3 class hours – one topic and zero boredom

Today I had to be well prepared as I was teaching a lively but motivated 10th grade class with no official textbook.

We are covering the topic of ‘The Individual and Society’ as a pre-reading for ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson.

The challenge? Well, teaching 14 year olds (lots of boys) is a start, these kids know English, some of them come from English-speaking backgrounds but their English is far from academic (however, they need to be shown that they have a way to go as far as academic English is concerned). Their levels vary, some will get through a text in seconds whilst others are still struggling. Oh, and of course, it’s three hours.

So I started with stage one which was reminded themselves of the question and the topic. In the previous lesson I had shown them a picture on the board of the man who didn’t salute for Hitler, but hadn’t told them the story behind the picture until they’d discussed what they saw a bit. They were then given Jigsaw activities of various social experiments (Milgram, Asch. Hofling Nurse and Stanford) which reinforced the idea of how the individual behaves in a group setting.

Ok so that was last lesson. So now we had the last group presentation (ish) on the nurse experiment and I went back to the Stanford Prison Experiment in more detail.

I’d gone over the 15 minute documentary, finding some nice juicy bits of vocabulary which I’d written in a chart. First students had to identify words they knew, words they sort of knew and words they didn’t know at all. Then we went through a rather time consuming procedure of translating the words from the projected word document.

Now they had a lot of clues for the documentary. During the documentary they were given a note-taking chart and also prompted to tick off the newly learned words as they heard them on the documentary.

The documentary prompted a lot of questions, such as the connection between Abu Ghraib and Stanford, how prepared the volunteers were for their prison reality etc. I paused it a few times to clear up misunderstandings.

Oh, and I played the documentary with English subtitles. it helps.

I then allowed 10 more minutes for completing the chart. By this time our lesson was nearing a close, believe it or not.

We had feedback of the details students had picked up and then I handed out their journals and they had an option of 1 or 2 questions to reflect on

‘Could this happen to me’ or ‘Were these ‘bad apples’ or is this human nature?’

Students wrote silently for 10 minutes. It was puzzling for them to write for the sake of writing, not a graded or grammar-checked affair without a word- count even. Process writing, pure and simple.

I liked my lesson because I was able to take the documentary and turn it into something deeper rather than simply viewing (which had occurred two years ago). By the time we got to the video students were ready for it and the follow-on activities, rather than testing basic understanding were more reflective.

A student afterwards told me that she really enjoyed the lesson even though she’d been dreading the three hours 🙂 Yay for me!


Technology Rules?

technology addictionDuring my second week with my immersion course undergraduate students, we discussed the role that technology plays in our lives and watched the TED talk ‘Alone but Connected?’ by Sherry Turkle. I gave the students a written assignment with the simple title ‘Technology Rules?’, using at least five of the  new words and phrases we’ve learned during the course and have just started reading their responses. One of my students, a young, sensitive and bright woman who is about to get married wrote me a piece that completely blew me away. I’ve obviously corrected the grammar and spelling and now it’s good enough to publish to the world. Read and chew on this one:

Technology Rules?

(a written assignment by one of my undergraduate students)

I shun technology because I have watched my mother become addicted to it. She is unable to drive, drink coffee or even sit and talk to her own (adult) children without whatsapping at the same time. When I was young, I didn’t notice that that was a problem; I thought she was busy working. However, then I left home and whenever she came to visit, wherever I was, she was using her phone and we couldn’t have a real conversation.

My mother exhibits signs of perpetual loneliness; she always seems like she would prefer to be somewhere else and with someone else rather than with me. But then I came to the understanding that we all are like this; we meet with friends and family, but at the same time we send texts to others saying ‘See you!’

Technology has made us autistic. We don’t look at the view, we take a picture, we don’t call to ask ‘How are you?” , we send a text message. Maybe we rind it harder to look each other in the eye than before. Loneliness and boredom during social events are escalating.

My mom is an example of this addiction. She has become lonelier as time has gone by, but she doesn’t understand that Whatsapp is the disease and not the cure. Sharing every moment, view or thought of life every second prevents deep and long conversations that make us feel closer together and not just staying abreast of each others’ lives.

So I want you, the reader to rest assured that I will never get into this situation. I have made a pledge to myself with the following rules:

  • I don’t use a smartphone while I’m waiting for someone or a bus: I need to stare into space, read or imagine things.
  • When I am with friends or family my phone is on mute in my bag and my mind and soul are set to communicate.
  • If I have nothing to do I will not use the computer or phone for distraction (there is always something to read, paint, play with or clean

I follow these three rules to make my day more productive,  sociable and creative. As a result,   I have time to keep a diary of dreams and thoughts that I muse on at the bus station, to paint and to spend with my partner.

I wish my mother would take at least one rule from this list upon herself, it would change her life for good.

Penny Exegesis


Poetry is not necessarily just for experts of lovers of literature. It can be a wonderful way to open up dialogue and explore ideas. I did an activity today with my immersion college students that I coined ‘penny exegesis’. Why the penny? The idea is that we aren’t experts, but we’ll still offer our comments and analysis for a cheap price, or even for free. Maybe next time I’ll actually give them a penny.

I initially chose these three poems because we’re covering the topic of ‘The Self and the Other’:

Them and Us by Rudyard Kipling

Now I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou

Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson

All of the topics concern a divided society and how we regard ourselves and others.

The rules were simple. Each poems was given to groups of up to 3 students.Take a look at the poem, ask for explanations of words you don’t know, and discuss the topic of what the poem is about, any interesting metaphors or imagery and other quirks such as rhyme scheme etc. I gave them a demonstration by us going over Langston Hughes ‘As I Grew Older’.

I like this type of activity. You never know what interpretations the students will come up with and what they will notice or fail to notice! It’s an opportunity for a lot of talking, especially about topics connected to the poems and best of all, I”m not guiding them towards specific answers.

If there’s time afterwards, you can explain the cultural and historical background of the poem and what it’s believed to be about. But that’s not a must.

Englishman in New York Lesson Plan

englishman-in-new-yorkI’m trying to get my twelfth graders ready for their bagrut but they’ve already had enough of ‘boring material’ so it’s time for me to design my own. I did a quick look up of ‘songs for ESL’ on google and firstly came across ‘You’re so vain‘ by Carly Simon, but despite the song being one I loved, I found the cultural references a little old-fashioned for my 17-year-olds.

Then I saw Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’ and thought that this could be something they could relate to, having had me, an Englishwoman, teach them English for the past three years.

The song can be a springboard for the discussion of many topics, including differences between Brits and Americans, and applying that to how an Englishman might feel living in America. It could also be transferred to how they would feel in a ‘foreign country’ even if they knew the language well.

I think the goal of my lesson is basically to use the song as a springboard for social interaction, communication and exploring ideas. The song has some useful vocabulary, but it’s not rich enough for a vocabulary lesson alone.

In short, there are many things you can do with this song, but I chose the following.

  1. Access prior knowledge: have the students brainstorm stereotypical attributes of Americans verus Brits and fill in the chart.
  2. Vocab practice – there are few words in the song that they might not know such as ‘notoriety’ and ‘sobriety’. Pre-teach and do exercises.
  3. Guessing what the song might be about (don’t tell them the name of the song)
  4. Have them listen to the song, filling in the gaps (give the words to weaker students)
  5. Discussion. What is the song about? What are the feelings of the singer? Can you explain the expressions ‘manners maketh man’ and ‘a candle in the dark burns brighter than the sun’?
  6. I chose to add a bit of fun here. I googled ‘manners maketh man’ and found a reference to a scene in ‘Kinsmen’ which reveals a very stereotypical perception of the true Englishman. Play the scene and have them draw parallels in the song. They can discuss how true they think this stereotype really is.
  7. A follow-on activity might be to write a day in the life of a foreigner living in a strange city. They could write about what he misses about home, and how the people around him are different. Alternatively, students could conduct an opinion survey about people’s perceptions of Brits and Americans. Do all people from their country have the same assumptions?

Here is the worksheet I designed. Enjoy!


10 Tips for Making Your Immersion Course a Success

So I taught an immersion course for the first time this year. The students were college undergraduates who were smart, highly motivated, knowledgeable and badly needed to improve their spoken skills. In general Israeli students who know English can chat quite happily about mundane topics, but when things get deeper or more academic they get tongue tied.

The goal: 2 academic hours a day, 5 days a week to get them more fluent in an academic setting.

So here are my reflections:

  1. Immersion means it should be in English ALL the time. Don’t allow L2 to creep in , except for the quick scaffold: translating words or hearing their translation to avoid misunderstanding. Having students chat to each other in L1 is just as much immersion as them speaking to you or you speaking to them. Creating an English speaking climate and culture in the classroom is an absolute key.
  2. Be very selective about your materials. One of the more challenging aspects of teaching this course was finding appropriate materials that were challenging but not overwhelming, containing useful vocabulary and presenting controversial topics that could be subjects for class discussion and debate. It took time to dig around and find materials which were culturally digestible and, above all interesting.
  3. Constantly check for understanding. You would be surprised at how many words are chronically misunderstood and therefore misused. The more vocabulary they acquire, the more confident they feel in assuming they understand a word. Especially phrasal verbs when they know the verb base like, for example ‘wasting’ and ‘wasting away’.
  4. Give them a range of activities. Sticking to the same format does not an interesting course make. A text can be pulled in numerous directions and it should be. Examples; synonym matches, open ended questions for summarizing arguments, checking knowledge, gap fills after the text had been read to check understanding, quizlet quizzes etc etc
  5. Flip the classroom. I would give them TED talks to watch or texts to read and have them ready to discuss them in class. This allowed a lot more active communication to take place rather than it being teacher centered. Don’t be afraid to go over the texts again, even when they’ve read them. Chances are there are many juicy chunks of vocabulary they have either misunderstood or overlooked.
  6. When explaining words, translation is never enough. Demonstrating uses of new words is a key and encouraging them to try and use them is the next step. This is where guided writing or spoken activities come in handy. You give them thee collocation/phrase/word and ask them to use it in a natural way.
  7. Just because they are adults it doesn’t mean they don’t like to have fun. Quizlet really helped me in adding a bit of friendly competition (they played team scatter against each other). I also got them to do some fun role-playing situations which they really enjoyed.
  8. Listen to their feedback. We may have the expertise and the knowledge, but adult students have quite a bit of insight into how they learn best. Listen to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t try something new with them (and have them protest at first) but their should be an equilibrium between teacher input and student feedback.
  9. Literature has been and always will be a great tool. I wasn’t ‘teaching’ literature but found that literary texts such as short stories, excerpts and poetry were a rich resource for thought provoking ideas and vocabulary acquisition.
  10. When it comes to written tasks, encourage them to express themselves freely. I found that topics that everyone has an opinion or say in gave them an opportunity to speak from the heart which is always a great basis for written work.

Ten Tips for Reducing of Book Report Blahs

  1. Get them excited about reading. Before the report is due make a big deal about choosing a book. Have them reflect on their tastes, on genres that get them excited, about when they last read a book they couldn’t put down. Talk about your reading and the enjoyment you get from it.
  2. Take them to a great library.  If it is at all possible, a visit to the library, where books can be touched, felt and in experienced in a cosy environment may change their minds about reading.
  3. Have a read-in.  Yes, a silent reading lesson is a lesson. Turn it into a coffee book shop and have them bring hot drinks and snacks. Find some comfy chairs to bring into the classroom and let them listen to music if it helps them read. There should only be one rule for a read-in, that reading is conducted in silence. However they choose to achieve this should be up to them.
  4. Give them options. A book report need not be in a standard format.Students can be given the choice of reviewing a book in a number of ways. Nowadays there are so many great digital tools that kids can use to reflect on a book including book trailers, online book blogs, vlogs, prezi book presentations, comic strips depicting characters and screens and soooo much more. Let them be artistic, creative and expressive.
  5. Encourage reflection. The purpose of a book report is to encourage extensive reading. This type of reading is not goal based but process based. We know that reading is a process from our own experiences as adults reading a book. Reflective and probing questions like ‘Is the book how you expected it?’ or ‘Did you like the ending? Why/why not?’ and ‘Which character did you relate to the best and to the least and why?’ all encourage reflective processes. Books can be different things to different people. Seeing as so much of a story is up to the imagination, each student experiences a book differently.
  6. Specify your expectations. Like any project, a book report is only as good as its rubric. Nothing is obvious for middle school and high school students, not even the font size or paragraphing. Checklists work well for students and supplying the rubric along with instructions gives them preset goals.
  7. Emphasize the process. A book report is the result of a process called reading. It starts when the student selects the book and ends after the last page has been read. Teachers should monitor their students progress in order not to have a last minute read-the-summary-and-regurgitate task handed in.
  8. Divvy it up. Teachers get the book report blahs the same way students do. Don’t be frightened to try something new with your students. The tried and tested format may not necessarily be the most effective one.reading
  9. Individualize your feedback. Each student has different needs and different challenges when it comes to a book report. Make sure the student is reading a book on their level. If they are frustrated with it after one chapter, they are to find another book to read.
  10. ……and don’t dismiss audiobooks. The reading process can be enormously challenging for LD students. I feel that in listening to an audiobook, one can experience the book in an effective way. Yes, one doesn’t see the words written down but the listening process is also a cognitive one. There are some fanatastic audiobooks out there that our ESL students may not be aware of and they are great for listening to when walking to school or on long journeys, cleaning the house etc.

Why You Need a Good Relationship With Difficult Students

This is an excerpt of an article published by MICHAEL LINSIN on APRIL 19, 2014. For the full article go to this link

Most teachers have a less-than positive relationship with difficult students—although it isn’t always evident to those around them.

Indeed, the teacher may not yell, scold, or berate them in front of their classmates, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t resentment churning under the surface. It doesn’t mean the teacher doesn’t secretly hope they’d move out of the neighborhood.

Difficult students are accustomed to cold-war relationships with teachers. They’re used to the quiet tension, the heavy sighs, and the obligatory smiles. They know when they’re disliked or merely tolerated. The disconnect is palpable.

But to truly change their behavior, to eliminate disruptions, drama, and disrespect from your classroom, merely refraining from hurtful methods isn’t enough. You must cultivate a harmonious relationship with them, one they’ll come to appreciate and cherish.

Here’s why:

A good relationship provides leverage.

If you don’t have a favorable relationship with difficult students, if they’re unhappy with you and dislike being in your classroom, then your ways and means of accountability aren’t going to mean much to them. They just won’t care.

Time-out means nothing to a student who resents their teacher. It means nothing if there isn’t a clear difference in experience between being a valued member of your classroom and being separated from it.

The leverage you need to compel them to behave comes from your likability and general pleasantness. When they like you and trust you, they’ll want to please you. This is the only surefire way to influence their behavior.