9 reasons why you shouldn’t follow my blog

pencil-1486278_960_720.jpgThe other day, Zhenya Polosatova posted an interesting tweet:

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Later on, in this post, she shared some interesting answers and as is her habit, she invited other bloggers to join in the discussion. I really liked the idea of a blogger looking at their own blog from a stranger’s perspective asking: Would you follow your own blog? I pondered the question for a while but I finally gave up – I guess I found myself too close to find a positive answer.

Then an idea occurred to me. If I can’t find a perspective from which I could see my blog worth following, maybe I could come up with some reasons why people shouldn’t follow my blog. So, dear reader, I’m warning you; this, in fact, is going to be a bit of bad publicity for me.

Let’s cut to the chase. In no particular order:

  1. I’m a non-native speaker of English writing a blog in English. So if you are a strict grammarian, don’t bother to come here. You are about to witness a lot of language inconsistencies, weird collocations, incorrectly used punctuation, wrong word order, you name it.
  2. Also, I’m not an excessively thorough writer. In other words, I don’t really sleep on my posts before I share them; I write a post, hit the publish button and then I let it live its own life. Just like that.
  3. I’m a teacher of English as a foreign language so if you are not a teacher (or if you have nothing to do with education), find a different place where you can procrastinate. This is a site for ELT nerds (if you don’t know what ELT stands for, you are in the wrong place. I said it!)
  4. If you are a student of mine, stay away from this blog too because, dear student, I sometimes talk about you. I try to be nice but still, you may see things from a different perspective (for example, I may be convinced that an activity worked well while you may think it was crap). I don’t want you to think I’m a liar making things up.
  5. If you happen to be a close friend of mine, don’t you dare to visit this blog either. You’ll think this can’t be me writing this. You’re right – I am (I feel to be) a different person when I write in a foreign language.
  6. Sometimes you’ll have to read between the lines to realize that something is an overstatement. I don’t mean no harm but combined with the fact that I’m an NNEST (who can easily misuse a word or a phrase), this can be too much for you to handle, dear reader.
  7. If you are an academic, read academic journals, not my blog. I’m just a teacher and I mainly describe classroom practices. I rarely share research findings or stuff like that here so my posts may appear superficial to someone with an insatiable thirst for scientific evidence.
  8. From a practical point of view, I rarely tag my posts or create separate pages so it’s not easy to navigate through my blog.
  9. There are times when I post too often (my son calls it ‘spamming’). So if you hate spam, don’t follow this blog. You might get nightmares.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

 

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To dub, or not to dub, that is the question

film-158157_960_720In this post, I’d like to share a lesson which panned out really well. The umbrella topic was movies. I wanted to do more than just ask my students to discuss their favorite films and actors, which, by the way, we had done a million times before anyway. Instead, I decided to introduce the concept of movie dubbing, which, I believe, is a big issue related to foreign language learning.

In the Czech Republic, foreign films, TV series, cartoons, and animated series are dubbed into Czech. So, with only a few exceptions, television channels broadcast foreign films and series dubbed. Films in cinemas are usually provided with subtitles, but many films like family films and films aimed at a young audience are also dubbed. Czech dubbing has always been of high quality and it is also common for well-known foreign actors to be dubbed by one individual Czech voice actor.

On the other hand, in many western European countries, such as the Netherlands or the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, movies and TV series are shown in their original language with subtitles, with the exception of movies made for a young audience (Wikipedia).

To be completely fair, I should stress, however, that young people in my country don’t watch TV a lot these days; they watch films and TV shows on the internet. Thus they often have only one option – the original soundtrack with or without subtitles (Czech or English ones).

When I was preparing for the lesson, I came across this interesting blog post called Subtitles: yes or no? written in 2008 by a Polish girl called Anna. She argues that in Poland, they have (or had, at that time) one person (normally a guy) reading the lines of all actors in Polish while the original soundtrack is still somewhat audible in the background. When TVP2, one of the Polish TV channels, decided to start showing original English language programming with Polish subtitles, the reaction of the public was surprising: only 19% of Poles wanted to have subtitles, the people actually prefer the reader.

So, armed with some background knowledge about the situation in film dubbing, I asked the first question in class: to dub or not to dub? I encouraged my 16-year students to come up with some advantages and disadvantages of dubbing. After a five-minute discussion in pairs, I elicited some of their insights and we put them on the board for later reference.

Then I showed them a short YouTube video of a scene from the Star Wars movie called “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE”. This scene is shown in its original version first and then dubbed into multiple languages. We agreed that some languages sound more suitable than others for a passionate scene like this. 🙂

At this point, I mentioned the fact that coincidentally, the countries which don’t dub their movies are the countries that speak the best English. We discussed this a bit. We agreed, however, that we should be skeptical about conclusions like this – Dutch and Swedish, like English, are Germanic languages, after all, so maybe they need dubbing less than we Czechs do.

Anyway, we moved on to the issue of subtitles. I gave my students a copy of the article I mentioned above (Subtitles: yes or no?). After reading, I asked some comprehension questions I had prepared beforehand to make sure they got the main points and we briefly discussed what they thought.

We wound up the lesson with a short video called How to watch English movies without subtitles. The author offers four simple steps in which you can improve your listening skills. My students thought that some of the advice was not too feasible and came up with their own tips. I was particularly pleased with their conclusion that English lessons matter the most. One of the boys literally said: Pay attention in English lessons, learn vocabulary and take part in speaking activities as much as you can. This surprised me because students usually seem to believe that you can really learn English outside of the classroom – not in the classroom. Or maybe it’s my own belief?

My final, question was: subs or dubs? We summarized the topic briefly and said goodbye.

 

 

 

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The Battleship game

 

In this post, I’d like o share one of my favorite activities I do with my students when revising vocabulary. The trouble is that I have presented it on several occasions but I can’t remember whether I’ve shared it here on my blog. This may either mean I’m getting old and forgetful or I might be too prolific a blogger. 🙂 Anyways…

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You probably know, have played or even used a variation of the Battleship game in your L2 classroom. It is a guessing game for two players. In class, it can be played in pairs or groups of four (two players will share the same grid). It’s played on ruled grids (paper or board) on which the players’ fleets of ships (including battleships) are marked. The locations of the fleet are concealed from the other player. Players alternate turns taking ‘shots’ at the other player’s fleet. The objective of the game is to destroy the opposing player’s fleet.

Give each S the following grid (this is just an example, you’ll obviously want to give your students a grid filled with vocabulary items of your own choice).

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Before the game begins, each player secretly arranges their ‚ships‘ on the grid. Each ship occupies a number of consecutive squares on the grid, arranged either horizontally or vertically. The number of squares for each ship is determined by the type of the ship (see the example below). The ships shouldn’t (but can) overlap. The types and numbers of ships allowed are the same for each player. I usually ask Ss to arrange 2 ships made of 2 squares, 1 ship made of three squares and 1 ship made of 4 squares. After the ships have been positioned, the game proceeds in a series of rounds. In each round, each player takes a turn to explain a word he or she thinks occupies a square belonging to one of the ships on his/her opponent’s grid.

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  • Student A: It’s a means of transport. You need to buy a ticket when you want to use it. It’s lone.
  • Student B: Train?
  • Student A: Yes, that’s what I meant.
  • Student B: Sorry. MISS!
  • Student B’s turn now: It’s kind of fish. You usually buy it in tins. It’s quite expensive.
  • Student A: Tuna?
  • Student B: Yes, that’s what I meant.
  • Student A: Well done! HIT!
  • When the whole ship is destroyed, the student must let the opponent know by saying DESTROYED or SINKING.

No-prep variation:

You can give students an empty 6 X 6 grid (which they can also draw themselves) and before the game begins, each pair agrees on words they’ll have in their grids (note: the grids need to be identical!). These may be words they feel they need to practice for a test, for example.

Note: If you happen to have an odd number of students, you’ll need to have one group of three in which two students will share one grid.

My students love it, I hope yours will as well!

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A waste of time or a useful lesson?

consulting-2204252_960_720.jpgI had this mixed-feelings experience a couple of weeks ago in class. To give the reader a bit of context, I’m talking about a group of fourteen 17-year-old students. I can’t help mentioning at this point that it’s one of my favorite groups. They like to engage in speaking activities of all sorts and as their level of proficiency is quite high (around B2-C1), you can bring up any challenging issue and you’re always likely to generate an interesting discussion.

In one of the lessons before Christmas holidays, when the level of concentration and interest is not exactly at its peak and so the students quite understandably try to talk the teacher into something ‘more fun’, one of the boys was suddenly interested in knowing something related to the final exam (which, by the way, takes place next year). Why do Czech high-school students who hold an FCE/CAE certificate still have to take the final state exam in English? I thought it was just another attempt to divert the course of the lesson in the desired direction, yet I was willing to go for it. What annoyed struck me though was that he asked in Czech. As there is an exchange student from Brazil in our class, I told him that it would be considerate of us to discuss this issue in English. So we did. There’s another boy who enjoys debates and is very good at them so he soon chipped in.

The cut it short, the two boys and I got fully engaged in a heated debate about a topic which only concerned a few students in the group. The others were only listening. It might have been interesting for them but I wasn’t sure. The discussion went on for about 30 minutes, I guess. I wanted to terminate it at some point but the two boys kept throwing in more arguments. So I at least tried to drag the others into the discussion by asking what they thought, but unfortunately, they didn’t have much to say. I had a feeling that the others found the boys’ approach to the debate somewhat inappropriate. I occurred to me that maybe, the boys were a bit too stubborn when expressing their views (considering the fact that they were talking to their teacher). For example, at one point, the second boy said that he accepted one of my arguments but not the other one. And he said that the discussion was actually pointless. I was perfectly comfortable with his view and I told him that I agreed, but I added that although it was a pointless discussion in the sense that nobody can win or lose, it was an important subject encompassing concepts like equality in the access to education which, by the way, I strongly advocated during the discussion.

Nevertheless, towards the end of the lesson, I felt that some kind of guilt … or rather shame … was floating in the air. Not mine, though. The shame, for some reason, seemed to be coming from the class. And I couldn’t quite detect why.

The Brazilian girl, who normally takes part in our discussions with a lot of enthusiasm, remained completely silent throughout this particular debate. In the end, I invited her to compare the situation in Brazil and the Czech Republic. She shared some very interesting things with us and I felt a bit better about the whole situation. She came to me after the lesson and she said that she had agreed with me all the time but that she had seen no point in chipping in.

I had and still have a couple of concerns related to that particular lesson: 

  1. Was it a waste of time for most of the group or was it important in some way? 
  2. Should we terminate such a discussion soon because it’s not on the agenda or should we try to exploit it in some way? If so, how? When? What if it gets out of control?
  3. Can it be unpleasant for some and even create tension in the class when the students witness a heated debate between a student and the teacher? Some still see the teacher as the ultimate authority after all. 
  4. Did I get too passionate when discussing the subject? Did we all (three) get too passionate? Maybe we just scared the others away. I know I sometimes do. 🙂 
  5. Should the teacher express their views so strongly? Is it their job at all? 

 

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‘Livening Up the Process’ challenge

What can you see in the picture? 

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  1. Four fly swatters (red, green, yellow, blue)
  2. A large bowl full of sweets
  3. A pile of A-4 sheets of paper (various colors)
  4. A bit of adhesive putty
  5. Some paper clips
  6. A shoebox with word cards
  7. A set of ‘home-made’ Taboo word cards

Why did I take this photo? 

I took the photo just before I left my office for Christmas holidays simply because I had tweeted the following promise to Zhenya Polosatova:

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And I like to keep my promises. 🙂 I recommend that you read more about the background on Zhenya’s blog (here). To sum it up, Zhenya once had an idea: ask her colleagues, other teacher educators, what objects they bring to their sessions working with teachers to make them more exciting (and excited!) and to model real classroom interaction.

I don’t work with teachers but I have my own toolkit too!

Here goes…

1. Four fly swatters (red, green, yellow, blue)

I love them because they are all-purpose. Apart from using them for all sorts of fly swatter vocabulary games, I use them as extended hands, so to speak (mainly because of the shape). For example, when I put students into 4 groups, each group can use one fly swatter – the person who wants to speak on behalf of the group simply grabs the fly swatter and ‘raises his or her hand’. Only this person is allowed to answer. Based on my experience, the process is more transparent and there’s less confusion overall.

I sometimes use fly swatters to put students into pairs or groups (2, 3 or 4). I simply hide the desired amount of fly swatters (2, 3 or 4) behind my back and I ask each student to pick one (I ask: right or left hand?). The students who picked the same fly swatters form one group.

I also use a fly swatter (usually the red one) as a warning sign: STOP! DON’T DO THIS! DON’T SPEAK CZECH!. etc. I can sometimes use one as a pointer. Alternatively, I touch the student gently with a fly swatter (for example when somebody wins a point, I touch them on the shoulder as if I was knighting them).

2. A large bowl with two kinds of sweets

Well, sometimes I like to give a material type of reward – to younger students as the well as the 17-year-old ones. There are special occasions such as Christmas, Children’s Day, Easter, St. Nicolas Day, etc. These sweets are from companies that sponsor our language competitions so when there are some left, I use them in my classes.

3. A pile of A-4 sheets of paper (various colors)

I need these in almost every lesson. I hand them out as they are or I cut them to pieces with scissors. Activities that come to mind here are mind maps, running dictation, letters to each other (to my older/younger self), define and guess vocabulary games, etc.

4. A bit of adhesive putty

I use this to display maps, quotes, or pictures for gallery walks or assessments. Unfortunately, the wad gets smaller an smaller because each time I remove the putty from a surface, a tiny bit always clings to the paper for good.

5. Some paper clips

I use these as points in competitive activities and games or as speaking chips. If they serve as points, students can join them and the team with the longer chain wins the game. To promote collaboration, at the end of an activity, you can ask all teams to put their chains together and see if it’s longer than last time – if so, it means that the class as a whole have improved in some way.

6. A shoebox full of word cards

Whenever a group creates a set of word cards,  I store them in this box. Sometimes I can recycle them with other groups. There are various sets in the box – some are written on white paper while others are written on small slips of colored paper. This helps me distinguish the sets from one another. I sometimes put them in labeled envelopes if I really want to remember which group has created them.

7. A set of home-made Taboo word cards

I use these to play the actual game or as a template/example for a new set. There are lots of ready-made taboo sets on the internet but I like my students to create their own word cards because I believe they learn a lot by designing them.

That’s about it.

Thanks for reading. Happy holidays! 🙂

 

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When the secondary meets the primary

workshop-1425446_960_720.jpgA fellow teacher from a primary school here in Sternberk recently put a lot of effort into organizing an activity swap shop for English teachers from the local schools, including ours. She sent out a leaflet inviting us to bring along activities which we’d share with others. As a lure bonus, she’d invited an OUP representative for a short update on the products they offer.

I reacted to the invitation immediately because I thought it was a brilliant idea. However, my colleague soon replied to me that she didn’t know how things would eventually pan out because at that time I was the only one who had actually shown interest in the event.

Fast forward to yesterday. The event did finally take place but only eight teachers showed up (4 teachers were from the organizing institution, 2 teachers from another primary school and 2 teachers from my school). Nevertheless, it turned out to be a very rewarding experience.

At first, the teachers were very nervous in front of their colleagues. They said that although they shared stuff with one another every day, this was different. I wasn’t that nervous because I was planning to share activities which I had already presented at a conference. And I had my PowerPoint presentation at my disposal. However, the atmosphere was so informal that I finally decided to put away my flash drive and I spoke off-the-cuff. In fact, I didn’t talk about the activities in my PowerPoint at all; instead, I chose to describe three activities I tried only recently – Half a Crossword, Music in Word Clouds and Speaking Hangman (see my previous posts). My colleagues particularly liked the first one.

Apart from sharing activities, we talked a lot. It was an opportunity to establish a good rapport with colleagues from primary education. The truth is that we sometimes see each other as competitors rather than collaborators. Also, I learned what primary English teachers actually do in their lessons. This is very useful for us working at the secondary level because we can build on what our colleagues have already achieved.

All in all, we had a  really good time and we agreed that we must do this again – maybe on a larger scale. We hope there will be many more brave teachers next time.

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You teach them grammar until they outsmart you one day

In case you haven’t read or participated in the following Facebook conversation, I’d like you to look at the comment I posted.

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Apart from some really interesting replies, I got this exhaustive explanation.

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Yet, I wasn’t convinced. It simply hadn’t sunk in and I stubbornly needed to oppose.

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When Andrew Tollet chipped in earlier today, I started to doubt my original conviction that *they*can be either used with a pronoun antecedent (as in Nobody tells their secret) or a generic noun as antecedent (as in Every mother loves their child), not with a specific person.

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Then I came across this summary on Wikipedia and it finally dawned on me.

Use for specific, known people. 

In some situations, an individual may be known but referred to using the pronoun they. This may occur because the individual’s gender is unknown to the speaker, or because the gender is non-binary or genderqueer so that they regard both masculine and feminine pronouns as inappropriate and thus prefer to be referred to as they.

Though “singular they” has long been used with antecedents like everybody or generic persons of unknown gender, this use, which may be chosen by an individual, is recent.

Voila! So my student was right after all. And I was wrong. In my defence, this shift only happened recently:

Among younger speakers, use of singular they even with definite noun-phrase antecedents finds increasing acceptance, sidestepping any presumption about the sex of the person referred to, as in “You should ask your partner what they think.”

 

 

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