Remembering Terry Fox @terryfoxcanada

Terry Fox (Image take from Reuters)

Terry Fox
(Image take from Reuters)

Another academic year started here in Switzerland a month ago. One of my students that I have been teaching ever since I came here in 2009, came back to classes full of enthusiasm to tell me that next year, he will be going to Canada on a student exchange program!

Now my joy is double – he is going to my birth country for the first time, and he is staying there for a whole year! The things he will learn and he experiences of a lifetime he will have! I asked him whether we could incorporate various lessons about Canada into our classes and he agreed. I will be sharing them from time to time on my blog.

Today, I introduced him to one of the most inspiring Canadians – Terry Fox. I remember being inspired when I was in Grade 1 in Canada and our teacher was telling us about him. Terry lost his leg to cancer when he was 19 years old, but that didn’t stop him from deciding to run a cross-Canadian marathon when he was 22, with an artificial leg. He did this to raise money for cancer research. He eventually ran 5,373 kilometres, before cancer had spread to his lungs and was the cause of his death. The legacy he has left Canada and the world is tremendous.

There is a treasure trove of lesson plans from the Terry Fox Foundation that helped us a lot today and we will be going back to it with my other students as well.

We also watched this inspiring and moving video of Terry Fox’s amazing feat. A Canadian hero that continues to inspire us many years later.

Work and Motivation – A Lesson Based on Dan Ariely’s TED Talk

Dan Ariely (Photo from YouTube)

Like many educators I interact with, I really love TED Talks. Some of them are really very good, some inspiring – and some can be used in class too! I love that we can not only watch (parts of the) videos with students, but each video has an interactive transcript (in many languages as well!).

I first found out about Dan Ariely three years ago, when a student of mine at a bank was raving about Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational. He told me what t was about and I read it and loved it. He inspired me especially when I found out he had been a burn patient and all the things he did to keep himself motivated in such a truly difficult situation.

Needless to say, I have watched all of his talks and read lots of his material. In today’s class, we watched the first 6-7 minutes of Ariely’s talk.

  • Before that though, we talked about what motivates us either to work or study or both (they work in full-time jobs and study full-time too – I share their agony as I am doing a MA too!). I made a word-web on the blackboard and we write down all motivating factors around the central idea of motivation.
  • We then watched the video fragment, talked about it and we especially liked the experiment with the Lego. It was a great idea! They gave people Lego pieces to build Bionicles for three dollars. They gradually reduced the amount, while secretly destroying the creations and giving them back the same pieces to build a ‘different’ Bionicle.
  • I then gave them part of the transcript, from which I had removed words that they had to fill in, and also removed words that had to be made into derivatives of other words (they will be examined on Reading Comprehension in October, but I believe it is equally important  for them to read and comprehend in their work and studies as well, and learn new vocabulary and enhance the words they already know. I like them to be able to expand their skills into their everyday lives as well and not only to concentrate on the exam). Here is the document with the gaps and the answer key.
  • We discussed any problems they had with the text and also did some speaking about motivation that came up on the spot.
  • As a final task in class, I gave them a topic to write a proposal on (it is at the end of the gap-fill document).

Here is Dan in action: 

Feel free to leave a comment, how you would use or have used TED talks, or any other ideas you come up with and wish to share!

Storytelling and Language Learning with Picture Dice

One of the things I love about being connected on social media is that I get new ideas for my teaching practically every day. It must have been three or four years ago, when I was on Twitter and I saw an educator (apologies for not remembering who it was!) posting about using story cubes in class and then a lot of teachers got into the Twitter discussion, talking about how there were using them in class, others said they were also discovering them then and there like me…I found it a brilliant idea and they work a treat, not only with Young Learners, but also with my teenage students – I have also used them with adults and they loved them!

I also mentioned them in one of the workshops I did about three weeks ago, invited by the amazing Larissa Teachers Association in Greece! The teachers there have inspired me to write this post.

On to the picture dice, or story cubes now…

They can be used as a filler at the end of the lesson, for them to unwind and still learn, as a warmer for the beginning for the class – even though they might get really excited and not want to continue with other things – including the adult students!

One of our children telling us a story! (@LorasNetwork)

One of our children telling us a story! (@LorasNetwork)

This is not an advertisement for the specific product, but I also got this idea from a teacher on Twitter. There are actually ready-made story cubes, called Rory’s Story Cubes and they come in various topics. Actions, Voyages, Original, and many more. They are actually quite affordable and their material guarantees that nothing will happen to them.

How we use them:

  • The student holds them all together and shakes them, and then throws them on the table or floor as they would with normal dice. Then, they have to spend a few minutes thinking about the order in which they want to connect the nine cubes, in order to tell a story.
  • Sometimes, if we have time, we mix up two or three boxes and they can make an even longer and funnier story!
  • Two or three students can work at a time, preparing what they want to say and then, when the time comes for them to tell their story the collaboration and improvisation that comes up is spectacular!
  • One student throws the dice and starts telling the story, while the other(s) have their backs turned to the storyteller and they try to guess which picture the storyteller is talking about!
  • Students practise so many things with this game. Their grammar, and mainly their tenses and also vocabulary. They learn new items of vocabulary and they use them again and again in their next games, and they do it in a fun way too!

If you prefer not to buy, and create your own, or even better create your own along with the students, I have found a Paper-Cube-Template, online, which you can print on thick paper or cardboard so that it is even sturdier to use and lasts longer.

We can then:

  • Draw or cut and paste pictures on them with the students so they can create their own character and stories.
  • Add splashes of colour on each side of the die, so they can learn the colours, if they are beginners – we can do the same with numbers, or words, anything!

There is an educator in Istanbul, Evridiki Dakos, who did something last year that was terrific! She created her own huge dice using cardboard boxes, and then laminated them with clear tape so they would be more durable and the pictures could stay in excellent condition. Here is a collage of her work and you can find more super ideas from Evridiki on her blog, ELT Teacher Development.

Evridiki's amazing creations!

Evridiki’s amazing creations!

The Disabled Access Friendly Campaign (@DAFCampaign) – Thank you!


I have decided to write this post as a huge thank you to the Disabled Access Friendly Campaign, started by the equally amazing Katie Quartano and Paul Shaw in Thessaloniki, Greece. It started in 2010, after an article in the Athens News was published under the title of A day in the life of a disabled person. The campaign was born as a Facebook page and at this very moment has 976 followers!

DAF has a great website full of free lesson materials, created by teachers all around the world – lesson plans and videos listed by level A1 to C2, according to the CEFR. They are designed to create awareness in the ELT classroom and outside of it. If you have any great ideas about lessons, share them with Katie and Paul!

A few days ago, they included me among their Ambassadors. I am deeply honoured and happy to be part of this great project! I will do my very best to help spread this great campaign. Other ambassadors are Hassan Ait Man, Julia Aliverti, Lindsay Clandfield, Jeffrey Doonan, Adir Ferreira, Ben Goldstein, Jamie Keddie, Sue Lyon-Jones, Gerard McLoughlin, Eleni Nikiforou, Waleed Nureldeen, Aleksandra Strahinic. 

The best news lately has been that the Disabled Access Friendly Campaign has won an ELTons award for Innovation in Teacher Resources. If you click on the link you can see a video of Katie and Paul’s red carpet interview (at 34:25 mins), the winning announcement and their acceptance speech (at 1:32:33).

Congratulations to everyone at DAF and thank you again so much for everything you do!

Watch this video The Wheelchair, from the Disabled Access Friendly YouTube channel, with David Gibson and Luke Prodromou:







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

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

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

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

Here is the video:

And the lesson plan.

Conferences, Workshops and Swapshops – PD in Focus 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.

Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.

Using Advertising in the Business English Classroom

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Problem Solving in Business English

Problem solving helps the students with their language learning and to find solutions as well! (Image taken from

As I have mentioned before, this year I teach mainly adults in a number of contexts: some work in banks or various companies (software, packaging). Very often they have meetings to attend, where they are asked by their colleagues and managers to help resolve problems or conflicts. And they have to do it…in English! What I do with them (not something ground-breaking, a very simple idea) is that I try to think of potential problems they may have at work, such as:

1. What do you do if a colleague of yours is constantly late?

2. What happens if your boss asks you to work with your team at the weekend to finish off a project (and you are not that keen on working weekends)?

3. You have been working for months on installing a new computer program for the company / bank and they call you from the US in the middle of the night, asking you to resolve a glitch then and there! And other issues like that.

Of course, because I am learning their line of work from them (there are so many terms especially in IT and as I have recently learned, in packaging too!) I ask my students what kind of problem they would expect to face at some point. I make a list of all these and prepare role-plays and use them with them (some can be used with many groups!). This idea is also in the amazing book Five-Minute Business English Activities by Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton, under the title of Crisis! – the idea is to present the students with a crisis they need to solve. Most of the times I come into the room, putting on a dramatic face in order to set the crisis atmosphere and announce: People, we have a problem. I was fired! or Our new system is down! or something like that. It is unbelievable how they play into the drama and participate! Depending on the culture you are teaching in though, care must be taken not to scare the students or create unnecessary panic. For example, in some cultural contexts I cannot imagine the teacher going into the classroom dramatically yelling that there is a crisis. It would make the students uncomfortable. This activity has helped my students a lot, as they are pulled into it by the nature of it. They do not even realise when they start speaking and we get lots out of it. Sometimes we get lots of laughs too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki where I spent four years (Image taken from

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

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

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

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

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