2016 – Annus Horribilis… or not?

dsc_0077aI find myself having very much mixed feelings about this year that’s drawing to its close soon. Awfully dark in many ways, and so joyful in others. And I’m not going to do any dwelling on what’s happening globally right now, because that’s too scary even to think about. On the other hand, I’ve become the maternal grandma the second time over to a wonderful boy and, today actually is the due day for the arrival of the first child of one of my sons. And that’s pretty much where all the joy has come from. But I am not going to talk about that either. No, this post will be all about me personally and how this year’s journey has changed me.

I’ve had to rethink my whole life and my approach to all things important to me so far, and that’s been incredibly hard to deal with. Existential angst, extreme anxiety and anguish have been the constant companion in this process, but it has also resulted in frenzied creativity channelled into knitting. Also, I now find myself having made up my mind on a lot of those things that drove me into this situation. So many years have been devoted (wasted?) to work, work, work, and ,sure, I’ve enjoyed a lot of it and I’m proud of having produced a lot of really good innovative stuff for the classroom. On the whole, I know that a lot of my students through the years have enjoyed it and found completely new effective learning paths. But somehow, all those good things never reached outside of my classroom and that’s been a source of ever growing frustration within me, until it finally broke me a year ago.

Now, in the darkest and grayest days of November, I find myself extremely content, surprisingly enough. Minimizing work but maximizing output, concentrating on doing my own thing and on pedagogy I believe in, marginalizing stuff I can’t completely disregard and yet not control, distancing myself from people who have hurt me in the past, connecting to people who make me laugh and feel happy…. The list could go on much further, but I will end it by promising not to feel any guilt over money or time spent on yarn, but to allow myself all the joy the ideas, the colours and texture and sensual satisfaction that handling a lot of different wools and knitting material gives me, both now and in the future.


So, I am happy today, as I was happy yesterday – whatever tomorrow brings, and that’s good enough for me right now. I’m happy to be me and that’s a lot compared to what I felt a year ago.

Have a good day, people!


New York City Quiz

I made a video version from a gamified quiz on New York City involving reading comprehension, image recognition and cultural knowledge. Could be used as end of term task or just for personal entertainment.
Personally I would use it as a round-up activity after a class research project on New York City – “the city that never sleeps”

Sunday preparations

Can’t help but revert to videos in my English teaching over and over again, authentic ones as well as a means of student presentation. Have just edited a 50-minute tour of Scotland and cut it into 25 clips on one point of interest each for my 7th-graders tomorrow. Rather a time-consuming activity but what can one do when one seriously believes in something? Combining English language learning, culture, geography, history, media awareness, and student centered learning … all into one package.


A text, extensive vocabulary, L1 and collaborative learning

Today’s post will be exclusively in pictures, and will reflect a lot of my views on classroom learning (this time with no technology involved with the exception of the video projector for the step-by-step instructions).

The teacher is silent but in full control of all activity in the classroom, and the student activity will take all 60-75 minutes. This can be done with any text on any subject whatsoever, and at any level.

Student skills used: reading; pronouncing; spellingwriting; listening; new, unfamiliar vocabulary learning


AB instructions


The text

AB text itself2

Round up activity: Crossword puzzle


The Tower of London

After working with sights and history of London for a number of lessons, the 7th grade students were faced with one last task:

The Tower of London

I had some misgivings as the video was an authentic and official presentation of the Tower of London (to be found here) and in no way pedagogically “doctored” to suit pre-intermediate students of English. However, I decided to ignore any doubts, and gave this task as a homework assignment.

Imagine my surprise when the students happily carried out the task set in front of them and even asked for more assignments like this one as it was so much fun! And they did a good job, too!

Tower of London feedback

New year and back to work!

Back again after a long break from work. Major surgery and some other stuff made me concentrate on reading for fun (discovered Martina Cole’s novels – highly recommendable and  absolutely unputdownable) and knitting Nordic sweaters in dozens.

But on Wednesday it’s time to go back to my students again, and I’m really looking forward to it, especially as all my students now for the next three weeks are in their early teens; spontaneous, eager and heartbreakingly adorable – 7th- and 8th-graders.  Last week I decided on what themes we would start the new term off with: New year’s resolutions with my 7th graders and professions with the older students. As to my own new year’s resolutions I have but one: if I decided to start writing my blog again, there would be only short posts, documenting ideas – no more mastodont pieces that took all day or more to write.

So this is my first one on PROFESSIONS and vocabulary learning (the idea is to build up for the Icebreaker-session next week ).

Using Didactor , an e-learning online site, as is my wont, I came up with three steps.

1) Familiarize my students with the new (and maybe some old) vocabulary by having them pair off pictures (shamelessly borrowed from Woodward English) with the terminology in question.

screen shot (which means that the whole task can't be shown here)

screen shot (which means that the whole task can’t be shown here)


2) Next step – to have the students identify each of the occupations by writing and spelling correctly. Clues are given in their L1.

Professions - Identify

3) The last step is for the students to try to remember as many of the 34 professions as possible, without any visual aid. The words are listed alfabetically but can be filled in randomly into the task. Again spelling and writing has to be correct in order to be accepted by the program, but for each word the letters are substituted by dots, which might trigger mnemonic function.

Professions -write


These three tasks – which took about half an hour to put together – should cover a whole lesson. If students are too quick to give up, they will be asked to re-do the tasks and compete with their own previous performances. Students who are quick learners will be asked to come up with tools-of-trade for as many of the 34 professions as possible.

Being a TV News Anchor

In what ways could the latest radio news or news podcasts be preferrable to textbooks in the language classroom?

  • – authentic language by native speakers
  • – real topics happening in the world right then, broadening the students’ understanding of the world and their general knowledge
  • – fostering knowledgeable citizens of the world
  • – language studies support the students’ studies in other subjects like social studies, geography etc
  • – emphasizing and improving listening skills

Why BBC?

  • – excellent, clearly articulated language using rich vocabulary
  • – by and large, unbiassed reporting on a wide range of subjects
  • – short and to the point (5 minutes in all)


  • – as a regular listening comprehension with multiple choice questions or similar
  • – or, to be worked on in detail, using all language skills, listening, reading, writing, and speaking, which is the method I’m going to describe here

BBC-news – From Sound Podcasts to TV-news in Two Steps


Step one 

Student activity: Listening, Googleing, collaborating and writing.  Level: Advanced (senior year in high school) Tasks: The podcast (this one from 2012)  divided according to topic in game generator Didactor with a final, gamified, quiz on vocabulary from all topics. BBC NewsIn each news item the student tries to recreate what is being said word by word. Some help is given, but not too much: SihanoukIn the passage on King Sihanouk’s death, for instance, the following words need extra attention and re-appear in the final task: former, crucial, turbulent, unpredictable, autocratic, install, engulf, ill-fated, abdicate. Others to appear in the later items were: parachutist, leap, descent, head over heels, chord, sculpt, raise, constituent assembly, predecessor, defeat, offshoot, representative, serve as, transitional government, key player, uprising, mosque, clash, regain control, fierce, armoured vehicles, without major incidents, pollster, parliamentary election, rebuke, first-round vote, weary, recession, reduction, public sector, rebound, Lithuanians, assassination, impeachment etc., many of them extremely useful and much more frequent than most students would be prepared to admit. Working with them like this, in authentic, coherent contexts, raises the students’ linguistic awareness, which, in turn, makes it highly likely that the student will cognitively pay attention to them the next time they appear. 

Step two 

Student activity: The same as in Step 1: Listening, Googleing, collaborating and writing, expanded with these: finding corroborative images, practising intonation and pronunciation. Level: Advanced (senior year in high school) Task: To be a BBC TV-reporter who is assigned to make a TV-newscast on the basis of a radio news podcast. For news anchor he/she can either use an avatar or an actual photo of him-/herself. Material: A recent BBC podcast – preferrably as fresh as possible, because that would make it possible for the student to use recent newspaper for help (and generally boost newspaper reading habits). News reporter kompDividing the deadlines like this, into two smaller ones – one for the text manuscript and one for the sound files – and a final one for the finished end-product, makes it more perspicuous for the student and reduces the risk of him procrastinating too much, leaving the whole work until the very last moment. Also, this enables me to review the student’s work at various points in the process and to render him/her assistance with the technology or the language if required. One student, participating in this project last year, chose to do it like this: