Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The suitcase (in other words ... stories about objects)

Last August I had a wonderful time with wonderful people in a hostel in Palermo. This gathering has brought a lot of memories and a few good friends. One of them was Anne Hendler, a wonderful teacher with fabulous ideas.  Anne's idea about story writing was fantastic and I thought I should use that with my students. And it actually worked - we have lots of great stories with really strange titles, which make them unique.
I don't know why, but today I have decided to write my own story about a suitcase. Like the one I suggested to Anne.

So let's call my character Bob. Bob is a black suitcase. Not too big, not too small, perfect for small trips. But Bob just stands in the basement. His owner doesn't travel much. He just keeps Bob in the dark, damp basement.
Bob is there waiting to go out in the sun. Bob does not complain. It's not like he's alone in the basement. There are a lot of objects there. Bob doesn't like everybody, but he tries to be polite to everyone. Bob didn't like the books so much. They were snobs. They thought they knew everything. They were always saying that they were important. But if they were so important why were they kept in the dark, damp basement?
Bob liked the furniture. Especially the couch had really interesting stories to tell. Bob and Dean, the couch talked and talked for hours.
Suddenly, the basement door opened.
He came in, took Bob with him and brought him out!
His little wheels started rolling, he saw light, the sun, cars and people!
Bob was ecstatic! Where was Bob going? He didn't know. He didn't care. He could breathe fresh air!
Bob and his owner met a woman. He gave Bob to her. Bob was a little bit sad, because he was leaving his owner, but he was also excited because he was going somewhere.
She was nice, not beautiful, but with her own unique style and personality.
She cleaned Bob inside out. Bob smiled the whole time. He loved being taken care of.
She put her things inside Bob's belly. Bob loved her clothes and her other stuff. She was going on holiday. She had a bathing suit and sunglasses and lots of T-shirts. Bob was full.
The next day she took Bob and put him in the trunk of a taxi. Bob was really curious.
They arrived at a big building. Bob had never seen anything like this before. Lots of people, lights and noise.
Was it... an airport? Bob was about to cry from his excitement! He had never been at an airport before! Before Bob knew it, he was in the luggage room of an airplane! They were taking off! He was sitting there, along with hundreds of other suitcases. They had all been to so many places and their colours were bright and shiny!
The trip continued with a different airplane and Bob met more suitcases and heard a lot of stories. Unfortunately, Bod didn't have much to say. He was just listening to the other suitcases talking. He was happy though. He liked his adventure so far.
They arrived at a place near the sea. The other suitcases spoke foreign languages but Bob as a miracle understood everything.
She took her things out of Bob and she tidied everything up in the closet. In her room there was another green shiny suitcase. The green suitcase was Kristy. Bob and Kristy had much fun together. The woman and Kristy's owner took them out, washed them and let them dry in the sun. Bob liked his bath and the sunbathing. Kristy was very beautiful and she spoke French. They talked and talked for hours. Bob became fluent in French. Nights were great too. Bob and Kristy looked at the sky and the stars...
Unfortunately the day came and the woman started filling Bob again with her things. It was time to go. Bob was very sad to let Kristy, but that's the life of a suitcase. Going places. Usually alone. Bob and the woman got into a small plane, then into a bigger plane. Then they had to wait at a big airport. Bob and the woman had coffee there, wandered around, went to the shops and Bod saw wonderful new things again.
The night passed and they got into an new plane. This time they arrived home. The woman brought Bob back to his owner.
Bob was a bit sad, he didn't want to go to the basement again.
The woman thanked his owner and gave him chocolates and presents. She was happy that she had a new friend. She believed that they were going to be good friends supporting and helping each other.
So the next day, she brought him a new present, a pillow, named Poo. Bob liked Poo, he was very funny. Bob was still in the living room. Bob wanted the woman to be a friend of his owner for a long time. Maybe she could take Bob again on a new trip.
But he misunderstood her. He thought that she wanted more, he thought that she was too much. So he told her that he wouldn't lend Bob to her anymore or help her again. She left.
Bob was sad. He was taken to the dark, damp basement again.
But this time he had a new friend with him.
The end.

Friday, June 9, 2017

My guys....

Our latest professional photoshoot

Well, I know, it's been a while since I last wrote on my teaching blog.
Honestly, I felt that my creativity has drained during these last months. I was sooooo tired, I didn't want to start a new project, I had no ideas to start a new project, all I did was work work work and work.
professional photoshoot with Konstantina

My teaching work was reduced, I only had students taking language exams and this meant  - tests, tests and more tests (with a twist of music, literature and dreaming of projects, but still).
And then it hit me.
What does a student - teacher relationship mean to me anyway?
I have to confess that my students were / are never really just students.
I have always had a closer relationship with my kids. It was not just go to the lesson open the book and then go home.
It has always been more.
I don't know why, but most of my students have confided in me, we had fun together, we had endless talks about everything, and most of all we had fun!
An maybe it was not always grammar, vocabulary and exams.

On the ari project at the city harbor

 It has been projects - to my surprise kids came together and although they didn't know each other, we managed to be a great team and had wonderful results and lots and lots of fun!

Watching a movie, eating ice-cream

We have watched movies together, we have gone out together, we have done so many crazy things.
Christmas movie party

break from the 8 project
Goth make up day
ice skating in Leverkusen (and lots of Gluhwein!)
Goethe Institut brezel celebration

Hip Hop im Deutschunterricht seminar

Day of colors

Beer time

Coffee time with my guys and girl!

I have so many photos and so many memories and most of all, I have shared love.
Students are not just clients. They are people. People I respect and love.
A big thank you for all the love I receive every year from my old and new students but also for the trust of their parents.
I am always here for you guys! For better and for worse!
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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Exams Exams Exams

Exams are in our everyday lives. For us as teachers, it is very stressful to know that our students have to take exams in certain periods of time and for our students as well because they have to prove that they have taken in everything they have been taught and show their progress.
So why do our students and we take exams anyway?
  • to prove the skills we have acquired.
  • to get our efforts recognized
  • to be able to go to college / university.
  • to get a certificate and be able to work (abroad and in our country as well)
  • to get our brains stimulated
  • to get feedback by our teacher

And that’s what the true meaning of the exams should be. But how is it in reality?
As a foreign language teacher, I don’t have only tests and progress exams to deal with, but also “language certificate exams”.
In fact in my country, Greece, I have to face a “certificate” mania to be more exact.
The language certification is blooming – there are numerous exams, certificates, levels, course that meet every student’s needs.
I am not saying that there shouldn’t be. But exams and certificates exist for a reason. We try to get this desired piece of paper for a reason.  Not to have it framed on the wall.
Exams and certificates serve a purpose; and this purpose is to actually learn a language.
Learning a language means communication; writing, speaking, understanding.
These skills have to be cultivated in order to be able to use a language.
If you are able to do that, then you will be able to pass an exam as well. It doesn’t go the other way around, I am afraid.
I have seen so many people trying so hard, doing lots and lots of tests for the exams that they want to pass, but they are missing a point.
I have people come to me asking for lessons, and their exact words are “I want to get the B2 certificate” NOT “I want to learn English”.
There are people who got the C2 level certificate years ago and right now they cannot even use English to get around. And this is sad.
When we learn a language, we can never stop. We can never “finish” with English, German, French etc. It’s just not done. Language is a living organism. If we leave it, it leaves from us.
So what do we do to make our students and their parents, our client understand that we should not care about exams so much, but realize that we have to keep learning?
Exams exist go give us feedback for our progress.
Exam certificates are there to state the language level we are in in that specific time. It is not forever.
Exams are there to test us and our abilities.

Some ideas that I presented in the ToBELTA conference and TESOL Greece & Macedonia Thrace conventions in the previous years:

  • Book and films analysis, learn how to make a book/film review, talk about their feelings towards the specific film or book make a poster presentation, a power point presentation, make a video about it, play scenes from the book / film in class
  • Become a little reporter and write an article about a historical place urban legend in the city. Make videos and create a YouTube channel. (Make sure to get permission from parents if students are under age)
  • Organize “movie nights / evenings” with students and have questionnaires prepared. Students can answer questions and write a story about the film as homework (How did they want the film to end? What would they change in the story? What will happen afterwards?
  • Use poems to have students learn vocabulary. Haikus and cinquains give wonderful opportunities for students to describe words and have them play with vocabulary.

If we make students realize what’s important in learning and get them curious and interested in the language, they will surely succeed in their exams.


If you liked this post, you can tweet clicking over here.

Friday, April 14, 2017

#ELT Book Challenge: 50 activities for the first day of School by Walton Burns

I would characterise myself as a list person. I love making lists. I love reading lists. I love collecting lists. I also love teaching so what better combination could I find than a book about teaching with a list of activities?
I recently read (and took lots of notes from) "50 activities for the first day of school" by Walton Burns, which contains 50 detailed activities and wonderful ideas about what you can do on the beginning of the school year and not only.
I would say that most of them are wonderful ice-breakers for the rest of the year as well. Especially when you work with beginners, you can use some of these activities to teach them how to spell their names, how to talk about themselves, personal pronouns, adjectives and so much more.
I particularly liked all the kinaesthetic activities like "Simon says", "Pantomime" "Scavenger Hunt" , "Toss a ball", "Snowball texting" which I frequently use in my classes, especially with my younger students. Children just love movement and they are always willing to try out new things.
Drawing is also something I would use - children like talking about themselves anyway, so the joining of the two is a big success in the class. My students were so enthusiastic about depicting their families, their homes and it was really fun when they tried to use English to describe what they had drawn.
With older students I have tried "Study Habits Myths" and "Sharing Tips", especially this time of the year, when the exams are approaching. It was a great way to have students talking in English trying to help their classmates with their tips and advice in a playful way.
What I really liked the most, though was the"Time Capsule' idea. I can't wait for end of the year. This shows all the progress the students have made and makes them proud of themselves.
All in all I enjoyed reading and using this ebook and I believe it will be a great reference in my classes and lesson plans.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

#iatefl2017 Motivational teaching by Nicholas Thorner

A very interesting talk about motivation based on new book Motivational Teaching.
Starting his talk, Nicholas Thorner mentioned the neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is used to be associate with pleasure, but even people with low dopamine can feel it.
The truth is that dopamine is released before the actual action, so, that's why it is called an cation chemical. It also has a second function, it codes information for future reference.
What are the principles for motivation?

But it's not just about the reward. What will happen if I don't do this?
How is this translated in the learning context? Embarrassment among peers?
What are the cognitive rewards in Learning?
  • successful outcome of interection
  • progress
  • satisfaction of finishing a task
  • self-esteem
Students do want to learn, but sometimes they don't feel the motivation. They want to learn because they have to or their parents make them or there is peer pressure and this brings them to a demotivating state.
 What we have to realize is that once you get started, it becomes easy, so for example if you have a well designed / planned activity, flow might happen.

An example of a reward in creativity is the 5-day-streak: Create lesson plans every day, 5 days in a row, like people do in social media (i.g. snapchat) where they post every day in order not to lose the streak.
Spend sometime  raising commitment to the task before the task.
Here are some examples for both teachers and learners, giving reason and reward:

Give them the:
  • Why
  • How 
  • What
Increase their reward factor.
Give them the chance to be creative with an extra task.
  • When 
  • Where
Take away all possible excuses.
Give them a reward if they keep the streak.

Nicholas Thorner continued giving ideas for planning and motivating like this map:
He advised teachers to name their lesson plans "lesson strategies" and that they should make learning something relevant to them proposing lost of ideas.
You can find the session video  and more information over here:

#iatefl2017 Teaching well-being to teenagers by Rachael Harris

 A Wonderful session by Rachael Harris, focusing on activities that enhance our students' and our own well-being.
Ms. Harris started with the definition of the term:

As she sees it "We know it when we see it"
So why should we teach it ?
Sometimes we forget that teenagers have to face social pressure, stress for academic success and so many challenges, which are pretty scary situations. By teaching them how to be well, we improve the class atmosphere, and students sometimes don't even realise it that we have actually achieve that, they just enjoy class.
Ms Harris points out three aspects:
  • How students feel themselves.
  • How they are in class.
  • How they react to their learning.
The questions that students should ask themselves are:
  • Am I learning?
  • What am I learning?
  • How am I learning?
  • Am I actually enjoying the learning? 
What I honestly LOVED in this session were the proposed activities. These kind of workshops are the reason why I want to attend conventions and seminars in the first place. 
So here we go:

#1 Status report
This goes back to the times when facebook had the prompt : (Name) is... (For example Rachael is happy / busy / angry etc.)
This activity can practise adjectives and feelings vocabulary. Have students write their status and then talk about it; why am I feeling like that? Do I want to change it? What can I do about it?

#2 Bestbits
The idea is to express Gratitude and the means is Instagram:
Students think of their best moments (bestbits) of the day and post 3 of them with the hashtag #bestbits - or if they don't want to post them, they just email their pictures to their teacher.

#3 BHAGs and Babysteps
This is actually a business term : Big Hairy Audacious Goals and it can be a whole hour or even a whole year project.
Students (and why not yourself) think about one BIG goal that is pretty difficult or even impossible to achieve and write this in the middle of a white piece of paper. Next to it, write 4 smaller goals that could lead to this big goal. And then analyze each to even smaller pieces. So you get something like that:

 So when you have completed it, you can start doing the smaller things you have written. It doesn't matter if you don't achieve your BIG goal, this gives you motivation do do things that interest you.

#4 Save me
This activity is about promoting strengths:
The story goes like this: Your town is invaded by zombies. A rich businessman comes with his helicopter and has room for just one of you. You have to write in a note as many reasons as you can so that the businessman would choose to save you.

#5 Happy memories
In Ms. Harris' classes they keep a 'memory jar', where students write a happy memory in the end of the week. It deosn't have to be a class memory.

#6 Letters of survival in class
Students write a letter to the students of next year, giving them advice and tips how they can survive this particular class, so that "newbies" can get an idea what it will be like and the "oldies" actually realize how far they have come.

#7 Mottos
Students write their favourite Motto and defend it with a presentation.

#8 Flow
The lesson begins with a pictures that represents the word 'flow' and students guest the word.
Flow is when you are so absorbed in something that time flies without even noticing it. Students express their own experiences and present them in class. This can be done with various words like: happiness, perseverance, determination, connection etc.
Another idea is to give students titles from TED talks on these subjects and let them create a presentation.

#9 Strengths survey
Students talk about their stregths and how they can use them in their learning.
There are various tests that can help them like:  Viacharacter.org 

I have to say that I particularly liked this session, the ideas were original and they are something that we can also do for ourselves not only for our students. Definitely trying some of these in my next lessons.

You can always visit the British council site for more info: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2017/session/teaching-well-being-teens

Friday, April 7, 2017

#iatefl2017 Interview with Angelos Bollas representation of LGBT people in teaching materials

One of the reasons that I am really envious of people of gong to IATEFL is presentations like this one by Angelos Bollas. I consider him a very talented educator and I am really glad that there are people like him around, who are not afraid of speaking their mind.
In this interview, Scott Thornbury an Angelos Bollas talk about the rerpesentation of LGBT people in the EFL world and especially in the current teaching materials.
Angelos points out that in ELT books, heterosexuality is considered a "natural context", in contrast with ESL materials which are meant to prepare people to live for example in the UK and have to make them familiar with the culture in the UK or USA environment.
Angelos believes that we, as educators, have to prepare our students for what's out there.
He does understand the hesitation of the publishers, but all kinds of people have to be represented.

All in all it was a very interesting interview and I am sure that the presentation was really worthwhile.
Follow the link for the IATEFL page: