The genie is out again

As you might have noticed, I’ve lately been fairly productive here on my blog and I do apologize for the influx of posts to those who consider daily blogging a bit too much for their taste (there’s even a new word for such a ‘diagnosis’, according to David Crystal). Well, there’s always the option of unfollowing, muting or ignoring (or whatever the possibilities are). But if you’ve chosen to bear with me nevertheless, thank you. 🙂

Although blogging feels so good these days, even therapeutic, I find my current spurt of energy rather ironic because it was not so long ago that I shared my feelings regarding a lack of zeal. In that older post, I complained said that I had lost enthusiasm for social media and particularly blogging. Was it blogger burnout? Either way, life is a rollercoaster.

Since then, things have improved massively. It’s no surprise, though, because it’s the summer holidays, right? However, I still remember how I felt back then – as if there was nothing more to share with the world. I felt like things were happening but for some reason, there was no space for reflection (and so nothing to write about). Maybe it was because my working memory was overloaded with all the weird stuff going on around me. And maybe that’s why I couldn’t tap into my reflective capacity. In hindsight, I would say that I was running on autopilot, at least most of the time – as though I wasn’t even fully conscious of what I was doing and why. So perhaps, I needed to save all the creative powers for the actual job that had to be done, i.e. teaching online, and there was no inspiration left for reflecting on my teaching and blogging.

After all, asynchronous lessons had to be created and although I found the process quite enjoyable, it took a lot of my time and energy. In addition to that, obviously, synchronous lessons had to be delivered as well, but not many of us had actually received much proper training on how to go about it successfully. There were so many new skills to acquire on the fly. What is more, you can be a teacher genius but your experience is mainly derived from being in the actual classroom. So let’s face it, even though some of that experience can come in handy in online teaching, most of the time, you are in the dark (myself at any rate).

Also, I remember that back then, I knew there were people out there who were more knowledgeable and had more experience with the virtual environment and I suspected that what teachers needed most was useful tips and advice on how to handle the new situation rather than somebody whining about how uncomfortable they felt with this or that. But maybe I’m wrong and people would have related. It’s just water under the bridge anyway …

So, most of the time I kept myself busy exploring ELT websites and online materials that fellow teachers were busily sharing and recommending, which, in the end, was what helped me most at that time. It was a period of consumption of practical ideas which had to be put into practice immediately – with little time to gauge and/or reflect on their efficacy. Life happened, as they say, and we simply complied without questioning too much, I guess.

But now, at last, it’s time to stop and contemplate for a bit. I feel that at the moment, emotions, as well as newly formed beliefs, need to be scrutinized before new input can be taken in. Luckily, it seems that all the previously suppressed reflective powers are back, ready to serve me again. The bottle was opened and the genie can get out.


Jigsaw activities

June has been challenging but exciting at the same time. I’ve finally been able to work with my students face-to-face and full time, which is the exciting part. The challenging part though is that we’ve been in the middle of a heatwave and since summer holidays are slowly approaching, it’s harder and harder to keep up the ‘serious‘ classroom work. In other words, lately, it’s been a challenge to find suitable materials for the final revision which would be a) meaningful and b) fun. Now, without trying to toot my own horn, I must say that over the past couple of weeks, this very blog has proved to be one of the handiest places to turn to whenever I needed inspiration. After a long period of time passivity, I caught myself frantically searching the site for some speaking activities I remembered from the good old times. I mainly needed to dust off the rules and instructions I had already forgotten. And I was pleasantly surprised how valuable this teaching journal actually is in this respect.

In the meantime, full of energy and enthusiasm, I kept inventing new activities as well. I’ve discovered that jigsaw and information-gap activities work really well in my teaching context these days. I don’t know if it’s because the students, after a long time of self-isolation, crave cooperation and collaboration, or because it is me who likes to see my students fully immersed in an activity, communicating and negotiating in the target language.

Today, I’d like to share a couple of activities that worked really well. I’m doing so for half selfish reasons – because some people out there might find this entry useful but also, I realize my future self might find it handy too.

General Knowledge Quiz (45 minutes):

I googled about 60 interesting general knowledge questions with answers. They were challenging enough to pique my students’ interest but adjusted to their current level. The students worked in pairs. Each student got the same handout. However, Student A got questions 1-30 with answers and questions 31-60 without answers. Student B, on the other hand, got questions 1-30 without answers and questions 31-60 with answers. Students took turns. Student A asked question number 1. If Student B knew the answer right away (this was possible but quite unlikely) – he or she got two points. If Student B didn’t know the answer, they could ask their partner for help.

At this point, Student A had to offer 3 options (one of which was the correct answer). If Student B guessed correctly, they got one point. Then it was Student B’s turn to ask a question 31.

Example: What’s the highest mountain in the world? Correct answer: Mount Everest (Student A had to come up with two more mountains, e.g. Mount Elbrus and Mont Blanc). 

In case you are wondering, yes, I could have provided the students with the three options right away but it turned out that the fact that the students had to come up with 3 plausible options was the most interesting and fun part. This way, in my opinion, the students were more engaged. In other words, the felt like they own the activity since they were partially responsible for the content.

Crossword – across vs down (45 minutes)

I went to an online crossword generator and created a large crossword in which I used words and their definitions we had covered over the past few months. Each student got a handout with an identical blank crossword. Student A got the clues for the across words (on a separate handout) while Student B only got the down clues. First, they worked individually on their part of the crossword. When they both finished, Student A provided the clues for the across words they had come up with (without looking at the original clues) and Student B provided the clues for the down words. So, in stage 2, the students had to create the definitions off the top of their heads – in their own words. Sometimes, the students came across a problem, e.g. a word did not fit in, so they had to figure it out together. For example, this happened in situations when two or more synonymous words could be used for a particular clue. Eventually, the whole crossword was complete and the teacher was happy. 🙂

In conclusion, the first activity is well-suited for heterogenous groups, i.e groups which don’t necessarily have the same learning backgroud. There is no particular grammar or vocabulary area you are focusing on. Its main aim is to generate discussion, creativity and collaboration. It’s fun and competitive too. The second activity is great for revision of specific vocabulary areas.

Here’s another set of activities I wrote about some time ago here on my blog.

This person flies an aeroplane.
This person helps people to look after their teeth.
This is a TV programme that makes you laugh.
This happens when the ground shakes and buildings collapse.
This is an event with lots of dancing and singing in the street.
This is a big house. The queen lives here.
This is a place where you can watch boats coming and going.
If you stand on your feet all day, it’s very …
You can see shows and plays here.
This person greets people when they first come into an office.
This person looks after cows and other animals.
You wear these to cover your lower body. They are dark blue and very strong.
You wear them in winter to keep your feet warm and dry.
It’s a large open space in a town, with buildings around.
You wear them on your feet, inside your shoes.
It’s like a jacket. It’s very soft and warm, and it has a part to cover your head.
You wear it over your clothes when it’s very cold outside.
You can see famous paintings here.
You can see animals there, such as tigers and monkeys.
If your jobs involves a lot of repetition, it is ….
Men wear one around their necks when they go to work.
This happens when there is no rain for a long period of time.
You wear these to cover your hands when the weather is cold.
This is a place where you can buy local goods. It’s outside.
This person cuts people’s hair.
You go there if you want to hear your favourite band playing.
This person writes computer software.
You wear these on your feet when you run or exercise.
This happens when water covers the ground in places when it’s usually dry.
This is a TV programme that includes singing and dancing.

Lost zeal?

This blog has been around for quite some time now. It’s an inseparable part of me; it’s an extension of my teacher self. But over the past few months, it’s become a bit more external, so to speak. It’s something out there, something I’m aware of but something I think of less and less. The thing is that I’ve always been considered a prolific blogger. When I was given that label some years ago, I happily accepted it. And most of the time, I lived up to it without having to try too hard. However, this year, there were long stretches of silence from me. It’s even occurred to me a few times this year that since I have not enough content to write about, I’ll quit ‚officially’. Some bloggers disappeared into thin air quite inconspicuously while others did say their goodbye out loud and wound up their endeavour for good. But I think comebacks are ridiculous. And I knew that at some point I would feel the need to come back. So what’s the point?

The question that really bothers me though is why I’ve lost my zeal? This year (as of today) I have only produced 15 posts, which is the fewest of all times (just for the sake of comparison, in 2014 I wrote 96!). Well, we could blame it on the pandemic. Wait! Last year, I published 22 posts and there was no such thing as COVID-19. So apparently, my motivation to write started decreasing before 2020, regardless of the external factors. On the face of it, it seems I’ve figured things out as a teacher and tried everything out so I have nothing new to share. But, as we all know, 2020 has tested us, teachers, more than enough so saying that there was nothing new would sound absolutely implausible.

One way or the other, the good news is that I don’t feel I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the teaching profession itself. Well, maybe I’m not as passionate as I used to be a few years back but this may well be to the good. Having passion is useful but it may also be rather overwhelming – for the teacher as well as the students. So I think that in a way, I have settled and calmed down as a teacher over the past couple of years, which I consider to be a positive sign. This may (or may not) be reflected in the amount of content I publish on my blog.

Anyway, I hope I’ll be able to be in the physical classroom more than I was in 2020 because it’s the place where the most amazing things worth sharing happen.