Listen and grab the card: a set of no-prep activities

I really liked this simple, low-prep activity I learned about in a workshop delivered by Ben Herbert at the ILC International House Brno Brilliant Conference earlier this month. I have since tried it with most of my classes and, regardless of their level or age, it has always worked well. It鈥檚 definitely good for students who tend to be restless and who like to move and touch things. Plus there鈥檚 nothing more blissful for the teacher than watching the most serious students smile during an activity. 聽馃檪

From the perspective of your lesson objectives, the activity can serve multiple purposes. You can use it to pre-teach vocabulary or to practise the vocabulary you covered in previous lessons. It can be used as a springboard for a speaking activity and it also involves a listening practice element.

I鈥檓 going to present the no-prep version.

聽聽聽聽聽Get students to form pairs.

聽聽聽聽聽Give each pair a sheet of blank paper and ask them to cut it up into 16 pieces (this number is easy to manage, even without scissors).

聽聽聽聽聽Choose a text you want to work with (plus the recording of it). Ideally, it should be a longer text, such as a story or an article.

聽聽聽聽聽Select 16 vocabulary items you want to focus on (this is the number I usually work with but it can be different in your context). These can be difficult words you want to pre-teach, keywords you鈥檇 like students to use to retell the story, etc.

聽聽聽聽聽Dictate the words. Students write them on the slips of paper. If the expressions are new, write them on the board first and ask students to copy them.

聽聽聽聽聽Do the pre-teaching, if necessary.

聽聽聽聽聽Get students to shuffle the cards and spread them on the desk face up so they can all see them well.

聽聽聽聽聽Play the recording. When a student hears one of the words, they grab the corresponding card.

聽聽聽聽聽The student with more words is the winner.

To make it a little bit more challenging and fun, ask students to place their hands on their shoulders. This will make the competition a bit fairer, especially if there are only a few words left.

The good thing about this type of activity is that it makes students focus – even the most easily distracted ones will sit tight and alert. From a linguistic point of view, it encourages learners to predict, i.e. by hearing the context, they can guess what vocabulary items might potentially come next, which is a useful skill to practise.聽

Since I like to recycle my teaching materials, I always use the cards multiple times in the same lesson (and in the subsequent lessons as well). For example, I ask the students to put the words into categories or to add collocates. As I mentioned above, at some stage, I get them to retell the story using the words. Later on, they can play a describe-and-guess activity in groups. Another option is to collect the cards from all the pairs and place them on the floor. This time, the students are sitting in a circle with the words in the middle. Play the recording again (or ask somebody to read the text). You can encourage the students to get hold of the same word more than once. Alternatively, you can place the cards around the classroom and students have to look for them. Finally, you can use the sets to play Pelmanism (a memory card game in which a pack of cards is spread out face down and players try to turn up pairs with the same number). This is called killing many birds with one stone, right? 馃榾

Try and enjoy! 馃檪

The 13 questions

Well, 2022 is coming to an end. It has been a good year but it’s also been unusual in many ways. And as I think it’s always useful to pause and reflect, I’ve decided to ask myself the following 13 questions, which I had come across on Melli O’Brien‘s FB page.

1.    What was the best decision you made? Not to quit blogging. I’ve learned that you don’t always have to irrecoverably say goodbye to things in your life. Just hit the metaphorical pause button and resume whenever you feel the need to. 

2.    How are you different from a year ago? I am different in many ways. At some point in 2022, my ego was shattered to pieces and I had to put them back together again. This, I believe, made me a bit stronger. 

3.    What have you learned from the hard times? Let go of things but don’t burn bridges completely. Instead, burn what’s useless in you and go on. 

4.    What did you enjoy the most this year? I enjoyed being in the classroom full-time again and travelling a bit. 

5.    What are you most proud of this year? I’m proud of my ability to trip over, fall and get up again without doing too much harm to myself or the people around me. 

6.    What did you learn about yourself? I learned that listening to friends who can be brutally honest can be very helpful but, on the other hand, appreciating those who quietly and compassionately support me through my struggles without interfering is equally valuable. 

7.    What energised you? What drained you? Travelling to places I had never been before and meeting new friends energized me a great deal. Having to handle the egoic conditioning of my mind and some of my destructive thoughts robbed me of a lot of my energy supplies. 

8.    What advice would you have given to your last-year self if you could go back and start the year again? Accept things as they are. Change what you can and let go of the rest. Sometimes things will look after themselves. Also, remember that not everybody feels the same way you do so listen and observe patiently and do not jump to conclusions – you’ll finally come to understand the other person’s point of view. 

9.    What matters most to you in the next year? My inner peace. 

10.  What are you going to continue doing? Shedding light on some of the most vulnerable and fragile aspects of my personality. 

11.  What do you want to change completely? The way I perceive reality. Fewer assumptions, and/or (unrealistic) expectations. I’d like to become more patient, too. 

12.  How do you intend to be different at the end of next year? I want to become someone who focuses on the present moment and makes the most out of it. I’d like to be someone who appreciates the little things they have and happily welcomes the ones that are about to come.  

13.  What is your highest intention for the next year? To stay calm in difficult situations. 

PS.: I believe that this can also be a very good classroom activity. I’m definitely going to try it out with my older students. 馃槈 

AI in the classroom?

If you happen to follow Philip Kerr’s blog, you will know that he has recently published this post called AI and Teacher Training where he talks about ChatGPT. In short, ChatGPT is a new AI chatbot that is trained聽using machine-learning algorithms聽and can understand open-ended queries. Not only does it comprehend orders, but it also understands the language聽– even Czech (my native language).

Well, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I, as an English teacher, find this tool truly fascinating. Not only can ChatGPT answer questions, but it can also write essays. This could come in handy in many situations in the classroom. For example, we can use the tool to train our students to give detailed answers when answering questions during exams. Also, ChatGPT could be used as a research tool for the students to find suitable material for their essays and presentations. And finally, it may be very useful for the teachers themselves if, for instance, they need another source to prepare for their lectures, conferences, webinars, etc.

What I also like about ChatGPT is that it remembers what the user said earlier in the conversation but most importantly, it is trained to decline inappropriate requests, so it should be relatively safe in the classroom.

Plus, it can definitely be fun to use. Alternatively, you can teach students how to diplomatically avoid answering odd questions, how to be polite when answering sensitive questions, etc. Here’s an example.

I’m not saying that this is something you can’t do with a simple Google search, but the fact that you can actually see the bot typing the answers in real time, so to speak, is fascinating indeed. Also, if you type How old am I into the Google search box, you’ll never get a genuine-like answer, such as the one from the bot. Well, I admit it may even appear scary to some, especially if you’re a fan of sci-fi movies related to the topic of AI. 馃檪

One way or another, we should be careful and warn our students about ChatGPT’s limitations. Some argue that the biggest聽problem聽with聽ChatGPT聽is it often fails at accuracy. It sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers. Users have discovered that聽ChatGPT聽makes up historical and biographical data. Also, it can generate discriminatory results. So, we teachers need to constantly encourage our students to verify their search results. This, in fact, can be a useful skill to learn and practise anyway. Our students should be aware of the fact that these days, they should not trust anything they come across on the internet unless they check different sources and look at the information from various angles.

All in all, if nothing else, ChatGPT can be a great tool for students to practise asking good questions. I’m deliberately not saying ‘correct’ questions because the bot will provide answers to wrongly formed questions as well, which may not detrimental after all, especially if our aim is to focus on the content and some sort of ‘communication’ instead of grammatical accuracy.

Anyway, below are some of the questions I asked when I first played with ChatGPT and the answers I received. You can see for yourselves how useful or ‘accurate’ they are. 馃槈

What is the meaning of life?

The meaning of life is a question that has puzzled people for centuries, and there are many different answers to this question depending on one’s beliefs, values, and personal experiences. Some people believe that the meaning of life is to seek happiness, fulfilment, or purpose, while others believe that the meaning of life is subjective and can vary from person to person. Others may believe that the meaning of life is to serve a higher power or to contribute to the greater good of society. Ultimately, the meaning of life is a deeply personal and philosophical question, and the answer will likely be different for everyone.

What is love?

Love is a complex mix of emotions, behaviours, and beliefs associated with strong feelings of affection, protectiveness, warmth, and respect for another person. It can also include deep romantic or sexual attraction. Love can be experienced in many different forms, such as the love between family members, friends, and romantic partners. It can also be described as an action or a choice to care for and support another person. Some people believe that love is an important part of a happy and fulfilling life and that it is a fundamental human need. Others may view love as a mysterious or elusive concept. Ultimately, the meaning and experience of love can vary greatly from person to person.

Is there life after death?

The concept of life after death is a belief that has been held by many different cultures and belief systems throughout history. Some people believe that the soul or spirit lives on after the body dies, while others do not believe in an afterlife. There is no scientific evidence that proves or disproves the existence of an afterlife, and it is ultimately a matter of belief and faith. Beliefs about the afterlife can vary greatly from person to person and can be influenced by cultural, religious, and personal experiences. It is important to respect the beliefs of others and to recognize that people have the right to hold their own beliefs and opinions on this topic.

How to find the deeper meaning

The other day, I came across the concept of logotherapy. At first, I was rather confused by the fact that it was mentioned in the context of education – since it’s a term mainly used in psychotherapy – but as I further explored it, it started to make perfect sense.

So, logotherapy is a therapeutic approach that helps people find personal meaning in life. It’s a form of psychotherapy that is focused on the future and on our ability to endure hardship and suffering through a search for purpose. Logotherapy was developed by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frank and is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find meaning in life. In other words, Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a ‘will to meaning’ – a desire to find meaning in life. Also, he believed that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning. 

Frankl believed in three core properties on which his theory and therapy were based:

  • Each person has a healthy core.
  • One鈥檚 primary focus is to enlighten others about their internal resources and provide them with tools to use their inner core.
  • Life offers purpose and meaning but does not promise fulfilment or happiness.

Logotherapy proposes that meaning in life can be discovered in three distinct ways:

  • By creating a work or doing a deed.
  • By experiencing something or encountering someone.
  • By the attitude that we take toward unavoidable suffering.

So, what does all this have to do with teaching, ELT, education, etc.? First of all, I strongly believe that apart from teaching English, our primary goal is to enlighten our students about their internal resources and to provide them with tools to use their inner core. We, teachers, can help our students to find meaning through creativity and creation. Also, we can offer opportunities for them to experience something meaningful in the classroom as well as outside of it. Finally, we can dig deep through all the layers of what we see on the outside and find the healthy core each student has.

Second of all, logotherapy, or the realization of its basic premise of it, can help us start the healing process aimed at ourselves. We teachers also have healthy cores and we definitely have the power to realize that even though life (or our job) does not automatically promise fulfilment or happiness, it definitely offers purpose, so the only challenge is to discover it – through creativity and work. And even though we may suffer now and then, or feel unfulfilled or dissatisfied, it’s the attitude we take towards this sort of ‘hardship’.

Thirdly, there’s the question of motivation – a concept so often debated in the context of ELT and education in general. Once you find a purpose in doing something, for example learning a language, things become easier for everybody involved – for the student as well as the teacher.

From the above, it seems that having a meaning or purpose in life correlates with one’s overall health, happiness, and life satisfaction. So, through logotherapy, we teachers could kill several proverbial birds with one stone. We could simply make the classroom a happier place and our work even more meaningful. After all, once the teacher is happy, the students are too (and vice versa).

The 5 out of 10 speaking activity

Here’s a quick post in which I’d like to share a simple speaking/vocabulary practice activity. No preparation is needed.

Get each student to write down 10 words on a separate piece of paper. These can either be from a specific section of the unit you need to revise, or they can create their own sets based on their hobbies and interests. So, if a student is interested in music, he or she writes down words such as conductor, orchestra, stage, etc. While the first option is probably more practical syllabus-wise, the second alternative is far more personalized and student-focused, and your students will probably like it more because they are in the role of experts and can showcase what they like and/or are good at. Tell our students you will collect their lists.

Before you collect them, though, make sure they sign them. Shuffle the lists and draw one randomly. Call out the author of the list and ask them to come to the front of the class (I asked them to sit on my chair while I sat at the back of the classroom). The rest of the class should grab a blank piece of paper. The student in the front chooses 5 of the 10 words from their list and defines them one by one. His classmates try to guess and write down the words, but they must not say them out loud. After the student describes all five words, they reveal the answers. For each correct word, each student gets a point. The speaker then draws another list from the pile. This goes on until everybody has spoken.

I was surprised by how enjoyable the activity was. Also, it was simple yet very effective. Apparently, my students liked both describing as well as guessing the words.

The 28th P.A.R.K.Conference

In April 2021, I wrote up my blog post about the 3rd P.A.R.K. Online Conference. It seems like ages ago now although it鈥檚 just 18 months. Things were so different back then and by 鈥榙ifferent鈥 I mean, well, not precisely satisfying for us teachers. So before I even begin this post, I need to pause and give a moment of appreciation to the P.A.R.K. conference organizers who, even in the time of greatest despair, didn鈥檛 give up and gave us hope by keeping up the good job, albeit in a slightly different format.

But here we are – in November 2022. It seems that finally, things have got back to normal and once again, we can live, breathe, attend 鈥榬eal鈥 conferences and learn from people face to face. And I must say that the 28th P.A.R.K. conference has probably been the most enjoyable experience in the professional world so far. Mind you, the previous conferences there or elsewhere had been as good as this one; the line-up of presenters, the atmosphere, and the catering standards had always been top-notch. Still, this time, I felt more present and focused than ever before. So I wonder… is it my age, my experience or the fact that we have become more appreciative after having been through so much recently?

Maybe it was the enthusiasm, joy and authenticity with which the presenters delivered their talks which resonated with me so much. And to be honest, we all got an enormous boost of energy right at the start because the conference was kicked off by the amazing Hugh Dellar. I had already known Hugh from the online environment and had highly appreciated his work. But once I saw him present face-to-face, I was impressed 鈥 by his cordial personality as well as his insights on teaching. In his opening plenary, he spoke about motivation. And I need to make the long story short here because otherwise, it would be a very, very long post (and I have some other things to cover here). So, here鈥檚 a summary of the tips Hugh gave the audience on how to motivate students:

  • Listen to your students (identify their goals and needs, listen to the content of what they say, simply make the most of the people in the room).
  • Talk to your students (don鈥檛 worry about your TTT).
  • Tell your students about yourselves (show them you are a normal person).
  • Teach your students useful things (what they actually need to say or what they would say in L1).
  • Teach the class first and the coursebook second (don鈥檛 worry about the number of pages you need to cover, skip or elaborate if need be).
  • Be careful how you correct (overcorrection can destroy people鈥檚 confidence; your goal is to help students to say things in a better way).
  • Test your students (but in a less frightening way, provide positive feedback, use instant revision activities, get students to re-tell texts and re-do tasks, gap words in your board work).
  • Worry less about the topics (even the PARSNIPs, let students 鈥榖ring鈥 the topics to the lessons).
  • Worry more about the language and anecdotes (sometimes it鈥檚 the language that drives the interest, not the topic; any text has language that may be useful to students).
  • Look deep into your coursebook (a good textbook has little bits of speaking often, teaches useful language, and has conversations in L2 that resemble the ones they have in L1).

All in all, Hugh鈥檚 approach seems to be very personalized, student-focused, as well as practical, which definitely resonates with me.

And then it was time for the first workshop of the day. From the plethora of outstanding presenters, I chose to see my favourite methodology teacher of all time – Nikki Fo艡tov谩. I remember as if it was just yesterday; I was applying for my master鈥檚 programme at Masaryk University in Brno and during the oral examination, she was there on the committee 鈥 as inconspicuous and humble as I have always known her since. And then, two years later, when I was taking my final exams, she was there too, sitting quietly in the back of the room, taking notes. In the meantime, we had a lot of fantastic methodology lessons with her. So it鈥檚 not surprising that I always try to see her – because of my nostalgic memories and because she is such an amazing professional.

Nikki started her workshop in an unusual manner 鈥 she didn鈥檛 just say Hello, my name is 鈥 and I鈥檓 going to talk about X and Y. No, that would be too plain for Nikki. Instead, before she even started formally, as if by the way, she bombarded us with tips from the virtual world, such as youglish.com, where you can learn how to pronounce tricky expressions by listening to authentic videos which contain the word you searched for. Or textingstory.com, an app which enables you to write a text conversation, create a video from your story, watch your creation on the screen, and share it with your students. Then she offered a few handy classroom activities which can potentially make your coursebook more engaging. Throughout her workshop, I learned that, for instance, running dictation can be done in groups of three, not just in pairs. I learned how to erase a permanent marker from the whiteboard (by drawing over the marks you鈥檝e made in a permanent marker with a dry-erase marker). I also discovered that according to research, you can either pre-teach vocabulary or teach it later 鈥 it doesn鈥檛 really make a difference. And learned a new word – maven. 馃檪 And I鈥檓 definitely going to try the run and rip activity she demonstrated. And finally, she showed us an amazing platform called blooket.com, something I had never heard of before but am eager to explore. On this website, the teacher picks a question set and a unique game mode. Then, the website generates a code that players can use to join the game on their own devices. After the game starts, the players will answer questions to help them win. 

Just before the lunch break, I saw a talk by Charles Stewart. This was a new ELT figure for me and I didn’t quite know what to expect, so I considered it a step out of my comfort zone. But you know what they say: only if you leave your comfort zone do you really start growing. Charles’s workshop was called Let’s Talk About Progression, from B1 to C2, but the main theme was speaking, namely how to achieve excellence in it. In his view, excellence entails speaking fluently, naturally, and accurately. It also means using body language appropriately, knowing what to say in a particular situation and context, and having plenty of time for planning and rehearsal. He also pointed out that it is important to balance fluency and accuracy. Although many teachers would probably suggest that fluency is far more important, we should also aim at accuracy. Teaching it doesn鈥檛 have to be a nuisance, though. He advised that we can teach language structures covertly and inconspicuously. For example, you can give your students a list of have you ever questions before you even teach the present perfect. Students will naturally deduce how to use it long before you explain how things work. Also, he stressed the importance of feedback. He believes that some of the most learning he has done was through feedback. We talked about different ways of providing feedback, e.g. sandwich feedback (positive + constructive + positive), triangle feedback (3 different things a student did well or 2 positives and 1 negative/constructive), or two stars and a wish (2 good points and one thing to improve). Apart from formal teacher feedback, he mentioned the importance of self-reflection and peer feedback. Throughout the talk, it was clear that there was this pattern emerging 鈥 the rule of three. Charles called it The 3rd Time Lucky.  

In his after-lunch workshop, Hugh Dellar talked about magic. Yes, he believes teachers can make magic in their classrooms and that’s one of the reasons he still keeps doing this job. He shared a few moving anecdotes from his own teaching career and he also recalled one of the best lessons he’d ever taught – it was one of those moments when he felt hopeless and desperate and almost wanted to give up but then, something magical happened, which, in the end, changed things completely.

After this beautiful, emotional introduction, Hugh spoke about the ways of turning a lesson into something meaningful and useful. As he already mentioned in his opening plenary, one of our primary goals as teachers is to help students say what they want to say – in better English. So, it’s a good idea to board students’ real-life stories, reformulate what they say and then encourage them to use the 鈥榰pgraded鈥 version. To achieve this, the teacher should try to make space beyond controlled and free practice activities, even when they seem under pressure because they have a lot to ‘teach’. He advises us to leave space for chat, small talk, stories, and banter. He says that we should keep in mind that lexis is far more often the issue than grammar. Don’t worry about the syllabus too much. When a student needs a word, they are ready for that word. Also, accept the fact that students sometimes say things that break conventional taboos (they even bring up PARSNIPs), which can be unpleasant for the teacher to deal with. Some of the most unpleasant ideas we have to deal with in class sometimes emerge in response to the most mundane questions. In the same vein, personal responses will often emerge after fairly impersonal questions. So, all you need to do is to provide the language the student needs and then perhaps explain why you disagree. This can help you take the heat off a difficult situation and you will still be able to provide some useful language to that particular student as well as the rest of the group. Remember, though, that you only get better at turning student output into whole-class input with practice. All in all, the process of working with the language is more important than the product. So, learn to travel off map more. When something interesting pops up, be ready to ditch the plan. Learn how to enquire and explore. Even if magic doesn’t happen immediately, at least you have provided opportunities for it to potentially emerge.

And finally, here comes the closing plenary by Nikki Fo艡tov谩 – the proverbial icing on the cake. You may think that one could already have enough of a presenter they saw earlier that day, but no, you can never have enough of Nikki, simply because she is amazing and she has so much to offer. So I stayed fully focused till the very end, taking notes, trying not to miss anything important she had to say. Her topic was called Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teachers from Someone Who鈥檚 Spend 21 Years Trying to Adopt Them. David Koster, the most important guy behind the scenes, had introduced the topic as a bit of a tongue-in-the-cheek one, so we were ready for some fun. And yes, it was playful indeed but quite deep at the same time.

So, what do highly effective teachers do, according to Nikki?  

  • They turn up (they stick with their students and are available for them; they show commitment).
  • They bring T.E.A. to the classroom (trust, empathy and appreciation).
  • They are organized (they clean and purge and they have a logical filing system; something to remember: according to research, students do better in tests in an organized classroom).
  • They take risks (Nikki mentioned a few memorable things here: the fixed vs. growth mindset, the quote by Henry Ford: 鈥Whether you think you can, or think you can鈥檛, you鈥檙e right.鈥, and the metaphorical journey leading from the comfort zone to growth).
  • They avoid being happiness hoovers, i.e. they avoid sucking the joy of every situation (tip: you can always flip a negative statement into a positive one, e.g. This class just can鈥檛 learn. > Every student has the potential to learn).
  • They reflect and have bouncebackability (tip: apply the ALAC model: acting > looking back > assessment of essential aspects > creating alternative methods of action > acting > 鈥 )
  • They recharge (tip: help yourself before you can help others, say “no” in a nice way, i.e. hit the pause button, use the Time Management Eisenhower Matrix (a task management tool that helps you organize and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. Using the tool, you’ll divide your tasks into four boxes based on the tasks you’ll do first, the tasks you’ll schedule for later, the tasks you’ll delegate, and the tasks you’ll delete.)

And that was it. After the raffle, I was headed home – happy, recharged and full of optimism and new ideas to use in class. And I feel the same now that I have finished my post. 馃檪

I’m proud to say that this post has also been published on the P.A.R.K. conference blog.

The Honeymoon (Hangover) Effect

So, you may have heard about the term honeymoon phase. It is an early part of a couple’s relationship where everything seems carefree and happy. It usually lasts from six months to two years and can be marked with lots of laughs, intimacy, and fun dates. In psychology, however, there is a term called the honeymoon effect, which gives a name to a state that happens with an increase in job satisfaction immediately following a job change and it’s followed by the honeymoon hangover effect – a decline in job satisfaction.

When I came across the said concepts, it crossed my mind that we teachers probably experience similar states – not only throughout our entire careers but even throughout the school year.

As a newbie teacher, one is obviously excited about their job and what’s in store for them. After some time, you may get a little less tipsy, so to speak, because you start to understand what the real challenges of the job are. And you gradually get less and less excited because, in a way, every day is the same. Plus, it’s not always rewarding to be a teacher. When I personally got dangerously unmotivated in the past, I subsequently and almost invariably experienced some kind of change (which came to me unexpectedly or I simply made things happen). As a consequence, a new spurt of bliss, passion and energy sprang from within.

As I said, I believe the same pattern applies to each and every school year. After the summer holidays, I am full of enthusiasm and a bottomless well of new ideas. I can multitask like a pro. This period can last up to a few months but right before Christmas, I start to feel the first signs of pressure and the hangover effect sets in. For me, the most critical months are probably January and February (and March too), which can definitely be ascribed to the chilly weather and the lack of light too. But it’s not just that.

And in the same vein, within a single day, one lesson can be an amazing success while the next one is a complete disaster. And you ask yourself: Where did I go wrong? Well, maybe you got too excited and thus too exhausted by the triumph that you couldn’t but experience the honeymoon hangover effect.

And finally, the smallest of the smallest units – the lesson itself. It was at uni where they told us that we should be careful – activities should never be too exciting. The teacher should always keep things at bay. Well, now I know why. If an activity is too invigorating, the students simply get tired or worse, they go on the rampage.

Now, negativity aside, the question is how to stay in the honeymoon phase for as long as possible. The following tips are some of the things that help me overcome the periods of honeymoon hangover.

  1. I try to be grateful for my job. As I said earlier, it’s not always rewarding but when it is, I bookmark the moment – mentally or in writing (on this blog, for example).
  2. I give myself permission to feel frustrated from time to time. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies after all. So I try to be gentle and compassionate with myself if things get a bit overwhelming.
  3. I go for every opportunity to learn and share. I go to workshops and conferences, and I read about and pay attention to everything that may be useful or uplifting.
  4. They say that change is the spice of life. So I consciously shake things up in the classroom from time to time.
  5. I constantly reflect on what I do in the classroom and how I feel about it.
  6. I try to keep in mind that change is the only constant, so I accept the fact that a period of bliss will always be followed by a period of distress and vice versa. By merely accepting this fact, things instantly get much better.

To wind up, I’d like to stress that I distinguish the honeymoon hangover effect from burnout syndrome. It is because the latter results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and thus is a much more serious condition that needs to be addressed differently. However, I believe that some of the tips above may, to a certain extent, help to ease the symptoms of burnout syndrome, or they may at least serve as prevention.

Too much of a good thing …

I’ve always known that there is a fine line between being too passionate about what one teaches and being excited about passing knowledge on to their students. It is generally believed that it is essential for a teacher to be enthusiastic about their subject, and whenever I discuss this with my students they always tell me that they appreciate teachers who are passionate. Of course, there are students whose primary goal is to understand and learn quickly and effectively, and they don’t really care if the teacher loves what they do or not. In other words, their intrinsic motivation is high enough for them to be distracted by the teacher’s excitement or the lack of it.

I’m saying all this because I believe I’m very passionate about my subject (English as a foreign language). It’s crossed my mind a few times though that sometimes my zeal can actually be detrimental to my students – or at least to some of them. This can happen when, for example, I’m too creative, original, artistic, inventive, or innovative. As a result, what I do is almost overkill. Too much of a good thing, as it were. So, those students who like to learn in a calm and structured environment may feel a little confused and disoriented.

I’ve come across this post by Paul Moss called LEARNED HELPLESSNESS AND THE CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE which discusses both terms in detail. My curiosity was piqued by the former concept – learned helplessness – which is a state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. This person then comes to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they do not try 鈥 even when opportunities for change become available. After seeing this video, which beautifully demonstrates how a teacher can ‘create helplessness’ in the classroom, so to speak, I realized that maybe, some of my most original and well-intended activities were quite confusing and didn’t lead to much learning. They may have been beneficial for the fast learners and/or talented students but they were useless and even frustrating for the students who performed in the mid-range and lower.

In my defence, most of my students are fast learners and talented, too. But still, I sometimes take it for granted and forget about the ones that may have had a bad day or the ones who simply don’t get the point of an activity that I consider absolutely amazing. In his post, Paul Moss offers several tips on how to design a course effectively to avoid learned helplessness and the curse of knowledge. I’d add that if an activity seems too confusing or even pointless to some students, it’s vital to explain the teacher’s reasoning behind it. In fact, I believe it’s always good to tell students why we are doing what we are doing – not just when they feel lost (which may be too late anyway).

In conclusion, I’d like to say that I still believe that passion and excitement are good things. However, their intrinsic nature is emotional so they need to be consciously controlled by reason and logic. Specifically, they need to be guided by purpose, aim and intention.

It’s important to enjoy the little things

I sometimes ponder this: What is it that makes my job so enjoyable for me. Why is it so that the longer I have been a teacher, the more I love being one? You know, it sometimes crosses my mind that I should be a little burned out … a bit worn-out after so many years of doing the same thing. But I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong; I did experience moments of despair and fatigue in the past, most of which took place at the start of my career and also quite recently – during the remote teaching period. But eventually, I learned from that experience and now I can use the newly acquired and assimilated knowledge and skills to enjoy what I do even more.

But I’m spurting big words here. Life consists of small moments which after all, create the bigger picture. The small pieces of a mosaic are what is important. But what are they?

What first comes to mind is my experience, without which I would hardly be able to fully enjoy anything related to my profession. Not that I didn’t enjoy my job when I was younger and inexperienced. I did. Those joyful moments, however, were rarely planned for. Neither were they too permanent for that matter. I mostly experienced sporadic, spontaneous moments of happiness, followed by instances of hopelessness in quick succession. Just like a rollercoaster. Ups and downs, the ebb and flow. But that was an inevitable part of my evolution as a teacher.

My age is another important factor in the interplay of light and shadow of being a teacher. It’s obviously closely related to experience. However, what I mean is that the older you get, the more easy-going, relaxed and tolerant you can become and thus, you create more space for enjoyment. Also, without trying to sound too dramatic, you realize you have less and less time left. You realize that there will be a point in the future when you won’t be able to do what you love anymore … for whatever reasons. And finally, the older you get, the more you appreciate working with children and young people in general. And the wider the gap, the more you can gain from it. 篓Some say that grandchildren may often have a better relationship with their grandparents than children have with their parents. That’s what I mean.

Related to all the above, you gradually have better relationships with your colleagues and bosses. You know your stuff so you’ve become immune to all the potential trickery and abuse. In other words, you know your worth. You can easily navigate yourself in the world of your profession – you know what to look for and what to discard and fake and useless.

And finally, the everyday moments of joy – when a student approaches you and tells you that she enjoys your lessons. Or when they come up to you and ask for help, which you can easily provide. When they beam with enthusiasm and energy in your lessons. When they tell you that you are their favourite teacher. When your effort is appreciated by your boss or a colleague who has just observed your lesson. And so on and so forth. It’s right here in your hands and has always been. It’s just that you can clearly see it now.

The perfect warm-up activity

So, I haven’t shared anything practical or not-so-practical here on my blog for some time. Not that I haven’t had any ideas going on in my head … it’s just that I somehow lacked the need to write about my professional endeavours. I didn’t even feel the urge to write about my recent trip to Scotland, which is really strange because quite honestly, it was full of potential. Maybe it was too good … too intense for me to materialize it in the form of words. Maybe at some point, I will be able to verbalize what I experienced but not just yet.

Anyway, the time of hibernation is over, apparently. One of the reasons I may have a sudden spurt of energy is that I recently attended an ELT conference. And every teacher knows that conferences are immense sources of inspiration and creativity. The people, the venues, the atmosphere, the memories of the previous events – this all creates a unique experience that invariably recharges everyone’s dead batteries.

So, today I’d like to share an activity which I’d like to call the perfect warm-up/speaking activity. It’s perfect because it’s suitable for all levels of proficiency, for almost all age groups plus it doesn’t require any preparation whatsoever (if you wish so). What’s more, it’s highly personalized. I should not forget to credit Sarka Cox from ILC Brno, who presented this activity in a workshop.

Here goes … While in class, it’s best if you demonstrate the activity briefly and then it’s pretty straightforward. Simply put two words on the board. Ideally, they should be opposites (dark – light, day – night) or two things from a category (train – bus, dog – cat). Ask the students: Do you think I prefer travelling by bus or train/Do you think I like X or Y (for lower levels). When they make a guess, reveal the correct answer and the students who guessed correctly get a point. Then briefly explain why you prefer X to Y (you may also want to put some functional language on the board for students to be able to talk about their preferences). Then it is your ‘partner’s’ turn (choose a student to demonstrate what they would ask you next).

The students can ask about their preferences gradually or they can prepare a list of a certain number of pairs in advance (I prefer the former option because the latter alternative will actually be used later on). Tell your students that they should always record the two options in writing but that they should never indicate the correct answer (by ticking or underlining the prefered option, for example) because their lists will be used in the follow-up stage of the activity.

After some time (a couple of minutes or when you observe that most pairs have, let’s say, a minimum of 5 pairs of words), pause the activity. Ask how many points each student got, i.e. how well they know each other. In the next stage, change pairs. The students take their original lists and swap them with their new partners. The new partner then guesses what the student’s preferences are plus they speculate and give reasons why they think so.

As I said, no preparation is needed but you can create a nice PP presentation with pictures of the options. You can have photos from magazines or other visuals at hand, which, I admit, may be more suitable for young learners. However, I used the simple version of the activity with all my classes (12 – 18 year-olds), i.e. writing the pairs on the board/paper, and it was absolutely sufficient. The good thing about this activity is that it is highly personalized; the students can decide what they want to talk about and avoid what they don’t want to discuss. Also, when I tried it myself during the said workshop, it was quite challenging and enjoyable because I had to make an effort – I had to come up with the options and actually think about what I prefer and why.

If you decide to try the activity out, enjoy! 馃檪