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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

GRETA Annual Course

I would like to thank GRETA teaching association for inviting me to speak at their recent 3-day conference in Granada. The theme of the conference was "Tips of the trade for challenges ahead in ELT and bilingualism" with sections on using technology and a focus on practical classroom ideas. I decided to give a session on Collaborative Digital Stories, as it seemed the perfect opportunity to share some of the ideas from last year's EVO session Digital Storytelling for Young Learners which I co-moderated along with Shelly Terrell, Dave Dodgson, Ozge Karaoglu, Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Jennifer Verschoor and Esra Girgin.

In the workshop I introduced participants to several freely available online tools that are especially suitable for using with young learners. We also discussed some of the benefits for children of working together, and other ways in which the tools could be used. Finally, participants received some ideas on how to contact other teachers for wider collaborative projects, including joining the EVO session in 2013.

Apart from a slight technical hitch at the beginning (there is always one!) and starting late, the workshop seemed to go well and I think most people took away something useful to use in their classrooms.

For those that are interested in learning more, I will be giving a similar talk in Seville at the ACEIA conference on 17th November. I would also strongly recommend joing our 2013 EVO session "Digital Storytelling with Young Learners" where you will be able to try out lots of different tools and meet (virtually) hundreds (hopefully!) of other teachers from around the world. Registration will begin in January here.

Thank you to all those that attended GRETA on Saturday. I hope to see you all again next year!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Using Photos as Prompts for Discussion

Yesterday I came across the following slideshow of photos by Samuel Aranda in the New York Times. The photos are black and white shots of scenes occurring around Spain that highlight the desperation some are living due to the financial crisis that began in 2008. Some of the photos may seem shocking, especially to those that have lived in Spain during the long boom period, being more reminiscent of a country in political conflict or of say 50 years ago. This gave me the idea of using these photos in class, with teens and adults but without providing the context behind them. I plan to show some of the photos (2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14), asking the following questions:

Who are these people?
Where are they? (In which country/city?)
When was the photo taken?
What is happening?
Why do you think this is happening? What are the reasons behind it?

I will encourage them to give reasons for their answers, describing what they see.

I am fairly sure that none of my students will recognise these photos as being taken recently in Spain.

I will then give students the information provided underneath each photo on slips of paper, which they have to match with the photos. Hopefully this will generate some discussion.

As I will be using this activity with B2-C1 levels, I may ask students to write:

a) A discursive composition on the problems Spain currently faces
b) A report outlining the main problems Spain faces and possible solutions (a hard one, seeing as the government aren't able to provide any!)
c) A story based on one of the photographs
d) A diary entry of one of the people in the photographs
e) An account of the eviction in photo 1 from the point of view of one of the children

I know that this is a complex topic and one that teenagers will find difficult, but we all know people who have lost their jobs or aren't being paid, we all see it daily on the news so I think that everyone will have something to say.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Five Six Seven - Ideas for Young Learners aged 5 to 7 (ish!)

As most of us are just starting back at school for the new academic year, I'd like to take the opportunity to write a little about a book I wrote last year. Those who follow this blog may remember me setting up a website devoted to the project a year ago, where I started to upload some of the material. The website is still available, but now there is just a sample including several complete lessons. This is because I have now self-published Five Six Seven and it is available for a very low price at Lulu.

Since I set up the website, I was contacted by a few teachers looking to try out the materials with their classes. I have not received much feedback so I have emailed those teachers with a short questionnaire.

Here is a modified FAQ of Five Six Seven:

What is Five Six Seven?

Five Six Seven is a content-based language course for young learners of approximately five to seven years of age.

Who is it aimed at?

Five Six Seven is aimed at teachers of English to young learners. It is meant as an alternative to traditional language lessons. It can be used as a course or as a resource book to dip into.

Is Five Six Seven suitable for subject teachers?

No. The course includes content from other areas of the curriculum but does not replace those subjects. It is an English course that uses content from other subjects to motivate and maintain interest whilst encouraging the learners to communicate in a natural way. It may, however, be useful for CLIL teachers who are looking for extra ideas.

What is included in the Five Six Seven course?

Five Six Seven is a teacher's guide. There is no class book. The guide is made up of a series of 6 step by step lesson plans for each of the 9 units, plus 4 insertable units. At the back of the guide you will find photocopiable worksheets and handouts to accompany the lesson plans, and a bank of pictures that you can download from the Microsoft Office website.  

How can I download Five Six Seven to try it out with my class?

Five Six Seven has its own website. On the site you will find a full copy of the syllabus ready to download. You will also be able to view sample material from the course. The book is currently available for just 79p from

Do I have to pay to use Five Six Seven?

Five Six Seven is available for a nominal fee. This is to cover the commission that Lulu takes from each copy to pay for hosting and listing costs. However, you can share the contents with your colleagues and other teachers in your school without charge. I ask that you provide some feedback as to the use, quality and practicality of the materials. If there is anything that you think could be improved, please drop me a line!

Visit for more information or buy a copy from

Monday, September 3, 2012

Scotland the Brave - Part 2

This post is the second in a series based on  the Visit Scotland website. In Part 1 I focused on a section of the website that showcases different aspects of the beautiful landscapes of Scotland. Most of the activities I mentioned are suitable for teenagers and adults of various levels. I would recommend this other website for younger learners.

You can find Part 1 here.

Book of Beasts

  • Ask students to tell each other what they know about the Loch Ness Monster. What does it look like? Where does it live? How big is it? What does it eat? Alternatively, give a description of the monster to students, either orally or written, and ask them to draw a picture. 
  • Project or print out a copy of all eight creatures (you can do this with the PRINT SCREEN button and clipping with Paint). Give students a creature each/per pair/per group and ask them to imagine what it is like. They can give it an appropriate name, home, lifestyle. This could later be the basis for a story and can be used in some of the writing activities I mentioned in Part 1.
  • Alternatively, print out or project the descriptions of the creatures and ask students to draw what they think they look like.
  •  Write a list of adjectives on the board suitable for monsters/mythological creatures. Ask students to choose the best adjective(s) for each creature. Generate discussion by asking students if they agree or differ. Comparative sentences could be a good language focus as students can compare the creatures.
  • After looking at the different creatures, students invent their own. With younger learners, ask them to draw it a provide some basic information. Otherwise, ask them to write a description as well as draw. (I would suggest not making adults draw if they don't want to!).
  • For homework/or if you have a computer room, ask students to research one of the creatures. They can look for pictures, stories that mention them, newspaper articles about "sightings", maps showing their home etc. They could use Glogster to make an virtual poster.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Scotland the Brave - Part 1

Watching TV the other day I saw an advert from the Scottish Tourist Board, encouraging people to visit Scotland, home of Merida &co in the Disney Pixar film Brave . I haven't seen the film, but as Visit Scotland were offering free prize trips, I decided to enter the draw and came across this wonderful website.   

As I was browsing, quite a few lesson activities came to me - I was feeling inspired!
I have never visited Scotland and so I tend not to talk about Scottish culture or geography in the classroom, preferring to stick to what I know. However, the film Brave will surely bring about some interest in the country for learners young and old, and I would like to take advantage of this, learning something myself along the way.

When you enter the library you choose from the following aspects:
Landscape, Map, Book of Beasts, and Writers. Over the next few posts I will share my ideas for each section of the website.

Lesson Ideas - Landscape:

  •  (Int+) Read the introduction to students, and ask them to draw what they imagine. Your voice is important here. Pre-teach any necessary vocabulary (soaring, rugged etc). One idea is to write things that these adjectives can describe and ask students to match nouns and adjectives.  

  • (All levels) Play the video of Lochs and Glens with the screen covered. Students listen to the music and say how it makes them feel, what images they can see in their mind. Then show the video, pausing and asking students to describe the images. This is good practice for the PET speaking exam Part 3.

  • (Pre-int+) Use the images in Lochs and Glens to create the setting for a story. Ask students to imagine what kind of things could happen in such a place. Discuss when the story could be set, what characters there could be, what could happen. Ask students to write a detailed description of the scenery as an opening paragraph.

  • (Int+) Play the video Majestic Mountains. Tell students to imagine they are film directors and they are going to make a film in the mountains of Scotland. This could be done as a group project. Students have to decide what kind of film they are going to make and the basic plot. They can write specific scenes for each image. This video is reminiscent of scenes from films such as The Lord of the Rings, or series like Game of Thrones. Another option is to get students to take a scene from a film they know and adapt it to this setting.

  • (All levels) Play the video Ancient Forests. Ask students to imagine what kind of creatures live there. These can be real, mythological or imaginary.

  • (Pre-Int+) Create a guided visualisation using the images in Ancient Forests. After showing an image, students close their eyes while you guide them through the forest, asking questions to provoke the senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste). Students then discuss what they imagined in pairs or groups.

  • (Beginner-Int) Play the video Rolling Hills. Tell students to imagine they are going on a day trip to this place. What activities would they do? Some useful vocabulary may be: have a picnic, birdwatching, picking flowers, climbing trees, hiking, paddling, collecting leaves.

  • (Elem+) If you have several computers, assign a different video to each group and ask them to give a presentation/write a description of it for the Scottish Tourist Board. They should try to make it as attractive as possible. Another option is to give each group a page to write in a brochure about Scottish landscapes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Three Phases of Life Abroad

I imagine that a many readers of this blog live in a country other than that in which they were brought up and I suspect that a fair few have been living there for many years. Of course, everybody has different experiences and different expectations, but I believe that there are at least two or three stages of adaptation that most of us go through after settling in another country and culture.

Reading "The House on Paradise Street" by Sofka Zinovieff, I came across the following passages, which kindled feelings of recognition of my own adaptation of living abroad. I do not live in Greece and obviously this is the character's/writer's experience and interpretation, but the general idea of the stages are similar to those I have passed through over the last 12 years.

I was pleased to shed my own surname and become “Mond Perifanis” as a reflection of my new, Greek life, but perhaps I should have worried a bit more about becoming part of this particular family. For some time I believed that my move to Greece was a way of creating a simple, pared-down persona – a clever trick, as though leaving behind my old existence physically would therefore slice through the roots that tied me to place, family, and above all, memory. At that stage – the phase I later recognised as my “Hellenic Idyll” – I abandoned myself to the worn but nonetheless charming cliché of the cool northerner being bathed in the warm water of Mediterranean delights. Perhaps it is no more of a cliché than falling in love; both are limited in duration and may be followed by pain or disappointment, but while they last are as real as anything that alters a person’s perceptions. 
In later years, after the idyll faded, I began to see the experience as a fantasy. I compared my delusion to those lovers of the ancient Greek world who believe the smooth columns and elegant sculptures were always pure white with uncontaminated simplicity. They forget, or don’t know, that most of those creations were originally painted with gaudy colours, the sculptures dressed in fashionable robes, their eyes flashy and provocative, the columns bright with circus zigzags and seaside stripes. I might have left behind the location of my past, but it was hubris to believe that a new life with Nikitas would be characterised by clean-cut minimalism. Gradually, I began to experience the alienation of being an outsider. “Where are you from?” became the defining question of each new encounter, where I tried to resist being stereotyped with my nation’s characteristics. In the beginning I felt like a character in a novel, recreated each time I revealed my country of birth, but unhampered by my personal history: when nobody knew you as a child, or disliked your parents, or approved of your school, you are potentially something new. But increasingly, I sensed I was being defined by my first answer – put into a box from which I was not then allowed to emerge. Also, although my command of Greek was constantly improving, I became frustrated by my limitations, at not understanding all the jokes and references to personalities, events or films that everyone else had grown up with. I saw the missing parts as my deficiencies. 
The third stage, after Idyll and Disillusion is Pragmatism. Ultimately, my status as an outsider became another form of liberation – to hell with other people’s preconceptions. I thought of England without disdain, even indulging in occasional bouts of nostalgia for rolling green fields, London’s cultural life, tea in a pot and other miscellaneous delights. But I was clear that I was wedded to Greece. And it is in this phase that I have tried to remain.
What had previously been exotic became annoying, starting with the details of daily life. What sort of country expects people to put their shitty toilet paper in baskets instead of down the drains? Why couldn’t they install normal drain pipes like everywhere else? Why is it considered normal to have power cuts for hours on end during summer heat-waves and winter storms, as though we were living in Gaza and not twenty-first century Europe? Why are seatbelts seen as an infringement of liberty (even for children), when they know that the roads are the most dangerous in Europe? Why is the Greeks’ idea of freedom interpreted as the freedom to park across the pavement, blocking women with pushchairs and pensioners, or the freedom to smoke incessantly, everywhere? Of course, once I started down this slippery slope, the questions came faster and more furiously. Why was it considered normal when we handed the surgeon a “small envelope” containing 3,000 euros cash when Nikitas had a minor operation in a state hospital? There are times, especially after a roasting hot night in summer, when even a cotton sheet seems to burn the skin and the whine of dive-bombing mosquitoes drives you mad, that I long for the soothing North, the subtle shadows of grey London light and cool summer nights where you sleep with a duvet. “Moaning Maud” – that is what I am, or at least what I became. Even worse than “Bored Maud”, as an old boyfriend used to say. At least I wasn’t “Maudlin” or “Mordant”, as Desmond, my grandfather, called me affectionately. He would make up limericks that made use of all the words that rhymed with my name. There was a young lady called Maud, who was always incredibly bored… I remember flawed and ignored, but there was also roared, gnawed, clawed. Above all, the thing I had tired of was the Greeks’ obsession with themselves, with the nature of Greekness, with how they are viewed and how unfairly they are judged. Beware of saying even the slightest critical thing about Greece to a Greek as they will take it as though you have said their mother is a whore and their father her pimp.
I have always found it easy to adapt (maybe too easy?) to the place I am staying in, to the point where I would not want people to know I was a foreigner. Even when I am a tourist, I hate getting a map out in public! This happened very early on, possibly because my Spanish was better than that of most of my friends who were just beginning to learn the language. I have never enjoyed being the centre of attention and therefore didn't want people to stare or see me as different. Luckily, I have an "ear" for languages and my accent isn't very noticeable, enabling me to blend in. In turn, this "becoming Spanish" phase gradually became a "I hate Britain" phase, where I would start to deny my "Britishness" and abandon almost any contact with my country's culture. In those pre-internet days (at least for me) this was very easy, in fact it was very difficult to keep up with news, current affairs, TV, music etc from abroad. So I became "less British/more Spanish" quickly during this period, although I would hate it when people started telling jokes! Even on the few visits I made to the UK to see my family, they would say I had a Spanish accent - due to an unusual intonation that I had picked up, as I only really used English in my classes and socialised with locals. But I would never be Spanish and yet I was no longer really British. I didn't fit into any box, although the Spanish would put me in the box labelled "British" and the British in the box labelled "Spanish".

This period probably lasted around five years, although with the acquisition of a computer and internet connection, it may have been diluted somewhat. As a big fan of indie music, I spent many hours during my late twenties online, reading about British bands and downloading records. This led to a new interest in British TV, especially comedy, and my asking for BBC comedies for Christmas presents. I then rekindled my interest in English football, especially during the season my team were promoted to the Premier League. I was now reading the Guardian as well as NME. I went to Gibraltar to buy British back bacon, Cheshire cheese and gravy granules.

Little by little, I started to get my Britishness back, after having denied it for several years. With this, like Maud in the story, came the questioning and criticism of some local ways of life. I have never been one to complain much about the place where I am living - this is why I think I am good at adapting, I don't feel the need to compare it with somewhere else. And when I hear other Brits moaning about all things Spanish I have to resist the urge to tell them that nobody is forcing them to live here. If they don't like it, they can lump it. Either that or join forces with discontent citizens who are actually trying to change things. However, after having lived almost all of my adult life to date in Spain, I feel that I should have some right to complain about things, being born in a country shouldn't give one an automatic right to whinge more than others!

Sport is one of the few things that divides me from everyone else here, but that is actually a good thing, it gives us something to talk about. I will always support England in football, however bad they are and however much they disappoint me. I absolutely loved the London Olympics! It gave me a sense of pride that the England football team has never done - now I know how everyone felt here when Spain won the World Cup.

I don't really have a concluding paragraph to this post. I only realised that there was a kind of pattern to the period of adaptation when I recognised certain opinions in friends or colleagues. They too have gone through the "British denial" phase and after reading The House on Paradise Street, I discovered that this must be more common than I had thought. I would love to know if any of my readers have gone through similar periods during their years living out of their country of birth (note, I don't want to say "home country", as I am of the opinion that home is where you make it). Please add your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Return of the Mack... I mean blog

 I can hardly believe that the last time I wrote a post was in December. Last year! I knew I hadn't got round to writing anything for a few months but I honestly didn't think I had left it so long. I know flying time is a cliché but that's what seems to have happened in 2012. I suppose I had become slightly disillusioned with the whole ELT world, mainly because of problems in the workplace, and shied away from any contact with it, preferring to spend my free time as far away as possible.

Because that is what I did - I stopped writing on my blog, I stopped reading other people's blogs, allowing my Google reader to get clogged up with hundreds of posts I would never read. I stopped going on Twitter.
You may call it a 6 month holiday from my PLN...

I'm wondering whether it is just all down to my wanting to "get away from it all".

I started blogging in 2009, I joined Twitter at around the same time. Although it took me some time to get into both, eventually I was spending hours every morning reading blogs, writing posts and reading tweets, not to mention the weekly hour of furiously tweeting that is ELTchat (by the way, I am very sorry to hear about the demise of the ELTchat website, although I'm sure you'll have it back up and running soon with another domain). During 2010 and 2011 I probably spent the equivalent hours to that of a part time job on Google Reader, Blogger and Twitter. Just as well I didn't use Facebook for professional development! Other people didn't understand - why are you spending so much time doing something that you are not getting paid for?

And in the end, I got a bit tired of it all. I would take a week "off" and then have 50 blogposts to read when I went back online. So I would ignore them and the following week there would be 86, and then 132 etc etc
It got to the point where I just stopped using Feedly/Igoogle and ignored them forever.

But let me get back to my point in question. I am one of those people who takes up a new hobby, at first spends hours and hours on it only for it to peter out after a few months. I may take it back up again at a later date, but for shorter periods and with less motivation. This is especially true for sport (I did swimming for about a year, then running from which I have to have 2 months off every summer due to the heat!) but has even happened this with knitting - I spent hours and hours knitting this winter, even taking it on the train with me to a professional development session, but who fancies knitting in the summer? All that sweaty wool...

So, is this what has happened to me with blogging and tweeting? Are all the above just excuses?
Now I've had so much time off, I feel it is time to get back into it. To reconnect with all those people I had regular "conversations" with on Twitter. To comment on blogposts written by my PLN. To write on my own blog. However, this time I am not going to spend hours every day as I just don't think it is healthy. I will try to post something once a week, or more if I get inspired. I will spend maximum one hour a day reading blogs and retweeting things I have discovered. I will try and take part in ELTchat in the lunchtime session.

Does that sound like a good plan to you?

Note - Anyone remember Mark Morrison? I hated this song but always ended up singing it!

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