Friday, April 14, 2017

#ELT Book Challenge: 50 activities for the first day of School by Walton Burns

I would characterise myself as a list person. I love making lists. I love reading lists. I love collecting lists. I also love teaching so what better combination could I find than a book about teaching with a list of activities?
I recently read (and took lots of notes from) "50 activities for the first day of school" by Walton Burns, which contains 50 detailed activities and wonderful ideas about what you can do on the beginning of the school year and not only.
I would say that most of them are wonderful ice-breakers for the rest of the year as well. Especially when you work with beginners, you can use some of these activities to teach them how to spell their names, how to talk about themselves, personal pronouns, adjectives and so much more.
I particularly liked all the kinaesthetic activities like "Simon says", "Pantomime" "Scavenger Hunt" , "Toss a ball", "Snowball texting" which I frequently use in my classes, especially with my younger students. Children just love movement and they are always willing to try out new things.
Drawing is also something I would use - children like talking about themselves anyway, so the joining of the two is a big success in the class. My students were so enthusiastic about depicting their families, their homes and it was really fun when they tried to use English to describe what they had drawn.
With older students I have tried "Study Habits Myths" and "Sharing Tips", especially this time of the year, when the exams are approaching. It was a great way to have students talking in English trying to help their classmates with their tips and advice in a playful way.
What I really liked the most, though was the"Time Capsule' idea. I can't wait for end of the year. This shows all the progress the students have made and makes them proud of themselves.
All in all I enjoyed reading and using this ebook and I believe it will be a great reference in my classes and lesson plans.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

#iatefl2017 Motivational teaching by Nicholas Thorner

A very interesting talk about motivation based on new book Motivational Teaching.
Starting his talk, Nicholas Thorner mentioned the neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is used to be associate with pleasure, but even people with low dopamine can feel it.
The truth is that dopamine is released before the actual action, so, that's why it is called an cation chemical. It also has a second function, it codes information for future reference.
What are the principles for motivation?

But it's not just about the reward. What will happen if I don't do this?
How is this translated in the learning context? Embarrassment among peers?
What are the cognitive rewards in Learning?
  • successful outcome of interection
  • progress
  • satisfaction of finishing a task
  • self-esteem
Students do want to learn, but sometimes they don't feel the motivation. They want to learn because they have to or their parents make them or there is peer pressure and this brings them to a demotivating state.
 What we have to realize is that once you get started, it becomes easy, so for example if you have a well designed / planned activity, flow might happen.

An example of a reward in creativity is the 5-day-streak: Create lesson plans every day, 5 days in a row, like people do in social media (i.g. snapchat) where they post every day in order not to lose the streak.
Spend sometime  raising commitment to the task before the task.
Here are some examples for both teachers and learners, giving reason and reward:

Give them the:
  • Why
  • How 
  • What
Increase their reward factor.
Give them the chance to be creative with an extra task.
  • When 
  • Where
Take away all possible excuses.
Give them a reward if they keep the streak.

Nicholas Thorner continued giving ideas for planning and motivating like this map:
He advised teachers to name their lesson plans "lesson strategies" and that they should make learning something relevant to them proposing lost of ideas.
You can find the session video  and more information over here:

#iateft2017 Teaching well-being to teenagers by Rachael Harris

 A Wonderful session by Rachael Harris, focusing on activities that enhance our students' and our own well-being.
Ms. Harris started with the definition of the term:

As she sees it "We know it when we see it"
So why should we teach it ?
Sometimes we forget that teenagers have to face social pressure, stress for academic success and so many challenges, which are pretty scary situations. By teaching them how to be well, we improve the class atmosphere, and students sometimes don't even realise it that we have actually achieve that, they just enjoy class.
Ms Harris points out three aspects:
  • How students feel themselves.
  • How they are in class.
  • How they react to their learning.
The questions that students should ask themselves are:
  • Am I learning?
  • What am I learning?
  • How am I learning?
  • Am I actually enjoying the learning? 
What I honestly LOVED in this session were the proposed activities. These kind of workshops are the reason why I want to attend conventions and seminars in the first place. 
So here we go:

#1 Status report
This goes back to the times when facebook had the prompt : (Name) is... (For example Rachael is happy / busy / angry etc.)
This activity can practise adjectives and feelings vocabulary. Have students write their status and then talk about it; why am I feeling like that? Do I want to change it? What can I do about it?

#2 Bestbits
The idea is to express Gratitude and the means is Instagram:
Students think of their best moments (bestbits) of the day and post 3 of them with the hashtag #bestbits - or if they don't want to post them, they just email their pictures to their teacher.

#3 BHAGs and Babysteps
This is actually a business term : Big Hairy Audacious Goals and it can be a whole hour or even a whole year project.
Students (and why not yourself) think about one BIG goal that is pretty difficult or even impossible to achieve and write this in the middle of a white piece of paper. Next to it, write 4 smaller goals that could lead to this big goal. And then analyze each to even smaller pieces. So you get something like that:

 So when you have completed it, you can start doing the smaller things you have written. It doesn't matter if you don't achieve your BIG goal, this gives you motivation do do things that interest you.

#4 Save me
This activity is about promoting strengths:
The story goes like this: Your town is invaded by zombies. A rich businessman comes with his helicopter and has room for just one of you. You have to write in a note as many reasons as you can so that the businessman would choose to save you.

#5 Happy memories
In Ms. Harris' classes they keep a 'memory jar', where students write a happy memory in the end of the week. It deosn't have to be a class memory.

#6 Letters of survival in class
Students write a letter to the students of next year, giving them advice and tips how they can survive this particular class, so that "newbies" can get an idea what it will be like and the "oldies" actually realize how far they have come.

#7 Mottos
Students write their favourite Motto and defend it with a presentation.

#8 Flow
The lesson begins with a pictures that represents the word 'flow' and students guest the word.
Flow is when you are so absorbed in something that time flies without even noticing it. Students express their own experiences and present them in class. This can be done with various words like: happiness, perseverance, determination, connection etc.
Another idea is to give students titles from TED talks on these subjects and let them create a presentation.

#9 Strengths survey
Students talk about their stregths and how they can use them in their learning.
There are various tests that can help them like: 

I have to say that I particularly liked this session, the ideas were original and they are something that we can also do for ourselves not only for our students. Definitely trying some of these in my next lessons.

You can always visit the British council site for more info:

Friday, April 7, 2017

#iatefl2017 Interview with Angelos Bollas representation of LGBT people in teaching materials

One of the reasons that I am really envious of people of gong to IATEFL is presentations like this one by Angelos Bollas. I consider him a very talented educator and I am really glad that there are people like him around, who are not afraid of speaking their mind.
In this interview, Scott Thornbury an Angelos Bollas talk about the rerpesentation of LGBT people in the EFL world and especially in the current teaching materials.
Angelos points out that in ELT books, heterosexuality is considered a "natural context", in contrast with ESL materials which are meant to prepare people to live for example in the UK and have to make them familiar with the culture in the UK or USA environment.
Angelos believes that we, as educators, have to prepare our students for what's out there.
He does understand the hesitation of the publishers, but all kinds of people have to be represented.

All in all it was a very interesting interview and I am sure that the presentation was really worthwhile.
Follow the link for the IATEFL page:

#iatefl2017 How to become a teacherpreneur - session my Marina Kladova

A very interesting session, full of ideas on how to actually become a teacherpreneur.
Marina Kladova started her talk by sharing her own story and experiences on how she decided to leave her traditional teaching role in order to become something different.
It all begun back in 2010, when she realized that she wanted to do more than teaching, also considering that her salary was not as much as it should be, trying to get out of a burnout.
She wanted to travel, find opportunities for professional development (which was very difficult in Russia back then), was thinking of creating her own school, but lacked of managerial experience and could not find partners to back her up.
So she started brainstorming what she can do and tried a few things like combing her hobbies with teaching English until she found her current job as a consultant in an IT company.
Her talk continued with the definition of the term "teacherpreneur' or edupreneur"

And gave her own definition on the subject:

She then suggested ways to be a teacherpreneur:
  • Developing a product,  like an English app, or materials or even a course.
  • Education: Seminars, webinars, educational trips, events
  • Consulting: teachers, companies, proffreading
  • Commission: selling travel tours, selling books / seminars / job recommendations
  • Other ideas: local guide, translating, conferences
The most important thing you have to ask yourself is "for whom you can be useful?"
Think about you can do:

Ms. Kladova presented steps and ideas for opportunities and gave examples of her own life.
You can find Ms Kladova's presentation and slides over here:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Balls: Games for all skills

Using a ball can give you the chance to practise lots of skills: grammar, vocabulary, listening and speaking! How about reading?
I have to say that students, no matter the age, are thrilled when you use alternative games instead of books and tests.
The truth is that students see it as a game. They think that they will not have a ‘lesson’ and they will just play. This makes them more motivated. And guess what! They learn without even noticing it!
The only problem is the parents… and maybe even your director.
Before you stop thinking about it, though, give it a try.
Invite colleagues and even your director to observe your games and activities. Let them play with the students.
Arrange a meeting with parents and let them try the games with their kids.
I am sure that they will love the fact that their kids are actually learning.
Just Dare!! 

Proposed game:
This is a ‘Passe-Partout’ ball game; you can practise all the vocabulary you want.
You can even not use a ball; you can replace it with a soft toy.
Students form a circle and the teacher stands in the middle. The teacher announces the subject, for example ‘environment’, and throws the ball in one attendee, who has ten seconds to come up with a topic-related lexical item. When he / she finds a suitable word, he / she should throw it to another participant.
The players who do not find a word in the allocated time have to leave the circle.
You can use it with all types of vocabulary, idioms and collocations, as well as grammar rules (student can complete sentences, or find synonyms)

Game ideas:
Theodora Papapanagiotou
Nick Maragkos

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A few breaths away...

There is one thing all students in the world have in common: stress.
Stress about the exams, stress about the results, stress about their parents, stress because they haven’t studied enough, stress because maybe they will be reprimanded by the teacher if they don’t answer correctly, stress because maybe their fellow students will laugh at them and so on.
As I have mentioned before, I believe that an educator’s job is not only teaching. I mean, we spend most of the day with these children; they share their dreams and their fears with us… The least we can do is to help them overcome any difficulties they have. Be there for them, talk to them, help them face the world.
What they should learn from an early age is to be calm.
In the following worksheet, I am sharing three breathing exercises that will help you and your students be calm and face everyday challenges.

Breathing Exercise 1:
Are your students having a bad day? Is it their last hour at school and they are pretty noisy? Try this breathing exercise before starting your lesson.

Have them sit comfortably, resting their back.
They can close their eyes, but it is not necessary.
Inhale through the nose for a count of four and then exhale through the nose again for a count of four.
Do the same for about a minute.
This exercise is said to help take your mind off of bad thoughts and make you feel more relaxed.
You can try this yourself before sleeping.

Breathing exercise 2

This exercise can be performed in the exam period, when all students are more stressed than usual.

With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. The goal: 6 to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day to experience immediate reductions in heart rate and blood pressure.

Breathing exercise 3

This is a little treat to your students after an exam or a very stressful activity at the end of the lesson.
You can do this with slow music or with absolute silence.

Head straight towards that “happy place” no questions asked.
Have your students close their eyes and breathe deeply while focusing on pleasant, positive images to replace any negative thoughts. You can guide them controlling their breaths and telling them where to focus each time.

Suggested music:

Stanton Lanier: Wild flowers

Kiss the rain
Rhian Sheehan - Sileo