Sunday, April 30, 2006

Acting (up) in class

Assault on Precinct 13 is one of my favourite films and not particularly well-known, though you can find it at Seven Video Club. Just make sure you get the 1976 original and not the recent remake. so I thought I'd create a lesson based on this extract.

A - You don't mind if I sit down minute or two, do you, Wilson ?

B - Got a smoke on you ?

A - You asked me before.

B - I never got a definite answer.

A – I don't smoke.

B – That's a definite answer.Another one gone. When you're in my position days are like women. Each one is so goddam precious...and they aways end up leaving you.

What do you want ?

A – Do I have to want something?

B – You're a cop. You're either curious about me or you want to give me some s##t.

A – I don't understand you, Wilson.

B – Curious.

A – You're not a pyschopath, you're not stupid....

B – I am an a##hole.Can't take everything away from me.

A – Why did you kill those men ?

B – Everybody asks me the same question.I always tell 'em the same thing.
First timeI ever saw a preacher he said to me,

“Son, There's something strange about you.You've got something to do with death.”

Being real young I believed him. Turned out he was right.

A – That's no answer.

B – I thought it was pretty good.

A - Where did you get a name like Napoleon ?

B – I'll tell you some time.

A - When ?

B - The moment of dying.

A – I'm going to do my best to be there when your time comes.

Lesson Plan

1 Tell the students that you are going to play them some music from the movie (I recommend the intro theme). As they listen they should think about;

What kind of film it is.
Where and when it is set.
Who the main characters could be.
Some ideas about the plot.

2 Students exchange ideas.
3 Give out the extract and ask students to guess who A and B might be and the relationship between them.
4 Ask students to speculate about what might have happened before the scene started (good practice for their modal verbs) andwhat might happen next (language of prediction, future tenses etc.).
5 If you have a lively, confident class you could ask students to rehearse and act out the extract.
6 Play the DVD with the extract and ask the students to discuss their answers to 1,3 and 4 once more in groups.
7 This good form the basis of a creative writing exercise or even a short class video using a cheap digital camera and Windows Moviemaker.

I know that these movie exercises are very much based on "guys" themes, but they are a way of reaching out to disaffected teenage boys who often don't respond well to the bland, colourless subjects we cover in our course books.

Exploring cultural differences through cartoons

In this exercise student get a chance to look at differences between Greek and English(UK/US) in terms of humo(u)r.

Lesson Plan

1 Hand out the Doonesbury (or any other English language) cartoon strip, deal with any vocabulary and grammar issues then ask students to see if they "get" the joke. If not, what makes difficult for them to understand. (British humour can be particularly insular).

Alternatively, ask them what problems they would have if they wanted to translate this for publication in Greece.

2 Hand out the Arkas cartoon and ask them to translate it into English (best done in groups). This one is very good for practising writing in different registers.

3 Again ask them what problems they faced in making the cartoon understandable (and funny) in English

These are quite long strips which would only be suitable for advanced level students, but the same thing could be done with Mickey Mouse or Charlie Brown cartoons.

The idea originally comes from Using Newspapers in the Classroom by Paul Sanderson.

Subtitles and EFL/ESL

In this exercise you'll need a short two minute extract from a DVD with Greek subtitles. You can use this to practice whatever grammar point (e.g. past tenses) or language function (e.g. asking for advice) you're teaching.Also, it works, depending on your choice of movie, with most levels.

Lesson Plan

1 Tell students that they are going to translate Greek subtitles from a DVD into English. Just remind them that they don't have to reproduce exactly what was said in English, but rather the same idea.

2 Show the beginning of the sequence with sound off. At the first subtitle, pause the DVD and ask students to write down their translation. Then repeat this until you've come to the end of the extract.

3 Students then compare extracts in twos and threes and come up with a group answer that they all agree on. Remind them that there is not one correct answer and that we can translate things in a number of ways, each equally correct.

4 Replay the original with sound (and English subtitles, if necessary). Students discuss any differences between their version and the videos. Which on was better and way?

This exercise was made for DVD as you can swop or get rid of subtitles at will. Interestingly, I once did it with video a few years ago which had a pretty poor translation, which in itself made for a lively discussion and acually gave the students a great boost to their self-confidence since they could do something in English better than the so-called "experts".

I found this idea in Video by Richard Cooper, Mike Lavery and Mario Rinvolucri (Oxford University Press)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Lego and other weird teaching materials

Yep, Lego! This is something that can be done with all levels. All you need is a bunch of lego bricks and a cardboard box.The basic idea is to create a shape using the lego groups which has to be reproduced by the students. It' s great way to practice language connected with shapes, colours and position (eg. behind, next to, on top of etc.) and comparative forms.

Lesson plan

1 Tell the students they thay are going to play a game but that in order to win they have to know some words/phrases connected with colour, shapes and positions. Write up the three categories on the board and give an example of each.

COLOUR - blue
SHAPE - square
POSITION - in front of

Students then write down as many examples as they can. Feel free to help at this stage.

3 Divide the class into groups of three or four. Now explain to the students the rules and purpose of the game.

-The aim is to reproduce the shape I have made out of Lego exactly.


-Only one student from the team may look at my shape at any one time.

-Any team heard speaking Greek will have to stop for 30 seconds.

-The person who is sent by the team to look at the original lego shape can't touch his/her team's shape.

-Any team that says that it has finished but has not reproduced the shape exactly has to stop for 30 seconds.

4 Give each team the same pieces of lego that you used to create your shape.

5 Put your shape in the cardboard box and place on your desk. The students then have to come up to your desk look at the shape and then report back to their team. The first one to finish is the winner.

6 Create a new shape and play again.

Instead of Lego you could use a multi-coloured drawing. This is a noisy, boisterous exercise so make sure you clear desks and chairs out of the way.

Friday, April 28, 2006

I know that I'm being a χαζομπαμπας (this doesn't really translate into English that well, something like a dad who is crazy about his kids) but I had to put this on the blog. A daughter fit for the 21st century.

I know that this is self-indulgent but there are some times that being a parent is the greatest thing.

Films and the language of description

In many of the course books that we use they have units devoted to describing people. Often they are dull to the point of catontonia. Students have to trudge through pages of boring and meaningless vocabulary, doomed to forget most of what they’ve learnt within the week. Don’t you just love course books ?

Anyway, here is an alternative to that, which actually asks students to do something other than just sit imprisoned in their seats.

For this you’ll need five to ten photos (preferably large A4 size taken from magazines, papers etc.) and a short extract from a movie which shows somebody committing a crime. For example the scene in Nikita when the trainee assassin has to shot a businessman in a restaurant or the first bank robbery scene from Point Break

lesson plan

1 Ask students to think of a famous person. They then have to describe that person’s appearance to the student next to them. The other student tries to guess who their partner is talking about.

2 Ask students to say what things they mentioned when they described the famous person. Elicit a list of different characteristics we use;

eg age, build, height, hair, clothes, complexion etc.

3 Put the students in groups/pairs and then ask students to think of as many words as possible for each category. If necesary allow students to use Greek and translate for them.

4 Pin the photos on the board and ask students to give each person a name.

5 Put students in pairs and ask one of them to choose a photo from the board (allow to approach the board, if necessary). They then chose a person go back to their partner. The other student then asks them a series of questions to which the answer can only be yes or no.

BTW Tell students that they can’t mention the person’s sex and instead of using “he/she is” should use “they are”

6 Students then swop roles.

7 Explain to students that you are going to divide them into two groups; police officers and eye witnesses. You will show a short part of a video to the witnesses which shows a crime. After the police officers will have to interview the witnesses get the details of the crime and most importantly get accurate description of the perpetrator. The police go out of the class and write down relevent questions which will be used to interview the witnesses.

Eye witnesses will watch a short extract from a movie and try to remember as many details as possible.

8 Play the extract to the witnesses once only.

9 Bring the police back in. Each police officer interviews one witness, the two groups then reform and share their information.

10 A representative from each groups presents their version of events and description.

11 Show the extract again (more than once if needs be).

12 Students discuss the differences between their versions and the real one.

Basically, this is a variation on the car accident plan that I posted a few weeks ago. However, the emphasis is on the language of description.

This could also form the basis for a creative writing exercise.

Using cartoons in the class

Here is an idea I've been doing for years. I originally found it in Using Newspapers in the Classroom by Paul Sanderson (Cambridge University Press 1999).

1 If you decide to take the cartoons from a newspaper you'll need two or three day's worth from the same strip (see here for Calvin and Hobbes). Alternatively, you can use a longer strip taken from a comic.

2 Make a photocopy of the originals in the correct order (that will be your answer sheet so to speak).

3 Make another photocopy, cut the strip into individual frames and stick them on a blank sheet on paper, all mixed up.Just make sure that they are divided as evenly as possible into two groups.(see picture below for an example). Make enough photocopies for your students. Remember you'll need just one photocopy for every two students. Cut the photocopies in half along the line.

4 Divide the class into pairs (if you think that they'll have trouble with this exercise, create bigger groups) and give each person one half of the photocopy tou have made.

5 Explain what each strip consists of, and deal with any vocabulary or grammar issues.

6 Tell your students that they have to put the pictures in the correct order. To add an extra challenge I usually say that they cannot show the picture to each other but instead have to describe them to their partner. It's a good idea to set a time limit for this, say five to ten minutes.

7 The pairs (or groups) then check their answers with each other.

8 Go through the answers as a class and ask students to discuss what visual or linguistic clues helped them to find their answers.Also explain any humour they may not understand.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Well, the Easter break is now over and I'm back doing private lessons.So here's something I've been doing over the last month or so with some success. Recently, there have been quite a few big-budget Hollywood films with an historical flavour (Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Alexander etc.) As a result I've been using them with my private students in order to get them to read and discuss stuff in the lessons.

The basic idea is that I give them the dvd and ask them to talk about how accurate Hollywood has been in depicting the period. Now with films such as Troy and Alexander this isn't too difficult as they study those periods in their greek school lessons, so it just means taking a quick look at their school books. They then discuss similarities and differences between what the movie shows and what their history books say. This can be fascinating and can form the basis for any number of further discussions.

With historical periods less familiar to them you can use the film as a the basis of a research project. For example In the Kingdom of Heaven, which is based on real events and historical figures, you can ask them to do research on the people and places mentioned. Again the idea should be to focus on the differences between Hollywood's view of history and what they have found.

If you choose to do this before you give them the movie write down the peoples' names, places and dates so that they have somewhere to start on their internet search.

On the other hand, If you do this after they have seen the movies ask them to note down the names, places etc as they are watching and then do their internet search.

BTW If you don't have a copy of the film a quick trip to the video club and a liberal application of DVD Shrink will do the trick.

Just be warned that sometimes the movies touch upon sensitive cultural issues (eg. Alexander the Great's sexuality) so if you feel your students maybe mortally offended avoid the exercise.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yenti Koule/Ta Kastra

If you are ever in Thessaloniki and wish to visit the castle from yesterday's post the easist way to get there is on the 23 bus which leaves from Plateia Eleytheria, which is in the centre, next to the seafront. It takes you to within 400m of the place (it's the last stop on the route so there is no worry about knowing when to get off). The cost of the ticket is 60 cents and it can be bought on the bus.

If you don't want to catch the bus back then I would recommend you return on foot since it's all downhill and the walk takes you through some of the more picturesque parts of the city. Don't worry about getting lost since as long as you head downhill you'll eventually reach the seafront which is basically the centre of the city.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Looking around

Taking time off.

It’s a public holiday today so the city is quite empty and most of the shops are closed. I thought that it’s a great chance to be a tourst again. I decided to take a walk through Ano Poli (the old town) and by chance went past the old castle (Genti Koule) which overlooks the whole city. I don’t know why but I’ve have never been inside even though I’ve lived nearby for years. Luckily, the place was open and so I went in and took a few photos.

Originally built as a part of the city’s defences in 1431 (according to the leaflet I picked up), it was converted into a prison in 1890 during the last years of Ottoman rule. It later gained notoriety as place of imprisonment and execution during the 20th century.

It’s hard to imagine these terrible moments on such a beautfiful day when the sun is shining.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Blogosphere ala Ellinika

Or My Big,Fat Greek Blogosphere. I had been under the impression the blogging was very much a limited affair, confined to a few techies and foreigners living here. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I stumbled on a whole new world of blogging in Greek (see here) full of people using the medium with passion and wit.

Also during the week I saw the first reference to bloggers (μπλογγερς) in an article which had no connection to the internet or technolgy in the Macedonia newspaper (sorry no link available), reporting the protests over preposed changes to Aristotelis Square. See here for more photos of the city on Flickr.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Καλη Ανασταση

Easter is a big deal here in Greece, more important than Christmas. From today on the cities will start to empty as people go back to visit their families in villages across the country. As The Orthodox easter is a week after the Catholic one this weekend is when everyone celebrates. If you've ever seen my Big, Fat Greek Wedding then the scene when the Greek girl's family barbeque a whole lamb on their lawn should give you an idea of what is going to happen all across the country this Sunday.

if you grew up thinking of your lamb as a a cutlet cooked in the oven, the sight of a whole skinned lamb (head included) rotating on a spit takes a bit of getting used to. (See this link if you wish to try this at home). Still, take it from me, it is delicious. The hilarious thing is that whenever I've taken part in the cooking process (basically, you take turns in turning the spit) I've noticed that the guys spend most of the day drinking and nibbling on dips, snacks etc so that by the time the meat is actually ready nobody is that hungry anymore. Not that stops people eating like there is no tomorrow.Me included.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


As this is an old film set in North Africa during WW2 it's going to need some warm up in order to get students thinking about what's happening.You can find the full script here.

Lesson plan

1 Pin up a world map and write up “Casablanca” on the board. Ask students to find it (feel free to help out, if necessary).

2 Ask students what's it like there. Is it hot or cold? A rich or poor place? What do people wear? Etc

3 Write up “1941” on the board. What was happening in the world at that time? Get students to do steps 1 and 2 in pairs or large groups if you think that they might find this difficult. You could perhaps set this for homework.

At all times you should be aiming to

Reduce the amount of time you speak (they need the practice, not you).

Enable them to understand something that they may never have come across in their own education(just how wordly were you at say, fourteen?).

Give them as great a chance of understanding as possible. Success breeds success, failure breeds failure.

4 Give out the photocopy and ask students to read through it Deal with any vocabulary/grammar issues.


A Boss

B Yeah!

A Boss, ain't you going to bed ?

B Not right now.

A Ain't you planning on going to bed in the near future ?

B No.

A You ever going to bed ?

B No.

A Well, I ain't sleepy either.

B Good. Then have a drink.

A No. Not me, boss.

B Then don't have a drink.

A Let's get out of here.

B No, sir. I'm waiting for a lady.

A Please, boss, let's go. Ain't nothing but trouble for you here.

B She's coming back. I low she is coming back.

A We'll take the car and drive all night.We'll get drunk. We'll go fishing and stay until she's gone.

B Shut up and go home, will you.

A No, sir. I'm staying right here.

B They grab Ugarte and she walks in. Well, that's the way it goes. One in, one out. Sam ?

A Yeah boss ?

B Sam, if it's December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York ?

A Uhm, my watch stopped.

B I bet they're asleep in New York. I'll bet they're asleep all over America.

A Of all the gin joints in all the world, she walks into mine.

5 Students, in pairs or groups, decide;

Who's speaking ?

What's the relationship between them?

What are they talking about?

How do they feel? Why?

What do you think happened before the scene started?

What do you think will happen next?

6 Play the film with the scene (without showing the screen) and ask students to decide if they want to change any of their answers.

7 Play the scene with picture an sound. Once again students discuss their answers.

8 Tell the students that they are going to act out the scene in pairs and that they have 10 minutes to rehearse.Explain to them that they will perform the scene and that the class will vote on the best prformance.

This is very much a hit and miss exercise. It can have wonderful results or just die a slow and painful death in the lesson. It very much depends on the “chemistry” that the students bring with them into the classroom. Be warned!!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Using CNN podcasts

The CNN podcasts are a perfect length for using in the clasroom (they last about four minutes) .

Listen to the podcast yourself and write down a list of three to five words for each story.

Lesson plan

1 Ask the students what's been happenining lately in the news. Threy then discuss which are the most important.

2 On the board write down three words you have already chosen from the each of the stories on the podcast.

3 Ask students to predict what the story might be about.

4 Play the podcast (on your mp3 player and any handy pair of computer speakers).

5 Student discuss in pairs what they've heard.

6 Play the podcast again.

7 Once more students discuss (perhaps in larger groups this time) what they heard.

8 Ask students to discuss what they think are the top three stories of the day.

As a follow up students could even chose and record their own Greek verson of CNN using English-language news sources e.g. Kathimerini's English page. I know I've talked about this idea before but I thought I'd "recycle" it.

Talking about the future

I guess I'm getting in touch with my inner geek. Anyway, here is the plan for a possible lesson.

Lesson Plan

1 Ask students if they think the future i.e. 20 years into the future things will be better or worse than now.

This may be a good point to work on modals and future forms in general.

2 Put the students into "optimists" and "pessimists". Each group discuss why they believe what they do.

3 Then put students into pairs, one "optimist" and one "pessimist".

4 They then discuss their views with each other.

5 Give each group both photocopies and ask them to compare and contrast their views of the future.

Alternatively show divide the classback into "optimists" and "pessimists" and show each group a short extract from the future.

Bladerunner for the "pessimists"
Minority Report for the "optimists"

They then explain to the others what sort of future their extract shows.

6 Ask students to say which, if any of the versions of the future they think most closely fits their own.

Monday, April 17, 2006

It's the first day of the holidays and the weather has turned warmer and we're able to sit outside in just shirt sleeves. Bliss!!!. I tapping this out in the cafe I've started going to in the centre, which for some mysterious reason is right in the middle of a wifi hotspot. The only problem is that there are two old biddies sat behind me who insist on shouting into their mobiles, which are about 20cm from my left ear. I'll just have to crank up the ipod and drown them out. The Prodigy should do the business.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Name of the Rose

1 As a warm up do a sight and sound exercise (i.e. play a scene - try 2 mins54 secs to 3mins 54secs - without image to half the class and then show the same scene without sound to the other half without sound. then ask both groups to figure out what's happening )with the Name of the Rose in order to give them a sense of period and place.

2 Explain to students that they they are medieval detectives who have been asked to solve a series of terrible murder at a monastery.However, in order to find out more about the identity of the killer they have to know more about what is inside the Aefidicium (library).

3 Divide the students into groups (it would be a good idea to make sure that each group is mixed

4 Explain to them that they have to draw the plan of the library using the extract from the book.

5 Go through any difficult vocabulary.

6 If you wish to turn this into a competition then remind students that they can't speak Greek and that any "offending team" will be rquired to down pens and be quiet for one minute.

7 When you have a winner then hand out the photocopy of the plan and ask the winning team to explain to the others how they got the answers.

Be warned, this is an intellectually taxing exercise. To make things easier you could draw a partial outline of the library, say the outer walls on the board to get them started. Also show them the tower from the movie to help them visualise the problem. -

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Soylent Green

A lot of the course books we use have a unit on the environment (to tell you the truth a subject that bores most students silly). So here is a a short exercise that make the the subject a little more palatable.

1 Ask students if the world will be better or worse in the future. The students then get into groups according to their answer.

2 They then write down reasons why.

3 Put the students into pairs/groups (one from the "pessimists" with one from the "optimists") and ask them to discuss their opinions.

4 Explain to students that they'll see part of a film that shows a possible version of the future. They have to say what the film maker is trying to tell us.

5 Show the first three minutes of Soylent Green.

(The first part of the film is a photo - montage which shows the world becoming more over-populated and polluted.)

6 Students then discuss their answers with each other. Ask them if they agree with this prediction and why/why not.

This can be used as a warm up exercise for any kind of environmentally orientated kind of lesson. Here is the whole film on Google Video.

If you don't have access to a DVD/VHS in the classroom you can use DVD Shrink and put it on a laptop/desk top.

It's Greek month at the BBC

The BBC World Service Learning English site has chosen Greece to be country of the month, so I think that it would be a great idea if some my students contributed an idea or two.

I'm now officially on holiday

The Easter break has come, and none too soon if you ask me. I just thought I'd post a couple of photos from my class (proficiency 1c) yesterday to give everyone an idea of what it's like where I work.

To all my students I hope have a great Easter, wherever you are. Καλο Πασχα!

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Bourne Supremacy

I did this exercise today in class with my first year proficiency class and it worked wonders (actually it something from the vaults as I first did it five or six years ago ). It is based on the idea of giving and taking an eye witness account of an accident or crime. I remember reading that the police always found eye - witness accounts problematic as they were often contradictory. It sounded like a great way to "negotiate meaning ."

Lesson Plan

1 Ask students if they have ever seen a crime or accident. Get them to expalin to the class what happened. Alternatively, brainstorm the kind of words and phrases you'd need to talk about a traffic accident.

2 Divide students into two groups; police and witnesses.

Explain to the "police" that they have been called to a crime/accident scene and have to find out what happened. If necessary, work with them on vocabulary and question forms (a devilishly tricky area in English).

Explain to the "witnesses" that they will see a crime/accident just once, as in real life,

3 Show DVD of an accident (see Pulp Fiction) or a crime (The Bourne Supremacy) to the witnesses. In the Bourne Supremacy try out 1hr 23 mins 43 secs.

4 The police then take statements from the witnesses (be on hand to help with vocabulary).

5 The police and witnesses then regroup to create a consensus view on what happened.

6 Ask each a representative of each group to explain what happened.

7 Then show the film scene again and ask the "police" what are the differences between what the "witnesses" said and what they actually saw.

If your preparing students for the Cambridge exams this a great warm-up for writing a (accident) report.


I thought I'd share this exercise as it's a good way of using up 15-20 minutes of class time if you are at a loose end. It origianally comes from Teaching Adult Second language Learners by Heather McKay and Abigal Tom (CUP). Don't let that put you off since it's suitable for all ages and most levels.

Hand out a photocopy with the riddles and divide the class into groups into groups of two, three or four.Go through any difficult vocabulary items and then ask students to think of possible solutions.


1 No, they are not lying as the famous scientist is his sister.
2 It's the grandfather, father and son.
3 You
4 The surgeon is the boy's mother.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Waiting for OTE

I read that Iceland (pop. 300,000) now has nearly 80,000 DSl users compared with Greece (pop. 10,700,0000) which has 150,000!!!

Yesterday I enquired about getting a DSl connection from OTE (the Greek state telecommunications organisation) and was told that there is a waiting list in my area. When I asked about how long I could expect to wait, the woman just shrugged her shoulders and said nobody knows. You've just got to love civil service lifers.

It could be worst When I first applied for a telephone line in 1991 I was told that it would take anywhere between two and seven years (even though I lived 500m from there nearest offices). At least now we're talking months not years, at least I hope so.

A belated April Fool's joke ?

I found an image like this at EFL Geek's site and decided to make my own version (see here for link). This would make a great April Fool's day lesson. You could show the students something like this and ask if it's ethical to publish/sell such books. Then after the debate you could get them to create their own covers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

podcasts in efl/esl

The Greek Orthodox Easter is approaching fast we just have a couple more days before we break up for the holidays.

Anyway, I have been handing out DVDs with all the audio material I've managed to download from the net so students can practice their listening skills over the holidays. Usually, I hand out two or three DVDs to the class and ask them to copy or circulate the originals. (viral teaching ?) I do this as not everyone has access to a pc and the internet.

The DVD includes podcasts from;

In Our Time (BBC)
Go Digital (BBC)
From Our Own Correspondent (BBC)
BBC I Xtra
World Service Documentaries (BBC)
Mark Kermode's Film Reviews (BBC)
The Today Programme (BBC)

CNN News Podcasts


Earthcore by Scott Sigler
Ancestor by Scott Sigler
The Pocket and the Pendent by Mark Jeffery

Audio books and poems

Alice Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
The Art of lying by Mark Twain
The legend of Sleepy Hollow by Irving Washington
The Dubliners by James Joyce
Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
Kubla Khan Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Fables by Aesop

Speeches by

John F. Kennedy
Martin Luther King
George W. Bush
Richard Nixon
Malcolm X
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Winston Churchill


To fill up the DVD ( I hate just using half of them, it seems such a waste) I add a few hundred songs just to “sugar the pill” for students who are not crazy about the other stuff.

songs in class

I tried the 5 am song exercise (see previous post) with a few other classes and it got really good results with most of the students. Some of them really opened up. To make things a little more interesting I divided the class into two groups “she” and “he” and told the “she” that they had been pregnant and that “he” is now a father!!!! They then have to decide what to do.

The Die hard Lesson Plan

1 Explain to the students that you are the Mayor of your city and that you have just received the following fax.

2 Students read it and you deal with any unknown words or ideas.

3 Divide students into groups of two or three and explain to them that they are the mayors' advisors and they have to make recommendations. Most importantly they have to decide whether the money should be paid or not.

At this point students will say things like, "call the police" , or "ask the bank to say who the account belongs to." etc. Use your imagination to think of reasons why these obvious solutions cannot be used e.g. the Swiss authorities need a court order to open the account and that takes at least three days etc.

4 When the groups have come to a decision ask them to discuss it as a class. Tell the students that there has to be a unanimous decision for political reasons. Students should feel free to walk around the class at this point.

5 When a decison has been reached give them the second fax.

If they said that the money should be paid give them the following fax.

If they decide to not pay then give them this fax.

6 Students then discuss what should be done in their groups/ as a class.

7 This could be used as thebasis for a report/story/newspaper article/TV broadcast etc.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Bruce Willis School of Language Arts

Lesson plan courtesy of Bruce Willis.

This is something I thought up years ago after watching Die Hard 3. In the movie the city of New York (why is it always NY. What's wrong with say, St Louis ?) is threatened by a psychotic blackmailer who threatens to set off a bomb in one of the schools.

Taking this as my starting point I created a blackmail note which says something to the effect that unless the ciy pays $10,000,000 a bomb will go off. Explain to the students (in bigger classes you'll need to divide them into groups of three or four) that you are they mayor and they are your advisors. Their job is to decide whether the city pays the money or no.

Depending on their answers I give them one of two possible answers. If the agree to pay the second note demands $20,000,000. If they refuse, the note makes it clear that the a bomb has indeed exploded killing many people and that they have only two hours to pay, otherwise a school will be next.

A little macabre perhaps but it does get them talking and discussing in new ways.

BTW I"ll post the actual notes as soon as I get them scanned.

For all you Echelon types out there, don't worry, it's just a lesson outline and none of my students have tried to put this plan into action

alphabet soup

Over the last decade the English language teaching market has got a lot more complicated and tougher. Along with stagnant wages we’ve seen a lot more exams come on to the market. In the old days most of my work was preparing students for the Cambridge FCE and CPE exams and the university of Michigan ECPE. I was just thinking about what I have been teaching over the last two years and came up with the following list;

German state school English curriculum k10-12
United Nations entry test
conversational English for adults
adult false beginners
preparation for the model United Nations debates
Beginner, lower and intermediate general English for teenagers

Talk about jack of all trades. Still it keeps the wolf and the credit card companies from the door.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Channelling Jamie Oliver

I seem to have kitchen fever today, I made

patatasalata (potato salad)
pork curry
tigania (fried pieces of pork cooked in retsina)
chicken chilli
fried chicken
corn and chicken soup
politiki salata (mixed veg salad)

This should solve my cooking worries for the week.

My 1000th visitor

Today or tomorrow I'll probably have to 1000th visitor to this site. Unfortunately, unlike Itunes there won't be any prizes.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

a few recent photos

Wanted: new home for video cassettes

Over the years I've mangaed to accumulate a large number of films on VHS. Now that DVDs are so widely available I don't watch the cassettes anymore (in fact I don't even own a player now).

So if there is anyone in the Thessaloniki area who would like to take them off my hands I would be grateful. Most of them don't have Greek subtitles so they'd make a great teaching resource for a school. I'm not asking for payment or anything just somebody to organise transport as a 100 plus cassettes are a bit bulky.

It's a shame to see them gathering dust in the corner of the room when somebody could be watching (and learning from them).

To contact me click on my profile and email me.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ideas for using songs

I tried this idea today in class. But remember we're trained professionals so don't try this at home, kids.

I thought that I'd do something different as the students have been doing exams all week and are very tired. Anyway, I choose 5am by Appleton as it's a sweet ballad and doesn't have much in the way of difficult language.

lesson plan

1 Write the title and the first couple of lines of the song;

It's 5 o'clock in the morning And I give up on sleep

life with a conscience and I decide to walk away

2 Ask students to guess what the song is about and who "I" is in this situation.

3 Play the song but without giving the students the lyrics. Ask students to come up with ideas about the what's the song is about in pairs.

4 Hand out the lyrics and play the song again.

It's 5 o'clock in the morning And I give up on sleep life (?) with a conscience and I decide to walk away

So I find my posessions And slide from your room Ignore all regrets I push myself into the street

I, I, I dont want to talk I've said my piece and I'll just go now I would love to believe and be? content to wait with you again

At 6 o'clock in the morning you'll awake all alone and pause for a moment to damn or bless me as you wish

I, I, I dont want to talk I've said my piece and I'll just go now I would love to believe and be? content to wait with you again

I agree, it would never be right and I'll just go now, and id love to believe and id be content to wait with you again, again, again

I, I, I dont want to talk I've said my piece and I'll just go now I would love to believe and be? content to wait with you again

5 This time ask students to think of questions using how, what, where, when, who, why

e.g. Why did she leave ?

6 Students then ask each other the questions and come up with their own answers.

7 Ask the students to do a role play. Divide the group into boys and girls/men and women and ask them to imagine that the they are the "I" and "you" in the song and that they meet by chance a year later.

This exercise got mixed results, I'm not sure if it was the fact that everyone was tired, they didn't like the song or it's just not a good idea. Then again if you try something new you have got to accept the fact that it may not work, I'll try this with a couple of other classes then we'll see.

the final straw

Or "το ποτηρι ξεχειλησε". I had my final lesson with my troublesome student today. I went to the house and ended up telling his father a few home truths. I decided on a policy of total,if diplomatically put, honesty. The kid is just not ready to make the effort needed to pass the exams. He keeps on complaining that he has too much homework, which is kind of hilarious as he only has one hour of English a week and exams in five weeks time.

Basically, the student has so many gaps in his English that he's going to fail the ECCE. I warned him last week that unless he started to take the lessons more seriously I'd stop. Well, he came out with the same lame excuses that he's been using for the last three lessons and so I said, "That's it!" I think that it shocked him and his father that I actually walked, since people just don't do that here.

I thanked the father and wished the kid luck with his exams (you never know, I may be wrong) but I'm not going to take money off people knowing there is nothing I can do to help.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Preparing students for the challenges of the nineteenth century

I had a lesson recently which kind of shocked me as it revealed that that teaching using blogs, podcasts, mp3's etc is going to be a lot harder than I had imagined. I asked one of my younger students if she had had the chance to see the interview we had done on her computer. She said that she hadn't as she didn't know how to move the file from the cd to the hard disk!!!

I have no reason to believe that she was lying as she is an intelligent and conscientious student. Yet my heart drops when I realise that even the smartest kids have not been taught even the most basic of computer skills in their regular schools.

To enter a classroom here is to travel back in time 50 years. With the exception of the presence of electricity and central heating there is nothing to distinguish a classroom now from one in the fifties. Bare walls painted institutional green, desks which should have gone out with the slide rule and bars on the windows are the dominant features of most classrooms.

Unfortunately, the "teaching" that often takes place in these places is as just as impoverished as the physical surroundings.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

using video

I have been doing a lot of what I call "sight and sound" stuff recently. Basically it involves playing part of a film to students (sound only, the screen is turned around or darkened) and asking them to guess what is happening. Then students watch the film (with sound and image) and talk about their guesses.

If a student has seen the film then they become the teacher and answer any of the questions the others have. Simple but fun.

Alternatively, half the class watch the extract (but with no sound) and the other half just listen (no image) and then in pairs student discuss what they think is happening. I think this works best with more obscure or older films that the students are less likely to have seen. I did it with a scene from the start of Before Sunrise.

As we don't have access to a tv and dvd/video in the classrooms I took my ibook and "appropriated" the speakers from the secretary's pc (she never uses them anyway).

Actually, these ideas come from Video by Richard Cooper, Mike Lavery and Mario Rinvolucri published by OUP. I just looked at the Amazon link and it's a pretty hefty price for a slim paperback. Just as well I managed to get a photocopied version. Still, it's got looks of ideas making videos in class as well. (see previous posts).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I read an interesting article about technology and efl which kind of sums up my thoughts.

Still waiting for the bright new age

The learner of the future debate: at its best, technology can offer all that its supporters claim for it, but too often the reality falls far short of our ideals, leaving learners and teachers disempowered.

see here for the rest of the artcle

David Graddol
Friday March 10, 2006
Guardian Weekly



The strangest thing happened a couple of days ago, the wireless connection on my laptop started showing that it had found a connection, which is strange as there are no dsl connections in the neighbourhood (we're still waiting for OTE to pull their finger out). I did some googling and came up with these guys (see here).

I'm still trying to figure out how to hook up to the network. This couldn't come at a better time as my dial-up connection runs out in two days and I can't get get dsl since there's the aforementioned waiting list.

Still raining though.