting and fun/funny. I occasionally check some ELT hashtags: #ELT, #KELTchat, #ELTchat, #ELTpics, #makeamovieTESL etc. [Hashtag is an easy way to group all tweets related to a topic that interests us. The symbol is used in music, too >> # is called “sharp” in music]

One of the negative sides of Twitter is that it can be addictive (like any other social media). I read (I can’t remember where exactly) that it is because with every small burst of information the brain receives, it releases dopamine, the same pleasure chemical released when we eat chocolate, fall in love, or take drugs. If you have any (good) suggestion(s)/advice regarding the information overload and distraction, please write in the comments. 🙂

Photos_Ljilja 1177

I am enjoying reading Erich Fromm’s “Man for himself” at the moment. Fromm writes: “Living itself is an art – in fact the most important and at the same time the most difficult and complex art to be practised by man.” I fully agree and I would only add: Try to have time for yourselves, for your pleasures, for daydreaming, even for boredom. Go for long walks, ride your bike or do some sport, and sleep well… And do not be afraid to be idealists and dreamers.

How to be a Better Listener

Peanuts - A better listener


A few months ago I attended an interesting seminar on Active listening. In this post I would like to share some insights and practical tips about how to become a better listener.

Being a good listener is one of the most important skills of a good teacher/learner. When you really listen, you demonstrate your interest in what is being said and you show your genuine and sincere respect for the individual saying it.

Good listening skills are needed to assess whether your students understand what they are being taught, and also to develop empathy and understanding with them. Active listening is an intent to “listen for meaning”, in which the listener checks with the speaker to see that a statement has been correctly heard and understood. The goal of active listening is to improve mutual understanding, i.e. to avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

Stages of active listening

The first stage of active listening is to try to really listen and sense the real, underlying meaning of what is being said. You should listen for ideas, implications and feelings, as well as the facts being conveyed. Try not to close your ears to words you do not want to hear and only hear the words you want to hear.

The second stage is to interpret, or reconstruct, what is being said, remembering always that words have different meanings to different people. Do your best to listen with full attention, and withhold judgment, assumption and criticism at this stage.

The third stage is to evaluate what is being said, only after you have made a reasonably objective interpretation of the message. At this point you should reflect on the information and options being presented, and sift through the evidence.

The fourth stage is responding. Here you demonstrate that you have a real interest in what the other person is saying, and that you have truly been listening. Reassuring the speaker that you have been giving him full attention is a critical aspect of constructive listening. Feedback is usually given by asking for clarification or for more information, or at least giving some visible acknowledgment by making small remarks such as “Ah ha”, or smiling, nodding or frowning.


Here are five ways to increase your listening abilities:

  1. When listening try not to be distracted by other things that are going on around, but focus on the speaker.
  2. Pay attention not only to the words but the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. This will give you information that will be as important as the words themselves.
  3. Do not keep interrupting or trying to change the topic; wait a few seconds after the person finishes speaking to make sure they have finished their thoughts.
  4. Do not think and rehearse in your head of how you are going to reply instead of listening.
  5. Do not be afraid to ask the speaker to explain something you have not understood.

In the classroom, it is not always easy to empathise with your students’ viewpoint. Personality clashes, age/status/cultural differences are just some of the obstacles to empathic listening and communication between the teacher and students. Despite this, genuine communication between teacher and student can only occur by showing a willingness to try to understand the students’ feelings. When they are speaking, make an effort to think of where they are coming from, imagine what their life is like and what struggles they might be facing. Empathic listening in the classroom promotes honest communication and builds trust and confidence, reduces tension, enhances the students’ self- respect, and keeps communication active and alive.

For example, in the following dialogue, a teacher (T) provides feedback to a student (S) by guessing the student’s implied message and then asking for confirmation.

S:  I don’t like this school as much as my old one.

T: You are unhappy at this school?

S: Yeah. I haven’t made any good friends.

T: You feel left out and lonely here?

S: Yeah. I wish I knew more people.

Some of the ways teachers can convey the genuine desire to understand are:

  • Listen in a friendly way – Create a positive atmosphere with your nonverbal behaviour (your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice: don’t cross your arms, use appropriate eye contact, have a sincere tone of voice,…).
  • Be interested in the students’ needs – do not be judgmental and do not criticize.
  • Act like a mirror – reflect what you think is being said and try to paraphrase (“Are you saying…”, “You seem…”, “If I understood you correctly, you ….”)
  • Never belittle or negate any aspect of a problem, even if it seems unimportant to you. Don’t brush aside the person’s feeling with phrases like ‘It’s not that bad’ or ‘you’re making a mountain out of a molehill’.
  • Don’t get emotionally involved, angry, upset or argumentative. You need to remain professional in your interactions with students, as you are a role model and the students are looking up to you for guidance and direction.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions or judgments about any students. Try not to have any pre-conceived ideas about any student based on what you may have heard from another colleague or former teacher.

It is really important that your students see that you have enough regard for them to give undivided attention to what they wish to say. By using active listening with students, you build the relationship of trust and caring essential to students’ motivation to learn.


Language is wine upon the lips

Photos_Ljilja 1442

These are some articles I have enjoyed reading recently, on language, culture, education, and more. I hope that you find a few items of interest in this batch of links from recent weeks.

1.  The writer’s job is to change the world.  “I think an author should write what the reader does not expect. The problem is not to ask what they need, but to change them…”  (Umberto Eco: ‘Real literature is about losers’ )

2.  People are incredibly receptive to meaningless buzzwords, and the vast majority of people are willing to believe complete bullshit. Pseudo-profundity is the art of sounding profound while talking tosh. Unlike the art of actually being profound, the art of sounding profound is not particularly difficult to master.”

3.  Harvard Guide to Using Sources. (A very useful Guide which introduces you to the fundamentals of using sources in academic papers.)

4.  Culture and Society: An all-women panel (Ien Ang, Larissa Behrendt, Robyn Archer, Bridget Kendall) takes up this debate on Australian Stereotypes and Cultural Identity at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. This event was presented by the Sydney Opera House and the St James Ethics Centre.

5.  Can education be judged on simple customer satisfaction? We assume that if students are satisfied with a course then the teacher has done a good job and the students have learnt a lot. Or have they? Do students know what is best for their own learning?  You can read about this here.

6.  Teachers are unsure how much importance they should give to grammar, what grammar they should teach, and how they should teach it. 

According to the British most eminent linguists who came together for English Grammar Day (presented by UCL and Oxford University in association with the British Library last year), it’s an exciting time for grammar. But there’s a need for fresh thinking and the word itself can be misleading. The main focus of the discussion was on the problems with how grammar is taught in schools.

“You have to put the notion of grammar in the background. It’s about meaning and clarity. Clarity unites us. I’m not afraid to use the word grammar, but I can see why people would be.” (David Crystal)

Why grammar lessons should be renamed ‘understanding language’

Michael Swan: Teaching grammar – Does grammar teaching work? 




7.  I love WORDS as “Words are delicious and intoxicating. They do much more than just denote; they have appearance, sound, a feel in the mouth, and words they sound like and travel with. All of these participate in the aesthetic experience of the word and can affect communication. So why not taste them like a fine wine?”

 About Word Tasting Notes –  Sesquiotica (Words, words, words) 

 Alice in Blenderland (by Stan Carey on Macmillan Dictionary Blog)

Stan Carey’s older posts on words and language for Macmillan Dictionary can be viewed here.    

8.  Mondegreens – Words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement or song lyric.

The term mondegreen was coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright and popularized by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll. The term was inspired by “Lady Mondegreen,” a misinterpretation of the line “hae laid him on the green,” from the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl o Moray.”


“Excuse me while I kiss this guy” (for the Jimi Hendrix lyric, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”)

“The ants are my friends” (for “The answer, my friend,” in “Blowing in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan)

“She’s got a chicken to ride.” (for  “She’s got a ticket to ride.” Ticket to Ride, The Beatles)

“You and me and Leslie.” (for  “You and me endlessly…”  Groovin’, The Rascals)

9.  This is an odd poem I’ve created by some interesting searches leading to my blog:


wisdom begins in wonder

how to enrich our vocabulary

it is a very good idea to have a vocabulary notebook

stay hungry stay foolish early morning

rilke english to french at the bottom no one in life can help anyone else in life

something interesting happened during the holidays

the studio was filled with the rich smell of roses

he wishes for the cloths of heaven lesson plan

English listenings about dreams

teaching is more an art than a science

10.  Zodiac signs for linguists you can find on Superlinguo 

comic2-2804Dinosaur comics: So you want to learn English


Teaching culture as an integrative part of EFL

Photos_Ljilja 488

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’?


  • 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 

Photos_Ljilja 169

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.
Photos_Ljilja 1254

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 

The Coolest Space in School

Pictures_2013. 1180 Read the rest of this entry

My Dream Job and Reality

Pictures_2013. 1070 Read the rest of this entry

Reflecting on 21st Century Teaching


Technology in teaching iPad and monitor – Photo taken from ELTpics by Victoria Boobyer, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license


  • Technology is at the heart of the 21st century education. The question is: how can we best use technology to improve teaching and learning?

Technology can bridge the miles between us all, and it offers exciting opportunities and novel challenges for teachers. There is a host of the Internet sites with Lists of the Hottest Social Networking Sites and Mobile Apps that will transform our teaching.

We need to take the time to be comfortable with those technological tools that are useful for our students. Technology should foster meaningful learning and interaction among students. Otherwise technology can make our classes worse: e.g. Power Point Presentations are usually used in such a way that teachers read from the slides while students copy a large amount of texts which makes the classes extremely boring.

Technology can improve our teaching if we think how to really exploit technology rather than just use it. It is, also, very important that we educate the students on how to evaluate the sites and find the reliable information on the Internet on their own.

E is for EFFECT

  • Teaching is a rewarding profession that allows us to make a difference in lives of our students.

Sometimes we make a profound impact on some students, but in most cases we’ll never know about it. I’ve been always happy for just a (few) student(s) in each generation to say that I encouraged them to do something differently to achieve their goals.

When I think about my education the first thing that comes to my mind are the language classes in which I was listening enthralled as my primary school teacher was reading books to us: Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, many other wonderful novels and stories… I was seven/eight years old then and those classes were magic, they kindled my imagination and developed my love of reading.

In my view, effective teaching means to equip the students with skills they can use outside of the classroom, and to develop their ability to inquire and create constructively and independently without external controls.

 “That means knowing, understanding many things but also, much more important than what you have stored in your mind, to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you and that you develop in the course of your self-education and inquiry and investigations, in cooperation and solidarity with others.”  (Noam Chomsky – On Being Truly Educated)


  • Autonomy is essential for learning and it means that students follow their own path.

Students’ impetus to learn comes from within because they control the conditions of their learning rather than working within a structure that is pre-determined and inflexible. Individual learner has self-determination, s/he can reflect, make choices, and arrive at personally constructed decisions.

In many English language classrooms today teachers choose the coursebooks, they plan the lessons and direct the activities, and they correct and assess the students’ work. Thus, in the teacher-directed classrooms we have passive learners who think that all they have to do is to attend classes, let the teachers do their job and learning will take place. In such English language classrooms teachers are responsible for students’ successful learning.

There is convincing evidence that the students who take the initiative in learning can learn more and better than do students who sit in the classrooms passively waiting to be taught.

Autonomy involves students having a range of learning strategies which they are able to apply flexibly in different contexts. It is important that teachers help students to develop learning strategies through learner training in the classroom.

For further reading:

David Nunan – Nine Steps to Learner Autonomy

Tricia Hedge – Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom: A guide to current ideas about the theory and practice of English language teaching (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers) – Learner-autonomy and learner training (p.75)


  • Competence should be the only criterion for recruiting teachers in the 21st century.

A competent teacher is a good combination of knowledge and personal qualities (such as: patience, understanding, persistence, flexibility, sense of humour, …)

A competence is best described as ‘a complex combination of knowledge, skills, understanding, values, attitudes and desire which lead to effective, embodied human action in the world, in a particular domain’ (Deakin Crick, 2008). Competence is therefore distinguished from skill, which is defined as the ability to perform complex acts with ease, precision and adaptability.

Also, since teaching is much more than a task, and involves values or assumptions concerning education, learning and society, the concept of teacher competences may resonate differently in different national contexts.

Common ground across different cultures on the nature of teaching, teacher learning and teachers’ competences can be outlined in six broad paradigms, which should be seen as integrated, complementary aspects of the profession (Paquay& Wagner, 2001):

  • the teacher as a reflective agent
  • the teacher as a knowledgeable expert
  • the teacher as a skillful expert
  • the teacher as a classroom actor
  • the teacher as a social agent
  • the teacher as a lifelong learner

For further reading:


In recent years the Internet has provided a wonderful platform for teachers to connect, share advice, ideas and experiences (e.g. Facebook, Blogging, Google+, Twitter…). Teachers find PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) useful for connecting with like-minded people worldwide and for keeping up-to-date with current ideas. Twitter is the most powerful of the current social networks, and an amazing swap shop for teacher ideas and materials.

The use of social networking sites in teaching and learning has both positive and negative consequences. It can improve our teaching and learning, it can help us to gain an understanding of other cultures, be in contact with people all over the world, maintain and strengthen relationships, communicate effectively with others.

It is a paradox, however, that using social networking sites can cause people to be distracted, overly stressed, and increasingly isolated. In my opinion this should not necessarily be such a great problem if we are well-organized and learn how to prioritize our work. Having a particular place and an amount of time allotted for being online can be a very good idea.

We should have in mind that computer mediated communication may initiate many relationships and friendships today, but it is still face-to-face human interaction that solidifies and gives a deeper layer of meaning to those interactions.


Wise advice – Photo taken from ELTpics by Evan Frendo, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license


When we work, we are not motivated purely by external goods, such as pay or profit – there is also an essential need for living a fulfilled and worthwhile life. Students are our constant source of inspiration. They motivate us and bring out the best of us as teachers when we see them learn and improve every day.

Unfortunately, most teachers today are not autonomous in making decisions, they have to conform to some rules, regulations, and plans, most of which are formulated by the people who are not informed or have no understanding of a truly effective teaching.

Teaching against our beliefs and opinions about what is right and professional, can considerably dampen our enthusiasm.  However, despite many difficulties (just to mention very low teachers’ salaries in my country, for example), there are some great teachers who never give up and do their best to improve educational system and push the things forward.


Pictures_2013. 1065

Summer sky (photo taken from my window) by Ljiljana Havran

Good teachers are committed to lifelong learning and professional development and they strive for continuous improvement through reflective practice.

It is very important to review and revise some of the beliefs about ELT pedagogy every year as we reflect on our practice, listen to our students’ feedback, exchange ideas with colleagues at CPD events or on social media, read about research.

I would like to encourage my colleagues to start a blog or a teaching journal and/or create an account on Twitter as soon as possible.

Also, my suggestion for the beginning of the new school year is: make a list of the questions regarding teaching/learning and reflect on them. The first question I’d put on my list would be:

What would I like my students to do independently? How can I get them to want to improve their language skills independently?

The Beauty of the Unknown


It’s summer time – my favourite time for reading devouring some good books I have collected during the past few years. I have been musing lately about my pretty odd habit of incessantly acquiring new books while lacking the time to read them all… I especially love to go to antiquarian/secondhand bookshops where I enjoy searching and browsing the books in a pleasant atmosphere redolent with the smell of old books. It is not that I am a passionate collector of old and rare books for my private library; I just enjoy getting the books (literature or non-fiction) I can read for pleasure, or I can explore later and satisfy my insatiable curiosity and desire for learning.

There is no word in Serbian (or English) which can describe the piles of unread books (in my flat) so well as a lovely Japanese word “Tsundoku” which means “buying books and letting them pile up unread.”

“Antilibrary” n. (A person’s collection of unread books) is another very interesting word with a similar meaning I have come across lately reading the great article on Maria Popova’s blog.

“[A] private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan, Random House, April 17, 2007

Umberto Eco, a great Italian writer and scholar, wanted to point out by his pithy comment (“Read books are far less valuable than unread ones”) that unread books were more important to him as a research tool. In his essay “Borges and My Anxiety of Influence,” U. Eco suggests that a large personal library is “not just a place to keep books one has already read but primarily a deposit for books to be read at some future date, when one feels the need to read them” and that “between the moment when the book first came to us and the moment we opened it … you realize that even that book you had not read was still part of your mental heritage and perhaps influenced you profoundly.”

It is true that the more we know the larger are the rows of unread books in our library. If the unread books in our personal library are a symbolic representation of our unknowledge, then it is logical that the more we know, the larger our “unknowledge” will be. It may sound paradoxical to some people, but we tend to underestimate the value of what we don’t know and take what we do know too seriously. However, our incomplete/imperfect knowledge, or the things we are sure of, keep us from seeing and learning.

As you know Socratesa well-known Greek philosopher and a dominant figure in most of Plato’s dialogues, emerges as wise because he knows how little he knows. Socrates frequently accosts people in the marketplace and asks them to define what they mean by a concept that they think they understand. His questions reveal his interlocutors’ inability to get clear about definitions, and show that although these people think they know what they’re talking about, they clearly don’t.

“Socrates embraced poverty and, although youths of the city kept company with him and imitated him, Socrates adamantly insisted he was not a teacher (Plato, Apology 33a-b) and refused all his life to take money for what he did. The strangeness of this behavior is mitigated by the image then current of teachers and students: teachers were viewed as pitchers pouring their contents into the empty cups that were the students. Because Socrates was no transmitter of information that others were passively to receive, he resists the comparison to teachers. Rather, he helped others recognize on their own what is real, true, and good (Plato, MenoTheaetetus) – a new, and thus suspect, approach to education. He was known for confusing, stinging and stunning his conversation partners into the unpleasant experience of realizing their own ignorance, a state sometimes superseded by genuine intellectual curiosity.” 

I’m wondering whether we could say for most 21st century teachers that they are NOT “as pitchers pouring their contents into the empty cups that are the students.” 

I am also wondering whether 21st century teaching and learning:

  • value the intellectual curiosity and skeptical reasoning
  • try to address students’ misconceptions about learning/teaching by explaining to them that they should be more responsible for their own learning, and that memorizing pieces of content, definitions and various data in order to pass the test is not real learning
  • make an attempt not to treat knowledge as a possession, a self-esteem enhancement device, or “an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order”
  • focus on “unknowledge” and “antilibrary” (unread books) more than on the read ones, and, above all,
  • appreciate the beauty of the unknown and the likelihood of surprises (much more than “our incomplete, imperfect, infinitesimal-in-absolute-terms” knowledge)

Thanks for reading my post. I hope it was interesting 🙂


Misconceptions regarding learning/teaching

Students come to classrooms with all sorts of misconceptions regarding learning. One of them is that:

(1) learning a language can happen a lot faster than it does.

When I ask my teenage (intermediate) students who are fluent in English to explain how they study the language, they usually say that they have never studied English. This sounds strange, but it is true. They’ve been immersed into the English language and culture for years watching Cartoon network when they were very young, and later on watching films on some other popular English/American channels (films were not dubbed into Serbian!), playing games and chatting with their foreign friends, reading e-books, listening to music on the Net… They’ve picked up the language as they’ve been exposed on a daily basis since a very early age to many Englishes (varieties/ dialects/accents).

It is really amazing teaching English to a new generation of students who acquire the language without learning its grammar rules first. Mastering English in reverse order – by starting with learning grammar rules first and practising language by using textbooks/workbooks – is more difficult, but still a common way of learning/teaching a foreign language in many schools all over the world even today.

Moving beyond the intermediate learning plateau to more advanced levels of language proficiency requires much more work and effort.

“Attaining this goal requires providing learners with a rich source of language learning experiences that allow for the gradual development of language skills across the different modalities of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. These experiences should allow learners to become successful monitors and managers of their own learning, aware of the limitations of their current level of language ability, but also aware of the means by which they can move beyond the intermediate learning plateau to more advanced levels of language use.”   [Richards-Beyond-Plateau]

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

A letter of advice to my #youngerteacherself

ancora imparo_michelangelo Read the rest of this entry

Learn English with Dreamreader


I learned a few days ago about, 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 , explore the site and enjoy learning English on your own.

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

The first class – tips and ideas


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)


  • 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).

My blogging style and a few useful tips

Pictures_2013. 111

My favourite place for writing/blogging

This post was inspired by a short post and a great idea by Zhenya whose blog I enjoy reading and highly recommend.

Zhenya’s questions about blogging, or writing in general, [habits, routines, tips] are:

  • What are your 2-3 favorite writing habits/rituals you find helpful?
  • What are 1-2 writing habits you find less helpful, (and would like to get rid of in the new year?)
  • What is one new idea (tip, habit) you would like to start in 2015, and why?

I think that talking about our blogging style or our writing habits is a very interesting idea, and our practical tips might be very useful for some new bloggers.

Blogging, for me, is an amazing way of learning through writing and reflecting. It helps me a lot to clarify my thoughts on teaching/learning, because I usually understand some things much better after writing them down.

I love listening carefully to other people (students, or ELT bloggers and teachers on Twitter) and reading some wonderful, inspirational blogs where I find a lot of interesting ideas, and I enjoy reflecting deeply on what I’ve heard or read (usually in solitude, while listening to music). When I find a topic interesting or intriguing, I usually spend a lot of time musing about it and exploring it in books, on the Net, and not until I get a complete idea what I’m going to write in my post, do I begin writing it. When I finish the post, I check it a few times (for grammar, vocabulary, or spelling errors), and when I hit publish, I’m usually very happy and relaxed.

Before writing a post I brainstorm some ideas and thoughts that spring to my mind. I write notes on my computer (in word document), or my notebook/planner, sometimes on pieces of paper that I put in the box, etc. I find this habit very helpful because I used to forget some (maybe interesting) ideas because I didn’t jot them down.

Blogging is really enjoyable, but it can be at the same time very demanding and time-consuming. I’m still struggling to choose the correct word in order to convey my thoughts and ideas while writing my posts. I’d like to get rid of the habit of feeling still (after almost two years of blogging) as a newbie because I’m a non-native English speaker who will never write so well as a native English speaking teacher.

My idea for 2015 is to improve my writing (especially my vocabulary), and to find more time for blogging and commenting on other blogs I like.

I’m looking forward to reading other comments or posts on your blogging style, habits or some useful tips.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Some random thoughts on learning and teaching (from 2014)


We judge others every day and whether we admit it or not, we all make snap judgments within a matter of seconds. We think that we know our students, and in some ways, perhaps we do. But do we really know them (do we really know anybody) if we do not know struggles they face, their true potential, their personal stories, or dreams they pursue…

Do grades (marks) really express an evaluation of the quality and quantity of learning? Why do we obstinately continue with the perverted practice of grading?

Our insistence on attempting to evaluate students’ performance through a system of grades or marks is the most unfair and tyrannical of all the practices in our schools. Grading and labelling tend to punish the less able students, who may be trying very hard. Arthur E. Lean, an American professor and educational philosopher in his essay “The Farce Called Grading” (1976) claims that the reason people hold on to them is because they are familiar and they act as an incentive that pushes students to work hard, while they actually make students pessimistic. Lean argues that grades are unfair and extremely subjective, and provides many examples of real life situations where grading varies drastically, and where it may be influenced by many factors outside the student’s educational status. In addition, Lean provides an alternative to the grading system, which is written reports that give in-depth information on a student’s status, and parent-teacher meetings.

In his essay Lean quotes Louis T. Benezet (an American educator, education administrator and multiple U.S. university president):

“A sustained effort should be made to throw out false inducements to learning. In one way or another most of these refer to our obsession with grades…. As a system for evaluating attainment of broad educational aims, it remains a failure. Few teachers have any systematic idea of how to grade fairly. Grading is also the chief villain behind the scandal of college cheating.” Read the rest of this entry

The world is full of magical things

The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

Bertrand Russell

Read the rest of this entry