Six regrettable tweets

First of all, in case you are wondering what on earth a tweet is, then please read about Twitter here.

Six regrettable tweets? Or should it be six regretful tweets? Either way, these tweets got me thinking “oh no…” as soon as they went out. At least one of my followers on twitter has threatened to save them (and use them in a presentation, the horror!) so I thought I’d better take ownership now.

I include the context for each of these, and what happened afterwards. Tweeters old and new, take note! Do not repeat these kinds of things! 🙂

1. The Tart

The Tweet: “I will gladly sign @dudeneyge, @kenwilsonlondon or anyone else’s book if asked. I’m a bit of a tart like that. :-)”

The Context: I had done a blog posting on things that authors didn’t want to hear, where I had mentioned that I had been asked to sign books by other people. My reference to this, and the “tart” bit, had my followers chuckling away and challenging me to explain myself.

2. The Hangover

The Tweet: “I’m gonna start working on tomorrow’s hangover in, oh, about 90 minutes from now.”

The Context: The night of the ELTon awards, I’m sitting in my hotel room cooling my heels and getting ready to go out. I’m tweeting away and someone asks me if I aim on having a hangover the next day. My answer above is the kind of thing they warn you about on social networking. Have I tweeted myself out of a future job I wonder?

3. Terrible Commercial Tweeting

The Tweet: “We designed Global to be just the right size to prop up computers, keep doors ajar, balance wonky tables. 3 more reasons to buy!”

The Context: Gavin Dudeney had been making comments about the use of a book to prop up his laptop, and never one to miss a trick I started trumpeting the use of Global for such a purpose. This tweet sounds rather pleading, desperate even. Not at all the confident author image I’m sure my publisher wants me to emit.

4. Tweeting sound effects

The Tweet: “Ok, try this then. Sssss…. here I coooome…. Deathhhh…. I am heeere… (sound of shuffling, and snorting)”

The Context: I had subtitled a clip from the Seventh Seal about twitter (The Seventh Tweet, which for some reason is no longer available!) and people were asking if I were Death in the clip. So I started trying to sound like death. Did my followers laugh about this and tease me? Hell yes. I’ve also tried to tweet evil laughter once (mwhah mwhah!). Ken Wilson dryly commented that it read more like an air kiss, not evil laughter. Note to self – don’t do sound effects on twitter.

5. The albino massage

The Tweet: “This morning’s adventure. Trip to Turkish baths in Budapest. Broiled myself in steam room. Had massage by rather scary giant albino.”

The Context: I was in Budapest for a conference and EVERYBODY told me I should go to the Turkish baths. I did, and tweeted about it afterwards. My followers (vultures more like it) had an absolute field day with this. Hoots of laughter and replies like “send a twit pic!” If I ever go back there, I’m not telling anyone.

6. The Buyme Tweets

The Tweets: “Dogme Vow of Chastity vs #Buyme Vow of Hedonism. Which sounds more fun? Whose end of year party who you go to? ;-)” followed by “Subtext of Dogme: poor is good. Subtext of #Buyme: more is good.” and “#Buyme demands instant salary rises for all teachers. Absolutely necessary for consumption to rise.

The Context: After a few glasses of wine on a Sunday I got onto twitter. I wanted to do my first ever hashtag. But about what? I had been reading about dogme recently, and thought I would launch a counter attack! All good, except nobody was really listening. Only Gavin Dudeney, who kindly said that he thought I was the only one laughing at my own joke (a twitter smackdown, in other words). Shelley Terrell has informed me that this kind of tweeting is sometimes called Dweeting (tweeting when drunk, or after drinks)

Has anyone else had bad tweet experiences? Post a comment, if you dare…

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm  Comments (14)  
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Six ideas and tips for homework

The other day I received a message from a teacher in Slovakia I’m in touch with on Twitter. Her name is Vladimira Michalkova, and she asked me why I didn’t have something on homework on this blog. It’s a very good question, as I have written quite a bit on homework in a book that came out a few years ago. But Vladimira was also interested in starting her own blog, so I suggested that there was no better way to launch your own thing than by posting on someone else’s! Plus it means I get another guest post. Without further ado, here are Vladimira’s six ideas for more successful homework. Enjoy!

There are several reasons why our students reject (or deliberately forget to do) their homework. If you are teaching adults who are happy to save their time for your lesson, you more or less do not even expect them to spend hours with their homework. So why don’t they do homework? I suggest three reasons.

• Lack of time

• Not interested enough to open the book or notebook (lack of motivation)

• Monotonous exercises (tasks not meaningful or relevant )

When designing or setting the homework, try to keep in mind that one kind of activity does not have to fit the needs and interests of all your students. You can’t avoid that, but keep changing the style! Things I keep in mind are 1) Multiple intelligences theory (logic, visual, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal… not only “fill in the gaps”-type activities) 2) Avoiding complicated instructions 3) Relating it to real life.

And here comes the list of my favourite homework tasks:

1. DO WHAT YOU USUALLY DO – IN ENGLISH (read your horoscope, crossword, quiz, read the morning news online, make notes on your shopping list). Students are supposed to either keep track of their use of English or recap orally in the next lesson.

2. CHALLENGE – give them a riddle, race or puzzle to solve for the next lesson. I tend to award my students (even adults!) with stickers (“Well done!” and this sort of thing). Dogs are trained best when you count on their curiosity. And so are we .

3. BROWSE THE WEB – send your students a link to something interesting, provocative, awakening or entertaining on the internet. Work with headlines, brief news, videos or anything they can manage during their coffee break. Ask for their opinion, comment or specific task. I ask my students to reply to my emails. On Thanksgiving Day, I sent my students a link to the following video. Their task was to remember at least ten out of 50 things mentioned. I was really pleased to hear that they watched it several times to understand more than 10 things. I knew that it’s not difficult to recognize 10 things but asking for 50 could have been de-motivating for some of them. I Avoid traditional project works that are usually pretty time-consuming and result in copying of texts from the internet.

4. ENGLISH AT HOME – we usually work with English materials and forgot about the vast range of sources of material in the mother language of our students. Try doing things vice versa. Do you have a favourite song in your language? Try to translate it! Are you watching new dubbed episode of C.S.I. Miami or your daily soap opera? Sacrifice few minutes and translate the dialogues simultaneously in your head or aloud (if alone at home). Have you bought a product with instructions only in your mother tongue? Translate or create a new label for it in English.

5. I SPEND MY TIME ON IT ANYWAY – do what you like to do in English – it is usually connected with watching TV, reading books or newspapers. It is an easy, painless way of learning that creates associations. I love watching Sci-Fi TV series and even though I learn pretty useless words like Warp drive or Roger that! , I keep learning many slang phrases and very common expressions. Many of my students love watching the Discovery Channel because there is always something interesting. They can watch short episodes on YouTube as well, see here for example.

6. KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR FINDINGS – however, it is necessary that your students report back on what they’ve done every week or so. You can choose to do it in the form of a warm up group discussion or through writing. My students write diaries. They are allowed to write anything there, but there is a condition that they must at least write something by the next lesson. They can write down their notes on any of the above-mentioned tasks or just write their reflections from the day. It is up to them what they choose but they know they have to keep a record of their progress.

Finally, ALWAYS FINISH WITH FEEDBACK – the golden rule of feedback is MEDAL AND MISSION (give praise and set a new task, to work on their weaknesses).

There you go! Six nice little ideas for homework. For more from Vladimira, please go check out her blog My English.

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 11:31 am  Comments (8)  

Six activities to do with film titles

The other day I was browsing through the Oscar nominees (as usual in Spain I’ve hardly heard of half of the films as they are usually just coming out) and I remembered all of a sudden some activities I had done with film titles in the past. Thought I would share here…

1 Title jumble. Write the words of several film titles all jumbled up on the board. Students must try and put them back into titles. For example, can you find the film titles in the words below? Good for work on lexical chunks actually.

hurt the locker air up in the education an this it is

2 Pattern analysis. In Scott Thornbury’s excellent book Natural Grammar he shows how keywords of English help build understanding of the language. On of his exercises focuses on the keyword “of” in noun phrases for film titles. Think about it, there are an awful lot of phrases like that (two in the last two sentences in fact). Gather a group of them, split them in half, and get students to put the halves together using “of the”.

List A: Lord / Planet / Return / The Silence etc.

List B: the Apes / the Jedi / the Lambs / the Rings

3 Translations. Compare how they are translated into other languages. Ask students to research films that have  a different title in their language to the English title (this could be English films translated into their language, or vice versa). They should bring these to class and compare the titles. For some reason my students (and I) have always found it really interesting to know how titles get changed. Did you know the Hurt Locker in Spanish is “En Tierra Hostil” (In Enemy Territory) and in French is “Mineurs”

4 Work with synopses. Get a bunch of film titles and short synopses (from for instance). Ask students to match the film title to its synopsis. Students then write alternate titles for the films and compare.

5 Have a laugh with them. Find a film title generator and you or your students create funny film titles. My favourite currently is this one (It’s an Action Film Title Generator. The last three I got were: Extreme Overkill, Fist of Retaliation and Triple Justice. I’d love to get students to write the synopsis for one of these! There is also, for the higher levels perhaps, the following Movie Title Puns Competition which is good for a groan.

6 Work on idioms. Many film titles use an idiom or fixed expression. Ask your students to find (in their coursebook or dictionary) examples of expressions that they have recently learnt. They must then imagine one of these is a title of the next Oscar-winning film. They must write a thirty word synopsis for the film. It’s best if they have already seen some examples of film synopses to give them examples of the genre.

Have any of you done activities with film titles? Feel free to share…

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm  Comments (8)  
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Six ELT book mashups


An example of a "big hit" mash-up from the UK

A mashup is a mix between two different styles. When I was last in the UK I saw the book pictured above: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It proclaims itself as a mashup of the classic Jane Austen story with elements of the modern horror genre. It has quickly become a hit in England, spawning many others (e.g. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters). Could this work with our favourite ELT manuals, I wondered? Never one to balk at a challenge, I set up about experimenting with six of them picked off my shelf. Basically taking a paragraph verbatim and adapting it with elements of the modern horror genre. The result is very silly, and you can see it below.

1. The Practice of Alien Abductions 4th edition by J. Harmer

In a few days (as I write this) I will be going to a large alien abduction conference in the USA which has the title Tides of Change. A couple of weeks after that it’s Poland and a weekend called ‘New challenges for alien abductees in a changing world’; and then there’s a ‘changes’ conference somewhere else, and then it’s off to another country for a conference on… changes and how to deal with them!

2. Zombie Defense that Works by P. Ur

One conventional way of doing this is the “conversation class”, where a group of zombies sit down with the teacher – a native speaker if they are lucky – and are required to talk with her. This often degenerates into a more or less aggressive session of the I-want-to-eat-your-brains-oh-no-you-don’t variety, monopolized by a minority of particularly quick and strong zombies.

3. Vampire-Hunter Games by M. Rinvolucri

I simply ask trainee vampire-hunters to write down three weapons and three vampire-killing methods they like and three they don’t. Trainees then come to the board and write or draw their ideas under two headings. NICE and UGH. Example: A French vampire hunter who had reached an intermediate level of undead-slaying said she really like garlic as a method because it gave her a strong feeling of her mother’s cooking. She did not like using the wooden stake through the heart method because it seemed ridiculous and she often got it wrong.

4. Conducting Exorcisms with technology by G. Dudeney and N. Hockly

Technology in exorcism is not new. Indeed, technology has been around in exorcism for decades – one might argue for centuries, if we classify holy water and a wooden cross as a form of technology.

5. Dealing with Difficult Sea Monsters by L. Prodromou and L. Clandfield

We have often felt that innovative methodologies – communicative, task-based and humanistic – fall, and often fail, on the wet and soggy ground of situations where sailors and sea monsters lack motivation. This book is a response to sailors who feel like giving up on sea monsters, often quite understandably, for the sake of their own peace of mind.

6. Keep Running: Werewolf avoidance activities by F. Klippel

Since werewolf avoidance teaching should help students achieve some kind of survival skill, all situations in which a real werewolf arrives should naturally have to be taken advantage of and many more suitable ones have to be created.

Hm. That was extremely silly. Well, I’ve got it off my chest now and can get back to “serious” writing. Of course, if any of you wish to contribute your own ELT-horror manual mashup below please go ahead!

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 10:05 pm  Comments (7)  
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Six jobs in ELT publishing

Feeling tired of teaching? Fancy a change but don’t want to abandon ELT altogether? Many people I know who have felt this way have been drawn to the world of ELT publishing. Publishers are often on the lookout for good teachers for a variety of jobs. Here are six, in order of relative ease of entry/importance. I’ve included a brief suggestion on how to get such a job, and the down side (there is always a down side to every job!)

1 Reader – When a new book is being written, the first draft is often sent out to different readers for feedback. Writing a report involves reading a manuscript closely and answering a series of questions that you are asked about it. One usually has a couple of weeks to do this, and you are paid a small fee and get a mention in the front of the book when (and if) it’s published. OK, so you can’t live off of just being a reader but it gives you an insight, even if only slightly, into the business.

How to get this job: contact a publisher whose work you know (e.g. whose books you have used) and ask if they need any readers. You may not get a response right away. For this job you only need experience as a teacher (the more the better).The down side: there is not a lot of this kind of work around, the fee can be quite small

2 Teacher trainer – Publishers often host training events to publicize their books, and are always on the lookout for teacher trainers. You would be expected to give a workshop or talk on an aspect of methodology, often using a specific book of the publisher’s to illustrate examples of what you are talking about. This is also a fee-based job, but it sometimes involves travelling to different cities (and in some cases, abroad) and they often take quite good care of you. It would be quite hard to do this full-time, but it’s an interesting extra.

How to get this job: contact a publisher who you know does local events and submit a CV. Note: it’s best if you have had some teacher training experience (e.g. giving workshops at your school at the very least). The down side: You may be asked to give a presentation or workshop based around a book that you don’t really like, but this is not that common.

3 Sales representative – This involves working directly for the publisher and travelling around a country or area visiting schools and teachers and well, basically selling books. It’s always preferable if the sales representative is a former teacher, as he/she will understand more what people look for or avoid in books. This is a full-time job.

How to get this job: contact a publisher who you would like to work for and submit a CV, or keep an eye out in the paper for such a job (they are often advertised) You will need to be able to drive most likely for this kind of work, and it helps if you’ve had experience selling in another field (but not essential). You would get trained. The down side: Expect to spend lots of time in a car, travelling around and carrying loads of books to and from places.

4 Editor – Where would books be without editors? There are different kinds of editors, but the first starting point is usually that of copy editor. This involves checking the work before it goes to print, getting a manuscript ready for design (that means formatting it in a certain way). You need patience and a good eye for the work of an editor. There are also content editors (working more on the content and ideas of the material itself) and commissioning editors (see below). This can be a full-time job, although many people freelance.

How to get this job: These positions are advertised in the newspaper, but you could always put feelers out. You should have a keen eye for spotting typos and stuff like that. You would get trained in the specifics. The down side: Can feel endless and tiresome at times, or lonely if you are not working in an office. Deadlines are hell, and they must be met.

5 Commissioning editor – This is the person who commissions authors for a project. They coordinate different aspects of the project and are in touch with everyone involved. They often have to go out into the markets and do research at the beginning of a project. They work quite closely with the authors as well.

How to get this job: This job is usually obtained by working your way up within  a publishing house. You need good organisational skills, and experience already as an editor. It can be very satisfying to see a project through though. The down side: Stress of having to meet deadlines, juggle a million different things and the horrible feeling that if things go wrong then it was on YOUR watch.

6 Publisher The one who calls the shots. The person with the budget and the power to decide ultimately what will be made into a book. The person with the responsibility. This is almost the top of the publishing ladder, after which you get into the senior management positions and CEO’s and stuff. Publishers oversee a whole series of projects and have the different commissioning editors responding to them. An office job.

How to get this job: You have to work your way up for this one, and it usually involves changing publishing houses at least once before you get here. You will need experience in many of the other aspects, at least as commissioning editor in many cases. The down side: the stress is very high, the work hours can be very long and almost all the publishers I know have to travel an awful lot for research purposes. But that’s the price one pays for being at (or very near) the top!

As usual I can only choose six so apologies if you are in publishing and I’ve missed out YOUR job. However, if anyone wishes to elaborate, correct or give more of an insider view on any of these jobs then please do in the comments!

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 8:05 pm  Comments (10)  
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