Friday, 28 May 2010

Connect Four

In the last guest post that Alex Case of  TEFLtastic kindly posted for me, I talked about how some traditional board games can be exploited in the ELT classroom. This is another great activity to use in class. It was shown to me by friend Sally (thanks).

She got the original idea from www.collaborativelearning.org. You can play the game in pairs or in teams. The objective is to get four in a row. Each child takes a picture card and tries to find a place for it on the board which will help them make four in a row. 

Imagine you are revising animals and their habitats. You pick up an elephant. On the board, there is a square that says 'It's got four legs'. You can put the elephant on this square. The winner is the first child or group of children to get four in a row.

It's a nice game and the children really enjoy it. You could use it to work on:

  1. Physical descriptions
  2. Descriptions of clothing.
  3. Jobs.
  4. Descriptions of places in a town.
  5. Prepositions.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Working the Streets of London - Egg sarnies and roll-up ciggies

Thanks to Lindsay Clanfield at Six Things for reminding me of my PAST LIFE. This morning I read Lindsay's post about Six jobs BEFORE TEFL. He called for blog responses from those of us who blog. I'm going to tell you about my most memorable pre-TEFL job.

Before my TEFL days I toyed with the idea of saving the world. I'd thought about volunteering overseas and had spent a fair amount of time trying to find a volunteer position when I stumbled across an advert for The Simon Community. The Simon community was founded by Anton Wallich- Clifford in 1963 and is dedicated to caring for London's most vulnerable  street homeless. The charity is based around the idea of a community and has paid volunteer 'workers' and unpaid 'co-workers'. I worked in the community for three months in 1998.

Life at Simon was hard work but there was never a dull moment. What I remember most about Simon is the lessons it taught me about people, life, homelessness and mental health issues. Here are a list of six memorable moments.

  1. 'H' telling me about how he'd 'done time' for torturing a paedophile.
  2. 'S' one of the kindest and most intelligent men buying me a book of poetry by Alice Walker as a leaving gift.
  3. Outreach work involving preparing egg sandwiches all afternoon followed by a 4am wake up call and van ride around London dolling out sarnies and a cuppa.
  4. Singing 'Waterloo' by Abba with my friend Sarah as we drove over Waterloo bridge with a van load of old homeless men.
  5. Watching a man's skin crawl with body lice and praying to God that he hadn't given me them.
  6. Trying to drive away in the tea van as some old guy tried to stop us by throwing himself under the wheels. (Luckily we were parked at the time)
Thinking back there are so many more memories about characters who lived and worked at Simon I don't know how Mr C sticks to his Six! The Simon Community is still an active charity and you can find more information about them and the work they do here : The Simon Community

Thanks to Lindsay for his inspiration.

If you are interested in Homelessness Sally Trench and Libby Purves wrote a great book called 'Bury Me in My Boots'.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Three Tier Dictation

I work in a state school where children are grouped on the basis of age rather than linguistic competence. As you can imagine the levels within the class are enormous. 'Three tier dictations' are a good way of making dictation a more effective classroom tool in mixed ability classes.

Imagine that this is your text:

Brown Bear
It's got brown fur. It lives in Asia, Europe and North America. It can run very fast. It eats plants, nuts, roots, insects, meat and fish. It's the second biggest bear. It hibernates.


To the most 'competent' children you could give them a piece of write paper with only the title. To the next level you could give them key words and finally to the third tier you could give them a text with options.

  1. Brown Bear
  2.                            fur.                             Asia, Europe and North America.                         fast.                            plants, nuts, roots, insects, meat and fish.                       biggest bear.  hibernates.
  3. It's got brown/blue fur. It lives/plays in Asia, Europe and North America. It can run/swim very fast. It eats/drinks/ plants, nuts, roots, insects, meat and fish. It's the second biggest/smallest bear. It hibernates.       
I really like dictation and think it's a very valuable tool. The problem is that it can be overwhelming for low level students. If you adapt a traditional dictation activity in this way it becomes much more achievable for all students and  helps them feel more successful.

Thanks to Trevor Doble for reminding me of this tool.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A-Z Alphabet Video

Yesterday I saw this great video at a workshop given by Trevor Doble. My thanks to Trevor for passing this 'gem' along. It's a commercial for the Canadian shop Zellers. The music is really funky and it would be a great way of revising the alphabet and working on vocabulary. The video lasts only 33 seconds. Get the students in groups. Ask them to watch the video and write down as many words as possible. The group with the most wins. Lots of other possibilities, get your kids to make their own video with movie maker. There are loads of versions on u-tube as it was used as a competition for school kids in Canada.

The music is really catchy and I can't wait to use it!

Go to U- tube type in A to Zed Zellers

Sunday, 16 May 2010

"Wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?"

According to Wikipedia as early as 1564 people could be accused as having or wanting more than they deserved or could handle. Last night I watched a film called 'Motherhood' I don't know how many of you have seen or heard of this film. So , let me just say that in its premiere weekend in the UK it grossed 88 quid! The film itself follows a day in the life of a mother who is preparing for her daughters' sixth birthday party. It's basically about a stressed out mother who is trying to cope with the demands of motherhood whilst writing her own blog and trying to write a piece for a competition which could win her a job as a paid author.

Let me say from the beginning, I'm not a mother but I have enormous respect for the 'job' it's without doubt one of the most difficult jobs and least recognised jobs out there. Although it may be deeply rewarding and deeply satisfying, to me from the outside it also looks extremely tiring and really, really difficult. What got me thinking about the film was a comment the actress wrote in her blog. She said something along the lines of why couldn't she be a wife and a mother and a successful writer? Well, this is where I got to thinking about life in general. Is it really possible to 'have it all'?

To me it's obvious, of course not!. I struggle with 4 dogs, 5 cats, 2 jobs, 1 boyfriend, friends ,family, cleaning the house, doing the washing and ironing, finding time for myself, and trying to write something worth reading. I cannot imagine the extra stress of being a 'mother'. So when we talk about 'glass ceelings' in TEFL for women I cannot sometimes help but think that maybe 'having your cake and wanting to eat it' may have something to do with it ?

How do you 'juggle' life, work, family and all the rest?

Thanks to : Kalinago English for the great series The She in ELT, the film ' Motherhood',  Jodi Picoult's book' Songs of the Humpback Whale' and many friends and family members who are mothers. To the men out there reading (if you are) I know your lives are difficult too !



Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Three Rs

In 1972 the UN declared the 5 June World Environment day. I have to admit that I didn't know this until I stumbled on Vanessa Reilly's fantastic blog http://vanessareillytelt.wordpress.com/.

Vanessa has got some great ideas . I really love the idea of using Jack Johnson's song 'The Three Rs' to celebrate WED. Why don't you pop over to Vanessa's blog to see Jack Johnson singing his song and see her ideas for yourself.

Anyone fancy joining me in making June 5 'The Three Rs' day?

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Back Up Plan

I started teaching in 1997. I was 23 years old, I was young and had my whole life in front of me (sounds like a movie). I'm 37 on my next birthday and I'm starting to reflect a bit on the choices I've made along the way. I love teaching EFL. I wouldn't change my job,  but there are things that I wish I could change about my situation. I spent my first ten years teaching working in private language schools where conditions were not bad. I was relatively well paid for TEFL in both jobs. I started to get itchy feet about three years ago when I realised that I wasn't getting any younger. After my Dip I started work as a freelancer. I've been working as a language assistant in a project in a state primary school here in Spain for the past three years. I've had the chance to see what goes on in state schools and had the opportunity to break into teacher training.

I read an interview with Alex Case recently and he said that TEFL teachers should have a back up plan. My problem is that I'm sliding towards 40 and have no back up plan. I don't want to go back to the UK and change careers. I love teaching I just don't much like the conditions in the profession I'm in. So, apart from moan about my situation I've figured out that I have a few options.

1) Set up my own language school.
2) Re-train as an English teacher here in Spain and work in a state school.
3) Move to a bigger city and work as a CELTA trainer.
4) Do an MA and try to get a job at a university.
5) Get more into teacher training and the conference circuit.
6) Try and get into materials writing.

If these fail I'll still be teaching the verb to be when I'm 63 which wouldn't be so bad if I had some job security and a decent wage. I know that these days nothing is certain but I can't help dreaming of a fixed contract ,paid holidays a pension, security and a decent wage......

Anyone out there in the same situation or feel the same?

Monday, 3 May 2010

It's worth taking a look at this blog



Many thanks to Anita Kwiatkowska and Michelle Worgan :


I really don't know where to start! All the big names have been mentioned along the chain but I think the only rule is that I'm not allowed to mention blogs that Anita and Michelle listed in their ten.

Here goes, in no particular order:

1. http://lifefeast.blogspot.com/ Anna Maria Meneze's blog
2. http://ozgekaraoglu.edublogs.org/ Ozge Karaoglu's blog
4. http://inspireyourlearners.blogspot.com/ Michelle Worgan's blog (An old friend)
5. http://www.jamiekeddie.com/ Jamie Keddie's blog (Woops just checked, Michelle mentioned him but I love his accent!)
6. http://sixthings.net/ Lindsay Clanfield's blog (He was one of my tutors on my Dip!)
7. http://jeremyharmer.wordpress.com/  Jeremy Harmer's blog ( I used his book as a bible many years ago on my CELTA course)
9. http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/ Shelly Terrell's blog
10. http://tamaslorincz.edublogs.org/ Tamas Lorincz's blog

Wow this was quite difficult and I still broke the rule on account of Jamie Keddie's accent!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

10 Tips and Ideas for Teaching VYLs.

Very young learners may be small, but they can be really difficult to manage and very noisy. I've picked up a few tricks over the years and I'd like to share a few of them here with you. I'm not re-inventing the wheel here, so you may have heard of some of these ideas and indeed be using them in your classroom practice already.
  • Pace - Remember that you need to change activity every few minutes with this age group. Children of this age find it very difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time (unless you put them in front of a TV). If you find things getting loud and children's attention straying. Put your hand in your pocket and pull out some 'magic dust'. Tell the children that you are going to count to three and blow your magic dust. When you get to three everyone should be quiet. (you may need to explain this in L1).    
  • Puppets - I've just started using a puppet again. His name is Mickey Monkey. Only children that speak 'monkey' can understand him. He loves sitting with children that are quiet and well-behaved. This is working really well at the moment with a group of difficult 4-5 year olds.
  • Classroom routines - They are really important for children of this age as they are still learning to listen to the teacher. They are also a great source of chunks of language. Hello songs, colour songs, weather songs and days of the week songs and routines all provide children with familiarity and familiarity offers them a sense of security.
  • Panda - In Lleida at the TESOL convention a friend and I invested in a big panda from the Scholastic stall. First we sing the weather song and talk about the weather and then we dress the panda accordingly. 
  • Register - I've got a laminated house and school. At the beginning of the class I take the register and we stick the children in the school or at home. I ask the children Is ....... here today?. This can be followed up by counting the total number of children and the number of boys and girls.
  • Story time - The value of telling stories can't be disputed. Stories are motivating and fun. Every week we sing a song that Sandra taught me recently. It 's story time, It's story time, Let's listen to the story. We sit on a rug and listen to a story. My favourite stories are pattern books such as Brown Bear by Eric Carle. Their repetitive nature is very effective with VYLs.
  • Nursery Rhymes - I like nursery rhymes and children like them too. On Friday one of the teachers I work with was making crocodile pegs for the children. I had seen Jamie Keddie (TEFL Clips) recently singing 'Two little dickey birds' on U-tube so I was inspired to make up a crocodile version.
Two little crocodiles sitting on the bank,
One named Peter, one named Paul,
Swim away Peter, Swim away Paul,
Come back Peter, Come back Paul. 


Now, I've taught this rhyme a few times over the years but never quite so successfully! have look  at Jamie singing on U-tube. I think the magic way the crocodiles disappeared really got their attention. We spent ages practising how to do it and I wish I'd had a photo to capture their little faces when they got it right!
  • Circle time - I always try to start the class with the children sitting in a circle. I like to give them a few minutes to tell me things they feel that they need to tell me. This time is really important to let children express themselves in L1 and I answer in L2. The stories they tell me are often of very little importance to me but to them they are of great importance. Many teachers tell them 'not now' but if not now, when?
  • Stickers - To reward good behaviour or not, is a complicated issue. Some people feel that there is no need to reward good behaviour as it leads to children expecting rewards for simply behaving well, which in theory they should be doing. I like having some stickers with me to give out especially at the beginning of the school year with VYLs.
  • Sleeping Lions - When all else fails and the noise level rises and I feel there is no other alternative. I play Sleeping Lions. We roar like lions and we walk like lions and then I tell them that they are very sleepy. I get them to find a space where they are not touching anybody else and lie down. They close their eyes and go to sleep. I count to ten and then they can't move. If they move they are eliminated. Now to add an element of language to this game. I've got a chart with all the children's name and loads of body cards with Velcro. I stick the part of the body that each child moves on the board. At the end of the game we look at who moved what and practice saying the parts of the body.
Please feel free to add any tips and ideas as comments thanks.


Great Books :

Lynne Cameron : Teaching English to Young Learners, CUP.
Jayne Moon: Children Learning English, Macmillan.

My First Guest Post


Many thanks to Alex Case for giving me the chance to launch myself on his fantastic blog TEFLtastic!

The slightly younger one in the picture is me. My mum seems to have chosen to hide herself behind a bright light.