Friday, 24 December 2010

I have to be who I am

Photo credit: mconnors from

I had bronchitis last week. It was annoying, of course - the illness, going to the doctor's, having to stay at home... But once I realised there was nothing I could do except take my medications and wait until I was better, I settled down. I got myself a couple of books (I always read two or three books at the same time, maybe that's why I am such a slow reader) and a nice cup of herbal tea ( my secret recipe: equal quantities of peppermint, chamomile and thyme with just a pinch of licorice). I sat there, read my books and then I remembered something I had read in a magazine. Apparently, in the future everyone will be healthy because people will learn how to heal themselves through the power of positive thought and visualisation.

I imagined this world of perfectly healthy people and shuddered. Count me out. Of course I don't like being ill, but illness, like sleep, serves its purpose - it makes you pause and reflect. We live too fast these days. We constantly expose our minds to lots of new stimuli, but we rarely stop to process them. Staying in bed for a day or two, reading, watching TV, listening to music... It is not something I would willingly choose, but once we are forced to do it, why not make the best possible use of the time.

There is another reason why I shudder at the image of the brave new world where people who get ill from time to time should be ashamed of themselves for being such negative thinkers and such lousy visualisers. It's just that the whole thing sounds really cruel and there seems to be no room for people like me. I was often ill as a child, my throat caused me a lot of trouble. Later in life I started suffering from kidney problems and hypertention. It sounds as if I am complaining, but I am not. I have been happy every day of my life. Perfect health is never on my New Year's wishlist because there is no such thing as perfect health.

I have recently subscribed to the Photojojo newsletter. Last week they sent me a tutorial about how to create a Facebook profile picture using Pic Scatter. The result looks like this. Amazing, isn't it. Don't ask me why, but I was fascinated by the idea of creating something similar. The result was interesting, though strangely unsettling. I decided not to post this onto my Facebook profile. I wasn't sure that people visiting my profile would like me looming over them like that. Two more hours of tinkering with the photos (I downloaded them, then used BigHugeLabs to connect them to each other, finally uploaded them to Flickr) and the result is here:


Strangely unsettling. Scary even.

During my sick leave I finished Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book. Not an easy read, but worth every minute. The title I chose for this post comes from the book. Pamuk's characters keep repeating "I have to be who I am" and they keep trying to find out who they are. At one point Galip, the main character, stares at the mirror trying to read his face the way we read books... and he is horrified by what he sees. We never find out what he managed to read from his face, but that's how I feel staring at my own eyes. Seeing myself the way other people see me.

When I walk into class, the first thing I do is scatter books and papers all over my desk. When I monitor my students during pairwork, I tend to scatter my books and papers over their desks as well. I leave things all over the classroom. I simply cannot work if things are too tidy.

Recently there has been this problem with my frowning. A student asked why I frowned every time she spoke to me. Was her English that awful? I concentrated on my facial expressions for the next few classes and found out that I frown when I am concentrating. One of my Christmas resolutions is to stop doing that. It confuses people and I will end up with frown lines on my face.

And I am clumsy. I drop things all the time. And I always mislay my whiteboard marker, which is great because the students get to practise their prepositions ("It is under the book.", "It is on the floor", etc.).

There is this poem by Desanka Maksimovic which I feel is about me. It is called For Those who Stumble over the Threshold. I tried to find a good translation of the poem for last year's BaW graduation party, but failed.

Oh, in case you have read this post so far and are beginning to wonder what it is all about, I have to disappoint you. This post lacks focus, it lacks usefulness, I am just rambling. Well, I did define my blog as "TEFL, Technology and The Meaning of Life", didn't I? Well, this is The Meaning of Life. The New Year's Eve is in two days, I haven't written my resolutions yet, so, with your permission (or without it) I am going to keep on rambling.

Where was I? Oh, yes, I couldn't find the translation of that poem last year. But I have it now. The way I got it is a little strange.

Every time I have a temperature I read Wuthering Heights. I guess that's because the first time I read Wuthering Heights I had a really high temperature. I think the fever and the book go nicely together. I usually go for the English original, but this time (I don't know why), I went for the Serbian translation. I found a wad of papers inside, written in a schoolgirl's handwriting that I had a difficult time recognising as my own. It read:

Socrates dicebat : "Scio me nihil scire."
Socrates dicebat se nihil scire.

Underneath was a translation of a poem bu Desanka Maksimovic. Then another one. And finally "my" poem. I don't know who translated it and I am really sorry that I can't give credits to this person. Anyway, here it is:


I seek mercy
for the simple and guileless
for their endless wondering,
for the people who never mature,
for the utopians,
for those who were led thirsty across water,
for those who were led clean across mud,
for the perpetual daydreamers,
for the quiet, for the cheerless,
for those quite unlike myself
and for those quite the same as me.
I seek mercy
for the clumsy and the unlearned,
for those who stumble over the threshold,
who drop the glass from their hands
for those who always stand aside
who are delighted by any trifle,
and whom everybody meets gladly,
for those who walk absorbed in thought,
as if carrying a droplet in their palms,
for those quite unlike myself,
and for those quite the same as me.
Desanka Maksimovic

To my PLN: Thank you for all your kind support during 2010. Thank you for your comments and suggestions. Thank you for inspiring me and teaching me.

It was a good year. Next one will be even better.

Happy New Year!


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Raised by NNESTs

The original photo found at Beverly@Pack's photostream

Dogme Blog Challenge #6:

Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

Can non-native teachers 'do Dogme'? And, if they can't, why not?

NNESTs are judged both by how effective they are as teachers and by how good their English is. I have to say right at the beginning that I find it quite unacceptable for anyone to teach a subject they are not proficient at. And, though we can never become as good as native speakers are, we can, and should, keep learning.

150/365/880 (November 8, 2010) - Flapjack and Wanda

Guess I should explain the title now. You see, most of my teachers were NNESTs. Though I had a few NESTs at University, I feel that I owe everything I know to my non-native English teachers. Some of them were good, others were great. There were one or two not so great ones, but that's life. They used a variety of methods. You will probably find most of their methods terribly outdated, but a few were way ahead of their time. Whatever they did, whichever method they used, they have obviously been successful, for here I am. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

(You can recognise a NNEST by their use of hideous outdated idioms such as: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" and "It's raining cats and dogs.")


Most of my primary and secondary school teachers used a combination of grammar-translation and class discussions. Speaking has always been considered an important part of learning languages in my country. Serbs are talkative and extroverted and they rarely have a problem when they need to speak, even when their "grammar" is "all wrong". Plus they have an opinion on every topic in the world. Add to that inadequate books prescribed by someone who has never been inside a classroom. Picture a secondary school teacher walking through the door armed with this inadequate book. She does every exercise in the book and she still has half an hour of nothing to fill the class with. What will she do? She will get the students talking and, as I have said, it is usually not difficult to do that over here.

Karenne also asks:

I work with adults. Some of my students are professional people who have really 'made it' in life, but they have somehow failed to learn English (and to really 'make it' in life you have to be able to speak English). Others are in my classroom because they want to change something in their lives and learning English seems to be the right way to start (I wrote about this topic in The Teacher as the Light at the End of the Tunnel). Whether they are successful businessmen or unemployed and trying to make ends meet, all my adult students share one thing - they feel inadequate for not being able to speak English. As a NNEST, I know exactly how they feel. I have been there. I catch them making the same mistakes I once made, I see them hitting a plateau and getting stuck, I see them confused and irritated at the complexity of English language and I remember the days when I felt like that. As a NNEST, the best gift I can give them is to reassure them that, if I could do it, they can do it too. The people I teach share my mother tongue with me, so I can predict where they are going to have problems and what mistakes they are going to make. And I can explain to them that those mistakes are good, they are a part of the learning process and they are going to disappear with time, because that's what happened to me. Sometimes when the students say something incomprehensible in English, I know what they wanted to say because I can translate it word for word into Serbian.

Karenne goes on to ask:

I will never be able to speak English like a native speaker. However, I would say that I have one advantage as a NNEST - I am able to understand how both languages work and to jump from one "model of expression" to the other with relative ease.

You need to understand that I am not 'doing Dogme' at the moment, though, as I have already said, I kind of like it. I am doing the challenge because I would like to learn more about Dogme and then maybe one day... Who knows...

Now let me go back to where I have started this post.

Can NNESTs teach unplugged? I see no reason why they shouldn't be able to do that if that's what they decided to do.

There's something else I keep wondering about: If, as the result of what we do in the classroom, our students learn English , doesn't that mean that we are doing the right thing?

Is the proof of the pudding in the eating? Or is it in the recipe we used?

Christmas pudding 1: ingredients

We hear a lot about learning styles. What about teaching styles?

Just a thought...

Gold Medal Chocolate Pudding - McDonalds

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Where I Stand on Dogme

Einstein's blackboard

Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

I just know this post is going to take ages to write. It took me ages to start writing it in the first place. I saw this challenge on Karenne Sylvester's blog several weeks ago and I immediately thought: "Oh, a blogging challenge! I love those. I should join." I kept postponing it and I even wrote a blog post that had nothing to do with the Dogme challenge just to get it out of my mind.
It was no use. The challenges came popping back into my mind. Every time I read the next challenge on Karenne's blog, I would spend days thinking about it. But I was still reluctant to join. Why?

Because I am not sure where I stand on Dogme.

See, I kind of like it. I know how to teach Dogme-style because that's how we did things back in 1989.

There was the blackboard. There were the chalks and the sponge. There was the book. The book was... Well, let's say it was very old. It told the story of Madge and Arthur and their adventures. What did Madge and Arthur do? Well, they travelled. They moved around a lot. They drank bucketfuls of coffee every day. You see, I know, because every now and then someone (usually Madge) would exclaim:

"I say, how about a cup of coffee."

Arthur would usually accept. He liked coffee.

So, we did Dogme. We didn't call it Dogme back then, but that's what we did. If Arhtur happened to watch a football game, we would talk about football, sports, hooliganism... If Madge bought herself a new dress, we talked about shopping. I would always start the class with: "What's new?" The students soon learnt that I wasn't going to be satisfied with: "Oh, nothing special." They would come with stories of their own.

I still start my classes with: "What's new?" and I am still not happy with "Oh, nothing special."

To tell you the truth, I care much more about what's going on in the outside world and in my students' lives than about doing every exercise in the book. So, if they start talking about something really interesting or if they start debating, I encourage them to go on.

However, I love the book we are using now. I will not tell you its name, as I haven't been paid by the publisher to do so, but it is a good book.

I believe in textbooks. I really do. One of the reasons why I believe in textbooks is that the students believe in them. They pay a lot of money to get the textbooks and, if something costs a lot of money, it has got to work, right? It is the placebo effect that can be explored to the full.

During the past 21 years I have used some really good textbooks and some not so great ones and I have found out I could almost always make the book work if I personalised the learning process. And I will continue to personalise the learning process even if one day someone sits down and writes a perfect textbook. You see, there is no such thing as a perfect textbook precisely because what happens to us and to our students both in the classroom and outside the classroom is always more relevant than what's in the book.

SIT students writing on the whiteboard
Photo on Flickr by Michael Stout

Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

OK, I have a confession to make: I am addicted to photocopying. Really addicted. And I would like to do something about my problem because I am tired of copying, printing and, above all, cutting up paper into little strips. I am tired of throwing away large quantities of unused photocopies and of being unable to find the exact paper I am looking for. I am tired of carrying a large pair of scissors in my handbag. Back in 1989, in the glorious Madge and Arthur days, we didn't copy much. Copying was expensive and, in fact, it still is. But now I have a large photocopier at work and a laser printer at home. And I use them. Oh yes, I use them a lot.

And yet, I don't need all those copies. I am perfectly capable of making my students communicate without lugging around several kilos of paper. You see, the paper makes me feel safe. If my mind should suddenly go blank so that there is no thought left in it, if the same happens to my students, if our books burn in an unexpected fire, then surely my secret stash of handouts will save the class.

It is not just me. Somehow, during the course of years, photocopying has become something that "good teachers do". Add to that cutting, sorting, stapling...

And yet, most activities can be done without all that paper. Role plays can be improvised, and, instead of giving them ready-made role cards, you can ask the students to invent their new identity and write it down. Pairwork questions can be written onto the board. The students can think up one or more questions to ask everyone in class and this can be followed by a mingle activity. And so on.

So, I have decided. Next week I'll leave my secret stash in the staffroom and I'll walk into the classroom unarmed. Let's see what happens. I'll take the textbook with me. I am not ready to let go of my textbook yet.

Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in secondary school, I had this philosophy teacher. He was probably the greatest teacher I have ever had. He was slightly eccentric, but you expect no less from a philosophy teacher. One day a student drew his attention to something that was written on her desk. It read:

Why live when no one ever walked alive out of life?

Our philosophy teacher closed his philosophy book. There was a strange sparkle in his eyes. He turned on his heel. He went to the board. He wrote the question onto the board. He divided us into two groups. Group A were the optimists. Group B were the pessimists. The optimists were supposed to find arguments why life was worth living, the pessimists were refuting those arguments. We screamed at each other. He went from group to group playing devil's advocate. Once the discussion started dying out, he made us change sides. I walked out of that class with one clear idea:

Life is worth living. It is a gift. Every minute counts.

I also believe that particular class has made me become the kind of teacher I am. I teach because that gives me the chance to learn from my students. I listen to them because they have something to say. They have something to say because I listen to them. Along the way they learn a bit of English as well.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Jukeboxing the EFL Classroom

The Old Jukebox

Well, I have to say that I had doubts about whether or not to publish my last post. I mean, I try, in my humble way, to be useful to my fellow teachers. Picture yourself searching for ideas about that perfect warmer or role play, somehow ending up here only to read about how I had a great holiday this summer.

And then I go and write about different things you can do when you want to waste time online.

As if you had any time to waste.

I did say at the very end that your best ideas might come while you are just idly surfing the Net. And I talked about why I got addicted to Blip.

One of the most common topics of discussion in the EFL classroom is music. And almost every time you ask your students what sort of music they like they say something like: "Oh, I don't know... Different stuff... I listen to everything... It depends..."

Why is it so difficult for our students to define the kind of music they like? Well, can you answer that question easily?

Most of us are not into one kind of music all the time. Even if you are an obsessive Leonard Cohen fan like me, you might want to listen to other singers from time to time. Then, there is the music you listen to at weddings, the music you listened to when you were 12, that song that you don't really like, but it reminds you of your first time in Britain when you were 15...

Music speaks to us on so many levels. When you use Blip (which is a social network, after all) you will soon find the people who listen to your kind of music. They will blip that song you listened to on the bus while you were on your honeymoon. Then they'll throw a bit of Mozart in. They will post something with great lyrics only to follow that with the song you have never heard of but which you love instantly. That's the way music is meant to be shared.

Piano Keyboard Macro

Now, how can we use this in TEFL?

The most direct way would be to get the students to sign up for Blip itself. Get them to add each other (and you) to their "Favorite DJs" list and start sharing. Ask them to follow each song with a short message Twitter-style. They could, for example, explain why they like the song, where they first heard it, how it makes them feel... And you could have a different theme each week - sad songs, songs that wake you up, songs that make you think.

The same thing can be done in a wiki. The students can search YouTube and embed videos into the wiki. They can Google the lyrics of the song and copy-paste them under the video. You could have a new set of videos every week and they would learn a lot of new vocabulary this way. Another place where this can be done is Facebook. Or they could do that in the class blog, if you have one. This has one additional benefit, since you can ask them to write a short blog post about the song and how it makes them feel.

In one of my old posts I wrote about creating a "time capsule wiki" where you and your students could share images and videos that remind you of your past. You can read more about that here.

Finally, you could use the lyrics as a follow up activity in class. Just a short part of the song will do.

You could, for example, walk into the classroom one day and write these lyrics from Gotta Have You by The Weepies onto the board:

Then you could put the students into pairs or groups and ask them to discuss the lyrics (what they mean, how they make them feel...) and just sit back, observe and see what they come up with.

P. S. Make sure you read The Ultimate Guide to YouTube for Educators . Lots of useful information on how to embed, download, edit, capture and record YouTube videos.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Back to the Future


In my previous post I wrote about how difficult it was for me to juggle my online and offline obligations. I named it Swimming or Drowning.

That was almost three months ago.

So, what happened to the writer of that post? Did she drown?

No, well, you see, she decided to take a holiday. A real holiday, away from it all.

Eyes too expressive to be blue

Normally, when I am on holiday, I use it to spend more time online, trying to catch up with everything I have missed. Not this year, folks. You see, I was really tired. I needed time to think and relax and be selfish. I still went online quite a lot, but the things I did while online were significantly different from what I normally do.

I wasted time. I had fun.

I went to YouTube to listen to music. And I started Bliping. Then I decided I really like Blip.

Blip is like Twitter, except it is not about words. It is about music. You find a song you like and then you share it with others. You can write a message to follow your Blip, but you don't have to. I mostly keep silent. If you are interested in the kind of music I like, here is my Blip channel.

We spent a lot of time in our country house this year and that meant prolonged periods away from my computer. There is no internet connection in our country house. Even the TV doesn't work. It broke down a year ago and we forgot to fix it. We had to spend our time in a very old-fashioned way - talking to each other, reading, taking long walks... I have to say, and it isn't easy for me to admit this, but I didn't really miss my computer at all. I filled my ipod with audio books before we started. There is something comforting about someone reading to you, especially if your eyes have been failing you lately. I got addicted to Jonathan Kellerman because, as some of you might know, I really love crime stories.

When I came back, I checked my email for important stuff and then (get this) I deleted the rest.

In August we went to Alanya for a week. It was our fourth time in Alanya and I'll never get tired of the place. I didn't even bother to take my ipod with me, though I did pick a crime story from the shelf in the hotel lobby.

How selfish is that? Obviously very selfish because, as soon as we came back, my computer decided to go on strike. It would just look at me defiantly for hours and refuse to obey my orders. We had to have it repaired and it was gone for two weeks.

So, here I am now. I am back. No more fooling around. But there are some things I learnt on my holiday that I believe will make me more efficient online.

One evening in Alanya we went to a place called The Chocolate House. The name says it all. I ordered an assortment of dark chocolate on a plate. It did say 120 grams in the menu, but that didn't deter me. I wanted to try as many chocolates as possible. I am not going to go into how I felt afterwards and, of course, I didn't remember the taste of any of the chocolates I tried.

TCHO Chocolate

This is the way I have been behaving on the net. Signing up for too many newsletters, too many courses, too many applications... Then never reading the emails, never visiting the places I have signed up for and dropping out of the courses. I need to choose my battles more carefully. Yes, the internet is like a chocolate shop. Everything is there for you to sample, but if you are not careful you will overeat. And that might put you off the internet for a while. So, here is the list of my priorities in the future:

1. The People

I have met some great people during the past two and a half years. They are members of my PLN and I have learnt a lot from them. But some of them are more than that. They are my friends.

2. The Blog

Yes, this blog. No matter how infrequently I publish something here, blogging is still the most important thing I do online.

3. The Groups

Even if I succeed in cutting down the time I spend online, I will still keep participating (or rather lurking) in my online groups and forums.

4. Pure Fun and Just Surfing the Internet

Not only is this very important for my mental stability, but often that's where my best lesson plans come from. Reading interesting stories, browsing through Flickr photographs, listening to music, watching cartoons on YouTube... Sooner or later I will come across something that I can use in class.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you who kept my blog alive during the summer by leaving new and fresh comments in my old posts.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Swimming or Drowning?

Photo on Flickr by Online Photography School

So, how are you doing today? Have you managed to read all your emails, answer the urgent ones, delete the unimportant ones, read all the relevant tweets, retweet the good ones, tweet something yourself, check your Facebook home page, rant against the new policies of Facebook and Ning, write back to all the kind people who wrote to you in all your different forums and groups, leave comments in various blogs and tweet the links to a couple of great blog posts? And how about your blog? Eh? When are you going to finish that post you started some time ago?

How were the classes today? Were your students happy? Or were you distracted because you were thinking about that blog post you haven't finished yet? It is really important to finish that blog post. Blogging will greatly improve your teaching, you see. Clears the mind and helps you focus. Are you focused right now?

Are you swimming or are you drowning?

Right now I am drowning. It always happens when I have too many offline obligations. I try to compromise by losing sleep, but my treacherous body starts complaining after a while and my mind refuses to work. So, every now and then I disappear from the internet for a couple of days, or even for a week or two. It is terribly difficult to come back after two weeks. Your inbox will be full, you'll find a dozen different messages addressed to you all over your forums and your poor blog will be neglected and lonely.

If I was a digital native, I would probably not worry about this. I would simply erase all my email messages without a second glance at them and write a blog post about what I did during my absence. However, I am not a digital native. When I was a child, my parents taught me not to procrastinate and never to let others wait for me. It is the feeling that I am letting others down that makes me feel like I am drowning. And it makes me procrastinate. Just like this guy:

There has to be a better way. What do you do to find that perfect balance between your life online and your offline obligations?

balancing elephant || Balancierender Elefant
Photo on Flickr by Paraflyer

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

It's Worth Keeping an Eye on This Blog

The image you can see at the top of this post is an award. I am very proud to have received this award, especially since it came from Janet Bianchini, whose blog I really love. Anyway, as Janet says in this post: "This award is part of an initiative called "Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog", which means "It's worth keeping an eye on this blog". The chosen blog has to copy the picture above, with a link to the blog from which it has received the award . Then write ten more links to the blogs which you think are well worth a visit. They in turn if they would like to, of course, copy the image above and link to 10 blogs, which shouldn't be the ones I have chosen below."

Copy-pasting the information from another blog was the easy part. The difficult part is choosing only ten blogs to link to. I read a lot of TEFL blogs. Like most people, I often lurk (oh, you know, lack of time, not being able to think of anything clever enough to put into the Comments area, etc). I think this initiative is great because it shows bloggers that what they do matters and that there are other people out there who are reading their blogs. So, in no particular order, I will list here some of the the blogs I often read:

Kalinago English (Karenne Sylvester)
Miss Shonah (Shonah Kennedy)
Six Things (Lindsay Clanfield)
TEFLtastic (Alex Case)
Teacher Reboot Camp (Shelly Terell)
Ozge Karaoglu's Blog (Ozge Karaogly)
Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day (Larry Ferlazzo)
Nik's Learning Technology Blog (Nik Peachey)
English Virtual Community (Nelba Quintana)
My Integrating Technology Journey (Jennifer Vershoor)

As usual, I am quite late with this post. I started writing it on 4th May and, as you can see, it hasn't been 4th May for some time now. My offline life interfered with my blogging once again. I have been really busy for the past two weeks. Among other things, I have been to a conference and I am planning to blog about it soon (though you should notice that my definition of "soon" is a little flexible). In the meantime, this "chain blogging" phenomenon as one blogger called it has spread over the TEFL bloggosphere. Quite a few blogs already have this little stamp proudly displayed somewhere.

There is a good side to everything, isn't there? If you have missed the main wave of "chain blogging", here is your chance to catch up. Visit the blogs I have linked to here and enjoy.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Murphy's Law for EFL teachers

Pink.egg  on Aviary<

1. If you have prepared a really cool warmer, everybody will be late for class.
2. If you have planned an important pairwork activity, an odd number of students will show up.
3. If you give your instructions so clearly that nobody can misunderstand, somebody will.
4. The student who misunderstood the instructions will explain them to everybody in his/her team.
5. Photocopiers always break when you have an important test.
6. The enthusiasm the students show for a worksheet you created is inversely proportional to the effort and creativity you invested into the worksheet.
7. No technology will work properly inside the bounds of a classroom.
8. The vocabulary the students memorise is inversely proportional to its frequency and usefulness.
9. When you are being observed, all good students stay at home.
10. The students will remember the exceptions, but not the rule.
11. When explaining grammar, you will only be able to remember cliche examples from your old secondary school books (such as If you hurry up, you will catch the train, or Look at the clouds. It is going to rain.)
12. Words misspell themselves when you write them on the whiteboard.
13. Whenever you spill coffee at home, it will land on a student's homework.
14. If you slip and fall in class, all your students will be present.
15. If you slip and fall in the street, at least one of your students will be present.

Well, I got as far as number 15. It is your turn now. Your suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Embedding PDF files into your posts

In my last post I outlined a lesson plan and I provided links for two PDF files. In order to get the files, you need to click on the link that will take you to the file page. Well, that is the usual procedure. The only problem is that the readers will then leave your page and might never return. Why should they continue reading your carefully written post once they got the PDF files?

There has to be a better way.

There are quite a few tutorials on how to embed PDF files, but I used this one. It worked like a dream, as you will see in the comments, but then Fileden got infested withTrojans. I was going to delete this post completely, but then I decided to follow S. Bolos's advice and try EmbedIt. Here is the result:

So, what do you think? When you read a blog post, do you prefer the traditional way (clicking on a link which takes you to another page), or this? And, if you are a blogger, do you think embedding PDF into your post would encourage the readers to stay on your page?

By the way, you can also upload your files to Scribd and it will generate the embed code for you.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Trouble with the Mobile Phone

Photo on Flickr by William Hook

I am going to share with you a role play I created a while ago.

I don't know what gave me the idea. Must have been the fact that my students constantly forgot to turn off their mobiles. There was this one student... The class started at four o'clock. His phone always rang at 4.30. He would try to hide under the desk and he would say in this loud, hissing whisper "I'm in class. I'll call you later." They informed me afterwards that he had this really jealous girlfriend.

Or maybe it was another student who ran a multi-level marketing business. Her phone rang several times during the class and I somehow managed to teach her to go outside while she talked to her clients.

Anyway, I had a long break between two classes and that's when the idea hit me. I could see the following bit of news in my head:

Angry Teacher

I wrote it down. I had some empty library cards in my handbag, I was doing a project or something, I can't remember. Anyway, haven't I told you that it's always useful to have things in your handbag? You never know when you are going to need library cards, for example.

So I took those cards out of my handbag and I wrote the roleplay onto them. I put the cards into my handbag (you never know when you are going to need stuff) and went into the next class.

The last class that day was with a very lively and creative group of intermediate students. We opened our books and started doing whatever we were supposed to do that day.

It was boring.

I don't remember what the topic of the class was, but I still remember the blank expression on their faces.

"Is this boring?" I asked.

"Yes," they said.

"Would you like to do something else?"

"Yes, please."

I pulled out my handwritten role cards. You really never know when you might need stuff. I explained about the angry teacher and about the phone. I spread the cards onto a desk and let each student pick one.

They screamed at each other. They argued. They negotiated. They went on and on for about an hour. They reached a compromise. I didn't have to do anything, except sit back and enjoy.

It was a magical experience.

It never happened again quite in the same way, of course. Still, whenever I did my little role play, the students liked it.

It had to evolve over years. What started as a discussion over how old children should be before they get their first mobile and whether mobiles should be allowed at school at all changed into how we could use mobiles in a constructive way in class. Some characters left the play (teachers who were firmly against mobiles at school and students whose parents couldn't afford to buy them mobiles) and new characters replaced them (the under-cover journalist and the geeky teacher).

The procedure for this lesson is really simple and you can improvise as much as you want.

I would start by asking them whether they had ever been in an awkward situation because they had forgotten to turn off their mobile. That serves a double purpose - it introduces the topic and it reminds them to turn off their phone in case they haven't already done it. Then they can talk about the mobile they are using at the moment, the mobile they would like to have... It depends on how much time you have.

After that, introduce the topic of the lesson. You can simply read out loud the bit of news about the angry teacher, or you can download it here, cut it into little strips of paper and give it to them. Ask them to discuss what might have prompted the teacher to do that. Ask them to try and predict what is going to happen.

The main part of the lesson is the role play which you can download here. Cut it into role cards and give each student a card. There are nine roles in the play, but it can easily be adjusted to suit your class. The first four roles are crucial (the student's parent, the principal, the student and the teacher) and if your class is small you can choose who else you want to keep. Some roles can be repeated (the journalist, the student's friend, the teacher's friend...). If your class is large, you can put the students into groups of nine.

By the way, you might want to pre-teach the language for agreeing and disagreeing and (why not?) a couple of taboo words.

As a follow-up, you can discuss various ways in which mobiles can be used in class in a constructive way. There are tons of great blog posts on that subject. This one, for example. And here is a nice vocabulary test connected to this topic.

And if, like me, you teach in a country where geeky teachers are an endangered species, you might enjoy this little video (which is not a part of the lesson plan, but, shall we say, a freeby). So, sit back and enjoy:

If you decide to try it with your students, do let me know how it went. Just post me a note in the Comments section. I have only ever done this with adult learners and I am really curious about what would happen if you gave it to teenagers.

And, in case you got so carried away by my elegant prose that you somehow missed the download links for the worksheets, here they are once again:

Angry Teacher Breaks Mobile Phone
Trouble with the Mobile Phone

Creative Commons License
This lesson plan by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.


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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Which came first - the picture or the caption?

Let me start where I finished last time:

How many ways are there to tell a story in the digital world?

I am not going to talk about the tools here. There are lots of great posts on that topic. Or you can go through the Images4Education wiki. You can even download this wonderful ebook free of charge.

I am going to concentrate on a single question:

Which came first

And if my new habit of speaking in pictures is starting to get on your nerves, do stop reading, because there is more coming.

To answer my own question (I know, I am a bad teacher), when you are telling your story, sometimes you will write the story first and find or create the pictures afterwards. I often do that in my blog by searching for Flickr photos that could illustrate what I am trying to say. Or you could start from the pictures and use them as an inspiration for your story, the way Janet did here.

Why are images important in TEFL in the first place? To answer that, I will have to use more images, I am afraid. So here is a slideshow I created during the third week of Images4Education:

I am an extreme right-brainer and I really do think in pictures all the time. Even if we take different learning styles into consideration (not everyone is a right-brainer), images are always useful in a TEFL class. They help us explain new vocabulary, they can serve as speaking or writing prompts, they can make grammar less boring... I am not going to talk about what you already know.

Even if the image has no immediate practical purpose, it is still good to have one. Let's say you are writing a blog post and you don't know how to end it. The words just won't come. You can place a nice image where your conclusion should have been and make your readers wonder what you were trying to say with it.

Frost on Red.egg by lunas994 on AviaryFrost on Red.egg by lunas994 on Aviary


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Monday, 22 February 2010

Myna and the Sleeping Dragon

The Dragon

EVO sessions are now over. I participated as much as I could, if you take into consideration the fact that I was trying to attend four of them, while working. I was absent during the second week of February (Week 5 of EVO) and after that it was really difficult to catch up. However, the first thing I did when I got back was the Myna task.

Myna by Aviary is one of the tools we did in DMPT. It is an audio editor. It lets you mix music, add a recording of your voice and apply some sound effects. Our task was to record a poem (ours or somebody else's). I chose one of my own. I have never read my poetry out loud and if I had to do it in public I would probably die, but doing it while I was alone in my room somehow made it all right. I wasn't quite alone, my pet turtle was right behind me and it is the sound of his water pump that you can hear in the background.

Aviary has a lot more to offer. There are several image editors and I combined three (Phoenix, Peacock and Toucan) to create the"image" of my poem:

The Dragon 4.egg by lunas994 on AviaryThe Dragon 4.egg by lunas994 on Aviary

Then I played with Peacock (effects editor) and I created this "red umbrella" from scratch:

Red Umbrella.egg by lunas994 on AviaryRed Umbrella.egg by lunas994 on Aviary

Aviary tools are easy to use, but make sure you have watched the tutorial before you start (I cannot stress this enough). The tutorials are what makes these tools easy to use, your intuition won't help you here, I am afraid.

Let's see how we can use these tools in the classroom:

Myna (the audio editing tool) could be used to record poetry, the way we did in DMPT. It could be a fun way for you to introduce British and American poetry into your class. Alternatively, your students could record the poems they wrote or collaborated on. Or you could record different sounds on Myna and then ask the students to guess what they heard. The students could use the large music library Myna provides and mix their own music. This could be used to practise adjectives (How does this music make you feel?), or to serve as a story prompt. I guess it would be possible to create short listening tasks on Myna, though I would probably use something more straightforward, such as Podomatic, for this purpose.

As for the image editors (Phoenix, Peacock, Toucan, Raven and Falcon), think of all those images you and your students could create from scratch and then put into blogs and wikis. It is often so difficult to find the exact image you need online, why not create one?

I really enjoyed playing with these tools. The combination of sound, images and text has made me think... All the possibilities you have these days to create something beautiful and to tell your story. Don't you think that we are witnessing the birth of new forms of art? I would like to leave you with this question:

How many ways are there to tell a story in the digital world?


Photo of the dragon on Flickr by GotMeAMuse

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Let Me Tell You a Story...

This week in Images4Education we did digital stories. We were given a large choice of tools, but I chose Mixbook. I like the idea of creating something that actually looks like a book, where you can post pictures and text.

I first wrote a short story, a sort of fairy-tale with my son in the main role. I shared it with him and he liked it. Then I got him and my husband to act it out with me. We had a lot of fun and here is the result:

Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

Obviously, the same thing could be done in class. The students could collaborate and write a story, then they could take photos of each other acting the story out. Finally, they could create the Mixbook. One word of warning: Mixbooking is highly addictive. Your students could spend hours changing fonts and backgrounds and experimenting with different stickers. The result is beautiful, though I have to say that Mixbooks look much nicer on the site than when they are embedded. The Mixbook site gives you the option of flipping through pages at your own speed, and the book resembles a real book. If you can find a few extra minutes, you can look at my book here.

Then I decided to use the same pictures and tell a different story altogether. There is a group in Flickr where members tell a story in five frames and I wanted to try something similar. I called the story His Favourite Toy:

His Favourite Toy
I have a pretty clear idea about what I wanted to say, but do you? You see, the fun in the "Tell a story in 5 frames" starts after a member has posted the story. This is what they say:

"Tell a Story in 5 Frames has two important parts. The first part is creating and telling a story through visual means with only a title to help guide the interpretation. The second part is the response of the group to the visual story. The group response can take many forms such as, a poetic or prose rendering of the visualization, a critique on the structure of the story, comments on the photograph, or other constructive forms of response. Telling and enjoying stories should create entertainment for the group as well as offer insight into the universal elements that help create a story for an international audience. The more people who respond , as either story tellers or respondents, the greater the reward for all. "

And, again, what a great tool in the classroom. The pictures would have to be prepared in advance, either by the teacher or by the students. Then the students could create their stories in groups or on their own. This activity can also be used to practise grammar and vocabulary. The format of the writing could be predetermined (Write a letter of complaint, an email to a friend...). If the students like the activity, it could be done over and over, each time with a different set of pictures.

And now... I have an idea...

You see, I'll be absent for a week. Going somewhere really nice, will tell you all about it soon. In the meantime, why don't you make yourselves at home in my blog? Try and respond to my story. Pretend that you don't know who the people in the pictures are. Or you can write a poem. Anything you like.

When I come back, I'll try to gather your comments in another post.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

EVO, HTML and the Voki Girl (Yes, she's back)

If you haven't been here for a while, the first thing you will notice is how beautiful my blog looks. This is all thanks to the Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates. The template was easy to install and all my widgets clicked into place. The only problem was the size of the font (some people complained that the letters were too small and I agree). So, I decided to change the size of the font, only to realise that the Fonts and Colours option was gone from my Blog Layout screen. I had to do something about the size of the font, so I decided to tackle the HTML.
I clicked the HTML button. I stared at it for a long time. It stared back at me.
It looked a little like this:

Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17 bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the &quot;Flying Fortress,&quot; the B-17F is a later model of the B-17, which distinguished itself i
Photo on Flickr by the Library of Congress

I had no clue what I was supposed to do.
However, after I had stared at the code for half an hour, it started to make sense. It is, after all, in English. Sort of. I wanted to change the font size, right. I managed to locate the word Font somewhere in the code. Next to it was a number so I changed it. Once I knew I was changing the right number, I just continued doing it until I was happy with the result. Then I changed the colour of my links. The original colour made the links hardly visible. I learnt that each colour had its code and that you just needed to copy the colour code and that was it. There are a lot of places where you can find the colour codes and this is just one of them. I also found this page really useful.

Then I changed the tagline. The tagline is the short phrase you put under the name of your blog - like a subtitle. Now, Karenne gave us this challenge in BELTFree - she asked us whether our tagline corresponded to what we blog about. My tagline didn't pass the test. It used to be "A teacher's journey through the world of Web 2.0". While this was true two years ago, it isn't quite true any more. I mean, you expect someone who writes only about Web 2.0 to post more links to different applications, while I write... Let's see, what do I write about? I slept on it and came up with: "TEFL, Technology and the Meaning of Life." That's it, take it of leave it.

Then I brought her back. The Voki Girl. I removed her about a year ago and wrote about it here. One of my readers, Gregory Louie, posted a lovely comment. He said:

Giving a voice to a webpage adds a dimension that is simply not possible with the written word.
That is especially true for a foreign language teacher. Students need to hear the target language being spoken as they read the text.
Quite a bit of research on language comprehension reveals that sub-vocalization improves comprehension in individual's struggling to read.
Beyond the research, I would also argue that subtle intonations and pauses in the text lead to natural speech, which is critical for students who seek to use their language abroad and be comprehended by others.
Finally, cognitive scientists are busy uncovering natural differences among learners, a fully differentiated blog will take into consideration that aural dominant learners learn best with sound.

We did Vokis both in DMPT and in BaW this week. That's why I decided to bring the Voki back, this week of all weeks, but to give her my voice. The previous version had one of those computer generated voices. But wouldn't my readers like to hear me speak? Personally, I don't like listening to my own voice and I really hate the way you have to say a simple sentence over and over again before you get the version that is decent enough to post. Still, now having a Voki in my sidebar makes sense. And now I see how it could be used in education. If you want to create listening comprehension exercises, then maybe computer generated voices would be a better idea. If you want your students to hear themselves speak, then let them record themselves and listen to their own voices. And you can bring all those funny avatars to life. You can have dogs talking, cats responding... Anything you like.

Friday, 22 January 2010

My blog is Two Years Old

I have gained certain wisdom with years. I have a few grays and I have started spending more money on face creams, but at least I have gained wisdom.

Together with my wisdom came this uncontrollable urge to share it with other people. My wisdom, that is.

Which is why I started a blog in the first place.

Two years ago I didn't know what exactly I was going to blog about and I believed it didn't matter. Because, my wisdom would shine through whatever I wrote about. And so the first year passed.

Now my hair was even grayer and I was even wiser. Which I wanted to share with others.

In the meantime I learnt something about blogging and now I didn't want to blog about just anything that crossed my mind. I decided I was going to blog about TEFL.

And so another year passed.

And that day has come again. My blog's birthday. Which happens to be my birthday too. Because, conveniently, my blog and I were born the same day. I am a little older, that's all.

I've reached a certain mature age when I might want to redefine things (my life, my choices, my dreams, my face cream). The right thing to do in such cases is to go back to the beginning.

Which is where the Images4Education Week 2 task 1 came in handy.

If you are too lazy to follow the link I gave you above, the task is called Where I am From. The participants post a picture which symbolizes the place they are from and write a little poem underneath.

And, here is the result:


I am from the fields
I am from the whisper in the grass
I am from the earth
From the dirt
Under your fingernails
I am from the boy
Who went to war
When he was 12
I am from the tiny woman
Who raised four children
All by herself
I am from the lawyers
And the peasants
From the teachers
And the doctors
From the nameless housewives
Who told beautiful stories
I am from the singers
And the dancers
I am from the morning mist
Above Kalemegdan park
I am from burnt lunches
And overcooked vegetables
I am from a room
Where pigeons nested
On the window-sill
I am from a dream
Hidden inside a notebook
I am from this very day
Forty-three years ago.

If you have read this far, you know that ocassionally I still give in to my desire to write about non-TEFL-related topics.

Thank you for being such patient readers so far.

P.S. If you are really, really patient, you can read the poem I wrote last year for Images4Education.


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