Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Where am I?

Seeing my social media explode today in what I really hope and feel is a step-change in the way our society treats women and the way those women think about themselves and their relationships with others, both men and women, has prompted me to finally write a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

Sandy

I’m 32.

I’m female.

I’m single.

I’ve never had a boyfriend.

I am most definitely not alone.

Sandy speaking at InnovateELT Barcelona

I’m a professional.

I’m a manager.

I’m a teacher trainer.

I regularly speak at conferences.

I organise teacher training at my school, and encourage and support women and men to be part of them.

Sandy cooking at home

I own my own flat.

I’m independent.

I’m confident.

I very rarely worry about what other people think of my decisions – they’re mine, not theirs.

I work hard to be the best person I can be.

I try to help other people whenever and however I can, though I often feel like I could do more.

I try to think about my impact on the environment, though I also feel I could do more here.

Sandy on the USS Midway aircraft carrier

I travel alone without thinking about it.

I go to the cinema alone without thinking about it.

I eat at restaurants alone without thinking about it.

I swear. It is a normal part of my speech. I don’t have a problem with hearing other people swear when it is appropriate to the situation. I think about the people who I’m around when doing so.

Sandy Millin working as a Games Maker at London 2012

I’m (now) happy with my body. It took work. When I catch myself now, I can stop those thoughts. They almost never come now.

I enjoy choosing clothes. This also took work, and was directly related to the point above.

I never wear make-up, after trying it a few times and deciding it wasn’t for me. I don’t feel this is a problem. Or that it should be. (Though I did once buy lipstick – when I asked for help because I’d never bought lipstick before, the woman in the shop said ‘You poor thing’.) I believe this should be a choice, and that men should be allowed to wear make-up if they want to.

Sandy presenting at the speed dating

I am good at using computers and other technology. I understand the basics of HTML.

I am good at maths and mental arithmetic.

I used to describe myself as being into a lot of ‘male’ things: fantasy, sci-fi, science, games, computer games, ‘nerdiness’. I no longer believe they are male and that I am unusual as a female for enjoying them. They are mine.

The fact that I’m a woman doesn’t generally make that much difference to my life, at least in terms of my decision making.

I know what I want from my life, and yes, that does include having a family at some point. But a family that is shared. I expect to be in an equal partnership, if I have a partner.

I’m a romantic. I would also like to be romanced.

I don’t believe the previous two points negate anything else I’ve written.

I’m white, I’m British, and I was born in the European Union. I know this gives me an advantage in many arenas. I can’t change any of those facts, but I can use them to try to help others. I can also remember that I’m nowhere near the most downtrodden or underrepresented population in the world. Not by a long way.

Most importantly, I’m happy.

But…

I don’t remember ever seeing or reading about ‘me’ in popular culture. (Please prove me wrong in the comments.)

Women who are there to be the love interest, check. (Note the 3 pages of male love interests v. 9 of female love interests on this wiki)

Women who are dividing their life between work and family, check.

Important women from history, check. (And it’s great that a few more of them are being noticed.)

Women who are there to demonstrate that women are as good as men, check. (Though only one at a time, of course.)

Women in the role of the villain, check, just. (And that’s important too – really important – men are most definitely not all bad and women are not all good!)

Women who are there to make up the numbers, check. (We need more diversity, so how can we fit a woman in?)

Creeping towards balance, check. (And with a minor mention of it in reviews…I hope this is the norm one day, but we still need to celebrate when this is achieved at the moment to make others sit up and take notice.)

Women who talk to each other about something other than men, check, sometimes. (The Bechdel-Wallace test helps, but it’s not perfect.)

It’s not to say I don’t enjoy that culture. I do. But I never see myself there, single, not chasing a man, would like children, 30s, professional. But I guess my story isn’t interesting for film-makers, reviewers or readers.

According to the line that culture is throwing at me, I’m over the hill and should definitely have settled down with a husband by now. I know I’m not, thanks to my friends.

I should most definitely have had more sexual experiences than I have, says the media. Why yes, that would be nice. But sex shouldn’t define me, or any woman, and nor should the lack of it.

And if I’ve done this thanks to the role models I’ve been lucky enough to have, how many more women need to see, hear and read that they can be them and there’s nothing wrong with that?

So what now?

If you think that harrassment and bullying should be a thing of the past, visit ELTtoo. (I’ve been on the receiving end of institutional bullying, instigated by one person, and causing problems for both women and men in that institution. I left. They didn’t all have that freedom, though I believe most of them have gone now a few years down the line. The institution still exists and the same people are still running it. As far as I know, none of us have really said anything about it publicly and nothing has really changed.)

If you are a woman with a facebook account, the Women in ELT group may be of interest to you.

If you are of either gender and you’re organising a conference or event, or are a woman who wants to start speaking at them, have a look at Women Speakers ELT for more information and support to run more gender-balanced ELT events.

Let’s keep talking about it, all of us, women and men.

Let’s keep up the pressure.

Let’s change the future for those who follow us.

It’s time.

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My bookshelf

This post was inspired by Naomi Epstein’s response to Grant Snyder’s comic strip My Bookshelf. I’m going to write about books in general though, not just teaching ones – lots of answers popped into my head as I was reading Naomi’s post. Here goes…

The book I couldn’t put down

This is a pretty long list, and includes pretty much everything by Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and what I’ve read of Neil Gaiman so far (still a work in progress). Also Sharon Penman books when I was a teenager, the Cicero books by R0bert Harris I’m currently reading, the Harry Potter books the first time round, the Robin Hobb books, etc. etc. etc.

The book I couldn’t pick up

I’m going to put some books here which I had on my shelf but put off reading for ages because they scared me a bit, but which I ended up loving when I finally read them.

  • Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky
  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
  • All classics, until I read Pride and Prejudice when I was 18 🙂

The book you gave me (I haven’t read it yet – sorry!)

IATEFL sent out A History of IATEFL to members last year and gave a copy of The Non-Native Teacher by Peter Medgyes at the conference in Glasgow. They’re sitting on my shelf, but I haven’t got round to them yet. I know I’ll have read them by this time next year though!

The book I brought to the beach

I’m not really a beach person, but I definitely remember getting sunburn in the back garden from spending too long outside without putting suncream on when I was reading Love in the Time of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Alexander books by Valerio Massimo Manfredi when I was a teenager.

The book I tried so hard to like

When the BBC Big Read came out in 2003, I’d already read 25 of the top 100 books, and decided to read the rest of them. This meant that I dragged myself kicking and screaming through:

  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (boring)
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams (repetitive – the rabbits eat, sleep, poo and fight)
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (I just wanted to bang Cathy and Heathcliff’s heads together and tell them to get a grip)
  • The last 100 pages of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (philosophical thoughts he’d already conveyed multiple times, and which interrupted what I felt was a gripping story)
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding (urgh)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce (trying far too hard – just annoying)

I did read every page of all 100 books though, and it led me to a whole load of authors I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. There were at least 10 books on there that are now among the best books I’ve ever read, so it was worth it! I’d love to know what an updated version of the list would look like.

The book I somehow own three copies of

Looking at my bookshelves, the thing that immediately jumped out at me was three Collins German dictionaries, and three matching French ones, though ‘somehow’ probably isn’t the right word – they chart my progress from 11 years old, to GCSEs, to university, getting considerably bigger each time!

The book that saved my life

I’m not sure I could claim that any book has ever saved my life, but the single book that probably changed the way I think in the shortest number of pages was The English Verb by Michael Lewis. I read it as part of Delta, and it completely changed the way that I think about language. I constantly tell people about it, and have it on my shelf right now, waiting for me to read again.

The book I lent you (can I have it back?)

If pushed to choose my favourite book of all time, I’m pretty sure I would go for Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I have owned various copies of this book, but now don’t appear to have any. I have definitely lent it to people in the past, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never got it back. Oh well. Spreading the love 😉

The book I fall asleep to every night

Since August 2016 I’ve been reading a few pages of Harry Potter in Polish every night before I go to bed. When I first started, it took about 10 minutes to read two pages, and I didn’t understand many of the words on the page. I only knew what was going on because of my prior knowledge of the stories. I’m now on the penultimate chapter of book three, can manage 6-8 pages in 10-15 minutes, and reckon I understand about 50-60% of what I read. It’s made me realise first hand just how useful extensive reading is for language learners.

The book I mistook for a hat

Hmm…I suspect the answer to this may also be dictionaries when I was at university – they’re certainly big enough, and we often used to have to carry them around with us!

The book I’m desperately trying to write

Well, a series actually. Book one should be out in the next couple of months, I hope, pending permission from a few publishers to use quotes from their works, and I have ideas for lots of follow-ups if it’s successful 😉 Watch this space… (and if you can’t wait, try my first e-book, Richer Speaking)

All the books that changed my life

I can’t imagine a life without books and reading, and I’m grateful to my family for instilling a love of reading in me at a young age. I don’t remember not being able to read. I do remember reading by the light of the late evening sun in the summer coming through my red curtains when I was supposed to be asleep. I’m a reading addict – when there’s nothing else to read, I’ll pick up sauce bottles on a table, cleaning products in a bathroom, anything with words on really, regardless of the language! Now I read a few blog posts every day, and have three or four books on the go at any one time. Right now it’s Harry Potter 3 in Polish, Imperium by Robert Harris, Pop-up Shakespeare by Jennie Maizels, Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin, and a few teaching magazines that have been sitting on the shelf for a while. Books really have shaped a lot of who I am. (P.S. If you want to buy any of the books in this post for yourself, and you decide to click on this Amazon Affiliates link, I’ll get a few pennies – thank you!)

My bookshelves

My bookshelves – the first furniture I bought for my new flat!

As Naomi said at the end of her post,

Here’s to all the books I’ve read and those that are waiting to be read! Life is good!

Why should they care?

In lessons I have observed, it is often a little step that is missing that could make a real difference to the students’ engagement in a particular activity. By asking yourself ‘Why should they care?’ at every stage of the planning process, it’s easy to make little tweaks that could help students to get more involved.*

Do you recognise any of these situations?

Speaking

You ask students to discuss a question like this in pairs:

Tell your partner what you did at the weekend.

They each monologue for about 30 seconds, and the whole activity peters out after less than two minutes. Neither student really listened to their partner, and apart from saying a few words in English, they haven’t really got anything out of the activity.

Why should they care?

Here are a few little tweaks that might avoid this situation.

  • Give them a listening task too. These can also be used as questions for feedback after the activity.
    ‘Find something your partner did that you didn’t.’ > Feedback = ask one or two students to say what their partner did and why they didn’t do it.
    ‘Decide whose weekend was more boring.’ > Feedback = put your hand up if you had the most boring weekend.
  • Add challenge.
    Students have 15 seconds to tell their partner what they did – time it strictly. Afterwards they change partners and tell someone else what their partner did. Give them thinking time first to decide/rehearse what to say in that time.
    Students can only say two sentences before their partner speaks. Give an example, and make sure you include questions!
  • Change the interaction pattern.
    Students mingle, speaking to as many others as possible. They have to find one person who did the same three things as them/did none of the things they did/did something they wish they’d done.
    Play Chinese whispers with two teams racing to correctly write down one thing each person in their team did.
  • Give them some functional language you want them to use.
    ‘No, really? Why did you do that?’
    ‘That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.’

If you want more ideas for how to adapt speaking activities, I’ve got a whole e-book of them!

Writing

You ask your students to write a blog post about a place they want to visit. Some of them write a paragraph, others write a whole page.

Why should they care?

  • Get them interested in the topic first.
    Talk about the most popular places a tourist can visit in the students’ countries.
    Get them to decide three things which make a place worth visiting, then compare the list with a partner and narrow it down to three things from their combined lists.
  • Show them what you expect from them.
    Give them a framework, e.g. Paragraph one = a description of the place, including at least three pieces of information about it. Paragraph two = why they want to visit it. Paragraph three = why they haven’t visited it yet/when they plan to visit it. > This can also be used for marking if necessary, giving you an objective way of deciding if they get full marks for content.
    Show a couple of examples from real blogs.
  • Change the interaction pattern.
    Allow students to choose if they want to work alone or in pairs.
    Get students to write a paragraph, then pass it on to the next student/pair who write the next paragraph, then pass it on again for the final paragraph.
  • Give students other choices.
    They could write about a place they don’t want to visit/the last interesting place they visited/the most boring place they’ve ever visited.
    Let them decide on the format: a blog post, a poster, a newspaper article, a comic strip…

Listening

There is a three-minute audio recording about straw bales in the course book your school requires you to use. 30 seconds in, the students are clearly incredibly bored, and starting to fidget.

A straw bale

Image from Pixabay

Why should they care?

  • Use an image.
    Show them the picture above. Give them a minute to imagine this is real – they think about what they can see/hear/smell/touch/taste. Then tell a partner.
    Give them the image in the middle of a piece of paper. They should draw the bigger picture, then compare it to a partner. Do they have similar pictures?
  • Set them a challenge.
    Get them to think of a minimum of five different things they could use a straw bale for, then compare to a partner.
    Somebody has dumped a straw bale in front of the school. It’s too heavy to lift easily. How will they move it?
  • Make sure they have a clear task to do while they’re listening.
    The first time they listen, they could check predictions they’ve made before listening.
    Get students to come up with three questions they want the answers to. They can be as simple as ‘Why am I listening to a text about straw bales?’ 🙂
  • Use the audio in other ways.
    Break it into 30-second chunks. After each chunk, students should tell a partner what they remember. They could also come up with one question they think will be answer in the next section.
    Pause the audio at a particular point and ask the students what they think the next three words are. You can decide on these points before the lesson if you want to focus on particular pieces of language. This can build students’ confidence when listening to English if you choose chunks of language students are already familiar with.

Reading

There’s an article about gender pay gaps in the news, which you think is an important issue and should be discussed with your students. Some students have previously said they would like to read ‘real’ things in class, but in the lesson the students just aren’t interested in the article, and you end up moving on to something else after a few minutes.

Why should they care?

  • Deal with part of the topic first.
    Have pieces of paper around the room, each with the beginning of a statement. Students walk around and write as many sentences using these beginnings as possible in two minutes. Examples might be ‘Women are…’ ‘Men are…’ ‘Women can’t…’ ‘Men can’t…’ ‘It’s important for women to…’ ‘It’s important for men to…’
    Ask students to list five jobs where people get paid a lot of money, and five where they don’t get paid much. They compare lists with other students, then decide whether they think more men or women do those jobs.

Gender pay gap word cloud based on http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42580194

  • Use a word cloud. Wordart.com allows you put a whole text into their creator.
    Students have five minutes to write as many sentences as they can using the words in the word cloud. These become predictions – they read the text to check what was included.
    They choose one big word, one medium word, and one small word, then predict how these are connected to the story. You could also give them the headline to help.
  • Reflect real life.
    Show students the headline. Ask them if this is something they would read about in their own language. Encourage them to discuss why or why not. If they say they would, ask them to read it. If they wouldn’t, ask them to choose another article from the BBC homepage (give them a time limit). In both cases, get them to tell a partner what they think they’ll still remember about the article tomorrow.
    We often read online articles by skimming them quickly as we scroll down the page. If you have a projector in your classroom, replicate that process. Scroll down relatively slowly, but fast enough that students can’t read everything. When you get to the bottom, minimise the window and ask students to tell their partner what they saw, what they understood, and what (if anything) they’d like to go back and read in more detail.
  • Work with the language.
    Ask students to find phrases which describe companies or replace the name of the company, e.g. ‘major companies’, ‘organisations with 250 or more workers’, ‘the carrier’, ‘the firm’. They discuss why these phrases were selected in each case.
    Get them to list five different sentences with a percentage in them, e.g. ‘Many financial firms feature in the list, including the Co-op Bank – where mean hourly pay is 30.3% lower for women.’ or ‘It said 7% of apprentices last year were men, compared with zero in 2016, while 41% of roles involving helping at children’s tea time were filled by men – compared with 25% in 2016.’ They can analyse the structures these percentages appear in, e.g. ‘X is % lower for Y.’ or ‘% of X were blah blah blah – compared with % in year’

Grammar points

You’ve recently taught students how to use the passive in news articles. In a follow-up piece of writing, there is no evidence of passives at all.

Why should they care?

  • Contextualise.
    Make sure that example sentences you use are all taken from clear contexts, not plucked at random from thin air. Context can really help students to understand new grammar.
    After doing a practice exercise, ask students to choose three sentences. For each sentence they should add a minimum of two sentences before and two after, making a longer paragraph or dialogue. They could leave a space where their chosen sentence appeared for other students to remember what it was.
  • Get them to notice how it’s used outside the classroom.
    Ask students to open an article from English-language news at random. They should underline all of the passive structures they can find. Afterwards, they can compare usage of the passive in different kinds of article – for example, is it used more in articles describing a crime? A sports event? An election?
    Send students on a treasure hunt. Ask them to find one example in the news of each kind of passive you have studied, e.g. present simple passive, past simple passive, present perfect passive. They should find as many as they can and write out the full sentence, all within a specified time, for example 15 minutes.
  • Compare and contrast.
    Give students pairs of sentences in the active and the passive, with each sentence in the pair conveying the same information. Ask them to choose their ‘favourite’ sentence in the pair and say why. For example: ‘The dog ate the cake.’ ‘The cake was eaten by the dog.’ ‘Somebody stole my bag.’ ‘My bag was stolen.’
    Show students a 2-3 sentence paragraph including a passive structure. Ask them to translate it into another language they know. They then use the translation to analyse differences between how the idea of a passive is expressed in their own language(s). For example, emphasis on the object might be conveyed through a change in word order but no change in the verb form.
  • Add it in.
    Give students a short news article in pairs. Ask them to add three passive sentences into the article, wherever they like. They can then compare the results to another group.
    Tell students you expect to see a minimum of two passive structures in the news article you want them to write. Include this in criteria for peer checking before the article is handed in.

Vocabulary

You introduced a range of words connected to clothes in your last lesson, like ‘button’, ‘zip’, ‘sleeve’. During a revision activity at the beginning of this lesson, the students need a lot of prompting and they can’t really remember any of them accurately.

Why should they care?

  • Find out what they know.
    If you’re working on vocabulary from a particular lexical set, do a board race first. In this case, divide students into two teams. They race to write as many clothes words on the board as possible in five minutes. Teams switch and work out the points for their opponents: one point for completely correct, half a point if there is a spelling mistake.
    Show them pictures of clothes – three or four items is enough. Ask them to list as many things they can see in the pictures as possible. Point to various things and ask ‘What’s this?’ to prompt students to notice features like the buttons or sleeves, not just the items of clothing themselves.
  • Help them to notice the gaps in their knowledge.
    Display all of the words you’re planning to teach on the board. Ask students to draw pictures for as many of them as possible, but not to worry if they don’t know any of them – they will by the end of the lesson! To reinforce this, repeat the same activity at the end of the lesson and point out how much they’ve improved.
    Give them the first and last letters of the words, like this ‘b_____’, ‘z__p’, ‘s_____e’. Ask them to complete the words to describe parts of clothes. Again, they shouldn’t worry if they don’t know them.
  • Add extra processing.
    Don’t just ask students to read words from a flashcard, show them the picture and get them to remember the word. For extra challenge, they could then spell it. It’s better to do this chorally or in pairs/groups, rather than putting individual students on the spot, as this may affect their confidence if they can’t do it or increase their fear if they think they might be next.
    Display all of the pictures on the board/floor. Students should write as many of the words as possible in their notebooks, then compare the spellings with the vocabulary list. To add challenge, you could get them to switch notebooks with somebody else for the checking stage.
  • Make it real.
    Ask them to choose a word which is new for them. They should think of one time they would expect to say/write the word, and one time they would expect to read/hear it. For example, they might say ‘button’ if they’ve lost a button, or read it in a craft magazine which tells them how to make a teddy bear.
    They choose three new words they want to remember, and write them into short sentences connected to their lives, e.g. ‘I’ve lost three buttons from my coat.’. As an extension, they could then google the sentences and see if they exist on the internet anywhere.

All of the vocabulary tips can be connected to the idea of ‘hooks’. This is a metaphor I use to describe how you remember new information. The more hooks you hang something on, the more likely it is to stay where you put it. When you think about learning new vocabulary (or grammar for that matter), you need to give the students as many hooks as possible to ‘hang’ the new vocabulary from and keep it in their heads.

Pronunciation

When you ask students to repeat sentences after you as part of a drill, they sound really bored and/or refuse to do it.

Why should they care?

  • Do you care?
    Record yourself doing some pronunciation work. Listen back to it. What do you think your tone of voice and body language conveys to the students? What does your intonation sound like?
    Before you drill anything, imagine somebody is going to ask ‘What was the point of that?’ Do you have a good answer for them?
  • Play.
    Experiment with different tones of voice, speeds, characters (the Queen, Arnold Schwarzenegger…), positions (standing, sitting, superhero poses)…
    A really popular activity at my school is a stickman drill, where students are in teams. Each team gets a stickman, with one or two extra features of their choice, like a hat or an umbrella. Each team repeats the sentence. Whoever the teacher decides did it best can remove part of their opponents’ stickmen. The aim is to have the most complete stickman by the end of the game. [I still haven’t actually tried this, but I’ve seen it used many times!]
  • Add challenge.
    Don’t just ask students to repeat the same sentence again and again. Get them to change parts of it. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph, you could change the verb (ask), the person (students), the infinitive phrase (to repeat the same sentence) or the time adverbial (again and again). This is known as a substitution drill. Students or the teacher can decide what changes.
    Use key words or images as prompts, so students have to remember the language without having it all in front of them.
  • Add extra support.
    Give students a minute to read and remember the language you’re going to drill, then close their books during the drilling process.
    Break down longer sentences into smaller chunks, then put them back into the full sentence. This is known as backchaining if you do it from the end of the sentence.

*I recognise that a lot of the tweaks I’ve suggested above may more appropriately answer the question ‘What can I do about it?’, but I find the phrasing ‘Why should they care?’ adds a bit more impact when I’m asking my teachers!

Have you tried any of these tweaks? What other little tweaks do you use to encourage students to care more about activities in class?

P.S. This blogpost has been in the back of my mind for a while now, and reading this post about lead ins by CELTA train is what made me actually write it today 🙂

Just because I like the title 🙂

  1. Even though I’ve bought a flat in Bydgoszcz, one day I aim to live in Brno again.
  2. I can bake bread relatively quickly and it tastes good.
  3. Slow cookers are amazing, and you can make delicious soup in them.
  4. My Polish is now good enough to teach a group of beginners.
  5. It’s a magical thing when you suddenly start being able to speak another language without having to think about every word you say.
  6. After a year of 10 minutes of Mandarin a day, it’s kind of possible to hear tones.
  7. My favourite words in Mandarin are currently ‘taxi’ (出租车) because of the three 1st tones, ‘train’ (火车) because it’s a ‘fire goer’, and ‘chocolate’ (巧克力) because of the way it sounds.
  8. Television is a very important part of a British Christmas (I knew it was in our family, but had no idea how much of a cultural thing it was!)
  9. Our flamenco group is now starting to learn how to dance with fans.
  10. More things about Excel than anybody ever needs to know.
  11. The cross on the Maltese flag is The George Cross, not a Maltese cross.
  12. Malta has an incredibly rich history, including prehistoric monuments that are older than Stonehenge.
  13. Loads and loads of films and TV programmes have been recorded in Malta, including the Jerusalem scenes in the Ken Branagh film of Murder on the Orient Express.
  14. I have a lot more books inside me (one of which is hopefully coming soon…)
  15. Weekends are really important for me, and it’s something I need to keep reminding myself of.
  16. IATEFL can change lives.
  17. It’s quite hard to come up with 17 things for a listicle.
Mnajdra temples

Mnajdra temples in Malta

What have you learnt this year?

 

When I walked past my colleague’s desk at work a few days ago, I noticed a really interesting handout, and asked her if she would be willing to share it with the world. I’m very happy that she agreed 🙂 Over to Katie…

‘Tis the season for teachers to hand out Christmas holiday homework, and if your students are anything like mine, ’tis also the season for students to ignore their Christmas holiday homework until half an hour before their first lesson back in January. So I came up with an idea that will hopefully motivate them to actually do something different every day, without having to personally visit them on Christmas day and force them to talk to me.

The format is simple and can be adapted for any level, but mine was for an advanced class (hence the uninhibited use of the word “regale”). I’ve made a calendar for my students, with a box for every day between our last lesson of the year and the first lesson of next year. Every day they choose a task from the list, and they note down which one they did into the right day. On their return to the class in January, they use the calendar to recall the different things they got up to over the holidays. My hope for this exercise isn’t necessarily to test or challenge my students, so I won’t take in any of their work to be marked. Instead the aim here is to train them to keep working at their English even when I’m not standing over their shoulder.

The list is based on my class and what I know might be interesting to them, but you should edit the list to make it appropriate for your class. I’d especially recommend adding in any online resources that you regularly use with your students, but to keep all the tasks relatively low-effort.

Christmas homework handout

Here’s the list again, for ease of copying and pasting:

  1. read your book for 20 minutes
  2. watch a film in English
  3. write a New Year’s resolution and summarise it in exactly 20 words
  4. go to bbc.com/news and read a news story
  5. put a photo on social media with an English caption
  6. write an email to Katie wishing her a Happy Christmas & tell her what you’ve been doing (your@emailaddress.co.uk)
  7. listen to some music, look up the lyrics and try to sing along (obviously only songs that have English lyrics!)
  8. write a diary entry about something interesting that happened to you
  9. watch something in English on YouTube & tell someone about it
  10. learn a Christmas song in English and sing it to your mum/uncle/pet/neighbour
  11. compose a haiku about Christmas Day
  12. go into a shop and pretend that you don’t speak any [Polish], and ask them to speak English to you
  13. write a Christmas recipe out for Katie to try at home (please make it very clear, and with minimal pickling)
  14. regale your family members by speaking to them in only English for part of the day (even if they’re not sure what you mean)
  15. look at your textbook, sigh, and say “maybe I won’t do anything in English today today” *ONE USE ONLY*

Bio

Katie Lindley

Katie Lindley has been teaching at IH Bydgoszcz since September 2016.  She hasn’t published any books (yet), or spoken at any conferences (yet), but the 9-year-old girls in her kids’ class think she’s brilliant.

I hope you enjoy adapting Katie’s festive homework, and I’m sure you’ll join me in asking her to write more posts in the future!

The things nobody teaches you

It’s observation season at IH Bydgoszcz at the moment. Some of the advice I’ve given has made me think of skills that are really useful to have as a teacher, but which we are very rarely taught, or have to pick up as we go along.

Here are my examples:

  1. Reading upside-down: really useful for monitoring to see which answers students have.
  2. Picking out individual student’s voices from the general noise (or the Cocktail party effect): key for both monitoring and assessment, if you’re assessing speaking while the whole class is working. Also, tuning in and out of multiple conversations smoothly.
  3. All the many functions of a photocopier.
  4. Sitting down, standing up, and when and why it’s useful to switch positions.

Notes:

  1. I’m a fast reader anyway, and think that this was something I may have been able to do before I became a teacher, but I’ve definitely honed this over time. I hadn’t realised that many people found it challenging until recently!
  2. Another skill I kind of had but am now much better at. The flipside of this is that I find it very hard to tune out of conversations when I’m not in a classroom, so I can join in with staffroom conversations even when I’m sitting in my office 10m away 😉 I also sometimes find it hard to focus on conversations in restaurants etc. if there’s another interesting conversation going on nearby, or I’ll flit between the two conversations. Apologies to anyone I’ve done that too!
  3. I think most people are probably shown one or two ‘magic’ things their local copier can do, but there are so many other functions that generally remain a mystery!
  4. I’m mostly thinking about small groups here, up to about 16 students. I know some schools have rules about sitting/standing, but it’s often not addressed on training courses.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/6886151367/in/photolist-buvjTH-fHQ8CT-gaRTFC

‘Teacher’s enemy’ by @pysproblem81, taken from ELTpics (but maybe our friend if we really understood it!)

So (how) did you learn these skills? How can you help other people to learn them? What else would you add to the list?

Issues 43 of the IH Journal was published yesterday, with lots of great things for you to read:

IH Journal issue 43 contents

It features the first article in a new series which I’m writing, all about working with new teachers. You can read the journal online, and my article is here. If working with new teachers is something you’re interested in, or if you’re a new teacher yourself, watch out for an exciting announcement coming soon on my blog 🙂

On Monday my intermediate group were looking at modals of obligation, based on a text about how to become a millionaire. We had a set of sentences which I wanted to work with. They went something like this:

  • You have to be very hard-working.
  • You shouldn’t take long holidays.
  • You don’t have to be born rich.
  • You must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve.
  • You should (something I can’t remember…)
  • You mustn’t (something else I can’t remember!)

We checked the meaning by matching the sentences to a set of key words, and then I thought it was important to work on stress patterns. I also wanted them to memorise some correct sentences, as at an earlier stage of the lesson they’d produced things like:

  • You have to very hard-working.
  • You don’t have to born rich.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Told students to listen.
  2. Said all six of the sentences as quickly as possible.
  3. Put students in pairs and told them to practice doing the same.
  4. If they decided they’d finished, I made them do the same thing backwards, starting with the final sentence.
  5. When I thought they were ready, I challenged them to say the sentences as quickly as me. I counted 3, 2, 1 and we all spoke at the same time, with the aim being to finish at the same time as I did.

Students seemed to really enjoy this activity with lots of laughter throughout, especially when they were racing me. They worked hard to correct each other. I didn’t have to do any remedial drilling in this case, as the challenge of speaking as fast as possible meant they produced the correct stress patterns pretty naturally.

And why is it for shy teachers? Because once I’d said the sentences at the beginning, all I had to do was listen until they were ready to race me at the end, at which point I was speaking at the same time as them. That meant I only ‘exposed’ my pronunciation once in front of the class, which I know is something that some teachers are worried about. They got lots of drilling, and I did hardly anything 🙂 Win-win!

What other drills can you think of which do the same job?

A tree in the Bornean jungle, complete with a ladder to climb it

The picture I was trying to upload on Monday when I first wrote this post, at which point the WordPress app decided to crash. There was a link in my head the first time, but now I can’t remember what it was! It’s a tree in Borneo with a viewing platform at the top…you can hide there from other people if you’re shy (?) Other guesses are welcome!

Classroom management techniques cover

This book is full of useful ideas covering a very wide range of classroom management issues. Every school should have a copy, not just language schools. It includes such useful areas as:

  • Avoiding chaos when rearranging the room
  • Being yourself
  • Finding the right voice tone
  • Helping the group to work together
  • Training students to listen to each other
  • Justifying pair and group work to students
  • Dealing with small disruptions
  • Starting lessons

It’s great for new teachers and more experienced ones, helping you to deal with problems you may have, or giving you new ideas you may not have thought of before. Every technique is broken down into clear steps, and they are often accompanied by diagrams or images to help you understand them.

I decided to read it from cover to cover, to give me an idea of the contents. Throughout, I kept thinking which teachers at my school would benefit from the different techniques or chapters. It also has a comprehensive contents page and index, meaning you can find whatever you’re looking for quickly and easily. Of course, I don’t think every idea would work in my classroom, but then, I’d be disappointed if I found a book where that was the case!

Why not get yourself a copy? [And if you use this link, I’ll get a few pennies too!] 🙂

A story wot I wrote

A couple of days ago I came across a notebook I used to practise my handwriting when I was about 7 or 8. One double-page contains the beginnings of a short story, and disappointingly I didn’t finish it. In the tradition of good stories, the beginning raises more questions than it answers 😉

——

Jim Bolley was a boy of 8. He had curly red hair and liked walking and jogging.

Jim was walking home from school one day, when he spotted a flight of stairs. He climbed up the stairs. When he got to the top he came to a door which had a keyring with four keys on. He held the one that had been in the door.

As Jim opened the door, he saw three doors behind it. Jim tryed all the keys and then the door opened. He looked down and saw a cloak, a pair of boots, and a hat. So he put them on.

Then Jim tryed two of the keys in the next door, but it would’nt open.

‘If I’ve tried the other two keys, then the door must need all three.’ thought Jim.

So Jim used all three and the door opened. Behind that door was a ring, a pen and an inkwell full of ink.

He moved on to the last door and used all three keys. The lock clicked and he opened the door. Behind the door was a desk, a car and a watch.

Jim got the things out of the cupboards and put them at the top of the stairs. Jim opened the desk to put the pen and inkwell into it. As soon as they touched the desk, they turned into a manuel which said on the front:-

How to use the objects By Myst.Rey

On the first page it said:

Invisibility cloak     2

Silence boots           3

Flying hat                 4

Magic ring               5

Pen and inkwell     7

Size desk                 8

Car                           9

Watch                      10

——

I’d love to know what I was reading to prompt 8-year-old me to write this story. This was in the early 1990s, so well before Harry Potter, who is probably the owner of the most famous invisibility cloak now. I definitely remember having a joke book with puns like the one on the cover of the manual – there’s were probably a little more skilled though!

I also find it interesting that I spelt ‘tried’ incorrectly twice, then correctly the third time, but didn’t go back and correct myself. I also had trouble with ‘manual’, and there’s a lot of repetition in there. I’d got rid of some of it at the beginning of the story, but doors and keys feature frequently. There’s also a bit of punctuation which I don’t think I’ve seen for years:-

A picture of my notebook

And the story leaves lots of questions unanswered:

Where are the stairs? Just out in the room? Or was Jim walking down a long corridor to get home? For some reason I’m picturing the doors and the lock in a castle – some kind of big heavy key ring with old iron keys, but then, how on earth did he not notice it before?!

How did the car get into the third room? Why a pen and an inkwell, not just a pen? Why on earth did I decide that he needed a manual? Who wrote it?

Finally, why does the magic ring need two pages of the manual, but everything else just gets one?

Maybe you or your students have the answers 🙂

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