Are You Playing or Learning? – Both!

 

VickyReadingontheFloorI am in my ninteenth year of teaching and I have taught in Greece and Switzerland so far, the latter being my home for the best part of the past seven years. I teach students of all ages and levels. When people ask me why I like teaching Young Learners, I tell them that I love it because it is

  • creative
  • I learn so much from my little ones
  • fun!

First of all, let us look at who these lovely little people we call Young Learners are. We have Very Young Learners (VYLs), who are 3 – 6 years old and then we have Young Learners (YLs), who are 7 – 12.

When I teach them, as do many teachers I know and have seen when visiting their classes, I love to incorporate the element of fun. Children learn in a much more pleasant environment and much more effectively, I believe. To be honest, all students and even adults like the element of fun in their classes!

Sometimes however, I have been asked the following question: “Are you playing, are you just having fun, or are you learning?” I have been asked this both by parents of students or caregivers, and also by a few teachers – rarely the latter category, but it has happened!

I understand their concerns, and especially in contexts where children need to follow a specific methodology in order later on in life to sit for a language exam. However, I still think that even in those contexts, fun can be part of the lesson – if not the whole time, even ten minutes at the end can help!

Fun ideas are loads to be found, either from colleagues, other teachers we connect to on social media, or social media themselves as resources, like Pinterest for instance.

st-jerome-wedo-wingard2

(Image taken from http://thegreatadventurelab.com

Some fun ideas I use in my classes are:

  • Story Cubes! They are dice with pictures on them and I discovered a specific kind from a Canadian teacher, Aviva Dunsiger, whom I am connected to on Twitter. They are called Rory’s Story Cubes and there different categories. Kids shake them, throw them on a surface and depending on the pictures that come up on the dice, they have to put them in the order they want and then they can tell the story they have just created. They come up with some really fun and funny stories, and above all they practise their speaking skills (they can even write down their story as a small task in class) and learn and consolidate a lot of vocabulary! If you do now want to buy cubes, you can even make your own. There are so many templates online and you can draw or stick pictures on them – even better, along with the kids! They will love it and again, learn so much.
  • You’re the teacher today! Sometimes I let the kids know beforehand that in the next lesson they can be the teacher for a while. They can teach us something as long as they do it in English! I go and sit along with the other kids, either in the chair of the teacher-student or on the floor with the kids. Some teach us dances, some bring in things like their favourite Lego creations…and they just love teaching us! They love the responsibility that comes with it and they always take it very seriously.
  • Books! Some teachers and parents say that their kids do not love books…well, I think that children need to be exposed to them first of all. There are books all over my school. Not only on bookcases, but also on plastic boxes and baskets on the floor, on the window ledges. You can just see them picking them up on their own, finding the topics they like and sometimes they want to read them out loud in class! What could be better? We can also organise trips to bookstores or libraries with them. Read-alouds once a week or as often as we deem necessary. Kids just loving listening to grown-ups read to them, especially if we change our voice for every character!

These are only some ideas for Young Learners. The list is endless!

Let’s keep in touch! I would love to know what you do with your kids. Just remember to have fun with them and they are still learning no matter what.

The day k d lang came to our class…with Godot (Pt 1)

This is a long story…that can be explained in this post only a little. Along with our students, it can lead us to many places!

Let’s start from the very beginning. k d lang (she writes her name in lower case, just like  e e cummings : ) is a Canadian singer, with a golden voice, and my absolute favourite female performer. Her song Constant Craving is one of my all-time favourites. I just love the instruments used (especially the accordion is haunting and beautiful), the lyrics are amazing and k d’s voice spectacular.

The other day, I was listening to the song (again) and paying much closer attention to the video, which I have seen more times than I remember…and it hit me. I looked at the characters…they reminded me of something. Are the men in the theater where k d is, playing in Waiting for Godot? I did that play in university, in my very first year in a class called Introduction to Drama. I loved that play so much, that it became the main topic of a paper I wrote then. I checked the story behind the video, and it really is k d in a theater, where this play is being performed!

Can I use her song AND the play in class? Sure – I can try!

Here is how I am thinking of using it – let me know if you have any different ideas! I am positive that my students will take me to other places that I had never imagined before, so this is just a rough idea.

I am thinking of using it with B2 / C1 / C2 level students, because some of the vocabulary and themes can be a bit challenging for lower levels. So then for my classes, it will be mainly teens and adult students.

I will show them the title first. Some initial rough questions:

  • What do you think it means?
  • What does to crave mean?
  • Why does she call it a constant kind of craving? Guess what the song is about! (The artist herself has never clearly, in as many interviews as I have seen, mentioned who or what the source of inspiration for this song is. There is no correct or wrong answer in songs, poetry or literature anyway, I believe. They can all be left open to interpretation. We want our students to produce written or spoken language in English.)

I will let them listen to the song and watch the video then. 

  • What is the singer doing? What do you think her feelings are and why?
  • Where is she? Why do you think so?
  • What are the people in the theater doing: The audience? The people on stage?

Then I will give them the lyrics. You can see them and the activities in a document called ConstantCraving_LessonPlan and feel free to do anything you like with it, change it, create it from the beginning, anything!

  • We can go through the lyrics one by one and discuss, thoughts that come to our minds, feelings, anything.
  • They can choose a word or phrase that strikes them and write a small poem or short story.
  • They can perform / present their poems or stories in front of the class (if they feel comfortable, or we can do it with them / for them) – perhaps even with the song playing softly in the background, to give a more dramatic tone : )

Here is my favourite live performance of the song, for your pleasure – happy listening!

Waiting for Godot will be the next post – Part 2! Stay tuned. 

6 Years of Blogging!

image

It seems as though it has been more than 6 years. 6 years of blogging!

I started not knowing what I was doing, what to share…and then it all fell into place! I got to know other bloggers, we exchange comments, I learn from readers’ comments, I share classroom experiences, lesson plans, personal moments too…

A million thanks to everyone who has read this blog, supported it, commented on it and taught me so many things!

Here’s to all of you, to 6 years and hopefully more to come.

My #YoungerTeacherSelf post for @joannacre’s blog challenge

Where it all started - the old building of the Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Where it all started – the old building of the Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Joanna Malefaki has created an amazing blog challenge, where teachers write to their younger selves, called the #YoungerTeacherSelf blog challenge. What a great idea and what lovely posts we have read so far!

I had to start teaching almost as soon as I got into university, for the reason that I was studying far away from my family and they could not fully afford my studies. Therefore, I had to dive right into it, but I was fortunate enough to have great professors and colleagues to help me out in this difficult, but incredible journey.

Here is my letter to 18-year-old Vicky and a few years after that, when I was a scared teacher, afraid of many things and mainly how it was going to be. 

Dear Vicky,

I know that your whole life you had been dreaming of becoming a lawyer, and that education was your second choice. I assure you that this is a choice you will never look back on – you will absolutely love it and you will be happy you accidentally got into it!

You will have lots and lots of students and you will learn so much from them and from teaching them. They will come to you with dreams, enthusiasm or lack of it, a great variety of talents and each and every one of them will leave their mark on you. Mistakes are part of the deal, but don’t worry, you will always make them. You want to learn and become better, don’t you? These mistakes are there to remind you of this.

Some day, you will be connected to so many educators, not only face-to-face, but also through the internet. Especially through social media. What is all that social media stuff, you ask? You don’t believe me? Wait and see! You are excited about emails so far, but just wait until you see what other things you will be using in a decade or two! And you will learn so much from and with these educators, who come from all over the world.

It is absolutely fine to deviate from the coursebook. Do you think that task on page 76 is not appropriate or does not help your students? Skip it! Change it! Weave it into something else and don’t worry. Not all students learn the same way and not all tasks work out as they are designed. You want the best for your students, right?

Be happy you did not take that professor’s advice, who told you in your second year not to become close to the students at all, because they will only “take advantage of you” and “you are there only to teach them, not help them with their lives in general”. Regardless of their age, students are all human beings with feelings and if we can help even one of them with a problem they may be facing, it is so important. They are not only there for us to teach them the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect and then shove them out the door.

Whatever you do, don’t stop learning. You will never know everything and that is super! You will always be developing and growing as a teacher, through reading, writing, attending conferences, learning sessions. This is something you will tremendously enjoy. Keep going and keep learning!

Love,

36-year-old Vicky

What’s Your Story? – Learning a Language as an Adult by Katie Burgess

Katie Burgess

Katie Burgess

I had my share of language learning experience as a child. This is the time when you don’t question the grammar rules or their exceptions, when it’s perfectly okay to make mistakes, be corrected or a tad embarrassed in front of a whole class because you don’t really care.

Then you grow up… All of a sudden, you are conscious of making mistakes, you want to understand the logic behind every grammar rule and yes, and you will be mortified when making mistakes. Why? Because you are an adult, an educated person expressing yourself at a level of a young child and that is just disturbing: you have your ego protesting and screaming: hey, I am not stupid!

I have been learning Chinese and that is not an easy task. Set aside the tones – it’s  like learning to sing  – the wide variety of dialects, not to mention  the many words that sound alike, with different meanings, of course. So while you are trying to say I am a teacher you might be actually saying I am an old rat…

So naturally, most the time when I am mingling with the locals, trying to get the right breakfast on the street, I do feel like a small child – however, and not a smart one…

It all ended when Frank, a well-educated engineer started taking English classes, at a beginners level.

I sensed his frustration, because he really wanted to express himself but couldn’t. How could he? He had just started his journey of learning English at the age of 38.

And last week, after failing to get his message across, he just burst out: “I am stupid! I like 5-year-old!” And that’s when it hit me: I did understand his frustration because I have been feeling the same way.

(Image taken from  http://finance.yahoo.com)

(Image taken from http://finance.yahoo.com)

So I told him: “Yes, you are right: you do sound like a 5-year-old. But that’s okay! Because you are learning! It will get better, I promise. Then I told him: “I also am a 5-year-old… “– in Chinese…

He smiled and was grateful. I assured him: nobody thinks he is stupid, it’s only the beginning.

Frank also helped me, inadvertently. I no longer care if a local gives me that weird look,  or even laughs at my fragile attempt to express myself in Chinese. I just gently remind myself: “It’s okay. It will only get better!”

Reading and Restaurants: A Long Story of Learning for @iTDipro

George Loras - my dad!

George Loras – my dad!

Here is my post for the Special Issue of Outside Influences for iTDipro. I hope you enjoy this story!

When I remember myself as a little child, I always remember a rather quirky child that disliked pink, princesses and fairy tales, and most toys – instead, I loved reading, as I could read from a very young age. I read anything I could. I was also an absolute klutz when it came to anything graceful, like ballet. I disliked being in big crowds.

I loved another thing along with reading: listening to “real” stories.

I was and I am very fortunate to have someone in my life who taught me that I was not weird, and he taught me so much more. He has nothing to do with ELT. Most of his working life was spent in restaurants, with grueling schedules, either as a waiter, chef, owner, or all three together. He is my first teacher and a huge part of who and what I am is thanks to him. He is my dad.

Despite his very long working hours, sometimes working 16-17 hours or more (he has always gone on very little sleep which is something I have also got from him), he was always there for me, either on the phone, in the morning before he went to work, or at night, after he returned. What have I learned from him? Numerous things, but I will mention a few:

  • No matter what you do in your life and how far you get, you are equal to everyone else and never forget where you come from. I always saw this in the interaction with his customers, the good ones, the difficult ones. He treated everyone the same and had a joke and a smile for everyone.
  • You always need to be polite and not load other people with your bad mood. You can talk about that with people close to you. He also told us that you know when a person is genuine and kind by how they treat waiters and children :)
  • Pay attention in school, but also outside school. You can learn from anyone, anywhere.
  • He told me real stories. Even though I was only 11 at the time, he told me about the Berlin Wall. He told me about the war in Vietnam. He introduced me to people like Martin Luther King and Neil Armstrong.
  • The first movie I watched with him was…Rocky! Still one of my favourites. “Now what’s the message? Not that I want you going out there punching everyone…but see how much he tried for what he wanted?”
  • He showed me a love of reading. He was and is always reading something, be it a book, newspaper or on his tablet – at 69 years old! He always loves talking about what he is reading. Now that I live far away from him, we still do this over Skype! He always starts like this: “Hey Vicky, listen to this…I read…”

Thank you Dad for all you are and all you teach me and have taught me. I am so grateful for every single day.

Do Your Own Thing! – An Interview with Božica Šarić- Cvjetković

Božica Šarić- Cvjetković

Božica Šarić- Cvjetković

On the first day of March, we have our new interview ready! I would love to introduce you to a great teacher and friend based in Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia – Božica Šarić- Cvjetković! She is very active on social media, and a lot of you know her already – those of you who don’t, follow what she is doing! She is great!

What do conferences and airports have to do with the interview? What does she do with her primary school students? Why and how does she use social media? For the answers to all these questions and more, watch our interview!

Here is Božica! Hvala!!!

 

My Language Learning Part 1 – Lights, Camera, Action!

(Image taken from erbilfilmfestival.org)

(Image taken from erbilfilmfestival.org)

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that ever since I came to Switzerland, I have been learning German – I love languages, and I think that being able to communicate in the language of the country you live in is great, makes your life easier, and opens new doors for reading more and understanding films, taking part in discussions and so on. Plus, it is respectful to the country and people who have welcomed us.

After my very first visit to Istanbul in late 2012, I totally fell in love with the people, the country and the language so I thought about starting to learn Turkish as well. I must admit, it is one of the most difficult languages I have undertaken, but I love the sound, the poetic meanings words and expressions can take, so I am going to continue and I really want to learn!

I would never have done it without the help of my good friend and teacher, Dinçer Demir, who very patiently teaches me on Skype once a week. I also try to listen to songs on YouTube, make out the words and sounds that the language has. Sometimes, it gets really hard and I think of the usual I-don’t-live-in-the-country-so-my-exposure-is-low excuse. I have decided to stop that, and get as much exposure as possible.

Last Sunday, I was listening to a beautiful Turkish song a good friend, Esra Aydın, had posted on Facebook, and now YouTube has a new (at least I have just discovered it) function called AutoPlay, which immediately starts a new song of the same genre you were listening to before. So, another song came up, a beautiful one, and I saw that is was part of the soundtrack of a film, called Evim Sensin (You Are My Home). I thought, hey great idea, why don’t I try to watch this film and see what I get from it language-wise? It is the typical girl-meets-boy storyline, so it cannot be so difficult to start with. Oh my, I had so many difficulties but I am happy I watched it for various reasons.

  • I realised that I understand much more than I thought – even though my speaking still needs a lot of work, but that is the last stage of a language that we can reach proficiency in, I believe and I always see it in my students as well.
  • The typical girl-meets-boy storyline proved to be even harder than I thought, because the story was so complicated and had ups and downs. Of course, the actors’ body language helps a lot, but very often I found myself wondering, what they had just said and the man was deep in thought, while the girl was still happy and smiling, or why the girl had gone to the hotel – was that her husband’s mother she was going to find there?
  • It really helped that the movie did not have subtitles, as I was under pressure, let’s say, to comprehend on my own. I guess if I do this often, I will improve. This first time, though, was very difficult – but I learned a lot of new words, connecting them to the looks on their faces, gestures or if they were pointing at something or holding it.
  • I learned a lot of new things about the culture, like a great singer called Sezen Aksu, who sings one of the songs in the soundtrack. She is a living legend in Turkey and it was great to get to know more about her and her work! Dinçer also does that in our lessons – he teaches me a lot about the culture as well, and I really appreciate that, as I believe culture is an integral part of language learning and I do the same with my own students, whether I am teaching them English, or Greek.

I will be blogging about German and Turkish language learning throughout the year, different methods I will be trying out, the successes (I hope) and the problems I will be facing along the way. Are you learning a language? Feel free to share your experiences and ideas with me and our community of educators and students!

Here is the beautiful song that led me to the film, which in turn led me to a new part of language learning! A great film by the way, produced, written, music composed for and sung by another new to me Turkish actor/singer, Özcan Deniz.

 

 

Be Creative! – An Interview with Vicky Papageorgiou (@vpapage)

Vicky Papageorgiou

Vicky Papageorgiou

Our February interview is HERE! This time, with a great educator from Thessaloniki, Greece – Vicky Papageorgiou! Vicky and I met in person last year for the first time and she is the amazing generous person you can see on social media, engaging every day and sharing great content.

Vicky Papageorgiou is a foreign language teacher (English, Italian, Greek) with approximately 20 years of experience with mainly adult learners. For over 15 years she has been preparing students for English language exams of various exam boards. She holds an MA in Education (Open Univ. of Cyprus) and an MA in Art (Goldsmiths College, UK) and she is currently studying at University of Wales Trinity Saint David for her PGCE in Technology Enhanced Learning. She studied in Greece, Italy and the UK but also participated in an international project for the McLuhan program in Culture and Technology for the University of Toronto, Canada. Her fields of interest are Inquiry-Based Learning, ESL and Art, translation, use of video. She is currently based in Thessaloniki (Greece) working as an Adjunct Lecturer at AMC College for the past 5 years, preparing students for IELTS, teaching ESP and General English.

Vicky has not one, but two blogs: 

And here is her interview:

My journey to become an ESL teacher by Katie Burgess – What’s Your Story?

Katie Burgess

Katie Burgess

Next up on the What’s Your Story? Blog Challenge…Katie Burgess! She takes us on a trip from Hungary to the US to China – what a beautiful story about how she became a teacher.

Köszönöm, Katie!

I knew I was meant to be a teacher when at age seven I gathered my stuffed animals and my reluctant little brother into my room, having them sit in a circle around me, paying close attention to my small chalkboard, introducing them the world of numbers and letters.

My inspiration was my first grade teacher, Miss Varga who taught all 42 of us how to read and write. To me, as a small child it was such a remarkable experience that in a short time I could put meaning behind those characters, the letters which at first looked so intimidating, foreign and scary.

I admired her patience and wisdom. It seemed nothing less than a Miracle that I was introduced to the world of letters and numbers and I contributed it to her Power. Yes, to me, she had the Power of knowledge which she has passed on to us.

And I wanted that magical Power.

I come from Hungary, a small European country with a unique language. From 3rd grade we already studied French and continued with Russian from 5th grade on. I kept studying both because I was fascinated by languages and cultures entirely different from ours.

At university, I majored in French and Latin was mandatory for 2 years. I continued with Italian, just for fun, which seemed relatively easy after the two other romance languages. Then in my 2nd year of studies when I picked up applied linguistics as a minor we were asked to study English so that we could read related articles and that’s when I met English, for the first time.

Even though I had plenty of experience with languages, when I first bumped into the word enough, I became frustrated: how can you possibly write this word this way and then pronounce it in such an unexpected way?

I quit English shortly after enough– it’s too hard… doesn’t make any sense…can’t pronounce certain sounds…

Two years later I was in in the US, in Miss Chloe’s evening class, along with a number of other freshly arrived immigrants, having one common goal: to learn English because it’s a must in order to survive in the New World.

I respected Miss Chloe, our ESL teacher: her dedication to us, her everlasting patience when we have all struggled with the weird sounds and I knew, right there: I want to become an ESL teacher. I want to be there, in front of a class where everyone needs to learn English, for their career, their promotion, for their education, or simply to survive.

So I did learn English. Two years later I passed the TOEFL test, with flying colors and went on studying at University of Oregon.

When later my family and I relocated to my home country I started to teach English. And there was no stopping me, after that.

I continued my education at Cambridge University, eventually got my Masters and have been attending seminars and workshops to better myself.

In my almost 20 years of teaching I had the chance to teach Mexican immigrants’ children in the US, college students in Hungary and over the past 2 years I have been teaching in China.

I feel blessed to have those amazing and encouraging teachers early on and as a tribute to them, I do my very best to continue their paths and be as inspiring to my students as my teachers were to me.