Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hitting 40

I didn't so much reach forty as have a head - on collision. Today is my fortieth birthday and I guess I should be congratulating myself on getting this far without major trauma or a criminal record.

Friday, March 30, 2007

My day in three pictures

How low can you fall and still look yourself in the mirror?

I was just talking to friend here in Thessaloniki who is also a language teacher. Unfortunately, she has recently lost her father to cancer. As you can imagine this has come as a devastating blow to her and her family. To add to her distress, not to mention anxiety she has been told that she ill have to make up the lessons she has missed organising and attending her father's funeral over the coming Easter holidays, otherwise she will not be paid. As she is married and has a family this is money she can ill afford to miss, especially considering the expenses she has incurred.

Words can not describe the anger I feel over this. Yet this kind of incident is not isolated, but rather indicative of the attitude of many, if not most school owners here in Greece. They feel that their staff are utterly disposable and hardly worth the effort of addressing civilly, let alone treating with respect. High unemployment combined with an endless stream of possible replacements means that language teachers have as much job security as your average fast food employee.

One can't help but wonder if one of the reasons why Greece does so badly in international EFL?ESL exams (click here to see the statistics) is because of such attitudes.

EFL/ESL games

You divide the class into teams. One person from each team has to look at some design you've drawn and tell the others how to reproduce it. There are only two rules;

1) Only English - otherwise you have to stop for 20 seconds.

2)The person describing has to put their hands behind their back.

The first team to draw the design correctly wins. You can also do this using lego bricks.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Flickr biography

Originally uploaded by rayunk2004.
Here is an idea that occurred to me as I was surfing through Flickr a few days ago. At one point I came across this photostream which had a host of fascination images from someone's life. However, there were few details about who took the pictures. The vast majority of the images had just a code number from the camera and the Flickr profile gave no clues either.

This got me thinking. Given the richness of the images and the lack of information this would make for a wonderful writing exercise. The basic idea is that students look at the Flickr page and create a biography of the person who took them.

Taken today

There is a lot of building going on in the centre.

There was a small demonstration in Aristotelous Square and a local TV channel was interviewing trade unionists.

I don't think that the guy had money to buy anything from the cart. A pistachio fall to the ground and he struggled to pick it up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Weird, weird , weird, originally uploaded by fetching.

I've been reading about this guy over the last week or so. Justin TV is a guy who walks around 24/7 with a webcam strapped to his his head which is streamed live onto the internet. Think of it as his own reality TV.

Thanks to Fetching (an awesome photographer) and Laughing Squid (one of the best designed I blogs I've come across) for putting me on to this.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Full Spate

I came across this site a few weeks ago. It's good to see others in Greece using the possibilities that the internet offers. Full Spate is a site aimed at EFL learners and has loads of exercises and activities. You can even download five chapters of their course book.

Teaching grammar - YIKKKES!!!!

One of the problem areas I face is how to teach relative clauses. For those of you not in the EFL/ESL these are parts of a sentence which add information to the main clause, e.g. The man who was standing at the corner. Often the explanations given in school books are so technical that they confuse rather than enlighten. Here is a typical example;

"Non-defining relative clauses provide interesting additional information which is not essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence. Correct punctuation is essential in non-defining relative clauses. If the non-defining relative clause occurs in the middle of a sentence, a comma is put before the relative pronoun and at the end of the clause. If the non-defining relative clause occurs at the end of a sentence, a comma is put before the relative pronoun."

Frankly, I might as well be teaching the Theory of Relativity to my students in Latin for all the sense it makes to them. The vast majority do not understand such cumbersome explanations and to tell you the truth I had to sit down for hours the first time I taught this in order to get the ideas straight in my head.

So here is a way to help students practice without such obtuse descriptions.

Lesson Plan

1 Pin a picture on the board, or alternatively choose one from Flickr

2 Describe it in a simple sentence. For example;

The people went to the party

Photo by Nenja

3 Now ask students how we can make the sentence longer.

e.g. add adjectives, adverbs, relative clauses

or get them to give you practical examples.

The bright young couple went quickly to the party which was in the centre.

(This could be a good time to go through the major points of relative clauses giving examples rather than explanation.)

4 Ask students that the have five minutes to write down the longest sentence possible. If you have students whose grammar is weak get them to do this in pairs or groups. The person/pair/group that writes the longest sentence is the winner.

The only rule is that the sentence has to be grammatically correct. Any mistake will be deducted from the final word tally.

The final answer should, hopefully look something like this;

The bright couple who had just graduated from university in London went as quickly as they could to their friend's birthday party which was in an tired, old house near the train station in the centre of the big industrial city that they called home at that period in their lives.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Today's photo

Times are getting tougher and tougher. Whilst there have always been beggers on the streets of the city their numbers have exploded over the last few years. So much for the economic boom.

Today's photos

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I came across an article at Alternet today about freeganism.

One Person's Dumpster Is Another's Diner

By Becca Tucker, AlterNet. Posted March 21, 2007.

A subculture of people make a statement by living off the waste of millions. For three days, a reporter gave it a dumpster-diving go in the "freegan" paradise of Manhattan. (click here to read on).

I thought that it would make for an interesting lesson. As the article is quite long and complex this would be best done by advanced students.

Lesson plan

1 Write the word freegan on the board and ask students to come up with a definition. make sure they understand that any definition is acceptable and there are no wrong answers.

E.g A freegan is a person who rides a bus without paying.


Freegan is a organic compound found in inactive volcanos.

2 Students share their answers with each other.

3 Now write the headline on the board (and explain what a dumpster/diner is)

"One Person's Dumpster Is Another's Diner"

4 Student then speculate on what the article is about and what a freegan might be.

5 Hand out the article and ask students to answer the following questions;

a What is a freegan?
b Why do some people do this? (support your answer with examples from the text).
c What is the writer's opinion of freeganism?
d Would you ever try freeganism? Why/why not?

6 Students first find the answers on their own and then get into groups of three/four to discuss their answers.

7 Elicit answers from the class.

8 Would freeganism ever become acceptable in Greece? Why/why not?

9 Ask students to watch this video on freegan eating and if it changes their mind.

10 Students post the video along with a response (in written or video form on their blog). Alternatively, they could post a response on the original YouTube video.

Blogging - nothing new under the sun

Denis Diderot once wrote:

“In the space of a few hours I had been through a host of situations which the longest life can scarcely provide in its whole course. I had heard the genuine language of the passions; I had seen the secret springs of self-interest and self-love operating in a hundred different ways: I had become privy to a multitude of incidents and I felt I had gained in experience.”

Although he was describing an eighteenth century epistolary novel, he could have just as well be talking about blogging.

A Moment in Time

Photo by Mike Grenville

Apparently, yesterday was World Storytelling Day and so BBC Five Live asked listeners to send in emails, text messages etc describing what they were doing at midday on Tuesday 20th March. If you click here you can what kind of responses they got.

This sounds like a great idea for a lesson, i.e. ask your students what they were doing/thinking about at a particular time on the day of the lesson. Their answers can be posted on their blog(s) as text or in the form of a YouTube video.

Alternatively, you could ask them to take a picture at say 3.00 pm Thursday 22nd March and post it on their Flickr page along with a suitable title and description. See here for Five Live's photo set.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blogging, EFL and young learners

A few months ago I set up a blog for my seven year old daughter. I did so for a number of reasons; first to teach her something fun about the internet and to allow her to feel comfortable using this technology (there is no way she's going to learn such skills at school, even when she gets older as they seem mired in the nineteenth century). Also I wanted to see if younger learners could handle this. Up till then most of my experience had been with teenager students and adults.

So check out Lydia's latest blog here.

I'm happy to report it is easier to teach the fundamentals of blogging and vlogging to seven year olds than it is seventeen year olds. I guess she hasn't learnt to be afraid of trying something new or making mistakes yet.

The problem with the education system here is that it does not tolerate error. Students are expected to master their subjects and make as few mistakes as possible. That sounds great in theory, however, the upshot of this approach is that creativity, experimentation and the like are penalised. Better the student recite five pages of his/her history book perfectly, than go off and produce some interesting project about the subject. Who cares if a week later they can't remember anything; the important thing is they got a good grade from the teacher.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Students producing great stuff

Last week I asked my student (check out his blog here) to create his own, updated introduction to Soylent Green (see here for the original lesson plan). Here is his version which I think is pretty amazing.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Teaching and technology

I know I've talked about this idea before but I thought I'd show you how it works in practice. I teach two nine-year olds English using Chatterbox. Each unit has a comic strip which continues the book's story. As well as doing the usual kind of language learning exercises I ask them to act out the story which I record using a digital camera. We then play it back and discuss what went right and how they can improve their performance. As you can see they love being able to see themselves and really put their heart and souls into getting everything right.

So here is the original;

And here is Maria and Marianna's version;

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Seven days, seven photos

The Vellidiou conference centre. It has a wonderful blue, green light which makes it look very unusual at night. This photo is my wallpaper of choice.

Statue in the centre.

Contrasting the ancient and the modern. The haggard and the smooth.

Lydia and me doing her homework. She has yet another nationalist poem to remember by heart.

Leonidas and his friends. Taken in Aristotelis Square during the week while I was taking photos of the passers by.

Lydia and her brother, Kostis. He's just back from his national service basic training. On Monday He 's off to continue his training on a base near the city.

Doing a lesson this week. This one was based on listening to a song which gives advice and then choosing the the most useful life tips.

Today's news

All the news that's fit to print. Taken today in Ano Poli

Friday, March 16, 2007

Your week in seven words

This is a good warm up exercise to get students thinking in English at the beginning of a lesson.

Lesson plan

1 Write up seven words on the board that give a taste of what your week was like.



2 Now ask students to speculate on what you did during the week.

3 Ask them to write down questions using the question words;


E.g. What did you pass?

Why did you see Borat?

4 Now answer their questions.

5 Now students follow the same procedure in pairs.

Spring is here

The winter is most definitely over, not that it made its presence felt much this year. The photos were taken this morning near the centre.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Using Lyrics

Lesson Plan

1 Think of a piece of advice that would you give somebody who is going to finish school.

2 Students swap advice and comment on how useful it would be.

3 Explain that the students the song contains pieces of advice to people finishing school/college.

4 Play the song and ask students to write down as many pieces of advice as they can.

5 Students get together and compare answers.

6 Hand out the lyrics. Play the song again.

7 Student compare their advice list with the lyrics.

8 Students choose their top five most useful tips and then compare their choice with one another.

Everybody's Free - Lee Perry & Quindon Tarver

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of '97,

"Wear sunscreen

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it
The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists,
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own
meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, oh never mind, you will
never understand the power and the beauty of your youth until they've
faded. But trust me, in twenty years, you will look back at photos
of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now, how much
possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future or worry that know that worrying is
as affective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble
gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never
crossed your worried mind. The kind that blindsides you at 4 PM on
some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other peoples' hearts; don't put up with people
who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy, sometimes you're ahead, sometimes
you're behind.

The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults.
If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters; throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted
to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I
know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to knees, you'll miss them when they're

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't.
Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't.
Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the 'Funky Chicken'
on your 75th wedding anniversary.
Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much or berate
yourself either.
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body.
Use it every way you can, don't be afraid of it or what other people
think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room.

Read the directions even if you don't follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents.
You never know when they'll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings.
They are your best link to your past and the people most likely to
stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go.
But a precious few, who should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, for as the
older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.
Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise, politicians will
philander, you too will get old and when you do, you'll fanaticise
that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were
noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you.
Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse but
you'll never know when either one will run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're forty, it
will look eighty-five.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply
it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing
the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly
parts and recycling for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen."


Sometimes this city can be a really harsh place, a cruel mix of indifference and smugness. I was walking through the centre, down Gounari St when I saw a guy sitting down on the ledge above the Ancient Roman ruins, gently lean back, oblivious to everything but his latest fix. The problem was that where he had decided to crash out meant that at any moment he was in danger of falling back two metres onto the concrete surface below.I guess at least 50 people passed him by as he precariously balanced, unconscious but no one did a thing, not even the passing cop who tried his best to pretend he couldn't see what was happening until a little old lady pointed it out. Even then he just shrugged his shoulders and sauntered on, not as if it had anything to do with him now, is it?

Disgusted at them and more at myself for not helping I went back, tapped the guy on the shoulder and woke him up, he was incoherent and mumbled something about money which I couldn't understand. But at least he wasn't going to topple over and crack open his skull.

It's been a tough week and I'm sick of seeing the poverty and meaness of this place; the accident victims laying in the roads, the poor Rom kids being bathed in the open air on a cold Spring day and the police in shades swaggering around like they were extras in some crime feature.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Grappling with technology

Any new innovation can leave some people feeling bewildered.

Thanks to Technologically Literate for putting me on to this.

Teaching using film

I first posted this lesson plan a few months ago however, I decided to add a twist to it today with one of my students. As well as doing the discussion I've asked him to update the opening scene of 1973 film for a modern audience using Flickr and Photo Story 3.

Lesson plan

1 This is optional. If you can find the film Soylent Green on DVD/VHS.

2 Tell students that they're going to see part of a film that talks about the future and that they should say what they think is the meaning of the sequence. Play the first three minutes. (Basically, it's a photo-montage that shows how the pace of industrial life has quickened and the effects that is having on the planet).

3 Students discuss their answers in pairs and then report back to the teacher.

4 Give out the photocopy (see below).

5 Do the warm up questions from the photocopy. Students write down their answers then form groups to discuss them.

6 Elicit answers from the groups.

7 Go through the handout, deal with any problems with vocabulary.

8 Divide the class into five groups, one for each lobby and another group who will be judges.

9 Explain to students that each lobby has to talk for two minutes, presenting their opinions on why the mill should or should not be built. The judges think of questions to ask each group.

10 Then conduct a class debate; You could use the following format, if you wish.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dance anyone?

For those who love to dance, some suggestions;

Pendulum - Hold Your Colours
Above and Beyond - Alone tonight
How would U Feel - David Morales with Lea Lorien
Queen Bitch - David Bowie
Pendulum - Fasten Your Seatbelt
Mish Mash featuring Lois - Speechless
Matt Darey featuring Izzy - Eternity
Blondie - Call me
Need for Speed - Asian Dub
Paul Oakenfield - Faster Kill Pussycat

Anyone know about summer jobs on offer?

Spent most of the morning digging out my old CV and updating it. I'm looking for a summer job starting at he end of May or the beginning of June teaching EFL/ESL. Anyone got any ideas or suggestions? Or even better, a real - live job ?

Tonight's photo

Taken on Tsimiski St tonight

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Life On Mars

Last week I came across a British TV series called Life on Mars. The basic premise is that a youngish police officer is involved in an traffic accident in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. For some unknown reason everyone then assumes that he is also a police officer. The fascinating thing is seeing the 70's that I grew upon in recreated on the TV screen in all its mordant glory. It got me thinking about what I remember from the decade so here is my list.

The Seventies for me meant

1 Wearing hand - me down donkey jackets and chocolate brown flairs.

2 Eating chicken with rice and peas on Sunday. As a change from the usual meat and two veg of English tradition my mother would cook Caribbean jerked chicken using a recipe our Jamaican neighbours gave us.

3 Scrambling around in the darkness looking for 50 pence pieces to feed the electricity meter.

4 Making Airfix models which I saved up for with my pocket money. The local shop must have thought I had a glue sniffing habit considering the number of tubes I went through.

5 Calling all our neighbours and my parents' friends "uncle" and "aunty".

6 Sitting in the car park of pubs drinking shandy and eating crisps whilst my dad was inside with "uncle" John and "aunty" Joan.

7 Being mad about Star Wars and madly in love with Princess Leia. Alas, I never did get taken off world by a rebel alliance to save the galaxy from the Dark Side. This wasn't for lack of wishing I must add.

8 Reel to reel tapes through which we heard the latest news from our uncle in America. We would play the tapes then record our replies and send it to back to the States.

9 Being asked if I was a punk or a mod. Since I knew virtually nothing about either, besides the fact that one lot stuck pins through their nose and the others wore nice suits, I would always answer mods.

10 Interminable car journeys with my two younger brothers. Most summers we would drive from Bristol to Thurles in Ireland to stay with our grandmother. Twenty hours stuck in the back of a tiny car with two fractious siblings is enough to make you think that Satre had a similar experience in mind when he said, "Hell is other people."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Seven days, seven photos

Taken from the new Starbucks on Egnatia.

This a new group I've just started teaching. For most of them English is their third language, not to mention third writing system.

This was sprayed on the wall in Paikou St. Think of it as a visual palimpsest.

One of my students goofing off after class with his "nose ring".

Passer-by on Egnatia.

Lydia deciding on which flavour ice cream she wanted.

The locked gate on an abandoned shop(?) in the centre.