Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Do you remember your green cross code?

I saw this on the PLN lounge and have been dying to try it so here's my excuse.

In the UK in the 1970s there was a road safety campaign called the green cross code it was used to teach children the basics of crossing a road. The four stages were stop, look, listen and think.

I think that the end of the school year is the perfect time to stop, look, listen and think about the year behind us. The summer holiday gives many teachers a well-earned break from teaching or at least a lighter workload which means that we can stop or slow down.

After stopping or at least slowing down it's time to LOOK back at our teaching year critically to see what we liked and what we didn't like about our year. By doing this we can see how we can improve our teaching practice.

The next step is to listen to ourselves and other voices of fellow teachers, colleagues and our PLNs to see where we can go from here and possibly where we can make changes and improvements along the way.

The final step is to think. Think about what we did last year and what we are going to do in the new school year ahead of us. For me personally reflection has been a great help in my teaching life. I spend my school year rushing around from class to class and never seem to have the time to think about what I'm doing and why but the summer is the perfect time for me to do a bit of thinking and reflecting. If you have the time and the inclination why not try the 'green cross code' of reflection.

What have you learnt this year?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Pimp My Photo

School is out and I've set myself my summer homework so , as I was browsing old posts last night I stumbled on this 'gem' on  Janet's blog

I love it and it has great potential for the classroom. It's a website that lets you upload an image of your choice and make a magazine cover from it. Now many of you will have seen it but for those of you haven't  here it is!

Imagine the fun children and teens could have making up stories to go with the covers.

After 12 years of being just a 'girlfriend' Leahn's long time partner has shocked the whole world by proposing on one knee with a large diamond ring. Despite offering her a large diamond ring and fearing that she may be left alone with a large brood of animals, Leahn has chosen to decline the offer and therefore will never join the exclusive 'Brides' club'.

What fun! MagMyPic

Friday, 25 June 2010

One 2 One Burnout

I’ve been teaching one-to-one classes for about four years now .I suppose at some point most teachers will find themselves in a situation where they may have to teach one-to-one, so I thought that I’d share my experiences of life as a one-to-one teacher here with you. 

In the beginning when I started working as a freelancer, I wanted to fill my timetable so, I was quite happy to get the work which meant that I’d be able to pay the rent and feed the cats and dogs. At the time I thought that I’d take on the students and reap the financial rewards until they got bored and gave up.

I have to say that the dropout rate wasn’t quite what I expected. Four years on, I still have my first one-to-one student. You could see this in one of several ways. A) I’m so good that he just doesn’t want to leave me B) he hasn’t improved and so he’s still with me or C) he has no other possibilities or options. 

I teach an upper-intermediate doctor, a low pre- intermediate lab technician, a fourteen year old teenage girl who is in secondary school, a twelve year old secondary school student  an11 year old boy and a nine year old girl. It’s quite a variety. Now the reason that I wanted to write about one-to-one is that I’ve been feeling at a bit of a loss about what to do in classes for the past couple of months. I seem to have caught one-to-one burnout. I'm just not inspired.

What I like about teaching one-to-one

• You can tailor the classes directly to the needs, wants and likes of your student.
• You can give 100% of your attention to your student.
• You develop a really close relationship with your student.
• You don’t have as many exams or as much homework  to correct.
• You don’t have to deal with mixed abilities or fast finishers.
• You don’t have as many factors to deal with in terms of classroom management.
• Students tend to think that they’re making more progress.
• You don’t need to photocopy as much.
• It doesn’t involve lots of cutting and sticking.

Drawbacks of teaching one-to-one

• It’s a very intense situation, 60 minutes of talking can be quite like therapy!
• It’s really limited in many ways as the dynamic is teacher – student / student –
teacher, no pair work, no group work.
• It’s really uncomfortable if either of you are having a bad day. There’s nowhere to hide.
• It often calls for the teacher to give their opinions on issues which can cause disagreement.
• It can become like a crutch for students who rely on their personal teacher.
• It can get boring or stale as you can’t rely on the group dynamic.
• There just aren’t the opportunities to share thoughts and opinions with other people like there are in groups.

My Problems

• I’ve been teaching my one-to-ones for between two and four years and I’ve just run out of steam. I’m in a rut.
• I think that they’d probably be better off in a group setting but they are still clinging to me.

Okay over to my PLN for some advice. Can anyone help? Any suggestions? Teaching ideas and suggestions for one-to-one classes please!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

How to get children and dogs to respect you? Part Two

After a shaky start with my theory about the similarities between dogs and children, I seem to be on a roll. I’ve started to take note of my interaction with Molly, Bruno, Joe and Maya. Action research in my case has taken on new meaning as it has extended from the classroom to my home. Poor dogs ! So, here are some of my latest thoughts about the similarities and differences between canines, kiddies and teens and how we can get a little RESPECT at home and in the classroom.
Before I start I’d like to say a couple of things. Firstly, I’m not saying that dogs are children or that children are dogs. I have too much respect for both species for that. Secondly, a bit about the differences between ‘fear’ and ‘respect’, as a dog owner and a teacher of children I’m after ‘respect’ not fear. As educators I’m sure that we agree that respect is healthy and positive whilst fear is negative and destructive right?

Okay so we know what we want but how do we go about getting it?

1. Calm assertive behavior- Body language and tone of voice are the key here. Often teachers and dog owners say one thing but their tone of voice or body language is saying something else. Children and dogs are highly receptive to energy and can pick up nervousness, hesitancy, anger, sadness and a whole range of other emotions. They say that dogs know if you like them. The same can be said for children. It is really important to spend time bonding with both. Children and dogs pick up on whether you like them or not. Dogs don’t understand the words but they understand the body language and tone of voice. So remember to say kind words and send kind body signals too. Teachers faced with disruptive and difficult classes often give off negative energy or energy than says they’ve given up. Children pick up on this and feed off it. We have to stay CALM at all costs. Shouting at children and losing control can lead to mimicking behavior. You raise your voice and children and dogs will often raise their respective voices. Janet (no surname required) had anexperience of this with her dog Sofia recently. Janet said “Sit” and her canine companion Sofia ignored her. Janet shouted "Sit" and Sofia growled her own thoughts on the matter. If you raise the energy, dominant children and dogs may raise theirs too. This is ok, if the energy is positive but you shout and they shout and sooner or later shouting becomes the norm.

2. Reward good behaviour – I will always remember Carol Read saying catch them being good. Well this really is good advice. Positive reinforcement works really well with dogs and children. I train my dogs with a clicker and treats or treats alone. Once the dogs behave in the way that I want, I slowly reduce the amount of treats until they get no treats or occasional treats for good behavior. I guess the same can be done for children. Model the behavior you want and then reward the behaviour with praise, kind words or stickers or all of the above. Perhaps not clicker training with kiddies!
3. Attention –It’s really important to make sure that you have your dogs’ attention before you give a command. Sounds obvious right? How many times have you seen a teacher giving instructions to a class where half of them are not listening and the other half are fiddling with pencils, pencil cases, water bottles etc. The golden rule applies here make sure that you have silence and attention from the class before you give instructions. Even experienced teachers can find themselves rushing instruction giving which results in confusion and half the class asking what they have to do. I’ve seen a lot of teachers do this and I’ve done it myself. 

4. Be prepared – Children can see if you’ve planned your class and put effort into it. A well prepared teacher is a great example and shows children that you respect them. If you’ve prepared your class and gone out of your way to find interesting and motivating materials you students will see that and, that shows them that you respect them and your job. At this point you’re saying of course but I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve been to in the past three years where teachers have opened the course book and asked the children what page they’re on or have prepared no material and have tried to wing it. It takes a great deal of experience, resourcefulness and bravery to walk into a class of 26 eleven year olds with nothing prepared. Or maybe it’s shear madness.

5. Establish or negotiate rules and then stick to them – I have to say that whilst I don’t seem to have any real problems sticking to classroom rules, at home it’s a different matter. My dogs have re-negotiated the sofa rule for example. I set the rule NO sofa. My partner S failed to enforce the rule. The dogs got mixed signals and so now we have something in between. Dogs get on the sofa and then off when they are told. This basically equals no rule. I’ve seen similar things happen in classes with children who follow the rules for one teacher and then flaunt the rules for another. Why have rules if they’re not going to be enforced?

I’ve ranted on about dogs and children enough for one night. Time to let them out before I go to bed.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Commanding Respect

Today I was talking to a colleague about respect . We were talking about how certain teachers command immediate silence when they walk into a room whilst others have to ask for silence and some have to beg for it and never get it! Now I'm more of the second type, I do not command immediate silence when I enter a room but I can get it with minimum fuss. 

The more I've thought about this over the past year or so the more I've compared it to dog training. Okay, I don't mean to offend the dogs but children and dogs have many things in common. Like dogs children react well to calm assertiveness. They need a pack leader and feel safe and secure when they have rules and routines.

At this point you may think I'm barking mad but think about it for a minute. They say that dogs can smell fear. Well, I think the same can be said for children. Children will test you and push you to your limits and past them if you allow them to. Children need rules and routines to feel safe and secure. They may not like the rules and routines but enforcement of rules and routines makes everyone know where they stand. When you don't enforce the rules everything gets confused and no-one knows where they stand.

Have you ever seen one of those mums at the check out counter with the child screaming for some sweets ? Okay let's see. Child screams and the mum says no and the  child screams some more and then the mum says no and the child screams some more and then the child screams some more and then, the mum says YES. Well, this reminds me of dog training. Imagine the situation.Leahn and Molly (Molly being the canine part of the team). Leahn says"Sit" and raises her finger in that Barbara Woodhouse way. Molly looks around and sniffs the air. Leahn says "Sit" again. Dog trainer comes over takes Molly from her position and walks on. Dog trainer says"sit" and Molly sits. Done. It's all in the voice and the body language she tells me.

Molly and Dog trainer one point Leahn zero.

Children and Dogs have more in common than you think. Both need:

  • Calm assertive leaders
  • Rules and routines
  • Consistency
  • Love 
  • Fun and entertainment
  • Toys and affection

A failure to meet these standards may result in a shift in the balance of power. Please see picture.

Molly, Bruno and Little Joe have taken over the sofa and I find myself sitting on the dog bed. Where, oh where have I gone wrong?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


I obviously have too much free time on my hands as I seem to have been fiddling with new design options on blogger and 'woops' my template simply changed! Oh dear...I've spent another hour trying to figure out how to get it back again. The moral of the story is 'Don't touch it if it's not broken'. I should be writing a guest post or two but I got sidetracked and now I'm stuck!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Certificate of Achievement

I've just received my first PLN certificate. I have to say, it took two goes to get top marks. I think I was a bit overly confident the first time. My advice would be to  read all of the posts before you take the test ! Give it a go over at Barbara's Teaching Village.

Thanks Barbara.

Jester- Who am I?

This is a variation of the old party game ‘Who am I?’ It was a 'real favourite' in a lot of EFL classes in the 1990s. I used to play this game with post-it-notes stuck to people’s foreheads which was always good for a laugh!

Now, I use a jester’s hat like you can see in the picture. 


To play this game you need small picture cards or word cards, a funny hat, and Velcro.


The object if the game is for the child wearing the hat to guess what is attached to the hat.


  1. Ask for a volunteer.
  2. Put the hat on them. 
  3. Choose a card and stick it to the Velcro attached to the hat. 
  4. Ask one of the other children to start to describe the place, animal, or person in the picture. 
  5. Children continue the description until the Jester guesses the identity of the place, animal or person that is being described.


• Animals (Young Learners)
• Children in the class (Young Learners)
• Places in a city (older children or teens)
• Famous people (teens)
• Films (teens)
• Countries (older children)

• It’s …………..
• It’s got ……………
• It can ……………
• It can’t ………….
• It lives in ……………….
• He’s wearing …………..
• He’s got …………………
• He’s …………………..
• You can see ……….
• There’s a …………….
• There are ……………….
• It’s about ………………….
• It stars ……………………….
• It’s in Europe, Asia, America ...........
• It’s famous for its …….
• The capital is ……….
• The flag is ….


Practice questions instead of descriptions. 

Thursday, 10 June 2010

One of My Favourite Resources of The Year - NO MORE

I had a break between classes so I thought that I'd go to one of my favourite resource websites Sparklebox and download a few things to make some flashcards for my YL classes.

Much to my annoyance I couldn't seem to open the site because of a proxy error. On closer inspection, I saw an article about the owner of site. Much to my disgust he's a convicted child sex offender who's been in jail  for making and downloading indecent images of children. He was in jail but was still earning money off his site whilst sitting in his cell ! What the hell is wrong with the world?

How did I miss this and why didn't anyone tell me? I've been plugging his site for the past year. Is it morally acceptable to use resources (no matter how good they are) linked to a convicted offender? Should I take his stuff down or is that over-reacting? Did you all know? Am I the only one in the dark?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Guest Post - Talk, Talk, Telephone English by Clare

There's been much talk over the past couple of weeks about our future as ELT teachers. Where are we going and what can we do to keep up. After a month of 'real' blogging I'm going to hand the 'reins' over to a good friend of mine and a great teacher Clare. She's going to tell us a bit about telephone teaching. Something I would seriously consider doing, if I had  a fast enough internet connection.  I have an admission before she begins. About seven years ago when Clare first told me about teaching some students online I thought that she'd gone quite mad! Telephone and Internet classes strange woman! What the heck did I know! Enough from me over to Clare.

"Hello out there,

Leahn asked me to come up with a guest blog so here I am.
A brief introduction to start I guess. My name’s Clare and I’m a telephone teacher. Maybe that sounds like a confession in some kind of support group but it’s what I do. I teach English over the telephone as well as picking up translations, contributing to materials for an e-learning course and teaching a group of children in the village school where I live. I met Leahn when we were working in an academy together where the majority of pupils were YLs - the transition from there to here was a gradual one.

My particular little rant is about the joy of leaving the hassle of driving for hours a day, feeling like half my time was spent in my car or going to random gym classes (I’ve done Pilates with OAPs and spinning with sickeningly fit twenty-somethings), filling in time between company classes which went from 8:00am to 8 pm. When a call came out of the blue to ask if I would give phone classes a try, I have to admit I jumped at the idea. It was a dream come true – working from home and so seeing more of my young son. Even being able to pick him up from school for the first time! It was one of those chances that I felt I could make work and was totally right.

So that’s how I got started. I had done classes with a web cam whilst I was pregnant and had had wondered then at the technological breakthroughs which meant I could be in Fuerteventura having a 2:00pm class with a Japanese psychologist who was in his dressing gown. This was far lower tech – I only needed a phone and a computer with access to the internet - but was just as strange for me.

The practicalities? 

Obviously there has to be material – the bulk of the texts I use are from the internet – newspaper links, blogs, press releases etc but the joys of role playing in these classes are boundless and the best practice ever! No more shuffling chairs to go back to back (although this is a useful tactic in group classes) to simulate phone calls. I have fond memories of a very serious director of a bank in Pamplona insisting I left his office and that we did the role plays via phone because he said it felt daft to be sitting in the same room. This is what he had been looking for 12 years ago. 

Students in this type of situation also have the benefit of one to one teaching. Need to revise an important email to the Czech Republic team? Send it on. I have it in seconds, we go over it together, pull out and correct any errors (this is wonderful for dealing with fossilized glitches), extend any points that need attention and there goes the thirty minute class. It keeps you on your toes and is very rewarding for the learner.

Is it really ‘teaching’?

I get the impression that this type of class is seen as slightly less valid than traditional ones. When I’ve talked about it to other teachers they are either completely dismissive – as if this was a kind of ‘chat’ system or fad and that nobody could really learn but rather practice what a ‘real’ teacher had taught them. Or they were dumbfounded.

I promise you it is ‘real’ teaching. With the right handouts or material sent on in advance you can present new structures, practice listening and see results. I have had two of my students for nearly three years now and we have gone from initial, very limited communication to being able to share a joke. Their vocabulary and accuracy have increased and their pronunciation is constantly being monitored in the feedback sheet that I send them after every class.

I have to confess here that students have commented on other teachers who were audibly doing the dishes in the background and only paying limited attention. This is the type of teacher who may be very different in a traditional class environment but who has chosen to take this a little less seriously. Needless to say – they don’t keep their students for long! 

I realize now that I haven’t said half of what I’d like to about potential for exploiting the medium in terms of activities and learner satisfaction – but have gone on for long enough –but thanks for allowing me to babble for a while Leahn."

Links and FYI

http://www.youtube.com You tube is our friend. Short clips, amazing variety and easy to use. From training clips for HR managers to scenes from The Office, a wonderful resource for this type of learning.
Newspapers and current affairs are always common, especially as now you can find short videos for listening practice too:
Get the students to tell you what blogs they read in English – or find out what they’re interested in and pass some on.
I guess you’ll have seen this link already – but interesting and totally unrelated!

Thanks for the post Clare. We will be waiting for the next installment!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Some Ingredients for a positive classroom atmosphere

I can't work at a cluttered desk or sit on the sofa and relax when the house is a mess. I like warm colours and a view from my kitchen sink. I like flowers and plants and space. I don't like to argue with friends, family or my partner because it makes me feel 'bad'. 

Although we can't control all aspects of the atmosphere in our YL classroom environment, there are certain things that we can do as teachers to maximise the chances of a  positive classroom environment. I'm trying to compile a list of ingredients for a 'positive classroom environment'. Here are five of mine. Can you add any others? Please add them as a comment if any come to you. Many thanks.

Here are my  5 ingredients for a 'positive classroom atmosphere'

  1. One enthusiastic and positive teacher. Now many of you may be reading this and saying duh of course but , I've seen and heard teachers come into class and tell their students 'I've had a bad weekend so be warned!' Enthusiasm and positivity are contagious as is negativity. Teaching is a potentially stressful job that can be demanding. If we are confident and happy in ourselves we can transmit this to our children but equally if we are stressed and negative this can be transmitted. We have a duty to look after ourselves so that we can look after our children. Teachers lead by example in their behaviour and their attitude towards work. We have to be models for enthusiasm and motivation. If you need a bit of help in this department try this Total Physical Response / Action Research approach. Take an ordinary plastic band. Put it on your wrist. Make sure that it fits snugly. Go to class. Every time you have a negative thought or say something negative in class, take for mentioned elastic band and give it a good ping! (I learnt this from a self- help book it's quite effective)
  2.  A sense of security through classroom rules and routines.I can't overstate how important it is for there to be clear negotiated rules and for the teacher to impose those rules. Many classrooms have rules but I've seen many teachers NOT imposing the rules and then wondering where they are going wrong. The potential for chaos with one adult and 28 children stuck in a room together is enormous so we must make sure that their are clear guidelines for everyone to follow. 
  3. Praise  We all like to feel 'good' about ourselves. Praise is a way that we can help children feel good about themselves if it is done well. Praise for the sake of praise is worthless  even young children are quick to pick up on this.There are some people that say that to avoid 'labelling' we should praise actions rather than ability. Rather than saying 'Wow Maria you're a great artist' we should say ' Good job or great picture', some people go as far as to say that we should 'notice' rather than 'praise'. In 'noticing' we are highlighting rather than praising. We should say things like 'Wow you finished all of those questions'.One thing for sure is that  it's much more effective classroom management to praise rather than criticise. 
  4. A visually attractive classroom I once read that bare white walls in a classroom has a 'zen' like quality and meant that children wouldn't be distracted. I remember thinking what nonsense when I read it. I think that the importance of a visually attractive classroom cannot be understated. I once visited a classroom in Sumatra which had mud walls and floors and I'm sure that those kids would've loved to be sitting in a bright colourful classroom with walls decorated with posters and children's work.
  5. Self-confident children  Self-confident children are positive children. There are many different activities that we can do in class to help develop children's confidence. Jayne Moon (2000) says that children develop their self-image through the responses and reactions of others to them. Moon has many activities that are specifically developed for working on improving self-esteem of which my favourite is a star card. I used to use it with pre-teen children. basically each week one child is the star. The teacher makes a star card and all the children are given a piece of paper to write a positive statement about the child of the week. Statements such as 'You're always happy' or 'You always work hard in class' .
  6. Any more?????