Sunday, April 9, 2017

5 Easter Pins for your YL Students

1:53 AM

With Easter a week away, this next week will be filled with spring lexis and all sorts of crafts. I have an adorable group os pre-starters that have just learned animals, one of them being rabbit. Perfect timing to bring out some crafts and work on following instructions, developing cognitive skills, improving hand-eye coordination and just having some darn fun.
I've been going crazy on Pinterest, looking at adorable felt or yarn bunnies, paper-plate chicks, paper hyacinths and crazy Easter egg hunts.
I've picked 5 super-doable activities for you guys to try out this week. Or this spring for that matter, since, hey, who doesn't like a nice bunny party hat??

1. The Bunny Party Hat
The image is self-explanatory but I might add that you could use this activity with any age YL, given that you help the little ones with the cutting (prepare it beforehand) and ask the older ones to give their hat a name, invent a story, draw details, etc.

2. The Plastic Spoon Bunnies
This is by far the simplest activity with Easter bunnies I could find. It still involves some manual skills but overall it should be less than 20 minutes. So if you're short on time but still want to do something bunny-ish, give it a go. By the way, I saw another Pin where the bunny was inside a double sided paper egg that had been dutifully decorated, with the front side half the size of the back side, and the spoon's handle serving as a hold. Adorable!

3. Button Extravaganza
Now when I saw this, I instantly knew this was what I was going to do with my students this week. Here they've made birds, but can you already see it? Button bunnies!!! Again, a super simple activity where little preparation is necessary, perfect motor skills are irrelevant, creativity can run free, and the back of you wonderfully original card can be filled with English!

4. Fingerprint Art
Great little activity for YL where they get to get their hand dirty and maybe help each other create different characters (hey, we all have different fingers). Again wonderful little activity for following instructions (since most YL will need help with drawing faces) but I guess you would need to do this activity in 2 phases. Phase one, you make the cards with the fingerprints and put it somewhere safe to dry. Phase two, you draw the faces, extra detail and messages. If you have a long 2 hour lesson, you might be able to do both, but I doubt you will be able in 1 hour.

5. Eggstremely Surprising Card
A short little activity with minimal preparation and minimal drain on classroom time. I would use this with slightly older YL (from 9-10 onwards) that are a little bit more confident and able to draw. Why? Because my experience with little people has taught me that some are naturally better at drawing while others not. But all are acutely capable to discern between a great drawing and a not so great (albeit I think they are all absolutely adorable) drawing. So they mope or bicker or ask for my help more than I would like them to (hey, it's supposed to be their drawing, their moment). So if you plan on doing it with tiny people, show them a "how to" video about how to draw a chick, there are plenty on youtube and it can save you a lot of grief after. When they've mastered (this is highly relative as we all know) the chick drawing, then we go to the do a card on your own part. Mind you, you might need to ask them to draw it multiple time (hence you might need to prepare this project several lessons before). For everyone else, go ahead and do this 15-20 minutes craft.

The Sound Easter

Friday, April 7, 2017

To CLIL or not to CLIL?

12:00 AM

I've just finished my first teacher training course. I was extremely happy to get this opportunity since it is something I would like to do in the future. My school organised a TKT CLIL exam prep and my group consisted of 11 Italian state school teachers.

When I said yes to doing this class, I had to brush up on exactly what this TKT CLIL exam and CLIL itself was all about. As a bilingual child, I've basically gone through CLIL myself and can't speak highly enough of it but in reality, it all bubbles down to the teacher's own agenda, willingness and knowledge. Having had a very positive experience, I felt it was imperative to communicate my enthusiasm for this way of teaching to my "students".

Now, what is the TKT CLIL exam?
The TKT CLIL exam is a Cambridge provided exam, part of the TKT scheme which Cambridge describe as

"TKT is a flexible series of modular teaching qualifications, which test your knowledge in specific areas of English language teaching. You can take as many modules as you want, over any time period. You receive a Cambridge English certificate for each module you complete."

TKT CLIL is one of the offered specialist modules which should be taken after the original TKT Module 1,2 and 3, but can be taken on it's own as well. It all depends on the teacher's willingness and prior knowledge. It obviously contains a mountain of methodology terms and challenging practices that need to be assimilated and reasoned on.

The test in itself is not overly complicated, a multiple choice paper-based test with 80 questions that are worth 80 points and you have 80 minutes to do it. Your results place you within 4 bands(1 being the lowest and 4 being the highest), with an average of 45-50 points placing you in the 3rd band.

But, why take the TKT CLIL exam?
That was the first question I considered when I said yes to dong this course. Why are my students coming in for a 2 hour class packed with tongue-twisting methodology terms, laborious teaching practices and anglo-saxon new-age logic?
My answer was: to better oneself and hence to better prepare ones students. 
Highly idealistic you would say...but throughout the course I noticed my initial assumption was right. My students were there to learn new tricks, experiment new things, challenge themselves and ultimately get a certificate that proves this new acquired knowledge.
So why do it? Because it will make teaching fun and new and rewarding. It's a bit like experienced Celta without the assignments, deadlines, sleepless nights and overload of info.

Last but not least, why CLIL?
CLIL is a world. A magical, difficult, challenging, gratifying world. It means offering our highly globalized kids a real chance, a higher competence, more realistic expectations when deciding to study abroad, a wider cultural spectrum, a classroom that most times levels the playing field and yields surprising results. CLIL is all about giving non-native kids the chance to feel and employ the language, whatever language that is, while at the same time developing their cognitive, learning and coping skills through learning subjects. The focus is on the subject, not on the language. Great mathematicians will need help from great language speakers, and viceversa. You might be the best in History, but will it be the same once you have to use French or English to learn it? You might be a great player, but can you be a great team player? You might have an excellent memory, but can you analyse the information you are given and give your opinion on it? This is what CLIL aims to do.

At the end of my class, we all felt empowered, proud, positive. I was proud of my students for all they had achieved and they were proud of themselves. I felt like I had laid the cornerstone to something great for my future as an ELT teacher, and they felt more confident about their teaching. 
I can honestly say I can't wait for the next class.
In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for my students taking their exam mid April!

The Sound Eater

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I'm a speaker! iELT2017

11:13 PM
Yay! I'm speaking at Innovate ELT 2017 Conference.
I am so excited as this was one of the places I was really dying to get to.
I bought my ticket, booked my Airbnb, drafted my conference presentation and overall finished counting my lucky stars.
Look at this presentation:
Click on the image if you want to go see their website which is awesome!

I am so very excited and take this opportunity to thank them and invite everybody who can come to this wonderful experience!

The Sound Eater

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Sound Logic

1:16 PM

What comes to mind when you think about the word "sound"?
Do you think about your favourite singer? Or maybe your favourite song? Maybe a musical genre or an instrument? Do you imagine an orchestra, a music video? Two cowboys facing each other on the main road at sunset with a whistled song floating in the air? Or maybe a moustached phenomenon in sneakers and a white tank top strutting his stuff up and down the stage of a sold out concert? Maybe you think about how the word "sound" sounds like.
Or maybe, like me, you think about your mouth.
Yes, not exactly our favourite bunch of bone and muscles on the planet.
Most people think of their mouths in terms of eating, drinking, breathing, talking, kissing, screaming, etc.

I want you to imagine a concert hall.
Maybe you've never been in one, so I want you to imagine a theatre.
Maybe you don't like theatres, so I want you to imagine a cinema.
And if you still can't see that, try and remember a concert you saw on TV.
That's what I see in our mouths.
The most unbelievable, incredible, magical concert hall in the known universe.

If our brains are the supercomputers that no computers will ever match, then our mouths are the most perfect concert halls that have ever been created. Sorry Carnegie Hall, it's not personal.
When I say mouth, I refer to all the different parts involved in the production of sound: the lips, teeth, the alveolar ridge, our lungs, the velum aka the soft palace, the hard palate, the uvula, the glottis, the tongue. I must have forgotten something, just like you forget to wish a distant aunt Happy Birthday for her birthday, but you love her dearly for existing.
Every single time I hear a sound I've never heard and therefore maybe never created, the thought of sound creation is electrifying (You're the sound that I want, Sound that I want, Uh Uh Uh). The complicity and multiplicity of biological phenomenons that allow sound to be formed is nothing sheer of magical.

"Speech sound production is one of the most complex human activities: it is also one of the least well understood. This is perhaps not altogether surprising as many of the couples neurological and physiological processes involved in the generation and execution of speech utterance remain relatively inaccessible to direct investigation, and must be inferred from careful scrutiny of the output of the system - from details of the movements of the speech organs themselves and the acoustic consequences of such movements."

Speech Production and Speech Modelling
edited by W.J. Hardcastle, Alain Marchal

Just some food for thought.

The Sound Eater

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Family Tree Fun

10:56 PM

I'm a big fan of creating family trees with my students, but I can never find a really good one that I can use with multiple types of students, so I always end up with at least 10 different photocopies of 10 different family trees. So I made my own.
It looks good enough for kids, but I've used it with teens and even adults and the graphic didn't feel cartoonish.
You can find it here - Family Tree

I'll also share with you 5 things you can do with it.

1. With really small kids (pre-starters, starters, movers) you can ask them to start from YOU and then write the name of mom, dad, sisters, brothers, grandparents. I would suggest to have a spare copy you, the teacher, work on. You illustrate and monitor they are writing the right names. Be careful, if they can't remember or they need extra boxes because their parents are divorced and remarried, be super flexible. Remember you're not doing a census for the government.

2. Again with small kids, you can ask them to start from YOU and then draw mom, dad, sisters, brothers, grandparents. If they can't ask them to draw a symbol of the person. I had a really sweet little girl who had never met her grandma who passed away before she was born. She drew a bunch of flowers because her grandma had had a garden full of flowers that her grandpa still kept. Useless to say I almost started crying.
This drawing activity can also be a continuation of the activity above if you make sure they write on the dotted line and still have space for drawing.

3. With older children, teens and such, I've asked them to write the names of close relatives, like above, followed by a short list (4-5) of personality adjectives that characterise those individuals. Then they had to explain in pairs why they had chosen those adjectives by giving examples, explaining and telling anecdotes. Pairs could be changed several times. This works for adults as well.

4. A variation of the exercise above is to ask them to write the opposite of the adjectives (written in red) they want to use and then have them in pairs work to figure out the correct adjectives. Then they would proceed to have the discussion described above. I usually use this variation after I have done the activity from point 3 a couple of times and I want to recycle and make the activity a little bit more challenging. This works for adults as well.

5. Older teens (like legal age teens) and adults. Set it as homework. They must fill in the family tree with names and adjectives. They must also find a photo or some photos that show all the people in the family tree. In pairs, they exchange photos, describe each individual using both physical description and the personality adjectives they have already written. The partner has to guess who is who.
This can be modified by giving each student a list of 3 or 6 names/personality adjectives/physical description adjectives they need to tick off of a list. That way, they will have a added purpose for listening.

Hope you have fun with it.

The Sound Eater

A Martin Luther King Jr. Day lesson plan (materials included)

12:13 AM

So today will be a double post day, but I'll start with this.
I recently taught a lesson centred on the theme of heroes so I went with one of my personal heroes, the great orator Martin Luther King Jr.

I've got a KEY/PPT slide for you to guide you through the lesson and some extra materials you will need.
Heroes - MLK

During the GROUP READING you should have already set up three separate reading areas with a blown up version of the following text cut up in three piece (Group 1, 2 and 3). This is a very basic jigsaw reading activity.
Group Reading Text
Each student (1, 2 or 3) receives a set of questions to which he doesn't have the answers. Eg: a student 2 will have questions pertaining to students 3 text and thus they will need to share to be able to complete them.
The students are then rearranged and groups of 1-2-3 students are created to share their own info and complete the questions.

I found a really nice True/False activity on as part of a lesson plan and did that as my second activity. It is connected to this Vimeo video. You can do quite a lot with the video.

History: Bet You Didn't Know - March on Washington from on Vimeo.

During the lesson, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation was worked on, recorded and recycled.

I then finished the lesson by asking students to produce a paragraph-speech starting with "I have a dream..." for their next lesson.

I had a lot of fun with this lesson since all the students were genuinely interested and participated a lot in all the different stages.

The Sound Eater

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why I'm not afraid of Babbel

6:32 AM
I'll start my post by asking three simple questions.
1. Do you practice sport?
2. Do you do it alone, at home, or in a gym/sports centre?
3. How do you feel when you do it?

You're probably asking yourselves what does practicing a sport have to do with teaching English or, better yet, with the intelligently well-marketed Babble app.
Well...I've done or am still doing great variety of sports. Team sports like basketball or handball, Pilates, yoga, running, trekking, walking, tae-kwon-do, gymnastics. You name it, I've tried it.
In the last few years a great number of apps especially designed to facilitate my practicing said sports in the comfiness of my own house have invaded my iPhone and depleted my App Store credit. I've spent more money on those apps than I am comfortable or even willing to admit.
The latest Instagram fitness guru launches a FREE app with a 19€/month "supercalifragilisticly exclusive" subscription package? I'll try it, thank you very much.
There's a new app that promotes flexibility AND mindfulness? In the same app? At less than a 5€ per month? Yes, please!

I think you get the point. Now, with my new found obsession with fitness apps, I discovered I secretly enjoyed instructing my unexacting friends on how they had their lives all wrong. They were oblivious to the "life-changing power of <insert current app obsession>". And yes, I've actually said that to people.
What happened was that some took me up on my pseudo-creepy invitations to be app buddies and see who could do better. Ah, the competition factor. I'll get back to that one. So some of my friends went ahead and downloaded/bought some of the apps I'd tried myself. Some never gave in. Some stuck to the program for a couple of weeks, some for a couple of months, some still use it. I've started using and abandon more than a half a dozen apps. The novelty factor is like getting high for the first time. (Not that I've ever gotten high mom, if you're reading this. It was just for emphasis.) I love the app for two weeks or even six months, it's on my phone, I can do it more or less anywhere (acceptable for burpees and such) and at any hour (ahem, yes 11 pm is an acceptable practice time if you're an English teacher - shoutout to all late-night working teachers).

But, ultimately I gave up. I found something new. I stopped caring that the app stared back at me from my phone. I still have a daily reminder on my iWatch from one of these apps that I use a sort of time compass. If the reminder rings, I know I still have about 30 minutes before having to leave my house for a set of classes I teach at lunch.

Babbel is an awesome little app. It's well built and very intelligent. It's useful. It's definitely inexpensive.
But, if you're human, it won't last. You'll start to dread it. Or you'll start to get bored. Or you'll find a new Babbel. Or you'll meet someone and be busy. Or <insert here 1,2 million human excuses for quitting stuff>.

Because coming to an English class with an actual teacher and actual classmates and actual human contact is much more rewarding. It's much more complex, unpredictable, educational, memorable, interesting, emotional...human.
You don't just get an educational experience, you're not just learning a language, you're meeting new people, a new culture (sometimes more than one), you're stepping out of your comfort zone (aka your living room), you're going the extra mile. You can smile and frown and cross your arms and slump. And your teacher will see all of these things and react accordingly.

When I last yelled at my least favourite app, calling it an instrument of torture, it calmly said back: "Well done, Oana, 5 to go!"

I deleted it immediately. So I'm good with Babbel. I'll just wait it out.

The Sound Eater

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I had a moment with Siri

1:25 PM

Imagine this.
I'm in my car with my boyfriend driving. We're running late for dinner at my friend Maria Teresa's house. I frantically look through my contacts for her name to warn her of our delay. My boyfriend suggests I ask Siri to call her. I say: "I would, but you know my phone is in English. It won't recognise the name." He looks over dumfounded and says: "What do you mean? I use it all the time."
I proceed to explain in length how I have to pronounce the name with an English, no, better yet, American accent so that my American sounding Siri counterpart to have the slightest of ideas of who Maria Teresa is.

And then, just then, an idea hits me like a moving train. Here, before us, or better yet, in our pockets and bags, we have technology that seemed impossible, downright scientifically fantastic just a few decades ago. We have a technologically advanced programmed entity to help us with little task like looking through our contacts list and dealing a number. Yet somehow, our phonetically predisposed brains managed to narrow the scope of such an ingenious knack by applying the same phonological algorithms that have always represented the hurdles we must jump in order to master a new language.

Now think about that marvellous theory according to which we don't actually read words, but rather beginnings and ends and we fill the middle with what we think should be there. We work on hunches and the marvellous machinations of our brain.
In the same way, I believe, albeit having no proof (or maybe I read it somewhere and it got stuck in my mind), that our brains get wired up to expects and produce certain sounds, our sounds, the sounds we start hearing in-utero and continue to hear during infancy. We are literally phonologically impaired since birth. Couldn't this possible, programmed predisposition then manifests itself in our capacity or incapacity to perceive sounds differently from what our expectations and prior knowledge are? As a teacher I realise I've fine-tuned my capacity to understand even the most phonetically butchered of words, and yet sometimes I still get blindsided with a word I struggle to understand, only to be illuminated when the student spells or writes it.

So Siri, a piece of computational intelligence infinitely more capable than us to store, select and use phonetics, needs to hear the right sounds according to her assigned accent. Just like I would, or you would. Siri needs to hear you say your words, the right way.
And so I wonder, was it technological pain that didn't allow the wonderful men and women at Apple Inc to equip Siri with a universal capacity to distinguish sounds or was it something they didn't even think about? Because despite the eeriest of memes and gifs with Siri conversations on the web, the fact that Siri can be puzzled by mispronunciation is by far the most bewildering of attributes to give our friendly pocket helper.

The Sound Eater