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Month: July, 2012

Matching activity

by Vilosopher

During our round table discussion on interaction (Wednesday, 11th) Peter introduced an interesting activity to spike a discussion between the teachers. Each table received an envelope with some pictures, titles and ptext aragraphs and had to match them. At the end, Peter showed us the full version of the article (“How to be interesting”) that was used for this activity.

I borrowed this idea for my grammar lesson. The topic of the lesson was the meaning of the verbal postfix “-ся”. This postfix is used for the Russian verbs to convey various meanings: It makes verbs reflexive, reciprocal, passive and so on. Students acquainted this postfix before, but never in a systematic way. Here and there they noticed how the meaning of this postfix affect the verbs. This lesson was dedicated to the theoretical explanation of the phenomenon.

I was ecpected to give a presentation. However, I felt that since this postfix was already familiar to the students and the section I had to teach was the strongest one, they are perfectly capable to deal with they postfix on their own. I decided to ask them to dig into material independently, with me only facilitating the process. So, I divided them into two groups and gave each group an envelope with the colorful cards.









The yellow cards had the names of the grammatical categories that verbs belong after taking “-ся”: reflexive (verbs), reciprocal, passive, impersonal, etc.










The blue cards had definitions of each category.








The green cards had visual representation of each category.








The white cards had examples.










The pink cards were for the students to write their own examples.










Just like in the Peter’s activity, the idea was to match the cards so each category has a title, explanation, a picture, an example and students’ examples.

I was kind of worried that they have too many pieces to match. But they nailed it easily.  They discussed each category in groups sharing what they already knew about the postfix “-ся”.  I helped one group a little when they got confused about two similar categories. But overall they managed to learn this relatively new grammatical concept on their own! And even produced some excellent examples.

Thank you for this wonderful idea, Peter!


Grammar lesson follow up:

by kimbym

My lesson on articles went soooo well that I’ve been promoted to teaching articles in Japanese- a language that HAS NO ARTICLES!  Ok, so maybe the lesson wasn’t bad enough to enter the ESL Lesson Hall of Shame but there was certainly room for improvement. I love using pictures in lessons so I was all excited and proud of myself for incorporating pictures into the handout I gave the students- several sentences with articles and the idea was to get them to identify any patterns or rules. Great! Except that the sentences were de-contextualized – ooops!  Next time, I’ll give them a paragraph and have them figure out rules from that…(Honestly, that was my first idea but then the whole thing with the pictures distracted me…).  I then went into the generic/specific and definite/indefinite thing, drew a lovely chart on the board (copied from the Thornbury website), wrote some example sentences on the board and put them into the appropriate box.

Ok, so far so good…then I wrote, “I still haven’t found the perfect man” on the board to show how it is possible ‘the’ can be used to talk about something that is specific but indefinite- it depends on the attitude of the speaker/writer. I should have then written, “I think I found the perfect man; his name is Julius.” to illustrate something that is specific and definite.  But I didn’t.  The lesson progressed, there was discussion, some more error correction of student generated sentences taken from their group research papers. I ran out of time- had a piece of prose writing with spaces before the nouns for the students to insert an article- which I think I should have given to them after the generic/specific, definite/indefinite.  Another thing I could try next time would be to have the students write their own sentences to put in the chart.  Anyway, I am pretty sure if Professor Hedgcock were dead, he’d not only would have been spinning a million miles an hour in his grave,  eyes exploding out of his head in horror at some of the things I think I said in class.  But, the good thing is, now I only have 999 more times to teach this lesson before it is” perfect”!  Anything else I can do next time? Please feel free to comment!! Thanks!!

Thanks Tarek!

by John Jordan

Today, I have most of my lesson planned for my reading and writing class. They are going to do some planning, reading, paraphrasing, and whatnot. But I knew that I needed some activity at the beginning of class that was, well, fun. Since we wrote a persuasive essay last time, but now are doing a informative piece, I thought we could review the difference between facts and opinions.

And what better way to do that than a Jeopardy powerpoint over facts and opinions, which I would probably not even have considered it were it not for your presentation yesterday.

Much obliged.

Show and tell

by tarek50

Today’s show and tell was an interesting session, all presented great ideas and showed very interesting approaches to teach languages. My part was about using games and quizzes, especially TV game shows ideas, as a helpful tool in teaching foreign languages. I do believe that using games and quizzes appropriately is a sound way in teaching, reinforcing, self-checking, evaluating and learning a foreign language.

Here are the resources links that could be helpful for using games in teaching languages






Being observed… by a peer!

by Vilosopher

At DLI we get observed at least once a semester. During my first year of working I’ve been observed more, than 30 times for sure:  by my supervisor, by my team leader, by various training facilitators, by my collegues, by new teachers, by MIIS students, by teachers from the other departments, by DLI guests, by official representatives, by security people, by foreign delegations, etc. And yes – it’s always stressful. No matter who is watching you and for what purpose. Being observed is stressful. It’s stressful for me not because of the criticism I might receive at the end, but because during the lesson you have to perform this special double-thinking task. Double-thinking involves thinking about your lesson and thinking about what an observer is thinking about the lesson. It’s exhausting. It’s like having two mirrors and looking in both of them in the same time. My mental eyes get tired.

Surprisingly this time it was quite bearable. Mostly, because during the speaker-understander sessions my observer and I identified a similar problem we want to work on  – teacher-centerness. Just as my observer, I couldn’t  let my students be. I would give them a task and then would start interrupting them, bothering them and even performing the task for them. I shared it with my observer and he was quite understanding. In fact, he was the first one who admitted this weakness. The speaker-understander sessions are one of the crucial elements of peer-coaching, because while talking to each other, we open ourselves, we became all naked and vulnerable (metaphorically, of course). The fact that you know things about your observer and he shares something with you makes you feel safe. And even, afterward, when you talk together and see what parts of the lesson would need improvement, it doesn’t feel like criticism at all. It feels like you are solving one common problem and instead of double-thinking, you get only half-thinking! 🙂

Grammar lesson tomorrow– :S

by kimbym




“Teaching” with Adrienne in the EPGS Reading and Writing classes these past 3 weeks has been great- low stress and it reallyis more like teaching academic skills than teaching language (which I think, is really the point of these classes anyway). I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever really be teaching students at this level again but one never knows…. all experience can be useful at some point, yeah?

So, it turns out, and maybe no surprise here, that most students are having a little trouble with articles, particularly the use of zero articles and generic reference.  No problem- that’s what us practicum interns are for!  Dusting off good ol’ Cowan and checking Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT Blog (he’s got a couple of good posts on articles) and spending about 6 hours in the library working out a 45 minute lesson- I’ve hopefully got something that will help the students instead of further confusing them…..on paper, it all makes sense (to me) so now it all comes down to execution. I have taught articles before but always from a coursebook- This will be the first time presenting articles within the framework of generic/specific and definite/indefiniteness.   I have no doubt I’ll be tripping over my explanations but as I’ve told my students in the past, “Sometimes, you need to make 1,000 mistakes before you get it right so you better start making them now!”  I start the process tomorrow…..

Teaching teachers

by tarek50

In my recent observation of a workshop for teachers, I can say that the time was managed in an appropriate manner and the entire workshop went according to plan. I would like to add that sometimes teaching teachers is more challenging than teaching students. Teachers sometimes have the worst attitude and behaviors, especially if they believe that they have more experience and or knowledge than the instructor giving them the workshop. They insist on their position and become agitated if you try to explain something other than what they think…etc. But, the workshop was nicely done, successfully completed, and there were several activities, group work and presentations. 

Using Technology in the Most Remote Places

by miismelanie

It occurred to me during the tech session Thursday that I actually did use technology in Tonga. Although high-tech gadgets were not an option, using even the most basic devices opened up a whole new world to my students. To begin, let me put the location into context.

This was the island we lived on.

It was one mile long and one mile wide. No running water but we did have electricity for a couple of hours each night.

There was only one way on and off the island, and that was by boat. A transport boat came once a week (or less) and was the only way to travel the 6-7 hours to the main island to the hospital and a grocery store.

The transport boat did not dock at our island so we would have to take small fishing boats to meet the transport boat in the middle of the ocean.

In our small fishing boats, we would pull up to the open door on the side of the transport boat.

We would have to jump from the small fishing boat, into the transport boat.

This boat was also the only way to transport supplies and animals between the islands.

Sea turtle being sent to address on its belly.

Live pigs being transported in a sack.

This is also how we got the barrels of fuel needed in order to run our island’s electricity. The boat workers would push the barrels into the ocean. The men from our island would then tie ropes around the barrels and pull the fuel behind their fishing boat, back to our island.

Since getting off the island was so difficult, very few of my students had ever left the tiny island. Technology brought the world to them.

As part of the Tongan curriculum, the sixth-grade students were studying American government. (Not relevant at all, but mandatory.) They were talking about Obama, and how he was just elected the new president. Someone sent me a DVD of President Obama being sworn in. We waited one night until the electricity came on, and I showed the DVD to the sixth graders and their teacher. They were mesmerized. Not so much by the President, or the ceremony, but by all of the people. Only 300 people lived on their island. There were thousands and thousands in the crowd on the DVD. They couldn’t get over all the people, and all the different colors of people.

Sixth graders also had to learn to write letters. They began writing back and forth with students at my old elementary school in North Dakota. To give the American students an idea of the island my students lived on, we gave them an “island tour”. After my students had learned the vocabulary for the foods they ate on the island, and the places on the island, my students got into groups and made signs with the vocab words. We then went around the island and took photos of the students holding their sign next to the food or place. I eventually was able to take the boat to the main island and uploaded the photos onto Picasa for the American students to see.


We also used technology to raise money for the school. Tongan schools are primarily funded by countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Japan through grant money. I wanted my students to experience earning money.  We began hosting a “movie night” every other Friday at the school. When the electricity came on, we would set up a TV and we would play a DVD. The village would pay one dollar per person to come and watch the movie. This taught my students how to earn and manage money. As a class, they would then decide how to spend the money.The movies also exposed the students to English.

Students working “movie night.” Each week, they also designed posters to hang around the village advertising the movie.

My husband Eric used technology in a very unique way. During the final eight months of our Peace Corps service we lived on Tonga’s main island. Eric was assigned to train photographers and reporters at Tonga’s only non-government run television station and newspaper. A major cell phone company, Digicel, contracted the news station to produce a pilot show of “Digicel Stars”, the South Pacific’s version of “American Idol.” It became Eric’s job to produce the show and oversee the crew. They had many challenges. Sometimes they didn’t have electricity and equipment was always breaking. The show aired on Tongan television every Friday night. One Friday, Eric had the show edited and ready to go, but something had happened and he could not get the show off the computer and onto a DVD for it to air on television that night. There was only one man in the whole country who knew how to fix this problem, but he wasn’t available until the following week. The whole country had to wait.

Here is a snippet of a promotional video Eric had to produce for Digicel. It sums up the season. Through this project, the news staff was practicing and bettering their English…and the whole country was exposed to its first Tongan show in the English language.

On how to convey power in the classroom (peer observation)

by Vilosopher

The focus of my observation was a teacher as an authoritative figure. I was asked to keep track of what techniques are being used  in order to establish power relationship in a class. It was particularly interesting to focus on this non-verbal aspect of teaching, since I didn’t know the language of instruction and could dedicated my absolute attention to voice, gestures and movements.

It’s not  a secret that to show who is a boss here, one doesn’t need to scream and jump around. Still I’d like to share these subtle little things that you might already know and I observed. These “things” present a teacher as an authoritative figure (please, notice that I’m not discussing here the question, IF a teacher actually has to be an authoritative figure):

• Own the space. A teacher walks around. He is not staying only at his “assigned” table. He makes big gesters with the hands not being afraid to use a lot of space.

Be slow and quite. A teacher speaks quietly. The subconscious message here is: “I am confident and I don’t have to scream. I now that what I’m saying is important and that is why you want to hear it”. A teacher speaks slowly. The main reason for it is, of course, to ensure students’ comprehension. But speaking slowly also creates an interesting feeling that time is under  his control. We use to say in Russia that reputable people never hurry.  

• Joke. Joking always means taking a risk. I think humor is a strong demonstration of power. It’s not only about being confident that your jokes will be appreciated by others. It’s aslo about being able to laugh at things, which means that you put yourself at a slightly higher position.

Enter personal space. A teacher looks at a student’s notebook over her shoulder or touches students’ things on a table.

Ask questions. The one who asks questions always leads the conversation. Even when students ask questions, a teacher returns them back to them or their classmates.

Please, add if you feel like it.

On “The Tact of Teaching” by van Manen

by Vilosopher

Honestly, when I was reading van Manen’s “Tact of reading”, I was a bit sceptical. So, as teachers, we have to be patient, open, kind, attentive, gentle, wise, objective, understanding, forgiving, protecting, strengthening, enhancing, sponsoring and what’s not. We have to speak carefully, but be silent, when necessary. We have to mediate things through our eyes, watch our gestures and creat positive atmosphere wherever we go. We, basically, have to be little Jesuses walking around in white toga with the Buddha-smile on our faces. I immediately  started kicking and wrinkle my nose. I have a certain type of personality. I’m human. I scream, I laugh, I like and I dislike particular students… I mean, I always thought of myself as a content teacher, not as a teacher-teacher. I know something, that others don’t, and this is my value. Simply speaking, in terms of the Russian language, for example, I’m superior, than my students. My goal is to share this knowledge with others. And I work hard on developing the qualities that responsible for the smooth delivery of the material – so, I can bring my students to the same level, where I am as a speaker of my language. But as people, we are all on the same level: They cry and I cry, they have right to be tired and I do. But, according to van Manen, I actually don’t have these rights. I’m this angelic figure who is barely touching the ground with her transparent, winged feet…

Not like I’ve never thought about it, but I was proud being human, sometimes brutally honest, sometimes nervous and frustrated in front of my students, sometimes excited and happy… I would never hold back. I was always very imperfect and believed that is why my students can relate to me.

But guess what? WRONG! Just as we have to work on teaching the content we teach (languages), we also have to work on this TACT thing. Two days ago I received my evaluation forms from my students who already graduated. The majority of comments was pretty sweet, but there were those few comments that got me thinking a lot! And you know how we also focus on the negative, rather than positive (I do). So, I basically almost immediately forgot about the positive comments and completely submerged myself into these negative comments. So, a few students were actually very frustrated with me as being very inconsistent with the mood presentation: one day I’m happy, another day I’m quite. Then, there were the comments about how I judge people based on their education level. Then, a comment on my reaction, when somebody didn’t know a famous Russian artist: “She told us all we need to get some education”. Meanwhile, I honestly didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but I did. I suddenly realized that no, I’m not the same human being as they are… They actually do expect me to be perfect! And whatever I do in class is under this magnifying glass that makes all my words and deeds exaggerated and even ugly sometimes (even if somewhere else these words and deeds would look totally normal or unnoticed). And in this sense – yes, we have to be angelic. Teaching is one of these professions that not only requires from you to be a better professional, but a better person – like from inside.