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Questions for a potential employer and why you should ask them, pt 2 (The ‘Social’ Questions)

Moving to another country is a big decision, even if it is only for a six-month or one-year contract.  We hear about culture shock all the time and in my experience it always hits you when and where you don’t expect it.  The first time I worked abroad was in Mexico but I was so mentally prepared to be lost at sea and confused by everything and anything that it never really happened (I also must credit a great group of teachers I worked with who became dear, dear friends).

No, I got the culture shock when I returned to Britain.  I thought I’d be able to fit back in and suddenly I saw a lot of aspects of the culture that I didn’t like and that depressed me for a little while.  I overcame that, adjusted and had a great couple of years down in Portsmouth on the south coast.

And then I moved again and it was with the job I just finished that I really had problems and this is what prompted this post.  I feel I was unprepared both intellectually and emotionally for this job and I’ll explain why with this list of questions I should have asked with answers I should have based my decision on.

It’s difficult to know what to ask but here are a few suggestions and, as I said in my previous post (Part 1: The ‘Professional’ Questions) my best advice is to get solid answers.  You aren’t stupid if you don’t understand the answers you get and don’t expect them to be any clearer when you arrive.  If your potential employer can’t explain something clearly on the phone, Skype or an email, then you’re unlikely to get a better explanation in person.  Also, if the answer really is that complicated then it probably isn’t the answer you are looking for.

Anyway, following on from the ‘professional’ questions

Part 2: The ‘Social’ Questions

8.  What is there to do where I will be living?

You’ve got to make sure you get specifics here and if the answers are not particularly forthcoming or seem a little bit thin, trust your instincts and your gut and realize that you are probably looking at a job which is in a really boring part of the world.

This is a difficult one to write about because sometimes there doesn’t need to be much happening in a town for it to be a great place to work and live, but things like cinemas, bars, restaurants, etc. all make things easier (at least they do for me).  Sure, everywhere has got bars and restaurants, but would your employer recommend them?  Does your employer have a favourite one?  If not, then you can’t know if these places will be fun or even safe.  (Obviously in Islamic countries this situation is a little different and I should make clear that I’m not writing with any experience of that area of the world.)

9.  What do people do and where do they do it?

This is a very specific question and perhaps similar to my previous question but there are some differences and they are important.  When you ask the first question, “What is there to do where I will be living?” the person you are asking is thinking about what you, the foreigner, can do.  If you follow up with this question, you are forcing an answer which talks more about the natives of that town/city.

If you are told about some big event they have every year, that’s great… but what do people do for the other, 3 seasons, 11 months or even 364 days a year?  If you are told about all these great places that people travel to at the weekend then you have to read between the lines: people don’t stay in that town/city at the weekends because there probably isn’t anything to do there!  So you will need to accept that recreation and fun may need a little bit of travelling and English language teachers usually don’t have the luxury of cars in foreign countries.

10.  How friendly are the people?

This might sound a little direct and maybe even a stupid question but it might be the most important question you ask.  For me and probably for most people, a place is made up of its people.  If you are going to be working somewhere for six months or a year you’ve got to have an idea of the people you’ll be living amongst.

If you have access to a car or a boat or whatever then there might be lots of things to do, but you aren’t going to have a car or boat so you must remember that you’ll likely be far more dependent on invitations from others to join them.  If you are going to be travelling somewhere where the people aren’t so open and friendly then a lot of things which “you” can do won’t really be available to you.

This is a difficult question to get a real answer from but a few questions you might was to ask that are less direct are:

  1. How often do you all (the school staff) meet up for drinks, dinner or a picnic?  (In other words, how sociable is the working environment going to be.)
  2. What bars/restaurants are close to the school that you’d recommend?  What do they serve and how often do you go there?
  3. What clubs/organizations are there for me to join?

If the answers to these questions are not forthcoming, that should be a warning sign that there’s not much to do, or at the very least that your first contacts in this country, your work colleagues, will be unable to help you in this respect.

11.  Take a look on Google Maps and, if available, take a look at Street View.

This is an obvious step to take but here the key is to look at what you are seeing.

12.  How much English can I expect to encounter on the streets?

If you don’t have any of the language (or, like I was, you are a dodgy intermediate) then this is actually a very important question.  Just how isolating is the lack of your native language going to be?  In a lot of countries, the bigger cities are a haven for English-speaking while further out from the conurbations you might find it difficult to meet English speakers.  You don’t want to have to teach every person you encounter when you are living abroad.  Your classes are for teaching English, you then need to have one of the following things:

  1. A similar group of foreign teachers who you can relax with in English.
  2. A group of native friends who are proficient in English and you don’t need to worry about grading your language.
  3. An inexhaustible energy to wear your ‘English teacher’ hat 24/7 making every conversation a mini-English class.
  4. Fluency in the local L1.
  5. A determination to spend every waking moment improving your relevant L2 language skills.
  6. The ability to happily spend your off hours by yourself.

13.  Where can I join language classes?  How often and how much?

This shouldn’t be an optional extra which ‘would be nice’.  See the above interview excerpt from Scott Thornbury to understand what I mean.  I did ask about this before arriving but I accepted a very vague answer which really came to very little.  If you want to learn the language then you should be stubborn about this and get some solid answers.

Are there language classes available at a local college or at the institute I will be working in?  Quite possibly not.  That’s okay, but then you need to ask to be put in contact with someone who will agree to teach you when you arrive.

How many people have they taught before?  What level?  What material do they use?  What qualifications do they have?  Qualifications aren’t a necessity and might be quite difficult to come by, but they can be a useful indicator.

Negotiate a price after you arrive and you have a better idea about the local money but everything else should be as clear as possible before you get on the plane.

And there it is, finishing on 13, unlucky for some.  I hope you see that I’m not warning against travelling or working in other countries – nothing could be further from the truth.  This post is about awareness, mostly my own awareness so that next time I look at a job abroad I’ll refer back to this list and hopefully make more informed decisions.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2011 in Recommendations, Reflections

 

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Questions for a potential employer and why you should ask them, pt 1 (The ‘Professional’ Questions)

The first person who should want to read any blog post is the author.  With that in mind, this is probably the best blog post I have ever done because what I have written here was specifically for me.  A way that I could get my thoughts down on paper (well, in Microsoft Word at least) about my professional experiences so far and what I should have learned from them… what I hope I have learned from them.

So what this has ended up becoming is a personal guideline of sorts for me about things to consider and questions to ask before making the final decision to go and teach abroad.  I’ll preface this by saying two things.

  1. I’m a NEST (Native English Speaking Teacher) so I’m writing from that perspective.
  2. This post is not reflective of any one job experience I have had and in some cases I’m drawing on tips and stories I’ve heard from colleagues during their travels.

Now from what you are about to read, my only piece of strong advice here is get solid answers.  You are not stupid if you don’t understand the answer you are given, and if the answer is vague, don’t expect it to be any clearer when you arrive.  If your potential employer can’t explain something clearly to you on the phone or Skype or in an email, they probably won’t be any better at explaining it in person.  Also, if the answer really is that complicated then it probably isn’t the answer you are looking for.

Part 1: The ‘Professional’ Questions

1.  How many different classes will I be teaching?

I asked “How many hours…?” and very quickly I saw my mistake.  I am used to teaching 25 hours a week but there is a big, big, BIG difference between teaching two or three class in those 25 hours and teaching 9 different student groups.

2.  How much homework/How many tests do you expect of your students?

Maybe this isn’t true for everyone but I hate giving homework, especially in large volumes and frequently.  It never gets done by everyone and keeping track of what is given, on what day, for what day, and to which classes becomes a really, really complicated endeavour unless you start off with a very organized plan-of-action.  The more homework is expected, the more work it is for you wearing your hat as the ‘enforcer’ and ‘punisher’ when it doesn’t get done.  If you have 9 different classes (like I did) then it can almost become a full time job in itself and not a very fun one at that.

If you are an organized person or at least have time before you start to get organized and sort out a record system that works for you, then you should be alright.  But please, make sure you know what you are getting into long before you start.

3.  Do you have other foreign teachers?  Have you had?  Why?  Why not?

Culture shock goes both ways.  Has the school dealt with foreigners on staff before?  The question is not whether they want foreign teachers; the question is whether they know how to deal with foreign teachers.

If the answer is no, they’ve never had any foreign teachers, then you will be a culture shock to them.  The school and the staff might have a specific way of doing things that they instinctively understand based on culture – they probably won’t appreciate all the things that need to be explained to an ‘outsider’.  For this reason, an institute’s way of doing things; of interacting, of managing classes, their teaching methodologies, their attitudes towards professional development, just about everything could be very different.  What it is to be an English teacher can mean very different things in different countries.  With regard to professional development, even if your new colleagues are eager to learn from you (as you should be from them), bear in mind that change doesn’t come easily, even if people say they want it.

My warning here is to be aware of the energy needed to meet this day-to-day challenge of potential professional culture shock.

If the school has had foreign teachers, when was that?  Recently, a couple of years ago, several years ago?  The biggest questions here are “How long did they stay?” and “Why did they leave?”  These are obvious questions to ask but, again, listen to the answers, especially for the latter question.  If you get a few too many ‘it didn’t work out’ or ‘he was an alcoholic’ or ‘she was missing a lot of classes’ then all that might be true, but consider the common denominator here.  If the management keeps mentioning the faults of lots of the people that don’t work there any more, that should be a big red flag.

If the school has foreign teachers right now, then you should definitely get their contact details and ask a few of these questions to them.  I tend to believe you’ll get the truth.  If all you get from any of your emails are positive reports, then be cautious though.  Even the best schools have some things that could be better or some necessary evils or what-have-you – nowhere is perfect, but if someone is trying to make a place out to be perfect then be weary.  If you don’t get a reply, email them again (politely, of course) and if that doesn’t bear fruit, get back in contact with the school and tell them.  You might have been given a misspelled email address, it does happen.

3a.  Can I get former teachers’ contact details?

This might just be me, but I have generally stayed in contact with the places I’ve worked that I got along with.  If a school says they don’t have the contact details of any former teachers, you might want to consider that a red flag.  As I said before, you’ve got to go with your instinct here and go with whether something feels right.

4.  Don’t make assumptions regarding the wording of the contact.  Question everything.

This again goes back to the point about cultural differences and culture shock.  A written contract may make unnoticed assumptions based on the local or regional work/business culture.  Also bear in mind that some cultures don’t work with contracts as much as others, so you might be getting a contract that has been written up for the sake of having a contract instead of as a document which clearly defines and delineates your role and responsibility in the organisation as well as that organisation’s responsibility to its employee.

I’ll digress here and say that I think contracts are wonderful things.  Sure, I’ve heard lots of people say “Sorry, not part of my job description.”  However, these comments reveal an attitude that would exist regardless of whether that person had no contract, a 10-word contract or a 100-page contract.  What contracts do is reduce stress related to grey areas of responsibility.  More than that, I’m one of those people who like to go the extra mile and don’t mind doing additional work from time to time.  It’s nice to have recognition for a job well done or going above and beyond the call of duty… but if you don’t have a well-written contract defining your ‘call of duty’ then how can anybody, including yourself, recognize when you went above and beyond it!  A weak contract or no contract is ultimately demotivating.

5.  What age group will I be teaching?

Ability group and age group mean two completely different things for classroom management.

6.  What variety of age groups will I be teaching?

Kids’ covers a wide range of ages and so does ‘adolescents’.  From my recent experience I think you’ve got to get this answer down to a 2-3 year age bracket because the enormous difference between 12-14 and 15-17 almost demands a completely different skill set!

7.  Will I be co-teaching?  If so, is this something that is done often at the school?

I love co-teaching… when it is done well, when the school’s infrastructure is set up to support it, when my co-teachers know how to co-teach, when the strengths of this sharing are understood and exploited by educators to benefit themselves, their colleagues and their students.  However, like everything else, it is a skill that sometimes needs some work and definitely needs support.  This issue of support, in particular, is why it is important to ask about what the current set up at the school is.  “We can try this when you arrive.” might sound good and certainly sends a positive message that management will listen to your suggestions and opinions, but the flip side of that coin is, once again “We haven’t done it before, we don’t have experience and you’ll be the guinea pig.”

To be continued…

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Recommendations, Reflections

 

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Why I suck at storytelling… and what I need to do to fix it! (Reflections on the August 2011 ABS International Conference, pt 2)

If you clicked onto this page then you are probably interested in storytelling.  So am I.  I think stories in some form or another must represent a large majority of our day-to-day communication: what we did last night, what someone told us once, what you learned from your parents, what the boss told you to do 5 minutes ago.  Not all of these are stories of note, but they are stories nonetheless.

For this reason, I think storytelling is an incredibly important skill and one which learners are hungry to have in L2.

Unfortunately, I suck at it.  As it turns out, I simply didn’t know enough.

Pablo Ponce de Leon’s Talk at ABS

I was very grateful to Pablo Ponce de Leon for his seminar on digital storytelling at the ABS International Conference for ELT Managers and Directors of Studies last Saturday in Buenos Aires.  What I particularly loved was that he didn’t cover the hows and whys of digital storytelling (covered very competently in his handout) so much as the hows and whats of storytelling itself.

I’ve told my classes plenty of times, “Now I want you to write/make a story.”  I recently tried this creativity-heavy exercise myself and it’s really not that easy.  So this left me with a problem; I love stories and I believe they should figure prominently in a lot of our language teaching/learning but I have no confidence in myself to produce an even half-decent story.  We shouldn’t really ask of our students what we cannot do or don’t know how to do ourselves, so I was stuck – no storytelling.

Here are a few symptoms of poor storytelling abilities.  You will probably recognize these as reasons that storytelling activities sometimes fall flat in your class:

  • What should we write about, I don’t have any ideas.” (The infamous blank page!)
  • How many words should it be?” (Perhaps my favourite quote of the whole conference, paraphrased here, “Teenage students tend to see the word count like a prison sentence – counting down the words until they are finished.”)
  • I’m stuck.  I don’t know what to write next.
  • A boring and un-engaging story
  • A poorly structured story, with shifting focus and that is difficult to follow
  • A story with an abrupt, unsatisfying end
  • A story with no apparent end
  • A story with no details (something that reads like a police report)

So how do we fix this?

Like everything else new or challenging, the students need support and structure, in other words, scaffolding.  Like a new essay form, the students need to be aware of every paragraph’s structure, every sentence’s purpose.  That means we, as teachers, need to know this too.

If you pay close attention to Pablo’s case study, Toy Story, in the slides (see slides 14-16) you start to get a better idea about the structure of a modern movie plot.  The point being, and it’s a good one, that the three-act structure usually employed in a Hollywood movie is a familiar structure that is easy to relate to.  So from this we have our structure and quite honestly, I think there is a lot of mileage to be had in an English language class from just exploring, discovering, discussing and picking apart a movie’s structure.

To give you an example, I watched a few of my favourite movies (it was a tough job but someone had to do it).  I believe it is customary here to give a Spoiler Alert and say, if you haven’t seen these movies yet and don’t want to know what happens before you see them, don’t read further (or at least, don’t click for the bigger picture).

So how and where should we use this?

The recommendation for this was simple.  Digital storytelling works best as the end of something, a unit or level, as a way to give closure and to produce something creative.  What I also took from a sample video that was shown is that the grammar point doesn’t need to be complicated for digital storytelling projects to be worthwhile.  A slideshow of few pictures with some present simple narration, either text or voice, is a fantastic achievement for a low-level student (a visual family tree, for example).  We were also reminded that “the journey is as important as the destination” and that the process, of course, yields its own language learning opportunities.

A warning we were given was that student projects, if they are young learners, should not be made public, through youTube for example (of course youTube has privacy settings that still make it a viable way to share class videos).  There is a temptation to publicize the great work that our young learners do, but I couldn’t agree more with the speaker here – we have to be very careful what goes out into the public domain.

For a more creative project at higher levels, the following procedure was suggested (see slide 23): submit a story outline, go into preproduction, continue with production, finish off with post-production work and then take pride in your work during its presentation.  We were also given homework, again!  (I’ll learn from this because I haven’t been giving homework in my PD seminars.)  We were told to download Microsoft Photostory 3 and start playing around with it.  I’ve got to apologize to Pablo here and say, no, I haven’t downloaded and tried it out yet – but I’m about to move country so I’ve got a few other things on plate.  BUT, I will because apparently it is very easy to use.
Microsoft actually has a very detailed pdf, Digital Storytelling in the Classroom, that provides links to real examples of students work along with a step-by-step ‘how to’.
Pablo Ponce de Leon’s experience inside and outside of ELT, as a teacher as well as professional screenwriter/producer/director made his talk something really informative which answered a very simple yet difficult question: how to I tell a good story?  Even in Microsoft’s guide, the tendency in the activity plan is to simply say “identify the key elements, and arrange them into a beginning, a middle and an end” or “Collect/sort/decide which ideas to pursue”.  This is simply not enough scaffolding for students or their teachers, but now I will be far more confident to plan out and try not only a digital storytelling project but just a storytelling project with my students.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
You can follow Pablo on Twitter (@storybusiness), on his blog (HUX Consulting) or on his website (The Story Business).
Thanks Pablo!
 
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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Activities, Conferences, Recommendations, Review

 

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Wrong Side of the Bed (A Video Activity Plan)

This is an enjoyable little lesson activity that could really spice up the somewhat dull topic of morning routines.

  1. Elicit from the students English surrounding the topic of morning routines.  Get it up on the board.
  2. Get them thinking about whether every morning is exactly the same, whether every day is exactly the same.  They should soon be talking about good days and bad days.
  3. Ask the students if they can suggest what the phrase “Get up on the wrong side of the bed” might mean. (There are usually similar phrases in the students’ L1.)*
  4. Divide the students into pairs.  Arrange them so that the pairs are facing each other, with only one partner facing the board, or wherever you are going to display the movie.  You are probably familiar with this technique.  One partner will watch the movie and describe everything they see as they see it and the other partner has to write it down.
  5. Tell them they are going to watch a short video using a lot of the ‘morning routine’ vocabulary that they came up with.  The whole class will see the first 12 seconds.  This helps them to understand that the video is going to look at two alternative realities.
  6. Go through a practice run with the students describing to each other what they saw.
  7. Watch it again so the students can practise observing and describing at the same time as well as dictating the notes.  Get one half of the class to focus on the left story, the other half to focus on the right.
  8. Run through the video once.
  9. Get all the writers together to compare and build their notes.  Get all the speakers together for them to ask the teacher questions about specific vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.
  10. Run through the video a second time.
  11. Get the pairs to look over the notes together.  Can the watcher give any last help or piece of information?
  12. Get writers to read what they have.  Write up any errors you hear and open the floor to corrections. Also make sure to write up good phrases and chunks of language as well – never good to just focus on the mistakes.
  13. Get the whole class to watch the video.  (By this point the writers will want to see the video.)

* It would not be a waste of time to pay attention to these various counterpart L1 phrases.  Maybe get them on the board, or get the students to write it (or them, if there are multiple L1s).  A little bit of translation work to make the various phrases accessible would certainly help the students to remember it and if it is a multi-cultural/multi-lingual class there are obviously other benefits to students each taking a turn to present just a smidgeon of their culture.

Dramatic Finish (for those teachers brave enough and depending on your group)

The students are going to devise and act out their own ‘wrong side of the bed’ day.  But first, get one of the students to read this summary of the story out, one line at a time.  The teacher acts out these plot points.  The reason for this is to give a model and help students not feel so self-conscious.

  • The alarm goes off.
  • The man turns off the alarm… but accidentally breaks his glasses at the same time.
  • The man gets dressed… but trips over while putting his trousers on.
  • The man opens the curtains… but they fall off the rail.
  • The man makes some toast… but it is burnt.
  • The man washes his hands… but the water splashes all over him.
  • The man leaves his house… but his scarf is caught in the door.
  • The man is shouting at a homeless man… and his wallet is stolen.
  • The man wants to eat an apple on the way to work… but he forgot it.
  • The man is knocked down… but a lady helps him up.

While there is a temptation to pick all this English apart and analyze it with the class, your students can only assimilate a certain amount at one time.  Maybe just focus on the vocabulary or the use of ‘and’ and ‘but’, or a few phrases like ‘get dressed’, ‘open the curtains’, ‘on his way to…’.

So after this model acting, get the class into groups, give them some time to work on a ‘worst-case scenario’ morning of their own and make sure they have an actor and one or more narrators.  Float around the class now feeding in phrases and chunks as and when needed.

If you do this part, make sure you allow enough time for every group to perform!

Enjoy.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Activities

 

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Photocopier or No-to-copier

Is a step away from photocopiers a step forward? (Photocopier photo from net_efekt on Flickr)

Yes, this title is taken from Luke Meddings.  I recently saw his British Council Lecture, 20 steps to teaching unplugged (see the video at the end of this post).  In it, he advocated that we should be using texts which are short enough to dictate.

There’s really no need for photocopiers.  They cause so much trouble.

This sentiment is reflected in Tom Walton’s comments on his blog;

I never use the photocopier, the learners create, not merely consume — and especially they don’t consume photocopies!

For the last six months I’ve been working at a school that doesn’t have a photocopier.  I knew this was the case before arriving and actually looked forward to the challenge.  However, after six months I’m screaming for a photocopier that is close to hand with five minutes to go until the class starts.   In spite of this, I still feel that Luke Meddings and Tom Walton are correct.  However, this leaves me with a question.

Why do I really want a photocopier?

I’m going to take another nugget of wisdom out of Luke Meddings’s recent talk, referencing a business strategy called “The 5 Whys”.  The basic idea being to approach a problem with the question ‘Why?’ and keep asking that question until you have the underlying cause that needs a solution.

1. So, why do I feel uncomfortable without a photocopier?

Because I can’t make up worksheets or photocopy interesting articles that I read and want to share with my students.

2. Why do I think I need a photocopier for this?

Because it’s something I’ve always used, something I’m used to having and something that I’ve never really questioned the use of.

3. There are alternatives, why do I prefer a photocopier to these alternatives?

Picture from Giugiaro21 on Flickr

OHPs*, IWBs  and Projectors are useful if I have them but sometimes, even if I do have them, I just want to be able to get the text into the students’ hands quickly to get on with the activity.  In contrast to this, Luke Meddings talked about taking texts “at a slower pace” with learners and written resources.

Dictation** is a great activity which practises the learners’ listening, writing and spelling skills and gets them thinking faster if done regularly.  However, again, such work takes time away from other activities that I might want to cover with my students.  Again, a photocopier gets the text into the students’ hands quickly.

4.  Why is it important to give the text to the students quickly?

So that I can get on with the original activity.

5.  Do you think the students benefit from having this photocopy in their possession? (Yes, I know, I’m breaking the rule of it being a ‘why’ question.)

No.  I think a majority of the time texts are not exploited as much as they could be, learning opportunities are missed and photocopies are wasted on activities that would be of far more benefit to the learners if they had to make their own copies in their own writing.

I think this for a number of reasons:

a.  In today’s digital world, physical writing is getting less and less common yet I think that it is a skill we should be helping our learners keep or develop (depending on their age and schooling).  Especially among my teenage students at the moment, writing activities are not welcomed and writing of any kind is avoided wherever possible.  This being the case, it is important to make writing an integral part of as many activities as possible – they need the practice!

b.  I have seen too many photocopies left behind on the table at the end of class, stuffed carelessly into backpacks and pulled out as crumpled messes from backpacks to believe that those photocopies are getting any worthwhile attention outside of class.

c.  The action of writing something down is an action of memorization.  Giving out a photocopy is taking away this opportunity for processing and memorizing new language.

d.  A photocopy holds no worth to many students whereas a text written out in the students’ own hand provides at least some measure of ownership for the learner, regardless of the origin of the text.

Returning to the original question; why am I screaming for a photocopier?

Because it is an easy way out, I wouldn’t need to deal with resistance from my teenage students so often while I ‘force’ them to write.  It would be easier for me, but it deprives them.  By photocopying a whole text I’m also being a bit lazy as a teacher as it requires less thought from me as regards where the focus of my students’ reading is going to be.

So where do I think a photocopier is useful?

I disagree with Tom Walton’s ‘never ever’ stance in one area – longer texts for intensive reading or other academic reading skills necessary for EAP (English for Academic Purposes) or preparation for exams like IELTS or FCE.  It is impractical to dictate texts of up to 1000 words.  It is also unfair to simply display them via projectors, OHPs or IWBs – for various intensive reading activities the students need to have a physical copy, to underline or highlight and to read at their own pace without the pressure of having the majority of a class dictate when to move onto the next page.

Obviously the unplugged approach works from a communicative perspective but not all English language teaching/learning is focused on this skill and where communication is not the priority – a photocopier still comes in very useful.

* Regarding OHPs, click here to watch a great little video by Claire Spooner describing an activity for OHPs.

** For more information on dictation, click here to read Dave Dodgson’s explanation of a dictogloss activity.

Luke Medding’s 20 steps to teaching unplugged

 
 

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Teenagers learn English out of fear of Chuck Norris!

I’m ashamed that this didn’t occur to me a long, long time ago.  Within the first couple of weeks of teaching teenagers in Argentina, I started to hear mention of Chuck Norris… specifically Chuck Norris Facts.  I never followed up on it but the more I think about it, the more I think that Chuck Norris Facts might be a really good primer for quite a few grammar points as well as improving or reinforcing vocabulary.

Example 1:  A simple warmer where you give out one Chuck Norris Fact to each student.  A simple, fun way to get the class started that could springboard into some interesting, unpredictable discussions.

  • Chuck Norris won American Idol using only sign language
  • Chuck Norris won the World Series of Poker using Pokemon cards
  • Chuck Norris is so awesome he created fire by rubbing two ice cubes together.
  • Fear of spiders is arachnophobia, fear of tight spaces is claustrophobia, fear of Chuck Norris is called Logic
  • Ghosts sit around the campfire and tell Chuck Norris stories.
  • Did you know Chuck Norris had a role in Star Wars……he was the Force.
  • Chuck Norris smashed a mirror over a black cat’s head while standing under a ladder, then won the lottery
  • There used to be a street named after Chuck Norris, but it was changed because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.

Chuck Norris's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Image from Flickr)

Example 2:  Highlighting a specific grammar point.  A fun way to try this one would be to give the beginnings/ends of the sentences and get the students to suggest the other half.  Or give each student a mixture and get them to try to match them up.

  • Chuck Norris can turn Toast back into Bread.
  • Some magicians can walk on water, Chuck Norris can swim through land.
  • Chuck Norris can drive, fly, and run… at the same time.
  • Chuck Norris can eat rice with one chop stick.
  • Chuck Norris can stare at the sun, and the sun goes blind.
  • Chuck Norris can write a Dictionary by slamming his face into the keyboard.
  • Chuck Norris can send an e-mail with a pencil.
  • Chuck Norris can turn a hamburger back into a cow.

Conditionals

  • If Chuck Norris roundhouse kicks you, even Google won’t be able to find you.
  • If Chuck Norris were to ever run out of ammo, his weapon would continue to fire out of fear of disappointing Chuck Norris.
  • If Chuck Norris was in the military, there would be no war.
  • If Chuck Norris were to ever bungee jump, the earth would flinch.
  • If they made a movie of Chuck Norris standing still, it would be rated R for extreme violence.
  • If Chuck Norris were a battery, my cell phone would never die.
  • If Darth Vadar and Luke Skywalker were to fight, Chuck Norris would win.

Chuck Norris makes onions cry! (Image from Flickr)

Present Perfect

  • Chuck Norris once kicked the Earth, it hasn’t stopped spinning.
  • Chuck Norris died 20 years ago but Death hasn’t built up the courage to tell him yet.
  • Aliens haven’t visited Earth because they’re afraid of Chuck Norris.
  • Chuck Norris has found the end of the rainbow.
  • Chuck Norris has only lost to one man… himself.
  • Do you know how many push ups Chuck Norris has done?  All of them.
  • Chuck Norris has lit a fire at the bottom of the lake… with matches.

Used to

  • February used to have thirty days. Then it met Chuck Norris.
  • The Black Eyed Peas used to be called “The Peas”… until they met Chuck Norris.
  • There used to be a street named after Chuck Norris, but it was changed because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.
  • There used to be life on Mars. Then Chuck Norris came along…

I got these from http://www.chucknorrisfacts.com.  There are similar lists on the internet for Jack Bauer and Vin Diesel (two other action heroes) but these lists contain a lot more swearing and questionable content.  The Chuck Norris list is, for the most part, good clean fun but I would probably not just go onto the website in class.  Also be aware that some of the jokes will be offensive to any students who are highly religious.

Obviously, it doesn’t take much work to change the name to someone more relevant so these jokes can be adapted to whoever is fashionable among your teenagers… just don’t let Chuck Norris know that you replaced his name. 🙂

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Activities

 

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What have I learned from my students? My students can be more creative than me.

This is a follow up to my last post.  I tried to get a little bit of written dialogue from one of my favourite classes after working through the verbs in a way similar to @eltbakery‘s suggestion.  It was the end of the day, end of the class and I knew this particular class was creative and always up for a challenge.

So here’s one that I thought was pretty clever.

A.  Nine years ago I almost gave up playing tennis because I didn’t get on with my coach but I carried on with it at a different club.

B.  Now that you bring up your coach, I bumped into him on the street.

A.  Oh?  How is he?

B.  Not good.  A car was driving towards him.  I shouted, “Watch out!” but he couldn’t make out what I was saying.  There was an accident and I had to look after him until the ambulance turned up.

A.  Hold on!  The coach was hit by a car?

That’s as far as the students got before the class finished unfortunately.  There are a lot of directions this story could go and I think it is certainly better, more coherent and more interesting than anything I was coming up with.  Just thought I would share.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Activities, Reflections

 

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