The Day Sting Came to Our Classroom – A Lesson Plan on “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You”

As I have mentioned in other blog posts, I love teaching with songs – and students love it too, even if they have never heard the specific songs before! I must admit that very often I use songs I personally love – and today’s is one of them. Sting is one of my favourite artists and the particular song is super too, I think.

I have also realised that I have a lot of lesson plans with songs and I will share them more often in the future!

The song I have chosen and have used with my students in Greece and now here in Switzerland is If I Ever Lose My Faith in You. Depending on the context and country, it could be slightly controversial – but the activities I have created are pretty neutral. I hope you enjoy them and if you have more ideas, feel free to share in the comments!

Here is the video:

And the lesson plan.

Conferences, Workshops and Swapshops – PD in Focus 1

(from bottom left) Tyson Seburn, Steve Muir, Fiona Mauchline, Eva Buyuksimkesyan and myself at TESOL France

(from bottom left) Tyson Seburn, Steve Muir, Fiona Mauchline, Eva Buyuksimkesyan and myself at TESOL France

After last Sunday’s webinar for BELTA Belgium, I have decided to start a series of posts, each one focusing on every point raised in my presentation, both for novice teachers and experienced ones. As I mentioned in the webinar, a good teacher is a constant learner – so regardless of the years one has been teaching, Professional Development should always have a pivotal role.

Let’s start with the first point – which is also one of my favourites: conferences, workshops and swapshops, the latter being a new kind of event and one that I find very interesting.

  • First of all, it helps tremendously to know which events we will attend and where. As we are all educators and work hard to earn our income, it is crucial to plan our events based on our budget. There are so many things going on, either at our own local level or internationally. An easy and practical way to find out where various conferences are going on is to look at Tyson Seburn‘s amazing ELT Calendar on his blog.

Second, it also helps to be a member of an association as we can get a lot of perks, such as free attendance to events, or at a discount (even the magazine or newsletter, electronic or paper). It is impossible to be members of all the associations we would like to, but nowadays most of them are affordable and allow us to register for multiple ones.

Now, on to the whywhy should we attend all these events? Don’t we already have enough to do, besides teaching, marking, preparing?

  • These events serve as a boost, a nice charge-up of our skills, ideas and motivation! A lot of educators including myself feel fully charged after a conference or workshop. You are just ready and looking forward to using the ideas you got in our own classroom, changing your methods, experimenting to see how the students will respond. Sometimes it might be the case that these ideas don’t work, but at least you have tried something different.
  • Suggest ideas! A lot of sessions, or workshops, are highly interactive – the speakers include the audience as well.So that way you can come forward and mention an idea you have used in your own classroom, or how you would use the idea you just heard from the speaker. Instant feedback. (I just love these sessions where everyone can take part!)
  • Conferences are not only the sessions themselves. Breaks are amazing opportunities to meet new people or come together with people you already know and talk with them, share your own experiences and compare your contexts, share ideas you got if you have attended different sessions. Networking, as it is called. Some of the best discussions I remember having have been during lunch or coffee breaks.
  • You can listen to great speakers from all around the world. How great is that? : )
  • Present! It might seem intimidating (and I am definitely far from being an experienced speaker) but it is a great experience. It is a great opportunity to share your ideas with others and do something new.

Swapshops: They are a relatively new kind of event. What happens there is that everyone can present an idea of their own – a lesson plan, idea, technique that they see has worked for their classrooms and would like to exchange with the other teachers. Usually it is a timed presentation 7-8 minutes, or more. It is so interesting! I love how everyone participates and the enthusiasm is contagious! You can leave a swapshop with a lot of ideas.

Any other reasons you consider conferences and events a s a great way of developing professionally? Feel free to add a comment.

Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.

Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.

Problem Solving in Business English

Problem solving helps the students with their language learning and to find solutions as well! (Image taken from http://www.biomethica.it)

As I have mentioned before, this year I teach mainly adults in a number of contexts: some work in banks or various companies (software, packaging). Very often they have meetings to attend, where they are asked by their colleagues and managers to help resolve problems or conflicts. And they have to do it…in English!

What I do with them (not something ground-breaking, a very simple idea) is that I try to think of potential problems they may have at work, such as:

1. What do you do if a colleague of yours is constantly late?
2. What happens if your boss asks you to work with your team at the weekend to finish off a project (and you are not that keen on working weekends)?
3. You have been working for months on installing a new computer programme for the company / bank and they call you from the US in the middle of the night, asking you to resolve it then and there!

And other issues like that. Of course, because I am learning their line of work from them (there are so many terms especially in IT and as I have recently learned, in packaging too!) I ask my students what kind of problem they would expect to face at some point. I make a list of all these and prepare role-plays and use them with them (some can be used with many groups!).

This idea is also in the amazing book Five-Minute Business English Activities by Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton, under the title of Crisis! – the idea is to present the students with a crisis they need to solve.

Most of the times I come into the room, putting on a dramatic face in order to set the crisis atmosphere and announce: People, we have a problem. I was fired! or Our new system is down! or something like that. It is unbelievable how they play into the drama and participate! Depending on the culture you are teaching in though, care must be taken not to scare the students or create unnecessary panic. For example in some cultural contexts I cannot imagine the teacher going into the classroom dramatically yelling that there is a crisis. It would make the students uncomfortable.

This activity has helped my students a lot, as they are pulled into it by the nature of it. They do not even realise when they start speaking and we get lots out of it. Sometimes we get lots of laughs too!

An #ELTChat Summary – What do we do when a lesson goes horribly wrong? How do you cope and recover?

What if the students are not so concentrated – what if the lesson is not going well? (Image from #eltpics – taken by Laura Phelps @pterolaur)

Today’s lunchtime ELTChat was about yet another very interesting topic. It has happened to all of us – a lesson goes wrong, the opposite of what we expected. How do we handle it?

We started off with what kind of bad lessons there are:
- Losing the students; when they do not co-operate or understand
- A tech glitch that throws the planned lesson completely off track
- The lesson not meeting our expectations, leaving the students and ourselves confused
- When something exciting has happened before the lesson and the students find it difficult to concentrate
- In general, our lesson plan going completely awry

How do we know?
- The students have a confused / glazed over look
- The student in one case informed the teacher, quite rudely, that she did not want to do the task designated
- In another case, a student ran out of the class crying

And here came some really great replies:
What do we do in these cases?
- We reached a general consensus that it is better to switch activities and after the lesson, sit down and reflect on what went wrong. It is not advisable to do away with the said lesson plan, but it is even better to adjust/change it, in order to use it more effectively in the future.
- It was mentioned that it is a great idea to have fillers up our sleeves to manage in such situations, when something does not work.
- It is generally better to sometimes admit in class that something did not work / was not suitable and perhaps even discuss with the students what went wrong / what could be done better next time.
- Having the confidence to stop is a great thing; acknowledge an idea is not working and just move on. Keeping yourself calm is also important, as it can be a difficult moment.
- Leave space to customise for each student / group of stiudents. It is essential to be flexible with our lesson plans.

Lessons that do not work can leave inexperienced teachers lacking in confidence. What would we advise them?
- That it is okay when a lesson fails – it can prove to be a learning experience. What happened? What was the lesson plan like? Which group were you teaching on the given day?
- There was a very nice quote: “Making mistakes shows you are trying!”
- A bad day can happen to anyone.

Useful links that came up during the talk:
- Jane and Dave Willis’ ELT Website.
- Cybraryman’s Lesson Plans page.

Today’s super moderators were:
- Shaun Wilden (@ShaunWilden)
- James Taylor (@theteacherjames)

Today’s contributors were:
- Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses)
- Naomi Epstein (@naomishema)
- Mike Griffin (@michaelegriffin)
- Evidence-Based EFL (@EBEFL)
- TtMadrid TEFL Course (@TtMadridTEFL)
- Amelie Silvert (@TeacherSilvert)
- Gisele Santos (@feedtheteacher)
- Julie Moore (@lexicojules)
- Leo Selivan (@leoselivan)and also introducing wonderful teachers in Azerbaijan to Twitter! @Samiratey, @FatimaFatima28, @Sevinc8996, @taira_akhundova, @OfeliyaG
- Stephanie McIntosh (@purple_steph)
- Tamas Lorincz (@tamaslorincz)
- M. Lincoln (@arrudamatos)
- Oksan Yagar (@OksanYagar)

My First Lesson – A Post for the #ELTChat blog challenge

The Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki where I spent four years (Image taken from http://www.auth.gr)

First lessons, first lessons…. do I remember my first one ever? I sure do! I have not kept my lesson plan, or have any photos or any other things from that day – I just remember that I was 19 years old and a student at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

As a part of a course called Teaching in Secondary Education, we went several times to observe a high school class before we were actually asked to (gulp!) teach the kids. Imagine that our age difference was so small, I was 19 and the kids were 17. Thoughts that went through our heads? (We were a group of four who were going to teach individually on four consecutive days.) Will the kids like us? Will they think that we are too young to teach them? Of course, the students knew why we were there, but still… In addition, the school was in one of the most underprivileged areas of Thessaloniki and some of the kids were in gangs, some were taking drugs, which made it even harder.

I do not remember which coursebook we were using (perhaps I have all this material in Greece, I have to check next time I am there) but I do remember it was a lesson on graffiti. I was to do a listening task with them, which I thought I could expand into a speaking task as well. I have no recollection of anything else. The night before I did not sleep a wink – I was constantly getting up and looking at the book, practising what I would say and thinking the worst scenarios, that they would laugh at me. My clothes were hanging on a chair. I was going to wear a bright blue cardigan and jeans (it is so strange what our brain manages to keep as a memory!).

I went in the following morning to a group of twenty or so very chatty and hyper-energetic 17-year-olds and I was thinking “How will I ever get their attention?” so I suddenly blurted out “OK, who likes soccer?” They suddenly stopped talking and started shouting out only the names of their favourite teams and commenting later…in English! (Thessaloniki has three very popoular soccer teams, PAOK, Aris and Heracles). I was thinking, oh no, their teacher (who was sitting at the back) is going to be so disappointed I did not start immediately with the book (little did I know back then!). I slowly pulled them into the lesson with graffiti (I connected it to soccer, as the walls in Thessaloniki were covered with sometimes really beautiful graffiti related to soccer among others).

I cannot remember too many details and it is a shame I have not found my notes or plans of the day. The teacher liked how I managed to get their attention and the kids said they liked it at the end! I was a happy 19-year-old (and I learned successful teaching does not mean open the book to page 34 at the beginning of a lesson!) – I was so encouraged by this experience, that I started teaching as a private teacher after that.

TESOL France 30th Colloquium – Day Three (#TESOLFr)

And after two fantastic days of learning and connecting, the third day arrived which was equally super! There was only one difference though…we were all feeling sad at the end of it, because we would have to end a great conference and say goodbye to very good friends.

Willy Cardoso

The third day started off with a session by Willy Cardoso, Classroom Management – Who’s (Really) in Charge? It was the first time I had attended a talk by Willy. I am a big fan of his blog, Authentic Teaching - if you have not read his posts, I would highly recommend them!

I absolutely loved Willy’s talk. He shared his personal experiences in class with his students in London – Willy told us of how he gave his students ownership of the lessons. They felt comfortable enough to ask him to do something particular they liked in the next lesson and it worked – Willy had the greatest of lessons with them! They were still learning. He also spoke of seating arrangements that he changes all the time according to what he wants to do with students in class. I wish I could have seen one of Willy’s lessons!

Simon Greenall

After that, I had the privilege of attending the talk of a person I have admired for years for his work, and have had the good luck of meeting personally – and is a fantastic person as well – Simon Greenall! Simon talked about a subject very close to my heart, that of culutre and diversity, which I have mentioned many times in the past as an integral part of my teaching. In his talk Mind the Gap: Designing Materials and Activities for Intercultural Training, Simon spoke to us about how he has integrated culture in his books and materials – the sensitivity we should have towards people of various cultures in our teaching, in order to pass this on to our students and show them that these cultural differences are important in order to bring tolerance in our classes.

Arjana Blazič

Another one of my favourite people on Twitter was up next – Arjana Blazič and her workshop Testing, testing, 1 , 2, 3! Arjana is a multi-awarded educator from Croatia with two blogs: her own and one she has organised with her IT specialist at school to help students in their Matura exams.

Arjana, who integrates technology extensively in her classes, introduced us to a multitude of web tools in order to help our students with quizzes and online testing. The great thing was that on these websites teachers and students can be very flexible and create quizzes of their own. Arjana did a great job of pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of these web tools, which ones we could use free of charge and which we have paid versions of. You can see her presentation and all the slides including all the web tools on her blog.

Geoff Tranter

The conference closed with a fantastic plenary by Geoff Tranter, called That’s a Funny way to Learn a Language! Geoff has an amazing sense of humour (which he also showed us during the Open Mic night the evening before) and demonstrated how we can use it in class effectively – he showed us funny acronyms, riddles, funny signs and newspaper headlines we can use in our classes! I liked what Geoff said at one point: If your students are making humorous remarks in a foreign language, you have come a long way with them. I really enjoyed this closing plenary, as it was full of tips and also quite different.

After the conference, the BESIG weekly workshop, with Helen Strong this time, was broadcast in the amphitheatre – some watched it, some of us had to leave Paris unfortunately, and a great conference and very good friends behind.

As a closing treat to these three posts about the respective days of the TESOL France conference, I have some photos for you! I hope you enjoy them.

The Thevenin Amphitheatre filling up

With Sue Lyon-Jones and Sue Annan

With Ania Musielak

With Brad Patterson

With James Taylor

With Arjana Blazic

With Anna Loseva, in front of her poster presentation

With Elizabeth Anne

With Isil Boy

Mike Harrison, James Taylor, Sandy Millin and Sue Lyon-Jones before Ania Musielak's presentation

A restaurant full of tweeters!

TESOL France 30th Colloquium – Day Two (#TESOLFr)

And after the excitement of Day One…Day Two came along for all of us to learn, connect and have fun!

Mike Harrison

I started my day with Mike Harrison’s super session Before Words: Ideas for Using Images and Sound in the Classroom. It was the first time I had attended Mike’s session and I loved it! I got so many ideas about what you can do with pictures and sound effects in class. We even did a visual poem. I teamed up with Deniz Atesok, a great educator from Turkey in the activities that Mike showed us and we came up with some great ideas! I will definitely be using his ideas with my students – and I will definitely be attending more of his sessions in the future. You can find a plethora of ideas on his great blog! A big thank you to Mike!

Anna Musielak

Right after Mike – the drama specialist and enthusiastic presenter (and very good friend – I am so happy to know her!) Anna Musielak! Ania’s presentation was called Break the Ice with Drama. I had seen Ania last year as well and I could not wait to attend her session this year either!

Ania presented so many ideas, you definitely have to catch her at a conference – her enthusiasm is amazing and so are her ideas, which work with all ages. We took part in many activities and could see in practice how great these ideas are. I loved how Ania’s ideas made everyone so enthusiastic, lots of people volunteered to take part in the activities. Lots and lots of ideas. Ania is also star guest blogger on many blogs, including mine. Her posts are definitely worth reading! Thanks so much, Ania!

Cecilia Lemos

After our lunch break, it was time to see Cecilia Lemos in action in her session, Ideas for Improving Studentsʼ Writing Skills: My Experience. Ceci gave us amazing ideas of how to integrate writing actively in our classes – a skill that has been often disliked by students for the reason that (we have all heard it and Ceci pointed it out as well) they have nothing to write. She introduced us to some nice tips for writing, such as motivating the students into writing the essay paragraph by paragraph wothout even realising it, and then putting them all together to make their very own writing piece – and prove to themselves that they can write! I also like how Ceci told us how she motivates her kids to read – they all read the same book, which she has chosen carefully to be apporopriate for all tastes and for both genders. She has also done a webinar on the same topic which you can see, along with other super posts, on her blog.

Luke Meddings

Right after, it was time for the one and only Luke Meddings and his plenary Dogme and the City.

I really liked how Luke paralleled language learning and teaching and exploring the city of Paris. It was a really great pleasure to listen to Luke and talk to him afterwards – we also enjoyed his Greta Garbo impersonation!

Thanks for a great plenary, Luke! Truly enlightening and I look forward to attending more talks from Luke in the future.

 

Marisa Constantinidis

Then it was time for Marisa Constantinidis – her session was The Reading Challenge: Motivation & creativity in reading lessons. Lots of educators heistate to use reading texts in their classes because they think the students may get bored. Marisa showed us so many ways to utilise texts in class successfuly, and get lots of things from them! She weaved reading texts into so many activities and extended them to speaking as well. I loved Marisa’s ways of motivating students to read – it counts to a great extent on how teachers present a reading text for the students to approach it! A great presentation form a wonderful person and educator! Read Marisa’s excellent blog  for more great ideas – I am giving a link to her very imimportant challenge for people with disabilities, which she pointed out in Paris as well and I believe is a very important issue for all educators to keep in mind.

Ceri Jones

Right after Marisa, the last session of the day I attended was Ceri Jones’s, You’ve Got Mail. She gave us very interesting ideas on how to use e-mail in class, as a means of communication with our students (letting them know what has happened in case of absence, for instance, but also as an exchange of language between the teacher and students). Ceri and her students did an excellent job in extending their linguistic abiltites and improving significantly in writing – something I found very interesting, as I communicate a lot with my students via e-mail, almost on a daily basis. I am definitely taking a lot of ideas from Ceri’s session! Read her super blog Close Up – great work there!

Then we had the Open Mic Night, which was a huge success and so much fun! Lots of singing, juggling, poetry reading – you name it : )

Classroom Activities for Young Learners – Guest Post by Christina Markoulaki (@christina_mark)

I have the great honour to present my new guest blogger to you – a wonderful educator from Crete, Greece: Christina Markoulaki! I have connected with Christina on Twitter and hope one day to meet her face-to-face. She is an enthusiastic teacher and blogger and also an iTDi Associate.

Thank you so much for your fantastic post, Christina!

1) Alphabet cards

Proudly showing our carefully arranged cards!

The students who start their journey in the English language are always very happy to make their very own alphabet cards. All they need is some cardboard paper (or any colored paper) cut in small square pieces and their crayons. On one side of the card, they can write the letter in uppercase and lowercase, while on the other they can write the word that begins with that letter and draw a picture of the word. This activity does not take considerable classroom time and is always welcome by the children.

Mickey can join in the fun, too!

As soon as the cards are prepared, the games that can be played with them are endless! The ones that never fail to excite my students are ‘Find the letter/ word’, ‘Form the word’, You are the Teacher’ and, of course, ‘Letter Bingo’. Judging by the names, it can easily be understood that the first games are a product of my inspiration during a cheerful lesson with the juniors, while the last one is well-known worldwide.

 Students can be divided in groups before they have a go at these games and learn how to collaborate from an early age. Each group can win points for each correct answer it gives, which makes things even more suspenseful! 

‘Form the word’ game

In the first game I mentioned before, the teacher pronounces a word or a letter and the learners have to pick up the correct card as quickly as possible. In the second one, they need to form the word they hear using the cards in front of them and in the third case they are allocated the teacher’s role, now having the opportunity to test their classmates’ knowledge of the alphabet by asking them to raise the card of the letter or word they utter.

The final activity is exactly the same as the popular Bingo game, but involves the use of letters, not numbers. Based on that, the students have to choose their favorite six (that is the usual number of cards allowed in my classes) letters/ words and have the cards depicting them laid on the desk. While the teacher (or another student) pronounces random letters or words, the players remove the letter they hear in case this is depicted in one of the cards they decided to keep in front of them. The first player (pair/ team) that has no cards left can happily exclaim ‘Bingo’! Admittedly, this is everyone’s favorite part of the game and can be heard from time to time even from passionate players who have not won!   

2) Grammar train

Past Continuous: Affirmative

Are your students bored with grammar rules and formulas? Turn everything into a train and they will love it! The inspiration for such a venture came after attending a seminar, where a quite similar idea was presented, but I decided to develop it a bit further and design my own wagons on my computer. This allowed me to visualize any grammar rule I wanted as well as include some funny figures in each wagon (famous people, cartoons or colorful pictures) to give the learners something more to be excited about!

Past Simple vs Present Perfect Simple

The idea is rather straightforward: you can design a wagon on your screen on a Word or Pages document by placing a rectangular shape on top of several circles which serve as the ‘wheels’ of the train. Needless to say, you could simply use a readily made picture of a train and paste the grammar parts on it, as I have done in order to create the first, and most impressive, wagon; that which contains the subject of the clause! 

The whole activity can be extremely amusing, apart from educational, since the students need to change positions to rearrange the parts of each tense if they want to form the affirmative, interrogative and negative versions of it.  Once again, the students can be divided into groups which should coordinate to quickly form the tense the teacher dictates. 

 Imagination poses no limits! Feel free to apply these ideas in your classroom and let me know how the experience was.  

Christina Markoulaki

Christina Markoulaki is an EFL teacher in Greece, where she was also born.

She is fortunate enough to have been trusted with students of all ages and levels within her 5 working years, their ages ranging from 5 to 50 years old!

Using modern technology in the classroom to create new learning experiences is what fascinates her. All links concerning the school she works in can be found on this colourful glog!

Blog: Teaching and Learning English

Twitter: @christina_mark

 


If “Google” is Translating Then I’ll Start Revamping – Guest Post by Naomi Ganin Epstein

What a great honour for me to have Naomi Ganin-Epstein, a wonderful educator from Israel, write a guest post for the blog. Ever since I connected with Naomi on Twitter, I am always happy to see her online and exchange ideas and links – she is so enthusiastic and passionate about what she does and she does a fascinating job as well. Thank you so much, Naomi!

Naomi introduces herself:

Naomi Ganin-Epstein

For the past twenty-six years I have specialized in teaching English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing pupils in Israel. I began my carreer as an elementary school teacher but have taught high-school for the last 22 years. I have a B.A. in Deaf Education, a B.E.D. in EFL and an M.A. in Curriculum Development. I’m the author of two textbooks for these pupils. I am both a teacher and a teacher’s counselor. I blog at: Visualising Ideas and on twitter: @naomishema. I live in Kiryat-Ono, Israel, with my husband and two sons.

“Google Translate” has been around for quite a while. Before that there were online bilingual dictionaries, which were, in turn, preceded by electronic dictionaries. Students have been using these to do their homework assignments for years. Therefore, I assume you are wondering why I am bringing up the impact of “Google Translate” on homework assignments at this time and whether or not I’ve been asleep till now!

photo by Gil Epshtein


In order to explain, let’s backtrack a bit.

When electronic bilingual dictionaries were first introduced many teachers were concerned that giving a student an electronic dictionary is akin to giving him /her all the answers! That is simply not true. The English language is complex, many words have multiple meanings, use of idioms is common and the grammatical structure of the language is very different from that of Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic (Israel’s official languages). A student needs a command of syntax and grammar in order to choose the right dictionary entry for a given context. In addition, he/she must be able to think in a flexible manner when translating and reorganizing words translated into meaningful chunks. Consider the following sentence:
When Dan arrived he found out that there was no room in the car left for him.
If a student chooses the first meaning appearing in the dictionary for every word in this sentence the result will be a totally incomprehensible sentence. The jumble of unrelated words would probably include “left” as a direction, “room” as something with four walls, and “found out” probably wouldn’t be found (in the electronic dictionary) at all!

Knowledge is required in order to use a dictionary efficiently and correctly–using it mechanically will not improve a student’s results. In addition, a student who hasn’t studied at all and looks up every single word in the dictionary will not finish the exam in the allotted time, even if that student is eligible for “extra time on exams”. An electronic dictionary (only a good quality one, of course!) is a very useful tool and I am delighted to have my students use it.

When computers became household items students began using online bilingual dictionaries to do their homework assignments. These were essentially the same as electronic dictionaries – both required the user to type in one word at a time.

However, “Google Translate” changed the rules of the game. Now students can type / paste entire chunks of text into it and get a translation. Regardless of what you may think of the quality of the resulting translation, we have passed the “point of no return”. The ease and speed of the translation process is too enticing. In addition, teachers cannot control which dictionary a student uses outside of class.


At first, I was not too concerned about students using “Google Translate” for homework. Until fairly recently I gave homework assignments on handouts. Students had to sit and type in the sentences they wanted to translate. Typing in the words forced them to actually look at the words and pay attention to their spelling. As that process is slow, some of the students would look at a word to see it they knew it before investing the effort to type it in.

photo by Omri Epstein

But recently I made the transition to giving online homework. I give short tasks which consist of activities usually centered on an unusual picture or video clip (more details about this can be found here). Sometimes the tasks deal with specific language points such as confusing words. No listening or speaking activities are used as my students are deaf and hard of hearing. The tasks are not based on the specific course books which the students use as I teach a myriad of levels and have divided all the pupils into four homework groups based on level (in order to preserve my own sanity!). I am very pleased with the transition – the number of students doing homework has risen dramatically and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the students feel more “noticed” since the change.

Every change is accompanied by new problems and this one is no exception to the rule. I have discovered the full impact “Google Translate” on online homework tasks. The vast majority of the students don’t even bother glancing at the reading comprehension activities – they simply copy and paste them into “Google Translate” and read them in their mother tongue.

Therefore, if “Google” is translating then I’ll start revamping (the structure of the homework assignments that is).

Here are some of the types of assignments I use and what their current status has become:

  1. Open ended questions – these are not seriously impacted by use of “Google Translate” mainly because if the student tries to use it as a shortcut to answering the questions (i.e. student writes answer in mother tongue and copies the resulting sentences in English) the result is very problematic. Example: Q: Why is this building shaped like a basket? The answer I would like to receive is: Because they produce baskets in this building. “Google Translate” ‘s answer is : “That this building produce baskets”. Google Translate DOES offer alternative translations for each word – if a student goes into details with that – I’m happy! However, giving open ended questions for every homework task is not suitable, especially for my really weak students.
  2. Sequencing sentences – one of my favorite reading comprehension homework assignments for weak learners was having them watch a short video clip and sequence the actions shown. With “copy and paste” the entire activity can now be done in mother tongue. This activity is now out!
  3. True / False sentences & Matching Pictures to Sentences– same problem! Out!
  4. Completing sentences with words and phrases from a word bank – this activity still works reasonably well if the word bank is at the bottom of the page, in a box. I’ve seen students working in class this way – they end up copying / pasting the word bank several times in order to complete the sentences. The more the students need to work with a word, the better. These students main exposure to the language is through their eyes, not their ears.
  5. Completing sentences without a word bank. I find this activity works well with the slightly stronger students. Even when the students are using “Google Tranlsator” to translate from both English and their mother tongue, completing a sentence demands demonstrating more of a command of syntax and grammar, yet is still easier (unless structured otherwise) than an open ended question. Once again I would like to emphasize that I am referring to tasks which are not centered on a text.
  6. Grammar tasks – they work well with the new translator as their focus is not on the vocabulary items in any case.

photo by Gil Epstein


Since I’m a firm believer in moving with the times, I’m turning to YOU, my online colleagues for more ideas regarding activities that actively encourage the student to use English while doing homework!

Blog Challenge – What’s Your Story?

My sister Gina and I, both educators, made a big change in our lives – What’s Your Story?

I am very happy to announce my first ever blog challenge called: What’s Your Story?

After writing on my blog about my experience on moving to Switzerland after closing our school in Greece, my adjusting to a new country, new job(s) and a new life in general, I would love to hear your story! For me, writing about it was like a catharsis, revisiting a difficult time in my life, which turned out to be the best decision I have ever made!

If you decide to take part in the challenge, it can be about anything you consider important in your life or career, that has helped shape you as a person or educator. You can decide what to share!

  • Have you made a big move?
  • A career change?
  • Have you been teaching and living in a country for a long time, but have seen changes in yourself as a person, educator or both?
  • Are you thinking of a change in the future?

You can choose! If you have your own blog, post your story there and I will also add the link on my blog, on this post, if it is okay with you as well. If you do not have a blog, feel free to send me your post at vickyloras@yahoo.ca and I will post it on my blog! Or ask a friend who has a blog, anything you like.

Thanks for reading and I will be very happy to read your stories – as I am sure lots of people out there are too!

Posts on What’s Your Story:

  • Matt Ray writes on his blog: I woke up that morning screaming in pain, struggling to move my legs. No doubt, I put quite a fright into my parents who, in the midst of our summer vacation, were confronted with their 6-year old son suddenly being unable to walk. [...]
  • Sue Annan writes her own story on her blog: When I left school I applied for the local Teacher Training College and was accepted. I was half way through the programme when… [...]
  • Sharon Hartle has shared her wonderful video-post Where English Has Taken Me Now for the challenge.
  • Paco Gascon shares how he went through a dilemma in his post: The point is writing about some kind of turning point in our life and/or career, so, I’m going to tell you about how I had to decide – in a matter of hours – whether to take up (again) a career as a secondary education teacher or to stick to a juicy full time contract at a graphic design studio. [...]
  • Read Tyson Seburn‘s post Turning Points in You Story: Do your colleagues know much about your language teaching background beyond a list of qualifications and positions of employment? Sharing where you began, your process of growth, and goals for the future can help inspire, foster and contribute to growth in members or your community, not to mention build a connection to individuals where there may have been little before. I hope sharing mine supports one of these. [...]
  • Read Lesley‘s post for the challenge: I’m going to tell the story about how I came to be an English language teacher. The last thing I thought I’d be when I was at school was a teacher.  Being a librarian was probably the second last thing.  But I’ve been both! [...]
  • Tinashe Blanchet has written This Is My Story: In response to Vicky Loras’ “What’s your Story?” challenge , I am posting a little of my personal story this morning in hopes that it will shed further light on why I do what I do. [...] I grew up on the west side of Chicago as the only child of a single mother. There were many issues between my mom and me, especially as I got older and began to test boundaries. [...]
  • Tuba Bauhofer explains how she learned a third language and how much it influenced her life in her post Bilinguality and Literacy by Manjula Datta: I read this book when I was doing my research for the assignment I had to write in my course. I liked how the writer referred to her own language learning experience as a foreigner in the UK. [...]
  • Faisal Shamali recounts a story of a student of his in his post Finally I Did It: My name is Musallum. I was in level One in FPU. I studied Speaking course with Mr. Faisal. I want to tell you about my story clearly and honestly. [...]
  • Tara Benwell has submitted a super video post about her story: How she has developed a great learning community on My English Club!
  • Read Janet Bianchini‘s beautiful and moving story The Abbruzzo Dream – My Story: Worlds apart yet a destiny foretold. My blood is 100% from Abruzzo, my heart is 100% British. Two countries forever intertwined from the moment of my birth. [...]
  • Read Luiz Reikdal‘s post of how his teaching and life changed through the use of technology: [...] Since November last year I started using and testing technology myself. That was breathtaking…by just visualizing the potentiaIity of Web 2.0 in the classroom. [...]
  • Fiona Price from England has written her beautiful story as well: My Story: [...] It was back in 1977, in the days of the Magic Bus, which involved a very long and extremely exhausting three-day coach trip to Athens with an overnight stop-over in Austria. [...]
  • Lu Bodeman from Brazil writes about her story: How she got into teaching and her beautiful multicultural background: [...] Well, I stumbled into the English language teaching profession, really. I never took formal language lessons, but discovered early in life (7 years old) how languages and culture would be important in my life. [...]
  • Naomi Epstein writes about the time she immigrated from the States to Israel, an eleven-year-old girl: [...] I was able to identify with her story of immigration as I moved to Israel from the United States when I was eleven years old. [...]
  • Arjana Blazic writes about her transformation as an educator: [...] Do I lead such an amazing life? Do I have such a story? I’ve never lived anywhere else but in Croatia. I’ve never done anything else but teach. I’m not thinking about a change in the future… [...]
  • Vicky Saumell writes about how she transformed into a full-time teacher: First of all, I want to be straightforward about the content of this post: it is not about technology. So I want to apologize in advance to my techie audience but I have wanted to write about this for a while and this is the best space for it, anyway. [...]
  • Işıl Boy  writes her story originally written for Dave Dodgson‘s great blog: First, I want to thank my dear course mate Dave for offering me to write a guest post on his insightful blog. We are both doing our master’s at the University of Manchester, Educational Technology and TESOL. [...]
  • Liam Dunphy takes us on a trip around the world with his beautiful story: [...] I grew up in Dun Laoghaire, a pretty seaside port town on the south side of Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. [...]
  • James Taylor celebrates his blogoversary and tells us his great story: [...] I studied Media Studies, specifically television production, at university. I studied it because I was, and still am, an avid consumer of the media and the arts. [...]
  • Mieke Kenis recounts her beautiful story of her love for teaching and England: [...] My story is a long one, as I have been teaching for 31 years but it’s a simple story as teaching is all I have ever done. I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. [...]
  • Dave Dodgson tells us his very interesting story:  [...] Over the last few weeks, I have thought a lot about what to write – the story of how and why I decided to enter the world of TEFL in the first place, what me me come to and stay in Turkey, how I ended up teaching kids, when I started to see this as my career and not just a way to live abroad or pay the bills…. [...]
  • Brad Patterson, a very good friend in France, has published his photo-blog story: Beautiful post and pictures! : Imagine a pilgrimage… where you trekked for month after month… and each step took you somewhere you’d never been before… [...]
  • Wiktor Kostrzewski writes his wonderful journey through English on his blog: [...] It’s late in the evening. We’re sitting in the kitchen, my Dad and I. We’re going through the first few pages of my first English textbook. My Dad asks a question, and I think long and hard before giving an answer. “Yes,” he says, surprised. “That’s not what the answer key says, but that’s also possible.” [...]
  • Ana Luisa Lozano writes her beautiful Ecuadorean story on her blog: [...] It has been a long learning and teaching path  since 1998, wonderful time in which  I have had the opportunity to teach  English to  Primary, Secondary and University students. [...]
  • Ann Loseva from Moscow writes her inspiring story – and gives us all a lot of inspiration and strength: [...] How have I become the teacher I am, the personality I think I am? Well, it does look to me like a pretty tough question to tackle. Many things have been happening shaping my teaching style and affecting my personality. [...]
  • Fiona Mauchline writes her story in parts and she has offered to add them to the blog challenge – parts of her childhood, parts of her life… The Art of Being Different Part One, The Art of Being Different Part Two, The Art of Being Different Part Three.