Saturday, December 10, 2016

Xmas2016: Gingerbreadman with Theodore

Day 10 and we are going to Salamis for a STEAM project with my dear friend and colleague, Theodore Lalos.

Christmas Holidays are just a few weeks away and a dear but very naughty and mischievous elf approached me and requested a custom made present to be delivered prior to the end of the year. Thus, without any delay, I gathered all my strength and creativity only to come up with a very familiar Festive tradition…that of baking Gingerbread Men!

However, my baking technique is far more eccentric than the original one. This baking recipe doesn’t resemble at all the mouthwatering one which allows little ones to be enchanted by those golden brown gingerbread men and their cinnamon smell.

There’s no just observation and no participation. Sorry my little folks, but you need to get messy this time!

So, let’s get a bit serious now and explore the purpose of this post…


  • To encourage learners to hypothesise and experiment in order to make observations and conclude on the best amount of bake time 

  • To raise cultural awareness on this Festive tradition.

  • To review primary, secondary and tertiary colours.  

    Language Aims:

ü To review shapes and colours.

ü To encourage learners to use exponents that express the following functions of language: hypothesising and drawing a conclusion.

This activity is suitable for elementary and pre-intermediate level learners.


ü Worksheet / Handout – Baking a Gingerbread Man

ü Some pics of gingerbread products

ü Plastic cups

ü Self-raising flour

ü Food dyes (only the primary colours)

ü Stirrers

ü Some salt


ü Microwave oven


1.   Lead-in:

T shows some pictures of gingerbread products and invites learners to share their experiences.

Aim: To activate schemata, assess learners’ awareness on gingerbread products

2.   Research

T asks learners to find out more about this Festive tradition by searching the Net for more information.

Things to look for: places where such products can be found, on what occasions we bake them, what ingredients comprise the recipe etc.

Aim: to raise learners’ awareness on the Festive tradition, aid autonomy and expose learners to authentic and native language use

3.   Worksheet

T presents the worksheet and informs learners that they are about to bake their own gingerbread men. To do so, they need to produce their own puffy paint (self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, some drops of food dye and some water…stir until the mixture is soft).

In this stage, T will assess learners’ knowledge of mixing colours together to make secondary and tertiary colours.

Furthermore, T will ask learners to think which must be done first…The shapes or the rest of the gingerbread man’s body. Get learners to hypothesise what will happen if the puffy paint covers first the body of the gingerbread man. (It will expand and cover the designated spaces of the shapes, thus it would be wiser to cover the shapes with puffy paint first).

Allow learners to decorate the shapes with the puffy paint of their preference and then put them in the microwave.

Another chance to get learners to hypothesise, observe, gather data and draw a conclusion.

T explains that the microwave has been set to the highest wave frequency, the problem is for how long are they supposed to bake the worksheet.

Learners make predictions (10sec, 20 sec, 30 sec etc.) and check by experimenting.

4.   Baked Gingerbread Man

Review the observations and postulate a principle. Then, take a picture of those puffy, golden brown and crispy gingerbread men.

Worksheet over here

Enjoy your holidays! Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Xmas 2016: Chuck's story

Day 9: It is an honor to host Chuck Sandy in my blog!
I have always enjoyed his stories and he always gives us something to think about.
Happy birthday dear Chuck! May the force be with you!

Stories from some In-Between Times

December is an in-between time  -- a time when we finish one year and get ready for the next one, a time when we wait for Christmas and the joys and pleasures of this holiday.  In many traditions, the four weeks leading up to Christmas are known as Advent and people mark the passing days in different ways. One way people do this is by sharing special, seasonal stories.

One of these stories is O. Henry’s The Gift of The Magi which is about a poor young couple who love each other very much. The woman in the story has beautiful long hair. Her husband has a gold watch which is the one single valuable thing he owns. Otherwise, they have almost nothing – only enough to live a very basic life together. Maybe you know couples like this.

 As Christmas approaches, each of them thinks about how they could buy a gift for the other, and separately they come up with a very beautiful and surprising solution. If you’ve read the story, you’ll know what the solution is. If you haven’t read the story, read it now. It’s very short, and you can read it online here. 

And now that you know the story, let me tell you another one.
Several years ago, I read this story to a group of university students in Japan.  Once we had discussed it and worked through some activities, we decided to work in groups to come up with our own modern-day versions of the story. Each group had about 30 minutes to do this.

When everyone was finished, a leader from each group told their modern version of The Gift of the Magi to the class. All of the versions were very good but the one that everyone liked best was the one about two poor college students who were very much in love and facing some difficult decisions.  

Because their families didn’t like each other, it was very hard for them to see each other. That’s one of the reasons they were so worried. The biggest reason for their worry was that the young woman in this group’s story was pregnant and the couple didn’t know what to do. Neither of them had much money and they couldn’t even afford to get an apartment together. It seemed like they might have to run away and hope for the best. Meanwhile, the present they gave each other was a peaceful evening on which they decided not to worry. Though this story was very different from the original, it was really good. Everyone in my class had tears in their eyes when they heard it.  Then the bell rang and class was over.

A few days later, one of the young women from that class came to my office and told me she really liked the activities we’d done in class and was very moved by The Gift of The Magi. Then she paused and looked at me for some moments before telling me that she was pregnant and might have to drop out of school. I comforted her as best I could and told her not to worry. It was a few days before Christmas and I didn’t see her again until sometime in January the following year.

Already there’s a lot you might discuss and think about. Maybe you’ll do this in a class. Maybe you’ll do this on your own. In either case, please think about the students I just told you about. Let’s call the woman Junko and her boyfriend Hiroshi.  What do you think they did and how is their story similar to and different from the couple in The Gift Of The Magi? How were these two couples living in an in-between time? How about you? How is this season and in-between time for you and your friends? And of course here you’ll want to come up with other questions to think about and discuss, too.

Now let me tell you the rest of my story:  Junko stayed in college and though it was very hard for her, she finished the school year and went on to graduate. Junko and Hiroshi got married and often brought their baby to school with them.
At that time, this was a completely unusual thing to do and I really admired them for it.  Now years later they have a very happy family. I saw them in the grocery store not long ago and after talking for a little while we wished each other a merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to all of you, too.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Xmas2016: Working with commercials

Day 8 and yesterday's post with Kieran's lesson plan, reminded me that I could use more advertisements with my students as speaking and writing prompts. Here are some of this year's favorites:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Xmas2016: Lesson idea with Kieran

Day 7: Everybody knows Kieran Donaghy and his ideas using videos with our students. So, here is a Christmas video lesson with a wonderful song and story.

This EFL lesson is designed around a short film commissioned by John Lewis as their Christmas TV commercial. Students practice vocabulary related to journeys and Christmas, prepositions, song lyrics, speaking and writing.
You can practise Narrative tenses, prepositions and vocabulary related to Christmas.
Click here to get the lesson plan

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Xmas2016: Students' stories: Steve's elves and salesmen

Day 6: My student Steve stated that he would never be able to write a story with more than 120 words! So I challenged him!

I gave him 10 words. 4 of them were Christmas words: minced pies, gingerbread man, elf and reindeer. The other 6 words were random (C1-C2 level CEFR): salesman (influenced by yesterday's story), anticipate, pursue, imaginary, disapproval, upwards.

Here is the result!

So very proud! :) 

Christmas Adventures!


Once upon a time there was a really strange elf that liked to make minced pies

His neighbor was a salesman who made gingerbread- men every day. The elf and the salesman were very good friends and every morning they visited one another and brought their pastry-creations to each other. 

One morning the elf was anticipating the salesman with his cookies, but he didn’t show up. He disappeared! He left because he wanted to pursue his personal dreams. He wanted to see Santa’s reindeer and find Santa’s secret location. 

The elf was very sad because his best friend left him alone and he wanted to follow him to the secret location of Santa’s village.
The elf noticed that the salesman had left footprints all over the snow and went after them and found the salesman outside a cave, hungry and thirsty. 

Thank God he had brought minced pies and milk with him in case he needed them. He gave the food and drink to his friend and the salesman felt better.
Together they continued searching for Santa’s secret village.

All of a sudden they saw an imaginary village. They run towards the village and in front of them was Santa’s house. They rang the bell and Santa came out. Santa welcomed them in but he was angry with the salesman and showed his disapproval because he had left his friend, the elf, behind.
The salesman apologized for his action and admitted that if it weren’t for his friend, he would be dead by now. So Santa forgave them and took them with him on his sleigh. 

The sleigh with the reindeer went upwards on the sky and they all set off to give presents to the children.
The salesman and the elf opened their eyes and found themselves at home. Was it a dream? Who knows?
Ho Ho Ho
Merry Christmas!

by Steve Fotopoulos

Monday, December 5, 2016

Xmas2016: Athanasia's fairytale

Day 5: This year  didn't only want to do crafts and stories with my students, so I thought that we could do something more practical.
My student Athanasia decided to translate her favourite Christmas fairy tale from Greek to English and read it to us!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Xmas 2016: Christmas Rap with Jason

Day 4: So what's on your wish list?
It doesn't have to be something material.... just think...
Time to relax? Time to travel? Love? Serenity?
Task for today: Make your wish list and post it in the comments below!

PS. A big thank you to Jason Levine who let me use his video. Jason is a teacher from the States living in France. He uses rhymes and rhythms to make a wonderful learning experience in English. You can find him over here!