Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

Archive for May, 2011

Articles Flowchart: Final Draft (I hope!)

Anybody who’s been following my blog is probably sick of this flowchart by now (first draft, second draft, third draft), but I’m planning for this to be the last post relating to it!

I’ve now used it in class, so have hopefully ironed out most of the problems. I corrected a couple of typos, an incorrect colour (which meant I miscounted the number of each article needed to complete the worksheet) and added a modifier to the musical instruments section. If there are any more, PLEASE let me know so I can annoy people with a fifth post!


Articles Flowchart worksheets (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart worksheet (.pdf format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.pdf format)

Diary of a beginner: Fifth Lesson

(If you’re interested, you can read about the first, second, third and fourth lessons.)

The first 45 minutes were spent revising what we’ve covered before, and I can definitely see that he is remembering things now. He’s making progress because we had time to do some writing today.

It took 5 minutes to go through my alphabet cards in a random order and say all of them, then pick them up when I said them – this is a real improvement!

I spelled the numbers and he wrote them, predicting the last couple of letters. The only one he still had trouble with was ‘twenty’, spelling it ‘twenteen’ by analogy with Czech where the ‘tens’ are counted in multiples of ten, so twenty is like ‘two tens’. I also taught him the idea of ‘double’ for the same letter twice, i.e. ‘double E’ = ‘ee’

For the days of the week I showed him the cards and he said them. I then asked him to write them all down in order. With a little prompting he remembered ‘How do you spell…?’ but had to be reminded to use it! He still struggled with Wednesday and Friday, but especially with Thursday which he has real trouble pronouncing and confuses with Tuesday (all of which I have to keep assuring him is completely normal!)

With the months, he put the cards in order, then closed his eyes while I took one or two of them away and he remembered them.

We revised the consonant sounds that we’d done previously and added the final six sounds. Unsurprisingly, he really struggled with the two pronunciations of /th/. He realised that he’d been pronouncing ‘this’ and ‘thank’ wrong, so was trying hard to correct himself.

We spent the last ten minutes of the lesson looking at ‘I am’, ‘You are’, ‘I am not’ and ‘You are not’ using New English File Beginner. First he looked at and spontaneously translated a dialogue, then listened to it. We then looked at the four phrases in the examples and thought about what they mean. There was a slight problem with the example sentence in the book because the dialogue used “You are late.” for ‘You are’. In Czech this would be translated as ‘You arrive late.’ without using ‘be’ at all. I showed him that this was the equivalent for ‘be’ and that this is the verb we use in this phrase in English.

He constantly surprises me with the amount of words he knows already, but they are still very isolated at the moment, with very little grammar to link them together. Highlighting to him that he knows this words is very important, especially when one of his final comments before leaving (in Czech, not English!) was “How will I communicate with people if I can’t speak?” I explained to him that he just needs time, that this was just the first time he had seen these things and that he needs 20+ times to really start to fix it in his head.

Mini reviews

If you have a few minutes between now and Wednesday 25th May 2011, I’d be really grateful if you could contribute to a collection of book/film reviews I’d like to use with my Advanced level students. I’m looking for your own opinions, rather than links online (as I could find them myself) :)

I’m trying to encourage them to use a larger range of adjectives than just good/bad/interesting/boring, so anything you could add would be great! They can be as long or as short as you like, and I would really appreciate some negative reviews too, as these are often neglected I think.

How to join in

  • Add a review to the comments in this post.
  • Post your review by adding a post-it note to this page in this link.
  • Record a short review using audioboo
  • Send me a review any other way you choose!
Thank you very much for joining in, and watch this space for a lesson plan showing how I used them.

The Eternal Teacher: Interviewing Naomi

I’ve just finished interviewing Naomi Epstein (@naomishema on Twitter) as a response to Brad Patterson‘s great blog challenge. As soon as I saw his challenge, I knew I wanted to interview Naomi. She’s the most regular commenter on my blog, and her own blog, Visualising Ideas, is a fascinating read. After a few technical hitches, we eventually managed to chat through Google video and here are the results.

The Bio

Naomi lives in Kiryat-Ono, Israel with her husband and two sons (one of whom has his birthday tomorrow – happy birthday!). She has been teaching English to deaf and hard-of-hearing students attending Yehud Comprehensive High School for 21 years. As well as five days at school, she works as a counsellor on Thursdays, helping other teachers who have deaf or hard-of-hearing students in their mainstream classes.

The Questions

For the challenge, Brad gave us five questions to put to the interviewees. This is what Naomi had to say:

1)    If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?

Naomi with booksI’ve been thinking about this, and it all depends on which student you ask and what day it is. The kids I work with don’t mince words, and will tell you exactly what they think of you with no inhibitions. I think they would all agree that I’m unfashionable – I wear sneakers to class, don’t paint my nails and always wear casual clothes. But they would also say I’m patient and always there. I don’t go to the teachers’ room very often, and the kids are surprised if I’m not in the English room. Some of them must think I live there!

2)    What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Most of the interviewees seem to have pretty empty fridges, but mine is the exact opposite because I have a whole family to feed. I cook all of the time, although blogging seems to have got in the way a bit! It’s time-consuming too because my husband and younger son are vegetarians, while I and my older son aren’t, so I need to make something for everyone. I have baked ratatouille pie and majadera (a local dish of rice and lentils – not something my parents ate!) in the fridge at the moment, and it’s well-stocked with basics like bread, milk and cheese too.

3)    If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?

This is a really difficult question. I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

When I was in my first year of college I worked in a chain store selling everything you could possibly need for a new baby. The best bit about the job was explaining to people why they needed all of these things, but I wasn’t a very good salesperson because I would explain, then tell them to shop around and come back if they wanted to. So it was the teaching I liked, not the selling!

4)    What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

You’d think that after teaching for 25 years, I would tell you about something from the beginning of my career, but actually the hardest thing about my job is and always has been behaviour problems. In Israel, there is a strong push for children who have hearing problems, but regular intelligence and no other problems, to be put into mainstream education, so the children who attend self-contained classes become more and more difficult, especially behaviour-wise. Some can be agressive and it never gets easier teaching them. For example, this year there is one boy who comes to my classes even when he’s not supposed to, because he wants to be there. The problem is that he’s the class clown and wants everyone to look at him – it’s hard enough teaching him when he’s supposed to be there, without him coming for extra classes!

But I love adapting materials for the students [you can see lots of these materials on Naomi’s blog] and it can be very rewarding sometimes. There are real ups and downs: one hour can be great, and the next really depressing. [This is one of the reasons I wanted to interview Naomi – I wanted to know how she could have stuck at what seems to me to be an incredibly difficult job for such a long time. It really proves how patient she is!]

5)    What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

I’m a book animal! Every Saturday I blog about the book I’m reading. At the moment, it’s a book calledStones from the River by Ursula Hegi. It’s set in Germany, starting after World War One, and I know it will continue to World War Two. It’s beautifully written.
My husband and I enjoy watching international films. Some of the good ones we’ve seen recently were a Turkish film called On the Edge of Eden and an Iranian film called Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame, about a girl who desperately wants to go to school to learn to read and write (highly recommended, especially for teachers). We also loved The King’s Speech. Most of the films we see aren’t at the cinema. We tend to record them off the TV with our DVD recorder. I would recommend getting one! We both work very hard, so we watch them when we have time.

Naomi by the water

The DVD Extras

The main thing I wanted to know was how Naomi got into teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the first place. On her blog she says “I got my B.A in Education of the Deaf, my B.E.D in EFL and my M.A in Curriculum Development.” but that doesn’t tell the whole story. When she was little she always wanted to be a first grade teacher because she loved reading so much. After high school she did some substitute teaching at an Elementary school and decided that 40 kids per class really wasn’t for her. Now she teaches up to ten students, although with that many students, each with their own problems, it can be very challenging. Ideally, she has six in any one class, which is made easier if she has help/good volunteers.

Her other motivation is that she shares her birthday with Helen Keller, so it was clearly meant to be!

Naomi supporting the walls (as well as her fellow teachers!)

For her counselling job, Naomi supports teachers across Israel. The tendency towards mainstreaming mentioned above means that many teachers have one or two students with special needs in a class of thirty to forty students. She sometimes visits schools, but mostly sits at her computer/on the phone giving advice about how to help to adapt classes so that these students learn too.

The End

I really enjoyed interviewing Naomi, as I find her such an inspirational part of my PLN. She definitely deserves her holiday in Alaska this summer!

Naomi relaxing

Thanks Naomi!

Articles Flowchart: Third Draft (Student Worksheet)

Here’s the last draft (I hope!) of the flowchart (first draft, second draft), this time as a worksheet for use in class. The complete flowchart with all of the answers is in the second draft. Here’s an articles lesson plan I posted earlier.

It’s available for download, and I’d be interested to know if you use it in class/if there’s anything I should change. Please credit the source. Enjoy!

.docx format

.pdf format

Articles Flowchart: Second Draft

So here’s the second draft of the articles flowchart in two formats (.pdf and .doc). I posted the first draft earlier – thanks to @cerirhiannon for giving me some suggestions to improve it. They are downloadable (click ‘view on slideshare’ and download from there) and could be used as reference materials for your students to decide/learn how to use articles in English. If you think there is anything missing (it’s quite likely!) please let me know. I would be interested to know how you use the sheets. I also wrote a post with an articles lesson plan which you might like to look at.

Articles Flowchart: First Draft

I’ve just created this flowchart to help my Czech students choose the correct articles.

It’s not finished yet – when it is, I’ll upload a downloadable version. You can click the image to see it full-size, and your browser should let you zoom in and out.

I have two questions for you:

  • Does it make sense?
  • What have I forgotten? (I know there are some things, but I can’t think of them!)
Update: I posted the second draft this evening, taking into account feedback received on Twitter.

How to join in with #eltpics

eltpics Shape collage

Made using

All of the pictures in the image above are taken from the #eltpics photos on Flickr. #eltpics was started in October 2010 when three teachers (@VictoriaB52, @vickyloras and @cgoodey) decided to tweet pictures to each other on a given theme each week. As Victoria said in this interview with

The idea blossomed, so we asked ELT folk on Twitter to join in and share our diversity. In 3 weeks [we had] over 200 images from 20 countries on our Flickr site.

As of this week, we’re up to 3000 images in 30 categories including all of the following:

eltpics topics wordle

Made using

You can see the 10 most recent pictures in the bottom-right hand corner of this page.

So how can you join in?

1. If you are not a member of Twitter, sign up for free.

2. Find out the topic for the week by searching for the #eltpics hashtag or asking @sandymillin, @fionamau or @cgoodey (the current curators of the site). A new topic is announced every Sunday. (By the way, if you have any topic suggestions, feel free to let us know!)

3. Choose the photos you want to share and upload them to a site like flickr, yfrog or twitpic. You can also use a Twitter client like Tweetdeck. Please ensure that the photos are your own and that you have the copyright.

4. Tweet the links to the pictures you want us to upload. Don’t forget to include the hashtag #eltpics so we can find them! If you want to help us out, you could also mention the set you want us to add the photo to.

5. Sit back and wait for us to tell you they have been uploaded. If we don’t reply within a couple of days, please let us know, as we sometimes miss one or two pictures.

Using the pictures

All of the photos are shared under a Creative Commons licence:


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

If you’re not happy with your pictures being shared and used in this way, please don’t send them! :)

Once they are on the flickr page, all of the images are available for teachers to use in their classrooms, for materials or for teaching-related blogposts. We would love to hear how you use them.



For the International House Certificate in Advanced Methodology which I’m studying at the moment I need to plan and teach a series of lessons using a different lesson planning descriptor to ones which I’ve applied before.

I’ve been trying to find out about the “Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment” descriptor used by Michael Lewis in The Lexical Approach (1993) as an alternative to PPP (Present-Practice-Produce) and seem to have come up against a brick wall. Most of what I’ve read consists of the same quote from page vii of the book with no extra information:

The Present-Practise-Produce paradigm is rejected, in favour of a paradigm based on the Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment cycle.

This is what our notes have to say about OHE:

First of all they [learners] observe language in use, for example through listening to or reading a text. Then they make hypotheses about the way that language works and experiment with creating it themselves in their own contexts.

Observation isn’t just a case of receiving language input but also submitting it to critical examination.  Otherwise,  it  will  be  impossible  to  make  hypotheses  about  language behaviour. The  hypothesising and experimenting stages involve activities such as identifying, sorting and matching and their aim is to encourage curiosity about language and among learners. We as teachers need to take a longer term view of learning and cannot expect to limit language to a single structure and presume this has been learnt by the end of the class (as PPP advocates) because language learning simply doesn’t work like that.

I’ve found a couple of other explanations:

From ‘Alan DELTA

The “OHE” or “III” model (Lewis & McCarthy)

1. Lewis and McCarthy’s view on PPP;

2. Observe, Hypothesize, Experiment;

3. Ss get an “Illustration” followed by “Interaction” with the lgg, which will hopefully lead to an “Induction”

From this presentation on Methods and Approaches:

Michael Lewis claims that students should be allowed to Observe (read or listen to language) which will then provoke them to Hypothesise about how the language works before going on to the Experiment on the basis of that hypothesis.

This quote sums up my problem:

In his own teaching design, Lewis proposes a model that comprises the steps, Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment, as opposed to the traditional Present-Practice-Produce paradigm. Unfortunately, Lewis does not lay out any instructional sequences exemplifying how he thinks this procedure might operate in actual language classrooms.

I seem to understand all of the words, but can’t make the leap from that to an actual lesson plan where I can clearly apply the descriptors. So these are my questions:

  • What would an ‘Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment’ lesson actually look like? i.e. Does anyone have an example they could share with me?
  • How much does ‘observation’ involve? What should be done to fulfil this stage?
  • Can it only be used for lexical chunks since it came out of the Lexical Approach? Or could it be used for grammar / skills work too? This is a lesson I planned to practise writing an article which I think fits the OHE descriptor but I’m not sure – what do you think?
  • I have to plan a series of four lessons applying the same descriptor. Does that mean each lesson should contain the full set of OHE with stages being repeated if necessary (I think this is the case) or should it be more of an over-arcing thing?

Apologies if this is not very coherent, but I’m really confused at the moment!

Thank you for your help!

Teaching Metaphors

During the #eltchat about coursebooks on Wednesday 11th May 2011 a few metaphors for teaching were mentioned. Lizzie Pinard quoted them in her excellent summary of the chat:

@Chucksandy summed this up beautifully: “Good cooks know what can be left out of or put into a recipe, or added as a side dish. Good teachers using course books know the same thing.” Or, as @OUPELTglobal put it, the course book should be used like a map with the route and pace being set by the students and the teacher.

This is not the first time metaphors like this have been used in the chats, but this time it got me thinking about how we describe the processes of teaching and learning languages to our students.

I’ve already posted about the ‘high’ I get when I can successfully communicate in a foreign language. I created my other favourite language-related metaphor when responding to students complaints about learning grammar, although I think it can be used to describe the process of learning languages in general too. Please note, it’s only meant to give an image to my students, without being completely factually accurate! It goes a little something like this:

  • Everybody wants grammar to look like New York. Nice straight lines, turn left here, turn right there…
  • In fact, it looks a lot more like London, with random twists and turns, a few bits that might resemble where you’re from, but many others which are completely unfamiliar.
  • And although London might seem scary at first, especially if you’re dumped in the middle of it with no map, you CAN get to know it. All you need to do is spend time there. And the more time you spend there, the easier it is to find your way around. You’ll even get to the stage where you can go places automatically, without thinking about which way to go.
  • In exactly the same way, the more time you spend with grammar / a language, the easier it is to use. You can find your way around, make educated guesses, and eventually use it without thinking about it. But you’ll never know how to do all of the this unless you make an effort and ‘wander round’.

This way of thinking about language seems to have really helped some of my students, and has even meant that a couple of them have started putting in slightly more work!

So what metaphors do you use with your students? Or when thinking about your teaching?

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