Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

If I die tomorrow…

…which I hope doesn’t happen, let it be known that I’m really enjoying my life at the moment, and have the best work-life balance I’ve had for a long time, which is why I still haven’t written on my blog, a month since I last wrote an apologetic post on here ;) Right now I’m in San Diego, USA, for a month. Before that I was in Leeds in the UK, and after this I’ll be going to Vancouver, Canada. :)

Here are a few shots showing what I’ve been up to, in reverse order because wordpress did it the wrong way round and I can’t be bothered to do anything about it!

Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, San Diego

Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, San Diego

Anyone know what this little creature is?

Anyone know what this little creature is?

Star of India, Maritime Museum, San Diego

Star of India, Maritime Museum, San Diego

Me in a fighter plane on the USS Midway

Me in a fighter plane on the USS Midway

Me with San Diego bay behind me

Me with San Diego bay behind me

Common dolphins near San Diego

Common dolphins near San Diego

Wildlife in Mission Bay, San Diego

Wildlife in Mission Bay, San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

Sealions at Sea World San Diego

Sealions at Sea World San Diego

Young panda at San Diego zoo

Young panda at San Diego zoo

Leeds CELTA group

Leeds CELTA group

Lake District

Lake District

Ullswater in the Lake District

Ullswater in the Lake District

And if I do die tomorrow, I’ve got a pretty amazing life, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found my dream job and for it to still be my dream job 7 years after I started doing it :) No regrets at all!

World Teacher's Day

This month, Teaching English decided to celebrate World Teacher’s Day by asking “What does being a teacher mean to you?” As you can imagine, the answers were quite diverse! You can read mine and many others, then add yours in the comments on the post.

…but I don’t!

Things I want to write about…

  • the 6 month anniversary of the Crimean referendum (yesterday)
  • the many many many many things I’ve learnt in the last year (I arrived in Sevastopol on 20th September 2013)
  • the process of training to become a CELTA tutor
  • being a CELTA tutor (it’s day 3 of my first course as an Assistant Course Tutor)
  • interesting things I’ve seen in Sevastopol (that have nothing to do with the military or Ukraine v. Russia)
  • recipes for people on a really restricted diet (dairy-free, gluten-free, less than 15 ingredients in total!)
  • any of the other 101 ideas in my drafts or in my head.

Looks like they’ll just have to wait…

Two teaching organisations, TESL Toronto and BELTA (Belgium) joined together for a free online conference on the topics of reading and writing on 8th-9th August 2014.

TOBELTA conference logo

I was very happy to present on an area I’ve been experimenting with for a while, both as a teacher and a Russian learner, that of writing journals.

I’ll update this post with a recording of the presentation when it’s available. Until then, here are my slides. Please let me know if any of the links don’t work.

All of the slides and recordings from the whole conference are available via the conference programme.

Sandy Millin:

My mum is learning Russian because she wants to be able to be a little bit independent when she comes to visit me in Sevastopol. Her previous language learning experience is limited to French at school, so she’s quite like a lot of beginners we meet in EFL – a little bit of language a long time ago, and a lot of mental obstacles to overcome to build up the confidence to practise the language. Take a look at her post about why she is a slow learner of Russian: maybe it will echo some of the experiences of your learners too.

Mum at Stokesay Castle

My mum in the UK when I visited her :) (not her castle…)

Originally posted on Kate Millin's Management Musings:


Sandra in Sevastopol

I have decided to write on motivation as I am currently trying, not very successfully, to learn Russian. I have a good reason for learning this language – my daughter is currently living in Sevastopol in the Crimea and I want to visit her before the end of 2014. This, however, is currently not proving to be a strong enough motivation to work on the language more than a couple of times a week. So I thought I would muse on this following my discussions with my daughter on the subject, and been inspired by her own posts on learning Russian and see if I can create a stronger focus for myself as a result.

Having started this post and not developed it I have been linked to this blog post which is about why failing to learn a language over a year can still be of…

View original 364 more words

Tomorrow I start the next stage of my teaching life as I begin training as a CELTA tutor.

For those of you who don’t know, CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. It’s an entry-level qualification accredited by Cambridge, designed to provide the basics of the communicative approach. In theory, those with a CELTA know the basics of what they need to be let loose in a classroom, although there is controversy about that which I won’t go into here. It can be run part-time or full-time, with the latter being the most common. I did my course part-time from October 2007 to February 2008, which seems like a very long time ago now!

My CELTA group

My CELTA group, way back when!

If it’s full-time, the whole course lasts four weeks, which is what we run at IH Sevastopol. This will be my first experience of the four-week course, so it will be interesting to see how the trainees (and I!) deal with it.The group will have nine trainees, and there are two tutors besides me. I’ll be a ‘Trainer in Training’ or ‘TinT’ (thankfully this abbreviation has changed!) I’m looking forward to meeting the trainees tomorrow and getting to know them over the next four weeks.

I’m excited about the prospect of helping a group of people develop into teachers, and learning about how a CELTA course works from the inside. As part of my training I have to keep a reflective journal, which I’ll be doing in notebook form, but I will, of course, blog about the process too!

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.

Monday and Tuesday

We had an extra lesson on Monday this week because I’ll be very busy next week (more on that later!)

About two years ago I bought a cheap external keyboard to use with my laptop, and I brought it to Sevastopol with me, but have only used it two or three times. I decided that since I never use it, I would give it to M, and we could put braille letters on it as she suggested last week.

Putting braille letters on the keyboard

We spent most of both lessons doing this, as the first time M wrote the numbers they were backwards – she was writing from left to right on her slate and I didn’t notice until I cut up the paper. When you write braille you do it from right to left as you’re writing on the back of the paper, meaning that you can read it from left to right when you turn it over. This meant we had to do the letters twice. We also listened to chapter 8 of Alice in Wonderland.

As I left on Monday, M walked me through their garden to the gate, as always. As we went, she told me about a little song she sings for her sister, which ends with tickling. This reminded me of ‘Round and round the garden’, an English nursery rhyme. I taught her the words and the actions, and sent her a recording of it:

She repeated it to me various times through the week, and did it with her mum, dad and grandma in varying mixes of Russian and English while I was there. I think she likes it :)


When I arrived M’s mum showed me that they had worked together to put plastic braille letters onto the keyboard, as the original paper ones we’d tried were moving and were not very easy to read because the dots kept being flattened. It looks much clearer and easier to use now!

M playing with the plastic braille letters on her keyboard

M and her mum tried to tell me about a story they’d been watching that day, but M didn’t know how to translate ‘калабок’, but we eventually worked out between us that it’s the Russian equivalent of the story of the Gingerbread Man. I’ve just watched a lovely 12-minute version of the story, with pretty simple Russian which I managed to understand most of :) I tried to explain what gingerbread was, but without an internet connection to show M’s mum a picture or get a translation it was very difficult. M’s mum drew a picture of калабок for me, which was very useful for finding out about it after the lesson.

After her mum had left, M asked if we could finish listening to Alice in Wonderland, so that’s what we did. In the final two chapters, there was the trial scene, where the king is judging whether the Knave of Hearts was guilty of stealing tarts. M asked why there were twelve creatures in a box, and I thought I would have to explain the concept of ‘court’, ‘judge’ and ‘jury’. It turned out that M already knew all of those words, yet again amazing me with the breadth of her knowledge. The only thing she was unfamiliar with was ‘trial’. As I played the story, she said some of the lines in Russian and/or English as she remembered bits of the story and predicted what was about to happen.

To finish the lesson, M asked if we could do some typing. We connected the keyboard to my Mac, I opened TextEdit, switched on VoiceOver, M started typing, and the computer didn’t say anything! No idea why, but thankfully unplugging the keyboard and plugging it in again worked. As you can see, although I tried to encourage her to produce some words, M was mostly just playing with the sounds and exploring the keyboard:

x                            dfhfhfhasd as           sssdffdjkldfjkldfkljdfkjl;dfkj;djkldjkl;dfs;jkdfs;jkfdjs;kfdjs;kfdjsk; fdalskdjfl;a M_______ jjssss sad b,,,,,,……………………… ……..d..d……….c       assd jasfasfssssffffff fbvbbbbmmm  sadafssadasdddfvvbbbnnnghhhh jffvvv ffrfvrfvc     fcvrtgffff     dceedxced djw djdjdjdjidij dijd ditch lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll   vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv jt65555 ;


iikkiki k ki

s sans an hjinskl  sandyffjkl  sa sandybm,.x zmx qwertyuiop[ qqwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm,.zzz

At this point, I noticed a couple of problems with putting braille on the keys. Braille is read using the index fingers on both hands simultaneously. If you’ve never seen this done, this video shows children who are using braille at an American primary school. It shows them reading at various points, for example at 1:20. This means that M uses her index fingers to find the keys. I can see that she may rely on this rather than attempting to remember where the keys are to ultimately use her muscle memory for touch-typing. It’s exactly the same as a sighted person ‘hunting and pecking‘. I’m not entirely sure how to combat this without someone standing over her and making her use the correct fingers for each key until she can remember them. I only have a couple more lessons with her though, so I can’t be that person. At the same time, having braille on the keyboard will give her more independence as she starts to use the computer. She’d done some typing between our lessons on Tuesday and Thursday, and listed all the words she’d typed: sad, busy, bee, M______ (her name)… It’s clearly something she enjoys being able to do.

It was also hard to get M’s attention at times as she was completely focussed on the voice from the computer, especially when it was reading the parts where she’d written the same letter repeatedly. At one point, I unplugged the keyboard and asked her to stop typing for a minute to listen to me so I could teach her how to use enter/return to get a new line.


M told me ‘Round and round the garden’ again, and then ‘I very like it’, so we revised the chant ‘I like it a lot’ from week five. She remembered it without any trouble, but it was a good opportunity to go back to some of the chants and see what she could remember. The related grammar is all in her passive memory, but she needs more exposure to natural English and explicit correction to get them into her active memory.

We spent the rest of the lesson playing with the first conditional because it’s one of her ‘favourite’ mistakes. I explained the rule for its construction (very badly), using an example from Alice in Wonderland: “If I eat from this side, I’ll be bigger. If I eat from this side, I’ll be smaller.” I told her it’s different to Russian, where you use the future in both parts of the sentence. I thought it was best to provide lots of practice and memorise some correct sentences, rather than dwell on the rule for too long, so I taught her a song.

Singing Grammar [affiliate link] is a Cambridge University Press book by Mark Hancock which aims to teach children English grammar through songs. The first conditional song, ‘If you’re feeling lonely’, is meant for teenagers, but I thought it would be OK for M, and it turned out there were only three concepts I needed to explain: ‘desert’ (v), ‘by your side’ and ‘my door will be open wide’. I played the whole song, then we worked through it line by line and verse by verse with M repeating the lines and me correcting her and clarifying any language as necessary. Here’s a short clip of the process. No copyright infringement is intended with the clips of the song you hear. Hopefully you can just about her M singing along in the background.

As you can hear, M is a big fan of ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple. She’s mentioned it a few times in the lessons, and I’m going to try to prepare some activities with it for our final lesson together in a couple of weeks. This clip demonstrates a fairly typical exchange between us, and shows how excited she gets by some things :)

After the song, I used the ‘superstitions’ activity from page 74 of the original edition of 700 Classroom Activities[affiliate link to the second edition]. I explained the concept of superstitions by using the example of ‘If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years bad luck’. We exchanged a few English and Russian superstitions using the prompts from the book. M told me that if you are sick and you hug a black cat, it takes your bad energy away from you and will die. If you hug a white cat, it will give you positive energy. (At least, that’s what I understood!) This superstition doesn’t appear on this fairly comprehensive list of cat-related superstitions though – has anyone else heard of it? It was interesting to hear about different superstitions in our two cultures, and a very good way to finish the week.

Side note

While trying to find an example of braille reading, I came across ‘How blind people write braille‘, part of an excellent series of YouTube videos by a man called Tommy Edison, who has been blind since birth. I particularly like ‘Best things about being blind‘ (especially around the 1:00 point), ‘Intangible concepts to a blind person‘ and ‘Questions for sighted people‘. He’s also known as the Blind Film Critic and I’ve just subscribed to both of his channels :)

This is a very simple two- or three-stage activity I’ve successfully used with small classes of young learners and teens to revise both grammar and vocabulary. They love drawing on the board!

Stage one: drawing


Drawing the past simple

Divide the board into a space for each student/team.

Say a word (e.g. car, trousers) or a sentence featuring the grammar structure you want to practise (e.g. I went to the beach. I played with my brother.)

Ask the students to draw a relevant picture. They shouldn’t worry about their artistic skills, just draw anything that they feel represents the language.

Repeat, ensuring they don’t clean the board in between.

When they have about 10 pictures, stop! :)

Stage two: hitting


Before giving students the flyswatters, I normally give them two rules:

  1. If you hit anyone with it, we stop.
  2. They’re very cheap. If you hit the board too hard, it’ll break and we’ll have to stop. (This happened once!)

Give the students flyswatters.

Call out one of the words/sentences.

The students hit the relevant picture.

Start with them hitting their own pictures, then move them around – this can be quite challenging if other students have interpreted the language in a more abstract way!

You can also ask one of the students to be the teacher. With small groups, you replace them as the player.

Stage three: cleaning (optional)

Repeat stage two, but this time, instead of flyswatters, give the students board rubbers. They clean the relevant picture each time you say the language.

When there are only two pictures left, they have to tell you the words/sentences.


You can also use paper rolled into a tube instead of flyswatters. Stage two works well with flashcards too.

Adults would also enjoy this game.

With larger groups it could be done in teams or on paper.

Simple, minimal preparation, and lots of fun! Enjoy!

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.


I promised M last week that I would bring English money to the lesson today. She was very excited when she took the purse out of my bag. I had three notes: £5, £10 and £20, and ten coins, including 2p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. We started with M feeling the different coins, talking about how they were different. I taught her to identify each of them, and she was surprised to learn that some English coins aren’t round. When she first touched them, she only felt the faces, not the sides, and it took her a while to understand what I meant when I asked her if the coins were circles. She had a lot of trouble counting how many sides there were on a 20p/50p piece, and it was easier for her to count corners. I challenged her to find coins that were the same: there were four 20p, two 2p and two £1 coins. I also asked her to calculate how much money she was holding at various points.

With the notes, M compared the sizes of the three: if you’ve never seen English money, each note is progressively bigger, so there’s a noticeable difference between the size of each. She then took out some Ukrainian money, and told me that English money is bigger.

For the last fifteen minutes of the lesson, M told me about food that she liked, including honey-flavoured chewing gum. She doesn’t use ‘You shouldn’t…’ for prohibitions, like not swallowing gum – she replaces it with ‘You don’t…’.


The director of my school had spoken to M’s (non-English-speaking) mum to tell her more about the Cambridge Flyers exam and to find out the answers to a few questions I had about M’s reading and writing, particularly about whether she could use a computer. The first few minutes of the lesson were a three-way conversation between M, her mum and I talking about what the exam normally involves and how it might be different for M – we’re still waiting to get the exact details of the format of the braille version of the exam. It turns out that M can’t really use a computer at the moment, and won’t have school lessons in this for another couple of years. I asked if it’s OK for me to do some typing work with her, and her mum said that was fine. When she was at school, she’d had a typewriter-based touch-typing exam where the students were blindfolded to make sure they were doing it properly, so she appreciates the value of touch typing!

Fingers touch typing

Photo taken from ELTpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

Once her mum had left, M and I talked about being blind again. She has only ever been able to see light and dark, and has a friend who has always been completely blind, and has difficulty understanding what it means to see. She tries to explain it to him as your brain being a computer and your eyes being two screens, but she says he doesn’t understand that. Every time M tells me things like this, I appreciate how lucky I am not just to be able to see, but to understand the concept of seeing too. It’s impossible to understand how much being (almost) fully sighted has influenced my life, and it’s easy to see why videos like this, of a boy hearing his dad’s voice for the first time, can be so striking.

We spent the next thirty minutes or so playing with the keyboard on my computer. I taught M where the home keys (F/J on my QWERTY keyboard) are, and what the other keys in the home row are (ASDF with the left hand; JKL with the right hand – no semi-colons yet!). I did this by putting my hands into the right place and getting her to feel their position, then putting her hands in the same place, and showing her how she can find the home keys herself because of the small raised bit on them. She typed a few letters herself based on my dictations, and also by having her hands on top of mine while I typed simple words so she could feel how I move my fingers to press the right keys. We typed the words ‘sad’ and ‘lead’, as well as strings of letters. She was very excited by the whole process.

We tried to use the Mac Voiceover screen reader to get it to read what she’d written, but I discovered it doesn’t work with all of Microsoft Word, only the menus.

Finally, M wrote the order of all of the letter keys into her notebook in braille. She suggested that we put braille stickers onto the keys to help her remember the positions to start off with, which I think could be a good idea. I have an external keyboard which I don’t use very often, so I might prepare that for her.


M started the lesson by telling me a Halloween story, but I can’t remember why! It was all about a woman who liked to eat children! One of the new words which came up was ‘rug’, because she used to hide the children in a hole under the rug (I think!)

I tested M’s spellings of the months from last week, and she was much better. She got about two thirds of them right, and found remembering ‘-ember’ very easy. In fact, she tried to put it into lots of months!

j-a-n-u  (me: -uary)   j-a-n-u-a-r-y
f-e-b (me: it has a silent letter ‘r’ – f-e-b-r-u-a-r-y) f-e-b-r-u-a-r-y
m-a-c-h (me: m-a-r-c-h) m-a-r-c-h
How many letters? (4) j-u-n-e (took a lot to remember this!)
o-g (me: a-u-g-u) a-u-j-u-s-t (not j, g) a-u-g-u-s-t
o-c-t-e-m-b-e-r (me: no e-m) o-c-t-o-b-e-r

We then went on the computer again. I spent an hour on Thursday evening figuring out how to use VoiceOver, and discovered that I could write things in TextEdit (a basic text programme) and it would read them out, as well as saying what you type as you go along. I wrote a short letter for M which I got it to read out. She then wrote a lot of letters, mostly using the home row of keys, and a couple of words. I had to remind her quite a few times not to move her hands from the home keys, as she would often use different fingers or put her two hands together to write particular words. I emphasised that it’s important for your fingers to ‘remember’ the letters if you want to able to type quickly, so they always have to type the same letters. This is what we wrote:

Hello M______,

Here is a letter from Sandy. If you type in here too, it will read what you write.

Do you want to learn how?


jffjjfjfjffj ffjfjfjjff jf jkjfk llkjfggjklhffghjkl; fj jk jhjgfdslk;z;hgjkllsddaaaalallala dsaasdsddds a fd fdss d  sadsassssassa  d  ads ssad sad jsajasjas jaas a jas jjklfdss ssssdddffssfs fsdjklsdeaaaajaj kaff af d sssd a  sad jkljhsah hs hashsa hsdda has   sasaD fsa fdj sdfsaaaa d s saasd a sddsf dasmmsdfsam mmmkmmml k

  k  jmjmjmjmjmjmjmjm           jlmjmjmjmjkklkljjllllllkjj jmjmjmjmjkjjmjmjm jmjmjmjmjmjmmmmmm   m jkl  m jklm jklmjklmjklmjklm jklj j jkklnjkln mn m, mhhjjhggmmmm                       mmmm,.,m,.mmmmm jkjhnbmvfj m  mj mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm mm jkfd masha dfdfsdfsdsdfsfdsfdsfddf fd m______m j m________ j mfdsfghbbv cv dsfgertym,.lkjjklmjkljjnnnbbbvvvgggffffffdddddsssssaaa nbmnkjkl, ,,     lljhll;

M____ likes studying with Sandy. [I wrote this to demonstrate touch typing, and to reinforce the fact that she shouldn't move her hands from the home keys while typing. M dictated the sentence!] ‘ljjj kjkljk jkljkljkljkljkljkljljkjlkjlkkjljkl

As we walked down the stairs after her lesson, M was chanting ‘J-K-L’, which is her favourite group of keys I think!

M’s parents asked about VoiceOver and I told them they can use it on the iPhone too. We managed to switch it on, but couldn’t switch it off again afterwards. I hope they’ve managed to do it by now (it’s Sunday as I write this!)

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for July 2014. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My contribution for July is an introduction to micro-dictations, one of the activities I use to help students improve their listening skills. Adam Simpson has written a balanced argument for and against homework and Larry Ferlazzo suggests a range of sites students can use to practise their English over the summer.

If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?

Summer's here

Summer’s here

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