BULLY

Bully reviewI had been putting this movie off for weeks. Yesterday it seemed to be screaming at me so I finally decided to watch it. My resistance was coming from an all too familiar place that I knew this movie was going to take me back to. I pushed play, and after an initial scene where the filmmakers show us the most horrible place where bullying can lead to, the movie continued (or rather began) with a camera inside a school bus while we listened to an incredible school choir version of Wheatus’s song ¨Teenage Dirtbag¨. Powerful stuff from the beginning, especially if you have ever witnessed the horrible difficulties some kids face during that ride to and from school. I always knew that bullying was a very big problem in the United States, and it certainly seems to have gotten out of hand there, but trust me when I tell you this is a global problem. Kids in every school, in almost every country in the world have witnessed the actions and effects of bullying at one time or another. Even here in Spain where for some reason I assumed this matter was under control I’ve heard my share of heart wrenching stories.

Things are probably a lot worse now than when I was a kid. There’s certainly a lot more diversity when it comes to families, traditions, religions, and there’s nothing a bully loves more than a glimpse of something different. If kids are teased simply because of having curly hair, run of the mill clothes or a funny accent, imagine what it’s like for children that are gay, have a physical or mental disability, a different religion, a different skin color. What has always shocked me the most regarding bullying is that the schools, where all of these acts of serious violence are taking place, do little to nothing about it. It took the parents of children lost many years too young due to bullying, to come together with these filmmakers to try to make a difference in their communities. It’s an absolute must see if you’re an educator, a parent or have any kind of position in a school or educational environment.

Bully took me on a very sad bus ride with a few kids, down very sad hallways with others, down a psychiatric prison ward and even inside their safe bedrooms at home. Now, thanks to the internet and texting, there’s simply no safe haven for kids that are being harassed.  Bullying is a serious issue and little has been done about it because school authorities continue to label it as usual ‘boys will be boys’ behavior. Even though girls are no exception, I’m not talking about sex here, this is a violence issue, it is serious and it should be taken as seriously as any other issue involving education. Many parents and teachers who see their kids day in and day out don’t even know that they’re bullying other children the minute they step outside their home or classroom. Many kids who are suffering from bullying say nothing at all.

This was the strongest part of the movie for me. A young boy, who had been severely bullied for years realized that becoming a bully himself was the only solution to his awful situation. If this isn’t an example of the now proven fact that many of the victims of today become the perpetrators of tomorrow, I don’t know what is. Here’s one of the hopeful things that I got from this film, a lot can be done not only by telling someone what is going on, but by standing next to those kids who are quiet, lonely and suffering severe aggravation from others. Many of the parents and classmates of children who committed suicide over bullying have said, that if aside from the bullies, their child had had just one friend or better yet a group of friends, a sense of community, their horrible tragedy could have been avoided. I urge you to watch this film and to not only leave it at that, share it with fellow parents and teachers, sit down with your children and talk to them about these issues. Abuse can come in many shapes and forms and can be where you least expect it. Open the floor for discussion. A school bus, a schoolyard or a classroom should never be a place of fear or pain. It breaks my heart when I see a child suffer and it’s often so hard to end suffering when it’s caused by an adult or parent, but to end it when it’s caused by another child? Shouldn’t that be easy? They are all learning and growing and becoming who they are, that’s why we’re there for right? To explain the difference between what is right and what is wrong? To show by example that differences are a part of life and give the world its color? Why is this issue such a huge and violent problem and why has nothing been done about it?

With a heavy heart I urge you to watch this film. I’d love to know your thoughts on this in the comments below! This is Bully. 

 

THE POWER OF A BIG OLD LAUGH

Injecting some laughter into your classroom

I’m a firm believer that laughter really is the best medicine. I cannot fathom one of my classes without at least one burst of laughter. It softens the seriousness and stress on the student’s part of having to speak in a language that isn’t their own, it increases rapport and it just makes a lesson more enjoyable. Not to mention memorable. The classes in which we have laughed the most seem to be those that student’s have less problems with down the line. Coincidence? Probably not! We can always remember a movie or book that made us laugh and can even recall specific moments incredibly well. Same thing happens when we cry, but this certainly isn’t something you should be trying with your students! So yes, laughing is GOOD. It’s good for the teacher, good for the students, good for remembering the lesson and great for establishing a learning environment students want to come back to. We all know that it’s that coming back to class and practicing that makes for great language learners.

For all of these reasons, when one of our readers emailed me the link I’m about to share with you today, I was over the moon. If there’s one link you need to bookmark to go with your games for the classroom or ESL techniques, it’s this little gem. Thank you so much Dirk Tiu for sending me this wonderful resource, “Comedy in the Classroom: 50 ways to bring laughter into any lesson”. I absolutely love the way this article is written and how easy some of the tips are to put into practice. There’s no need for props or hours of setting activities up, it’s all about how you can approach the different situations that come up in class and turn them into a laugh fest. Believe it or not, laughing when done with the teacher and as a whole group can actually improve behavior in a rowdy classroom. The simple practical tips like wearing crazy t-shirts and talking about their favorite tv show are wonderful! The idea that you can even turn your difficult days as a teacher into common ground was simply inspirational. This article is so well rounded out that I simply couldn’t wait to include it in Sunday Best, it definitely deserved its own post.

I remember a lot of laughing during my childhood, my mother (top photo – as a teen-) had this incredible laugh, as did my grandfather (photo below) who had the loudest, funniest and most contagious one out of everyone in the family. My mom’s friends were constantly putting on sketches that made us grab our stomachs and left us out of breath with all the giggles (photo below). Even in the really early years, I might not remember the moments per se, but I remember laughing. A LOT! It made my childhood so memorable.


laughter is the best medicinelaugh, play

Again, thank you Dirk for sending us this piece, I hope it brings a lot of readers your way and that many of the fellow teachers that read this blog begin to use some of these wonderful ideas. Speaking of laughter in the classroom, a very special act of funny sticker vandalism is coming soon. Stick around! I’ll also see you tomorrow for Sunday Best! I hope you liked my old family photos! It made my day to shift through some old pics and stroll down ‘funny memory lane’.

PHRASAL VERB UNO

esl games Games are such an important part of the classroom when we teach kids, and they’re sorely unappreciated when we teach adults! I make them a part of all my classes, with some changes of course, but there’s nothing like a game to grab children’s attention and to inject some enthusiasm and laughter into the adult ESL classroom.

Today I want to share with you my Phrasal Verb UNO game. It’s so ridiculously simple to make and you’ll have it in your teacher’s materials forever. All you need is a pack of UNO cards (which we’ll use for many different levels and age groups so read on), some scissors, a glue stick and either a printed version of the language points you wish to play with, or some colored pens to write directly on the cards if you prefer. One pack of UNO cards will be enough for many different classes and grammar points, but soon your students will be hooked and you’ll find yourself making more and more.

So far I’ve made this version with phrasal verbs for an elementary/pre intermediate level. You can download the list I used here: phrasal verbs for uno game. Note that there are some extra ones in case some might be too difficult for your students or in case you accidentally cut one in half (hey! it can happen right?!):

1) Print or choose the vocabulary or grammar you will use. Download my phrasal verbs list for elementary/pre intermediate students here.

2) Cut out each part of the phrasal verbs and paste one part on a card and the other part on another card.

3) Continue with all remaining cards.Verb tense uno

(If you don’t have access to a printer feel free to write directly on the card. But use a pen or marker of the same color for the entire deck, you’ll see why in a moment).

4) Play UNO with your students following the normal rules with one exception: they can match the cards according to color or by making a phrasal verb correctly. Tell students they need to forget about the numbers on the cards. To sum up, only colors or a correct phrasal verb (any that make sense, not necessarily the exact pair from your list).

Here’s the beauty of this new version of UNO, although students can simply match the colors, they will make a huge effort to find the phrasal verbs (this happens naturally and it never ceases to amaze me). I’ve heard comments from 9 and 10 year olds saying “Oh well I have to match the color, what a bummer” They will always, always try to find the phrasal verb and you’ll hear them practicing pronunciation as well while they scan the cards they have in their hands to see if they have a match. Behavior will be wonderful as well. Out of all my games this by far creates the most peaceful students, believe it or not.

Adaptations

You can now create lists of any grammar points (where you have many options, enough for all the cards) and add them in the same deck of cards. Make them in a different color this time (if the phrasal verbs were in black do your next batch of strips of paper in blue or red for example) and place them in a different part of the card. When you play simply tell the students what color they are supposed to be playing with. Adaptations may cover such issues as:

– Different levels of the same grammar points (e.g. phrasal verbs for elementary students, phrasal verbs for intermediate students, etc).

– Different age groups.

– Different grammar points or even vocabulary points.

Here are some ideas for other grammar points and vocabulary that might go well with this game:

– Other phrasal verbs.

– Verb tenses.

– Compound nouns (one card says cup, the other says board = cupboard).

– Countries / Languages / Nationalities.

– Word families (photograph/photography/ photographer).

– Homophones (words with different meaning and spelling but the same pronunciation, e,g, new and knew, to and too)

Even if the list is simple and the spelling might make it obvious, students will still be scanning the options as soon as the card on the floor is revealed.

All of these are suitable with adults as well. Never underestimate the power and joy of a classroom full of adults playing games to learn or review English.

You can monitor and help students, make corrections etc. In private lessons or small groups you might wish to play along with your students and in larger groups you might need more than a deck of cards (check the package to see how many people can play at one time). When things quiet down you can ask the students for examples of what could go with the word that has been revealed on the floor pile. That way they’re practicing the entire time.

As always, don’t forget to…

Games in the classroom

Feel free to share with fellow teachers and leave me any comments or questions you might have! Enjoy!

PENNY LANE – A LESSON PLAN

Using Beatles song in your lessosIt’s been a few weeks since I posted a lesson plan (remember I also share tons of resources for teaching in the Creative Teaching section of the blog). In today’s plan I incorporate music, grammar, listening, and reading comprehension into a really fun lesson  for kids. You can even make it an arts and crafts project at the end of the lesson and practice speaking skills while you’re creating a classroom poster.

The whole lesson usually takes me about 1 hour (an hour and a half to 2 hours if you’re doing the project at the end) but you can of course adapt it. So far the kids have loved this activity, especially making the project at the end of the lesson, it’s like the cherry on the cake! What song am I talking about? None other than the beautiful Penny Lane by The Beatles. I will outline the different activities you can do in class and in the order I usually do them, but feel free to cut, paste and change things if needed. I’m also adding a paragraph at the end with optional add ons in case you want to do some follow up activities or make this lesson a little bit longer.

Lesson name: Grammar from a song: Penny Lane

Use: Suitable for children of all ages and adaptable to different levels (Elementary + … ).

Language systems and skills practiced in this lesson: Grammar, Vocabulary, Listening, Speaking and Reading.

Timetable fit: This is a great practice lesson after you have taught the present simple tense and the present continuous tense and wish to practice when it is appropriate to use one over the other (present simple vs. continuous).

Part 1: Speaking/ Grammar/ Listening

1. I like to begin this lesson by talking about music and musical styles. Practice speaking with the students by having them talk to each other about their favorite bands and artists and then get everyone together and elicit some examples. If you’re teaching a private lesson simply do this with your student and have a conversation about their musical preferences. Another option is to elicit musical styles and write them on the board (e.g. rock, classical, jazz, opera, country, dance, folk… you’ll be surprised with all the musical styles they come up with!).

2. I’m a Beatles fan so I like to say that now I want to tell them about one of my favorite bands. I don’t tell them the name but I briefly play an excerpt of the song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (which has such an iconic start to the song). If they can’t guess it, I then show them any of the hundreds of videos of the band playing the song that you can find on youtube. If they didn’t guess before they will imediately recognize the four figures in black and white tilting their heads sideways. Once they’ve guessed the name of the band I elicit from some of the students if they’ve heard their music before. They get very excited talking about how their parents love this music and even the very young ones will want to tell you the story of John Lennon’s death (this always shocks me!).

3. I then tell them that we are going to practice the grammar we’ve been seeing in class with one of the band’s most famous songs.

4. Give students the following handout of the lyrics of Penny Lane with a gapfill (download it by clicking here) (page 1). Tell them that they have to write the correct form of the verb in brackets in either the present simple tense or the present continuous tense and to be aware of the change of the verb in the third person singular. This will take them some time, it’s a song, so as we know the grammar isn’t always the way they’ve seen it in class, but they learn so much from this exercise that it’s completely worth the effort.

5. Walk around and help students that might be having problems with the exercise. Have students check the answers with a partner.

6. Feedback: The great thing about this exercise is that feedback or answer check is done by the student’s themselves through a listening practice. They get to listen to the song and correct their lyrics themselves! You will also have to play this several times especially for lower level students. Have them check with their partner again (if you’re working with a group). You can purchase the song on it’s own for practically nothing on iTunes and also find it on Spotify or your favorite music subscription app. Please don’t download illegally! It will cost you next to nothing and you’ll have it forever.

7. Give them the second page of the handout with the complete lyrics for them to check their final answers.

8. By this time, students will be begging to sing the song, and of course they deserve it after such hard work! I like to use this video Karaoke style but simply listening to the song with their complete lyrics is just fine and the quality of the music will be even better (the Karaoke version keeps their eyes up and engaged which is why I like to use this video sometimes). Sing the song two or three times with them. This will also help with connected speech and children love to sing it!

Part 2: Reading / Comprehension of the song/ Vocabulary

1. Now it’s time to help students understand what this song is about and go over new vocabulary in context.

Option 1 for lower level students: I use a beautiful illustration you can find in the following book: The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, edited by Alan Aldridge (sorry I can’t share the illustration for Copyright reasons, but the book is truly wonderful if you want to look for it). You can also do a Google image search by typing: illustration of the song Penny Lane. Divide the class into smaller groups and give each of them a copy of the illustration and have them identify the different verses of the song with the images you see in the picture. For example, have them point to the picture and say this is the barber showing photographs, this is the pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray. Get the class to come back together and elicit what each of the things are by pointing at the picture. Here you will practice vocabulary, speaking and reading comprehension.

Option 2 for higher level students: This requires a bit more prep time by the teacher. Find magazine cutouts of the vocabulary used in the song and have the students make a collage to show the meaning of the song. Google images or google clipart will help you as well.

Part 3: Project-Arts and Crafts/ Speaking

1. You will need scissors, a glue stick, poster board, markers, your illustration of the song (or collage if you did option 2) and the lyrics to the song (I like to use the version they did themselves). Get students into small groups and have them place their collage or illustration in the center. Have them cut up the lyrics and place each piece next to the appropriate pictures in the center. They can do crazy looking arrows to show you what each part of the song refers to. Have them write things they know about the Beatles, the name of the band members and the song (you can even have some pictures or cutouts of the band that students can choose from and add to their poster). Encourage creativity and freedom to add what they want to in this part of the lesson. Encourage speaking in English while they do the activity and help them with language used in arts and crafts and making a project as a team. In classes where it is appropriate, I like to play soft Beatles music in the background. They love this!

2. Display their artwork proudly! You can even make a little art show and invite other teachers or students to come see their work.

3. If you have an extra couple of minutes, sing the song again. I can’t tell you how much students love this final singing of Penny Lane and how loud and excited they will sing it after they used all their creativity to work on the song.

Possible follow up lessons or add ons:

– Find a picture of the actual Penny Lane street in Liverpool (through Google images) and give them a text with facts about this street and the inspiration behind the song with some comprehension or True and False questions. Have a brief speaking practice at the end asking them if this was the way they imagined this street to be. Ask them if anyone has ever been to the UK or seen it in person.

– Add additional readings or listenings about The Beatles, always accompanied with a task to guide them through the activity.

– Add this song to your class music repertoire and sing it from time to time. Students will learn it by heart very quickly and this will be incredibly motivating for them.

– There are many illustrations of the lyrics of this song, find the book I recommended above or have some fun browsing Google Images and choose your favorite (you can also make your own if you like to draw!). You can use it time and time again.

– Enjoy this fun and musical lesson!

Please ask me any questions you might have about this lesson and don’t forget to share if you’ve enjoyed this post! Let me know how the lesson went in the comments below, ask me any questions or add some suggestions or ideas. Have fun!

A DAY IN THE LIFE

ChristmasFor some very strange reason, my students (especially the young ones) seem to be extremely curious about what my life is like. They are constantly asking me about my hobbies, my favorite bands, how old I am (this little guessing game gets hilarious with the young ones), what my husband is like, whether he plays play station games or football. My life is pretty simple nowadays which is what I’ve worked my entire life to finally be able to have, but to my students, these little bits of information are like little special treats. Perhaps it’s because we spend the entire class talking about what they’ve been doing, what their favorite movies are, the sports they play, and they love turning these back at me. The idea is to get them talking as much as possible, so I’m the least important person in the room while I’m teaching. However, it is slightly unfair that I get to ask all the questions and get all the scoop. So for my dear students who are always reading the blog (thanks! you guys rock!) and to any others that might be stopping by, here’s what my day looked like today.

At around 7 I made breakfast for my doggie and hubby and we all sat down to eat together (doggie on the floor but still…). A couple of hours of lesson planning followed, and then an early morning yoga class in what seemed to be the coldest day out ever! Then I ran some errands and continued with my lesson planning, and then after still having some of my yoga buzz left over I went into the kitchen to make a yummy vegetarian lunch. Roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa with almonds and goyi berries and my favorite ginger carrot sauce on the side, not to mention my new favorite side dish zucchini and leek “pasta-less pasta” with a rich tomato sauce. Amazing is all I have to say! Not because of any particular cooking skill of mine but because of the incredible and delicious food nature gives us! Then I had an afternoon of teaching, drove back home listening the the great Gary Jules and had dinner with hubby and doggie again. We’re about to curl up on the couch for some tv time, one of my favorite parts of the day!

Hope you had a great one too! Be sure to tell us about it in the comments!

PS: Another typical question is what our home is like, and whether I’ve put up my Christmas tree yet, so that’s what the photo above is about. Nala decided to model it for you. What do you think?!

READERS

Graded readers ESLHere’s what I’m doing on my Saturday night. Ok, ok, I’m almost finished and about to watch a movie, but yes, this is usually what life as a teacher is like nowadays. I’m starting with graded readers with my young students with this action and adventure book called Orca. It’s about a group of adventurous sailors and the things that can happen in the big blue sea. We’re starting the actual reading this week but we’ve been slowly working on vocabulary, games, listenings and video to get their interest before reading. So far they’ve loved it and my dear childhood film “Free Willy” has come to the rescue yet again. Two of my students were actually able to do a listening activity with a CNN news segment on killer whales working together to hunt a seal (I’m still looking for a polite way to squeal with excitement when my students have a little breakthrough like this in class. Did I mention these two students are 9 and 11?!). So last week while we were playing some flashcard games and going through some vocabulary, these two little guys asked if they could photocopy the flashcards to get the answers extra perfect next time (translation: they want to be the first to answer). I told them I would of course give them something for their notebooks so that they could review the new words when I wasn’t there. So these little vocabulary sheets are what I’m up to tonight, the big blank space is for them to write a sentence using the new words.

Vocabulary ESL

Did I tell you I felt incredibly old when my 9 year old student explained how to make videos bigger in my iPad last week? (Sigh…).

CERTIFIED AND EXCITED!

creative teachingI know it seems like I suddenly disappeared from the blogosphere, but don’t worry, it was only temporary while I was getting my second teacher certification as a young learners ESL teacher! That’s right, I’m now officially certified for teaching adults and my favorite little friends. I’m so happy I did it, so excited that I’ve finished, and now I get to apply so many of the amazing and creative ideas and techniques I learned these past few weeks. I have to tell you I was not prepared for learning in such a creative environment but that’s what I kept walking into day in and day out. You can imagine my excitement! Not only that but I was so lucky to be in a classroom with such a diverse and interesting group of students (well, teachers really!), and our tutor was a force to be reckoned with. Incredibly creative with one little extra wonderful side to him, he was a technology “junkie” just like me! Suffice it to say I was hooked and happy to learn from someone with so much experience.

In one of my favorite lessons about using dvd and video in the classroom, he said something that really struck a chord. He said that he doesn’t agree with people that say that technology will someday replace teachers, but that teachers who don’t embrace technology will be replaced by teachers who do. I loved this! What a great way of reminding us we must always stay on our toes to continue to create magic in the classroom.

Today I just wanted to pop in to give you my happy news and to say I’m still here, I’m not going anywhere! I leave you with a photo of what my life is like these days. cutouts of cartoons, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, made up memory games to teach verb tenses, and so many other unusual ways to plan my lessons and keep my students engaged and learning. I’ll see you all tomorrow for our Sunday Best!

OH TEACHER, MY TEACHER

first day of schoolI’ve been reading a few articles on using creativity in teaching lately and if you’ve been reading the blog for a while you know that’s what I’m all about. The beauty of the internet is that one thing leads you to the next and it’s easy to get lost in an endless array of information. Recently, I stumbled upon an article that not only talked about getting more creative in your teaching but about actually developing creativity in students, especially children. The article came with a whopping 24 tips that would help any teacher start doing that immediately, and it just took reading the first one for me to have a serious ‘Eureka!’ moment. Robert Sternberg and Wendy Williams, authors of the article “Teaching for Creativity: Two Dozen Tips” mention modelling creativity as the first one on their list, saying that teachers shouldn’t focus so much on how to teach creativity, but that being creative themselves seems to be the key. Ah yes, the eternal search for a role model, we all have it, and it’s a good thing!

This is where I had my serious aha! moment, with an itty bitty memory from many years ago: the first time I read Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Yes these were written by literary geniuses, but that wasn’t it, I read these under the incredible teachings of someone I will never forget. The pages seemed to come alive more and more each day when the book was sent for homework while we talked about Stalin and Lenin and gave presentations about the Russian ballet and were expected to share some Russian cooking with our classmates during school hours. The world of the Chinese farmers was opened up to me by watching movies and looking at incredible pictures and stories about China and the Asian cultures. The images that came to my head while I was reading these books after having such crazy creative classes in school have never left my mind. My teacher, Lisette, was not the first of my incredibly talented teachers, but certainly the most memorable and a role model for creativity if there ever was one. My mother and the rest of my family always said I was incredibly creative and that it must have been in my blood after coming from a family of artists and writers, but I know that genes had little to do with it. At home and in the classroom, great creative things were expected of me, and when things are expected of you as a child, you simply rise to the occasion.

My first exercise when getting certified as an English teacher was to think about the teachers in my own life and what had inspired me. Regardless to say that images of Teresa and the day she totally shocked me with photos of Biosphere number 2 and explained what that was came rushing past me. Nora and her very unique way of teaching us Shakespeare made an appearance, Herminia and her humor and love of literature came to stay. Carlos G. and the way he taught me how to love the magic of creating something with your hands and laugh at yourself when things went wrong also knocked on my door. Eduardo and his incredible and mesmerizing lectures were there because they simply never left. Lisette was center stage and will always be (as she has been since then) an incredible role model for high standards, creativity and a passion for teaching. So yes, what is the first thing you should do to actually get creativity to show up in the classroom? As the experts say and as my experience taught me, you must lead by example.

I’m so glad that all the research I do to take my lessons to the next level creatively might teach more than just possessive adjectives and modal verbs! I’ll go through more of the tips with you soon, but if you can’t wait, here’s the article. 

What more can I say of these and so many other incredible teachers, other than thank you. What would happen to the world if all teachers were this passionate and creative? It would be pretty great wouldn’t it?!

My mother used to always have a surprise for me on the first day of school and that’s what you’re seeing in the top photo. Me and some beautiful blue balloons that to my amazement that day were filled with helium! My oh my!