Saturday, December 29, 2012

Less Traditional Hangman Stick Figures

Found the original source for the "9 ways of hangman" that has been floating around the web.

While I don't use any of these when I play with my student maybe you can add it to make hangman a bit more enjoyable. Remember to check out this post on Alternate Hangman if you are looking for other ways to spice up the classic hangman game for your class.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Another Comic for Your / You're

The other day I was arranging to get together with a guy friend via text message. 

While we are not romantically involved at all from time to time our conversation definitely gets flirty. This was one of those times. 

At some point in the banter he ended up using the wrong your and I instantly found him less attractive. 

Does that make me a grammar snob? Perhaps, but that doesn't make it any less true. 

This grammar comic is a good example of what I may want to implement in the future for your vs you're (and perhaps a helpful reminder to your students).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

15+ different Vocabulary Methods (How to teach words)

A key to learning any new language is new vocabulary! There are so many ways to



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Send Snowflakes to Sandy Hook

I recently saw a post on FaceBook inviting people to send snowflakes to Sandy Hook. I did my research and this is legit.

Basically, when January rolls around and school resumes the students will be in a new building. Parent-volunteers are working hard to make sure that the students are welcomed back into a winter wonderland. Part of that means they are decorating the school with as many unique snowflakes as possible. 

Teachers, students, and everyone else are encouraged to send snowflakes, the request encouraged creativity,  to the school (remembering that snowflakes are just like us, and should be as unique possible).

If you have the time and desire please make and send snowflakes by January 12, 2013 to the Connecticut PTSA:

Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514

If you aren't artistically inclined, but feel the need to help donations will be accepted indefinitely to the Connecticut PTSA “Sandy Hook Fund” to provide ongoing support to the community at the same address above.

I don't know about everyone else, but I can barely stop crying. I avoid the news and news pages because the stories about Sandy Hook just cause me to cry. The story of the teacher's reactions from locking their students in bathrooms and repeating that they loved them so they would hear that and not the bullets, to literally shielding them from bullets with their own bodies bring tears to my eyes every time. The stories of marriage proposals teachers will never hear, or movies they will never see bring tears to my eyes. And the children...the little girl who begged her mom to wear her pink Christmas dress that day, and now it will be the last thing she ever wore... it is all just so horrible.

This is the chance to do something small, just sending a snowflake, and hope that it will somehow help. Regardless of the size of the act, it just seems to make things a tiny bit better.

Maybe it will help you too?

If you have any ideas of how to make this a lesson plan for different levels, or just want to share your finished product feel free to comment here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What are you waiting for? See the world! Take a risk!

I love my life.

  • I love that I decided to study in Singapore 7 years ago.
  • I love that I backpacked around Asia before coming home that Winter.
  • I love that I studied in Spain 5 years ago.
  • I love that before Spain I had a chance to explore Europe.
  • I love that I studied in Turkey that Summer.
  • I love that I taught in Korea.
  • I love that I saved money and traveled Europe before I came home.
  • I love that I did the Camino de Santiago.
  • I love that I au paired in the Netherlands while I got my CELTA.
  • I love that I took a job in a "narco" city in Madrid (I love my University).

That being said, there are other ways to tilt at windmills. Take some risks. Try that new restaurant. Learn to use chopsticks. Rock a new microbrew. Try a different way to teach. Give yourself personal challenges and enjoy life!


I am glad I try to find new ways to implement movies all the time. I like using music during class (and not just in clozes). I like that I try new things I learn from webinars (like flipped classes and dynamic assessment)

What windmills have you tilted at lately?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Read 12 books. Write 12 essays. Spend 48 fewer days in jail.

My favorite fictional prison library from the Shashank
My students, and some friends, often ask me what the point of essays are. Why do they need to learn essay format? What are the pluses of knowing how to arrange a paragraph? Who cares?!?

I normally try to explain that the processes of brainstorming, organizing, and supporting their opinions are skills which are applicable to so many other areas. 

As valid is that argument is, now I have a new answer, the ability to write an essay could lower your time in prison!

According to a Reuters' article Reading offers Brazilian prisoners quicker escape a federal prison in Brazil is offering the chance for inmates to knock 4 days off of their sentence if they read a work of literature, philosophy, science or one of the classics and write an essay on the subject (for a maximum of 48 days).

Their essay MUST have proper paragraphs, use appropriate margins, be legible, and "be free of corrections."

Not every prisoner will be eligible for this, but nonetheless I will be using this as a solid reason why essay writing extends past academics.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

More on inferring

I had an earlier post talking about how my students struggled with inferring. Shortly after, Roque Ehrhardt de Campos from Brazil e-mailed me a story that also showed the importance of proper inferring.

She was in the middle of the road. The noise of my motorbike frightened her and she didn't know which way to run. She just stood there, immobile, watching the motorbike as it came towards her. Suddenly, when we were side by side on the road, she jumped forward in front of me. I tried to stop the motorbike, but it was too late. The motorbike hit her. We fell to the ground and I landed on top of her. For a moment I held her body in my arms. It was warm and soft. She was trembling with fear and her heart was beating fast. In a second, she was on her feet again. She disappeared into the trees at the side of the road. She wasn't hurt  just frightened. I wasn't hurt either but my motorbike was damaged, so I pushed it into the trees and I started to walk home slowly before it became dark. I felt happy and excited. 
Questions you could ask your students.

1. Who did the man hit?

2. What clues does the story give you to let you come to that conclusion?

3. Did you think something different when you first started reading? Why?

4. Why did you decide that your first guess was wrong?

It also reminds me of the riddle

A boy and his father were in a car accident. The father died immediately and the boy was rushed to the hospital. When he arrived the surgeon said, "I can't operate on this boy he's my son." How is this possible?
1. How is it is possible?

2. Why isn't that the first assumption that people come to?

3. Would this riddle be effective in Spanish? Why or why not?

If you by chance don't know the riddle already or need help understanding the first passage just comment and I'll respond with more details.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fight! Fight! A playful way to have a "snowball fight" to review topics

I remember in high school one teacher, who I can't remember exactly...either an English or History teacher, had us push the desk and chairs to each side of the class making two "trenches." We balled up old quizzes, tests, and homework, and for about five minutes threw the paper balls back and forth at each other. I can't remember the point of the lesson, but I do remember it was lots of fun! So when Lee Adams told me about a review activity he played involving balled up paper I was hooked. He thinks he got it from The Accelerated Learning Handbook.

  1. Basically each student gets a piece of scratch paper (be it homework that you accidentally photocopied with a typo and it thus is trash or any other one side free page). I often tell them they can use old math or chemistry assignments to get more of a cathartic relief. 
  2. On the paper they legibly write a question in English from something that we covered (or that I have told them will be on the test). 
  3. They each ball up the piece of paper and wait.
  4. Once everyone is ready set a timer for 30 seconds (if you have an IWB or projector I suggest the bomb countdown). 
  5. Let chaos break out as the students have 30 seconds to pelt the "snowballs" at one another (and probably the teacher too).
  6. When the timer goes off they have to grab the "snowball" closest to them. 
  7. The teacher takes turns calling on volunteers to read their question and come up with the answer.

As always, I can think of a few alternatives

  • Make the snowballs yourself. Now this is one less step for the students, but if you have specific things you want covered it may be better. Hand out the paper as though it were a one page quiz and then tell the students to ball it up! That will make them happy :-)
  • Make it a competition. My teenagers LOVE competing against one another. So do it like my high school teacher did. Divide the class into two groups. At the end if they answer their review question right, their team gets 10 points. If they don't get it right, let their team help them out and if as a team they are correct they get 5 points. (Let the other team steal after that for 5 points i f you wish)
  • Code it! Give each student a different color paper (or save the planet and use scratch paper that you've put different symbols onto). Tell them that a blue (or smiley face) paper is vocabulary, a green (or star) is relative clauses, a red (or circle) is short story, etc. That way they are still writing the questions, but you can promise a variety of categories at least. 
  • Use it for new vocabulary or grammar. Have them write a sentence with a blank for the vocab word (or draw a picture of the vocabulary word) OR have them write an example of the new grammar and the student has to guess the grammar (or vice versa, they write the grammar topic and the student would need to give a sample sentence).
So there we go, a great way to get the blood pumping in your class!

Would you use this in your class? Would you change it first? What other ideas does it give you?

Why administrators can't always trust students

I've seen a lot of discussions lately talking about the pros and cons of having teacher evaluations. 

Personal thoughts: 

I think that student evaluations should be done. I think that we should look over evaluations and consider carefully what students have said and why they may have said it. As my boss always tells us when he hands out evaluations, "Let’s remember that even the best surveys tend to provide us with something that we need to think about."

At ITESM teachers are graded on a scale of 0-5. 0 being perfect and 5 being... not so perfect. We are expected to get an average of under 2. If we are over 3 we need to seriously re-evaluate our lessons.  

However, as far as administration goes, I think that evaluations should, indiviually, be taken with a grain of salt. After all, as the comic humorously shows what the administrator sees is not always an accurate depiction of the class. I do not think a teacher should be given a raise because or good evaluations nor fired because of bad ones. If anything, the evaluations may provide a reason for the classes to be monitored so an administartor can see what is going on first hand.

If interested you can check out some of my past student evaluations here and here

What do you think? Are student evaluations a valuable tool or simply a way to reward the "cool" or "pretty" teachers.

Friday, December 7, 2012

5 Random Study Hints to Share with Your Students

One of the reasons students don't preform well on tests is stress. Tests are stressful! They study and then promptly forget everything.

In addition to having my students prepare for their tests by studying I also tend to give them some random hints. Do these help? I think yes! But, mainly I think that they help students feel that they've made an extra step and thus are more prepared.

1. Use your sense of smell/taste!
When studying burn a candle/incense with a certain happy scent and then when you take the test or quiz where a perfume/cologne or have a satchel of the fabric which smells the same with you. Your brain will recall the information you studied more readily as it associates the smell with the information. Also, your brain is more likely to remember pleasant information. This means that if you eat ice cream while you study your brain stores this in the "happy" place. This is easier to go ahead and buy an extra pint of ice cream.

2. Chew Gum / Fidget
By chewing gum and/or fidgeting during the test/quiz you will be keeping your blood moving. That means that your blood goes towards your brain faster and you think "better." No idea if this is true or not, but I think the fact that they are moving tends to get rid of their nerves during the test which is just as important.

3. Brain Gym!
I give my student some moves that allegedly have the left side of their brain contact the right side more efficiently (with your right hand trace 4 triangles, simultaneously with your left hand trace 4 squares). I have read mixed reviews on this, but again, I feel that it gives them something to do when they are freaking out which they believe helps them. Thus, with the placebo effect, it does!

4. Eat a good breakfast
I still remember taking those STAR tests when I was younger and my teachers would bring in OJ, cheese and crackers. It goes with reason. Think of Maslov's pyramid. When someone is hungry they can't learn. When your stomach controls you, you aren't thinking correctly. So by eating a solid breakfast (fish for the omega if possible) their brain works better and their stomach won't bother them.

5. Have a good night's sleep
I remember that in Psych 101 in college we learned how short term memory is converted into long term memory. He told us the only way cramming would work was if we crammed really hard, went to sleep and then went straight to the test. Otherwise it probably won't function. Regardless of cramming it is the same as above. If you are falling asleep your brain will not work so be sure to get a good night's sleep.

Do you have any unique advice that anyone ever gave you? Or weird advice that you give your students?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

British Council's Blog for November

 The British Council's facebook page has shortlisted a recent Blog for their TeachingEnglish blog award for November.

"In this blog post – I am thinking of a word that rhymes with.... – Carissa Peck describes a class activity that:
– practises rhymes
– practises interrogative statements (making questions).
– practises basic vocabulary and defining words in English.
– helps students practise thinking and forming sentences in English.

If you like it too, give it a "like" here (or click on the picture).

If you haven't checked out the post yet you can find it

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