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

Posts tagged ‘YL’

A blogpost of blogposts

I use Feedly as a blog reader to collate posts from the blogs I follow. I love the simplicity of the format, and being able to see at a glance what is waiting for me to read. I generally look at it for a few minutes each day, sharing posts that I think would be useful for others on social media and bookmarking them for future reference using Diigo.

Since I started reading posts on my phone this workflow has become a little more convoluted, and I often end up emailing myself things to bookmark for later as it’s not as convenient to bookmark from my phone. This post is a collection of many of those posts as I clear out my email folder, and could serve as a good starting point if you’re looking for blogs to follow. They show a cross-section of what I read, and demonstrate just how varied the ELT blogosphere is.

On a side note, if you’ve considering starting a blog but think ‘Nobody will care what I write’, remember that there’s room for all kinds of teachers and writers, and your voice is interesting too. You never know what will click for somebody else when they read what you write. The blog is also there as notes for yourself later – I’m often surprised when I come across posts from my archive!

Happy reading!

A robot lying on a lilo, with text below

Health and wellbeing

Lizzie Pinard summarised an IATEFL webinar on Mental health, resilience and COVID-19, adding her own experiences too. Lizzie also recommends Rachael Robert’s webinar on avoiding burnout for ELT professionals, and shares how she has been managing her workspace and mindset while working from home. I’ve been doing inbox zero for about two months now, as recommended by Rachael in a talk I went to in January, and it’s made me feel so much better!

If mental health is important to you (and it should be!) here’s my list of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT.

Activities for very young learners and young learners

Chris Roland’s ETprofessional article on Managing online fun is full of activities and classroom management tips for working with young learners online.

Anka Zapart talks about the benefits of online classes with very young learners, many of which are applicable to young learners too. She shares a useful site with online games with VYLs and YLs, and introduced me to colourful semantics as way of extending language production for children. She also has a very clear framework for choosing craft activities which would and wouldn’t work for a VYL/YL classroom, and this example of a very reusable caterpillar craft.

Pete Clements has a lesson plan for young learners (and older ones too!) which combines all kinds of different areas: environmental awareness, drawing, used to, modals of advice…all based on a single student-generated set of materials.

Activities for teens and adults

Making excuses is a game to practice making requests and making excuses, including both online and offline variations, from Mike Astbury’s incredibly practical blog.

Jade Blue talks about the benefits of drawing to learn language, including a range of simple activities that should help students to remember vocabulary and grammar structures, and process texts they read and listen to. She also shares ideas for exploiting authentic materials, both for intensive and extensive use.

Ken Wilson has started to post English language teaching songs he and colleagues wrote and recorded in the 70s and 80s. They still seem very relevant now and could still promote a lot of discussion. The first three are What would you do? (second conditional), It makes me mad (environmental problems) and Looking forward to the day (phrasal verbs / the environment).

Rachel Tsateri shares 10 simple and practical pronunciation activities (useful for listening too).

Leo Selivan has a lesson plan based on the Coldplay and Chainsmokers song Something just like this. David Petrie using sound effects as the basis for a review of narrative tenses.

Julie Moore has written ten posts with vocabulary activities based around coronavocab. The last one has examples of phrases which learners might need to describe how coronavirus has changed their lives.

James Taylor has a lesson plan about helping students to set useful goals for their language learning. If you’re interested in making and breaking habits, you might like James Egerton’s 11 lessons from The Power of Habit (not an activity, but relevant!)

Alex Case has hundreds of resources on his blog, for example these ones demonstrating small talk using specific language points.

Hana Ticha has an activity for promoting positive group dynamics called the one who.

Cristina Cabal has eight different activities based around the topic of travel.

Online teaching

Marc Jones suggests ideas for and asks for help with speaking assessments online when your students just won’t speak.

Matthew Noble is writing a teaching diary of his fully online blended Moodle/Zoom courses, with lots of interesting insights and learning shared. Here’s the post from week two (on building group dynamics) and week five (on making sure your computer will work properly and encouraging students to have good online etiquette).

Rachel Tsateri shows how to exploit Google Jamboard as an online whiteboard, including vocabulary revision, brainstorming, and sentence structure activities.

Naomi Epstein describes the journey she went on when trying to add glossaries to reading texts for her students, and the problems she encountered when she was on a computer but they were on a phone.

John Hughes shares three ways you can exploit Zoom’s recording feature in lessons.

Teacher training

Zhenya Polosatova has been sharing a series of trainer conversations. This interview with Rasha Halat was fascinating. I also liked this parachute metaphor from a conversation with Ron Bradley.

In my trainings I like to use the example of the students taking a class on how to fold a parachute that will be used the next day to jump out of an airplane. The students tell me “It was a wonderful class—the teacher explained and showed how to fold the chute step by step. Then the camera moves to the students and they are taking notes—very engaged in the lecture. They all pass the written test. The question is, will they now be able to successfully fold their parachutes in a way that they will have a successful jump? What would you suggest that the teacher did differently? I have always loved Michael Jerald’s (my SIT TESOL Cert trainer) question(s), “What did they learn and how do you know they learned it?” Now we are talking about skills, not knowledge—and effective communication is a skill. The parachute teacher had no way of knowing that they would be successful, even though they had aced the written test. So, whether or not face-to-face or by way of video, the nature of student engagement is the most important issue. It needs to be observed!

Zhenya also wrote about a reflective activity called Four suitcases, which could be particularly useful for anyone feeling down about the current state of the world and their place in it.

Jim Fuller has recently completed the Cambridge Train the Trainer course. His weekly posts about the course were good reminders of what I did on my NILE MA Trainer Development course last summer, including this one on exploratory talk and observation and this one on course design and developing as a trainer.

You might also want to explore my Useful links for teacher training and consider purchasing ELT Playbook Teacher Training. 🙂

Materials writing

Pete Clements offers advice on finding work as a writer, including various smaller publishers you probably haven’t heard of.

Julie Moore talks about reviewing in ELT publishing, something which helped me get my foot in the door for occasional work with some of the big publishers.

Distractions can make the writing process much longer than it needs to be. Rachael Roberts offers tips on how to deal with them on the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MAWSIG) blog.

John Hughes has a comprehensive selection of tips on materials writing on his blog, for example this checklist for writing worksheets or these tips on writing scripts for audio recordings. Explore the blog for lots more.

Professional development

Chris R from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA suggests a range of techniques to help you teach more student-centred lessons. Stephen J has written an accessible beginner’s guide to task-based learning and describes one way he worked with learners to make the most of a coursebook he was using, rather than mechanically moving from one page to the next. Charlie E shares ideas for recording and recycling emergent language which pops up during a lesson, including an online variant.

In a guest post on the same blog, Kip Webster talks about the importance of explicitly teaching directness and indirectness, particularly for maintaining group dynamics, and taking advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during lessons. In another guest post, Miranda Crowhurst shares an excellent range of tips for using social media to advance your teaching career. (As you can see, it’s a blog well worth following!)

If you’re thinking about alternative approaches to lesson planning post-CELTA, Pete Clements talks about the steps he went through when moving towards materials-light teaching. This reflects my experience too.

Monika Bigaj-Kisala reviews Scott Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar, which helped her to change her relationship with grammar in the classroom.

Pete Clements reflects on the differences between an MA, PGCEi or DipTESOL, all of which he’s done. He also hosted a guest post from Michael Walker on the benefits of student and teacher reflection journals, particularly how it worked as an avenue for him to get regular feedback from his students which influenced future lessons.

Russ Mayne shares 5 non-evidence-based teaching tips, all of which I agree with.

Helen Chapman answers the questions Should I teach in English in Morocco? in this very comprehensive post (not necessarily professional development, but doesn’t fit anywhere else!) You might also be interested in a similar but less comprehensive post I wrote about why Central Europe should be on your list of dream TEFL destinations.

Questioning our practice

Philip Kerr’s posts are always thought-provoking. Mindfulness for beginners questions the strength of research behind the attention mindfulness is now receiving in education.

Russ Mayne asks should we use translation software, especially questioning its role in EAP contexts, and how we might need to update our teaching and assessment criteria to assess the inevitable student use of this ever-improving tool. He also writes about retraction in ELT and shares examples of research which has been retracted. (This BBC Inside Science episode has an interview with Stuart Ritchie which I would also recommend.)

Classrooms and coronavirus

David Petrie talks about how he helped his exam students prepare for doing speaking exams in masks.

Alex Case shares ideas for coronavirus changes for EFL classes. While this might be tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure some of them aren’t that far from things we might be seeing in our classrooms/schools over the next couple of years!

You might also be interested in my post on social distancing in the ELT classroom.

What have you been reading recently? What currently active blogs have I missed here?

A selection of short webinars to help you teach under 18s

Here are eight of my favourite sessions from previous IH Teachers’ Online Conferences. They cover various areas of working with:

  • very young learners/VYL (aged 2-6)
  • young learners/YL (aged 7-12)
  • teens (aged 13-16)

There are tips for classroom management and activity ideas, both for online and offline teaching.

All of them take less than 20 minutes to watch, and are full of useful ideas.

Routines in the VYL classroom

Lisa Wilson, IH Palermo

Time: 18:28

Very young learners

Dorka Brozik, IH Moscow

Time: 13:46

VYLs – what works well with them in a digital classroom

Justyna Mikulak, Lacunza IH San Sebastian

Time: 17:25

Engaging kids through Zoom

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, IH Pescara

Time: 16:57

Ideas for YL vocabulary activities involving movement

Shannon Thwaites, IH Reggio Calabria

Time: 13:44

Implementing classroom management procedures (YLs and teens)

Glenn Standish, IH Torun

Time: 16:26

Class contracts

Estelle Helouin, IH London

Time: 12:11

Ways to ungrumpify and motivate teenage learners

Rachel Hunter – IH Torun

Time: 11:40

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The IH World YouTube channel has lots more webinars where these came from. Which ones are your favourites?

Adding movement to your online lessons (crowdsourced from IH Bydgoszcz teachers)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m absolutely privileged to work at International House Bydgoszcz. Our staff are motivated, engaged, and creative, and always willing to share their ideas. Everyone really cares about teaching and doing the best for our students.

For the last couple of weeks, our Friday workshops have become brainstorming sessions. We start a Google Doc on a specific aspect of teaching online, then head into breakout rooms to share ideas and add to the document. They add their names, and when we return to the main room we ask for clarification or explanations of anything we don’t understand. So far we’ve covered warmers, feedback and error correction, and now movement.

In just 30 minutes on Friday 8th May, IH Bydgoszcz teachers past and present produced this fantastic list of ideas for adding movement to online lessons, and they agreed to let me share it on my blog. I’ve organised them into categories and removed school-specific terminology, but apart from that, they’re as written during the session. Thanks to everyone who added to this list! If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments.

Please note: if you share this post (thank you!), please credit ‘IH Bydgoszcz teachers’, rather than me!

At the computer

Flash card, touch body – two flashcards on PPT or in hands. T says – word. If it is one flashcard – SS touch nose. If it is other flashcard, SS touch head. = receptive stage (Flash and touch – Jodie??) 

Debate – They show you how much they agree/ disagree with a statement physically i.e. how much they stand up. Then, you group them with people who have the same/ or very different points of view in BOR for activity.  (Jodie)

Body parts vocab: students stand up, T says show your ankle, S .. (Lotte)

Using mime to revise body / sports vocab using mime and the others guess. (Ranmal)

Use standing up/sitting down for feedback e.g. stand up if you agree. (Ranmal)

Storytelling- Ss suggest actions for parts of the story/ characters particularly repeating words that they do while you tell the story (Helen)

Alphabet actions- do an action for each letter of the alphabet (Jude G)

Mime a TV programme scenario to revise TV vocab (Jude G)

Simon says (Jude F)

True/false game (with kids): Come up with a random movement for true/false, e.g. stand up and wiggle for true, pat your head if false. The teacher or a student says a sentence about a picture. Ss do the movement for T/F. (Char)

“Board” slap > notebook slap – Ss write/draw words in notebook and touch. Or on post its to stick on walls in the house (Shannon, via Sandy a few weeks ago)

One student goes outside/behind the computer for 30 seconds with their sound off – the rest of the students make a shape/start doing an action. That student comes back and has to guess what the word is. You can do it with the waiting room function too, but this is potentially more fun. (Sandy)

Play some music for everyone to dance to. When it stops, they need to make a shape that represents a recent piece of vocab. Everyone then calls out what they can see: James is an elephant, Sandy is a lion, etc. (Sandy)

Away from the computer

Scavenger hunt- items, vocab, fun (Lee and Ash)

Mute mic and run – T has list of vocab on the board. Class is in 2 teams. T says ‘which one is…. + def’. Then, says two SS names. The ss run (by which I mean walk sensibly) and start the microphone and say. Fastest = points. (Jodie)

Vocab: Find something you can describe as ‘______’ i.e. ancient. (They go find one of their many ancient artefacts at home). (Jodie). 

Ask students to get something from different rooms in their house – practicing rooms in a house (Ranmal)

Let students get a book or another prop from their room or house. Give them a time limit (Lotte)

Birdwatching. I taught young learners the names of some birds & some bird vocab. Then they could go to their window/balcony, do a spot of birdwatching, and tell each other what they saw. (Gareth)

Show us your garden! Connections and gardens permitting (Helen)

Run and get something to introduce to the group related to grammar vocab for that lesson – this is my dog which I…, this is my sister who.. (Jude G)

Give Ss 3 mins to run and find something to explain a concept from the lesson. In my advanced adult group they had to find something to explain the concept of time (Katharine)

Go and find something to tell a story about and other Ss have to guess if it’s true or false (Katharine)

Find an object to describe using new vocabulary e.g. pretentious art adjectives (Katharine)

Go on Pet Safari to practise present continuous. Follow a pet around the house and narrate what they are doing. Can use a stuffed toy if they don’t have a pet (Ruth)

New vocabulary such as films or books – (adjectives for or categories) get ss to get up and find as many examples as they can in their house and show to each other on the camera. (Monica)

As mental breaks

Star jumps etc. as a little break for young learners. (Lotte)

Random brain breaks (for kids): (Char)

  • rub your belly and pat your head
  • try to lick your elbow
  • pinch your nose with your right hand and touch your right ear with your left hand, then swap
  • find something (green)
  • be a (cat, chair, rock)

Yoga for kids’ – share video via YouTube and Ss do at home (Shannon) 

Click your fingers: one hand click a triangle, one hand click a line (Lee)

Dance to a Super Simple Songs video (Sandy)

Get Ss to dance along to old 70s/80s aerobics videos (purely for teacher’s entertainment but also as an energy burner) (Connor)

Useful links

Here are two other posts about how to add movement to your online lessons:

IH AMT conference 2020

This year’s IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference happened in Greenwich from 9th-11th January 2020. As always, I enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice as much as possible.

You can read about previous AMT conferences I’ve attended in 201420152016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)

ih logo

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about at this year’s conference. (As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own, not those of the speakers – please correct me if needed!)

Managing performance in ELT

Maureen McGarvey asked us to draw the organisational structure and consider the organisational culture of our schools. She emphasised that without knowing the structure and culture of our school and how teachers perceive them, we can’t effectively manage performance at our schools. We need to clearly articulate the culture of our school to teachers, as you bring the culture with you from previous places you’ve worked. This can be one source of frustration for managers, and may lead us to think staff are being pig-headed, when in fact they’re butting up against the culture of the school and their perceptions of it.

She surveyed staff about how they want to be managed, using 5 questions:

  • What do you expect/would you like your line manager to do for you in terms of support and development across the year?
  • How would you like your line manager to manage your performance across the year?
  • What systems does your LTO (language teaching organisation) have in place for managing performance, as far as you’re aware?
  • Do you think the systems you identified are adequate? Any amendments or changes you’d suggest?
  • How would you like your line manager to deal with performance issues should they arise?

This threw up lots of interesting responses, mostly connected to personal awareness. When we talk about change and CPD as managers, we tend to present it as data. But those who changes or development are being ‘done to’ perceive it through their anxieties and fears. We need to create personal connections with staff and follow up regularly, not just check in once or twice a year. The survey showed up various variants on the idea of “regular, brief, human conversations” and “personal, face-to-face” contact, including a key focus on positives. Performance management isn’t just about managing negative performance and dealing with problems, but also about helping good teachers get better.

IH update

Every year we hear about the exciting things happening across the network. This year I was particularly interested in new IH Online Teacher Training Courses, including a new series of modules for Academic Management. If you do 5 of them, you can get the IHWO Diploma in Academic Management.

Blocked by our expertise

Monica Green summarised a Harvard Business Review article called Don’t be blinded by your own expertise.

She reminded us that an interested beginner draws on every possible resource to learn, but that as we become experts in a particular area, we often stop doing this. We can also become poor listeners as we assume we already know things.

To stop being blinded by our expertise, we need to get a sense of wonder back into what we do: ‘I wonder how this works?’ We should also ask ‘What am I not asking you that I should?’ more often to keep in touch with those who are still beginners in our area, or who haven’t reached the same level of expertise that we have. This is just a taster: there are a lot more ideas in the HBR article, which I definitely recommend reading.

ELT footprint

Christopher Graham told us about the environmental impact of ELT, for example the number of students who study English in the UK every year and are therefore flying in and out of the country. Even EU-based students tend to fly, when they could potentially get the train.

He introduced us to the ELT footprint facebook group and website. There are lots of resources available to help you if you want to start reducing the environmental footprint of your school, or teach students about it. These include a charter for a greener school, advice on good practice for events and conferences and lesson plans you can use with students. They are always looking for people to share how they are greening ELT so do get in touch with them if they have ideas.

Listening skills and initial teacher training

Emma Gowing talked about how we can refocus the training of how to teach listening to make sure new teachers are really teaching listening, not just testing it. She suggested the following ideas:

  • Help teachers to write aims that focus on developing rather than practising listening skills.
  • Highlight that comprehension tasks are a diagnostic rather than a teaching tool, to help teachers find out what learners are having trouble with.
  • Avoid right/wrong answers in listening activities. Instead use activities that promote the negotiation of meaning.
  • Get trainee teachers to take notes to identify difficulties.
  • Show how to use the audioscript to isolate difficulties and identify whether the issue was meaning or hearing related (i.e. do they know the meaning of the word(s) but couldn’t identify it in the listening?)
  • Include a ‘listen again’ stage focussed on difficult parts, helping students to recognise why the listening was hard for them.
  • When teaching staging, reduce the importance of preparation stages (lead in/gist) in favour of more in-depth detailed/post-listening activities.
  • Use authentic materials, grading the task not the text, wherever possible.

She has summarised her ideas for teachers in this article for the IH Journal.

Fun at work

Lucie Cotterill’s talk was called The Fun Factor – Let’s Play Leadership. She shared ideas that they’ve used at IH Reggio Calabria to get more fun into the school, and shared the research behind why it’s important to have fun at work. It makes us more productive, improves mental wellbeing, and increases staff satisfaction.

My favourite idea was a Christmas gift they gave their staff. They created a Google form for all staff (including admin staff). Respondents had to share the first positive adjective they thought of for each staff member. One adjective was selected and sewn onto a pencil case with the teacher’s name. All of the other adjectives were put on a piece of paper inside the pencil case. Now the teachers have a reminder of how much they are valued by their colleagues, and they can see it all the time.

Better self evaluation

Manana Khvichia described how they’ve reorganised their CELTA to improve self evaluation and help their trainees to quickly become reflective practitioners. Their CELTA now only has one input session a day and much longer feedback sessions. Self evaluation forms are created personally for each teacher, with the trainer writing a series of questions during the observation. Trainees write their own thoughts first, then look at the trainer’s questions and respond to them. They can do this because they’ve seen models of the trainer’s self-evaluation after the demo lesson on the first day, analysed this together, and had a full session on how to reflect. Feedback sessions often turn into mini inputs based on what the trainees need at that point in the course.

This was the most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, and I’ve asked Manana to write about it for this blog, so watch this space!

What I’ve learnt about teaching training this year

My talk, which is the already a post on this blog.

Drop-in observations

Diana England described what they’ve done at IH Torres Vedras to make drop-in observations more effective for their teachers. She says that having regular drop-in observations makes them a positive thing, not just something that happens when there’s a problem. It also shows students that multiple people are involved in their progress, not just their teacher.

During induction week, the teachers discuss terminology related to drop-ins, and decide on their own definitions, for example of ‘rapport’, ‘classroom management’, etc. They complete a questionnaire to show their beliefs related to these areas. The drop-in observer completes the same questionnaire, with a space at the bottom for extra comments. Post-observation feedback involves comparing the responses to both versions of the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is made up of factual statements, such as ‘I can spot early finishers and ensure they are purposefully engaged’ or ‘I know and use all my students’ names’, with the responses ‘Definitely’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Not enough’, ‘I need more guidance with this’. This system has evolved over time, so that now the teachers create their own questionnaires, rather than using one developed by the school.

This is definitely something I’d like to experiment with at our school.

Improving the agency and confidence of novice teachers

Marie Willoughby talked about a workshop she ran to help novice teachers adapt coursebooks to make them more engaging. It was much more teacher-centred than her workshops used to be. She designed it this way to help teachers build their confidence and realise that they are able to solve problems and ask for help, rather than relying on their own knowledge and worrying when they don’t know something. This topic was selected following interviews with the teachers, as they said they often used coursebooks to help them plan but didn’t know how to make them engaging for students.

The workshop looked like this:

  • Brainstorm ‘What is engagement and why is it important?’
  • Examine Jason Anderson’s CAP(E) paradigm, as this is how coursebooks generally work.
  • Discuss what engagement looks like at each stage of a CAP(E) lesson and how you can evaluate this.
  • Teachers created a list of questions based on their own experience up to this point to help them consider engagement at each stage of the lesson. The questions showed up their current needs, and formed the basis of group discussions.
  • Session homework was to take a piece of material, choose two parts and evaluate whether they’re engaging, change if needed, then evaluate it afterwards. Afterwards they had to tell a colleague: I did this, it worked. OR I did this, it didn’t.

Marie said that she felt like she hadn’t taught them anything in the session, but that afterwards she got great feedback. It helped the teachers realise that they had the right to change things, and didn’t have to just use them as they were.

She contrasted classic training with agency-driven training. In class training, the outcome is pre-determined by the trainer/tasks, there is a focus on best practice, elicitation and leading questions, and a power differential in dialogue. In agency-driven training, the outcome emerges during and beyond the session, there are no right answers (open-ended tasks), a collaborative effort to explore choices and evaluate (not talking about procedures), and equality in dialogue.

By making this shift, Marie says that she has realised the power of training lies in the process, not the product, of training sessions. Returning back to Monica’s idea of being blinded by our expertise, we need to question our training routines: when are we empowering when helping and when not? Do we praise confidence, collaboration, evaluation and leave it there? Without having to give trainees the answer or find the next step: sometimes we shut down options when we help, instead of letting teachers find answers themselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help trainees, but rather that we should reflect on the help we give.

Sound bites

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone told us why it’s important for us to work with different accents in the classroom. She talked about how cultural knowledge includes knowing about stereotypical accents and phrases. For example, in the UK we have stereotypical images of what a policeman, farmer, Asian corner shop owner, etc sound like. We know that in real life people don’t always sound like this, but there are a lot of reference points, for example in comedy, which rely on us being aware of these stereotypes.

We should work with a range of accents to help students gain familiarity with different models of speech. The hint that an accent might be present can impede understanding, even if the person speaking if completely clear – we put up mental blocks.

Some resources Chloe recommends are:

Young learner safety

Edward Evans described what they’ve done at IH BKC Moscow to put a policy in place to ensure teachers know what to do to keep young learners safe in the school, and so that the school knows what to do if there is a concern about the safety of young learners.

He reminded us of the importance of considering safety before anything bad happens, rather than only as a reaction. This is especially important in some countries where you might have issues when working with child safety: a lack of good state school policies, an aversion to procedures, training is unavailable, or where child abuse is not a ‘hot topic’. ‘Common sense’ is not a good yardstick for behaviour, as it means different things to different people. Schools need to have clear policies in place.

At Edward’s school, they drew on UK state school procedure to put policy documents in place. These are accompanied by a clear system of which offences lead to a warning, and which lead to instant dismissal. They have reporting procedures in place, along with procedures for how to handle any reports which come in. This is detailed in a two-page document which teachers need to sign when they start working at the school, and every year thereafter to remind them of the policies.

Q & A session

Along with Ian Raby, Giovanni Licata and Jenny Holden, I was part of a panel taking questions from the floor related to various aspects of training and management. I really enjoyed this, but you’d have to ask other people what we said because I (obviously!) wasn’t tweeting what happened 🙂


Lindsay Clandfield gave an updated version of his IATEFL 2019 plenary about mythology, methodology and the language of education technology. You can watch the 2019 version of it here, which I’d recommend if you have any interest in how we talk about edtech.

He recommended the hackeducation blog, which looks fascinating.

Coaching and observations

Jonathan Ingham asked whether an incremental coaching model can improve teaching. He works at a college where he observes English teachers, but also teachers of many other subjects, like brickwork, carpentry, and media make-up.

Jonny’s school was inspired by UK state schools who have implemented this model, summarised in this blog post. Rather than 2-3 observations per year, each with a range of action points to work on, teachers are observed every one or two weeks with only a single action point to work on. Feedback is brief and on the same day where possible, with opportunities during the feedback session to practise the changes that the observer suggests. As it is much more focussed, Jonny says that teachers have responded really well: it feels less intrusive, and changes to teaching have been really noticeable. This is something I’d like to try out at our school next year.

Jonny’s slides are available on his blog.

Visual literacy

Kieran Donaghy showed us various frameworks we can use to help students develop their visual literacy. Viewing is becoming the ‘fifth skill’ and has been added to curricula in Canada, Australia and Singapore as viewing and images have taken over from reading and the written word as the principal way we communicate.

He suggested the following resources:

  • Into Film’s 3 C’s (colour, camera, character) and 3 S’s (story, setting, sound) as a way of approaching videos – the link contains lots of examples of how to use them, and questions you can ask
  • The Center for Media Literacy’s educator resources, particularly 5 key questions and 5 core concepts
  • Visual Thinking Routines such as ‘see-think-wonder’ (I’ve used this routine a lot with my teens and they really like it)
  • Ben Goldstein on visual literacy in ELT

He also reminded us that we need to use these methods repeatedly with students – it takes 10-12 times before students can use them independently.

Emergent language

Danny Norrington-Davies described research he did with Nick Andon into how experienced teachers work with emergent language in the classroom.

They found 10 types of teacher intervention in the lessons they transcribed.

  • Explicit reformulation (live or delayed)
  • Recast
  • Teacher clarification/confirmation requests
  • Metalinguistic feedback
  • Elicitations
  • Extensions
  • Interactional recast
  • Recalls
  • Sharing
  • Learner initiated

The definitions of these are available on a handout on Danny’s website.

He also shared work from Richard Chinn into how we can help teachers learn to work with emergent language more quickly. Working with emergent language is a skilled practice, so how can we help teachers arrive at this more quickly?


Rachael Roberts finished off the conference by help us to recognise the warning signs of burnout. She gave us the following tips to help our teachers:

  • Cut down on paperwork. Is this actually helpful/useful? For example, do the agenda at the start of meetings to keep focus. Examine marking policies and whether students benefit from them.
  • Help your staff keep boundaries. Don’t expect teachers to reply outside school hours. Expect them to take real breaks. Be clear about your own boundaries as a manager. Only check emails when you know you can actually respond to them – otherwise you’re raising your stress hormones for no good reason!
  • Examine unconscious beliefs you hold about teaching. For example: ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.’ Is sacrifice really the model we want to hold about teaching?
  • Learn to say no to people and projects, and allow our teachers to say no. This includes to things that might be enjoyable, not just things that are difficult!
  • Notice your feelings and attitudes towards situations. If you have a choice, choose to be positive.
  • Where possible, empower teachers to make decisions for themselves.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about why people might be being difficult. Avoid a culture of perfectionism, and show your own vulnerability.
  • Explain the rationale behind what you are doing. Involve and consult staff when making decisions. Be patient with their responses/reactions.

I would highly recommend reading her Life Resourceful blog and joining her facebook group which is a very active community designed to help teachers maintain their mental health.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

Energy breaks for young learners

You’re teaching a group of young learners and they just won’t sit still, no matter how many times you tell them to. They can’t seem to concentrate on anything you want to do with them. What can you do about it?

Give them an energy break, of course!

Try some of these ideas to use up at least a bit of their energy.

  • Brain Breaks therapy – the first one in the video, ‘ear and nose’, is my go-to. Lots more on their blog.

  • Board races – great for revision too, though think about how to set it up if you have pre-literate students. Divide the students into two teams (more if the board is big enough) and have them run to the board. Loads of ways to vary these:
    • Say a definition, they write a word
    • Say a word, they draw a picture
    • Show a flashcard to the person at the back, they whisper to the next person in line and so on until the person at the front writes/draws it
    • Say a word in English to the person at the back, they say it in L1 to the next person, who says it in English, and so on to the front. Either L1 or English is written on the board, depending on what they finish on.
    • And many, many more (please add them to the comments!)

Energy breaks can mean encouraging calm too. Meditation and mindfulness exercises change the energy levels in the room.

  • This video is a 1-minute meditation.

As a side note, if this is a regular problem in your lessons, you might want to check that your plans are interspersing activities which stir and settle. Here’s and introduction to stirrers and settlers from Teaching English British Council, and some tips on planning tasks for young learner lessons from ELT Planning.

What would you add to this list?

Lessons you can watch online

For a lot of teachers, it can be hard to find the time or the opportunity to observe and learn from other teachers’ lessons. If that’s you, hopefully you’ll find these videos useful.

I’ve divided them into loose categories, with a sentence or two to help you decide which are the most relevant to you. Within the categories, they’re just in the order I found them! I’d like to thank the many people who’ve sent me links to these videos over the years (though unfortunately I can’t remember exactly who sent me what!)

Please feel free to tell me about other videos I may have missed in the comments, as well as any broken links. I’d particularly appreciate any VYL, YL or teen videos that may be out there, though I know they may be hard to find.

P.S. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched all of these from start to finish, just bits and pieces, so please proceed with caution…

Very young learners

Hubert Puchta introducing vocabulary and using Total Physical Response (TPR) and telling an action story (7 minutes)


An American kindergarten teacher working in a French-language immersion school (27 minutes) (via David Deubelbeiss)


Teacher Allen singing a song and teaching a demo lesson with Chinese kindergarteners (10 minutes)


Another kindergarten lesson in China, this time with 33 children (30 minutes)


Michael Roxas working on adjectives, using TPR and introducing clothes with a kindergarten group, working with a Chinese teacher (27 minutes) Michael has other videos of him teaching kindergarten on his YouTube channel.





Mark Kulek has lots and lots of videos of him teaching. This one shows him working with 25 Japanese 3- and 4- year olds (15 minutes) They are mostly in two playlists: Live Children’s English Classes EFL and How to teach kindergarten English class EFL. A lot of the clips are less than 5 minutes long.



This one shows Mark working with puppets (3 minutes)


Paul Pemberton teaching kindergarteners in China (30 minutes), including a really nice routine for getting kids to put their hands up


Shaun teaching 3 year olds in China for a parents’ open day (15 minutes)


Hannah Sophia Elliot teaching kindergarten in China (41 minutes)


Ann teaching children using a story bag (9 minutes)


Watts English have a series of videos showing children in Prague kindergarten. Here’s the first (20 minutes) Look at the Czech playlist for more, as well as the games bank.


Here’s an example of a teacher using a puppet as part of their WOW! method (5 minutes)


Savannah building rapport with a brand new group of students (4 minutes)


Tony using role plays as part of a demo lesson (23 minutes)


Najmul Hasan (a.k.a. Peter) also has a range of videos of him teaching kindergarten. Here’s one (25 minutes)


Rebecca Eddy teaching shapes to a kindergarten class in China (13 minutes)


This video is designed to show teachers how to run a demo lesson, but there are also lots of useful tips in there and examples of how to set up activities (9 minutes)


Tanner Applegate teaching 3 year olds in China (6 minutes)


Marco Brazil teaching colours to very young learners (4 minutes)


Teaching weather to kindergarten children, with a Chinese teacher also in the room (15 minutes)


Introducing body parts (4 minutes)


Thanks very much to Lucy, who suggested in the comments that I look up kindergarten ESL teacher on YouTube, which led to most of the above videos!

Young learners

Adi Rajan suggested the Teacher Development films available on the British Council website, accompanied by workbooks. Here’s one example (52 minutes):


Marisa Constantinides playing the ‘please’ game, and thereby demonstrating total physical response (TPR) (8 minutes) She wrote about this activity, plus two more with accompanying videos (Thanks for letting me know, Marisa!)


Ashley Haseley teaching sensory reactions in China (12 minutes)


Kaila Smith talking about teaching children in China, with lots of clips from her classes (4 minutes)


Pass the bag, a video of a game shared by Ian Leahy (90 seconds)


Sam playing a days of the week game with Thai children (2 minutes)


This video shows you how to do guided reading with elementary learners – it’s mostly describing the technique, but there are various clips of the teacher at work (11 minutes)


A counting game for kids (2 minutes)


This is a video describing various classroom management techniques shared by Ian Leahy. Although there is a voiceover throughout the entire video, there are lots of clips of exactly what’s happening. (16 minutes)


Gunter Gerngross demonstrating TPR with young learners (3 minutes)


Karlee Demierre using a body parts song (3 minutes)


Introducing animal vocabulary in a demo lesson, with lots of flashcard games (32 minutes)



A shopping lesson with pre-intermediate students using Solutions Pre-Intermediate (17 minutes)


Ross Thorburn introducing the rooms in a school (6 minutes)…


…and showing how unmonitored group work ran (35 seconds)


Ross Thorburn using flashcards with beginner young learners (1:10)…


…and with elementary young learners (1:30)


Ross also has tips for behaviour management, including live examples from class (5 minutes)…


…and demonstrating routines (7 minutes)


In this video, Ross introduces vocabulary, then takes his class into a shopping mall (8 minutes)


Adults (coursebook-based)

Sarah Troughear teaching a group using Life Pre-Intermediate, based on the topic of transport (60-minutes, including post-lesson analysis)


Clive Brown teaching a group using Life Upper Intermediate, based on the topic of documentary film-makers (37 minutes, including post-lesson analysis)


Andrew Walkley using an image to get students interested in a coursebook topic and lead in to a discussion (6 minutes)


Hugh Dellar teaching listening lexically – part 1 (13 minutes)


and part 2…


Stacey Hughes teaching using an e-book – find out more (10 minutes)


Me 🙂 teaching upper intermediate students – working with gerunds and infinitives (8 minutes) – find out more


Me clarifying the difference between ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ with upper intermediate (9 minutes)


Me teaching money vocab to intermediate students (15 minutes)


Adults (non-coursebook-based)

Billy Hasirci teaching a demo lesson for a CELTA course (he’s the tutor!) He’s working with intermediate students, listening to a song (41 minutes)


Lindsay Warwick teaching second conditional (1 hour)

Hugh Dellar demonstrating the lexical approach, including lots of whiteboard work (18 minutes)


Elizabeth Kuizenga Romijn teaching high-level beginners (I would say elementary) cooking vocabulary using realia (38 minutes)


John Bartik teaching beginners the phrase ‘I like ______’ (13 minutes)


Chris Westergaard teaching animal vocabulary to a group of intermediate students (14 minutes)…


…and movie vocabulary to another intermediate group (10 minutes)


Functional language to help students debate, I’d guess at intermediate or upper intermediate level. I don’t know the teacher’s name, but it was shared on the ELT Experiences blog (17 minutes)


You can watch Luke Meddings teaching a dogme [What is dogme?] lesson by going to the British Council website. (40 minutes) There is a video of him using dogme with another group (26 minutes) and reflecting on it (24 minutes) available on the English Agenda website.

Martin Sketchley experimenting with dogme (9 minutes)…


…and doing a dictogloss (14 minutes)


Dr. Frances A. Boyd demonstrating lots of error correction techniques (14 minutes) (via Matt Noble)


Laura Patsko demonstrating how to do a pronunciation needs analysis with a multilingual class – find out more (16 minutes)


You can watch a process writing lesson by going to the British Council website. (37 minutes)

Fergus Fadden working on reading with an elementary group as a demo lesson (23 minutes) (Thanks Lucy)


Ross Thorburn teaching an IELTS speaking class, working on describing a city you’ve visited (15 minutes)…


…and teaching an intermediate class to give advice (20 minutes)


Andrew Drummond demonstrating a present-practice-produce (PPP) lesson structure using jobs (a demo lesson for trainees)… (21 minutes)


…and using PPP to teach the functional language of interrupting, followed by an analysis of the lesson stages (28 minutes)


Paullo Abreu (?) teaching second conditional (1 hour)


Olha Madylus teaching vocabulary and grammar to elementary students as a demo on a CELTA course (15 minutes)


Very small groups

Lavender teaching vocabulary (5 minutes)


Short clips

4 clips of Hugh Dellar (I think with upper intermediate students)

  1. Monitoring a discussion


2. Upgrading and clarifying language (3:30)


3. Setting up a speaking activity (1:20)


4. Clarifying language (3:30)


Martin Sketchley doing an activity with Arabic students to help them with spelling (6 minutes)


Katy Simpson-Davies using jazz chants (3:30)


Ian Leahy demonstrating 3 games, 1 each with adults, young learners and teens (3 minutes)


Ross Thorburn teaching adults to accept and reject invitations (3 minutes)


Conveying grammatical meaning, focussing on ‘used to’ and ‘would’ on Ross Thorburn’s channel (3 minutes)


Ross Thorburn giving instructions (3 minutes)


Olya Sergeeva demonstrating how to teach decoding skills to help students understand connected speech (5 minutes 30 seconds). This blog post explaining a little more accompanies the video.


Online teaching

Fergus Fadden teaching a lesson on Google + (13 minutes)


Mark McKinnon working on connected speech – the clip is part of a full blog post explaining what’s going on in the lesson.

Hugh Dellar teaching a one-hour Skype lesson based on Outcomes Advanced with three students from Krasnodar, Russia. It includes examples of Hugh works with lexis, as an advocate of the lexical approach.


Angelos Bollas teaching a CELTA demo grammar lesson to upper intermediate students on Zoom, showing you what it’s like from the teacher’s perspective:

Angelos again, teaching another CELTA demo lesson, this time using task-based materials using the Fluency First blog:

Trainee teachers

CELTA TP7, as uploaded by English with Stephanie, intermediate students, restaurants (45 minutes)


And TP8, focussing on functional language, again with intermediate students (35 minutes)


David teaching during CELTA uploaded by Insearch LearningCentre (60 minutes) – I’m guessing it’s elementary or pre-intermediate students, talking about a trip to Japan


Anastasia, a Russian trainee who did her CELTA in 2012 (47 minutes)



Please feel free to suggest any extra videos or to tell me if there are any broken links.

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Miscellaneous

This post is for the talks I attended at IATEFL Glasgow 2017 which don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories I’ve chosen this year.

Connecting minds: language learner and teacher psychologies (Sarah Mercer)

Sarah’s plenary discussed the importance of ‘psychologically wise’ teachers, who both understand the psychology of their students, and look after their own mental health. You can watch the whole plenary yourself, or read my summary below.

There’s also an interview with Sarah recorded after her plenary.

Sarah started off by telling us that psychology is not just motivation, cognition, or the abstracted, internal mind. It’s about emotion. We can have the best resources and technology in the world, but they can’t replace humans. She showed us a video of Mr. White, a teacher in the States who has created a personalised handshake with each one of his students. I really like this quote from him:

I feel like every student needs a little bit of joy in their lives. Every student.

Psychology is about the heart and soul of teaching, and psychologically wise teachers can make a huge difference to the lives of their learners. They develop positive relationships, focus on positivity and growth, and nurture their own professional well-being. Hattie’s (2009) meta-analysis lists teacher-student relationships in position 11 of 138 of importance of factors affecting learning. Rita Heyworth points out in her TED talk that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Language teaching is inherently social, and requires collaboration, communication, and socio-cultural competence. Psychology is a key part of what we do, but we rarely focus on it explicitly in training or our own practice.

Sarah Mercer and Christina Gkonou published a 2017 British Council Research Paper entitled Understanding emotional and social intelligence among English language teachers. I haven’t read it yet, but will, having had it recommended by the people I was sitting with during the plenary. Another book that was recommended was Better Conversations [affiliate link] by Jim Knight.

Covey (2004) talks about the emotional bank account. Positive actions in a relationship are like deposits and negative ones are withdrawals. How can you make deposits in your emotional bank account?

  1. Work on mutual trust and respect.
  2. Be empathetic.
  3. Be responsive to learner individuality (names, micro conversations). Communication is key.

Remember that learners are much more worried about speaking in front of their peers than the teacher. Do they know the names of everyone else in the group? Proactive discipline: if you build good relationships with students, you need less reactive discipline. You don’t earn trust just by being a teacher, you need to deserve it.

Sarah also talked about Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindset theory. Research shows that you can shift your mindset, but it requires training and support. This connects back to James Egerton’s talk at the Torun Teacher Training Day last month. You may not ever be perfect at something, but everyone can improve on where they are now if they have time, motivation and opportunities.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford

Mindsets are domain-specific: you might have a fixed mindset about speaking or pronunciation, but a growth one about your ability to write in a foreign language.  Lots of teacher trainees believe that they can develop their methodological knowledge, but not their interpersonal skills (Mercer’s study, my experience too!). Neuroplasticity supports the idea of a growth mindset. As teachers, we have to own up to mistakes, and show our own growth mindset. We should also think whether we talk about language learning as an ability or talent (fixed mindset), or as a process (growth mindset). Make sure you praise the process and effort, and give *informative* positive praise that is deserved, not empty words. The mindset alone is not enough though. We need to develop learning strategies and support our students.

If we build on weaknesses only, we become average. If we build on strengths too, we become A+ – From Average to A+ [affiliate link] by Alex Linley (2008)

It’s important to recognise our strengths, both as learners and teachers. How often have you ever sat back and really reflected on what you’re good at? Sarah asked us to share two or three things we’re good at as teachers with our neighbours. We need to consider building positive emotions in the classroom explicitly. Positive emotions help us to learn more!

Most importantly, we need to look after our own mental well-being.

You can't pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.

Our psychology as teachers is mirrored in our students through mirror neurons – if we’re happy, they’re more likely to be happy too. Holmes and Rogers, 2012 talk about the burnout cascade and the virtuous cycle of psychology and motivation – it can be a vicious or a virtuous circle, depending on where you start. This MUST start from us: we must start creating the positivity in our classroom. Happy people have more energy, better motivation, are more creative, are more productive, and are healthier. The very first thing a teacher should do in the classroom is smile.

When we talk about CPD it’s important not to add too many ‘shoulds’ – a lot of frameworks don’t include wellbeing, meaning teachers may not end up prioritising it. I’ve been trying to drastically reduce the amount of times I use the word ‘should’ – every time I do, I ask myself ‘Who said?’ It’s taken off a lot of the pressure I’ve previously felt. In her 1990 book Stress Management for Teachers, Sandra Mills breaks down health into physical condition (rest, diet, exercise), mental condition and emotional condition.

Self-compassion means knowing when enough is enough, when perfectionism isn’t appropriate, when to use positive self-talk. Don’t overstretch yourselves, learn to say no and set boundaries to protect yourself as a teacher. Professional well-being is not an indulgence, it’s a necessity. As Sarah said:

Pyschology matters. Relationships matter. Positivity matters. YOU matter!

Blog posts following Sarah’s plenary:

Aligning parents’ and caregivers’ objectives with young learner programs (Shay Coyne)

Shay noticed that she was only doing needs analysis for adult groups, not for young learners. She made a Survey Monkey questionnaire in Spanish to send to caregivers. They wanted a communicative focus, moving from receptive listening towards speaking, a broadening of their future prospects, more study than fun (see below for activities for each of these three areas), and they wanted English only. Shay challenges the last point, as most of the world is now bilingual, and we should bring the students’ two languages together. Students have opportunities for huge amounts of contact with English outside the classroom. By accepting the students’ own language, we’re modelling tolerance and diversity and establishing a collaborative, equal relationship between the mother tongue and English.

Caregivers want to be involved. They may have had bad experiences of language learning themselves before. Caregivers form a key part of the child’s life, so we need to keep them involved: parents as partners. Home and school are not two separate bubbles for children, they’re all one big learning experience: it helps you to be more collaborative between home and school.  They give a different perspective to tests and assessments, and can, for example, explain why a child has suddenly started to behave badly. This kind of partnership also improves social skills and behaviour of the child, as it provides a model for how to collaborate. Finally, it leads to better education outcomes. The child becomes more well-rounded and can navigate a multilingual, multicultural environment more easily. On another note, if caregivers are involved, children’s test scores will improve too.

Parents can be involved through governance (like textbook selection), meetings, volunteering for activities in the classroom. Caregivers can be invited for open days. We can train parents and caregivers to be able to form realistic goals, and retrain misconceptions like English only. Teachers should be trained with strategies for how to deal with caregivers, such as how to positively deliver messages, and how to deal with any potential conflict. Communication should also be two-way, both to and from the school. We should make sure that there is variation in how you interact with caregivers, and give them the option to decide how they want to be contacted.

To develop communication skills, why not try an English/Australian/Scottish corner in your classroom, use role plays for developing empathy, and discuss learning to bridge the gap between home and school.

To help students broaden their future prospects, work on projects, try out ‘genius hour‘ so children can do whatever they want for that hour (practises research and time management), work on videos (through e.g. Skype which they may have to use for job interviews in the future), try out My Language Passport from p98 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] to acknowledge different languages.

To work on language, use songs, choose topics of interest, choose practical tasks that encourage experimentation with language and try Knowing your class p71 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] so you can learn more about your students to make things more relevant to them.

Shay would like us all to foster caregiver involvement in education. Maybe we could create a framework for involving them. There is a potential negative reaction initially, but research shows that it’s worth it and quality improves because caregivers are involved.

Shay recommended the following books for further research [all affiliate links]:

  1. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide by Jean Brewster, Gail Ellis, and Denis Girard
  2. Teaching Children How to Learn by Gail Ellis and Nayr Ibrahim
  3. How Children Learn by Linda Pound
  4. Teaching Young Learners English by Joan Kang Shin and JoAnn (Jodi) Crandall
  5. Introducing English as an Additional Language to Young Children by Kay Crosse

She has also written a related article for the IH Journal about bringing parental objectives into YL lessons.

Teaching grammar for all the right reasons (Danny Norrington-Davies)

We try to contain the language with rules but the language keeps running away. – Andrea Bossato

Danny encourages his students to explore reasons for grammatical/linguistic choices, not rules, moving from examples to reasons. Why start with reasons, not rules?

  • Language existed before rules!
  • We can explore how meaning is created.
  • Students can make genuine discoveries about language by thinking about reasons.
  • We can see how different forms interact and we don’t just need examples that fit the rules.
  • We can explore similarities not exceptions, and give learners some ownership of the language.
  • We can use this approach to exploit any text or any communicative task, and avoid ‘sometimes’ rules. Pedagogic rules are often qualified with words like ‘usually’, and we write them as if they’re true, but they’re not.
  • We can avoid artificial simplification and rules that are not true.
  • Students can put reasons into their own words, rather than being given rules that aren’t always true.
  • Although it’s hard for students to create rules, it’s worth it, as they start to understand why language is really used, not just learn rules by rote (he got this as feedback from one of his students).

There’s nothing wrong with language; the problem lies with the rules we’ve created as shortcuts. Diane Larsen-Freeman emphasises that reasons underline rules.

Research shows that a lot of early learning is lexical, not grammatical, which is why it works well for functional language. He’s also used this approach successfully with modals. The lowest level he’s used it with himself is pre-intermediate, though he’s also seen it being used with elementary.

For example, to focus on relative clauses, give students a text with them and rewritten without them. Ask them to compare the two and say why the writer used them in the original text. Maybe to get students to actually use relative clauses, we should just keep making them notice them instead of doing exercises – Danny has found this has really helped his students.

Danny has recently published a book along the same lines: From Rules to Reasons [affiliate link]

Tweets from other sessions

Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield talked about activities you could use to promote interaction between participants on online courses. They were promoting a new book they’ve written called Interaction Online [affiliate link]. You can watch a recording of the full talk.

Lorraine Kennedy presented about the effectiveness of feedback. The session was recorded.

A useful poster:

Things I learnt in Torun today

Today I had the pleasure of attending the annual International House Torun Teacher Training Day, which consisted of pizza, twenty small workshops divided into four slots of five sessions each, a break with more pizza and some yummy Torun gingerbread, a walk to a local hotel, a plenary with Adrian Underhill, and a Q&A session with various experts, of which I am now apparently one 😉


Here are some of the things I learnt:

  • Growth mindset should be influencing the feedback I give students and trainees, by focussing on effort and process/strategy, rather than natural talent and results. James Egerton gave us examples like ‘You concentrated hard on my last comments, so well done.’
  • Yet‘ is really important in feedback, as it implies that something is achievable. Consider: ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian.’ and ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian yet.’ It turns out that even Sesame Street know the power of ‘yet’!
  • The reason the sentences ‘They just don’t have a language learning brain.’ and ‘You must be really good at learning languages.’ annoy me so much is probably because they imply a fixed mindset, whereas even before I had a term for it, I always believed that anyone can do anything with some degree of success if they have the motivation and put in the time.
  • I think it could be a very good idea to have a CELTA input session on mindsets very early in the course. I wonder what influence that would have on trainees’ ability to accept feedback?
  • It doesn’t matter how many times I see Kylie Malinowska do the elephant story, it’s still enjoyable, and I still can’t keep up! I discovered that it comes from Drama with Children [affiliate link] by Sarah Phillips.
  • There are at least 15 things you can do after doing a dictation when students have put the paper on their heads to draw the picture you describe. Before today I only ever got them to describe it to each other. Though the only one I can remember without asking Kylie for the slide is battleships!
  • Using MadLibs with children is actually incredibly useful, as it encourages them to solve problems and notice when language doesn’t fit, but also appeals to their love of the ridiculous. I’d always thought they were a bit pointless before!
  • You can bring language from a student’s family and friends into lessons through things like doing surveys, doing project work, writing biographies, sharing photographs or doing show and tell. Dave Cleary explained that even if students do these in L1 at home, they’ll bring them to class in L2, and they’ll have a real reason to use the language.
  • A great activity for playing with language is to take a photo of a famous person the students know, and get them to finish sentences like ‘He’d look really great/silly with…[earrings, a long ponytail, etc.]
  • Telling students the story behind an idiom, whether real or made up, can help them to remember the correct wording, and maybe also the context where you’re most likely to use it, according to Chris McKie.
  • There is a Hungarian idiom meaning something like ‘Let’s see what happens’ which translates as ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’.
  • Adrian Underhill may have been talking about the pronunciation chart for a long time, but he still considers it to be outside the mainstream of ELT.
  • He’s incredibly passionate about it, and it’s very entertaining and engaging to be taught to understand the chart by him. I knew bits and pieces about how it fit together and how to teach it before, but I now understand it in a lot more depth.
  • All pronunciation can be boiled down to four core muscle ‘buttons’: lips (spread and back or rounded and forward), tongue (forward or back), jaw (up or down) and voice (on or off). This helped me to understand how I produce some sounds in English in more depth, and even one in French that I managed to learn but had never been consciously aware of how to produce!
  • If he was a cheese, Adrian would be some form of blue cheese – he went into a lot more depth about this, and I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question!

Thanks to Glenn Standish and the IH Torun team for organising such an enjoyable day. Lots of ideas to think about, as always!

Rethinking the visual, again

Last summer I had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with M, a nine year old from St. Petersburg who spends her summers in Sevastopol. I decided to blog about her classes because I found it very difficult to find information about how to teach a 121 class with a young learner who was almost completely blind, and hoped my posts would help others. Teaching M required me to approach lessons in a completely different way and the result on my blog was the Rethinking the Visual series. If you’d like more background I’d recommend reading them first.

This year I was back in Sevastopol for four weeks to do a CELTA course, and I was very happy when, on my first day at school, M and her mum came in to see if she could have classes for the summer. They’d just arrived in the city and didn’t realise I was there, so there was lots of hugs and laughter 🙂

The first lesson we had was based around a present I’d bought her just one week before at the Casa Battló in Barcelona, without knowing if I’d see her or not.

This is the only picture I can find of the gift – a braille picture of the house. I was so excited when I saw it and bought it instantly because I’ve never seen anything like it before (please let me know if you have and where I can get others!) M really enjoyed exploring it, and we revised some house vocabulary. Using the palm of her hand I showed her where Spain is in relation to Crimea and where Barcelona is in Spain. We also talked about Gaudi.

Over the next four weeks I had eight one-hour lessons with M, and I was very happy to see how much difference another year of school has made to her reading and writing abilities. Last year she vaguely knew the letters in braille, and I needed to refer to my list often to confirm which dots she needed to make some of the letters. She can now read braille pretty fluently, and write it confidently. We wrote down new vocabulary in every lesson, which is a big difference from last year, and she could still remember where Barcelona is and who Gaudi was at the end of the month.

The main problem she still has is that of all children her age (and many adults too!): spelling. Whenever M wrote down new words I always tried to elicit the spelling from her, and she had about an 80% hit rate. During one lesson she asked me about how to know if a word is spelt with ‘c’ or ‘k’. It happened to be the first lesson when I was being observed by A, the teacher who has taken over from me for the rest of the summer. Between us we came up with sets of words to help M remember some spelling rules. I thought we’d come up with most of the c/k rules during that hour, but kept coming across more exceptions or ‘groups’ during the rest of the month – the rules are so much more complicated than you can come up with off the top of your head!

M’s school had lent her two books for the summer, Mary Poppins, and another of short 1-2 page texts accompanied by exercises on topics such as dinosaurs and Tutankhamun. Some of our lessons were spent reading the short texts, with M spelling out any words she didn’t know. We would then take the exercises and answer them orally, and I would try to expand her world knowledge wherever I could. After reading a text about the jungle, she was particularly excited to discover I’d lived in one for four months and asked me lots of questions about the experience. I used her hand again to introduce her to Borneo.

Most of the texts were accompanied by a project, although I don’t think they were designed with visually impaired students in mind. Her school wanted her to do one of these projects as part of her summer homework, but it was difficult for her parents to help her because they don’t speak English. M chose a project about dinosaurs. In it, she needed to find out about different dinosaurs and put together fact files about them. The problem is that she still doesn’t know how to use a computer, so the only ways she can do research are if she is lucky enough to be in a braille library (do such things exist? I assume they must somewhere!) or if someone else does it for and tells her about it, which is what we did. I went on to a dinosaur site and tried to give her as much autonomy as possible by getting her to choose the ones she wanted to find out about and tell me exactly what she wanted to know – I tried to work as a search engine rather than doing the work for her. The project also said that she should draw or find pictures of the dinosaurs, but we ran out of time to do that, so I hope her parents will be able to help her with that.

M really wanted to find a girl in the UK to chat with. She’s ten now and was looking for someone of a similar age. I have a thirteen-year-old cousin so have put them in touch. They’ve sent each other a couple of voice messages. M was very excited by the exchange and is looking forward to having a proper Skype chat with my cousin. If you know a ten-year-old girl with a B1 or higher level of English who’d like to chat with M, let me know and I can try to put them in touch.

The biggest challenge with the lessons this year was that they were at school rather than at her house. In the third lesson, when we were in our third different classroom, I gave her a tour of the school, showing her where all of the rooms and doors were so she could find her own way around and had a better idea of the size of the rooms and school. It was interesting for me to see how being in a different environment affected her confidence initially, and how much more comfortable she obviously felt once she knew the layout of the school.

I did get to go to her house one day though, for pancakes and home-made cake with her family. We explored their garden, full of home-grown fruit and veg, and played with her two little sisters, the older of whom was trying to teach me Russian by pointing at a picture of a unicorn and saying the word repeatedly until I said it back to her 🙂 She was also singing ‘Let it go’ when we arrived, but only knew that line. Films and songs are certainly powerful – she’s four!

I’ve really enjoyed teaching M again this summer. I have no idea when I’ll be back in Sevastopol, or if I’ll be in Saint Petersburg at some point, so I’m not sure if or when I’ll see M again. I really hope I do because she is one of the fastest learners I’ve ever met. She’s already B1 (intermediate) in English, and has just started learning Spanish. I’m sure she’ll be an interpreter one day. I’ll watch her progress with great interest, and I hope I’ll get to teach her again at some point.

My first ever sketch-notes

On Monday, I was lucky enough to cross paths with Katherine Bilsborough, one of my fellow TeachingEnglish Associates. She was in Palma (where I’m working this month) doing a seminar on behalf of OUP. The other presenter was Jessica Toro, who I know from going to IH Director of Studies conferences. It’s a small world!

Their sessions were very useful, and since I didn’t have wifi access, I decided to take my cue from Christina Rebuffet-Broadus and have a go at my first ever sketch-notes. Looking at Christina’s notes now, I probably tried to pack a bit too much into mine, but I’m quite pleased with them for a first attempt. You’ll notice the notes from Jessica’s talk are a lot more adventurous as I got more confident 🙂 Let me know if you want text explanations of anything I put on there.

Katherine’s talk was about how to make the most of your coursebook, particularly if you’re working with primary-age children.

My first ever sketchnotes - from Katherine Bilsborough's talk

Jessica told us how to help students get ready for young learner exams.

Sketchnotes from Jessica Toro's talk

Both sessions had lots of activities in them which makes me a tiny bit more confident about offering advice to teachers about young learner classes next year!

Thanks for inviting me Katherine 🙂

Rethinking the visual: week eight

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

Monday and Tuesday

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

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

Putting braille letters on the keyboard

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

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

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


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

M playing with the plastic braille letters on her keyboard

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

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

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

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


iikkiki k ki

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Side note

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

Hitting the drawing board

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

Stage one: drawing


Drawing the past simple

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

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

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

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

When they have about 10 pictures, stop! 🙂

Stage two: hitting


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

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

Give the students flyswatters.

Call out one of the words/sentences.

The students hit the relevant picture.

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

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

Stage three: cleaning (optional)

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

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


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

Adults would also enjoy this game.

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

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

Rethinking the visual: week seven

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


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

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

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


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

Fingers touch typing

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Hello M______,

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

Do you want to learn how?


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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking the visual: week six

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

On Monday M’s mum phoned the school and asked if I could push M a bit more in the lessons. M wants to have longer texts to try and memorise, for example. I’d been trying to focus on writing, as this is the skill she has the most trouble with at the moment, but I think M didn’t feel that this was pushing her enough. She’s used to doing a lot of memorisation, and is very good at it, but I think it’s important to try and balance her skills. At the moment her speaking and listening are excellent. She told me that she can read in English, although she’s a bit slow sometimes – I don’t have any materials to test this, apart from what she’s written herself. Her main problem is spelling – she’s not confident when spelling words, partly (I think) because she hasn’t had enough exposure to spelling patterns, in the way that a sighted learner would see words again and again, and learn them partly by their shape. She also only seems vaguely aware of sound-spelling relationships, particularly with respect to vowels.

I spoke to the director of my school, and we decided to find out whether it would be possible for M to do a Cambridge Flyers exam, the highest of the three Young Learner Exams. According to the Cambridge website, it is possible to organise a braille version of all Cambridge exams except for Starters (the lowest YL exam), provided enough notice is given. We asked her mum if M would like to prepare for the exam and take it in summer 2015. She was very excited about this idea and agreed straight away. This has given us a new-found focus in the lessons, but has also added a lot of things for myself and my school (we’re the only Cambridge exam centre in Crimea) to prepare. Luckily the director and the Centre Exam Manager are both very supportive, and I’m sure we’ll be able to manage!

The Young Learner Exams are mostly picture-based, which means that the braille version will be quite different to the standard version. However, I don’t know yet exactly how different. On the special circumstances page, Cambridge describe options like having a written description of a picture instead of the picture itself. The candidate can also have a lot of extra time, although exactly how much needs to be agreed before the exam. M will need training in how to take the exam, but will also need to be very confident in her reading and writing abilities, which is another reason to set the exam date for summer 2015 – it will give her lots of time to prepare. I need to find out whether she can use a computer or not, because if she can, the spelling activity on Quizlet might be an accessible and fun way for her to practise spellings too.


M heard me take my pot of objects out of my bag, and asked to touch them again. She remembered most of the words. In the process, she joined two paperclips into a mini chain, then got very frustrated because she couldn’t take them apart again. She ended up bending one of them out of shape to separate them, then trying to make it usable again. This took up quite a few minutes of the lesson, but she wanted to solve this problem before moving on. I was talking to her throughout, trying to explain/show her (by touch) how to break apart the chain, so I don’t feel like this was a waste of time, but it’s this kind of process which I think might make M feel I’m not pushing her enough – I’m not sure if she sees it as part of the lesson, or if she only feels that explicit memorisation etc activities are part of the teaching. For the other part of the revision stage of the lesson M remembered the chants I’ve taught her.

We then talked about the exam. I wanted to make sure Flyers was the right level for her, so I did the only exam task that doesn’t rely on pictures (as far as I can tell). For the first part of the reading and writing paper for both Movers (the middle of the 3 exams) and Flyers the students have to match definitions to words. In Movers there are six definitions, with eight words accompanied by pictures. In Flyers, there are 10 definitions, 15 words, and no pictures. There is an example for each task. I used the sample papers from the Cambridge website (the Movers task is on page 37-38, and the Flyers one is on page 68).

  • I read the definitions from the Movers task, including the example, and M got every word quickly and easily without needing the word list.
  • I read the Flyers definitions, including the example. Without knowing the list of words, M got questions 1, 3, 6 and 9 right.
  • I read the list of words twice, slowly, including all of the words that she’d already matched to definitions.
  • I read the definitions again, and M could ask me to repeat the full list of words if she needed it. After this, she only had trouble with questions 2 and 10. She was also a bit confused about question 4, ‘cupboard’, because she knows ‘wardrobe’ but isn’t confident with the difference between that and a ‘cupboard’. I told her that wardrobes are for clothes, and that ‘Every wardrobe is a cupboard, but not every cupboard is a wardrobe.’
  • The main problem with question 2 was that the original definition ‘This is white and we put it on food. Children often like it on chips.’ can apply equally to ‘sour cream’, which is very popular in Russia, and was M’s original answer. Once she realised it was ‘salt’, she joked that about thinking of sour cream before salt.
  • The only real problem word in the whole exercise was ‘meals’, the answer to questions 10, which she said she had never heard before.

This activity proved that Flyers is the right level for her in terms of vocabulary knowledge. However, in the exam she would need to be able to read all of the definitions herself, as far as I understand, and write the answers, meaning that her spelling needs to be confident – the words will be there for her to copy, but already knowing how to spell them will make a big difference.


M had a purse full of Ukrainian coins on her desk. They are her ‘treasures’, and she likes swapping them with her friends. When she tried to clear them up, a couple dropped on the floor. I told her where they had fallen, using ‘right’ and ‘left’ among other phrases. She mixes up the two a lot, and came up with her own method of remembering them – she got a hairband and put it on her right arm as an aide-memoire. I need to test her again next week to find out if she really can remember it.

She then asked if I could teach her how to play heads or tails. Again, I appreciated how much I learn from being able to watch other people. Apart from the fact that catching is difficult when you can’t see, there are the little things I’ve learnt from watching others – to hold my hand away from my body, to cup my hand slightly when throwing the coin (we did that rather than flicking it), how much force I need to throw it enough to flip it, to put it on the back of my other hand when I catch it… Again, all of this took about 10-15 minutes, but it was full of explanation, so there was a lot of listening and speaking practice. I promised to bring English coins on Friday, which I did, but only as far as school where I promptly left them on my desk!

Tossing a coin

I gave a copy of the Flyers word list to M and asked her to count how many sheets there are. Multiplying that six by 120, the approximate number of words on each page, we got 720 words – I know the last page is mostly empty, but once you include the words from  lower levels and the numbers, it’s probably about right. I told M that for the Flyers exam she would need to know all of the words, as well as being able to spell them. I think there are some that won’t be a problem, for example bitexam and ring, but not many. We started off with the months, including the capital letter, which I dictated for M to write in her notebook.


M told me about a trip to a children’s park she’d been on that morning. She went on a ride with her 3-year-old sister, D, and the attendant told her to “Wave if D will cry.” She then told me about Treasure Island and a poisonous drink: “If he will drink it, he will die.” I’d already decided to practise first conditional structures with her, and these two sentences added to the list of examples. In Russian you use a future form in both clauses of a conditional sentence, and students normally transfer this to English.

I tested M on the spellings of the months. She read them first, spelling as she went. When I tried to test her on random months, she had trouble with all of them except May. She added a note underneath her list, saying ‘i’ – the letter she had trouble with in ‘April’, and ’ember’, the ending for three of the months. She also showed me how she rubs out mistakes when she writes braille.

She asked if we could listen to chapter 6 of Alice in Wonderland next, as we hadn’t done it all week.

That left us with only a few minutes to start work on the first conditional. I read her three examples with mistakes, the two above, plus ‘If I’ll eat this, I’ll be bigger’, and asked her to spot the mistake. She couldn’t, and I explained that ‘will’ is not with if’. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise until we listened together that the jazz chant I’d found would actually compound the problem of repeating ‘will’ instead of solving it – I’d missed the key word despite having read it multiple times and listened to it twice! I’d climb the highest mountain, etc, if you will come with me. We ended up with no time to consolidate this point. I need to look at Young Learner coursebooks to find out how they introduce this grammar normally. I’ve got a few games/activities to practise it, but I’m not sure how to show the rule clearly.

Rethinking the visual: week five

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

[Note: if you use a screen-reader and are having trouble with the Audioboo plug-ins, there are links in line with the text. Please let me know if this doesn’t work for you.]

Our lessons are starting to be a bit more routine now, as I’ve found activities that work well with M and that she enjoys. I need to make sure that routine doesn’t become dull, but I’m also pleased to now have a set of reliable activities I can draw from.


We started the lesson with a spelling test, based on the furniture labels we made during our last lesson on Friday. M could read all of the words and tell me the contractions, although she couldn’t remember any of the spellings by herself.

One of M’s favourite mistakes is ‘I very like it’, so thanks to Jane Harding da Rosa, I taught her a chant to correct this, which we did with I, he, she, in the past simple and with will.

M remembered all of the other chants and poems we’ve studied, and we then spent about 20 minutes on chapter 4 of Alice in Wonderland. The title of the chapter is ‘The Rabbit sends Alice on an errand’. M’s examples of errands led on to her telling me all the different things you can buy in a newsagent’s in the UK, like newspapers, magazines, sweets and little toys. I added basic food like milk and bread, which made her laugh – she didn’t believe me at first!

To finish the lesson, M asked me questions about me and my friends. There were a few mistakes which I’m recording here for future reference:

  • I’m ready listen.
  • on Russian
  • Where do you born?
  • Where your family live?
  • Do you miss about London?


As I walked into M’s house on Thursday, her sister was watching How to train your dragon, so we ended up chatting about it for a few minutes. M asked me a few words in Russian which I didn’t know. I tried to make notes of some of the words to look up, but this is difficult if M doesn’t know the Russian spelling. The only one I managed to find later was ревнует, which means ‘jealous’.

I had two new chants for this class, dealing with two of her mistakes from Tuesday. The first was for ‘I’m ready listen‘. We transformed it to use ‘she’s’ and ‘they’re’ as well as the original ‘I’m’.

The second was for ‘on Russian‘. We transformed this to use the past simple, as well as ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘they’.

We were going to listen to chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland, so in preparation I taught M the word ‘pipe’ (the caterpillar is smoking a pipe when Alice first meets him). I used my pen and bottle lid to make the shape of a pipe for her to feel, and compared it to cigarettes, which she already knew.

It's a pipe of course! (made from a bottle top and a pen)

It’s a pipe of course!

Then something great happened: M came up with her own impromptu poem! 🙂

I don’t want to smoke.
I don’t want to drink.
I want to be beautiful.
This is my dream.

She said it was her first poem in English, and asked if we could write it down. This took us half an hour, starting with M learning how to write her full name (including punctuation, along the lines of S. J. Millin) at her request, then how to write a title – she decided on ‘My Dream’. We wrote the whole poem in the long form with no contractions, but including symbols for punctuation, thereby practising how to code capital letters, full stops and apostrophes, as well as understanding the word ‘space’. I spelt the words for M, and tried to encourage her to predict the spellings herself: “What do you think is next?” She seemed a bit reluctant to do this – I’ll try to get her to do more spelling without reading at the same time, as it’s something I think she’s not very confident with. As with most learners, she also mixes up e/i/y.

Mistakes from this lesson were:

  • She must to give him a fan.
  • You will bigger/smaller.
  • If I will drink this, I will bigger.

I’d like to practise first conditionals in a future lesson, but haven’t done any grammar with M yet, so I’m not really sure how to go about it. Does anyone have any suggestions?


In our third lesson, M had shown me two metal figures she has. Today they were joined by two more: a crusader knight and Saint Viteslav, a Russian soldier (as far as I remember!). This lead us on to a brief discussion about crusaders, Christians and Christianity, with M referring back to her cross which she showed me last Friday. She also revised the ‘soldier words’ we’d looked at previously: helmet, shield, sword, and greaves. (I know ‘greaves’ isn’t the most useful word, but it’s easy for her to feel them on the soldier, and she asked for it!)

Taking her notebook, M read her poem from Thursday, along with the words we’d studied previously, without any prompting from me.

M told me she likes mystery stories, and proceeded to tell me The Mystery of Blackdown Wood, which I’d never heard of. In the first couple of sentences she mixed past simple and present simple a lot until:

“In the past or the present?”

“Can I tell it in the present?”


“Tom don’t want to go into the wood.”

“Tom doesn’t… Or it’s all the same in the past: Tom didn’t want to go into the wood.”

“Oi! Tom didn’t want…”

After that she told the whole story in the past simple without needing any more prompting from me. The only past form which gave her trouble was “They hided” instead of “They hid”. At one point she couldn’t remember a word, and spontaneously came out with our chant from Tuesday: “I know it in Russian, in Russian, in Russian. I know it in English, but I just forgot!” 🙂

For the next part of the lesson, I gave M a choice of activities. She chose to learn the names of the things in pot of little objects which I’d brought along, consisting of:

  • two paperclips;
  • two treasury tags;
  • two Cuisenaire rods of each value from one to six;
  • a small white stone;
  • a plastic thing (it’s for keeping an exercise ball inflated, but I figure the word ‘thing’ or ‘thingy’ is a good term for her to learn);
  • two elastic bands.

A selection of random objects

It’s a very random collection of objects, basically consisting of everything I could find which was small enough to fit into a little pot and wouldn’t be dangerous (no pointy bits!). I plan to use them to help me clarify grammar with her later, although I haven’t worked out exactly how yet. Most of the objects are in pairs, as one idea I had was for me to model sentences using one set, and M to copy and modify them using the other set.

To teach M the names of the objects, she took them out and I asked her if she recognised any of them. The only word she already knew was ‘stone’, and in fact, she’s been carrying her own moonstone around for the last couple of lessons. When she picked up the treasury tags and the paper clips, she couldn’t use either of them, so I also showed her how to do that. She put the Cuisenaire rods in size order, and I told her they were used for maths, which she loves. I’ve recorded the words and sent them to her so she can listen to them again between now and our next lesson.

We listened to chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland to finish off the lesson. I showed her how to use the volume and sound controls on my Mac so she could stop it whenever she wanted to. In the end she preferred to just sit down and listen through without stopping. On a side note, I’d like to Kirsty Major for her very useful comments about screen readers, touch typing and computer use on my previous post. This inspired me to start trying to show M around my computer and give her more control over the technology.

At the end of the lesson, as has become our habit, M put my computer in its case, then the case into my rucksack. Every lesson she gets faster at this process. She likes carrying my rucksack down the stairs, and won’t let me take it even though it weighs a ton! When one or the other of us dropped one of the things from the pot during the lesson, M always tried to find it, and this also gave me the chance to practise ‘right’ and ‘left’ with her, as she confuses them a lot. I think it’s important to get M doing as much as possible in the lesson, and avoid doing things for her. Patience is very important, as obviously in many cases it would be faster for me to just pick something up and give it to her. In the long run, this won’t help M though. As with any lesson with young learners, I’m not just teaching English. Motor skills and coordination are just as, if not more, important for M as they are for all children to learn.

Rethinking the visual: week four

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

From now on, I’ll summarise all of our lessons from each week into a single post. For the sake of clarity:


Braille was developed to enable blind people to read and write. A single ‘cell’ of braille consists of six dots. Different combinations of dots are raised from the page to denote different letters or symbols. They are numbered:

The Braille Cell

The Braille Cell (image from the American Foundation for the Blind)

For example, ‘a’ is written with only dot 1, ‘l’ is written with dots 1-2-3, and ‘x’ is written with 1-3-4-6. For a fuller explanation, go to the American Foundation for the Blind ‘Braille: deciphering the code‘ page.

Before the lesson on Tuesday, I used memrise to learn the English alphabet in braille. I’d got about half of the letters by then, and it turns out they’re quite quick to learn visually, at least to recognise the basics of what’s written on a page. [Update on Friday: after just a week of learning, I’m already able to recognise the letters A-T quite quickly whenever I see them, although some letters are easier to remember than others!]

I have a braille primer, including the alphabet to refer to during the lesson. There are two ‘grades’ of braille:

  • Grade 1: everything is written out letter-by-letter. There are also cells denoting punctuation. This is used for basic literacy.
  • Grade 2: a series of contractions are used to make reading and writing faster.

Contractions could be whole words, like ‘you’ being replaced by the same code as the letter ‘y’, ‘j’ for ‘just’, or they can be common letter combinations, like ‘sh’ or ‘gh’ being replaced by a single braille cell, instead of two. The primer I used has a list of these contractions arranged alphabetically for easy reference if you’d like to see examples.

Tuesday’s lesson

We started with M telling me the chants from the fourth lesson.

First writing

I then asked if she had paper ready to do some writing, and she was really excited 🙂

I’d prepared a list of vocabulary from our previous lessons, along with their braille transcriptions, with the help of a braille translator. Here are a few examples, with transcriptions below to help you read them:

'Cotton' in braille


'Slate and stylus' in grade 2 braille

S-L-A-T-E AND ST-Y-L-U-S (the tools you need to write in braille)

'How much do you weigh?' in grade 2 braille

Capital letter follows-H-OW MUCH (2 cells) DO (=d) YOU (=y) W-E-I-GH-?

I started by teaching her ‘slate’ and ‘stylus’ in English, as she had been using the Russian words. I asked her whether she knew any short forms in English braille, or only long ones. I don’t know when it’s normal to start learning Grade 2 braille in your first or second language, but so far M only knows grade 1.

The very first contraction I taught her was ‘and’, which she wrote in both the contracted and long forms in her notebook. We ended up with the following information in her book, with M asking for both the short and long forms, but preferring to only write out the long forms, with short forms as single cells written afterwards. I’ve written them in capitals with dashes so you get an idea of how her page is arranged:




In the end, we’d looked at six contractions: ‘and’, ‘st’, ‘sh’, ‘wh’, ‘in’ and ‘ar’. I don’t think she’ll remember what all the short forms correspond to next lesson, so we’ll talk about note-taking a bit more next time, but for now I think it’s just important that she’s written some words down.

She asked for ‘whistle’, and enjoyed reading out the words as a Russian who didn’t speak English might – spelling/sounding them out in a funny way. Then she did exactly what any fully-sighted student tends to do with unfamiliar spelling patterns in new words – she had trouble pronouncing ‘slate’ properly because of the spelling!

This whole process took about 25 minutes, with me using my braille primer to remind M of any letters she didn’t know and to introduce the contracted forms. I was really pleased to get some reading and writing into the lessons 🙂

I’m not afraid of you

One of M’s favourite mistakes is ‘I don’t afraid it’, so I wrote her a short poem to fix the correct form.

I’m not afraid of the big bad wolf


As I was walking through the woods

I met a big, bad wolf.


He looked at me,

But I didn’t flee,

How silly could I be?


No, I didn’t flee,

I didn’t flee,

Silly, silly me.


So the wolf and I were in the woods

And then I said to him:

“I’m not afraid of a big bad wolf.

No, I’m not afraid of you.

I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid,

No, I’m not afraid of you.”



We spent 20 minutes listening to it repeatedly and learning it – I had it stuck in my head for the rest of the day! I deliberately including a couple of new words: ‘flee’ and ‘boo’. When I recorded it, I accidentally hit the table when saying ‘boo’, so now M hits the table every time she says it! 🙂

In the lesson I only had the faster version, and I read it to and with M to help her when she had trouble.

I recorded a slow version afterwards, and sent both to her to listen to as homework.

Alice in Wonderland

We spent the last 15 minutes listening to chapter 2 of Alice in Wonderland. Before we listened, I asked M to tell me what had happened in chapter one. While listening, she said ‘stop’ whenever there was a word or phrase she didn’t know. This only happened twice, for the words ‘pool’, ‘tears’ and ‘shore’. She laughed out loud at the part where Alice was having trouble with geography: “London is the capital of Paris”. “No, no, London is the capital of Britain!” 🙂


We started off with reading. M read what she’d written in the previous lesson, and I then tested her on the short forms by saying the letters, and her telling me the braille code for that short form. For example, I said ‘S-H’ and she said ‘1-4-6’. She asked if she could look at her page to check, which I said was fine, but then I started picking them randomly, which confused her. I’d read (and forgotten) that reading tasks for students using braille should be in the same order as the text, as they can’t dot around the text (skim and scan) in the way that sighted students can – I need to remember this for next time.

I also did a verbal spelling test on the words we wrote on Tuesday. M had trouble with stylus, cotton, brain, whistle. I asked her to spell her name, which she wasn’t confident about in English. She likes both the Russian and (two) English variants of her name, so we wrote them all in her book, giving me the chance to introduce the notation for a capital letter. We also added three new words from the last lesson, including two new short forms: ‘ea’ and ‘con’. After 30 minutes, her page had the following writing on it, with the arrangement determined by the number of cells she had available on each line:

[Russian name – long form] [Russian name – with a contraction] [English name – variant one] P-O-O-L

[English name – variant two] T-E-A-R-S EA C-O-N-T-I-N-U-E CON

After all the reading, writing and spelling, that just left ten minutes to listen to chapter 3 of Alice in Wonderland. There were three new words for her: ‘level’, ‘creature’, and ‘thimble’. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to read the chapter before the lesson, otherwise I would have taken a thimble with me. As it was, I explained it to her, and held her index finger to show how a thimble protects it. She understood, and said ‘It’s like a little cup. I’ve touched one!’, reemphasising the importance of tactile experiences.

M’s mum sat in on the lesson for a few minutes, and reminded M to sit up and put her chin up a few times. Posture is very important, as when left to her own devices, M often has her head down, with her chin resting on her chest, or her forehead on her arm if she’s sitting down. I always ask her to face me when she’s talking to me, as it makes a big difference to how I feel as a listener. She likes to stand up when she’s reciting or singing, and always stands up very straight when she does this.

Her mum also asked for a copy of the English braille chart, as although her parents don’t speak English, they can help her with some of the braille writing.


To start the lesson, M decided to tell me a bit of Oliver Twist again. I really ought to reread it or watch it again so I can remember what happens – the last time I experienced the story was the an amateur musical production at uni, about 7 years ago! She asked if Dickens had written any other children’s books, to which I replied that (I think), there’s only A Christmas Carol. M asked about ‘carol’, knowing it was a name, so I explained it’s a special kind of Christmas song and gave her a couple of examples. M then displayed her beautiful voice again by singing all three verses of Silent Night in Russian. I could only remember a few lines of the English version, including the word ‘Virgin’. This took us on to a discussion of the annunciation (a word which I’ve only remembered while writing this) which is celebrated by Russian Orthodox Christians on M’s birthday, which happens to be four days after mine. As she said, ‘We’re April girls!’ M finished this section of the lesson by showing me the cross she wears around her neck, and telling me about how it keeps her safe. During this discussion, one of her favourite mistakes popped up a couple of times: ‘I very like it’. This is the next mistake I’ll try to deal with.

The rest of the lesson was spent on labelling. We wrote five words, four of which have short forms, on a big piece of paper. We put each word on a new line, leaving a blank line in between so there would be space to cut them up. There are two new contractions, (ed) and (ch), and two old ones, (ar) and (sh). Here are the words:

bed b(ed)

chair (ch)air


wardrobe w(ar)drobe

shelves (sh)elves

You’ll notice that I’ve stopped transcribing in capitals as I’ve finally learnt how to indicate how words should be brailled from this excellent braille introduction, although I’m not going to go back and change how I wrote it before. I checked this introduction because I wasn’t sure about the exact rules for using contractions, as I don’t want to teach M the wrong thing, and I’d read something about syllable boundaries and pronunciation. It actually turns out to be fairly logical. For example, you use (th) to indicate ‘th’ in words like ‘(th)(ough)t’, but not in words like ‘pothole’, where two words are joined and it’s not a /th/ sound.

I was surprised when M asked if she could cut the labels out herself, although I know I shouldn’t have been as there’s no reason why M shouldn’t learn how to use scissors. This was another time when I realised just how much having my sight has influenced my learning. M held the scissors ‘upside-down’, with her thumb facing down rather than up. She also pointed them downwards/vertically, rather than across/horizontally. Finally, her hand was very close to her body, and her elbow tucked in. Taken together, this made it very difficult for her to cut the paper. I took the scissors and held them (closed!) and encouraged her to feel my hand, arm and body to feel the position of the scissors. She held them again with my help, and cut across the paper, producing a very jagged line. The second line was much straighter, as I encouraged her to move the scissors forward before closing them completely so she didn’t let go of the paper each time.

As we were cutting, M was trying to tell me about shapes she could make, and eventually got a stencil she has to show me squares, rectangles and circles. The main problem I had with understanding was that by this stage M was mostly speaking Russian. She’d been speaking more and more Russian throughout the lesson, which I think was because she was tired. This class started at 17:00, the latest one we have. The others are at 12:00 and 14:30 respectively. Although it looks like we didn’t do a lot of writing in each lesson, it’s actually quite tiring for her, as it requires a lot of concentration. The Russian made it quite hard to communicate, and for the first time I had to remind her to speak English.

While she was using the stencil to draw on some of the scrap paper, I cut out the rest of the words to make labels, and transcribed them in (Roman) letters underneath so that her parents could see what each braille cell stands for. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo, but I’ll try to remember to do this next time. M then stuck them to the relevant pieces of furniture. Thanks to Naomi Epstein for this idea – M loved it! When I asked what she wanted to do next time, she asked for more labels. 🙂

Outside class

On a completely random note, the woman who got on the bus in front of me this morning had a three-line braille tattoo! I think it’s Russian braille, as I can’t make sense of it in English – I wanted to check it was nothing too personal, but I figure that since it’s clearly visible and this is just the first line, it’s OK to have a photo of it. I couldn’t ask her to check. What a cool idea!

Braille tattoo

Later in the day, I also saw a bit of graffiti with a skull on it, with the word ‘blind’ written underneath in English. I’m sure I would never have noticed it before!

Finally, I’ve been teaching a group of young learners (8-11 years old) this week. Our topic was spies, so what better way of reading and writing codes than using braille! Here is the code-breaking sheet:

The sentences are based on a Quizlet set I created. Can you decode them? 🙂 Students then write their name in braille at the bottom of the page. If they still have spaces in the line, they can choose an English word they know and transcribe it into braille for other students to decode. For example, if they have five spaces, they choose a five-letter word. If they enjoy this, you can give them a whole sheet of braille cells to write any codes they choose.

It’s been another fascinating week of lessons with M, and it turns out braille is a lot less scary than I thought it was to start with. If you’re working with students who use braille, or those who are interested in using it, I’d highly recommend familiarising yourself with it, as it’s quite quick and it’s made a huge difference. I can’t read braille with my fingers at all – you need to develop the sensitivity to do it through a lot of practice, but I can look and check what M has written. Another breakthrough 🙂

Rethinking the visual: fifth lesson

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

Today we didn’t even make it into the house before the lesson started! I opened the garden gate to be greeted by M’s 3-year-old sister running towards me and M shouting “She’s found a caterpillar!” For the next 10 minutes or so, we picked up the caterpillar so M could feel it, then tried to rescue it (they were clearing the garden ready for planting), but it kept falling off the leaf. I eventually managed to put it on a bush outside, and we went in to start the lesson proper, with M telling me “I don’t afraid it” [the caterpillar] on the way.

We chatted about brothers and sisters, and I told M my brother is much taller than me. She hugged me and held up her hands to feel how tall I am, then asked me how much I weighed! I mentioned that it’s not normal to ask a woman this, but I didn’t mind telling her this time 🙂 We also discussed the difference between brothers/sisters and cousins, because the Russian words for ‘cousin’ contain ‘brother/sister’, meaning students often say they have siblings when they mean cousins. She asked about names too, and why some people have middle names.

M remembered both of the chants from the previous lesson and told me two more which she learnt at school, one of which, ‘The Spaghetti Song’, she sang in a lovely voice. At the end of the lesson, we listened to the complete first chapter of Alice in Wonderland, and she’ll be able to listen to it again for homework.


I found out that M can read and write braille in Russian, and a little in English. She said it’s very difficult to write English braille, and reading is slow. I asked her to show me how she writes, and learnt about the slate and stylus for the first time.

Slate and stylus

Slate and stylus

I didn’t realise that braille is written on the reverse of the paper, from right to left, so that when the paper is the right way up, the reader can move from left to right and feel the raised dots. M demonstrated by taking a piece of my scrap paper and writing the first part of the English alphabet for me. I’d downloaded an html file of the Braille Bug: Deciphering the Code page from the American Foundation for the Blind, so I was able to help M with some of the letters she’d forgotten (e, i, m). It turns out it’s fairly easy (I hope!) to learn the basics of the English braille code (as the symbols are called), and I’ve started using ‘Learn Basic English Braille‘ on memrise this evening so that I can at least recognise the letters. Another ‘language’ to add to the collection 😉

As a result of this conversation, I suggested to M that she have a notebook for our next lesson, and we’ll start writing down the new words and phrases that I teach her. I found a pdf of the English braille code, including many contractions, which I’ll take with me for the next lesson. I’m also going to look into touch-typing, as I think this could be really useful for M.

Good news

I was particularly happy at the end of the lesson, as M (and her dad) asked if we can schedule an extra hour of classes from next week, taking us from two to three hours, and M said “I very like our lessons” 🙂 I must be doing something right then!

It’s hard to believe it’s only been two weeks since our first lesson – I’ve already learnt so much, and I’ve got a lot more to read, thanks to the Kaizen Program in the USA, who have sent me a lot of useful information. From next week, I’ll just publish one post a week about all of our lessons, so as not to overwhelm people too much (!), but I’ll continue the reflective process.

Teaching M has made me really appreciate how I interact with the world, and just how much I rely on the visual, and how many things I’ve learnt or reinforced my knowledge of through my sight. It’s fascinating stuff!

Rethinking the visual: fourth lesson

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

As soon as I walked in to M’s house, I asked her mum if she had a sheet. I’d brought one with me to show her (her parents don’t speak English, and M translates everything for them), but it was too small. Luckily, they had a white sheet the perfect size. Together we dressed M as a Roman girl, as promised. I added sandals, and some string around her hair (I didn’t get the scissors until after the photo was taken!) and her outfit was complete. As you can see, she was very happy!

M dressed as a Roman

M dressed as a Roman

We talked a little bit about the fabric and why there was such a big knot (because I didn’t have a brooch or know how to make it smaller!). She asked why it was only on one shoulder, and what they wore in the winter. I said they had a cloak to when it was colder, or at least, that’s what I thought.

We could have taken this further, but M really wanted to start the story, so I’ll save talking about clothes for a future lesson, based on Naomi’s comment on my previous post.

After the initial excitement, we moved on to a couple of chants to help M remember correct version of some of the mistakes she made in the last lesson. These are the two I’d come up with:

I shouted at her.
I shouted at her.
I shouted at her a lot.

Yesterday he went to London.
He didn’t want to go.
He’s coming back tomorrow,
But his friend doesn’t know.

Once we’d practised these a couple of times, we started the reading Alice in Wonderland (Compass Classic Readers Level 2), [Amazon affiliate link to Kindle version]. I said I wouldn’t tell her too much about Wonderland because she’d learn about it during the story, only that it’s a country. I described Alice’s costume, then started to read the first chapter myself, pausing to ask M questions about what she thought would happen next. Within three sentences she realised that she already knew the story in Russian! She told me about the ‘drink me’ and ‘eat me’ before we got to that part of the story. We were running out of time, so I played the CD for the part I’d read (about one page). I sent M the first chapter and the two chants to listen to between the lessons.

This lesson’s lightbulb moment was about correction. I often use my fingers to indicate missing words or words which need to be added to a sentence, by having one finger for each word and pointing to indicate where the error is. I realised this can still be used with M, but rather than showing my fingers and relying on sight, I used touch. I tapped M’s arm to show the changes she needed to make. For example, she said “I late”, so I tapped “I am late” with three fingers on her arm to show her the missing word.

We’ll continue with Alice in Wonderland, but I need to keep looking for a story which M doesn’t know. Unfortunately all of the suitable readers we have are based on classic stories, so she’s probably familiar with them all. I don’t have internet access in the lesson, so anything I want to use should be offline. I’m also going to ask M about her literacy again too – I don’t know how much braille she knows, and whether it’s only in Russian, or if she knows some in English too.

Rethinking the visual: third lesson

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

Oliver Twist

Today’s lesson started with M telling me she’d listened to Oliver Twist again. She has an audiobook version of the story on two CDs which was given to her by her teacher in Saint Petersburg. She’s seen the film in Russian, and listened to the CDs in English. I asked her to tell me the story.

What followed was another (to me anyway!) extraordinary example of M’s capacity to retain language. She remembers a lot of her favourite sections verbatim, and enjoys acting out parts of the story. Her intonation is excellent, much better than a lot of my students of a similar level, and there was even the trace of a London accent in some of the quotes of direct speech. Her favourite character is Nancy, who “lives with the cruel, wicked man Bill Sykes. He murderous.” She repeated almost the whole dialogue between Mr Bumble and the Master in the workhouse, after Oliver Twist had asked “Can I have some more?”, with only very minor errors. I think it’s like how I would learn the lyrics of a song purely by hearing it again and again, when there are always some things that you mishear or don’t notice.

What I was worried about here was that M might be repeating the sounds without really understanding the words, so I challenged her on some of them, but she always dealt with them without a problem. One example was ‘apprentice’ – she defined it as a student, and I asked what they would learn.

M: You’re learning cook and you’ll be a cooker.
S: You’re learning to cook and you’ll be a cook. A cook is the job, a cooker is a machine.
M: [laughs!] Hah, you’ll be a machine! No, no, you’ll be a cook.

M also took the opportunity to ask me more about workhouses, and whether we still have them in the UK. I said that they disappeared about a hundred years ago, which she said was very good because they’re horrible places.

During this I made a note of some of the sentences she made mistakes with, mostly grammar mistakes which are common to Russian speakers. I’m going to try to come up with rhymes to help her remember some of them. Here they are, in case you have any suggestions:

She very shouted on him. [She shouted at him a lot.]

He don’t want lived in the workhouse. [He didn’t want to live in the workhouse.]

He went in London. [He went to London.]

It’s how porridge, but with a little bit water. [It’s like porridge, but with a little bit of water. – this use of ‘how’ for ‘like’ is one of her main mistakes, which I tried to correct during the lesson, but didn’t manage to get across]

It’s present me my teacher in Saint Petersburg. [My teacher in St. P. gave it to me.]

The Romans

We then moved on to talking about the Romans. The other audiobook which M has with her is called Visit London and includes a section about the Romans. She can repeat a short part of it.

I asked her if she knew what the Romans looked like, and she said she had a soldier and a gladiator. She fetched the models, each about 8cm tall and made of metal. We talked about the clothes they were wearing, and their weapons, and why the shield had a metal part on the front of it (the boss). I taught her ‘helmet’, ‘shield’ and ‘sword’.

She asked about normal Romans and I said that I would bring some things next time to help her find out what a normal Roman looked like. I haven’t worked out exactly how to do this yet, but I suspect we’ll dress her up in a sheet like a toga. One of my jobs for the weekend…

Out of time - image by Ian James on ELTpics

Out of time – image by Ian James on ELTpics (shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence)

M’s sight

I asked her more about her sight, and from what I can gather, she has always been visually impaired, although she said that her left eye used to be bad and her right eye better, but now they’ve switched.

With her soldiers, I asked M what colour they were. She needed a lot of light, taking them to the window, and holding them close to her eyes, before telling me they were light, probably white. I said they were grey, and held them next to white paper for her to see the difference. This showed me that her colour vision is very limited, although I couldn’t find out whether it used to be better – she’s definitely aware of different ideas of colour, but they’re very difficult (impossible?) for her to see now.

She asked about me too, and I showed her my glasses. I’ve had glasses since I was six, and can’t see distances or screens clearly without them, although I don’t wear them when I’m doing anything close, including during our lesson.

M enjoys watching TV, especially cartoons, her favourite being Duck Tales, which happened to be one of my favourites when I was a kid, although I don’t remember it that well (potential future lessons there…).

“Your eyes are two TV sets in your body.” She said that she doesn’t understand how you see (which reinforces what I said above), and that she’d talked to her school friends about it. “It’s how cartoons. When you can’t see, you can’t see cartoons in your head.”

Before next lesson

When we only had a few minutes left, M asked about the story, but I said she’d told me a lot today and we’d nearly run out of time so I would start it next lesson. I’d brought Sleeping Beauty, but decided during the lesson that I’ll try Alice in Wonderland with her – we have a higher level reader of that, and I think she’ll enjoy the challenge. I told her the name of the story, but failed to get across the idea of ‘Wonderland’, which is another thing for me to work out.

So in summary, I need to:

  • Work out how to dress M up as a ‘normal’ Roman;
  • Come up with sentences/chants/drills to correct some of her mistakes, particularly ‘how’ for ‘like’;
  • Think of a better way to convey the idea of Wonderland, without giving away too much of the story (from what she said, she doesn’t know it – I hope!);
  • Watch Duck Tales again!

Rethinking the visual: second lesson

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

The more eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the opening paragraph of this post has changed slightly, and that’s thanks to some of the questions that came out of my first post and some further research I’ve been doing. It may seem silly, but it hadn’t occurred to me to ask if M could see anything at all – I thought she was completely blind. Speaking to her during our second lesson today, it turns out that she can actually see light and dark, colours, and some shapes. Blue and pink are her favourite colours, and we talked about which colours are girls’ and boys’ colours, because I love blue too, but happen to hate pink!

I also asked M how she remembers new language, particularly new vocabulary, she replied that she listens and repeats it, then relaxes, then repeats it again. She does seem to have a very good memory, but I’ll be interested to see how much she retains from today’s lesson when I see her next time (either on Wednesday or Thursday).

She doesn’t use the computer, or seem to use technology much at all for her learning, although I’m not sure if she understood what I was getting at when I asked her this. She told me that they used to use the computer at school, but now they read and write on paper, learning Braille.

The lesson

Our lesson was based on ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ from Aesop’s Fables [affiliate link to Kindle edition via Amazon]. I used the Compass Classic Readers version, which is accompanied by a CD. This is what we did.

  1. I told M we were going to listen to a story, but first I wanted to ask her a question. “Have you ever told a lie?” We talked about what a lie is, and she told me she doesn’t like lies, and the only time she’s ever told something like a lie was during a show with some of her friends, when they all pretended to change their identities.
  2. I gave her the title of the story and said that she might know it already. As expected, she knew it in Russian, but not in English. I asked her to tell me the story, and recorded her while she did so.
  3. We listened to the story (about one minute in total) and compared it to what she’d told me.
  4. I played the story again, this time pausing after each sentence. I asked her to tell me if there were any words she didn’t know. This didn’t work, as she seemed to understand everything at this point.
  5. The third time I played it, I asked M to repeat each sentence. This is when it became clear that there were some things she didn’t understand or couldn’t repeat. I made a note of these for later. We repeated each sentence a few times if necessary, with me isolating difficult bits of speech and clarifying things she didn’t get.
  6. The fourth time we listened, I played a few words, paused the CD, and asked her to tell me what came next. I tried to pause at the places where she’d had trouble in the previous exercise.
  7. I asked M to tell me the story again. I didn’t give my instructions very well, but eventually she understood that she didn’t have to repeat what she’d heard verbatim, but rather tell the story again in her own words, adding any language that she wanted to from the text we’d heard.
  8. To finish off the lesson, I played the two recordings so M could hear the difference. She didn’t know I was recording her before, but didn’t seem bothered when I played them to her. In fact, she was laughing about it!

The first version

S: What did he do?

M: He…I forgot it in English.

S: OK. That’s OK. What do you remember?

M: He has got a sheeps and he cried “Wolf! Wolf! Help please!” Mans came but…it’s was a false. Then boy again said “Wolf!”, cried “Wolf! Wolf! Help!” and man came. Not…no, not wolf. It’s…it’s a false.

S: Mmm-huh. It’s false. It’s a lie.

M: It’s a lie. Then he’s cried again and wolf ca…wolf came, and…boy…boy shouted “Wolf! Wolf! Help!” They…but mens don’t…they thought that it’s not true. But it was true, and wolf ate… all sheeps. Yes?

S: Yes! That’s exactly the story.

No wolves here

No wolves here… [my photo]

The text

Taken from pages 32-33 of Aesop’s Fables (Compass Classic Readers level 1), as retold by Ken Methold (no copyright infringement is intended – this is purely meant to show how the text I used in class fed into later production by M.)

A shepherd-boy looked after the sheep belonging to the people of the village.

One day he cried, “Wolf! Wolf!”

Hearing him, the villagers ran to help him drive away the wolf. However, when they reached him, there was no wolf to be seen. The boy thought it was very funny.

“You weren’t quick enough,” he said to them. “The wolf has run away.”

Thinking he was very clever, a few days later he shouted “Wolf!” again. Again, the villagers came to help him, and again he said, “You weren’t quick enough. The wolf has run away.” The angry villagers went back to their work in the village.

A week later the boy shouted “Wolf!” again, but the villagers did not believe him. However, this time there really was a wolf, and it killed all the sheep because no one came to drive it away.

The second version

[a few false starts]

M: A shepherd boy…[long pause]

S: It’s alright. Tell me in your own words.

M: Shepherd…a shepherd boy shepherd the sheep.

S: That’s right. That’s perfect!

M: It’s how tongue twister.

S: Yeah, it is!

M: Shepherd the sheep.

S: A shepherd boy is shepherding the sheep.

M: The long time…[long pause]

S: So tell me, don’t worry about the exact words, but tell me the story yourself and if you want to use words from the story, you can, that you heard, but you don’t have to. So, tell me the story like you did at the start. [and that was my third attempt at the instructions! Hmmm….]

M: Ahhh. The boy looked after the sheep. The shepherd boy looked after the sheep. Not far…not far away worked…worked a villagers, and he shouted “Wolf!” Villagers came…came but holever…

S: However

M: …however, it’s st…they…it’s not was [?]. Boy thought that it was…boy joked…he said with laugh: “Quick enough, the wolf is run away!”

He thought he was clever…that he was clever, and few days later he shouted “Wolf!” again. Again, villagers came to help him, but it’s no…but it wasn’t the wolf. Boy again said the life [?] “Quick enough! A wolf is run away!”

The week later, he shouted again “Wolf!” but villagers don’t…believed him. But it’s was wolf, but… however… it’s very was a wolf and it killed all sheep, because… it wasn’t…nobody came to…drive it away.

S: Well done!


From the first telling, the only specific piece of language I highlighted was 1 sheep, 2 sheep. M already knew this but had forgotten it, and added the example of 1 fish, 2 fish herself. As you can see, she used it correctly the second time round.

Language that caused problems in the text when she was repeating the sentences  (stage 4 of the lesson described above):

  • looked after: due to connected speech, M didn’t pick this up, but knew it once I’d repeated it.
  • belonging to: she couldn’t isolate this either. I’m not sure if she fully understand it, and will ask her again next lesson.
  • drive away: new vocabulary. She thought it meant ‘kill’ from the context, which is understandable.  I explained “You make it go away, but don’t kill it. You don’t want it to come back.”
  • hearing him: difficulties remembering it when repeating the text – it was at the beginning of quite a long sentence, and obviously didn’t seem to carry enough meaning for her to feel the need to remember it
  • There was no wolf to be seen. A new structure
  • You weren’t quick enough: M didn’t hear or reproduce the negative. I isolated it a few times, but she never produced it.
  • went back to: M kept saying ‘came back to’
  • in the village: no article, which is quite typical for Russian speakers

What I found particularly interesting during this was that M asked me “Why did he make a pause?”, referring to when he introduced direct speech. I don’t think many of my sighted students would have noticed that.

The second telling shows M playing with the sounds at the beginning, and forming quite a complex sentence. She’s taken some of the language from the text into her version, like ‘looked after’, ‘quick enough’ and ‘run away’. It’s a richer, more colourful version than her first telling.

However, there are a lot of grammatical errors, and this is my challenge now. How can I improve her accuracy without just having lots of repetition and memorisation? The accuracy needs to be transferable to other structures, not just the exact sentence we’re practising at that point. Grammar chants were suggested by Olga Stolbova, which I’m going to try. All other suggestions will be gratefully accepted!

My research

To finish off, here is a link to all of the resources I’ve managed to find on teaching languages to blind students. I haven’t managed to find anything which particularly helps in my current context (young learner, 121, quite high level already), but there are ideas scattered through the resources which might be useful later. A lot of links on lists of resources I found seem to be out-of-date or broken.

I also contacted the American Federation for the Blind (AFB), who replied with the first three links from a Google search (I appreciate the effort, but it seems a little pointless!), and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB – the UK equivalent) to ask for help, but I’m not sure if I’ll get anything from there either.

I’ve pretty much exhausted my ideas for Google searches now, so think that I’ll move on to trial and error, and blogging 😉

Rethinking the visual: first lesson

On Thursday I had my first lesson with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She was a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also completely blind.

I’d met M a couple of days previously when she came to the school for a placement test. I knew she was coming, but wasn’t really sure how to test her, since she couldn’t do our traditional written placement test or access any of the visuals that most young learner testing relies on. I opted for asking her various questions to try and gauge her level, and concluded that she was high elementary, possibly pre-int. She spoke quite fluently and was very excited about using her English.

Before our first lesson, she and her mum took me to their house. During the five-minute walk I realised that I’d misjudged her level, and she was actually much better: quite a confident pre-intermediate. She was telling me facts about the Great Fire of London and Oliver Twist, both of which she’d listened to and remembered. She was showing off a much wider range of language than I’d been able to get from the placement test, and it was clear that what I’d planned for the first lesson would be too easy.

We ended up doing a mini test, where I described animals and she guessed what they were. I had some finger puppets from Ikea which I thought would be good as they’re very tactile. She told me that she had the same puppets at home (they’re in Sevastopol on holiday), so she knew the characters. There were only a few words I could teach her: veil, sack, firefighter, hose and tiara. We played another game, which she suggested, where I had to say the character/puppet and she had to find it from the pile as quickly as possible.

M also told me a bit about her school. She’s in a class of 10 at a specialist school for the blind, where she’s learning to read and write braille. I don’t know (yet) if braille is international or if it is written differently in different languages. This is just one of many, many questions I need to find out the answers to.

Our next lesson will be on Tuesday, and I’m slightly worried about it, because I’ve realised I’m not sure exactly how to approach teaching M, not just doing activities with her. I’m very aware of how much I rely on visual stimuli in my teaching, like pictures and writing on the board, so I’m thinking about how to do things differently. I need to come up with some kind of programme showing what I’m going to teach her so that her parents know I have a plan! It would be very easy for us to just talk or listen to CDs in our lessons, but then I would feel like I’m short-changing her. So here are my initial questions/challenges:

  • How can I help M to remember and retain new language when she doesn’t have any way of record-keeping (at least, as far as I can tell at the moment)?
  • How can I improve M’s accuracy in a more varied way than just getting her to repeat phrases back to me? (She has problems with things like ‘I don’t afraid’)
  • If I use CDs, what activities can I do with them, beyond questions and answers? The vast majority of what I do at the moment relies on visual stimuli.
  • She loves songs and has a very good memory for them. What can I do with songs beyond just getting her to memorise them and ask me about words she doesn’t know? What kind of songs could I use?
  • She told me that she likes ‘stories, especially about girls’. We have a handful of graded readers for young learners which come with CDs. I can use these CDs, but (yet again!) what kind of activities can I do? (beyond answering questions and predicting what will come next)

I have a feeling that my lessons might be quite same-y at the moment, and I don’t want her to get bored! At the same time, I’ll be teaching her for two one-hour lessons a week, and I need to make sure my planning time isn’t disproportionate!

I’ve already asked for some help on facebook, and these were the suggestions and comments so far (so I don’t lose them!):

  • Guessing games
  • Songs
  • Chants
  • Listening games
  • Bingo
  • Poetry
  • Read her part of a story and she guesses what comes next.
  • You say a sentence with a magic word and she guesses the word. Eg if the magic word is ‘monkey’. You say ‘I like reading monkeys’ and she guesses ‘book (s)’.
  • Create a story/narrative using sound effects. Guess what you are doing from the sounds you are making.
  • Check out byMichael Harrison
  • Enrich your storytelling with sound effects – a webinar by Dincer Demir
  • Have a look at story books to help you. There are loads of story books available and it might help. Instead of preparing a reading, prepare a listening and pre-teach vocabulary, etc.
  • Remember she’s blind, not an idiot – talk to her as you would talk to any other 10 year old girl. Ask what she wants to do. Has she listened to the audio books and what does she think about them? What software is there out there for her to be creative? Maybe have her do her “homework” in the form of audio and tactile productions (maybe do a podcast together for other girls her age?) or some form of 3D extravaganza! Find interesting fruit, vegetables, bottles, clothes etc and go through shapes, smells, tastes etc. (can she tell bottles for poison from other bottles for instance?). Talk about school, what she wants to do when she’s older, what kind of music does she like to listen to etc?
  • I second Sorcha Ogle’s comment about how to talk to her. Nonethless, be sensitive to things that she might not be able to visualise. Like a fire. Discuss scenes you’ve read/listened to so as to see how she visualises them.
  • A guide for teaching visually impaired students (although this is for those with some residual sight)
  • Touchy-feely books are amazing for these students.
  • SEN teacher (Special Educational Needs)
  • Also, just be aware of your language. If you are quite a visual person you are more likely to say things like ‘I see’, etc
  • You could collect things on a walk that she could feel & smell to talk about to learn about nature. Sounds and tactile things will be very beneficial to promote talk for learning but I suppose it also depends on the topic
  • Consider some form of cooking or gardening – so she can learn the smells, taste and English words for things like Lavender, Basil, Rosemary, Pine, TeaTree, Lemon, Citronella, Orange, Lime, Rose etc (she could grow up to be a perfumer!)

Thanks to Kylie Malinowska, Charles du Parc, Julie Raikou, Martin Sketchley, Sorcha Ogle, Naomi Epstein, Elena Lysytsia, Sue Annan and Catherine Buckby for their help!

Andrea Wade had a story which was very interesting:

I taught a blind student in Italy. I found it incredibly hard, especially in the beginning. As you say, we tend to rely on visual stimuli. For me, one of the biggest problems was not being able to rely on body language to convey a message. I would find myself making gestures and facial expressions to get my meaning across and then kick myself when I remembered he couldn’t see me! The breakthrough came for me when, one day, my student told me he could ‘hear’ me when I smiled or frowned and that he preferred it when I smiled! I suppose he could hear it in my voice, but it was a turning point for me. After that, I was my usual expressive self with gestures and expressions – I lost my self-consciousness – and, with this, came much greater understanding between us. I learnt a lot about myself through teaching him – and a lot about him, too because I found one of the best ways to teach him was through getting him to tell me about his life and his experiences.

Interestingly, I haven’t felt self-conscious or nervous at all – M is very easy to talk to – but it’s an important reminder not to bring any negativity I might be carrying with me into the classroom.

Ultimately, I want to make these lessons as useful as possible for her, and this very long post is an attempt to ask for any suggestions! I’ll be blogging more as the lessons continue, and will hopefully see some progress in my lessons over the course of the posts.

Pre-teens aren’t stupid

A slightly depressing thought.

I spoke to my students yesterday about why we talk about a reading passage after reading it, and don’t just move on. There are 3 of them, aged 12-13, in that class.

Their comments, and the order they came out with them, were quite telling:

  • because we’re going to study future continuous (the grammar point on the facing page)
  • because we need it later (i.e. as adults)
  • just because
  • because it’s about the environment and we need to know about that

When I suggested it might be to help me see how much of the text and the ideas in it they understood, they seemed quite surprised. They certainly weren’t particularly engaged in the topic itself (changes a boy and his family were making to their life to be more environmentally friendly).

[And yes, I know I shouldn’t necessarily have just done the next page in the book, but I’d been at home all morning because there’d been a small fire in my flat!]

Challenges 4

The book in question, and by no means the only one at fault…

Cuisenaire Rods

A few weeks ago, I was reading a post on Ceri’s blog and stumbled across a picture of some Cuisenaire rods. I made a quick comment on the post, and Ceri asked me if I would like to write a joint post on how we use them. Ceri is a respected ELT writer and inspirational teacher and it’s an honour to be able to blog with her for a newbie like me. It’s the first attempt at cross-posting and blogging together for either of us: hope you like the results!

Ceri’s story

I bought my box of cuisenaire rods in 1989 when I was doing my induction to the Dip TEFLA (as it was known then) at IH Hastings. I was inspired by a silent way influenced lesson I observed at the school and bought my rods on the way out.  I was fascinated by the atmosphere of engagement and focused attention, of the calm, controlling presence of the teacher and the concentration on the part of the students.  I’ve carried the rods around with me ever since. They’re looking pretty good, despite their age, I think it’s something of the aura of care and respect from that first class I saw that’s rubbed off on them.

Recently I dusted them off and used them in class. But before I did, my kids got their hands on them.  My daughter’s been using them at school for maths.  She squealed with delight and pounced on them.  “They’re made of wood!” (the ones in her school are made of plastic) and proceeded to build a “picture” showing all the number combinations that add up to ten.  There’s a real pleasure in touching them and handling them and the colours are really attractive.  The way they’re laid out so carefully in the box breeds a sense of respect and discipline. When she’d finished with her maths drawings, she very carefully put them all back in their rightful place (not something that happens very often with her toys!).

Inspired by her enthusiastic response , I  took them into my adult class the next day.  We’d been using a lot of internet, Web 2.0 and IWB materials in our classes and I’d taken the rods in as a change of focus.  I wanted to use them first of all as a kind of show and tell activity. I also wanted to know if they too had used them at school and to see what kind of response I’d get.  No-one had used them and they were interested to learn about them.  We’d been discussing the power and associations of colours in the class before so we talked about how colours can aid memory and learning.  And we conducted an experiment, associating specific rods to idiomatic expressions  and explaining why.  We put the rods away until the end of the lesson and brought them out to see if we still remembered the associations.  No surprises, we did. We brought them out again the next lesson. We still remembered.

In the second lesson I introduced them to the rods for language practice using an activity I’d seen modelled back in that lesson in Hastings.  It’s incredibly simple. Incredibly basic. And there’s much, much more that you can do with rods, but it caught their imaginations. This is how our class secretary described the activity in the lesson summary:

Ceri suggested a new game with the blocks.

First ,  she made a figure with some of them and with the explanations she gave us,we were able to make it without seeing it. It was very funny.

After this, everyone of us made a figure and we explained how to make it and the other classmates tried to find out .”

The students were focused, engaged, concentrated, paying attention to the careful choice of each word, especially the “small words” (prepositions, articles, pronouns).  This is a comment one of the students made in her summary after the class:

We noticed our common mistake is when we say “take one block and put it in front of you”. We don´t usually say “it”.We eat “it”.

This seems to be a general pay-off with using rods; the level of attention and the focus on details and precision often help students value small insights, small “noticing” moments that then carry over as a shorthand for correction in less controlled production.

As an extension task I asked the students to write instructions to build a new shape with the rods and to post it on our class blog.  Here’s what one of the students wrote (if you have a set of rods you may want to follow the instructions and see what you come up with):

Hi Ceri!

If you follow the instructions, you’ll reproduce a piece of art made with scaled-up Cuisenaire rods I found on the internet.

Take the rods: 1 orange. 1 blue, 1 brown, 1 black, 1 dark green, 1 yellow, 1 lime green, 1 red and 2 white.

Let’s go!

Take the blue rod and put it on the table in front of you, standing up.

Take the purple rod and put it standing up on the right, next to the blue one.

Take the orange rod and put it behind the blue one, standing up.

Take the brown rod and put it standing up behind the purple one and next to the orange one.

Take the black rod and put it carefully on top of the purple one, standing up.

Take one white rod and put it on top of the orange one.

Now take the red rod and put it standing up on top of the last one you have just placed.

Take the yellow rod and put it on top of the blue one in front of the two smaller rods.

Take the dark green rod put it standing up on the top of the brown one, next to the stack of orange, white and red ones.

Take the lime green and put it on top of the black one, standing up.

In the end, take the other white rod and put it on the top of the red one.

If I’ve given you the right instructions and you’ve followed them correctly, you should have got this sculpture:



Follow the link, it’s worth it to see the photo!

Sandy’s story

When I was about four, my parents gave me a set of Cuisenaire rods. A couple of years later, I got a book showing how to do sums using the rods. I loved playing with them, and it’s possibly here that my primary school love of maths originated. Until I was about eleven, I used the rods all the time. Then, I grew up and they disappeared into the cupboard. If it weren’t for a CELTA session, I would probably not have thought about them again until I had my own kids. I came out with loads of ideas and the joy that one of my favourite childhood toys could have a role in my classroom. The next time I went home, out they came and into my bag of teaching tricks. Every time I’ve used them, the students have been engaged and enthusiastic, once they’ve got over the initial “What does the crazy teacher want us to do with THEM?” reaction, that is!

Re-enacting stories

After reading a story in a young learner textbook, the kids used the rods to represent the different characters and retell the story. There was a jack-in-the-box at the end of the story, and they really enjoyed throwing it across the room!

Grammar – phrasal verbs

Cuisenaire rods are great for showing sentence structure. This is a downloadable set of worksheets I created for word order in phrasal verbs (based on New English File Pre-Intermediate Unit 8).

Building models

My favourite activity uses the rods for model-building. It’s especially good for the vocabulary of houses and furniture, but I’m sure it could be used for many other things. I’ve used it at Elementary, Pre-Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels, with groups ranging from 2-12 students, and it’s always gone down well. This is how to do it:

  • Before the class starts use the rods to build a room in your house / your whole flat (however much you have time to do!). Add as much detail as you can.
    My flat in Cuisenaire rods
  • At the beginning of class, encourage students to guess what it is. They will probably get that it is a house / flat very quickly, but working out the exact details of what is there is generally more challenging. Depending on the level:
    -Draw the outline of the house / room on the board. Students fill it in with the names of the objects. I also left a space for students to write words in Czech they wanted to know. Once we’d looked at the vocab list in their textbook they wrote the English on the board.
    My flat on the board
    – SS use modals of speculation to decide what is where and perhaps why you bought it / put it there.
    – SS describe the room to their partners, focussing on prepositions.
  • Teacher confirms or corrects the names of the furniture / rooms.
  • You could expand the vocabulary, focus on the grammar or generally build on the student-generated language at this point.
  • Students each build one room, without telling anybody which room it is or what objects they have put in it.
    Building a roomRoom
  • Their partner then guesses what is in the room, and which room it is. One really creative student once created a garage, complete with chairs stacked on top of a table. Needless to say, neither his fellow student or I could work out what it was!

NOTE: If you don’t have enough Cuisenaire rods for the whole class, encourage students to use other small objects like coins, rubbers, pencil sharpeners… I also have a box of laminated shapes that comes in very useful for many things. Every time I have a bit of space in a laminating pouch, I put in a scrap of coloured paper and cut the result into random shapes.

A box of shapes

Here are links to two great posts that follow on from this theme.

Emma Herrod wrote about using lego blocks on Barbara Sakamoto’s blog Teaching Village in a blog that appeared in two parts.
More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 1 (by Emma Herrod)
Teaching Village Rotating Header Image More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 2 (by Emma Herrod)

Michelle Worgan wrote about the power of colours and associating colours to words and language on her blog So This is English.
Colour Experience

Picture Boards

This post is partly in response to English Raven’s “May I call a meeting of the board(s)?” and particularly this paragraph:

“Hence, I feel this urge to encourage more ELTers around the world to show us their boards. It doesn’t need to be in response to a specific methodology/activity/technique challenge. I don’t particularly care what you are teaching or how, I just reckon I and a lot of other teachers could learn a lot just by getting a quick look at your board!”

It’s also a chance for me to share one of my favourite vocabulary revision games, especially popular with my YLs, although I use it for adults too.

The photos I’ve chosen to share are actually a year old, but I think they’re a good example of the boardwork I regularly did with a very small YL class I taught last (academic) year. Both of the SS loved writing and drawing on the board, so I made it a point to include this in every lesson I had with them. I tried hard to vary what we did, but this was one activity they loved so much we did it over and over again!

In our last lesson before Christmas I had taught them a set of 10 Christmas words. After the holiday, I wanted to revise them quickly, so I said the word and they had to draw pictures on the board. It was their own idea to create a single picture incorporating all of the words.

When they finished they then switched sides. This time I showed them the word card and they had to circle the correct picture on the board. Much hilarity ensued as they tried to work out what the other student had drawn!

One variant is to borrow a board rubber from another classroom. Instead of circling the correct drawing, they rub out the picture that you ask them about.

It worked really well with such a small class. You could probably do it as a team game in larger classes, or use mini-boards or (laminated) pieces of A4 paper and work in small groups.


Vocabulary box-ing (with added monsters)

I’ve just read Cecilia Coelho’s post about using a vocabulary bank with her classes, which was a response to Emma Herrod’s vocabulary blogging challenge. This is the first challenge which I’ve taken part in, so here goes…

As a relatively new teacher, I’m still constantly finding new activities to revise and practise vocabulary. The one which I use most is very popular at my school (IH Brno), and was introduced to me by Lily-Anne Young. With all of my groups, especially the adults, I have created a vocabulary ‘box’. All new words which are introduced to the students are written on folded slips of paper. The word / phrase is on the outside of the paper, with a definition and example sentence on the inside. I then use them in most sessions with a variety of activities, often variations on a theme. Here are some of them:

  • I / a SS read(s) a definition. The SS call out the word. The first person / team keeps the word.
  • Spread the cards on the table / floor. SS are divided into teams. Each team has a fly-swatter. Somebody says a definition and the teams swat the correct word. The team that gets the word gives the next definition. (from Anette Igel)
  • A selection of cards are placed around the room. Each SS / team has a ball of scrap paper. Somebody reads a definition and the SS must through the paper at the correct card. They then get to keep it. (from Lily-Anne Young)
  • Divide the cards between all of the SS in the class. They mingle and give definitions. When the other SS guesses the word correctly they take the card. If you want to make it competitive, you can give them a time limit and the winner is the person with the most cards at the end.
  • Give SS 5-10 cards each. They have 20 minutes to write a story including as many of the words as possible.
  • Put the SS in teams. One SS comes to you to see a definition. They run back to their team and tell them the word. The team must create a grammatically correct sentence using the word / phrase. (based on a game for pronunciation revision from ‘Homework’ by Lesley Painter)
  • Use 9 of the words to create a noughts and crosses board. SS must use the words/ phrases in a short conversation to win the square.

In order to avoid ending up with too many words in the box – you could easily have a couple of hundred by the end of the year – I ask SS to put a small mark in the top corner of each card after the activities if it has been correctly used. When there are three marks in the corner of the card I ask SS if they think they know the word. If they agree we remove it from the box. I normally keep the cards and a couple of months later pull them out and do a quick revision activity with only the old cards.

With most of the groups I encourage SS to write the words on the cards during the session, then take them home to write the definitions / example sentences. Occasionally the words don’t make it back to class, but there are always more than enough cards to keep us going!

With teens I use a pared down version of the vocab box. We just have large slips of paper with only the words (generally I can remember the context of most of them). They fight over who gets to write on the cards after each vocabulary activity!

For YLs, I use a variation of the vocabulary box, called a vocabulary monster. I got this idea from a book in 2004, but I have absolutely no idea which book it was – if anyone can provide me with the source I would be eternally grateful, as it’s stood me in good stead through the years! This is how to make one:

  • Stick two A3 pieces of paper together along the short side, making a long thin piece of paper.
  • Fold a piece of A4 paper in half and attach it to the bottom of the paper to make a pocket – make sure the sides are sealed, but not the top. This is the monster’s plate – you can draw a picture on there or ask your kids to do it.
  • Use two pieces of A5 paper to make a mouth and stomach and draw your monster around this. I’m not an artist, but I can manage a monster 🙂
  • The final result should look something like this (the second pair of legs was added by the confused software which I used to stitch the photos!):

You can use word or picture cards with the monster. At the end of the class put the words into the monster’s ‘plate’ pocket. At the beginning of the following class, take out the cards and show them to the SS. They should call out the words / draw a picture / do the action / use the word in a sentence. If they do this correctly, the card goes in the monster’s mouth. If not, it stays on the plate. In week 3, any correct words from the mouth go into the stomach. In week 4 any correct words are taken out of the monster. If SS use the word incorrectly it always goes back to the plate. Obviously if you have a large class, it’s your call whether to move the word on or not – it depends what percentage of the class you think is comfortable with the word. I’ve used this with 5 or 6 small classes and they’ve always really enjoyed it.

These activities are just a taster – the great thing about the vocabulary box is that the cards can be used for literally hundreds of activities, and require almost no work at all to prepare. It’s great for warmers, coolers, revision lessons and waking up sleepy students half way through a lesson. And the best thing is, you can use scrap paper for all of it, so you’re not even wasting resources 😉


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