Virtual Dice in the classroom

After Teachers’ Training for EPAM English instructors back in September 2014 I became aware of how to use dice and games with dice in the classroom. That was one of the most attractive ways of drilling vocabulary or grammar, or just use it for a lesson starter or for a warmer (along with a board game). Just because of people who showed how it had worked for them, I started using it in my classroom, both for Business and for General English. I guess, there’s no use in explaining how to make use of rolling dice. Moreover, I know that some teachers use it every single day. It turned out that I am no longer an exception to this fact.

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Yesterday with two Elementary students we were learning ‘Free Time and ways of spending it’. I elicited possible ideas, and after that we were having an enormous list of things to do. How to make students drill and how to encourage them to use as many phrases as possible? My favourite dice was at hand, as usual. Moreover, I found a nice site with virtual dice, including a possibility to roll up to 6 dices. The task was to roll the dice just by pushing the button, count numbers and use this or that phrase from the list.

Students were happy to play a game, it made our lesson funny and interesting.

Isn’t that a thing we, teachers, all are striving for?

And yes, a link to Virtual Dice, just in case you need it.

Thanks for stopping by!

My first #flashmobELT experience

      A thing I’ve tried today with Intermediates. In Ann Loseva’s blog I found a link to ELT flashmob. The idea is pretty simple: teachers from different places post their ideas for the lesson starters, warmers or games, or just some interesting things I tried in the classroom and you can see all of them. When you try something, you need to leave feedback about your experience, write a post with a hashtag #flashmobELT.

      My today #flashmobELT idea is ‘password’ for letting students in. The original idea comes from Ann Loseva.

It’s a very simple task which aims more at getting students into the mood for English right at the doorstep than at focusing on any particular skills. And it works for me with classes which are locked before I come with the key and we all come in.
Today in order to enter the classroom you should say a password.” Ideas for what the password of the day is depend on the topic you’re doing, grammar structure you want them to revise, your mood, some news, etc. Basically, on your imagination. Let them think on their feet. Let it be one word, a word combination, a sentence, a question”. Some examples from my class: “one object inside/ outside the house”, “what’s your opinion about being late?” (obviously I was late for class), “one word connected with this day” (that was April 12th).

    My Intermediate students have just learnt adjectives defining jobs and responsibilities, such as demanding, stressful, boring, depressing, rewarding, fun, etc. So the password of the day was one of these words and I gave them a definition and they were supposed to say a right word. It worked perfectly. Now I am full of ideas of how to introduce this task to every single lesson. As for lesson planning which I do regularly, I am about to include this idea in a lesson plan along with other useful and important things.

Thank you, Ann, for your idea! It is wonderful!

Poetry Day

I am happy to be surrounded by creative and talented people, who have lots of interests and ideas for spending their free time. That’s why I was not at all surprised when during lunchtime in the working kitchen some of my colleagues asked me about the possibility of organizing a day of Poetry in the office. I was not surprised, that’s true, but I was not quite aware of how to organize it, in what way to do it and who can assist me. We came up with decision in September 2013, but were ready to realize the idea only a year ago, in April 2014. As I have promised my today’s post is about Poetry Day.

From the very beginning, when we came across the idea, I decided not just give an opportunity to recite favourite poems, but make up a story out of this idea and write a worthwhile scenario. (It was written in Russian, so there’s no use in posting it here, but just in case you are interested, let me know). My number one idea was to let people choose poems themselves, whether in Russian or in English. We had too many volunteers to contribute to Poetry Day, and I made up my mind to let all of them participate. In this case we found partners who were willing to recite the same poem, but in different languages.

The first part was devoted to ancient English poetry. It is a wonderful thing, that so many well-known poems for children are originally English. We all remember ‘Three Little Kittens’ or ‘The House that Jack Built’, translated by Soviet poet S.Y. Marshak and other outstanding poets. Some of the poems came from one more famous book ‘Mother Goose Rhymes’, the thing I love very much, personally. Participants recited poems in English, then with their Russian translations.

As for the second part, we decided to include William Shakespeare. No doubt, this poet is somehow the symbol of English poetry. We also included some biography data about him and one of the participants read it aloud to the audience. Moreover, we used a projector and a simply media player, so we were well-equipped enough to show the portraits of poets accompanied by musical plays. After biography note the participant recited Sonnet with English translation.

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Taking into consideration the English Poetry as it is, we could not forget about Robert Burns and William Wordsworth as famous poets, too. The third part was devoted to their poems with Russian and English translations.

Talking about poetry in the framework of the Russian language we could not help mentioning great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. With his bio data presented by the participants, we tried to concentrate on his outstanding poem ‘Eugine Onegin’ and the history of its translations into the English language. During the preparation stage we succeeded to find out an interesting fact: there are more than 15 famous translations of ‘Eugine Onegin’. This part of the Day was presented perfectly.

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I believe, if an English teacher once decides to organize Poetry Day with his students, he might organize it in a different way, and he will be blessed with it. I remember a sense of creativity during preparation stages and during the Day itself, though they were not difficult to achieve. I would be delighted to know what you think about the idea of Poetry Day. Have you ever organized anything like that? Would you love to?

Thanks for reading! Hope to hear from you soon!

What makes me happy?

A very psycological question. Not even just psychological, but very personal, imprinting my own ideas and thoughts on what I am going to consider things making me happy.

  1. Preparing for my classes. I adore this part of my work, when it’s up to me to decide what to give to students, what to introduce at the lesson, what to talk about. Of course, that does not mean we don’t use any textbooks, but even with a textbook and an area you would like to work on with your students it’s up to the Teacher to create a lesson plan. I would like to admit, I prefer to think that a language lesson is a performance at the theatre, and the teacher is a director, or a conductor. Maybe that’s why in all my reflections I prefer to use word “to conduct” a lesson. And I do believe that preparing is the most important stage of my work.
  2. Making classes funny. That’s not very easy, not at all. You should be a funny person yourself to joke, to make someone laugh and smile. It is not easy to prepare for a funny lesson, but if you’ve got good memory and some anecdotes at hand, you will definitely succeed. I don’t of course always tell anecdotes, but something I’ve recently heard and something hilarious which is appropriate for the lesson and the exact situation.
  3. Reflect on my classes. It’s difficult to say what I prefer more: to prepare or to reflect afterwards. One the one hand, reflections give me a chance to write down my thoughts, on the other hand, reflections are worth having especially when my lesson was not as good as I had expected.
  4. Trying something new. I would never be a successful teacher without ideas and tips I get from my colleagues’ blogs. When I see something that worked for my colleague and it is suitable for my topic, I can adapt it to the level, or to the topic, if possible, and I try to use it as soon as possible. Some ideas seem to be very simple to realize, some not, but in any case, then I can share them with my colleagues, once I tried something new, and I love this part of my job, too.
  5. Reading books. In my childhood I was a fan of reading, but year after year, especially when my son was born, I could not read something serious, and I should admit, once my everyday readings were women-like magazines and cheap novels, because I felt like I was not readt to read something more interesting, I simply did not have a wish. I don’t blame myself for that period of time, let bygones be bygones, but now I am changed, and I want to read every single minute. I read books on my way to and from work, I read books while I travel, I read books to my son and I read them aloud, if possible, because I believe, this kind of thing helps me in mastering of my native language, if I read in Russian.
  6. Learning something new. I can admit, all the things I have mentioned, are about learning something new, be it reading or trying tips of my colleagues. I never know what happens tomorrow, but I do believe, everything done today is my future tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

‘I like’ and ‘I dislike’

     One idea I have used today with Intermediate students. They were supposed to make up sentences with what they like and dislike about their jobs. I am a teacher from Russia, and my native language is Russian, so my Russian students take phrases ‘I like’ and ‘I dislike’ for granted and I completely understand it. These phrases are like ‘Our Father’ for them, something that was learned years ago, and something that they do not like to change or even think about it.

I told students that it’s high time to enlarge their vocabulary and forget about boring words.

I elicited different phrases which could help and I heard ‘love’ and ‘hate’. Not bad. Then I showed them a table:

I like I dislike
I love ______________ I hate ___________
I enjoy_____________ I can’t stand _________
I’m into _____________ I loathe ____________
I am fond of ___________ ______ drives me crazy
I am passionate about ___ ______ is not my thing
I am interested in ______ _____ is not my cup of tea
I am a fan of ______ I am sick of _______

I gave my students some time to look through and then let them ask questions.

Then students were working in pairs and listed actions they do at work (including coffee-breaks, answering telephone calls, checking e-mails, and so on). I gave them a pile of ‘I like’ and ‘I dislike’ cards for each students and they were supposed to use as many cards as possible to talk about their favourite and unloved actions. This activity took about 15 minutes.

Here is a picture of what they wrote in pairs:

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 I loved this idea very much. I will try this idea out with other groups.

Recreating conversations using mind-maps

Today I would like to share the most successful teaching tip I have used so far. My colleague Olga Sergeeva wrote an amazing post about mind-mapping, and I have been using her ideas for several months, particularly when the aim of the lesson is to encourage students to use key expressions (for instance, for business communication skills or functional language).

My today’s lesson with Intermediates was devoted to using key expressions related to reporting back.

Students were supposed to listen to 2 conversations (guided discovery). After taking notes they were supposed to fill in the gaps with useful expressions (controlled practice). Upon completion of the task they started creating a mind-map. Firstly, I elicited possible categories for the mind-map. Secondly, they added phrases from the transcript to categories. When mind-maps were ready, I asked students to cover them with a sheet of paper and to memorize as many phrases as possible. (according to Olga, some students can only memorize 1/3 of all the expressions). Afterwards I was pretty sure that students could try to recreate the initial conversations just looking at the mind-map they had created.

I remember my first lesson when I used this idea. Honestly, I was afraid that the task would be a failure. But there were many attempts to improve the task and to give clearer instructions to students. After recreating conversations students were ready to personalized and freer practice stages of the lesson. Feedback from students was positive and inspiring.

I should admit it is now one of my favourite ways of drilling key expressions.
And this is the mind-map students created today.

Mind-Map

Olya, thank you so much for your contribution!

Have you ever used mind-maps in your classroom? Please, share in comments.

Thanks for reading!

Three ideas for extracurricular events

English teachers from different locations working for EPAM Russia including me are soon  going to take part in the webinar organized by curriculum managers. The point is to collect ideas and activities for English clubs, English days, cinema clubs, etc. My today’s post is about activities I have tried with my students so far. For the upcoming webinar I am going to be writing about three most successful events that worked for our students: English Day, Skype Status Activity (I wrote about it here) and Poetry day.
So, English Day… Some background information. I’ve been working for EPAM for more than two years; my responsibilities include organizing Business English classes for employees who are mostly programmers and business analysts. Of course, as all students, they are not strangers to something new. Thus, with the help of our HR manager Natalya Syvorotkina we worked out the idea of the day and announced it just the week before so that students could get prepared. Also we announced the program of the day. So, English Day, July 2013.

1.    The main idea was to create the atmosphere where everybody could speak only English. It was not so simple for some of employees, because at that time they just started having English classes at work, but there were students with higher levels who created this atmosphere and helped others. By the way, those who did not want to speak English that day were supposed to bring sweets and to ‘pay’ for the possibility to speak Russian. (One employee brought neither more that less a kilo of sweets and gave to me, though I should admit it was a joke, and everybody wanted to speak English, of course. Although we got kilos of sweets and biscuits that day… ). What I would have done differently: I would have probably asked weaker employees to prepare cards with functional phrases. In this case it would have been a lot more easier for them.

2.    There was no dress-code that day simply just because we had not thought about it and had not included it in the announcement. But one employee was wearing a real Scottish kilt, and that was a very astonishing idea for each of us! What I would have done differently: No doubt, a kilt is so difficult to get in Russia, and it is not obligatory to wear it, of course. I would have asked employees to think about dress-code. What would you advise?

3.    The day began with watching funny videos. The room with the screen installed was not so big and some people were standing, not sitting. Nevertheless, we spent about 30 minutes watching. I chose several viral videos related to the English language, funny advertisements, some videos from Jimmy Kimmel’s TV show, videos with funny accents. They were not shown with an educational aim, they were meant to start the day in a relaxing way. What I would have done differently: some videos were difficult for weaker students. I would have separated them into groups and chose videos suitable for their level. Also I did not include discussion session. But still I am not sure whether it is necessary to discuss funny videos or not.

4.    The bigger part of the day was called ‘The English Quiz Party’. I had prepared different entertaining and engaging tasks. They were divided into 2 teams. They played grammar ‘Noughts and Crosses’, matched English proverbs with their Russian equivalents and matched cards with names of famous people with their inventions or ideas they were related to. What I would have done differently: I would have been more aware of teams and their leaders, I would have chosen them myself. I would have asked teams to create the name for it, or even names for every teammate. Here I still need some ideas of what to do with teams, how to engage them as much as possible.

English day 1

5.    The next part of the day was ‘Five O’Clock tea’. First of all, I showed a presentation about English Sandwiches, and later on I held a culinary workshop for preparing these sandwiches with cucumbers and ham. I had prepared a pile of disordered cards with recipe steps. I asked students to put them in order and then, in accordance with the steps, to begin cutting, peeling, spreading bread with butter, etc. Of course, all sandwiches were then eaten by participants. What I would have done differently: perhaps, it was the only part of the day I was happy with. All students felt confident during that workshop and while cooking.

English day cooking

6.    The final part was English songs session. I am fond of playing the guitar and brought it from home to play some English songs. We chose different songs, like ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles (very popular song among English teachers from Russia), ‘Let it Be’, also by the Beatles, ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ by Smokie, ‘We Are the Champions’ by Queen and others. We had printed lyrics and gave to students to sing together with me. It was amazing! Of course, not everybody was engaged, but seems that those who liked singing were enjoying that part very much! What I would have done differently: I would have prepared karaoke, or firstly, I would have asked students to fill in the gaps in lyrics. Nevertheless, it was the part I was enjoying too.

English day guitar

At the end all employees were given lollipops. What I would have done differently: I would have thought about more valuable presents for students. It is a matter of discussion.

My aim is to have English Week with students with lots of different activities, including quizzes, cinema club, speaking club, perhaps, acting some plays with students, that is why I am looking forward to getting some ideas from other teachers and sharing mine. It has been already agreed upon with the Director and HR manager, in summer at the latest we’re going to hold English Week.

Thanks for reading! If you have any ideas and things to share, please share in comments. I am really looking to reading them.

P.S. One of the following posts will be devoted to Poetry Day. Stay tuned!