Wednesday, November 14, 2018

How was your weekend?


Here is an activity that I use with most my students, no matter the level or the language.
We all know that speaking is one of the most difficult parts (of exams and not only). A way to make students speak, is to have them describe something.
Mobile phones come to our rescue and students can use them to take pictures and show them to the rest of the class. This can help especially shy students who struggle with speaking to talk about something that interests them. They can even prepare it beforehand if they are not sure of the language, you can talk with them about their mistakes if any and them have them present it in class.
In the video my students describes what she did last weekend. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

What's your favourite thing? #studentprojects

I really love lists.
So, when it comes to students' writing, it is of course a must to just make a list of all their work. This Padlet was made by one of my German classes. They are beginners, so their texts are pretty simple. But this activity can be done by all levels in all languages. The higher the level the more complicated the text.
They could write a more detailed description, how they acquired the particular object, what's the story behind it, how it made them feel. You can even change the subject and write about a person you admire, a holiday, a description of a place. The choices are endless.
This time we got pictures from Pixabay, but students can personalise by adding their own pictures or videos.
Padlet is a great site to post things. It allows you to make 9 free collections and after that you pay. But there are numerous apps of the same use like note.ly , pinup, evernote and many more.

And this is our masterpiece:

Made with Padlet

#onmyway

What I have been doing for years with my students ( and I personally do it on Instagram), is tell them to get pictures on their way to school or home and describe what they see. Maybe it's a beautiful car or a cute stray cat.
But it's a way for them to express themselves in English in writing or speaking.
Here is an example of  a story one of my students wrote (with a bit more imagination than usual) - pictures were taken with her mobile phone and GIF's were added from the Instagram app.


I woke up at 7.30 to go to school. I thought that it would be a boring day like every day. I went out from my house and I started walking to school.
Suddenly  I felt that something was following me. I turned around but I didn't see anything, so I kept walking. I arrived at the park where I usually wait for my friend and I heard strange sounds near me.
I asked a passer-by, but he didn't see anything.


The strange sounds went on and that moment three strong creatures appeared in front of me. They were neither animals or people. I was terrified. I tried to communicate with them and I tried to find out who they were and where they were from. I couldn't understand what they were saying, so I tried to find another way to communicate with them . Their language didn't look like a world's language. I started to think that they were aliens! I was scared, but very excited as well.


The time passed and when my friend arrived, I felt relieved and I asked her if she could see the aliens, that I was seeing, but she told me that she didn't see anything. I felt strange and I couldn't;dn'y understand what was going on. I explained to her what happened and she started to laugh.
Suddenly I heard my mum's voice! "Wake up! Time for school!"
I couldn't believe that it was just a  dream and nothing else


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Let's read


How do you teach reading in your classroom?
Is it the traditional text from the book? Do you get your students to read aloud? Do they read silently? How about the activities? Are they always from the course book? Do they get the reading comprehension activities as homework? Do they have to translate? How about vocabulary?
I guess it's a combination of all the above mixed with other non-book activities depending on the text and its purpose.
So today I am sharing some activities that I use with my students in order to motivate them a bit more to read.

1. Listen to your partner
This is a reading/listening/ speaking activity. You can use the text from your course book or find any other text with the topic you'd like to teach. Students are in pairs. They get a text and a list of questions each. Text A and questions from Text B is what the one student has and text B and the questions from Text A is what the other student gets. Student 1 reads their text to Student 2, who has to answer to their questions while they are listening to their partner reading. And then Student 2 treads their text to Student 1. This activity also enhances the class spirit since each pair helps each other in order to complete the activity. (Cab be used with very low levels as well)

2. Where does this go?
This is a group activity. You will need a bigger article. Cut the article in pieces and put them around in class. The students have to find the pieces and co-operate to put them in the right order. They practise speaking and reading skills but also critical thinking and debating. (preferable with levels B2 and above)

3. What is this all about?
This is a more complicated activity and you need a lot of people to participate. Divide the class into 3 teams. Each team chooses a person who will have to read a text. (I use 3 texts in the same subject from newspapers or news websites). The reader of each team describes their text to their team while they keep notes. The teams try to re-write the text and present it to the class. Then they compare their texts with each other and the original texts. (Higher levels, C1, C2 practising reading, re-phrasing, vocabulary and speaking)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Skipping the lesson plan...


It's been more than a couple of months that the school year has actually started and I have already ditched the plan... more than once....
Well, I have always been a supporter of lesson plans. We have to know what we are doing right?
But sometimes you have to improvise...
Maybe because students need more practise, maybe because you see that students are interested in the subject.
This year I am lucky to have students in different languages, levels and purpose, so I have to prepare a lot. I have to be inventive. And as it seems I have to improvise.
Today I will share some examples of what I have done with students of various levels.

Learning the ABC
Some people believe that teaching juniors is a piece of cake. It's not. The letters are different. The pronunciations are different, you have to know to teach phonics, think of new interesting games.
One day I had been practising teaching the letters and how they sound with flashcards. Although the flashcards were colourful and the pictures funny, the children started getting bored.
Two games came to my mind right on the spot.
1. We spread the flashcards on the floor with no particular order and I started calling the letters. The children were supposed to jump on the flash card (or next to it) whenever they heard the letter. The more difficult variation was to call words beginning with the particular letter.
2. While the letters were spread on the floor, I took some, without the kids noticing. The game was to find the missing letters. You can play this with numbers and objects as well

Have you got?
I noticed that my b junior students had trouble remembering the right form of the verbs. I printed pictures of animals and improvised a card game. Students had a list with all the animals from the game and they had to ask the person next to them "Have you got i.g. a lion?" their partner had to say "yes, I have" or "no, I haven't". If they had the animal that was asked, they had to give it to the person who asked. If you repeat that 20 times, believe me, it is easier to remember the correct forms of the verb "have got". The same can be done changing the cards with pictures of people and names and change the verb "Are you Tim?" - "yes, I am", "no, I'm not"


British council videos
Whatever you teach, vocabulary, grammar etc, there is always something on the British council websites for children and teenagers. For example while talking about traveling with one of my B1-2 students, I found this wonderful text with exercises that we immediately worked on.

TED talks

Going on more advanced levels, TED talks is a wonderful idea.
A couple of weeks ago, our B2 text book mentioned Sugar Mitra and the "hole on the wall project". When I told my student that I had actually attended one of his talks and everything I knew about this project, she was thrilled. We actually ended up watching the TED talk (pausing the video to comment and check if my student understood what she was watching, asking her questions). After the video I asked her what she thought of the project and if she thought that computers could actually replace teachers (yes, the hot debate subject). As homework, she expressed herself writing her opinion to this question.

There will be soft rains....
This is actually my favourite. This year I am working with a student who will take university entrance exams next year. So I thought that I could slowly introduce her to the actual exam structure, what kind of exercises there are and how we write the essay etc. So I brought her last year's exam paper. I was pleasantly surprised to see that in the essay subject, they mentioned one of my favourite sci fi writers, Ray Bradbury and his book Fahrenheit 451.


So we started talking about the book, the story, the conclusions that are to come from reading this book and of course I shared my enthusiasm talking about my favourite book of the same author, Martian Chronicles. We ended up listening to the short story :



We talked about war, its consequences and the feelings that provokes.
My student then had to write an essay "how ignorance can lead to human distinction and what we should do to prevent it" (influenced by both stories)
The best thing was that when I went for the next lesson, I saw both books on her desk (I almost cried)

I can understand that if you work at a school, you can't always improvise. But you can start small. Try a game, or an extra text/video.
I have never lost anything by improvising .... On the contrary my students were really interested and wanted to do more.

More thoughts to share soon...

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Trust is everything (story of a student)


As a tutor, I have to do with people. Students and parents.
I am the person who goes to their home very often.
I am the person who meets the whole family.
I am the person who sees everybody in their pyjamas (most kids don't even bother to put other clothes on)
I am the person who has to be trusted, since parents are not always at home.
I am not only a language teacher, I am the babysitter, I am the psychologist, I am the councillor, I am the friend, I am the trusted adult.
So, it is crucial from the very beginning to have a good co-operation with the parents. If the parents trust me and my work and work with me, it is way easier for me to do my job.
I have never seen my job as a real job. I mean it is a paying job and I need the money to support my own family, but... my students will always be "my kids". That's why I try to keep in touch and I am so grateful that the kids keep in touch as well, even the ones who have grown up.

This time I am going to tell a story.
A story of a student.
Somebody had recommended me and I went to meet her and her parents.
She was a shy girl, an early teen.
Very different from the teens I know (as a mother of a teen myself)
A very bright girl who was not in a hurry to grow up.
An excellent student.
But... The thing with English learning....
Every time she attempted to go to an English school, she failed. Due to health problems, she had to miss a lot of classes during the winter. When she returned, she couldn't catch up with the others.
Although she studied the books, although she knew the rules by heart. She just couldn't...
So she started hating the language. She didn't find it necessary to learn. It was just another subject, right?
Well, the first year with me, she kept trying to learn the rules.
I tried to reach her, to find what interested her, tried to give her the motive to go on.
We put the course-book aside and started reading fairytales and books and watch movies in English. I went really slow at first.
The first year at school was difficult as well. In the final school exams she didn't do that well. Her mum was annoyed. After all we had been working for a year but she didn't know any grammar rules (?)
I asked her to give me one more year.
She did. The next year the girl got more confident. Again, we did not have to do much with the school books. We talked a lot. In English. She spoke to me about her dreams, her hopes, the places she went, the movies she saw. She wrote about them. She communicated with people. She did research on the internet about her school, about music... She now knew the need of learning a foreign language. She wanted to learn the rules, not by heart, but to use the language correctly. She learned vocabulary because se needed it to understand.
She had excellent results at school. She passed the language certificate exams. She continued to learn more advanced English. She passed the next exams as well.
Her mother understood. Because sometimes parents do understand, if they are open minded.
And this happened because the mother, the parents were there. They were there to see the progress, to ask questions, to help in anyway they could.
And this happened because they decided to trust me.
Of course this does not happen overnight. But it does if you are willing to communicate.
I have a lot of stories with students and parents. Some are very happy and positive and some are negative. Because you can't be compatible with every person you see. Not if they don't give it a try as well.
I just wanted to share this story, now that the school year is beginning.
Soon with more stories...

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Exams...not again!


Not so long ago, I had prepared a presentation about alternative ways to teach exam classes.
This was also published in the HLT Magazine last February.
The thing is, why should we take exams and acquire language certificates in the first place?
In my country, Greece, when you learn a foreign language, the goal is to get the certificate. That's when you have "finished"with the language, you "know" everything. So parents "encourage" their children to get the "valuable certificate" from a very young age.
Imagine that in Greece, children as young as 13-14 sit C2 level exams. Why? Because  the sooner they "finish" with the foreign language, the better.
So there has been a whole industry involved with that. Publishers, exam institutions and of course, we, teachers.
I am not saying that certificates and exams are useless. Of course you have to have something to prove that you have reached a certain level of a language. Because you are going to USE this language in order to get a job (and actually USE it to speak or have correspondence with clients), to study (to read and study foreign bibliography and do research in that language), to travel (and USE the language to shop and ask for directions), to communicate...
Unfortunately people / parents in Greece do not UNDERSTAND that. Our main goal is to GET the CERTIFICATE.
When clients come to us teachers, they don't actually say "I want to learn English", they say, "I want to pass the certificate exam".
But this is not possible if you don't actually LEARN to USE the language.
A lot of parents nowadays interfere with our work, as if they know what method , book or projects is good for their kids. Because the certificate is our goal.
So the question for me as a teacher but also as an entrepreneur is...
Do I do what the clients want in order to actually have clients or do I teach THE LANGUAGE they way I believe it should be?
#food_for_thought