Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Tips to kick off the new school year!

In my previous post I promised to share some ideas  on how to start the new school year with old and new English learners. No matter whether I already know my students from the previous year or they are new in the class, it is always  an awkward task  to get them involved and motivated from the first day, particularly so after  a long break like summer holidays.
This year I have decided to get unstuck from my comfort zone; apart from asking them the typical questions: “Did you have a good time this summer?” “Where did  you go?” and the rest, I tried some ideas which I found on the Net and I am really grateful to the colleagues who shared those tips.
So, let’s get started!
Tip 1
Who wants to travel on my spaceship? (Beginners and Elementary level)
First, you tell them to say their names. Write them on the board. Then you ask them if they wish to travel on your spaceship. But to do that they should bring something along. Write on the board:

I want to travel on your spaceship and I bring a ………………….. with me.
I want to travel on your spaceship and I bring some ………………….. with me.

The key is that the object that they should think of must start with the first letter of their names. You can start with your own name. For example, I say “ My name is Jo. I want to travel on your spaceship and I bring some jellies with me.” The funnier the things they think of, the more fun your class will have.

Tip 2
Look who I met (Elementary level and on)
Get your students to know each other. Tell them to choose their partner and ask each other questions . The higher their level, the more topics they can cover, i.e. family members, hobbies, favourite food, leisure time.
Then, tell them to present their partner to the rest of the class. This way, their classmates will learn more about the person introduced and the information will be circulated. For the kinesthetic learners you can practice this activity with the ball. Students throw a soft ball to their partner asking a question. However, their challenge will be to remember all the facts that their co-player is sharing.

Tip 3
 Let them know more about you (from Intermediate level and on)

I wrote some facts about myself under the numbers 1-6 , like some names, numbers, dates , etc. I told them to choose first a number and then ask a question so that they may get the answer. For example:
Nr1 – 19 years – “How long have you been teaching?” Correct answer !
It is not very easy to  form the right question from the start and it would be a good idea to mix easy and difficult prompts so that they can get the right answers in the beginning and later move on to a higher level. You can certainly adapt this activity according to your students’ level and age.

Tip 4
Post-it!  (Elementary level and on)
Give your students four post-it pieces. Tell them to write one statement about themselves on each one of them. Get a big piece of carton and stick their posts on it. You can have that poster on the board, let the students read them and guess who wrote what.
These are some of the activities that I practised on the first day of the school year and I am sure you can find further interesting ones on the Net. The main aim is, however, to have fun and raise your students' interest and engage them in their learning as they kick off the new school year.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Reflections of the first week back to school

The first week of the school year has just finished and I just want to note down my thoughts and experiences I shared with my students while I am enjoying my weekend free of lessons.
It has been a week full with timetable arrangements, meetings with parents, lesson plans, coursebooks and their components and colleague meetings.
But the most enjoyable moment was when I came up with the idea to introduce our school mascots. It popped up quite accidentally, actually. In our Creativity Room I discovered two old toy puppies in the boxes with crayons, markers, dolls and cartons. And I thought, “Why not? I will start the first day of our lessons with them.”
I went into the classroom and first I introduced myself. Some of the students know me already but there are new ones as well , who would get to know me as a teacher in action. Then I let them find out more about me and their classmates by using question games. But this is another post, stay tuned ! And then the big moment came… I took out of a bag the two mascots. I could see their excitement and their curiosity right from the beginning.  I shared my names- for- the- mascots finding  puzzle  with them. Could they help me find some for our puppy mascots? But there was a condition. The names should be relative to our school or classroom. We had a good laugh while they were brainstorming with the most inventive names, like Mr Pencil and  Ms Pen or Mr Laptop and Ms Mouse.  You can imagine how proud I felt when they finally agreed that we should call our mascots Ms Jo and Mr George, their teachers. We are the core of the school after all, aren’t we?  And I, wholeheartedly, believe that teachers are the soul of a school, not the teaching means or technology.

At this point I would like to stress the advantages on introducing a mascot in the classroom based on my reflections:
  •  It can work as an icebreaker and teachers encourage their  students to speak.
  •  A useful interaction tool between the teacher and the students and among the learners.
  •   It can be applied in all language levels and ages.
  •      It can be connected to any topic-related words.
  •      Learners feel relaxed and express themselves effortlessly.
  •     Most learners are familiar with mascots.
  •  They feel, especially the youngsters, a special bond between them and their school.
  •    With all  classes , mascots can be used  as the reward awarding agent  instead of the teacher ( and they find it really amusing !) , as well as a way to draw attention to student  (and teacher ! ) errors.

The mascot can be anything , a toy , an umbrella full with stickers with the students’ names on ,any of the multitude of objects found in a school.

All in all , it was an enjoyable experience for both my learners and myself , and it is definitely worth trying with your classes.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Goal #2 Be Someone's Champion


                       Interview with David Gibson and Luke Prodromou

                      David Gibson
Luke Prodromou

On a warm Greek Saturday afternoon, I met my two champions, David Gibson and Luke Prodromou. David is a teacher and teacher-trainer and has also worked as an examiner, team-leader, and inspector for a major examining board; he has now retired from active duty. Luke is a teacher, author, teacher trainer, and has also been an examiner for Cambridge and an item writer for the kpg exams. And I mention just a few of the things they have done so far. But they both agree that their brainchild, The Dave’n’Luke project, is their most important work as yet.
When asked how long their cooperation has been going on, they were happy to say they met a long time ago, teaching at the British Council of Thessaloniki, Greece.  David joined the British Council in 1987 where Luke was already working and performing in the Bits and Pieces theatre group with other teachers and students, which resulted in the publication of a book of original sketches. When this ended they formed the Teachers' and Students' Theatre Group putting on full-length plays by established playwrights. Since then, they had been working in the same town, each always promoting drama. There was a short period when they didn’t see each other much but, when David retired, they got together and somehow the idea of forming a project to write and perform based on drama and literature cropped up. They had the idea of getting a group of interested people together to revive Bits and Pieces and perform in support of the Disabled Access Friendly Campaign. After the initial meeting, the others dropped out and so it was just Dave and Luke. And it’s been fruitful since. Since December 2010 they have performed at teachers' conferences, in schools, colleges, and universities all over Greece, and, to date in ten other countries - more than sixty performances.
Then I asked them what they hope to accomplish through their project. Well, they said, first the obvious sheer pleasure they have working on their materials, rehearsing them and presenting them, plus the enjoyment of the warm welcome and positive response they receive whenever and wherever they perform. An educator, they pointed out, must be inspired by what he/she does in order to inspire others. And they do entertain their audiences and thus inspire them, since entertainment is not merely laughter but also food for thought. And they’re happy when they get people to think. A further reason why they do it is that they want drama to be transferred to the classroom, as drama is interactive, interpersonal, it is live –not a text, it promotes language acquisition as it gives learners the chance to use language and vocabulary in context, glean meanings in a real life situation, fathom the nuances of stress and intonation and so much more. From body language and gesture to the very simple learning of new vocabulary, dramatising it helps. More often than not, drama has proven the catalyst that turned a poorly performing learner into a star. And the benefits of using drama in the classroom have been observed, scientifically analysed and results of such studies have been presented in many an international conference.
Finally, I asked them where they get their inspiration from: “Each other “, they both  replied . They are both men of extensive education, reading, interests as wide as music and the theatre to football and so on, life is their stage and from life they get their ideas. They meet , exchange ideas, like some, discard some or put them aside for the time being, then choose some, brainstorm, consider factors such as “ Do we like it?’ , “Will they like it?’ And as soon as they’ve made up their minds, they get down to writing. While writing, they make changes. At times one of them may write half the dialogue while the other will contribute just the one sentence .At other times it will come spontaneously to both of them. It is the very fact that they really communicate at a deep level -they know each other this well-that allows them not to compete but rather complement one another.
Listening to them both, and feeling the passion they have for teaching- because educators they are first and foremost – enriched me as a person, as their presentations and performances have through the years .And naturally, they have encouraged me to keep pushing to become a better teacher, to keep learning, to discover ways to be inspired and inspiring, what they themselves have been through time. Dave and Luke-and the order is purely alphabetical- you are my champions. Thank you!

Monday, 20 April 2015

When drawing lines makes Grammar make sense

Objective: Using timelines to present Past Simple- Past Continuous

Development Area:Reinforce the understanding of the use of Past Simple and Past Continuous and their concept

Age of Learners: 12- year-old, elementary school

Why using timelines? I have chosen to use timelines because they illustrate the meaning and form of Past Simple and Past Continuous and how these two tenses can be combined and refer to time and events.

This is the result of work done with my 12-year-old students, aimed at improving their understanding of Past tenses and their ability to use them accurately.The class had had difficulty in understanding the linguistic concept of those tenses given as an explanation. Furthermore, I aimed at reinforcing the guided learning of my students using the inductive method and giving my students the chance for self study and controlled practice of the forms. I had noticed that the deductive way of introducing the form and the rules was not helping the youngsters who were just learning them but not using them freely. They needed simplified explanation and an illustration of the different verb forms and other language items (conjunctions, i.e. when, while)


I.  I drew the timelines on the whiteboard with some pictures of the actions I wanted to present to the learners (photo attached). I wrote the sentences underneath so that they had a linguistic description of the events. I used coloured boxes to denote longer actions and the symbol ‘X’ to stress the change point of an action taking place. The conjunctions ‘when’ and ‘while’ were put in red lined boxes to be pointed out. 

II. Then I asked them to produce, orally ,similar examples based on the drawings. I let them copy the timelines from the whiteboard and I asked them to draw their own timelines at home, which should illustrate the sentences I gave them beforehand.

Here are some samples of their outcome:

Advantages of the method: The main advantage was that this new approach of grammar presentation gave a visual reference as to how these verb tenses are used. My students could immediately see how the verbs work and for learners with  a visual learning style it was a great help to perceive the function of those verb tenses. In addition, it was an enjoyable, relaxed way of presentation since my students were amused by seeing me struggling with drawing.

Anticipated problems: There was a small problem that I had anticipated. I had to carefully explain to them the symbols in my drawings so that they could understand and to draw their attention to them. When they came to the next lesson, some learners could not put the method into practice in its full extension and they had to redo it. Nevertheless, I think that it will be much easier and faster next time because these symbols can be used as a commonplace in our grammar explanations.

In my opinion, the students have enjoyed this new grammar presentation approach and they can always refer to it when they need to. I have also used it with  higher  level classes to present other tenses since I noticed that it is manageable for lower-level younger students

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Task-Based Learning - Sending them out on a Mission

Having completed the CiSELT course with British Council I would like to share my assignments and records of work with you in a series of posts. And I will start with my assignment of Task-Based Learning

Lesson Plan

ObjectiveI was looking for a method that would engage my students in a
more communicative way and allow them to use the language effectively.  I would like to involve them in doing something in class that they would do or experience in their everyday life using their own language.

Lesson AimIn their coursebook they have read a leaflet about anger management and there has been an introduction to Gerunds & Infinitives.  My lesson goal is to present the function of those specific grammar structures and to provide practice in speaking, reading and writing skills.

Age: Teenagers, 13-14 years old

Level: Upper Intermediate

Special needsThey are well-behaved teenagers with some lack of concentration and confidence. They show weakness in grammar and especially in memorising lists of verbs with a specific structure. There is need to help them acquire verbs followed by to- infinitive or gerund and how they can integrate them in their spoken or written language. This would also help them recognise the specific structure in cloze tasks.

Learning outcomeTheir primary goal of completing the TBL activity is the task and
they use the language as an instrument to complete it. However, there is a focus on my behalf to pave the way so that they use the specific structures as often as they could,integrate the in their spoken and written language. As they are intrinsically involved, there is a higher possibility for them to learn this grammatical phenomenon.

Anticipated problems

The students may mostly use modals to pass their ideas across and they may not come up with ideas to use the target language. They will probably tend to confuse the structures. i.e. use full infinitives instead of bare infinitives  (e.g. make sb TO do something, let sb TO do something) or use infinitive instead of gerund ( e.g. suggest TO DO). They might also use “be allowed to do something” in active voice.

Proposed Solutions:
- Present the topic and the target language with an incident description by me. I will use some of the structures required. 

-Learners will be asked to brainstorm grammatical and lexical structures related to the task and can  adapted  them to their needs to complete the task. These will be recorded on the whiteboard so that the learners can use them as patterns and implement them during the task.

Lesson procedure
Teacher activity
Learner activity
Stage aim
3 min

Greet the students and ask
them about their day

Learners greet their teachers
back and report how their day was


To build rapport and ensure
learners are getting to use English for communication.

Teacher tells the students an anecdote incident that made her angry.
Learners listen to the narration and show interest in what has happened to their teacher by asking further questions
To introduce the topic and use the target grammatical structures. Learners are listening for comprehension of  a real life situation.
Teacher writes on the whiteboard What makes you
Presents the topic and introduces the task.
Learners are asked about their own experiences and feelings.
They brainstorm ideas and
record them in their notebooks.
Interaction of the learners with their
peers. Use of their
linguistic knowledge and familiarising themselves with the task.
Teacher asks the students to
choose their partner so that pairs are formed. The pairs are asked to choose what makes them angry most.
Learners have to agree whom
they will collaborate with to complete the task. They work in pairs to come to a conclusion. They report back to the class of their final agreement.
Group interaction to
come to an agreement. Learners are given the right of their own choice.
Teacher introduces the next
stage of the task. Learners have to write a dialogue where the
persons involved interact and try to find a solution to anger management.
Students listen for
understanding the task. They ask for clarifying what it is asked
from them to complete.
Point out the task.
Check back for understanding.
Teacher asks the students to
give examples of the specific grammatical structure, i.e.
verbs, adjectives, nouns,
phrases followed by infinitives/gerunds. Those are written on the board.
Learners brainstorm grammar
samples. They recall their acquired knowledge.
Elicit previous
knowledge. Revision of the target grammar
Teacher sets time limit to
complete the task. Browse around the classroom and
observe the process of task
Learners come up and form their
dialogues. They note down their lines, edit them, refer to the
grammatical and lexical patterns
from the board and try to implement some of them in their dialogues.
Learners’ interaction
and collaboration with their peers. Speaking
and writing practice.
Teacher asks the students to read aloud their dialogues. She intervenes whenever there are mistakes and asks learners for suggestions to correct them.
Learners read their dialogues.
Check for language. Correct mistakes
Language focus.
Error correction.
Grammar analysis.
Reading practice
Teacher gives students time to
rehearse their lines. She asks the learners to put emphasis on expression of their feelings
Students rehearse the dialogue.
They are engaged in role play.
Practice of
pronunciation and articulation, word and sentence stress.
Students present in front of the
class. Teacher records them on video. Funny way to close the
Students present their
dialogues. They show interest to be persuasive in their roles
Learners’ full
involvement in presenting their

And here is students' outcome. You can read the scripts here