Six gift ideas and the 2009 recap

Well, it’s that end-of-the-year season finale time, and Six Things is getting ready to close up shop for the holidays. So I thought that the last post of 2009 would be a recap in special form. I’ve noticed that some of my posts have included products or things that readers have commented on favourably. So I thought why not do a recap in the form of gift ideas for the language teacher and devoted reader of this blog? Here goes…

1. A Flip Mino Camera. Lots of love and nice comments about this little device after I posted six activities with camcorders. It is really a neat gadget too, and cheap as far as camcorders go.

2. A book for teachers. I love books, and I’ve had some great responses and feedback on posts about books that could revolutionize the way we think about ELT, books about critical ways of looking at images, about dialogues or about words you never knew existed. That last book actually takes first place as an ideal stocking stuffer!

3. A special unique boxset of the Grapevine videos in DVD format. People seem to LOVE these videos, just see the comments here, and our VCRs are breaking down. A 25 anniversary (or however old it is) boxset of all the Dennis Cook episodes on DVD would be very welcome. They could even include a special extra new Christmas Special episode! Now that would be fun.

4. A new moleskin notebook. On my six favourite items of stationery this ranked as a big fave. Cheap, small, perfect for the stocking.

5. A Teacher’s Calendar. No, I don’t mean a real calendar full of half-naked photos of the Sexiest Men in ELT, but something different. The Teacher’s Calendar is a book that comes out every year from American publishers McGraw Hill. It’s a day-by-day almanac of historic events, holidays, famous birthdays and lots of interesting teaching ideas. THIS is the place I go to first for my monthly topical teaching ideas. There, now you have one of my little secrets! Worth every penny.

6. An extra two hours every day. This would be a gift of time to read all the great new blogs that have come out in our profession over the past six months. I’m having trouble, serious trouble, keeping up with all of them. I have been adding them to my blogroll though and try to keep on top of it. But it’s hard!

Ha! I bet you thought I was going to mention Global, didn’t you? No, that will have to be for next year’s list as it won’t be out until after January first! So you’ll just have to wait. Besides, I’ve written enough about it on this  blog. But in the meantime just put any or all of the above on your wish list and have a happy, safe and fun holiday!

Six Things will return in January.

Published in: on December 20, 2009 at 11:48 am  Comments (9)  
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Six drinks for an English teachers New Year’s Eve Party

Mixed conditional Martini, anyone?

Mixed conditional Martini, anyone?

I’m bringing this one out from the vaults, just because I imagine there are plenty of parties about right now and this was one of my earliest lists, before many people knew about this site. And, well, yes because I haven’t had time to do a new list recently to tell the truth! I am working on a year-end bonanza, so this will have to do until that’s ready!

Below is my list of six special drinks I would serve if I were hosting a New Year’s Eve party of only English teachers (which I’m not, thankfully!).

1. The Mixed Conditional Martini. A hefty dose of vodka in this one, leading to the following sentence which gives it its name: “If I hadn’t had that extra martini last night I’d be fine now”.

2. The Champagne Collocation. Basically this is like a big punch bowl filled with champagne and a mix of other alcoholic drinks it’s best not to ask about.

3. The Bacardi Washback. Washback (or backwash) is a term in testing about how a test affects the teaching that precedes it. There can be positive and negative washback. This drink has positive washback, trust me.

4. Learner-centred lager. This is the cheap beer I’d have on hand to serve to any students who managed to sneak in to the party.

5. RP  Riesling. RP stands for Received Pronunciation, the accent of the Queen of England. RP Reisling is a fine chilled bottle of aromatic white wine from Germany that will have you speaking English with a flawless German-Posh-English accent.

6. Speech Act Slammers. A speech act is “doing something with words” (Thornbury, An A-Z of ELT). A speech act slammer is “doing something with tequila”, usually drinking it. To finish the evening.

Right, does anyone else have something they would add to this party?

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 12:47 am  Comments (14)  
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Six topical teaching ideas for December

Last month I neglected to do a list of topical teaching ideas, instead focusing on activities with camcorders. But I can’t really let December and the last week of classes before the holidays go by without some kind of practical post. So, here goes!

1. Play the Christmas Stocking game

I’m currently not teaching (my classes finished last month), but if I were I would use this favourite standby. I bring in a Christmas stocking (if you don’t have one, use a big woollen sock) and a bunch of small items (e.g. toy car, pencil, eraser, keys etc). I explain the tradition of Christmas stockings and then discreetly put an item into the stocking. Students pass it around and have to make a guess as to what it is. I did it once with kitchen utensils (e.g. carrot peeler, garlic press) with a group of adults and it was hilarious. Good practice of modals of speculation too.

2. Talk about something other than Christmas

Here are some other interesting national holidays from December that have nothing to do with Santa Claus: United Arab Emirates Independence Day (Dec 2), Thailand King’s Birthday and National Day (December 5),  Turkmenistan Neutrality Day (Dec 12), South Africa Reconciliation Day (Dec 16) and the anniversary of Panama assuming control of the Canal (Dec 31).  Now, I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could create an activity to do with one of these but I’ll leave it as a germ of an idea for you to develop.

3. Make  a Christmas or end of year Crossword puzzle

Pretty standard idea, yes I know. But December 21 marks the 96th anniversary of the first published Crossword Puzzle so hey that can act as the hook for the lesson! Make your own crossword puzzles here.

4. Read some Sherlock Holmes

One of the big films coming out around this season is Sherlock Holmes. I’m really not sure about the Hollywood version, but it’s as good as oppotunity as any to read a bit of Sherlock Holmes with the class.  Full texts available here.You don’t need to do a whole story, just choose an extract as a starting text and go from there.

5. Rate the top gifts of 2009

A link on Yahoo took me to the top gifts of 2009. I’m always a sucker for this kind of thing. Anyway, these top products each come with a little text, making them ideal for a matching activity, followed by some vocabulary work and then perhaps a ranking activity?

6. Make some New Year’s Resolutions

The following website from the American government shows some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for American citizens with links. It’s an interesting list, quite predictable to me as a North American but it could be interesting to ask students to guess what these are before sharing the list. This could form the basis of small group discussions on the benefits of making resolutions and what, if any, resolutions your students want to make. Or ask students to write simple resolutions on pieces of paper (using going to!) and put them in a hat. Students them pull out a resolution and say how likely it is they will do it.

There you have it! Hopefully ONE of these ideas can help you get through to the end of the year!

Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 4:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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Six misconceptions about teaching young learners of English

I met Anita Kwiatkowska at a teaching conference in Hungary and she made a very good point to me about this blog: why aren’t there more things for teachers of Young Learners? Well, the short answer is because I no longer teach young learners. But Anita was right that there is nowhere near as much ELT blogging going on for Young Learners as there is for Old Learners. Faced with this I answered the only way I could: I asked her to write something for me to begin to redress the balance.

Here are Anita’s six misconceptions about teaching young learners (YLs) of English.

1. Teachers of YLs should be paid less money because the only thing they do is playing games and singing songs

2. Teachers of YLs have lower qualifications that’s why they teach kids (or – They teach kids because their qualifications are not enough to deal with more serious teaching)

3. Teaching children is not REAL teaching (Can’t remember how often I was given a look saying ‘Now what do YOU know about the difference between Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous???’) . You also don’t speak REAL English, because if you teach YLs (and are not a native speaker) most probably your level of English is equal to the one of your students’.

4. Teachers of YLs cannot/should not/ are not able to teach adults (This one is interesting – it seems like anyone can get a job teaching kids but if a teacher of kids wants to get a job teaching adults, he or she is immediately rejected)

5. Teaching YLs is a very easy/difficult job (it actually is not, once you get the idea how to do it properly)

6. Teachers of YLs like children (hmm… how to say that… I guess not all of them 🙂

So, what do you think? Are these misconceptions true where you work? Are you a frustrated YL teacher? Are there any others? Please post a comment.

Anita Kwiatkowska is a Polish teacher of young learners currently in Turkey. She is also active in the blogosphere and twittevers and is the person behind the blog l_missbossy’s ELT playground.

Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm  Comments (15)  
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Six favourite coursebook or photocopiable lessons

I believe that all English teachers, even the most die-hard anti coursebook ones, have certain favourite lessons that they’ve taught from coursebooks or photocopiable material books. I would sometimes find myself eagerly hoping to get to the “good unit” or “good activity” in a book, one that almost always worked for me and that students enjoyed. I know lots of teachers feel the same way. I’d go as far as to say that a teacher who claims that “no coursebook or published lesson has ever worked for me” is perhaps not as fantastic a teacher as he/she believes.

There’s quite a lot of teasing and trashing of bad lessons or topics in published material. I wanted to celebrate six lessons that I’ve taught over the years that were written by people other than myself.

1. Reward Resource Pack: Poor Fabio.

Written by Sue Kay. Published by Heinemann/Macmillan

I taught with the Reward series after our university switched from Headway around 15 years ago in Mexico (there Reward was called Move Up). The book was fine, I got along with it well, but it was the resource pack that really became popular. I’ve seen copies of those photocopiables just about everywhere. I even slugged my own copies of them from America to Europe only to find a whole set at the school I worked at next. Poor Fabio is a picture story (to practice past tense, I think) starring Fabio, a skinny little guy who puts on a whole bunch of jumpers to make himself look bigger to go to the disco, whereupon he faints from the heat. Great stuff, and always got a laugh from my students.

2. Grapevine Video Lessons: A Day in the life of Dennis Cook

Written by Peter and Karen Viney. Published by Oxford University Press.

Right, well I can’t really say that I enjoyed teaching Grapevine the course, but I loved the videos. They had a great sense of humour and I really don’t think they’ve ever been matched. They are probably out of print now, shame. Dennis Cook was one of the main characters. A Day in the Life of Dennis Cook always, always got my students laughing when they discovered he actually busked (you, ahem, have to see it to understand). And Lambert and Stacey (a detective episode) always made me chuckle even though it was pretty silly. Peter Viney was always a genius at doing lots with very little language, and was a big influence on me. I remember bitterly fighting with another teacher over who got the television and VCR one class because I wanted to do that video. Maybe these would feel old-fashioned now, the style is very 1980s, but I would still use it.

3. English File 1. Watching You Watching Me lesson.

Written by Paul Seligson. Published by Oxford University Press.

I taught for two or three years with English File Elementary (the first edition) and loved it. It felt very different at the time (this was late nineties) and quite fresh. I wish I still had an old copy, I don’t anymore and I can’t remember which lesson this was. It was a lesson on the present continuous, based around the Rear Window film story. A man is sitting watching all his neighbours who are doing different things. It all fit together really well and felt completely original too. Never got tired of teaching that one. Can someone tell me what unit it was?

4. Straightforward Intermediate. Unit 3B Bedrooms

written by Philip Kerr. Published by Macmillan

OK, well I did work on the Straightforward series so I have a bias I ADMIT. But I didn’t write this level, and it’s this is a great lesson. I taught an intermediate group with it though earlier this year and we really enjoyed it. The lesson is 6 things you probably didn’t know about beds and bedrooms (instinctively I knew I would like it just for that title!) and it had some really curious information, as well as an interesting lexical set and good contextualised grammar practice. Plus the teacher’s book had some great suggestions for bringing it more alive. Great stuff.

5. New English File Pre Intermediate, Pessimist’s Phrase Book 3B

Written by Christina Latham-Koenig, published by Oxford University Press

This is another lesson I did in a standby class once to cover for a colleague. I thought it was a very clever way of doing will for predictions. You have to match the phrases to the pessimist’s response (e.g. I lent James some money yesterday. Pessimist response: He won’t pay you back.) The rest of the lesson is okay, but my students and I really enjoyed making other situations and pessimist responses.

6. It’s Magazines, The House

Written by Robert Campbell, published by It’s Magazines

A slightly more unusual choice here as this isn’t from a coursebook but it’s still a whole lesson (as opposed to an activity) so I put it in. I have had so much fun with this lesson, and have done it countless times. Students read about a house with a curse on it, that strikes at each subsequent owner of the house. They read about the first owner and how he met his sticky end, then they have picture prompts to help them create the stories of the subsequent owners, each of whom have a dark secret in their past which leads to their untimely demise. This is the perfect Halloween lesson, and you can see some interactive exercises connected to it here. It’s available in the book It’s Fantasy, which you learn more about here. After doing this lesson I basically went to Its and begged for a job with them. That was how I started getting into writing.

There you have it. I realise that I don’t have a proper spread of things by other publishers but going through my shelves these were the lessons that really jumped out at me. I also restricted myself to coursebook or photocopiable lessons, not teacher activity books (I’m going to a six favourite of those one day too, although that is a harder list for me because there are so many great teacher resource activity books). I also realise that I am showing my bias towards books used primarily in Europe and Mexico because that’s where I’ve taught. I know that there are some very good things being done in Asia (and very bad ones too) but I have not taught with those.

What about you? Remember this is about celebrating the ones you like, not making some comment about how they are all dreadful, loathsome, lack wow-factor, don’t meet learner needs, crush teacher creativity etc. etc. If you really want to do that, I happily suggest you go to this place.

Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 8:35 am  Comments (21)  
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