Tuesday, February 28, 2006

old dogs and the learning of new tricks

Well, I guess you can. I started a computer course today which I thought it would bore me silly (an intro to Windows/Word) but ended up learning a whole bunch of stuff. Just goes to prove that you that learning never ends. Still, it was a bit tiring since it was all in Greek (duhhh, you're in Greece) and so your dealing with all the technical details and trying to remember the right verb conjugations at the same time.

It doesn't do any harm to put myself to put myself in the place of my students who come to the lessons after putting in a full day working/studying etc.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Teacher Dude's Grill and BBQ

Teacher Dude's Grill and BBQ:
Spring is almost upon us
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Spring is almost upon us

It seems that winter is nearly over if the cherry tree opposite my place is anything to go by. The blossoms seem to herald the start of spring. Not a moment too soon as I am really starting to hate winters. I must be getting old!!!

The exam season is almost over , the students are all doing their FCE/CAE/CPE mocks. So that means I've got a pile of marking to do (yuk!!!)

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Sometimes Blogger drives me crazy. I've been trying to figure out why the previous post didn't appear. It seems I've been writing black on black and hence the non-appearance of some of the post. I used the colour text thingy to turn it into white, only to find I can't see what I'm writing.

Hence the change of colours and constant updating. Yep! this is what I call intuitive.

Getting your students to read

I think that most teachers would agree that one of our aims should be to encourage sudents to read outside the narrow confines of the classroom, if we have got our students to do that then we can say they we've contributed something to their education, whatever the subject we happen to teach. This is particularly true in EFL/ESL (How we love our TLAs - Three Letter Acronyms)where independent reading is by far the most effective way of accumulating vocabulary. The problem is how to do this, especialy in places where extensive reading is not part and parcel of the student's educational culture?

Like I said in the previous post I went to a seminar by Paul Shaw which gave some excellent ideas on getting students to read on their own.The most obvious problem is making sure that students get the book that best suits them.


The first thing that has to be considered is, of course, the student's language level. Luckily, there are loads of graded readers aimed at every level, even beginners. So that problems is easily solved. However, finding something that peeks student's interest is an altogether more difficult task. Here are some suggestions,

1 Know your students

Ask them about books they've read, films they like, the kind of programmes they watch on TV, what hobbies or interests they have. I know this sounds obvious, but often we know very little about our students beyond what we see in the classroom.

2 Extracts

Photocopy a few paragraphs from the book and ask students to discuss possible plots, level of interest, genre etc.

3 Recommendations

Either spoken or written so that students can get a sense of if the book is for them.

4 Covers

Students look at the covers and illustrations from the book before choosing.


Some ideas on what you can do with the students once they've made their choice.

1 Learner diary

Every chapter students write down;

Main events
I liked...
I didn't like...
I think that (predictions for what will happen next)

Of course, this could easily be part of a student's personal blog.

2 Press release/news report

Students are asked to write a press release i.e. in a 100 words they have to imagine that the events in the chapter are news and they have to report them. This could also be turned into a "radio/TV broadcast" using mobile phones or a digital camera.

3 Classified Ads

Write a lonely hearts entry for the characters in the chapters

e.g. Tall, honest guy (Aries) with anger management issues seeks understanding woman with knowledge of plastic surgery and possibly genetic engineering.

All replies should be sent c/o Prof. Frankenstein.

4 R.I.P.

Students write an obituary for one of the characters. Macabre, perhaps but fun.

5 Talk Show

Students think of talk show style questions and then choose roles i.e. who'll be Oprah/Τατιανα and who'll be Harry Potter. This way students find out about the books other students are reading.

6 Ad Campaign

If more than one student has read the book then they get together and create an ad campaign to sell the book. They should come up with;

an TV/radio spot

The students create a 30/60 sec advertisement which they record. The class then votes on the most effective campaign.

7 Radio Play

Students create a play based on part of the book. They chose the main event and then adapt it. They can also include sound effects as well as dialogue. Again this can be recorded


As with so many things in eduation we need to teach this through example. We need to let student know that we too, enjoy reading. A good idea is to bring in what you're reading and talk to the students about it and why you're enjoying it.

As well as tradtional books all these activities can be done with audio books downloaded (FREE) off the internet. See the side bar of the blog for links.

My apologies to Paul if I've garbled some of this.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Good seminars - No, I'm not kidding

There are times when I hear the word "seminar" and my heart sinks. You know the kind of thing, you are forced to listen to a person drone on for an hour or so, stating the obvious. The kind of person who made you want never to set foot again in school when you were student.

Luckily, for us at school the seminar I went to yesterday was none of that. It is a real pleasure when someody presents a well-thought out and engaging one. It helps you think about how you teach and you leave the room thinking,

"I'll try that idea in my class."

As opposed to the usual response which is ,

"I NEED a drink."


'"I can't believe that I just wasted an hour of my life listening to that crap."

The seminar was about using readers in our teaching to encourage extensive reading. The one thing that surprised me was how little vocabulary students acquire at the higher levels. For example at C1 (CAE) level the average student knows 2200 words! Which is pretty low number considering they've been studying for six or seven years.

Anyway, the stuff on readers was good and more important useful. I'll be doing some of the exercises with my private students and audio books (I'll post the ideas some other time as this post is already getting too long).

The other thing we learnt about the ELP (European Language Passport/Portfolio) which is about to change the way we teach here in Greece (and not only). I'll talk more about that when I've completed my own and feel more sure that I understand it.

So Thanks to Paul Shaw at Hyphen for a great seminar. Sorry no pics, as I forgot to take my camera.

Monday, February 20, 2006

τζαμπα (free) surfing

I'm enjoying the benefits of a free wifi connection at Public which is in the Med Cosmos shopping centre. I'm not sure if it's permitted but what the hell. One of the things you learn in Greece is not to ask permission to do something. That forces the other person to make a decision which they may be held responsible for. Hence nine times out of ten they'll say no just to play it safe. However, if you just go ahead and do it anyway they'll probably just turn a blind eye.

It's fun though not having to trail a whole bunch of cables around with you just to get on the internet. Plus it's about a zillion times faster than my antiquated dial-up connection at home. I'm downloading some episodes of the Ancestor podcast novel by Scott Sigler before I whizz off to the centre to start work at school.

mobile phones and EFL

Ask most teachers what they think about mobile phones in the classroom and I'm sure you'll get a lot of dark looks and muttered curses. Yet they can be used for something other than texting the latest gossip to your mates in form 3d.

First of all, most of them record voice and video which is an invaluable tool when learning a foreign language, especially at beginner and intermediate levels.

Try asking your students to record themselves while doing an exercise and then listening to themselves. Once they've stopped wincing they may just have learnt something about the way they sound to others. This an important step in correcting any problems they may have with pronounciation.

One of the biggest problems learning a foreign language is that we cannot hear ourselves. Odd as it may sound, what we think we hear often bears little resemblance to what actually comes out of our mouths. So making it very hard to improve since we basically have no feedback. However, by distancing ourselves from our voice through recording we have a way of assessing ourselves more objectively and so making any necessary improvements.

Similarly, by transcribing what we say on the recording we have an excellent means of analysing other possible problem areas in our language; such as persistent errors in grammar which again, usually remain "invisible".

BTW the weather today is gorgeous, warm and very Spring like. That really makes going around the city on the Vespa a pleasant experience.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Random thoughts on teaching and technology

I have been reading Cool Cat teacher's blog and again I came across Blue Skunk Blog which is also about the use of technology in the classroom. What really caught my attention was the frank account of how things can go wrong despite our best efforts(see link) . Now I'm sure we'd agree that nobody believes that technology is a "magic bullet" about to cure all the ills of an educational system, but I think that it can have a tremendous impact on our student's learning experience. Yet when I read about the American schools they work in, which have facilities educators in Greece can only dream of, I see that we will have to deal with many of the same problems in terms of applying technology in the classroom.

That's what I found refreshing about Blue Skunk's entry was an honest appraisal of the problems of getting teachers to actually use computers as a matter of course in their lessons.

Ideally, the technology should be ubiquitous and "invisible", in the sense that nobody stops to think about it as they use it. Just as few give any thought to how a mobile phone works when they make a call. What matters is the service it provides, not how it provides it. But that means making everyone involved comfortable about using the system, which is a far more formidable task than say, setting up a wi-fi network or giving everyone a laptop.

The language school where I work intends to introduce computers, which is, of course, a great leap forward for us. However, I don't think people realise that the battle for access to technology is merely the first skirmish in a much longer and complex campaign. What I'm seeing in stuff that is being written by American educational bloggers, is that, to quote a well - worn phrase;

"you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink".

It's very hard for people who love and use computers on a daily basis to understand the indifference, mistrust or even outright fear they invoke in others. When I started trying to use the internet and computers for teaching EFL/ESL in the late 90's It was next to impossible since the vast majority of my students didn't have access to both or simply couldn't believe that computers were anything other than a souped up word processor/Play Station and hence were either boring or irrelevant.

Over the last few years I have tried again since that the number of private students I teach with computers has increased enormously. Yet the struggle to convince students and parents that using the computer/internet is a valid use of their time is still as intense as ever. I think that blogging, podcasting, digital cameras, mp3s etc. have an important place in my teaching practice and produce results. But it takes forever to persuade students that something that is fun can help them achieve their goals.

The next battle is to persuade teachers to use these tools. They have few incentives to change ("Will I be paid more for this ? Nope!") and are faced with the possibility of having to stumble up a very steep learning curve (under the critical gaze of their students) while still handling all the other stuff that fills up their normal routine.

In some sense you can hardly blame people for being resistant to the introduction of new ideas in this context. However, in the intensively competitive business environment in which language schools in Greece operate you either adapt or go out of business. It won't happen tomorrow or even next year but the writing is on the wall for all those who believe that you can teach for the next ten years in the same way they taught for the last ten.

If you have any thoughts on this or have been in the same situation, please get in contact.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

some views of the city

I thought I'd add a few photos of Thessaloniki, they make a nice change from the pontificating.

Blogging in the classroom

It's nice to see that I'm not alone in thinking that blogging can be an excellent way of getting our students to actually do something with the stuff (foreign languages, for example) they learn. I have started reading Cool Cat Teacher's blog which is crammed full of ideas about using blogs and computers in general in the classroom. I also like her musings on how we should make the best of the equipment that we have rather than complaining about what we don't have. Most of the stuff I do on the net is via 32kbps dial-up connection and it's sometimes very frustrating knowing that in many parts of the world connection speeds are far greater and the cost far lower (a 1mbps connection here cost, until very recently, 178 € per month!!!!) However, this dosn't mean we should give and wait a couple of years until things turn out the way you want. We need to deal with these drawbacks and find a way around them now.

The most important point is that we have to get away from the idea that the computer is simply a text book upgrade and start to see it for what it is; something far more revolutionary, which will change the way everything is taught and the roles of both student and teacher. Scary but possibly a lot of fun as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Teaching using technology

I saw this article in the Guardian which got me thinking.

Wiring English into our technological world

The learner of the future debate: where once technology contributed to inequalities in language education, it is now evolving as a complex but unifying environment inviting communication for all

Mark Warschauer
Friday January 20, 2006
Guardian Weekly

I have a small family blog related to the development of my son, Danny, who has Down's syndrome. The blog receives relatively few visitors, mostly family members and friends. Imagine my surprise then when several Iranian medical students started visiting and posting comments. It turns out that an English class at Tehran University's Medical School had discovered the blog. The future doctors were posting comments as a way of honing their communicative skills in English while sharing ideas with the international community about health and human development. The medical students' comments - and my subsequent interaction with their instructor, Samaneh Oladi, who was writing her master's thesis on blogging and language learning in Iran - drove home to me how three stereotypical divides don't exist any more, or at least not in the ways we traditionally have perceived them.

Click here to read the rest of the article

DVDs and teaching

I have talked about using DVDs to teach listening skills (see this one from the vaults) but of course, one problem that we face is how do we know our students will watch the film without just putting on Greek subtitles ? Well, one answer is DVD SHRINK which allows you to make copies of DVDs and strip away anything you consider unnnecessary; Greek subtitles for example.

Of course if you have your own copies of a film without subtitles then making copies means that you're not worried that your precious copy of say, Revenge of the Nerds 3 (a classic of the genre!) will come back scratched and therefore unplayable.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Using podcasts in the classroom

I've been using podcasts in my lessons this year and They can be great source of real life English in the classroom. As well as being up to date they allow you to choose a wider source of subject matter than is usually given in course books. Here is a typical lesson plan for a post FCE level lesson.


You'll need;

1 - a CNN podcast (see this link). They are approx four minutes. Write down three or four words from each story.

2 - A way of transfering the podcast from the computer to the classroom. If you have an mp3 player you can connect to a cassette player using a weird cassette adapter (see link) or borrow the school's computer speakers.

3 - A way of recording students (optional).


1 Ask students what the major news stories of the last few days (domestic and international). Ask them in groups to remember as may details as possible and discuss them.

2 Write down a few words from each story on the podcast on the board. Explain to students that they'll hear the stories in full in a short while. Then ask students to discuss the possible content of the story with each other.

3 Elicit answers from the class.

4 Play the CNN podcast and ask students to write down as many details as possible. Remind them that it is impossible to write down everything and that they should just make a note of the stuff they consider most important.

5 Students share their answers with each other.

6 Play the podcast again.

7 Students once again write down what they consider most important and then share it with the others.

8 If you have smaller classes i.e. less than 10 ask the students to come up with a single class answer. In bigger classes divide them into groups of 5 or 6 and ask each group to do the same.

9 Elicit answers from the group(s).


a Ask students to discuss which story is the most important for them.

b Ask students to follow up one of the stories on the internet for a week and report back to the class.

c Students create their own two - minutes news podcast using local news and then record it.

WHY DO THIS ? First of all it's good preparation for the note taking section of exams such as TOEFL and the Michigan ECPE. Also it is more up to date than the suff in the books and finally it's easy. All it takes is 10 minutes of your valuable time outside the classroom

Some random photos from the last week or so

Just a few pictures for the folks back at home.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Using your digital camera in the class

I've been preparing students for FCE and CPE interviews over the last few years and one thing that really help is to record them while doing a mock interview. Now in the olden days that meant cassettes or, if you were really lucky video. Now through the miracle of technology a cheap digital camera can do the same job at a fraction of the cost and with very little hassle (the EFL teacher's mantra, if ever there was one) .

I record my student's interview with the camera and then burn it onto cd so that they can see and hear themselves. It costs a pittance, takes just a few minutes and despite their initial reluctance is really appreciated by most students. BTW most of them will hate the fact that you are recording them. Just explain to them that it's just like going to the dentist. Necessary but no fun.

A good follow-up activity is to ask the students to transcribe their portion of the interview and ask them to suggest ways in which the coud improve their performance.

PS. Don't expect Home cinema with Dolby surround stereo, but the quality will be good enough for students to get an idea of how they sound.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Free stuff that works

Yes, it sound too good to be true but there is loads of fun stuff which can be downloaded at no cost.
Try these programs (I use them on my computer and I've had no problems).

Mozilla is a safer alternative to Internet Explorer. If you got fed up with Window's constant security alerts, try this instead.

Open Office is a free alternative to Office and does the job at zero cost. Just be careful as it is a very big file. If you are in my class I can give you a cd.

Audacity is free software for recording and editing sound files and if you want to record students it is very useful.

Winamp is a free audio player which is much easier to use than Windows Media Player.

DVD Shrink is a way of making copies of DVDs without hassle

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

snow again

Another wave of bad weather has hit the city and so once again I'm bouncing around the city on foot or by bus. The snow is pretty, but a real pain.

There's a nice phrase in Greek , "ηλιος με δοντια" or "sun with teeth" which means a bright, sunny day which is bitterly cold. That just about sums up today.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Going international (part 2)

I have talked before about Clustrmap's remarkable plug-in for blogs which shows where in the world the people who view your blog are located. Don't worry, all I know is what the maps shows me, I'm not tracking you down to your place of residence or gainful employment. The CIA/NSA/MI5/Mossad/ΕΥΠ etc. have already done a much better job of that than moi.

Paranoia aside, I think that it's the first time that I've really understood the concept of the flat Earth (no, I'm not about to argue if we sail West we'll fall off the edge of the world). Rather the belief that the internet has negated physical distance and natural obstacles, so that it is no more difficult to talk (or do business) with somebdy in Beijing that it is to talk to the person living next to you.

As you can see on the map the site has been viewed by people from,

New Zealand
Canada (possibly, hard to tell for sure)

I can't think of what other medium or any other period in history in which an ordinary person would have been able to come into contact with such a geographially diverse bunch with only minimal technical knowledge and at no cost. If that isn't remarkable I don't know what is ?

To everyone out there who has viewed this site I'd like to says thanks and I hope it has helped and/or entertained you in some way. If it hasn't, thanks anyway since you've done my ego the world of good.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

It must be the enforced bed rest

But I've been getting lots of ideas for the blog today. I noticed that my ideas on using audio books/podcasts have been picked up by others in the blogosphere. See the following link to the author of the Pocket and The Pendant

Why not also try out Earthcore and Ancestor by Scott Sigler as well.

They are great alternatives to the bland listening practice that EFL students have to endure as part of their course. However, I would recommend Scott Sigler's stuff for older students due to the language used. I have used all of these books with my students and they really help with listening skills.

We Didn't Start The Fire by Billy Joel

I was shuffling through songs I'd recently acquired on my ipod when I came across We Didn't Start The Fire By Billy Joel. It's a song I really liked when it came out but never got round to buying. I always thought it would make a great lesson as there are so many historical references in it.

Lesson Plan (for advanced learners)

1 Write down the title of the song. Ask students to discuss what it
might be about.

2 Play the song once and ask students to write down;

a anything they understand,
b any emotion or images that come to mind
c any ideas about possible meaning.

3 Students discuss their answers with each other.

Don't expect much in the way of comprehension, even at advanced levels as it's difficult to understand what people are saying in such situations. Instead see it as a warm up excersise.

4 Hand out lyrics,play the song and ask students to think about questions a,b and c again.

5 Students work in groups and swop ideas amd information.

6 Elicit ideas from the class.

7 Explain to students that the songs covers four decades of modern history (from the1950's to the 1990's) and that their job is to find out who, what, where and whenare being referred to.

8 As a class they see if they can understand some of the references. Then divide them into three or four groups and assign a portion of the song for them to research on the internet.

9 In the next lesson student form new groups so that they can explain to the others their portion of the song.

10 Play the song again and ask the to write their interpretation of the song in 40 to 60 words.

11 Discuss, as a class the various interpretations.

12 If you're feeling very high tech give the song as an mp3 and ask the students to find pictures on the internet that illustrate the events and people in the song and create their own video using Windows Movie Maker.

13 Students then vote on what they consider is the best video.

For example videos, click here.

Billy Joel - We Didn't Start The Fire
Artists > Billy Joel > We Didn't Start The Fire

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye

Eisenhower, Vaccine, England's got a new queen
Maciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire

No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dancron
Dien Bien Phu Falls, Rock Around the Clock

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev
Princess Grace, Peyton Place, Trouble in the Suez

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, Bridge On The River Kwai

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkwether, Homicide, Children of Thalidomide
Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Space Monkey, Mafia
Hula Hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichman, Stranger in a Strange Land
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British Politician sex
J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, Terror on the airline
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law
Rock and Roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

one sick puppy

Sorry for the no show on Friday but I was in no position to teach that evening. I was tucked up in bed nursing a nasty virus at 9pm (sad, sad, sad). Anyway, I'm sure Martha did an excellent job in my stead.

The good news is that now it's the weekend and I have lots of new music to listen to courtesy of Ilias and Vassilis. Thanks!!!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

teaching ideas

I think that sometimes we reinvent the wheel as EFL teachers. Here are some some sites from the big, bad world of education that can be very useful for us.


This site is aimed at UK students and covers an enormous range of subjects and levels. It is very good for language arts. I have used their stuff a lot for Proficiency and FCE essay writing.

has a site for educators which is a bit more multimedia orientated. Even if you don't use a Mac you can take their ideas and use Windows - compatible programmes instead.