List #66

Well, I can hardly believe it has only been six months that I have been blogging here. Since we are coming up to summer, and I am going to take a break from Six Things for a couple of months, I thought I would finish this first “season” off with a special post. Additionally, it just so happens that this is list number 66 which makes it apt for reflection. Finally, Karenne Sylvester of Kalinago English issued a call for bloggers to post their reflections for “newbies” (newcomers) to the world of ELT blogging.

So, here are six things about Six Things.

1 Your favourite lists.

I have a feature on my blog which tells me the top posts (the ones that receive the most visits). I’m not exactly sure how it works, but it’s there. Here are the top six posts of Six Things according to the statistics

2 My favourite lists.

Of course, I love all the lists I put on this blog. But I do have my own favourites too. Apart from the most popular ones above, here are six other “gems” in my humble opinion that are worth taking a look at if you are a newcomer to the site or rereading if you are a regular visitor.

I’d also like to thank profusely all the other authors and teachers who have agreed to do lists for me (e.g. Mario Rinvolucri, Duncan Foord, Carol Read, Onestopenglish…)

3 Guest appearances on other sites

Since starting this whole blogging thing, Six Things has made a few guest appearances. I wrote a piece called Six Things to do as soon as you finish your CELTA on Alex Case’s blog. The infamous TEFL Tradesman, Sandy McManus, convinced me to do an interview which resulted in Six Awkward Questions the TEFL Tradesman asked me. I droned on so much that Sandy kind of nodded off, and he had to publish that interview in two parts. Finally, the Macmillan Dictionary people asked me to do a review of their online dictionary site. I was in a bit of a rush, so I gave them 6 minutes of my time. You can see the resulting review Six Things in Six Minutes on their site.

4 Six Things on video

Determined to milk the list thing for all it’s got, I did a presentation on lists for IATEFL this year. You can see the highlights of that here. A better version of this talk for the internet emerged when I did it for the Macmillan Webinars. You can see that talk here.

5 The infamous poll

I noticed a few months into blogging that I could put on my blog, at no extra cost, a poll thing. How cool is that? After some thought I decided to do a poll of influential people in ELT in order to make a new list. I felt that I would be joining the ranks of all those great internet polls (World’s Sexiest Woman, Worst Pizza Place in America etc). I proudly announced my poll on Twitter and all hell broke loose. First came the indignation of people who were left out (I had disgracefully ignored the technology people, I had missed out hundreds of names from critical pedagogy, my shortlist was very Anglocentric, very white, very male or just plain “odd”). Then people pointed out that it lacked context, that you can’t just vote for ONE person and… oh I could go on and on about that fateful morning. I felt like ripping the whole thing down. But I decided not to be cowed by the roar in the Twittersphere. I will keep gathering results with my crude and vulgar little poll and intend on publishing the list in September (after suiting up with protective clothing). You can see and participate in the poll here.

6 The future of six things

So, after six months of blogging what is in store for Six Things? First of all, I’ll be taking a break for the summer. Six Things will resume in September. I hope to continue to bring you interesting and thought-provoking lists that you have come to expect here. I also hope to continue with the practical lists for monthly activities and topical issues, what I call my “open source” or “freeware” materials writing. Finally, I already have some impressive guests lined up (including a Jeremy Harmer Six and a Ben Goldstein Six). My goal is now to keep going until I have 100 lists on the site (making it 600 things). After that maybe I’ll stop and move onto something else. Or I’ll keep going.  Maybe I should do another poll to see…

To finish off, I decided to do a wordle of my site. Interesting results, and isn’t it pretty?

Wordle SIxThings

Published in: on June 28, 2009 at 9:30 am  Comments (6)  

Luke Meddings’ Six Songs about Teaching

Right, after the controversial “poll post” I thought it was time to bring back a guest post. I’m really happy to have convinced Luke Meddings to do one, and such a nice one at that! Luke Meddings is the author of Teaching Unplugged (with Scott Thornbury) and a firm advocate of Dogme ELT. His list is six songs about teaching… and how they relate to his beliefs. A great post, but as usual feel free to add songs of your own in the comments!

1 ‘Don Alonso’, in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, 1816

Our first teacher isn’t actually a teacher: he is a lover in disguise, using the cover of a music lesson to pursue amorous ends. Count Almaviva is trying to seduce Rosina, nubile ward of old Doctor Bartolo, and dresses up as a music teacher to gain entry to the Doctor’s house.

‘Sit by my side, fair young lady,’ the Count begins. ‘In place of Don Basilio, I shall give you a short lesson.’ ‘Oh’, she replies, recognizing her suitor, ‘with the greatest of pleasure.’

Dogme in ELT is suspicious of artifice, preferring a direct, open and straight-forwardly conversational approach. However, the Count’s improvisational skills are to be admired.

2 Chuck Berry, School Days, 1957

This song is about the rush of freedom experienced at the end of the school day by all school-children and most teachers. Or is that most school-children and all teachers? Chuck’s unnamed student starts out with good intentions, but is distracted by classmates, a lunch break and the teacher’s ‘mean’ expression. By mid-afternoon, he (or she – Berry’s lyric is clever in its inclusiveness, sounding both personal and general, male and female) is desperate for release:

Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat …

An unplugged approach, less reliant on opening books, may have proved less trying

3 The Beatles, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, 1969

Teachers come off badly in some of the songs on this list, but it could be worse. This one gets murdered. One of the Beatles’ least worthwhile tracks, the song is a feeble ditty about a serial murderer who goes around topping people with a silver hammer. Oh, and his name is Maxwell. That’s about as interesting as it gets, but by virtue of appearing on a Beatles album (the otherwise sublime Abbey Road), Max’s second victim is one of the most widely-encountered teachers in history.

The final straw for Maxwell appears to be the teacher’s insistence that he write out lines as a punishment; a more humanistic approach could have defused the situation.

4 Van Halen, Hot For Teacher, 1984

Van Halen’s enthusiastic tribute to the, ahem, motivational skills of a new teacher is in some respects a companion piece to The Police’s ‘Don’t Stand Too Close To Me’. But where Sting’s teacher is unnerved by the allure of a pupil (‘He starts to shake and cough/Just like the old man in/That book by Nabokov’), Van Halen – a band it is hard to imagine unnerved by anything, let alone reflecting on Nabokov – relish the thought of some hands-on homework.

‘Maybe I should go to hell,’ reflects singer Roth, before cheering up considerably: ‘but Im doin’ well. Teacher needs to see me after school.’

This learner is clearly a fan of Total Physical Response.

5 KRS One, My Philosophy, 1987

Many songs featuring teachers rail against education (see Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’), or celebrate the distractions of sexual attraction in the classroom: this great rap from 1987 actually says that it’s cool to be a teacher! Although not without its philosophical inconsistencies, the song advocates education in a way that was thrilling at the time.

see I’m tellin’
and teaching real facts
… who gets weaker?
the king or the teacher
it’s not about a salary
it’s all about reality
teachers teach and do the world good
kings just rule
and most are never understood

He was right about the salary.

6 Bob Dylan’s Floater (Too Much To Ask), 2001

On one level this song makes no more than a passing reference to teaching in a song full of passing references; on another level, like so many of those passing references, it feels like an utterance from the past, a haunting summation of someone else’s received wisdom.

You can smell the pine wood burnin’
You can hear the school bell ring
Gotta get up near the teacher if you can
If you wanna learn anything

What does it mean? Are they the words of an anxious mother who wants her child to do well, or the words of a father who struggled at school and is disengaged from the whole process? You have to hear Dylan sing it – his croaking voice a blend of wisdom and bafflement, pity and disgust at every turn.

A classroom set-up with chairs in the round, providing the opportunity for people to move around, would be fairer to all students. But it would have spoilt Dylan’s song!

Luke Meddings is an author based in London. He has been involved in ELT for the past twenty years as a teacher, school manager and journalist.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Six Things Poll!

Which writers have the most influence on you as a teacher? Whose books do you have on your shelf, and whose writing do you hunt out most? Six Things is making a list of the six most influential voices in English Language Teaching today. Please click on one of the names in the shortlist above. If you think my shortlist is woefully missing out a very important person then add  his or her name in the “other” column. Unfortunately the poll-thingy I am using has it so you can only nominate ONE person each, and no multiple votes are allowed,  so choose carefully! I will publish the top six in September.

Here are the names of the shorlist. along with a very brief reference to their main work. The names are in alphabetical order.

Carter, Ron & McCarthy, Michael – authors of the new Cambridge Grammar of English, with a focus on spoken English. Very influential in the world of corpus study and language teaching.

Harmer, Jeremy – author of the Practice of English Language, a key text for in-service teacher education courses and popular keynote speaker at conferences around the world

Jenkins, Jennifer – author of the Phonology of English as an International language, big voice in the ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) debate

Larsen-Freeman, Diane – author of numerous texts on language teaching, including The Grammar Book and Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Well-known around the world, but more popular perhaps in North American circles.

Rinvolucri, Mario – author of classics such as Grammar Games and Dictation. Key teacher trainer at Pilgrims and frequent speaker at international conferences.

Scrivener, Jim – author of Learning Teaching, a very popular pre-service text for English teachers. Ex-Guardian Weekly columnist of teacher’s tips, and current head of teacher development at Bell Schools.

John and Liz Soars – These two have not written any books or articles for teachers that I know of, nor do they “do” conferences. But they are the authors of Headway, possibly the best-selling coursebook of all time. Selling that many books has to count for something, so they get on this list.

Michael Swan – author of Practical English Usage, a key language reference work for teachers. Frequent speaker at conferences.

Scott Thornbury – author of About Language, Uncovering Grammar, An A to Z of ELT and numerous other books. Co-founder of the Dogme movement in ELT and current series editor for the Cambridge Handbooks.

Penny Ur – author of several classic books for teachers, notably Grammar Practice Activities, Discussions that Work and Five Minute Activities. Has also written popular textbooks for language teaching courses.

Henry Widdowson – authority in the field of applied linguistics and language teaching, best known for his contribution to communicative language teaching. The only name on this list to warrant his own entry in Wikipedia.

This post has no comments feature – partly so as not to influence the voting! Comments will be back on the next post.

Published in: on June 19, 2009 at 8:46 am  Comments (3)  

Six other notable sixes

Things are beginning to wind down here at Six Things headquarters. My classes have finished and I’m getting ready for the summer. It is also getting extremely HOT in my office, which has caused a few strange flights of fancy. The latest one resulted in this list, a collection of other notable sixes!

1. Number Six – The codename given to the character in the cult British television show of the sixties The Prisoner (image above). I loved (and still love) this show – although I have serious doubts about the remake they are threatening to do this November. Anyway, the main character is an unnamed prisoner in a model village and is referred to by the authorities simply as “Number Six”. This was the show that coined the phrase: I am not a number, I am a free man! What does this have to do with English teaching? Nothing. But it’s a favourite “six”, and I’m feeling self-indulgent, so it goes in.

2. Six word memoirs – A fantastic premise for creative writing. There is a legend that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words and he came up with this: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. There are books of these, or check out the website. Now this DOES have potential in the language classroom.

3. Scott Thornbury’s “Six” talks – Scott Thornbury was using lists in his talks well before this blog was started, and some of them included the number six (most notably, Six Things beginning with R – a fantastic talk I saw at IATEFL). See abstracts and powerpoints of some these talks here. I can feel good about this one too on my blog as it is completely ELT related.

4. Six degrees of separation – The six degrees of separation theory states everyone is at most six steps away from anyone else on the planet. For example, I am three degrees away from the Canadian singer Alanis Morrisette (a friend of a friend dated her in high school), two degrees away from the Queen of England (I met her husband at Buckingham Palace) and… well I could go on name-dropping horrendously but maybe we’ll keep that for the comments below. Relation to English language teaching? Well, it could provide gist for some interesting conversation with students!

5. Six-pack – Yes, I may be grabbing at straws but this was another one that jumped to mind on a very hot afternoon. A very Canadian thing, the six-pack of beer was a staple of my university days since it was cheap entertainment for an evening in at a friend’s place. I don’t know if it has the same cultural cachet in other places. Maybe you can tell me? A six-pack can also refer to very well-defined stomach muscles but let’s not even go there. Relation to English language teaching? None whatsoever (although the Tefl Tradesman may beg to differ!).

6. Sixth sense – This is not, as one student suggested, the ability to speak with ghosts but rather a special ability to feel or see things without using the other five senses. Good teachers have a sixth sense, I think, for what works in the classroom with their students.

Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm  Comments (14)  
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Six songs to sing with students

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my beginner classes asked me if we could sing a song together at the end of the year. When I taught in Mexico this was regular practice for me and my students, but after a couple of dismal experiences with some very serious students in Europe I kind of gave up. I had forgotten what a great feeling it can be for a group to sing a song together, in English.

So, with that in mind, I suggest here six songs that are suitable for singing along with beginners. They are recognisable, slow and relatively easy to sing to. At the end, I’ll share with you the way I’ve “done” this in class. I stress by the way that these aren’t reflective of my own personal music tastes, which stray towards the hard rock end of the spectrum, but I can’t exactly sing those in class.

1. I have a dream – Abba

A bit soppy and schmultzy, but the message went down really well with my beginners. Plus the singing is very slow and clear.

2. Yesterday – The Beatles, although a close second could be Hey Jude (except the na na na is TOO long)

I know, I know. It’s SO typical. And it isn’t the best Beatles song. But it’s SO recognizable, and I bet your students would go home and tell someone “Hey, I sang Yesterday today in class”.

3. My Way – Frank Sinatra

Great tune, great build up and great to sing as long as you don’t mind students doing it “their way”.

4. The Sounds of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel

Good pauses between bits of this song, helping students to pronounce chunks. Any song with Hello at the beginning also works. The only problem with this song is the large vocabulary load that has to be dealt with if students want to understand the words. Sometimes I’ve given it to them the day before for homework to translate. 

5. What a wonderful world – Louis Armstrong

Easy lyrics, recognizable tune and easy to sing along to. Hits all the right buttons too.

6. American Pie – Don McLean

A song with “bye bye” also tends to be a hit. You’ll hear your students walking down the hall humming this one for weeks after if you do it in class. And I would do the original, not the Madonna version.

Here’s what I do with any of these: first we do a listening activity (circling words, gapfilling or putting lines in order) and listen to the song once. Then we do a “read through”, with me reading a line and the class repeating it for pronunciation. I focus here on difficult words and phrases to pronounce, as well as stress and rhythm. This sometimes has the weird effect of feeling like we are at church but my lower level students love it.

Once we’ve read it, everybody stands up. I play the song again and we all sing along. The key here is to play the song quite loudly so people can “hide” behind the music as they sing the first time. As people get confident, I slowly turn the volume down bit by bit while we are singing. If it sounds really awful, I turn it back up again! Once the song is finished, and if there’s time, I ask them if they would like to sing it again but with less music. In my class they all said yes. We repeat the process, but I turn the music down earlier and slightly more.

I fully realise that this isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for very small classes unless they are keen singers and you are too. However, with a large (20+) group of beginners, I’ve found it a motivating and even sometimes (gasp, I say this at the risk of sounding TOTALLY corny) magical experience.

Have you ever done anything like this? Was it a disaster or a triumph? Post a comment.

Published in: on June 9, 2009 at 8:02 am  Comments (25)