#iTDi and #TeachMeet – Professional Development At Its Very Best

Yesterday was a super day – professional development at its best, educators’ paradise!

In the morning, the International Teachers Development Institute, known as iTDi, had organised a great set of webinars, co-ordinated by presenters none other than the super Shelly Terrell and Steven Herder. Speakers included Chuck Sandy, Luke Meddings, Scott Thornbury, Jonh Fanselow and Marcos Benevides. Great speakers, fantastic educators and people we could all listen to, free of charge, from the comfort of our own homes or workplaces. It is amazing and I still wonder at what technology has helped us all do!

After the iTDi webinar, followed TeachMeet International, another webinar organised and co-ordinated by a fantastic educator in Croatia, Arjana Blazic and a super one in Belgium I hope to meet in the future, Bart Verswijvel. Sonja Lusic-Radosevic, a colleague of Arjana’s (the two of them have created a fantastic website for Croatian students, Moja Matura) was the tech sepcialist and took great screenshots of all the speakers!

The great and original thing about TeachMeet was that each speaker had just three minutes to speak. We heard some fantastic people speaking and learned a lot. It was great for me, as I realised I can speak in three minutes (as I can be a big chatterbox! Ha ha!).

Both were fantastic experiences, full of energy and inspiration. It is great and all of us as educators are so fortunate to have these events going on.

Screenshot from TeachMeet (taken by Elinda Gjondedaj, English teacher from Greece)

So whenever you find out about something like this, be sure to let your colleagues know as well! Not all of them may join, but some have taken the plunge into social media, never looking back.

Educators Everywhere, Congratulations!

Congratulations to you all and thank you for everything you do! (Image taken from http://www.afamousartist.com)

These past two years, I have been connecting with educators everywhere in the world, either through Twitter, Nings, Wikis – you name it! I have learned and am still learning from them daily and I would like to say a big thank you for that. I have been so fortunate to meet some of you in person and I am sure I will be meeting lots of you in the future!

A few days ago my blog reached the fifth place in the finalists in the Edublog Awards, which was great news for me and a big thank you to everyone who nominated me, voted for me, supported me and the blog I have been writing for two years now. Lots of teachers were given awards in the Edublogs and lots are receiving recognition every day, either in awards ceremonies, their schools, conferences and meetings, from their students, the students’ parents, colleagues and employers.

Taking all this into consideration, I would like to congratulate each and everyone of you out there because everything you do daily is a great step, a great stone for the building of education.

A lot of you go to school sick, overworked, tired, sleepless in order to ensure your students a great education.

A lot of you skip lunch in order to teach your kids extra classes, or come home late for dinner because you were wrapping up things at school.

A lot of you are underpaid and have access to minimal resources, but you still manage to make a difference and offer your students everything you can, even if that means taking up second jobs or digging deep into your pockets to give your kids everything they need in school.

A lot of you have been through terrible storms in your lives, either in your personal life or in your health, but you still manage to pull through and be back for your kids.

With all my heart, congratulations! Keep doing what you are doing and think that it is worth every minute. I know and I understand, that sometimes it feels like an uphill road and everything is working against us. But take a minute to think how much you love this profession and everything that comes along with it – and hang in there because we all need you! You deserve a big pat on the back, handshake, hug – whatever you prefer!

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 culture 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!

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

 


@DavidWarr’s Blog Challenge – Vicky’s Language Plant

As I have mentioned many times, on my blog,  in my talks and conversations, Twitter has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn and meet wonderful educators from all over the world. In this post, I have managed to combine learning and meeting – I have met David Warr on Twitter, a great educator from England, who has created a great tool – the Language Plant Maker. This is one of the great things I have learned from David! He has invited us to make our own language plants – and post them on our blogs as part of his blog challenge! Join in the fun : )

My language plant is quite simple compared to the great ones David has created, but it pretty much sums up what I believe about education – teacher and student complement each other and learn from each other. I feel fortunate  because almost in every lesson there is something new to learn from my students, regardless of how young or old they are. Here is my plant:

Looking at my plant now, teacher and student look like parts of links in a chain, which are connected with another link, learn together.

You can use David’s Language Plant Maker for your lessons too, as he mentions on his blog. David, I hope you like my plant!

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 Did She Get Here in the First Place?

The logo of the English Language School we had in Greece for ten years – we are so proud of it and love it and always will!

The idea for this blog post comes from a great friend and educator from Toronto, Canada – Tyson Seburn. Tyson is amazing, because either with his blog posts or tweets, he says something that makes me think and inspires me so much! Thanks Tyson.

Tyson asked once in one of  my replies to one of his posts that he would like to know more about my story at some point. I also spoke about it for a bit with Ken Wilson and James Taylor here in Zug. Here it is.

As some of you may know from previous posts or Twitter, I was born in Toronto, Canada to Greek parents. Dad had a restaurant and mom stayed at home with us. When I was eight, they decided to move the whole family to Greece. It was not the easiest time of my life as school was very different to what we had experienced in Canada and some kids bullied my sister and me for our bad accents in Greek. Not so good for us back then. But things improved later on.

After I finished school, I went to university and during my last year my eldest sister decided to expand her private lessons into a small school. We were so excited about it and a bit stressed too, as we started off with 23 students of Gina’s. Slowly but steadily, our small school took off and we rented more space, our youngest sister Christine joined as well and we ended up having thirteen more teachers, thirteen fantastic human beings and educators and 203 students of all ages, as each group had one to three people, which made our school unique at least in the Northwestern part of Greece were we lived. Our school got a number of awards for what we offered in education and we were so proud of it. We still are.

We breathed, slept, ate and lived the school.  The Loras English Academy was something we had created, something we loved so much and even went to on Sundays in our pyjamas (another plus was that it was 3 minutes on foot from our houses). Our beautiful school was running so well and we were enjoying it so much for ten years up until one day. My brother-in-law who is a financial analyst was offered a permanent position in Switzerland with the company he had been working as an external partner up until then, so Gina, Thomas and their two kids had to move. The school had to close as well as it would be difficult to keep running, as Gina was the managerial part of the team and our accountant said it would be the wisest thing to do.

I cannot begin to describe the tumult of feelings, the sleepless nights and how much we cried over this decision, which we admit was the toughest of our lives and I truly hope it is the last time we have to make such a difficult decision.

My next thought was, what do I do now? The school is not running anymore, what do I do? A huge and important part of my life was gone. First thought: go back to Canada. The truth is, I love Greece as my parents’ homeland, but apart from my work, nothing else kept me there. I decided against Canada as it would be really hard to see my family – we are all so attached. Second thought: Switzerland. Great educational system, my sister would also be there, but could possibly go wrong in an organised country like that? Apart from some difficulties and minor glitches you always have when you move to another country, I can say that I am now happy I came here. Work is going great, life is good, Switzerland is an amazing place, what more could I want? Yes, I remember, ever since I was a little girl, I was always looking for a better place. Yes I was hurt, a lot, that we moved from Canada. Yes, I was hurt, we were hurt, a lot, that we had to close down the school. But I guess that I have found a tiny part of that paradise I was looking for. I may not find a bigger part of it, but I will always be happy to have found even this part of it.

When she was just a girl

she expected the world

but it flew away from her reach

so she ran away in her sleep

and dreamed of paradise

every time she closed her eyes

Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English Classes – My Workshop for the ETAS SIG Day, September 17, 2011

My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher, born in Toronto, Canada but of Greek descent. I have been living here in Switzerland for two years and I absolutely love my work and life here. What I like the most about my teaching here is that I have a lot of business people that I teach, be it in banks, companies, and so on. I find it very interesting to learn new terms and things about the business world – you see, I learn alongside them as well.

  • I find it great that I can do numerous activities with them to help them in their learning process. One of our favourite activities which will start off my talk is Word of the Week. I came up with this idea coincidentally, as one day we were talking about unusual words in English with the bankers that I teach. Words that are relatively new to the English dictionary, compound words that we have heard and sound newish and suddenly at that moment, it hit me: find a way, that I can incorporate them into the lessons, because I saw how interested they were and the great conversation they got out of it. Thinking about it, I decided to make it the start of the lesson. I would present it as Word of the Week (since I see them only once a week) and see how it goes. I explained to them in the next lesson what the purpose of that activity would be – they did not have to remember all these words, we would simply use them as a foundation for developing conversation. They were very open to it and I can tell you, ever since we started it, they absolutely love it! I see that even when they leave the lesson, they go and tell their colleagues about these words in English, and they even continue their conversations in their offices!

Let me show you with a simple word how I do it – and then you can up the ante and use more complex words, depending on the students´ level. The one I am about to show you is for pre-intermediate classes or intermediate – I have used it with all levels, however!

This is what I always put up on the board before the students come in - it builds up suspense!
Then I try to give them hints – for this one I would say: “What do you usually do in the summer or when you have time off? ” “We go on holiday”, would most probably be their answer. So then I tell them to look for another word that means the same. If they do come up with the word vacation, then I write it underneath the Word of the Week as a clue to help them.
When they find the hint, I add it underneath the Word of the Week
Then I ask them to put their thinking caps on and think of a word that means a holiday for only one day. After some playing with words, they usually come up with the correct answer – daycation!
Ta-dam! The Word of the Week has been found and will lead to great discussions in class - and outside!
As I mentioned earlier, the point is not for them to remember all of these words – and you will see that they remember the vast majority, because they are playful and catchy words, because they try to use them in sentences in the next lessons and there has been so much conversation going on about them that the words just stay with them. Coincidentally, the day before my presentation I had my last lesson with a group of IT experts form a bank. They had prepared the most beautiful card – including some words of the week they had learned! I absolutely love what they did and the fact that they sat down and thought up of the whole text, makes me think that they took a lot out of our lessons and Word of the Week! Here is the card (which I have asked for permission to publish as part of my presentation): The point is that one single word can spark such a big conversation, can unlock the students and their potentials – they just start talking, and the language we get out of it is unbelievable! This is our absolute favourite.

  • Another activity we do is called difficult situations or Crisis! I have taken thi idea form Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton’s book Five-Minute Business English Activities. I present them with potential problems in their work and have them discuss a course of action in twos or threes – when they have it ready and planned, then they discuss the way they would solve the problem and come up with potential solutions. Through this activity they learn how to use language to negotiate (as they might not always agree on a common course of action) and use expressions like I think, I believe that the best course of action would be… and of course practice their Conditionals (I have a great love for Conditionals and try to get them in there any way I can!) – If we did this, this would happen….If we had done this, this would not have happened… The only thing we should be cautious with in this activity is not to touch any sensitive issues that might stress them, or any topics we know they might have a problem with. It can be for instance something like this: informing my IT students that the new system they installed is having a few problems, so they have been told by their line manager that they have to work over the weekend to fix it and what they would do in this case. Sometimes I go out of the room and pretend to be a partner or colleague of theirs who comes into the room and shouts Crisis! This and this happened. So it kind of prepares the atmosphere and the ground, let´s say, for this activity. It also depends on the culture of the students. Perhaps their culture is not so expressive so actually coming into a classroom shouting Crisis! is not the best idea.
  • If you have Business English students who make presentations, then you might find it useful for them to give you an actual presentation as part of the lesson. It can be something they have done for their work (but there you have to vouch for confidentiality – some teachers even sign an agreement of confidentiality that no information will leave the room) or a presentation on anything. Some of my bankers use vaious ideas to present – a few of them presented their countries, along with Powerpoint slides, or bike races – it can be even something as simple as that and the language you get out of it is absolutely amazing. What I do there is I sit with the rest of the students while one of them is presenting and keep notes, of great things they have said or of mistakes they have made. I then present the mistakes altogether if I know they will feel uncomfortable. It all depends on the learners.
  • I also practice telephone conversations with them – but because our classroom does not connect via intercom with another, what we do is we turn our chairs and backs to one another and pretend we are phoning each other – turning our backs, so that the other person cannot see facial expressions and so cannot anticipate what the call is about.

Here is my slideshow for the presentation:

Interview with Timo Ilomäki

It is a great honour to have Timo Ilomaki on my blog. He is an educator and student counselor from Finland and Coordinator of Entrepreneurship and Social Media Network. He also writes a very interesting blog on the use of technology in education http://educationtechnology-theoryandpractice.blogspot.com/ Timo is very active on Twitter and is one of the people who started #finnedchat, a weekly discussion on Finnish education. He and his partner Aki Puustinen are doing amazing things for education, so stay tuned and follow them on Twitter and their blogs!

Kiitos, Timo!

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