Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Merry Christmas from the 2 Newest Internet Music Sensations - English Raven & The Bright Lights + Dave's Disco Divas

Merry Christmas PLN!!

The holiday season is upon us once again and it's time to send out those Christmas cards. You may have already seen the first one I made on English Raven's blog featuring the (un)lucky Cecilia Coelho (drums), Michelle Worgan (bass), Mike Harrison (rythym guitar) along with the Raven himself on vocals and me grimacing my way through all those riffs.

Season's Greetings from English Raven and the ELT Bright Lights Band! from Jason Renshaw on Vimeo.

Apologies to those Bright Lights who didn't make the band but this only works with profile pics that are clear, straight-at-the-camera mugshots. Alternatively, you may breathe a sigh of relief that yours was not suitable for JibJab purposes! ;)

Of course, the parallels between the worlds of rock n'roll and ELT are obvious: 'touring' around foriegn countries and 'performing' to an expectant audience; using everyday live as an inspiration for writing songs/materials; the desire to experiment and go in a new direction pitted against the label/publisher's demands for a 4 minute/page made for radio/a unit piece of work; alcohol abuse; the wish to go back to basics and try something more 'unplugged'....

Well, I took a new musical direction for a second card, ditching the rocker perm in favour of a disco afro! This time, the victims are 4 of my favourite gals from my PLN with lovely, easy-to-manipulate profile pics - Shelly Terrell, Burcu Akyol, Vicky Loras and Greta Sandler:

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

The guys should be thankful I'm not a premium member and therefore couldn't access the Christmas Chippendales card! :p In the cards or not, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Enjoy the festive season :)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Two paths to a dream house

F. Draw and describe! My dream house

That was the extent of the instructions given at the bottom of the page in our Fun For Movers book. Tucked away where it could easily be missed almost as though it were added as an after-thought to fill a bit of empty space on the page layout and yet here was a great opportunity to let the students be creative and come up with something imaginative. Perfect for one of our split writing classes in fact but how could I fire up their imaginations and get the ideas flowing?

dream house

Nice pad - chocolate fountains and Smackdown arena just out of shot…

Image by Atelier Teee

“Close your eyes and listen to the sound of my voice….”

My initial idea was to do a kind of meditation activity. I asked the students to close their eyes and relax (with some atmospheric background music) and told them to imagine themselves inside their dream house. I did actually record a video of me doing this but I’ve been informed that while I can make videos in class, I need written permission to post them online (even if the camera only shows me), so for now we’ll have to make do with a summary:

I asked them to imagine themselves in a bedroom with everything they wanted in it and posed questions to get them to think about the details (size? colour? furniture? other objects in the room? etc.). I then asked them to walk over the window - what could they see? What was near the house? I then told them to leave the room and look around the house: how many floors? How many rooms? Any special rooms? We finished by ‘walking’ around the garden and picturing what was there.

Immediately after this ‘walkthrough’, I paired the students up and asked them to tell each other what they had seen (I allowed Turkish at this point) as I felt they would need a little time to develop and expand on their ideas. We then moved on to the drawing and writing phase with me providing support with vocabulary when necessary.

In the first class I did this in everything went really well. The kids had lots of weird and wonderful ideas and produced some really nice writing. However, the next class was nearly a disaster - they couldn’t sit quietly and wanted to describe their visions to each other so much they forgot to listen! The introduction to the class was so stop-start that they struggled for ideas when it came to writing time. They had a lot of difficulty with the language needed for describing homes as well. Clearly, the meditation idea was not suitable for every class….

“The Direct Route”

I consulted with one of my 4th grade colleagues about what he was doing and he said he was eliciting a class dream house to the board first, thus stimulating ideas and giving examples of the necessary language at the same time. With my next (somewhat talkative) class, I followed a similar path, first asking them about their homes before introducing outlandish questions like ‘have you got a helicopter pad on the roof?’ and ‘is there a multi-screen cinema in your house?’. Finally, I asked if they liked living in Ankara and why/why not. This was a good way to get some extra ideas flowing as they bemoaned the fact that Ankara is far from the sea (also a useful bit of language as Turks often directly translate and say ‘Ankara hasn’t got sea’!) and not very green.

I then got each student to contribute an idea as we wrote a paragraph together on the board, highlighting some useful vocabulary at the same time (sports facilities came up a lot e.g. football pitch, basketball court, skating rink, wrestling ring - yes, Smackdown! again…) They then proceeded to the individual writing task using the sample on the board as a model. In these classes, the writing was generally better - not only were there fewer errors but the structure and flow was better as well. I got some wonderful and crazy ideas as well with some houses in outer space, one in a dinosaur’s mouth, chocolate fountains in the garden, celebrity guest rooms and (my favourite) a house shaped like an iPod!

An unplugged bonus

After one class, I left without cleaning the board. Next lesson, my colleague came in with one of his groups (we have special ‘conversation’ rooms set aside for these split classes) and he said he used my students’ sample paragraph as a reading text for his class. He left it on the board along with his new example so when I returned with a different group in the afternoon, there were two examples to read, compare and contrast. A perfect example of student-generated content!

I still think the meditation idea was a good one but it wasn’t suitable for every class. The second path offered more opportunities for voicing ideas, offering support when needed and tailoring the lesson to each class, all of which helped make it easier to manage. Most of the students needed more time than we had to finish so I’ll be collecting the finished creations in next week - perhaps I can scan a few and add them here. Smile

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Follow the Yellow Brick Flow Chart

I’ve blogged a lot this semester about the split speaking and writing classes I’ve been doing but not so much about the other lessons I do with the entire class in which we are required to do two things we language teachers love to hate: exam prep (for the Cambridge Young Learners Movers test) and graded readers (at present, The Wizard of Oz). I blog about the split classes because there is no fixed programme so I have the chance to experiment and try out new ideas and blogging has become an important part of the process of reflecting on the lessons and evaluating them. As the other classes I do are more specific, I haven’t blogged about them much before.


However, I’m always on the look out for ideas to add a bit of creativity to the lessons I do with the full class - much needed at times when you have 30+ ten year-olds and very dry, dull books to use. We recently read a chapter in The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy and the others finally make it to the Emerald City and meet the mysterious Wizard. The students often find this chapter confusing as each character goes to see the Wizard separately and is greeted by a different sight. They find this difficult to follow especially if they are familiar with the classic 1939 film in which all the characters see the Wizard together.

With young learners, I’ve found that flow charts are a great way to display the sequence of events in a narrative so I thought it would be an ideal way to show the experiences of each different character. Rather than have it all written it out on the board and in notebooks (which in itself would take an entire lesson), I decided to make use of on the projection screen. Prior to the lesson, I prepared an outline of empty bubbles with a few question prompts at the side and in class I asked the students to read through the chapter in groups and find the missing information:

They then came to the computer (unfortunately, just one computer in the classroom) and filled in each bubble until we had a completed class version, which looked something like this:

We were then able to print out the finished product for them to stick in their notebooks (we have yet to reach the point of class email accounts, blogs or wikis to keep the lesson paperless). Breaking down the chapter like this helped them visualise the events much more clearly and got them involved in a comprehension activity that went deeper than just a few questions.

To finish, we watched the meeting with the Wizard from the film and did one more flow chart highlighting the differences when compared to the book, again printed and put side-by-side with the other flow chart in their books:

For more ideas on using graphic organisers in class, check out these links:
Here's Shelly's recent webinar for American TESOL on using graphic organisers. Well worth a look!

I'd love to hear about how you use flowcharts, mind-mapping tools and other graphic organisers in class!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Dogme Games - Just unplug and play!

A couple of weeks ago, games in the language classroom was the topic for ELTchat (see the transcript here) and, as usual, the chat was full of fantastic ideas. One that I shared is something I like to do every so often to give the kids a light lessons - I ask them what classroom games they know and like (can be from English or any other lesson), ask them to explain the how it is played and any special rules to me and cover the language they need to play in English before letting them choose one of the ideas.

Doesn’t she know it’s the taking part that counts?  
Image by scragz
I’ve done this with different classes over the last few years but never considered it as a ‘dogme’ style lesson until I got involved in all the recent discussion on Twitter and in the blogosphere about it. However, now I see that it kind of is an unplugged approach as we share knowledge, focus and expand on emergent language necessary and have a very much student-driven lesson.

Anyway, the ELTchat session prompted me to think that we hadn’t done anything like this in class yet this year so last week we did. In nearly every class, the first suggestion was (predictably) Hangman but I managed to get them to dig a little deeper and this is what my various classes came up with:

1. Charades
A classic but in one class that suggested it, we did it with a twist. Film and story titles are always problematic with young learners as they often only know the Turkish translations or don’t know how to explain the English words so we hit on a creative idea of miming the unit titles from our coursebook (the inappropriately named ‘Fun For Movers’). That led to mimes like Animals in different places, The girl in the red dress and my favourite There are bats everywhere! I taught them both the language and mimes for things like the number of words/syllables, 1st/2nd/3rd word and ‘sounds like’. I thought it was a bit of a boring suggestion at first but it turned out to be great fun!

2. Brainstorm!
We’ve played this many times before and they always enjoy it. The class is placed into teams and given a word group or description that they then have a minute to brainstorm as many words as they can think of. The team with the most (valid) answers wins. As they had studied food and containers recently, we started off with A bottle of… and A bowl of… After that, the kids came up with their own suggestions and one even put his word group inside a brain picture rather than a bubble with lightning zig-zags shooting off it! “It’s a brainstorm, teacher” he remarked. I have taught him well….

3. Word Ball
This is a kind of anagram game. We had 15 students in the class and each choose a letter of the alphabet and came and wrote it inside a circle on the board. Teams then had 2 minutes to produce as many words as they could using those letters. It only worked for a couple of rounds though as they then all started choosing letters like Q, X and Z!

4. Last letter, first letter
Does what it says on the tin: one player says a word, the next says a different word that starts with the last letter of said word and so on - no repeats, no hesitation. To make it more challenging, we restricted the words to certain groups like food or sports. For an extra bit of fun, the kids lined up in two groups facing each other. After saying a correct word, they went to the back of the line. If they were wrong or couldn’t find an answer, they sat down and we played until one team was eliminated. I implemented a ‘challenge’ system too if they thought the other team had given an incorrect answer (however, make an incorrect challenge and you sit down instead)!

5. “That’s not a board marker!”
This was one of my favourite ideas: you know the game in which you describe something without saying what it is for the others to guess, right? Well, this was a twist on that but instead of the word, the students used ‘board marker’. So, a kid would come to the front of the class, pick up a marker and say “My favourite food is board markers. I eat board markers every day for breakfast. I like my board markers with cold milk.” Once the others were ready to guess, they would say “That’s not a board marker - it’s cereal!” It produced many more laughs than the normal version.

6. Grow your own Word Plant
I’m sure our resident language gardener David Warr will love this one! Inspired by our use of language plants for family vocabulary the previous week, one class suggested putting prefixes, suffixes and single letters on the board (in large print) and then making words from them, branching out in language plant style. Points were awarded for the number of words as well as ‘artistic impression’ (again, the students’ idea, not mine)! I just wish I’d had my camera to snap a few pictures of them.

For some more great game ideas, check out:

If you have any other games you use in class or that your students have come up with, I’d love to hear about them!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

‘I am a teacher’ - Shortlisted for Edublogs 2010 ‘Best New Blog’

I realised after my last entry that I had reached the milestone of 50 blog posts, a number that got me reflecting on how my blog had developed over the last 6+ months and how I had found my ‘voice’ as a blogger (a question Cecilia and I were going to discuss but forgot when we shared our voices). I wasn’t actually going to post my thoughts but then I got this lovely surprise:


Completely unexpected and a great honour!! Thank you to Sabrina de Vita and Burcu Akyol for nominating me and thank you to everyone who has visited my blog, commented on the posts, retweeted my posts on Twitter and given me help, encouragement and support. I’m up against some tough competition, including a few of my favourite blogs like bcnpaul1′s blog, Box of Chocolates, Turklish TEFL and About a Teacher but just being nominated is enough for me. However, if you’d like to vote for my blog, please head over to the Edublogs Awards Best New Blog page and do so. All votes greatly appreciated! While you’re at it, don’t forget to vote in all the other categories too.

Looking back through my blog archive, it becomes clear how I found my voice - at first I didn’t really know what to write. My immediate audience consisted of my fellow MA participants so I just blogged some reflections on topics and themes we were covering and that was it. I made a decision to blog more over the summer but then I was really struggling for ideas. I blogged about Twitter and tried to give advice for anyone thinking of doing an MA - I even wrote a post connected to the World Cup! But not much traffic was coming my way and hardly any comments… I also tried guest posting, writing a piece for Prestwick House (which also got no comments…). At this point, I was in danger of giving up..

But I didn’t give up - so what changed? I think I started to blog better when I remembered something significant:

I am a teacher

“Well, duh!” you might say but this is what I mean: Once summer holidays were over and I was back to work, I started to blog about my lessons and that’s when it all started to flow more easily. Another guest post for Teaching Village on how I use PowerPoint in class was well-received, my description of a pictogloss activity became my most read post in the space of two days and my posts about lessons like writing descriptions, error correction, and dictogloss all started to get comments and generate discussion. Perhaps most importantly of all, writing these posts has been a great way to reflect on and review what I’ve done in class, what’s worked and what hasn’t.

There have been other influences as well from some great blogs I’ve been reading and my wonderful PLN and I’d like to finish by acknowledging some of them now:

  • Jason Renshaw’s English Raven blog has been a great source of inspiration for me, from his well-written descriptions of his lessons to his challenges such as the Wondrous Whiteboard and A Meeting of the Boards, which I have taken into my classrooms and posted on my blog.
  • Cecilia Coelho’s Box of Chocolates, which as a new blog on my radar asked the question ‘Are you a teacher all the time?’ helping me to give my blog new direction (also a candidate for Best New Blog - if you’re not going to vote for me, I’d say vote for this one).
  • ELTchat and everyone connected with it - the chance to join weekly discussions on issues related to ELT has been a great source of reflection and inspiration leading to several posts appearing here (like this one on L1 in class, this one on grammar for kids, this one on professional development and this one on culture and ELT.
  • All the discussion and debate on dogme - although I don’t really teach in this style, it has led me to make some changes to how I approach my classes  as well as to blog posts about if/how it could work with young learners (see here and here) and also for the dogmeme challenge (No 4, No5, No 6 and No 7)

Thank you all - hope you’ll stick with me as I continue to 100 posts!