A Journey in Education – An Interview with Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai

About a year ago, I connected online with a very talented young lady – a teacher in Taiwan who is well-known on social media for her sharing and passion for education. May I present: Annie Tsai!

Annie Tsai had worked for a few radio stations as a copywriter but later on changed her career as an EFL teacher. After being in the same position for 9 years at a public elementary school, she decided to make a change again and she’s currently a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. She’s based in Taiwan but always on the track of going somewhere overseas. Other than being involved in local teacher’s training program, she’s also passionate in backpacking and trying her best to bring the world to her class. She has won a scholarship from Cambridge Global Teacher’s Essay Competition and she was also the winner of 2011 Everybody Up Global Sing-along Competition sponsored by Oxford University Press.

Vicky: Annie, I am so happy you have accepted to be interviewed on my blog. We have never met in person, however, from our connection on social media I have seen all the great things you do in your teaching and that is a huge reason why I wanted you to share everything with us!

Annie:  Thank you! I have enjoyed seeing your side of the world via FB. I think this is one of the best parts of being connected via social media. A group of people, albeit never met in real life, share the same passion and profession, which is the living proof of why learning a foreign language makes us a better person in so many levels. We learn to share and communicate and our perspectives can be so much more versatile in this way. It helps to have a clear mind, especially for educators joggling between teaching and management.

Vicky: How true! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – because it is so interesting to see their journeys entering education. How did you decide to join this field?

Annie: I had worked as a copywriter/planner at a couple of radio stations before changing lanes. In my last year at the media industry, I did some serious thinking of my future if I should continue to stay on the same path. That was the same year when the Taiwanese government decided to start the English education from elementary level. With my mom’s strong suggestion, I took the entrance exam they held and passed with flying colours. Thinking back now, it is a life-changing opportunity I hadn’t expected, considering my childhood memory with school wasn’t that rosy and shining. I have to admit that becoming a teacher is the most rewarding and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It makes me learn more about my strength and weakness. It is the kind of profession that makes you examine your personality and rationale in fairly frequent bases. As a person who had spent the better half of her career life in the media industry, I think it is fair to say that I’ve seen the scenery from both sides. Teaching is a highly self-motivated trade and it is more than often being misunderstood or underestimated by the public. Teaching, however, also brings undescribed joy of reward for numerous people. The longer I stayed in this profession, the more I realized that teachers can play far more important roles in the mini-society they walk in every day. Changes that last for a lifetime may start from a classroom.

Vicky: Wow! What an interesting journey. And in your teaching career so far, you teach Young Learners. What do you enjoy the most about these ages, and what are the challenges?

Annie:  Ah, the possibilities there can be and the generosity they can offer is the most important present and privilege a teacher may receive! I love helping these little people to learn the world as I know and knowing that the world is so big that every one of us might see only a fraction of it. The only way to learn the world is to see it in your own eyes. Thus it is a joyful achievement if you get the key to communicate with people from other parts of the world.  Often times my young learners surprise me in cute yet awkward moments. Here’s an example, being neighbored with an Air Force base means we all get used to the helicopter noise. At the beginning of this semester, several days after we covered the word helicopter, my children shout the word a few times during the class whenever they heard the whirling noise. Now of course I was a bit annoyed with the interruptions, but at the same time, it was such a memorable moment to see how they were so proud of themselves and they’ve made such a positive and strong connection with the foreign language.

Annie's kids involved in projects

Annie’s kids involved in projects

The challenges are always there but they can be presents as well. Since Taiwan is an EFL country, it is almost impossible to have sufficient and positive English exposure once pupils leave English class. And the education policy in regards of foreign language often fails to meet the needs of real teaching scenes. During my prior 9-year stint as an EFL subject teacher, I see my students twice every week, with only a 40-minute block in each session. Without effective and extensive schemes to help these young children to review the content, the language material can hardly sank in their brains. To make things harder to manage, classes always come in diverse abilities and I usually have around 300 students to teach annually.

The English teaching industry has always been an issue in the spotlight in Taiwan.  It is true that most people found it difficult to master the language to the level of real communication. It is also true that most people still see English as a subject to learn rather than a tool to master. Thus it is common for people to simply give up and steer away from anything related to English once the pressure of tests and exams are out of the picture. So my hope in switching from an EFL subject teacher to a homeroom teacher is to expend the horizon of teaching a foreign language. I believe that by planting the seeds in the earlier stage can motivates them to make an effort of keeping the language. Eventually it may trigger their minds in exploring the world years later.

Finally, I’d like to share that the difficult teaching context may be inspirational sometimes.  You wouldn’t try so hard to adjust and adapt if all things are good. That’s also one of the things I love about teaching. It is a comparatively secured profession in making renovations.

Vicky: That’s a beautiful statement you just made. And thank you for sharing your experiences with your young learners, and giving us some insight into the EFL context in Taiwan as well! So interesting.

Would you ever consider teaching adults? Have you ever done it?

Annie: Oops, sorry, I have very limited experiences in teaching adults.

Vicky: That’s fine! Let’s move on to something different now. You share and interact a lot on social media, and that is how we actually got to know each other. Do you think social media help educators, and if yes, how?

Annie:  I found social media very helpful in regards to connecting and sharing. It’s also a great platform for information and subjective perspectives.  It is especially beneficial for EFL teachers as they often play the role as the ambassadors of each respective culture. Such characteristic broaden the room for thinking and the definition of better practice of teaching. Even in a country as petite as Taiwan, the resources and intel from different corners of the island can be quite diverse. I’ve learned so much information from my peer via FB and it works like therapy groups sometimes! Social networking helps closing the gap between teachers and at the same time it weaves in new threads of thinking to the existing concept.

Annie's kids planning to send materials to Aphro's kids!

Annie’s kids planning to send materials to Aphro’s kids!

To make things more exciting, platforms like Twitter, FB and Pinterest, involves teachers in different time zones and together we get to converse in the comfort of our own sofa. Additionally, professional and independent EFL FB pages such as iTDi also bring in the self-helped professional development courses that I can easily enrolled and learn in my own pace. The interactions performed in these virtual spaces, are more often than not effective and to the point. Perspectives and knowledge are no longer limited in geography. That’s the most fascinating part of all these virtual networking, just like the way I’m doing an interview with you now!

Vicky: Isn’t it great? I am thrilled about this! And in addition, you are part of a fantastic international programme – your kids are pen pals with another class in Greece, that of Aphrodite Giouris, who is in Larissa. How did this project start? What do you do?

Annie:  I came across Aphro via Facebook; I think we have mutual friends and after several chats back and forth, we decided to partner our classes and do a series of exchanges. For my students, Greece is just as ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ as those Greek gods and goddess they read in the books. The project enables my children to apply the language with a purpose. They no longer see Greece just another far-away country on the map. It has become very real and intriguing to understand that there are kids thousands of miles away learning the same language just like us.  Aphro and I also tried our best to match our kids from both sides and make sure each of them eventually receive something specifically for him or her. The experiences are phenomena as most of them have never received any hand-written letter before, let along anything from a foreign country!

I have personally learned and enjoy the process all the way as this project gives me a hands-on opportunity to design an integrated course just right for my class. It’s a great practice to test a teachers’ understanding of teaching material and how to best perform them in the making of the project.

Vicky: I look forward to seeing more and how it evolves! It truly caught my interest since day one and think it is a great opportunity for the kids to broaden their knowledge, both in culture and the language. Now to the future: what is one of your dreams about your teaching in the next few years?

Annie: As a rookie homeroom teacher, it means that I’ll have to be more familiar with other main subjects such as Mandarin and math. I’d like to take advantage of my new teaching context to build a more integrated curriculum. With more time and fewer pupils, I’m thinking about more shared reading experiences and eventually have at least a class drama annually. I’m also hoping for opportunities such as international competitions/networks to bring my children to the wider communities of the world.

As a senior EFL teacher, I’m hoping to organize or being involved in professional development for teachers. I’ve had a few experiences and hoping to continue the P1060572journey of sharing. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to brush up my language proficiency and hoping to be able to participate in International EFL conferences. Guess my wish list for Santa is a bit too long ; ) Still, being a teacher gives you the means to make your dream come true.

Vicky: It’s been such a pleasure hearing about everything you do! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Annie – I hope we meet in person some day!

Annie: As a passionate backpacker, I might actually hop on a plane and fly to the picturesque Switzerland some day!  Thank you so much for the heartwarming invitation. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Vicky: I will be so happy to show you around! Happy Holidays and all the best to you too : )

Now, Where Are Your Manners? – Inspired by @chiasuan and @brad5patterson

Chia Suan Chong (photo by Chia)

Last Sunday a great number of us were very happy to watch a great webinar on a topic which at least, I had never seen or heard presented before. Chia Suan Chong was the educator behind this great presentation, organised by the BESIG team. Visit Chia’s blog, where she writes about many interesting topics and also has great interviews!

Chia is a teacher trainer at International House London and also writes a blog.

Brad Patterson has also written a great post as a follow-up to Chia’s webinar, rich in etymology – What does it mean to be polite?

Here are my thoughts:

Before I moved to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, I had absolutely no knowledge of the German language, apart from Danke and Guten Morgen! Then I started listening to people everywhere: on the buses and trains, in restaurants, anywhere I could listen to the language. In the beginning, my understanding was so minimal, I felt like I was constantly running into a wall. As time went by, I started understanding more and more and even noticing features of the language I had never noticed before. (For those who might not know, there are two types of German spoken in Switzerland – High German or Hochdeutsch, or the German people speak in Germany and Swiss German or Schwiizer Tüütsch, which apart from pronunciation and accent includes completely different words in many cases. For instance, the word for bicycle is Fahrrad in High German, whereas Swiss German has borrowed the French word Velo.)

"Come, come" said the friendly driver and I was wondering about "please" and "thank you"... (Image taken from http://www.zvb.ch)

What impressed me the most when I heard people speaking – mainly in High German, was the use of the imperative, most of the times without moderators like please or if you could… as we have in English and I must say it was a bit strange at first for me. I particularly noticed it when a bus stopped once and getting on it, I dropped my wallet in the street and all its contents spilled onto the street. The bus driver stayed there patiently, doors open and passengers waiting, also patiently, and when I said (in English, I admit!) “That’s ok, I’ll take the next one”, the driver made a welcoming gesture, smiled and said “Komm, komm”.

I then thought, “Come, come?”…..Come?!? Where’s please? or, That’s ok, come, I will wait for you? After that instant, I noticed it many times and I asked my Swiss friend about it. She told me that it can be polite, depending on how you say it of course, the tone of your voice and the gestures you perhaps use, or the word bitte (please) used at the end. At a resaturant, they use the laconic albeit polite Zahlen, bitte (to pay, please word-for-word) when they want to pay the bill. Still polite, without the Excuse me, could you please bring the bill? socially acceptable and politely conditioned sentence in English. The beauty of each language!

I should mention that I encourage my learners (most of them are adults this year) to use words like please or transform the imperative into questions (Could you please…?) or indirect questions (I was wondering if you could….). They usually smile when I remind them and they humorously say, “You English speakers use too many words!” I tell them: “It’s great that in German people use fewer words and are more direct, they save time and get to the point right away!” It is amazing to see what works in each language and is equally acceptable.

Thank you so much for a great webinar and all the food for thought, Chia and Brad for a super post!

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!

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.

How to lead students to do international cultural exchange, where are the resources and lesson planning – An #ELTChat Summary

Close-up of gondolier, by Chiew Pang (@AClilToClimb) - @eltpics

Last Wednesday’s evening session of #ELTChat focused on what a lot of educators (including myself) consider to be an important element to teach – leading students to international cultural exchange – and how to plan for these lessons and find resources.

The material that came out of this ELTChat is so useful for educators who wish to incorporate culture in their language teaching.

First of all, Marisa Constantinedes, @Marisa_C made a point of asking us to define culture. The answers that came up were:

  • Sharon Noseley (@shaznosel) came up with this nice and short definition: Culture – traditions/politeness/formal language.
  • I mentioned that culture is interacting with people from other countries, in combination with the students΄own cultures and what they can learn from each other.
  • James Taylor (@theteacherjames) : Culture is set of customs & beliefs that roughly represent the society you come from.

The ways we came up with connecting our students with others worldwide are:

  • Sharon Hartle (@hartle) mentioned that in their tandem project, two students from different countries teach each other with help from advisers, then write up summaries of their experience.
  • Wiktor Kostrzewski (@Wiktor_K) has sed this idea: A warmer he did for his British Culture Uni class was: 1. “Show me what’s in your bag.” 2. “Now tell me what this stuff says about you.” He added that he was thinking of getting groups to take photos of a “corner” of their houses that tells their story.
  • I mentioned that with our school in Greece, some kids had the opportunity to visit Canada and meet other kids from everywhere around the world.
  • Sandy Millin (@sandymillin) said that encouraging students to ask questions about each others’ cultures in multilingual classes are always the most motivating.
  • Shaun Wilden (@ShaunWilden) made a very important point that today technology is a very important tool in integrating culture in language teaching.
  • An idea I use with my adults is that they do Powerpoint presentations about their countries, the the rest ask them questions and develop into nice conversations.

Marisa then posed the question if the coursebooks and materials we use integrate culture well with the language we teach. Berni Wall @rliberni said that it depends on the context. Marisa mentioned that she finds the majority of coursebooks a bit British-centred and I added that sometimes they also fall into stereotyping.

Traditional soft toys from Myanmar, by Cherry Philipose (@cherrymp) - @eltpics

Ideas that were shared about how teachers actually brought their students into contact with other cultures were:

With so many ideas on how to include international cultural exchange in your classroom, all we can say is have fun by having various cultures in your language teaching! Students always benefit from this, linguistically and culturally.

#MoreThan140 – Meet Sue Annan

Get to know more about Sue Annan, a fantastic teacher of English as a Foreign Language and teacher trainer, who lives on Jersey Island, an island between England and France. Sue talks about her work, social media and music…enjoy her interview!

To receive updates about other “More than 140″ interviews, make sure you follow Matt Ray (@mrmatthewray) and Vicky Loras (@vickyloras), follow the hashtag #MoreThan140 and watch this blog.

My Contribution to Eva Büyüksimkeşyan’s Blog Carnival #24 – Warmers and Fillers

Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, English teacher and good friend!

I am delighted to be asked to take part in the 24th Blog Carnival on Warmers and Fillers for the first days back at school, hosted by Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, an English teacher based in Istanbul, and since last November, a dear friend! Eva teaches at Esayan High School and does a lot of great projects with her students. She also collaborates internationally with other teachers around the world. Eva writes the most amazing posts on her blog, A Journey in TEFL. Thanks so much for this opportunity, Eva!

I am very happy to teach English as a Foreign Language both to children and adults. I enjoy working with both age groups and in this post I will share my ideas, which I hope you will find useful and like! I try to come up with new activities every year, but these are our favourites and as an educator, I see that they help both children and adults make a great start to their lessons.

Young Learners:

  • As I like to incorporate culture in my classes and I am fortunate to have multicultural classes, I begin by asking them where they are from and if they can tell us a greeting in their language, sing a small song or tell us a small poem or rhyme. For the reason that on first days young learners can be very shy, I start by demonstrating the task myself! That can help the kids a lot and keep the activity going.
  • We make posters on A3 paper. They can write their name, if they are able to, and around it make little drawings of things they like, their families, their hobbies and so on. When they are finished, they can make a small presentation to the whole class so we can all get to know them!
  • My name is Vicky and I like basketball! We can all sit down in a circle and take turns, rolling a ball or giving each other a stuffed toy and introduce ourselves – our names and our favourite thing or activity. That way they can hear each other and learn names – perhaps even find out common things they like!

Adult Learners:

  • Incorporating culture again, I make a little introduction of myself (My name is Vicky Loras, I was born in Canada of Greek parents and I am an English teacher) – it welcomes them to the first lesson and they can feel more comfortable. They can even start asking me or even better each other questions. Plus, they like this small talk for the first lesson – we can start talking stock markets and hedge funds in the following lessons!
  • Then taking some questions from a book I absolutely adore, Cambridge Business English Activities, we start talking (culture is in here too and the questions can lead to some interesting and sometimes funny discussions!). This kind of discussion loosens them up in the first lesson, because they can be nervous as well and serves as a great introduction to fantastic lessons to follow. The questions are of the kind: If you were at a reception, would you take the last piece of cake? or Do you work on a problem by analysing it or using your instinct? or How would you react if a colleague got the job you wanted? and so on.
  • What I have noticed is that they love talking about their work and working environment, their position in the company and perhaps what they did before, so I just let them talk to us about it. If they are from the same company, they can fill in for each other when they remember something, so everyone gets a chance to talk – or if they have not see each other before, they can learn more about the people in their class.

I hope these tips have helped you. Stay tuned to Eva’s blog to read great ideas form other educators who are also taking part in the Blog Carnival. Thank you for reading!

Number Fourteen – Build An Ideal Classroom Culture – The 30 Goals Challenge

An ideal classroom culture is achieved when everyone enjoys being there! (Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics, taken by Adam Simpson, @yearinthelifeof)

The fourteenth goal is, in my opinion, a very strong foundation for the rest of the goals to materialise. An ideal classroom culture has been successfully created when:

- Students feel comfortable in their classroom and view it as a place where they love to learn.

- Educators and students co-operate and see each other as members of a great learning team.

- Parents and caregivers are welcome to come in and visit at times, in order to enjoy the great learning atmosphere.

- There is mutual respect and everyone is valued.

- Students do not leave immediately when the lesson is over, but enjoy staying at school and working on their school material or helping each other. (Sometimes they even stay after school to help the teacher tidy up the classroom, which is very nice and reflects the atmosphere of helping and co-operation!)

- Educators feel comfortable in their classrooms, love what is happening there, that they even go there on weekends or stay longer after school (as long as they don’t overdo it!).

I Don’t Want To Say It, Sir!

My story comes from about twenty-two years ago…

I was about eight when my family decided to move to Greece from Canada. I remember not taking it very well, but there was nothing I could do about it. When I first saw the school I was going to attend, I saw this old, gray, stone-built construction. “This is your new school!” my mom said enthusiastically. I thought it was an old church the way it looked.

So school started and apart from the occasional teasing I got from classmates about my broken Greek accent (which has been rectified now, even though some friends of mine say that there still are English sounds in my Greek!), I liked school. I remember having a wonderful teacher, a very open-minded gentleman who taught us not only to the subjects but also values which would accompany us later as well.

When there were national days, our school (and all Greek schools) organized celebrations during which students recited poems, performed skits which were about the respective historical event that had happened on that day in the past and some teachers made long-winded speeches about how the Greeks had resisted any invaders and come out unscathed through the centuries. So, the 25th of March which is a national day in Greece arrived. Our class was to stage a performance of the women of the period who had helped that day. My teacher thought it would be a good idea for me to have the starring role in the play, as he thought it would also give me confidence in my spoken Greek.

The Entrance to The University of Istanbul

So the teacher gave us our scripts. Reading through it the first time at home, I found something very disturbing. I did not tell my parents but decided to directly tell the teacher. There was a line in my script which I thought (and was really) quite offensive to Turkish people (and in a children’s play!). I remember it to this day and it is not worth remembering, or mentioning, for that matter.

The first rehearsal came. When I had to deliver the horrible line, I got a lump in my throat and stopped. My teacher thought I had forgotten what I wanted to say and whispered it out. I still did not say it. The teacher, a very kind and caring gentleman as I said earlier, took me aside and thought I had a case of stage-fright. “Don’t worry”, he said. “You are doing very well and your Greek has improved a lot!” The moment of truth had arrived. “Well sir…” I said a bit hesitantly. “It is about that line.” “What line?” he said. “The one that says something bad about the Turks”, I answered and I remember how frightened I was that he would scold me or even throw me out of the play; I was quite proud to be the star, I must admit and was happy about the confidence he had in me to perform in front of other people in Greek! In addition to that, I felt terrible about delivering such a line. “Well”, he said, “don’t worry. It is an expression they used to use back then and we all know you do not mean it. Let’s try it again tomorrow.”

I went home crying after that (scaring the daylights out of my mom who thought who knows what happened at school). After my parents coaxed me into telling them what had happened, I finally told them: “I don’t want to go back to that school again.” They were still asking me why, because I was not telling them. Finally I blurted out: “Because they are making fun of the Turks at that school!” (It took them a lot of persuasion to get me to go back the next day, telling me not to worry and always to remember that everyone is equal no matter where they are from.) Next day: rehearsal number two. The time of the dreaded line arrives again and this time I break into tears in front of everyone and I remember raising my hand and saying: “I don’t want to say it!” (This time certain that my teacher would be furious with me and tell me to leave the school play. But I was determined not to let this pass – a tough little eight-year-old!). My (very patient and kind) teacher took me aside again and told me he would leave out that line altogether and I would just say the rest. My first little victory against negative comments against other countries!

Thankfully incidents like this have disappeared from schools today. Or so I hope.

Ataküle Tower in Ankara (Taken from flickr.com)

I see this now in my teaching. No child is too young to grasp notions like this. Kids understand and they know what is fair and unfair. For this reason, to all teachers, please do not hesitate talking to children about issues of multiculturalism and racism and diversity and so on. Please do not think that they might not understand. Their minds are fresh to accept new ideas and to understand that people are different and it is okay to be different. They will both accept other people and will feel more comfortable about who they are at the same time. The classroom is a place where this can be implemented but first of all children’s primary education must be based on these humanitarian notions. It is the best kind of education they can get.

Note: When I wrote this post, I was not out to criticise the specific system, as I think that unfortunately in many educational systems in the world notions like these are perpetuated. It is just an example of such notions. My teacher demonstrated that he chose not to do so. We can all do the same and show our students the beauty of being different – the beauty of all cultures.