Friday, September 29, 2006

Blog presentation handout



Blogging offers a simple, cheap way to allow our students to share their work and interests with people from all over the world. With little or no technical expertise we can set up our own web page ina matter of minutes. It provides us with a great way to get students to write and communicate with others, both inside and outside Greece (see here for the rest).





My blog presentation - so far

by Craig Wherlock Ma (TEFL)



Put simply, a blog is a site on the internet that you can set up in about ten minutes which costs nothing. There are currently approximately 70 million blogs and thousands of new ones are created every day. They can be about an conceivable subject, anything from the state of modern Chinese politics to what I did at the party last night. The majority of people who have a blog are below 25 so it is very much something to appeal to young people like those we teach.

What I hope to do today is show you;

–some compelling reasons a blog can help your students learn English,

–how to set up a blog for yourself and your students,

–work on some teaching ideas that incorporate blogging in EFL.


Perhaps the most important reason why your students should know about blogging is that it gives them the chance to reach a wider audience than just you and their classmates. When I started my blog about 31 people read it in the first month. That figure is now 1500 plus. Likewise students now have the opportunity to reach out to a potential audience of millions.

Imagine if their piece on football teams in Thessaloniki could be read and commented on by say, somebody in Brazil, and of course, visa versa. That has got to work as a far greater incentive than simply getting a grade from you.

Another added bonus is that since the blog is going to be read by “real people” i.e. Not just you, the teacher, there is an added incentive not to make mistakes, to get things right so as not to appear stupid.

As blogs can literally be about anything students can write about any subject they like. Films, sport, parties, gossip can all be included on a student's blog. This also means that virtually every level of English can be catered for.

Finally, the blog offers a permanent record of our students work which can be reviewed by the student and seen by you at any time. Also it can form the basis of any future e-portfolio.


Today we are going to set up our own blog as a group using Blogger. There are other sites that offer the same service and I've chosen this one simply because I'm most familiar with it. You could also look at

MySpace (which has a younger audience)
Edublogs (which is for educators)
Yahoo 360 (general audience)

Don't worry about writing all this down as a transcript of this talk along with all the site addresses will be posted on my blog. I will give you the address at the end of the talk.


1 Go to

2 Fill in the necessary details

blog name: Tesol Macedonia – Thrace 2006
blog address:
user name: conference2006
password: learning

3 Choose template

4 Start posting

What I'd all like you to do is write a short description of yourself, a kind of professional autobiography in 50 words or less.

E.g. My name is Diana Jones and I work in X school of languages. I graduated y university in 1996 and have taught xyz levels etc.


6 Take the student's photo and show them how to post that on the blog.

7 Now add a photo of the Capsis hotel to the blog.

8 Post and view the blog.



1 What I'd like to do now is show you examples of various exercise I have done with my students on their blogs.

My visit to .....

Film review

A description of my holidays

My friends

Round the world trip

2 Now all of these activities all very much text based with some photos added. That reflects the fact that most internet connections here are slow so we can't do things like add video or mp3s yet. However, all of that is set to change in the very near future.

When that time comes we can ask students to prepare videos using a digital camera or their mobile phone, put songs and discussions on their blogs, use more complicated web tools such as YouTube or Odeo.

Here are some ideas that I've been playing with and hope to use in the very near future in my classes.

Video your course book

Lydia's Chatterbox stuff

Create your own song videos

See Billy Joel “We didn't start the fire!”

Create and record a tour of your school/neighbourhood/city

See Guardian city tours

Cookery programmes

See The Daily English Show

How - to lessons

Magic tricks

Work shop ideas

Now what I'd like you to do is get into groups of three or four and think of a way you could use this stuff in one of your lessons. Remember that as well as text and photos many of the latest mobile phones take record video and audio.


favourite places

sport family
grammar points

vocabulary areas
writing skills

If time permits get them to write up ideas on the blog.

Teachers who blog

Teacher Dude's Grill and BBQ
Ewan McIntosh
Cool Cat Teacher
Theodora P
Daniel's Teaching Blog
Autono Blogger
FCE Blog
The Open Classroom
Teacher in Development

I would like to thank Ewan McIntosh especially for letting me steal shamelessly from his presentation ideas. If you can, check out his podcasts at his website.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Starbucks Thessaloniki

I would like to say thanks to everyone at the Starbucks on Leoforos Nikis, Thessaloniki for finding my digital camera. That aside, they are the nice bunch of guys and serve the best coffee on the seafront, not that I'm biased. To say thanks I got them some patissiries from Terkanli. Once again thanks to everyone there.
Malcom X

Some video to go with the mp3 speech I linked to in the earlier post.
Martin Luther King Jr - I have a dream speech - Aug 28 1963

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Ballot or the Bullet vs I Have A Dream - a lesson plan

The bullet or the ballot as Malcolm X once put it. This is a lesson plan I've been playing with for the last couple of weeks and I thought I'd post it and see what you think. It is definitely aimed at advanced learners of English, or indeed you could use it in a social studies class. It is ambitious in its scope, but I believe if you ask a lot of your students then, most times they far exceed your expectations.

Lesson Plan

1 Ask students to write down or research what revolutions/rebellions have taken place in their country over the last 100 years, this can set for homework prior to the lesson or done via internet if ou have access at school. In Greece this is a tall order considering the country's turbulent history during most of the 20th century.

2 Students compare their information in groups and report back to you.

3 Now ask them if drastic social change ever comes about peacefully. Once again they discuss this in groups and emphasise the fact that you want concrete examples to support their ideas.

4 Explain to students that they are going to see Mississippi Burning (either in class or for) homework. If you can, show the trailer for the film to the whole class and ask them to write down;

what kind of film it is
where it is set
when it is set

what the basic plot is

5 Student watch the movie and for homework write down what would they have done if they had been born Black in such a community.

6 In the next lesson students discuss their answers with each other.

7 Now explain to the students who Martin Luther King and Malcom X were. Make sure they understand that both of them were black leaders who lived and campaigned in the same era as Mississippi Burning was set (the early 60'), yet both had very different ideas about how the Afro-American community should deal with racism.

8 Divide the class into two groups and give them links to either "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech  (this is an extract) by Malcolm X or the "I have a dream" speech by Martin Luther King (it might be a good idea to give them the transcripts as well - (see here for Malcom X and here for Martin Luther King.)

9 For homework, student listen to the speeches and write down what each leader thinks should be done  to improve the situation of their community and why.

10 Now explain to students that they are now either Martin Luther King or Malcolm X and they have to debate what is the best way to deal with the problems Black Americans face in the society shown in the film. Students should use the ideas in the speeches to put support their ideas.

11 Organise a class debate

12 Essay question.

"Who would you have followed if you had been a Black American in the 1960's?"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Free EFL/ESL speaking and listening course

As I have to come up with a teaching course that prepares students for the speaking and listening sections of the CAE/CPE and ALCE/ECPE exams for the school, I decided that I would share this with all of you out there, whoever you may be.I decided that I would create a Wikispace, as I did with my previous course, EFL and Web 2.0 tools. It's still very much a work in progress so please forgive any typos and the like.

I hope in the course of the next two weeks to have it all ready and find suitable links online so that you will have access to video audio clips etc.

Here is a small taste;


This course is intended to help prepare advanced students (the Council of Europe levels C1 and C2) for the interview and listening sections of examinations such as;


Whilst the lessons do not follow any one particular test format, they do help students practice the core skills required by any high level EFL/ESL examination. The course needs to supplemented by examination practice activities such as past papers and mock tests to make sure that learners feel comfortable with the format of the examination they are doing.

The material consists of thirty lessons which are divided into three categories;

1 Short exercises - these are designed to be done in 30 minutes or less and can be repeated as many times as you like during the duration of the course.

2 Long exercises - these are designed to be done in either one or two 45 minutes teaching periods.

3 Projects - these are designed to be done over a longer time frame and can either be done in the lessons or set as long-term home work exercise.

Course Principles

Every activity described in this Wikispace follows the same core principles when it comes to learning to produce and understand spoken language.

1 Design your lessons for success.

Any lesson should be designed so that even the weakest student has been given the chance to make a contribution. Otherwise it's like inviting a friend to dinner and not giving them anything to eat. Questions, therefore are open ended whenever possible.

2 Always prepare your students for what they are going to do.

You must allow your students the chance to prepare for what they are going to say or hear. few people speak well without such preparation, even fewer understand. In real life context provides us with a wealth of information which allows us to comprehend what other people are talking about. Hence all the exercise are designed to get students thinking along appropriate lines before doing something else.

3 Group work is absolutely vital

"Two head are better than one". Not only do we give students the chance to practice what they want to say before the risky task of saying it in front of a whole class, group work also allows everyone the chance to say something. Group and pair work are built into the very fabric of each lesson.

4 Shut the teacher up, please!

The more you talk as a teacher the greater the disservice you are doing to your students. The exercises are designed to shift the focus of attention in the classroom away as much as possible from the teacher. You already know how to speak English, you don't need the practice, your learners do.

5 We all need feedback.

The abilty to record ourselves without using expensive, specialised equipment is one of the great boons to come out the recent digital explosion of the last decade. We can record video or voice using a cheap digital camera, mp3 player or mobile phone. In terms of learning most of our students now possess a language lab which fits comfortably into their pocket. This means that they know have the ability to hear what they really sound like in English and, if necessary take steps to improve. Not asking students to do this is unacceptable - would you ask them to write a years's worth of essays and never return them? The activities often include students producing something which can be recorded and saved digitally.

6 Realia is king

For advanced studenst there are no compelling reasons not to use realia, and as we can easily find material on the internet etc our choice of teaching material should reflect what is important to them and what is happening in the world now. Everything in the course comes from non-EFL/ESL sources.

7 Engage the whole brain

Too often foreign learners of English are treated by course book writers as idiots unable to absorb "complicated" ideas. The exercises are designed to make the learner think not just about grammar, vocabulary and the like, but also deeper, more challenging themes.

8 English is not a dead language, so lets feel it.

Emotion is not a dirty word. The more you can create strong feelings in the course of the lesson the more likely students will remember what they learnt. The exercises are designed to make people feel something. Learning a foreign language is not the same as doing a crossword.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Preparing a presentation on blogging

Next weekend I'm doing a workshop on blogging and EFL Writing at the Tesol Macedonia-Thrace conference, which means that I have to create a presentation of some kind. I don't have Powerpoint and so I'm learning how to use Keynote on my ibook. It's the little stuff that seems to be the hardest to figure out; like how to I make the text smaller? Why doesn't the picture seem to fit the space provided. Anyhow, I have worked my way through most of these technical hitches and the presentation seems OK.

It's been a long time since I've done something like this and a mite nervous to tell you the truth. Of course, since I'm going to be using a laptop, projector and live internet access via wifi, you know that something is bound to go wrong. LOL. I'll be left standing in front of a blank screen saying,

"Well, if you could see this very interesting web site then I'm sure you'd agree it has lots to offer educators, but as there is nothing to see let's get a drink and forget about the whole thing."

Picture of the day

Friday, September 22, 2006

The school year begins

I started my first lesson with Proficiency 1F today, most of whom I taught last year, so it was good to see so many familiar faces.It's also nearly a year since I started this blog. It's scary how time flies by so quickly.

Problems in the city - An EFL role play activity

Lesson Plan

1 Ask students what they would change about the city.

2 Elicit answers from the class and write them on the board. Students then work in groups to rank them in order of importance.

3 Divide students into four groups. Hand out the photocopy and assign each group a problem.

4 Their job is;

- to think of many reasons why this solution is the the most suitable and

- one problem with each of the other solutions.

5 Rearrange groups so that there is a representative from each group in the new one. Their job is to discuss the various merits of each solution and then come to decision.

6 Students create a 30 second radio/TV ad to promote their own favourite solution. This can be recorded on a digital camera or suitably equipped mobile phone.

Problems in the city

1 Unemployment:

Possible solution: More civil service positions.
Cost: one billion euros per year

2 Traffic:

Possible solution: Ban all cars from the centre and create a Park and Ride scheme
Cost:1,3 billion euros

3 Drug abuse

Possible solution: Heavier police presence on the streets.
Cost: 2.2 billion per year.

4 Pollution

Possible solution: A ban on all new factory building within the city limits.
Cost: 0.9 billion euros per year

Thursday, September 21, 2006


General hospital

The situation: Imagine that you are in a small hospital in a poor part of the world which has only a limited number of beds. There are three patients who require urgent medical treatment, however, there is only one place available.


You are the head of paediatrics. You have in your care a seriously ill young girl who needs an operation on her spine. If she does not have an operation within the next 48 hours it is almost certain she will be paralysed from the waist down.


You are a neurologist. You have in your care a sick pregnant woman who must undergo brain surgery to remove a tumour. Without the operation her chances of survival are 50/50.


You are the local GP. You have in yout care a father of three.The man has a heart condition caused by heavy smoking. If he doesn't have open-heart surgery immediately he is likely to
suffer a heart attack and possibly die.

Lesson Plan

1 Explain the situation to the students, deal with any problems with grammer or vocabulary. It is very important to make it clear that only one person can be operated on.

2 Divide the class into three groups and assign each group a role.

3 Students think of as many reasons why their patient should be treated and the others should be refused.

4 Put the students into groups of three, with one person from each role. They should then argue their point of views and within ten minutes come to a conclusion.

5 Ask each group what their decision was and why they made it.

This exercise always makes for heated argument, so be on hand to dampen down any debate that threatens to get out of hand.

Satire (2)


I'll translate this anti-Liakopoulos parody when I have time and access to a fast internet connection, hopefully today.


"The secret gospel according to Liakopoulos

The Romans are Greek

The orthodox are Greek

Christ is Greek

fiends are everywhere

Aliens are everywhere

Vile jews are everywhere

Putin watches on

Sintalkas surveys from on high

UFOs patrol

Mary Magdalene plots

He too, was there"

Basically, this short video is a parody of the insane rantings of a local TV presenter, Liakopoulos.

Satire (1)


A small sample of Liakopoulos's rhetoric. BTW It is in Greek. Still, Goebbels would be proud. For some strange reason this has taken over a day to appear on my blog.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Kafka does retail

There are times when things here get so surreal that you could swear that Your actually taking part in some bizarre reality show directed by Kafka's spiritual descendant. I decided today, on the spur on the moment to buy a new digital camera, having lost my old one a few days ago. So eventually I ended up at the Carrefour hypermarket in east Thessaloniki. And then, of course that is when my troubles began. It all seemed so deceptively easy in the beginning, you make your choice, pay and walk out of the place a happy, contented consumer. Alas that was not be. I think the easiest way to explain this is to describe list of steps needed to make a simple purchase

1 Tell the sales assistant which camera I wanted.

2 The assistant then unlocks the cabinet (were talking about a 100 euro camera here, not a Cartier watch) and takes it to the till.

3 The other shop assistant fills in the sales slip by hand including details such as name, address etc.

4 Another assistant (how come there is so much unemployment when it takes three people to make a simple sale?) rings up the sale on the register and hands you yet another receipt.

5 You then have to show the security guard at the reception your purchase and receipts in order for him to stamp them (in triplicate) so that the warranty is valid.

So far so good, however the shop assistant had failed to give me my till receipt which meant that the security guard couldn't stamp my other receipts which meant in turn that the camera wasn't covered by the warranty, I get tired just remembering it.

This meant going back to the third assistant getting to make a photocopy of the till receipt, have them sign it and stamp it. Then I had to go back to the security guard who scrutinised the photocopy with all the seriousness of the guy who grants access to the nuclear launch codes, then hand it another guard who looked at it as well, carefully eyeing me up to see if I wasn't up to some dastardly scheme to defraud the company.

Finally, after many hard stares they stamped the four separate pieces of paper with the precious stamp and then added their signatures. I tell you, I could get into Downing St or the White House with less paperwork.

Here's a tip to the those in charge at Carrefour, Kafka's Castle is not a management training manual. By the way this is the private sector, which is positively streamlined compared to public services.

EFL/ESL icebreakers

I'm starting lessons this Friday and so I'm digging out some exercises that I can use as first lesson ice breakers. As well as helping me get to know the students it helps them get to know each other. This is essential is developing a sense of community in the classroom and also has the added effect of making students feel more comfortable talking in English in front of each other. Here are a few activities you can use, if you wish.


1 What makes you feel happy?

2 What's your most treasured possession?

3 What's you favourite song and why?

4 Who would you most like to meet?

5 Pick five words to describe you.

6 What do you want to do in the future?

7 What's your best quality?

8 What's your worst fault?

9 Describe your proudest moment.

10 What's the best advice you've been given?

The idea is that students first write down answer their own answers and then ask another student, preferably somebody they don't know.


1 Explain to students that they're going to write a meme. This is a list of answers to a question that people often post on their blogs.

2 Show the students the example below and ask them to write down three questions based on the list. i.e three things they would like to learn more about. E.g.

Where was the fire?
Why did you take only one suitcase?

Ten things I've done that you probably haven't:

1: Taught myself to read and write modern Greek
2: Once helped fight a forest fire.
3: Drove from Athens to Rome on a Vespa.
4: Hitch-hiked 8000 km in five weeks.
5: Lived out of a one suitcase for a year.
6: Saw inside my own heart, live.
7: Was interviewed on Italian TV.
8: Was once held by Czech soldiers in Vaclav Havel's back garden.
9: Spent my first term away from home as a university student on crutches (as I had had a motorbike accident one week before term started).
10: Took my driving test in a foreign language.

3 Students write down their own list. Remind them that it doesn't have to include extreme or unique events such as,"I survived a shark attack" but rather more everyday things, for instance, "I can play the piano" or, "I have four sisters."

4 You could reduce the list to five things or give it as a homework exercise then discuss it next time in pairs.

5 An interesting alternative is to include an extra "untrue" item and students try to find out which one it is.


Prof 1c 2005-2006

Don't forget to take your digital camera with you so you can take a picture of everyone there. This will be useful when you set up your class's blog. Encourage the students to take their own photos using their mobile phones.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Video, photos and EFL/ESL

I mentioned in my previous post that I had been using my digital camera to help teach my daughter English. I thought I'd just put down the ideas in a more formal manner.

This exercise can be done with any level, even with complete beginners.

Lesson Plan

1 After doing your normal lesson tell the students that you will be videoing the dialogue in the course book. To do this you will need props and somebody to be the camera operator.

2 Students assign themselves roles and rehearse their lines. When they feel comfortable with their performance they ask the camera operator to video them. This could be done with a digital camera or a suitably equipped mobile phone.

It is very important that students understand that this exercise is indeed a performance and to do it well doesn't just mean getting the grammar or pronounciation of individual sound right. It should sound as natural as possible.

3 Transfer the videos to a PC, ask students to look at them and think of ways they could improve them. This need not be just focused on language points, it could also cover points such as speaking more loudly, lighting or staying in focus.

4 If necessary, students record their performance once again.

5 These videos can be posted on a class or personal blog via YouTube. Alternatively, students can save them on a memory stick/mp3 player/mobile phone and transfer them to their own PC as part of their electronic portfolio.

Instead of using dialogue from a course book you could also use comic strips or film dialogue as a starting point .

Dimosthenes Liakopoulos - The Voice of Salonika

Well, I feel a tad let down by Mr Liakopulos, to tell you the truth. I went downtown this morning to check out the hordes ravenous for truth and enlightenment, ready to find out about the secret organisations and cabals that control our lives, to finally discover the real story behind UFOs. After listening to his TV performance last night I was ready to fight my way into the book store here in the centre, I had even brought my own shopping trolley, ready to stock up on his precious works. Alas I must have missed the crowds as when I passed by the place was empty, however, there were still plenty of great works on display. Phew, I thought I'd missed my chance to finally see into the heart of things.

My particular favourite is the series of books that “proves” every single civilisation on Earth was in fact Greek, that indeed the whole planet is Greek. Something that must come as quite a shock to scholars of , say the Aztec, Inca and Zoltec cultures. Indeed nearly every single scientific discovery or technological advance is Greek as well. I'm eagerly waiting for them to prove that the Ipod was the work of Plato, still give them enough time and they'll get there.

Snide comments aside though, The smaller TV channels here are full of like - minded, chauvanist crap, each one spewing hour after hour of revanchist hate talk aimed at establishing the superiority of Greeks and Greek culture while denigrating other nations and ethnic groups. Anti-semitism walks hand – in - hand with lectures of the alleged superiority of the greek language, while talk of secret Vatican plots easily blends in with anti-immigrant rants. It would be easy just to write off these idiots as a crazy, lunatic fringe, yet history teaches us that such people can have disasterous effects on the body politic. The Nazis, for instance had their mystics and ideologues, who mixed racial theories with Nordic mythology.

The other problem is that such groups have access to TV broadcast technology which means such racist outpouring is not just limited to beer kellers or church halls but has a potential audience of millions.

If you've seen V For Vendetta's Voice of London then you will have a pretty good idea of what is going on here. Hell, Prothero and the presenters here even look alike.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lessons with Lydia

This weekend I started doing English lessons with my daughter, Lydia. I have been a bit wary of doing this up till now as she only started her Greek school last year. I thought that if she started lessons in both languages at the same time she'd get confused. However, a year later and it seems that she has no problem reading and writing in Greek, also she has picked up a lot of stuff on her own as far as reading in English is concerned. So, it seems its time to help her with her written English.

We started with the Chatterbox books, which, while not aimed at bilinguals is fun and full of songs and other interesting activities. Also, as Lydia is not a balanced bilingual (her Greek far outstrips her English) I thought the book would help correct some problems with grammar and enrich her vocabulary.

The first lesson went fine and we both really enjoyed ourselves, I think she loves being the centre of attention and is keen to show me how much she knows. During the second lesson I had a brainstorm and decided that it would be a good idea to create our own version of the comic strip in the book using our digital camera and then adding speech balloons using Open Office (of course, you could also use Word for Windows). Actually, Ewan MacIntosh planted the seeds of the idea when he posted a comment on a recent post. Much fun was had finding props to use and posing for the photos and then we had to muddle through the process of adding captions etc. Still, as learning exercises go, it was great.

The best part was when Lydia said,

"Why don't we use video?"

Out of the mouths of babes. So we videoed the comic strip I (I got great reviews as Pluto, the dog) and played it back on the computer.

The moronic inferno

When I was young my father would takes us all to the local Sunday market were the barkers and stall holders would outdo each other in both the volume they produced and the outrageousness of their claims;


And so on and so forth, thus making a quick buck out of credulity and greed of the truly stupid. It's strange, however, to see such high powered sales tactics applied to the rarified world of publishing. Yet, according to a programme I came across on TV Thessaloniki called Loud and Greek (Δυνατα και Ελληνικα) I can, for a mere ten euros find out the secrets of the ancients and uncover secret Catholic/ American/Jewish/ Turkish plots to enslave us all.

In the space of five minutes I was shocked to discover that

"All of the twelve apostles were Greek, except, that is Judas."

The ancient Greek explorer,
Pytheas reached the North Pole first."

"The Vatican has a secret plan to take over Greece."

Well, I guess it's not that secret as they're flogging a book with all the details. But let's not let logic get in the way of tried and tested prejudice, now shall we. However, according to the presenter these books are flying off the shelves, that people are coming equipped with shopping trolleys, so great is their thirst for knowledge. He even went so far as to say that his books shops were facing a tsunami wave of eager readers. You too can see this for yourself, if you pop down to Agias Theodoras 1, Thessaloniki or Panepistimiou 57, Athens. Make sure you get there early though to avoid the crush.

While the devious plots and plans of the gnomes of Zurich and the Elders of Zion may be an open book to these jerks, the internet seems to be beyond them as all their links and sites are dead.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Story telling in EFL/ESL

One of the things students find difficult is writing stories at advanced levels. I think this is, in part due to the fact that they very little practice of doing this in their own language and so they are doubly stumped when it comes to doing it in English. However, once they get over their initial difficulties Greek students often turn out to abe accomplished story tellers. Interestingly, according to exam statistics from UCLES Greeks score much higher on these kinds of written exercises than, say essay writing and the like.

The basic aim of this exercise is to “ease” advanced students into creative writing by providing them with a frame work they can pin their ideas to. It also has the added bonus of forcing students to be more disciplined in their story telling.


1 – Ask students to find out about the last book their partner read.

2 – Give out a photocopy of the cover of the book (Burn Marks by Sara Paretsky) that you are going to use in the activity. Students have a few minutes to find out as much as they can about the book's story, style etc.

3 – Give the handout (this should be about three or four paragraphs taken from one or two consecutive pages). Now deal with any grammar or vocabulary queries that students have.

4 Explain to the students that they have to fill in the missing gaps using exactly six sentences. It is probably best if you put students into pairs or small groups for this.

5 Students the exchange their stories and see if the other group's effort makes sense. Does it fit in with the pre-existing story? Are there are continuity errors?

6 For homework ask students to continue the story.

Spot the difference

If you've ever done a spot the difference exercise then you should be familiar with the basic idea. You can also use for teaching EFL. Divide the class into two groups Give one group a copy of the top picture (which they cannot show their partner) and the other group the bottom picture. The idea is that in pairs the students find out the differences just by describing their own photos). It is also a good way of preparing students for the FCE interview (part 2) which students, amongst other things) have to compare and contrast two photos.

Steve McQueen - an early EFL pioneer

This is an idea that I got years ago while watching Bullitt. In the film Steve McQueen plays a detective who is tracking down a suspect. At some point they come into possession of his suitcase and try to find out as much as they can about the mystery man from the contents. Well, you can do the same thing using, say the stuff you have hanging around your home from your last holiday for example leaflets, photos, receipts etc. This is a great way of getting students to practice modal verbs (past and present) and the language of suggestion.

Lesson plan

1 – Explain to students that they are going to be detectives and that they found some important evidence about a suspect.

Here might be good time to revise or teach modals and/or the language of suggestion.

2 – Divide the class into groups of three or four students and give them each a “mystery pack” i.e. The photos, ticket stubs, flyers etc. you've chosen(see below). The students now have to find out as much as they can about the person using the clues given. For instance;

For instance;

Are we talking about a man or woman?

How old are they?

What can we say about their movements, interests, acquaintances etc?

3 - Students write down what they have found out and make sure they separate what they not for sure from what might be true about the suspect.

E.g The person has a connection with the university of Liverpool, s/he may have studied there.

4 - This would be a great warm up exercise for writing a report which is often part of the Cambridge FCE, CAE and CPE written papers.

From the Kathimerini newspaper

Questions mount regarding possible price fixing in the dairy

The findings of an investigation by the Competition Commission into possible price fixing in the dairy industry will be prepared more than a month ahead of schedule as speculation grows regarding the background behind this week’s corruption allegations

Sources said that the commission’s examination of the industry will be ready in 10 days rather than the early November deadline originally set.The government will be keen to shed light on the sector that has given birth to one of the country’s largest state corruption cases.

Dairy company Mevgal informed the Competition Commission earlier this week that it was being asked for a 2.5-million-euro bribe from one of its officials to avoid slapping it with a 25-million-euro fine.

The commission’s director, Panayiotis Adamopoulos, along with two accomplices, were arrested and charged with blackmail on Tuesday in response to the allegations.The news has given way to questions as to whether the alleged blackmailers had approached others in the dairy industry.

“My guess is that they did not just approach us (for a bribe),” Mevgal’s legal adviser, Kriton Metaxopoulos, told Skai Radio.

No other dairy firm has come forth with claims that it has been approached for a kickback.Police said that they are investigating all cases handled by Adamopoulos since he took up his position in November 2005.

The dairy industry was the subject of an investigation by the competition watchdog in 1997. Claims that Greece has the highest priced dairy products in the European Union have fueled rumors that companies in the sector are not allowing the market to operate efficiently.

Meanwhile, the government is measuring the fallout from news of the corruption scandal which is considered to be mixed.Political analysts expect the bribery revelations to provide the government with political points in the long term, as it has made the fight against corruption one of its key policies.

“Whenever such incidents appear, they will be met efficiently. This was not done for many years in the past. Whoever is involved will suffer the consequences as dictated by the law,” said alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Money talks

The chickens are coming home to roost it appears. The Mevgalgate bribery scandal which broke here in Greece last week continues to grow in scale and extent. The strangest part of this whole sorry story is the role played by the head of the municipality of Thessaloniki, Panagiotis Psomiadis who has close political links with those accused of taking bribes from the Mevgal diary company. Psomiadis, it seems has decided that he, like Jesus Christ, is the victim of betrayal by those around him. It's hard though to see in his carefully coiffered, expensively besuited presence any resemblance.

If such comparisions are not outrageous enough, he has started to play the “northern” card, telling the assembled journalists that they are bunch of snotty - nosed Athenians punks. This has been the classic tactic used by local authority officials for decades, whenever somebody criticises Town hall, they always cry that Athens is to blame, that those down South care little for their northern compatriots.

Images courtesy of Country Boy + Girl

Video games in the classroom

I came across this article from Alternet while reading the news on my PDA (moi, a geek?) and it reaffirms my view that video games have a place to play in education in general and language learning in particular. I'm not saying that we should be telling our students to put down Plato's Republic and get some real learning on Call of Duty 3 but rather that games do have something to offer apart from thrills and spills. Coincidentally, the school mentioned is only a few miles from where I grew up.

Reading, Writing and Video Gaming

By Marco Visscher, Ode. Posted September 14, 2006.

Teachers are learning that video games can actually improve our schools. As education adapts to please the gamer generation, will textbooks become obsolete?

The door closes with a squeak and a creak. Oh, no! Is it locked? Let's check ... No, thank God, you can open it ... So now, another go at getting to the ladder. Maybe through this narrow hallway? ... No, it's a dead end.

See here for the rest of the story

Friday, September 15, 2006

EFL/ESL role play

As many of the people I teach are university students I thought that this might be a fun exercise to do in class. The main aim is to practice speaking skills through role plan. Be warned - the reading and speaking skills needed for this are pretty advanced.

Lesson Plan

1 Ask students to find somebody who has ever shared an appartment. They then ask the person what it was like.

2 Ask students (on their own) to draft a list of characteristics of the perfect flatmate. They then form groups of four and discuss their answers.

3 Tell students to imagine that they are now looking for two/three other people to share an appartment with them. However, everyone is going to pretend to be someone else.

4 Give each person one of the profiles from the article above. The students read their “roles”. Tell them that have to keep in character i.e. pretend to be the kind of person mentioned in the profile and find flatemates that they are most compatible with.

Here students will need a lot of help not just with unfamiliar vocabulary but also cultural differences between Greek and English student life. However, it not necessary that they understand everything, just the gist of the part they have to play.

5 Students then stand up and imagine that they are at a party. Give them 10 to 15 minutes to find their ideal flatmates.

6 The groups then report back to the teacher explaining why they chose each other.

Comics and EFL teaching

I just thought I'd digitise and post some of the ideas I've used in my lessons over the last few years. It's a shame to think that they lay half-forgotten in some dusty folder when someone might find them useful. Here are some suggestions for using comic strips in order to help students with their writing and speaking skills. Although this partcular strip would work best with B2 levels and above the same ideas could be used with different comics and lower levels.

Lesson Plan

1 Give out the photocopy and ask students to discuss in pairs how the world depicted is different to our own. Elicit answers.

2 Ask students to speculate on what the story is about and who the main characters are.

3 Students then fill in the missing dialogue and discuss their answers in groups.

At this point you could use the exercise as the basis for any number of writing, speaking or even listening activities.

Ask students to perform the dialogue (including sound effects) and record it using a mobile phone/mp3 player/ cassette recorder etc. The class votes on the best performance.

Ask students to write a story which incorporates the dialogue.

Ask students to speculate on what happens next and create their own dialogue.

Ask students to say which actors would be most suitable to play these roles in a movie and why.

Use the Judge Dredd story cassettes/CDs/mp3s and ask them to fill in the missing blanks with the original words.

Please take part in this poll

I have a theory which I would like to test out on this blog. I'll let you know more details later on after people have taken part in the poll below. This question is aimed at people who have learnt English as a foreign langauge.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"One may smile and smile and be a villain" - Hamlet

I few days ago I wrote about (see here) the politicians who turned up at my daughter's school in order to welcome students on the first day of the school year. I could barely hide my loathing of these self-serving blowhards. Now it seems that my instincts were right as one of those present, Panangitis Psomiadis (the guy in the photo on the far right - where else - with the red tie) is concerned.It seems that the head of the municipality of Thessaloniki has been implicated in a massive bribery scandal now rocking Greece (see here for the story in English).

Reality vs rhetoric

Greek Results in the fce & cpe Exams

Explanations and Solutions

Copyright © 1999-2002 Costas Gabrielatos

This article is based on my response to a survey carried out by ELT News, which invited teacher educators in Greece to offer their views on the reasons behind the extremely low rate of success of Greek candidates taking the FCE and CPE examinations of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). The response was originally published in ELT News 127, September 1999. In the original version I responded separately to the four questions asked by the editor; in this version I have re-organised and expanded my discussion. This version: April 2002.


The FCE and CPE exams of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) are extremely popular in Greece. Nevertheless, the success rate in Greece is by far one of the lowest in the world: just under 50% for FCE and around 30% for CPE. In this article I identify three main reasons for this unfortunate situation: popular myths about the exams, misguided approaches to exam preparation, and syndromes ailing ELT in Greece. I also propose short- and long-term solutions to the problem.


Three popular myths

A large number of teachers, learners and parents in Greece seem to be influenced by three very popular ELT myths. The uncritical acceptance of these myths and their use to explain away the extremely low pass rate in both FCE and CPE are among the main reasons why little has changed in the way language examinations are approached in Greece.

See here for the rest of the article

I have decided to post this as many of the problems Costas Gabrielatos discusses directly impinge on my teaching practice. If you want an idea of the obstacles that ordinary teachers face teaching in the majority of language schools here in Greece then this article is a good place to begin. Low wages, chronic job insecurity and the fact that most school owners are ignorant of most the developments that have taken place in EFL/ESL in the last 30 years mean that the cycle of waste (in terms of student's time and their parent's money) and failure repeats itself again and again.

I've lost count of the number of times that people have come up with new innovative ideas for their lessons only to have them vetoed by the school owner as they are "not in the course book" or "we don't have time for such nonsense".

EFL warm up exercises

I'll be starting my classes in the next couple of weeks and of course that means getting to know new students. It is something that always leaves me feeling a little nervous, even after seventeen years of teaching. Still, a few opening night nerves never did anyone any harm and helps me remember that every class is different. One exercise that I use to help students get to know me and each other is a time - line. I originally saw it in Teaching Adult Second Language Learners by Heather McKay. It also is a good way of starting off private lessons as well.

Basically what you do is draw a line on the board (or a piece of paper) and at five or six points which represent an important event in your life but in note form. For example;

born 1978
high school in 1994,
driving test in 1998
Lydia 1999.

The students have to use the notes to guess what happened at those various points in your life and think of questions to ask you about them.

For example, You graduated high school in 1994. Where did you go to school? What was it like? etc. Then students create their own time - lines and with their partner (preferably somebody thay don't now) and do the exercise in pairs.

I think it's extemely important to create a sense of community in the classroom as quickly as possible. If students get to know each other then they will more comfortable pushing their English to its limits. In a positive, accepting atmosphere students take more "risks", i.e. attempt things that they may get wrong. Without such experimentation progress becomes much more difficult.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Laptop Campus: Bane or Boone?

Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Laptop Campus: Bane or Boone?

I came across this post on Vicky Davis's blog. It seems that there is a growing backlash against the idea of laptop schools in the US. I have to agree with Vicky in her conclusion that the problem is not the technology but aimlessness in applying it. Laptops, like any other kind of device used in the class room is no substitute for a well-organised syllabus or a dedicated teacher.

Computers by themselves are no more likely to educate than a library card is. However, when used in conjunction with a decent education sytem both are powerful tools to help students learn.

In the early 90's lots of language schools here in Greece spent huge amounts of money buying PCs to use for teaching English, spurred on by the idea that these beige boxes would somehow (the details were always fuzzy) miraculously get students to study more. The reality of the situation was that without any clear idea of how they could be used in the classroom the computer was quickly relegated to the status of a failed novelty.

Of course the problem lay not with the limitations of the machine but rather with an inability of those in charge to train staff to exploit them. PCs ended up being used as little more than dull electronic textbooks which students soon got bored of.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Salonica Greece Riot 10-9-05

The rioters cannot be touched if they are on university grounds so it becomes a case of "catch me if you can". Still, as you can see these guys play for keeps.

I was about 50m away when all of this was happening, scary

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11

Where were you when you heard about 9/11?

I suppose this will be one of those questions that will mark out a whole generation. Just as people talked about where they were when Kennedy was assassinated. For my own part, I remember I was idly zapping through the TV channels when the first footage of the attack was aired, about ten in the morning, Greek time. This was even before the second plane had hit the other Twin Tower. Like most other people my immediate reaction was that there had been a terrible accident. However, after the second plane crashed I realised that this was not just some hideous coincidence but rather a deliberate act . As the day wore on the sheer enormity of what had taken place started to hit home and the feeling of shock was replaced by anger, pity and grief.

The images of people jumping to their deaths live on TV is something will haunt me for the rest of my life. Some things once seen cannot be unseen

First day of school

It was the first day of the school year and so I went with Liddy to find out about her timetable. Instead of that, I got a lesson in the practical applications of Chaos Theory in managing large organisations. Two hours later nobody was any the wiser than when they arrived. We all had to listen to a bunch of announcements that made little or no sense or just plain contradicted themselves while everyone baked in the sun. All of this is via a tannoy system which I think is some high - end encryption device capable of taking any message and turn it instantly into gibberish. At the end of this farce hundreds of parents and kids stood around scratching their heads, trying to figure what exactly had just happened.

The problem is that the new school which should have been finished months
ago will take at least another two weeks of work to complete. Even in the existing school necessary maintainance work was left to the last minute meaning that the painters were still finishing classrooms even as the first kids turned up.

The worst of all was having to listen to speech after speech by local politicians pontificating on how they have improved the local community through their hard work and diligence. This in a district so badly run that even numbering the homes has been messed up.

(Rumour has it they're flming a Greek version of The Sporanos)

After the fifth joker started stumbling through his ode to himself I snuck off
to sluice the crap out of my ears. After years of listening to the same stilted, wholly self-serving rhetoric that pours out their mouths I simply just walk off. Listening just encourages them.

Transcript of the speech

I would hmhhhhhhnhhh and add that hmmhhhhhhhhh so hmhmnmmhhhhm thank you for hhhmhmmjhh mhnmmnhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh vote hmhmhhhhmhmhmhhhmhhm
wonderful hnhmhhhhmhhhmhhmh our great movement mhmhmhmhmhmhmmhmhmh
mhhmmhhmmh hmhmhhhmhmmhmhmhhmhmmhmhmhmh me mhhmmhhmmhmhhm mehmhmhhmhmmh me mhhmhmhhhmhmmh my workhmhmmhmhmhmh I have strived mhmhhmhmhmhmhmhmhmhmhmh my efforts hhmmhmhmhmhmh we need to work together hmmhhmhmhmhmhm.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Rioting in Thessaloniki

This was a very strange kind of disturbance as just behind the lines of tooled up riot police (the MAT as they're known here) the outdoor cafes on Melinikou St were full of guys watching a football match on wide screen TVs while sipping on their frappe, oblivious to the fact that just a couple of hundred meters away trouble was brewing.

On the southern perimeter of the Aristoteleion university campus a vicious game of cat and mouse was being played out between molotov wielding anarchists and the MAT who in turn lobbed cannister after cannister of tear gas into the campus grounds, which by law they are not allowed to enter.

It is a very ritualised form of conflict which takes place two, three times a year here in Thessaloniki. Both sides have their roles and stick strictly to the script which was established years ago. Despite the sense of deja vu, the rocks and petrol bombs are still frighteningly real as I saw for myself when I foolishly decided to follow the local film crews and photographers in order to take a closer look. There is nothing like having a petrol bomb thrown at you to reawaken those long dormant survival instincts. Not to mention the awful burning sensation of tear gas in your eyes, nose and throat.

On the other hand the vast majority of protestors who marched by the trade fair were peaceful, even if the long lines of flag waving marchers (each group carefully colour coded) reminded of Kurosawa's Ran. The martial feel of the event was heightened by the drums playing out miltary style tattoos and the presence of quasi - miltary, shield-bearing riot police dressed in helmets and gas masks massing and dispersing according to some mysterious plan or else suddenly marching off single file.

Friday, September 08, 2006

71st Thessaloniki Trade Fair

Some more photos from the International Trade Fair,Thessaloniki, both inside and outside

Actually, not long after I left rioting broke out with Paok football fan clashing with the police in this very spot. See here for the story (Greek) and here (English).

«Πεδίο μάχης» το Βελλίδειο. Οι διαδηλωτές κρατούσαν πανό που έγραφε: «κι εμείς ψηφίζουμε».
Τελευταία ενημέρωση 08/09/06 22:00
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Επεισόδια σημειώθηκαν έξω από το Βελλίδειο Συνεδριακό Κέντρο, την ώρα που ο πρωθυπουργός εγκαινίαζε την 71η ΔΕΘ, με πρωταγωνιστές εκατοντάδες οπαδούς του ΠΑΟΚ.

Φωτοβολίδες, καπνογόνα έπεσαν στην οροφή του Συνεδριακού Κέντρου και τα υπουργικά αυτοκίνητα. Πέτρες και ξύλα εκτοξεύτηκαν εναντίον των ΜΑΤ. Από την επίθεση των διαδηλωτών, μάλιστα, υπέστη ζημιές η είσοδος της Έκθεσης.