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

Archive for the ‘Blogging Challenges’ Category

Who are you people?!

Joanna Malefaki’s blog My ELT Rambles is one I enjoy reading, because her voice is so strong – I always feel like she’s chatting to me, even though we’ve never actually met.

Today she wrote a post about meeting the readers of her blog, and how strange it can be to realise that all those things you probably mostly wrote for yourself, and possibly a few people you know, have actually been read by other people who you’ve never met. In it, she said:

Well, I guess I feel strange and happy at the same time. Happy that I can help someone, strange cause, boy oh boy, do I ramble!! I guess bigger bloggers are used to it, but I am not. That’s why I am writing about it today. Does meeting someone who has read what I say, change the way I blog? Nope!! Still gonna ramble!!!

This completely echoes my own feelings. I’m lucky to have met quite a few of the readers of this blog face-to-face, and it never fails to make me squirm in embarrassment inside, while at the same time making me feel satisfied that my writing has been able to interest and help other people. When I started the blog I never dreamed that it would go as far as it has – I just imagined it as a kind of professional portfolio to help me when I was applying for jobs. Having ‘the’ put in front of my name feels very weird when somebody says ‘Oh, you’re THE Sandy Millin’, which has now happened a few times. But I can’t deny I enjoy my little corner of fame 😉

One of the things that feels particularly strange is that I think I can probably only identify maybe 100-200 (at a push!) of the people who subscribe to and read this blog, so I’d really like to know a bit more about the rest of you. It can seem a little unbalanced at times 😉 If you’re feeling brave, why not say hello in the comments and tell me a bit about you. I’m not sure if or how it will influence my writing, but it’d be nice to know more about who’s reading it!

Thank you.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I've ended up where I needed to be. Douglas Adams

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Questions

As an experienced language learner, I know that it’s important for me to speak as much as possible in order to improve my language. That can be easier said than done though (no pun intended).

Since I came back to Poland after a few weeks away this summer, I’ve noticed I’m much more confident when speaking Polish. There’s been a real difference in my interactions, which I think marks a step change in my progress. Reading Scott Thornbury’s recent post W is for (language learning in) the Wild, I finally realised what this difference is: questions.

Let me explain.

In my first year in Poland, I went through somewhat of a silent period. Having previously learnt Czech and Russian really helped my understanding of Polish, since they are all Slavic languages. However, it meant that whenever I spoke, it was some kind of weird mix of all three languages, and people often struggled to understand me. Without realising what was happening, I mostly stopped trying to interact, and would switch to English whenever I knew it was possible.

Last summer, I went for a weekend away with organised by my flamenco teacher in Bydgoszcz. At least half of the people on the trip couldn’t speak English, but they were curious about why I was there, and wanted to share their own experiences of English and/or the UK – many of them have family who live there. They were also very patient with me, and supported my efforts to communicate.

A few fellow flamenco learners in the beautiful surroundings of Gzin

A couple of weeks after that I moved into my new flat, and shared it for six weeks with the previous owners, who didn’t speak English. I’ve written previously about that experience of immersion and how much it helped my confidence.

Despite these positive experiences, I still felt like I could only make statements, or follow where my conversation partner led.

Now I’ve realised that I’ve started to be able to instigate conversations too, because I’ve begun to experiment with asking questions. I’m still not hugely confident with the grammar of questions, and mostly stick to question words and rising intonation, but I now feel like I can steer what’s happening or fill lulls in the conversation when my conversation partner has run out of things to ask. It also now feels rather less like the Spanish inquisition.

What particularly made me think in Scott’s post was the fact that the Japanese hitchhiker he describes had been prompted to use a particular list of questions by his English teacher. Maybe I should come up with a list of Polish questions that I can use in a variety of situations, to help improve my confidence and make it easier to start conversations.

Have you ever done anything like that with your students? What kind of questions would you include on the list?

Minor tweaks, major changes

For the last couple of weeks one of my Ukrainian friends was staying with me. I love spending long periods of time chatting with non-native speakers of English, because it helps me to notice all kinds of things about my language which would probably never occur to me otherwise.

One of our discussions ended up being centred around ‘go’, and how adding or subtracting a single word to certain collocations could completely change the meaning, at least as far as I could tell without checking it in any reference materials.

Look at the photos below. Imagine you are talking to your friends the day after the photo was taken, telling them about it. Write one sentence that you would use to tell your friends about what you were doing. (There are 9 of them, so it’ll be easier to remember if you write them!) Start each sentence with ‘I went…’

1. You’re one of the girls in the photo.

Ballet class

Image from Flickr, shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

2. You’re in the audience watching this.

Ballet performance

Image from Pixabay

3. You’re one of the people in the club.

Club in Mexico

Image from Flickr, shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

4. You’re one of the people in the couple.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

5. You’re one of the people on the rink.

Ice Skating

Image from Wikimedia Commons

6. You’re one of the children.

Ice skating lessons

Image from Flickr, shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

7. You’re in the audience.

Ice Skating show

Image from Wikimedia commons

8. You’re one of the people in the picture.

Football training

Image from Pixabay

9. You’re in the crowd.

Football friendly

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Hopefully you now have a list that looks a bit like this:

  1. I went to ballet.
  2. I went to the ballet.
  3. I went dancing.
  4. I went to dancing.
  5. I went ice skating.
  6. I went to ice skating.
  7. I went to the ice skating.
  8. I went to football.
  9. I went to the football.

I realised a few things when we were having this discussion:

  • I don’t think I would use the words ‘classes’ or ‘lessons’ in any of these examples, just the preposition ‘to’.
  • One little word, like ‘to’, can completely change the meaning of the sentence. (I knew that already, but hadn’t come across such a clear example outside the realm of articles before.)
  • I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a discussion like this with my students.
  • I really should do more work with contrastive forms whenever I can.

What sentences did you come up with? What things have you realised about English or your own language recently?

Staying healthy

I’ve written at length (when don’t I?!) about the fact that I have ulcerative colitis, and how it affects my life.

Having a stress-induced illness means that it’s particularly important that I find ways to manage how stressed I feel to avoid a flare-up of my colitis. September and the beginning of October are by far the busiest times of our school year, and can be very stressful for me at times. For the last two years, I was quite bad for most of this six-week period. Since Christmas last year, I’ve been on immuno-suppresants, which have stopped me from having any flare-ups (yay!) and seem to be keeping me mostly healthy right now (double yay!) I can still feel some of the symptoms though, and I need to look after myself to avoid the other pitfalls of a weak immune system, like catching every cold that passes through the school (!)

Here are some of the things I’ve been trying to do:

  • Making sure I stick to my morning routine as much as possible, doing physio exercises and spending 20 minutes or so doing cross stitch, both relaxing activities in and of themselves. I listen to podcasts at the same time to give me something to think about other than work.
  • Keeping active by aiming for 10,000 steps a day, which equates to about 100 minutes of exercise a day. When you’re sitting a desk doing timetables and setting up electronic registers all day, that’s not always easy!
  • Eating healthy food. I bought a slow cooker a couple of weeks ago, which has helped me to cook in bulk and not have to worry about exactly when the food will be ready. So far I’ve made soup and lasagne, and am happy to get any other suggestions (though I can’t eat anything spicy because of the colitis, so no curries!)
Soup in my new slow cooker

It might not look very appealing, but it tasted delicious!

  • Switching off the computer and blue screens by 9:30, before going to bed at 11pm. Having always been lucky to sleep fairly well, I didn’t think this would make much difference, but I feel much more refreshed by my sleep if I haven’t been using screens late at night.
  • Noticing when I’m stressed, particularly if I’m moving faster than I need to be, taking a deep breath, and consciously slowing down. For example, I realised I was rushing when I was washing my hands this afternoon because my brain was very active and I felt like I needed to get things done. I realised that taking an extra 30 seconds would calm me down a bit and make my work more effective in the end.
  • Blogging 🙂

I’m also really looking forward to my first flamenco class of this year – our lessons restart tomorrow night.

What do you do to stay healthy and to de-stress?

The TEFL Training Institute Podcast

I first came across this podcast when I saw one of the presenters, Tracy Yu, speak at the 2017 IATEFL conference in Glasgow. She mentioned it at the end of her talk, and as a huge podcast fan, I decided to investigate.

TEFL Training Institute Logo

Each TEFL Training Institute podcast is about 15 minutes long, with about 12-13 minutes of actual content, once you’ve taken away the introduction and contact information. They’re normally presented by Tracy and Ross Thorburn, though they often have guests too. The podcasts are structured around three questions, which helps to keep them focussed. The questions are always listed at the beginning so you know what to expect. They cover a range of topics, both inside and outside the classroom.

One of my favourite episodes was when Tracy and Ross interviewed Ross’s parents about how they’d managed to stay in teaching for so many years without getting bored or burning out. Other recent topics have included how to make role plays interesting, how to recruit the right teachers and find the right school, and how teachers move into training.

The podcast is great because it’s concise, to the point and has a very clear format. It often makes me think about how I’d answer the questions myself. It feels a bit more practical and relevant to me than some of the other TEFL podcasts I’ve listened to. I also like the fact that it’s put together outside Europe (they’re based in China) as I feel a lot of the TEFL stuff I’m exposed to is highly Euro-centric, with only some things from the Americas or Asia. It therefore broadens my perspective. The one thing I find slightly annoying is the music, but I can skip past that 😉 I’d definitely recommend listening. Which episodes did you enjoy?

What are you thinking about?

When I was a full-time teacher, my thoughts went something like this:

  • Why do I have to get up this early?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • I hope my students are enjoying their lessons.
  • I really hope I’m actually teaching them something!
  • Hmm…that didn’t really work.
  • Oh my god, how could that lesson possibly have gone that badly?
  • This blogging malarkey is fun. I’m learning so much from everyone.
  • I don’t want this year to end because I’ll really miss my students.
  • …and so on.

Now, I’m a Director of Studies, CELTA trainer and materials writer, and my thoughts have (mostly!) moved on.

  • Why can’t I get back to sleep?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • Where am I going to find the last teacher I need?
  • What teacher development should we offer this year? Is it giving everyone what they need?
  • Will this timetable ever be finished?
  • How can we make sure everyone feels comfortable at school?
  • That was really snappy/short/sharp/angry – apologise now and don’t let it get worse.
  • I wish I had more time in the classroom and to work on my own teaching.
  • I wish I had more time.
  • I really want to work on that CELTA course, but the dates don’t fit.
  • Where will my next CELTA course be? When will I know?
  • How can I encourage people to buy my book?

Richer Speaking cover

  • I’m really excited about this project – I can’t wait to be able to share it!
  • Don’t forget to put in your IATEFL proposal.
  • I need to make sure I still find time to get thoughts out of my head onto my blog.
  • I have too many ideas for my blog and not enough time!
  • Switch your computer off at 9:30. You know you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Stop it. Look after yourself.
  • …and so on.

What are you thinking?

A timetable metaphor

Last week I started trying to put together the timetable for the new school year. This is the third time I’ve done the timetable for my school, not counting changes that happen through the year. I’ve worked out a few systems for myself now, and as I’ve got to know teachers, students (especially 121s) and what does and doesn’t work, things have got a bit easier, but it’s still an all-consuming task. I have no idea how those who do timetables at schools with continuous enrolment manage it!

What my head feels like right now! (Image from Pixabay)

It’s like you’re trying to do a jigsaw, with people adding random extra pieces all the time, and occasionally taking them away.

There is a deadline, but you know that the picture will still have to change for at least a couple of weeks after the deadline has passed – it’s never truly finished.

The end result has to be a picture that is as pleasing as possible to various different groups of people: students, staff (approximately a third of whom you’ve only had a couple of hours of conversation with during interviews and have never met in person), admin staff, businesses etc. You’ve never seen this picture and have no idea what it’s supposed to look like.

Said people are also looking over your shoulder, offering advice, asking questions, and sometimes telling you that the picture just doesn’t look right that way or that they’re not happy with that particular part of the image.

You go home, sleep on it (or not, as the case may be!), and occasionally wake up in the middle of the night thinking ‘Duh! How could I possibly have forgotten that?’ or ‘Oh yeah – that would be a much better picture.’

You’ve been on the other side of the process as a teacher, and you have a pretty good idea of what is manageable in terms of a timetable. You try as hard as you can to make things as easy as possible for your teachers, a lot of whom have never taught before, while at the same time matching up students and groups to those who you believe will be most likely to teach them successfully. You also try to balance timetables, so that they seem ‘fair’ when the inevitable comparing begins. You also know it could be a lot worse for them.

Three or four weeks later, after many hours of work and countless to-ing and fro-ing, you hand out the timetables to everyone. And then the complaints roll in.

But at the same time, there is a sense of satisfaction. This giant, ever-changing logic puzzle has coalesced into something that looks like it just might work. Now you just have to wait and see…

Behind the scenes

in response to Sandy Millin:

A fascinating post, and I completely agree with Svetlana. Your blog is truly inspiring! Here’s to the next few hundred posts 🙂

Thank you Sandy. Let’s see if I can make it to two hundred first! Will you join #ELTbehindthescenes and share with us what goes into making your blog?

How could I refuse? Thanks for the invitation T!

Last week I put together a series of posts about the IATEFL Glasgow 2017 conference. It’s something I’ve started to do every year, and every year I forget just how long it takes 😉

While I’m at the conference I tweet throughout any and all of the talks that I go to, providing I can connect to the wifi. This is for two reasons:

  1. As notes to download later ready to put together my posts
  2. To help other people feel like part of the conference: I started out on the receiving end of the tweet stream, and I know how lucky I am to be there.

Here are some fascinating graphs from TweetStats that show you when I’m at conferences 🙂

Graph showing tweets per day in the last year

Tweets per day in the last year

Tweets per day April 2017

Guess when the conference was

If the wifi’s not working, then I use the iPad Notes app, but still write as if I’m tweeting.

I’ve been tweeting throughout conferences for six years now, and it feels fairly automatic. I’m also pretty quick now 🙂 I can take most of it in, but obviously I don’t always notice everything, so that’s where it’s handy when other people are tweeting from the same talk. I also look at the conference hashtag regularly to retweet things from other talks that I’m interested in.

After the conference, I look back at the list of talks I went to using my paper daily planners, and categorise them, so for example this year I had Listening and Pronunciation, Teacher Training, Materials Writing… It’s the first time I spot what the main themes of my conference were. I set up a draft post for each theme, plus ones for Miscellaneous, Things I Missed, and a summary to bring all the posts together.

I use Tweetdownload to get a .txt and a .html file of my tweets. I start with the .txt file open from the beginning of the conference/the bottom of the stream, deleting tweets as I put them into the relevant blogposts. If I want to embed a tweet or follow a link, I use CMD+F to find it on the .html file. Clicking the tweet in the Tweetdownload file automatically opens the original on Twitter. This is when the learning happens, as I have to organise my thoughts into something coherent and logical. It’s also when I go down a lot of rabbit holes, following up on things that I didn’t have time to investigate during the conference itself.

Normally I only have a handful of tabs open in my browser, but when I’m writing up the IATEFL posts, it’s a bit different:

My desktop as I prepare my post-IATEFL blogposts

The top right window has all of my posts. Bottom right is the Tweetdownload .html file, and a tweet I’m getting ready to embed. Bottom left is the .txt file to delete things as I write them. Top right has everything else, like the British Council IATEFL links for me to find videos, Amazon if I want to put in affiliate links (the only way I make any money from this), and various other things that I can’t remember now.

Because there were so many tabs open, I didn’t switch my computer off overnight, something I normally do religiously. It would have been too much faff to open them all again! This time round, it took me about five hours on Monday, and thirteen or fourteen on Tuesday to write everything up. It must always take me that long, but I’ve never really noticed it before!

I think in the past I’ve done one theme at a time and looked for the tweets for the relevant talk, so I’ve published the posts as I go along. This year I published them all simultaneously, apart from the last one, so that I could put the live links onto the summary straight away.

So there you have it: that’s how I turn just under 1000 tweets into 8 blog posts. 🙂

If you blog, I’d be fascinated to hear something about how you go about it. Let’s find out more about #ELTbehindthescenes

11 things (again)

1. Acknowledge the nominating bloggers/2. Share 11 facts about yourself

Clare Fielder recently nominated me to take part in the ’11 things’ blog challenge which she wants to revive. I originally shared my facts in December 2013 but I liked Clare’s questions so have decided to answer them here. I’ve also nominated a few more people to answer the questions who weren’t blogging last time I did this. I hope they’ll join in!

3. Answer the 11 random questions the nominating blogger has created for you

1. How are you feeling today?

Happy, for many different reasons 🙂

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting on the train to Warsaw for my penultimate weekend of working on a part-time CELTA. It’s the fourth time I’ve been, and (I hope!) the first time I’ll actually get to see some of the city, due to a combination of (what is supposed to be) good weather and light evenings.

It’s the last week of the school year for most of the teachers at IH Bydgoszcz and we had a great swapshop of summer school activities this afternoon. Everyone is very positive as we finish off the year, and there’s a real buzz in the staffroom.

I also had the best night’s sleep I’ve had for a long time last night, which I suspect was because I managed to walk both to and from school for the first time in over a month. I sprained my ankle for the third time on 4th May, and I managed to ditch the crutches yesterday. Roll on complete recovery!

Life is good, with lots of great plans lined up for the summer (watch this space), and the fact that I’m taking the first steps to a long-held dream of buying my own flat. 🙂

2. What book is closest to you as you write this? And would you recommend it to others? Why (not)?

Because I’ve only got a small rucksack with me for the weekend, I couldn’t fit in my real book, and as I write this I’ve just realised that I left my iPad behind so I don’t have my ebook either. Oops! That means I have no idea what the nearest book to me is right now…something one of the other passengers is reading! If I was at home, this would be my answer…

I’ve read the first few pages of The Pickwick Papers on a free books app on my iPad which I’m using to catch up with classics I’ve never got round to reading before. I love Charles Dickens, so I’m pretty sure I’ll like this.

I’m also reading two paper books, The Song of Homanathe second in a fantasy series, which is fine, and The Rose of Sebastopol. I noticed it in our school library a couple of weeks ago, and obviously needed to read it because of my connections with Sevastopol and Crimea. It’s set in the Crimean War, which I know more about than I used to, but still not much. I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, so am not sure if I can recommend it or not yet, although they were very easy to read, so I probably would.

3. What’s your top tip for de-stressing after a hard day at work?

Walk.

Being outside really clears my head and gives me time to think. As somebody who used to be allergic to exercise, I’ve noticed a massive difference since I started tracking my steps about four years ago, and I’ve drastically increased the amount of exercise I do. It’s gone from 1,500-2,000 steps on some days, up to over 10,000 most days. I feel so much better for it, and I now always try to live or stay in places which mean I can walk to and from work. It’s also helped me to lose weight.

4. Have you ever learnt any foreign languages? How has this helped you be a better language teacher?

Erm, just the odd one or two. I’m a bit of an addict!

I did French and German at school, and added Spanish at university, reaching C1 level in all of them, although they’re a bit rusty now, especially my French.

I’ve learnt Czech, Russian and (currently) Polish because of living in the countries. I’m about pre-int in the first two, and my Polish is improving all the time, especially since I started actually speaking!

I’ve also dabbled in Malay, Greek, Mandarin, Thai and braille, and am trying to learn some Italian ready for a CELTA in Milan this summer.

Being a language learner myself has made a massive difference to my teaching, because although it’s impossible for me to truly understand what it’s like to learn English as a foreign language, I do know what it’s like to feel like an idiot or a very small child, to be mostly or completely illiterate, to feel frustrated because you know you know that word…and on the flip side, I have hundreds of tried and tested language learning techniques I can share, and I completely get the feeling of achievement you feel when you manage to understand or communicate successfully, so I keep trying to push my students past the pain so that they can get to that point!

5. Describe your teaching style by comparison to an animal, and explain the similarities!

Sorry. Going to skip this one, as I find this kind of thing really difficult! Anyone who wants to attempt an answer in the comments is welcome to try… 😉

6. What are your areas of specialism & expertise within ELT / teaching, and your strengths as a teacher?

My main area of expertise is in knowing where to find the answers to questions I have, mostly through the amazing network of teachers I’m connected to both online and offline. I’m also very organised, which makes my life a lot easier as a manager, and means I’m often asked about how I manage to get so much done.

In the classroom, I think my strengths lie in my ability to empathise with the students due to my own language learning experience, as I said in question four. I’m also very reflective, and I’m always trying to improve my teaching.

7. Which are the most recently used smiley/emojis on your mobile phone/whatsapp or instant messenger programme?

The ones I use the most are :), 😉 and :p I don’t really know that many other emojis and I don’t have a smartphone, so it’ll be a while before I get round to learning any, I suspect.

8. What was the most recent photo you took?

Not quite the most recent photo (I suspect nobody really wants to see the progress of my sprained ankle healing, but if you do, I’ll be adding them to ELTpics ‘Health’ set when I’ve got the full set…)

This is the room in the hotel I stayed in in Warsaw three weekends ago, the last time I was there. For some reason I got into the habit of taking photos of all of the bedrooms I live/stay in, probably because there have been so many with the amount of moving around I’ve done, and now I can’t stop doing it…

Hotel Reytan, Warsaw

9. Where are you based, and would you recommend working there to others?

Answered that question recently as a whole blogpost, before I read this question 🙂 Here’s a nicer photo that I hope social media will pick over the hotel one when deciding what to highlight from this post! It’s my mum in the botanic garden across the road from my flat during her first visit to the city a few weeks ago:

Mum in the botanic garden under a tree covered in red blossom

10. What’s your best memory of a lesson you’ve taught?

When I was working at IH Newcastle, I had a group of B1 intermediate students who stayed together for about six weeks, and who I taught for twenty hours a week, two every morning, and two every afternoon. Having the same group of students for so long was very unusual there, as new ones normally joined the group every Monday, and left on Friday, either to go home or to move to a different level. We got to know each other really well, and we often talked about food. One week we decided to dedicate our afternoon lessons to cookery and food, with the final lesson of the week in the school flats to cook together.

Sandy, an Arabic student and a Czech student chopping onions

We represented five different countries and ate traditional food from Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the UK, which we all worked together to prepare. Some of the students had never really cooked before so it was a whole new adventure for them. It was a fabulous afternoon full of laughter and delicious food, and is one of my all-time favourite lessons. It is proof of the positive effect that English lessons can have, as it really brought us all closer together.

The whole class, featuring students from four different countries, plus me

11. What would you like to say to me, now that I’ve nominated you for this challenge?!

Thank you for encouraging me to re-read my previous answers, and bringing back some happy memories! And thanks for inviting me to play again on my blog – it’s so nice to have the time to do that at the moment, as these are often the posts I most enjoy writing 🙂

4. List 11 bloggers

Seconding a few of Clare’s nominations:

Joanna – https://myeltrambles.com/

Zhenya – https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/

Anna – https://annazernova.wordpress.com/

Hana – https://hanatichaeltblog.wordpress.com/

And my extra ones:

Elly – https://thebestticher.wordpress.com

Tekhnologic – http://tekhnologic.wordpress.com

Rachel – https://publishingandpondering.wordpress.com

Matt – https://muddlesintomaxims.com

Pete – https://eltplanning.com

Svetlana – https://eltcation.wordpress.com/

Katherine Bilsborough – she doesn’t have a blog, but she can guest post here if she wants to join in 😉

5. Questions for nominated bloggers

Again, I’m going to steal some of Clare’s questions and add a few of my own:

  1. What’s your favourite thing you’ve written (ELT or otherwise)?
  2. Do you have a favourite recipe you want to share?
  3. What’s the last photo you took?
  4. What’s the last piece of music you listened to?
  5. What was the last film or TV show you watched? Would you recommend it?
  6. Do you ever listen to podcasts? Any favourites? If you don’t, can I persuade you? 🙂
  7. What tip would you offer to a new blogger?
  8. What’s your memory of the best lesson you’ve taught?
  9. Have you ever made a mistake or been in a bad situation which felt huge at the time, but now you’re really glad it happened?
  10. Where are you based and would you recommend it to others?
  11. What question do you wish I’d asked you, and what’s the answer?

Update

Russie nominated me on her list – thanks! I chose a couple of questions to answer to add to the ones above:

What would you describe as quintessentially English?

I was back in the UK for 24 hours in between two CELTA course last year, and had one of the most English days of my life. My mum, grandma and I went to a little village in Northamptonshire called Lillingstone Lovell for an ‘Open Gardens’ day. The village was full of traditional cottages and had a beautiful parish church. You could go into different people’s gardens and see all the beautiful plants and sculptures they’d got in them. We finished the day with a cream tea at the village hall.

Lillingstone Lovell church on the open gardens day

What was the last experience that made you a stronger person?

Over the last couple of years there have been two main things which have changed me as a person. I’ve written about both of them on my blog. One was being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (warning: do not read if you’re squeamish) and the other was being in Sevastopol during the year when it became Russian. Both of them have made me even more determined to make the most out of everything which comes my way, because you never know when your life will change. They also made me appreciate just how little control you have over some things, and that it’s important to stay positive as much as possible.

Returning to the classroom

On 23rd September 2015 I went back into the classroom properly for the first time in over a year, teaching my first class with a B1 intermediate teen group who will be my students for the whole academic year. As a CELTA trainer in 2014-2015, the only opportunities I’ve had to teach English have been in one-off demo lessons, which aren’t quite the same. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to reflect on my teaching, seeing trainees do things I know I’ve often been guilty of, then offering advice about how to get over problems like over-complicated instructions and poorly timed lessons. Time to see if I could practise what I preached!

Anthony Schmidt started a blog challenge asking ‘What did you teach today?‘ Hana Tichá joined in and I decided to record my lesson so I could contribute too:

Out of curiosity and intrigue, and as a means of reflection, write what you did in your class(es) today, from checking attendance to giving a test to blowing students’ minds with the most dogme-inspired, task-based, mobile-assisted, coursebook-free, PARSNIP-full lesson non-plan ever. You don’t have to explain why, unless you’d like. Just give the raw, nitty-gritty details.

  • Circle game: to learn each others’ names. There are nine students, four girls and five boys, aged 13-15. This took about 10 minutes.
  • Setting up routines: I told students that they should only have pens, paper and books with them, and bags and coats should go on the hooks on the wall. They had time to rearrange themselves. (Five lessons later I still need to remind a couple of them!)
  • Getting to know you: I demonstrated a triangle on the board with three pieces of information about me. In pairs, students had to guess why the information is important to me. Listening back I didn’t give them enough time to guess (less than a minute), so only stronger students contributed in the open class stage. A couple of the boys decided the triangle was an Illuminati symbol, added an eye, and have since put it on the whiteboard at the beginning of every lesson.
  • Students wrote their own triangle with information on it. They had plenty of time to do this.
  • Mingle: students had to find out about their classmates. Instructions have always been a problem for me, and although they have improved a lot, the way I set up this activity wasn’t completely clear. The instructions themselves were fine, but to make it completely clear I should have done a T-SS and a SS-SS demo first. I thought the demo I’d done with my information would be enough, but I didn’t factor in that students needed to make notes based on what they heard. I also didn’t specify before the activity that I wanted them to speak English only, so some of the boys were making it a race at the beginning and doing it in Polish. They had about ten minutes, but it could have been shorter if I’d been clearer.
  • Pair check: students tried to remember one thing about each person in the class. Here I had to remind them to expand on what they said, as some of them started with e.g. ‘Sandy – blue, M – cat’ instead of making full sentences.
  • Open class: I moved students into more of a circle to encourage them to speak to each other, not just to me (although in a relatively small, rectangular room this isn’t easy!) ‘Who can tell me something about A?’ A then nominated the next person who we found out about, and so on. This stage was quite relaxed and there was a lot of laughter, but it was also long and the pace dropped. Students had written their notes on scrap paper, so I got them to put them in the bin before moving on. I do like a tidy classroom 🙂 )
  • K points: this is the school-wide points system used for teen classes. I introduced it to them, telling them what they needed to do to win points as a class, and what would mean losing points. Five of the students had the system last year, so I should probably have got them to explain it (especially because it’s new to me!) but I didn’t think about that until afterwards.
  • Break time: students have ten minutes to go to the club, a room at the bottom of the school with vending machines, tables and places to sit. The teacher goes with them, and if they behave well, they get K points on their return to class.

The second half of the lesson was based on a reading text from the coursebook. There are six classes at the school who are at the same level, and each week the teachers meet and plan together in a level meeting. I’m the level head, coordinating the meeting, but all of the teachers contribute to the plan. We work through the book during the year, but I aim to help the teachers adapt it to their students, as ages range from 12-16, and group sizes from 3-12. What follows is the plan we came up with together…

Capoeira

  • I showed students the image above. We have projectors and netbooks, but they were still being prepared when I did the lesson, so they were printed on a couple of A4 sheets in black and white. In pairs, students had to say what’s happening, who the people are and where they are. One student immediately said ‘capoiera’ to the whole class, which kind of stalled the conversation! I still got them to predict in pairs, then asked that student to fill in the gaps once they’d shared their ideas.
  • ‘Capoeira’ was drilled briefly as students would need to say it a few times during the lesson. I wasn’t bothered about spelling or being completely correct though, since it’s not a high-frequency word for this group.
  • Gist reading: students read the text and matched four titles to the four paragraphs.
  • Feedback: students checked in pairs, then I read the answers and they confirmed them. The whole feedback stage took less than a minute. From my monitoring while they read I knew most students had got it right already, but one student hadn’t.
  • Reading for detail: yes/no/not given task. I demonstrated it first, showing students they needed to underline the answer in the text and write the question number next to it. Students did this without a problem. Meanwhile I was monitoring, and checking answers from fast finishers. They became the teachers and checked specified students’ answers.
  • Feedback: We only focussed on question 6, as students had the rest of the answers. There was a problem with an item of vocab (‘slave’) which I should probably have pre-taught, but it came up in the following vocabulary task too, so I’d decided not to. Oops. I gave them an example and got them to look at the text again for number 6, making sure they all underlined the right sentence.
  • Vocab race: changed student groups so they were working in new threes. I read a definition, students had to find the word in the text, then one person from their team ran to the board to write it. The procedure for the task was clear, and I set up the room to make sure nobody would fall over anything, but I should have made the points system clearer, and drawn lines on the board to show where they should write – one group tried to fill the whole board so the others couldn’t write.
  • Written record: returning to their books, students remembered and wrote the words down. I rushed the set-up of this, and had to repeat my instructions.
  • Preparation for speaking: divided the board in half and elicited ‘martial arts’ and ‘dancing’, one in each half. Students worked in two groups to brainstorm as many of each as they could, then switched to add to the other list. I was prompting students for extra ideas when they ran out, and eliciting corrections of spellings if things weren’t clear. There was a lot of Polish at this stage – I should have offered K points before the task to encourage them to speak English, and perhaps fed in some functional language, like ‘Can you think of anything else?’
  • Speaking: students worked in new pairs (trying to divide up the boys who can be a bit crazy when they work together, and encourage the quieter girls to speak up) to discuss if they’d tried/would like to try any of the dancing/martial arts. To add some challenge, I asked them to see which pair could speak for the longest. They repeated it with a second partner. I could have done a bit of feedback in between the two tasks to make the repetition more useful, but hadn’t come up with anything to tell them! I was taking notes about their confidence when speaking, and some info about what they’d tried/liked.
  • Feedback on content: one student shared their experience of martial arts, and one of dance. Other students were interested in what they had to say, and only those who wanted to contributed – I didn’t force everyone to share something.
  • Setting up homework: students looked at the list of dances and said which three they thought I’d tried. I told them a little about my experiences of dancing, and what I do to keep fit. Their homework was to write 50-100 words about what they do to keep fit – I made sure they wrote it down, and reminded them that if everyone had their homework in the next lesson, they’d get K points.

Reflection

I’m much happier with my lesson pacing now, particularly at feedback stages. They often used to drag, but now I have a range of techniques to call on, and feel like they’re much more appropriate to the stages of the lesson. My monitoring has improved too, which also contributes to making feedback more efficient and useful.

Although my activity set-up has improved a lot, and I’ve drastically reduced the amount of waffling I do, I still need to remember to demonstrate activities clearly before setting students off on them. Since this first lesson, I’ve been making a conscious effort to do that (I had lesson six on Friday) by writing it on my plan – I don’t always remember to do that though.

I sit down a lot more in my lessons now, and that’s made a real difference to the dynamic in the room. I feel like the atmosphere was quite relaxed and comfortable throughout, but that I could still be authoritative when necessary.

I was a bit worried about teaching teens as they haven’t been my favourite age group in the past – I normally prefer adults. However, with the K points system, I feel like I finally have the classroom management technique that was missing from my previous attempts, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of keeping lessons interesting and motivating for the group through the year, and helping the other teachers in our level meeting to do the same. Five lessons later, I feel like I’m getting to know the group well, and am enjoying the lessons a lot more than I expected too. I just hope they are too!

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