Archive for November, 2010


November 21, 2010

There seems to be an air of homesickness circulating.  The mouse in the Pikey House is homesick and so are some of my colleagues, so to cheer us up, here are a couple of tales of my exciting life.

The Dice.

As some of you know, I have a giant dice that I take to all my classes along with Tony the football.  I don’t always use these props, but it is a comfort to know they are there just in case…

Well, after work, we were outside the lift waiting to leave our 6th floor place of work.  I was kicking my dice around like a football (just like the kids do) and as one colleague got in the lift to leave, I accidentally kicked the dice through the lift doors which then promptly swallowed my dice.  😦  This caused fits of giggles.  Maybe you had to be there.  Luckily, the dice came back up with the lift as my colleague wasn’t mean enough to steal it.

The Shoe

I’ll put this into some sort of context, shall I?  I have fitted into the Cadiz winter like a hand into a glove and am embracing the opportunity to wear winter clothes.  I’m regularly seen about town in my red coat and black hat.  I don’t know if I do, but I’m worried I might make an impression on the locals, especially when I do stupid things.  Mr A has to point out to me on a rather frequent basis that I gesticulate when telling a story or I do impressions or act out the words I’m saying.  This is the result of never having quite enough confidence in my language ability in French and Spanish to communicate effectively with words alone, and of being an EFL teacher where students need a lot of visual clues (I try not to teach English in Spanish, so mime and synonyms is what the students have to put up with!).  I act out things to Mr A and sometimes, I get a few funny looks from passersby.  I don’t care.  I don’t have to be serious in my own time (that’s reserved for work 😉 ).

So, take note.  Red coat and black hat.  Tendency to mime things in the street.  Add to this my funny little hop step I do when I’m happy or excited.  This step alone can cause alarm.  So, the story.  Yesterday I was walking back from Miami (the cafe bar) when I felt momentarily overcome by general happiness when I did my little step.  To reiterate to Mr A that I had done my little hop step, I repeated it, when my shoe came flying off my foot into a parked car.  No damage was done other than to my ego and already suffering reputation.

There are many events in my life like these two. 😦

Back to homesickness.  My medication is Tetley tea in my Scouserware mug, lots of chocolate, warm blankets, films, music and TV that remind me of home (like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – it’s good to hear a British accent with all it’s colourful expressions when you’re homesick) and….I need some UK comedy, desperately.  American imports just don’t do it.
What are your cures for homesickness?


What is writing?

November 16, 2010

Writing is a natural progression from reading and appreciating a poem, which brings me to talk about why we should write in class and what we should write.  I do not claim to be the best of writers.  I can be a good writer when I sit down and compose something with thought and drafting.  This blog, however, is my stream of consciousness.  What I like about having a blog is I can write everyday, simply for the practice of writing.  Just because I am a native speaker does not mean that I don’t have to practise my writing skills, too.  As a speaker of different languages, it’s fair to say that I often forget certain words in English, and so reading and writing in English is as important for me as it is for my students.  Sometimes I wish I would forget English a bit more and remember more Spanish, but that’s another story.

So, back to writing.  Using a poem, you can learn more exciting vocabulary to use in writing compositions or poems or whatever.  Just because you might not use the word “twilight” so much in English conversation (apart from the fact that my kids are very into the series of films at the moment!), there’s no reason why the students shouldn’t discover it and use it somehow.

Where I work, there is a huge emphasis on communication, pronunciation and listening skills.  I completely agree that this is important for using English.  Nevertheless, writing should not be relegated to the least important of skills to cover in class.  Perhaps it needn’t be about writing an email or writing an article about stress or language-learning or a summary on a news piece.  What are we teaching students to do?  To use English to survive in the English-speaking world.  How many of us in the English-speaking world write news articles or reports or even letters?  What do most of us write on a daily basis?

Facebook statuses

MSN conversations (I like this as it’s writing in real-time, almost as spontaneous as speaking.)

Text messages

Work emails

A note for the milkman to tell him not to leave any milk this weekend (ahhhh, reminds me of home!)

Do we need these to survive?  Some, but not all.  Do we enjoy writing them?  MSN and Facebook, definitely.  Is writing an article enjoyable?  Absolutely not.  Not for native speakers and especially not for learners.  I understand that these more sophisticated skills need to be addressed, too, especially those participating in Cambridge exams  or those wanting to study or work in an academic environment (and I don’t mean to come across as ignorant, but this is my blog, so if I am, bare in mind I’m just thinking outload, as it were, and not many people actually read or are interested in what I have to say.), but writing needn’t be something we dread or something akin to drawing blood out of ourselves.  People love to commnunicate with each other.  This is genuine use of a language where the focus is taken away from the need to practise our writing skills and shifted towards communication.

I, therefore, believe we can promote reading and writing in a more authentic environment, using or imitating media such as blogs, MSN, social-networking sites etc.  I am going to reflect on this, as I have ideas all the time, but don’t always write them down.

Some of my ideas include taking a piece of paper, writing a status, (how you are feeling right now or what you are thinking about) then passing the papers round the class for people to write comments.  This is a little bit like the consequences game, only not in story form.  Lovely grammar clarifation could result from this activity if you have time.

Another idea is to teach text abbreviations to encourage use of written language in the students’ free time.  In fact, a lesson on the mobile phone can grow out of this, with a lead-in introducing the phone.  You could ask Ss to change their language settings on their phone to English.  Then, look at the message section of the phone.  The students can work out words like inbox and drafts, etc, depending on the level.  Then, give out a sheet with text abbreviations and ask them to guess.  You can use cards if that’s your thinkg (admittedly, I HATE cutting out, but it can be fun).  Then show a few messages (on paper, not on my phone, HELL no!)  and ask them to translate the message into normal English.  Then, they have to write a text message to someone else in the class.  Then, you could play Guess Who with the messages to decide who it’s intended for.  Or do something more serious like e-mail writing after that.  Or teach them Scouse? :p

Anyway, this is my stream of consciousness and not to be taken to serious.

Hope you’ve enjoyed!


November 14, 2010

The second time I write this, as WordPress didn’t save it automactically like it usually does. 😦

On the topic of vocabulary-building, poems and songs, here is what is on my list to purchase for material in the classroom:

Poetry in an EFL classroom.  Is there a place?  I think so.  Is it elitist?  Id don’t even know why anybody would think that it was.  Poems are an accessible way to meet new words in new contexts.   Should there be a linguistic point to using a particular poem?  There can be, but isn’t the beauty of discovering new language enough of a point in itslef?  Do we have to grammatise the activities in the poetry lesson?  Implicity, there will be some clarification of grammar, but again, surely just reading a poem in English is enough of an objective to justify the lesson.

I know that Angela Topping, one of my favourite teachers from school, is passionate about introducing poetry to young people and writes poems that are written with young people in mind.  As an experienced teacher, she knows how to reach young people through language and creative writing.  This is why I am buying her latest book of poems.  They are on sale at Amazon at a reduced price here (on Amazon…link to be added but doesn’t seem to be letting me add it right now.).  You can also check out her blog:


France, Spain and Christmas

November 14, 2010

I watched Amelie last night on the new DVD player we bought in El Corte Ingles.  I love the music and the quirky artwork and effects throughout the film.  For me, the whole film encapsulates the essence of the romance we Brits associate with the idea of living in France and the artistic mentality that goes with that romance.

This romance takes me back to living in France very briefly a few short years ago.  It was in September 2007 as part of the Erasmus programme that I arrived in Tours, France.  Barely unable to string a sentence together in French despite many years studying it and a fantastic grasp of the grammar, (I think I’m the sort of language student  that Jeremy Harmer was describing in his post yesterday!  The one with the internal dialogue rather than the external conversation, albeit very strong with languages in general) I struggled from Paris to Tours.  People must have thought I was thick, and you’ve no idea how frustrating that is!  I’m a great student of languages, but it takes me a while to “speak”, that’s all.  And because of this, I don’t judge my students’ ability on their communication skills alone.  Anyway, we’re going off the point of this post.

Those few short months on Tours were wonderful and frustrating and a dream.  It was everything that France promises and more.  I drank coffee late at night in bars wearing my jeans (something not really “done” in England.  Try ordering a coffee or anything less than a double vodka at night-time and they look at you like you’ve asked them to put Teletubbies on their giant plasma screen instead of the half-naked, dancing beauties who can’t sing more than three notes.  And I do order coffee at night for the simple reason that I don’t care what you’re “supposed” to drink.  I’ll have what I want, cheers.  In France, drinking coffee was okay, as was reading a book (Sartre or otherwise! 😉 ).  There were little, intimate book shops with staff who knew their literature and would look at you bizarrely if you asked for something more modern than Moliere.  There were big shops which sold expensive books with snazzy covers which fold inside and often have a little extra strip telling you about the author.  There were many little cafes and restaurants with croque-monsieurs or should that be croque-messieurs?  There were little side streets with shops displaying a wealth of hand-made treasures including jewellery, paintings, ceramics, you name it.  I felt wonderfully integrated after a short-while, being a familiar face in the rather intimate city centre.  My language was improving immensely, I felt inspired and I had some great friends from different places.  I’ve never felt so accepted in a place before or since.  It was okay to be me.  I didn’t have that usual feeling of being slightly embarrassed about the things I say and how I say them and my constant anxiety resulting from over-analysis.  I didn’t feel that I was a geek or that I wasn’t educated enough, or not “cool” enough (well I did, but only when I was with narrow-minded English people, which, fortunately, wasn’t very often once I’d got to know people from other countries).  I felt that Tours was the perfect place.  When I watch Amelie, some of these memories come back to me, though really, it wasn’t anything like Amelie.  For one thing, it was a bit more modern…

The truth is I fell in love with France in a way that I still haven’t with Spain.  I like Spain.  Spain has its strong points.  Spain, or at least Cadiz, is relaxed.  You can go for walks along the paseo, I like the little unpretentious bars with metal chairs, I like the people who you can approach without a feeling of coldness emanating from them.  I like sunset, here, as some people may have gathered.

Now the link in my brain from Amelie to France to Spain now goes to Christmas.  I’ve never celebrated a Christmas here in Spain.  For me, nowhere, not  even France does the wonderful build up to Christmas like England.  However, I associate November time with little city visits to cold places.  There was the trip to Paris and then Blois in 2007, last year it was London, this year it’s….well….I haven’t got money to go to Paris and no time to go to London, so where can I go that’s not far from Cadiz to satisfy my November pre-Christmas preparation urges?

Not a New Idea, I’m Sure!

November 13, 2010

Words, words, words… I have my problems expanding my vocabularic(!) horizons, too.  And it seems I’m not alone.

One idea, that didn’t work for me, but will, and has I’m sure, worked before.

Get a song with poetic lyrics.  Show the students.

They either listen to the song and pick out beautiful words or you show them the lyrics and ask them to find words they like.

Or, cut out the words and play the song and they pick the words as they hear them.  (This part of the idea was from my CELTA course. Can’t take credit for that!)

They can write a line or a small poem with these words, they can “purchase” the words by other “word” currency (ie another poetic word) or they can draw a composition of their favourite few words (an idea from a trainee art teacher…does she know she inspired me with that task?  Somehow I don’t think our teachers realise how they can and do inspire.  Incidentally, this teacher didn’t complete her placement, and I hope this was the best decision for her. It’s a shame, however, that she left without knowing that I went on to complete this part of my art GCSE after she left In fact, it was the only part I enjoyed of the whole thing, hence my grade D, which I like.  It gives me an edge!  Anyway…).

These are not in anyway new ideas, but presenting things, nonetheless, is no bad thing.

The best songs for this are, of course, anything written by Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds.  Might I recommend Perfect and Pure and….well, see for yourself.

And for a idea on poetry in class, try Ceri. For some great words on poetry, delivered by the teacher and writer who guided me through my A-level in English lit, try Angela Topping’s blog.  Her verses could certainly be used in an EFL classroom.  Poems and songs are for everyone: more accessible than reading books if your level is not very high and an easy way to acquaint yourself with new words.

Protected: Part 2: Today.

November 12, 2010

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Protected: Part 1: My first five months as a part-time TEFL

November 11, 2010

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Random Thoughts with No Connection

November 10, 2010
  • The sea has displayed an unusual green hue for the past two days.  The Atlantic is always a deep blue when the sun shines, but when the waves thrash in the wind and rain as we’ve been experiencing of late, the silt is stirred up from the sea bed leaving a horizon not dissimilar from that of a British coastline.  And I rejoice in the rain, with the green sea and the grey skies.  I’m the only one in Cadiz enjoying the damp air and the clouds up above.
  • I hope that if I get mysteriously ill, that Dr House will treat me, as the man is a genius.
  • The best things about Spain include House in Spanish, four episodes back to back on Tuesday nights and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on Thursdays which can be watched with it’s original, colourful soundtrack.  I’m not saying I approve of his language, but how on earth are the Spanish supposed to translate the F word?  Other things include Cola Cao, the sea and my balcony.
  • I got my class to write down some funny things about themselves.  I joined in, since there were only four of us.  I wrote that I once set my hair on fire in church.

New Blogger

November 10, 2010

I’d like to take a minute to credit someone who had a fabulous idea on Dragon’s Den (the Internet version) over a year ago when I was doing my CELTA course.  The idea was a software programme for language learners to use in class.  The idea was called the Language Garden.  The programme helps learners to construct sentences in various different ways using a “Language Plant”.

This idea obviously made a big impression on me, as I remember emailing everybody on my CELTA mailing list with the link to this Den presentation.

Fast forward a year and I find a commentator called “languagegarden” on another blog I read.  Surely it couldn’t be the same person?  Well, yes, it was.  Of course, I had to post a comment on languagegarden, AKA David Warr’s blog.

The blog is very informative and reflective, with food for thought and links to other useful TEFL blogs.  Some of the posts are an inspirational account of his own journey.

The fact that he has given me advice on this blog is one example of how teachers from different places are supporting each other using media such as Twitter and blogs.  Whereas I have been a blogger for around five years in various guises, teachers interacting with each other in this way seems to be a relatively new trend.


Cuppa Time

November 10, 2010

to change from the usual thick espresso coffee with mil, I’ve decided to dumb it down and drink a Cola Cao for a change.  This is the perfect remedy for my not-quite-right tummy today.  I think I ate too much pasta last night and my sleep has suffered as a result, hence the reason why I’m writing at this time.

I’m breakfasting on ideas before I write the lesson plans for this afternoon, though if the truth be told, I’ve no more of an appetite for planning as I have for a strong coffee, right now.  The half-baked ideas in my head don’t seem to rise to the challenge.  Still, I’ll plan and I’ll do something half-okay as always.

So, morning all!