The Day a Bunch of Kisses Turned into Magic

It has been a long, looong while since I’ve last written here, in my blog. And before the last time it had also been a long while. I could use this post to explain the reason for the hiatus (which initially I attributed to too much work – which is true – and later I reflected it could have another, a more philosophical one. But that’s a topic for a whole other post, I hope.) But that would make this post too long (and too boring??!?). And I can’t let that happen. Something pushed me to go back to writing today, and I feel if I don’t write about it today the moment will be lost.

Today I had THAT lesson.

How many of you have once (or more than once, or maybe even more often than you’re willing to admit) felt beat? I mean… Feeling demotivated and tired. I wouldn’t go as far as say I felt burned out, but it’s been quite a demanding semester (classes, courses, projects, work-related trips and presentations… all very exciting but also strenuous). Right now we’re just after midterms and we have a shorter semester due to the Football World Cup that’s taking place in less than two months. I had a long day today, full of work, marking, meetings, rushing around, preparing material. Sounds like a lot? Now picture I did all that after having pinched a nerve on my back a couple of days ago. You could say I was wishing for the time of the day where I could go home. I’m not proud of it, but it happens to all of us eventually (especially after 20+ years as a teacher, I suppose.

And then I went into the classroom to teach a group of teens (13-14 years old, about A2 level). It was “report card day”, and I’m pretty strict with grades, so I wasn’t expecting a great class. In their midterms a good portion of the learners had showed some difficulty with the past participle form of the verbs, so I had planned a simple warmer. A tic-tac-toe.

Standard procedure: 11 learners split into two groups. Each number corresponded to the base form of a verb, each group (taking turns) called a number and wrote the past participle form of the verb under it (using a different color – I’m very visual!). After confirmation (by me) that the form was written correctly learners had to (orally) use the verb in a sentence. They got the space if the sentence was correct. I had planned the activity to last about 15 minutes. Nothing much to it, really. Certainly nothing new or exciting.

Oh, yes. I almost forgot. The winning team would win chocolate kisses (Easter surplus).

Image

Give way to a moment? Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Dace Parualins, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

What followed was just magic. I have never seen that group of learners so engaged, excited or – most importantly – speaking as much English as I did. I have no idea why today (maybe a sign from God, wonders the Catholic girl in me?). But they went wild. Groups really interacted at each turn. They negotiated and voiced their opinions, they contested other learner’s suggestions, they ran to stop each other from speaking to then bring the group to confer again. Opposing teams kept talking and discussing spelling and possible sentences while the other was taking its turn. They were on their feet and cheering (in English!) when they were right, they were mumbling and taking guesses at what was wrong when they made a mistake (expecting the other team to make a mistake as well).

Bottom line? The activity lasted 45 minutes. I just let it go. I didn’t get half of my lesson plan done (please do keep in mind I’m on a tight schedule, thanks to football!). Learners didn’t feel time pass. They spoke English naturally and because they had a need they wanted to fill. I even took the time to do a meta-cognitive feedback after it, to elicit from learners what skills (other than English) they had practiced during the activity (e.g. collaboration, negotiation, flexibility, critical thinking, etc…) and share the reason why I had let an activity planned for 15 minutes last for 45 (more, considering the meta-cognitive feedback – and our lessons only last 75 minutes.)

I left the classroom feeling like a million dollars. I was renewed. THAT is the reason I’ve become a teacher. For lessons like this. For seeing learning take place naturally and willingly. For seeing language being needed and found. For helping my learners develop other skills other than the target language (though through it.)

The great feeling did not prevent me from wondering (and these are the questions I post to any of my readers for I’d love to see other outtakes on it):

  • Was I right to dismiss my initial plan with very specific teaching goals (and new language) in favor of fluency development?
  • How much of the past participles and their use will learners retain?
  • One of the 11 learners did not really join in and was mostly just listening to his group. Would he have benefited more from a “normal” lesson?
  • What “language gain” did the learners have?
  • Why is it that within 5 minutes into the activity I decided I would let it go for as long as it took, as opposed to following my carefully planned, pedagogically-based lesson plan? Was it experience or feeling that gave me that intuition / gut-feeling? How do we know when to stick to the plan and when it’s more beneficial (?!?) to learners to “go with the flow”?

 

Last thought? Learners didn’t even remember the kisses – even though they were glad to get them! And those chocolate kisses gave me a super sweet, unexpected and yet much needed, teaching moment. Who would have guessed?

 

By the way: During the hiatus I’ve become a regular blogger – once a month – at Richmond Brazil’s Teacher Share blog. These are the posts I’ve written, if you’re interested:

- Intelligi…What? (about dicovering ELF pronunciation at IATEFL)

- Mind the Gap (about the gap between theory and action in ELT teaching)

- The Invisibility of Being a Teacher (about the depreciation of being a(n ELT teacher)

What’s Your Plan? My First Challenge

 

Tonight, after putting the kids to bed, as I was trying to catch up with the tweets and #ELTChat one tweet, from a teacher who I greatly enjoy sharing and chatting with (and who also has a Brazilian heart), caught my attention:

 

A tweet suggesting a new #ELTpics... that turns into a blog post :-)

 

Guido was suggesting a new topic for #ELTpics (A great idea lead by @VictoriaB52. A set of photos, based on a weekly theme, taken by ELT teachers, trainers and writers from around the world. These are, in turn, available free to others in the field of ELT under a CC license. Anyone interested in joining in can tweet an image with the hashtag #eltpics). He thought we could share pictures of our lesson plans. I liked the idea, but we then talked about the objective of #ELTpics and we thought maybe it wouldn’t be adequate. But I had already been bitten by the curious bug, wanting to know how my PLN did their lesson plans – if they did it at all! So I decided to write a post about it, telling a bit of my lesson plan “history”. But more than showing what my plans are like and the rationale behind it, I want to know how other teachers do it (or if they do it at all) and why. So I decided maybe it was time for me to stop just joining challenges and setting one of my own. So here’s the challenge:

 

Do you write your lesson plans? If so, how do you do it, what is the format?

Why and how did you arrive at that format?

  

  If you feel like joining the challenge (and I really hope you do) you can blog about it - and I’ll add a link to your post here. If you don’t have a blog but you’d still like to join the challenge you can send me your lesson plan story through email and I’ll post it here. I think sharing our lesson plans will be a great way of finding new ways of doing it, maybe even finding one we would like to try doing, or ideas to adapt the way we do it now. After all, like so many other things in teaching, there’s no right or wrong - each person works best in their particular way.

 

So, here’s my lesson plan story: When I started teaching, about 17 years ago, I did it after taking a TTC (Teacher Training Course), in which we learned how to write a lesson plan, how we should do it. It was a very thorough and long format, that included the aim of the lesson, the procedures for each activity, the material needed for each of them, as well as the time they should take. It also contained the type of interaction of the activities (T-ST / ST-ST). I planned my lessons like that for a few years and it was really helpful in my development as a teacher because it made me reflect about what I did in class, the purpose of each activity, etc. But it took ages to write the plan for each class, for each group. So after a few years, and with a great number of different groups/levels each semester, I decided it was time to change and make things simpler. So I started writing just the procedures, followed by the time and material for each activity. After a while (in an attempt to take even less time, optimize things) there were some very slight changes and my plans looked like this (yes, I keep a lot of old lesson plans that I rarely look at and mostly just gather dust – this one is about 7 years old):

 

 

 

 

(By the way,  no jokes about the Pooh paper, please. I (like many other teachers I know) indulge in a little “cutesy” with my teaching materials once in a while. :-)) Up til this point I always wrote my plans on paper. At this point, in the school I work at, we started using Palms to do role call and other administrative procedures. To make my life easier (and save some trees) I began doing my plans digitally, typing them on a Word Processor (sample here:  Lesson Plan AE SL ) and just uploading to the Palm. I still kept the format though. This lasted about a year. I know what I’m about to say is completely eco-UNfriendly, but I love writing the plans, using pen and paper. Sitting in front of a screen and doing it just didn’t do it for me. So I went back to paper. The last evolution/development my lesson planning has gone through was making it even simpler. I now use index cards. Most times one is enough – front and back. I assign a color to each different group and I use little round stickers on the corner of the index card to signal the group that plan is for. I also write the class number inside the sticker. I take the card to class and after it I collect them all into a box, categorized by color/group. I no longer write the material needed. So now they look like this:

 

What my lesson plans look like these days...

 

 

 

 Why I do it like this now? Do I think being as thorough as I was in the beginning was a waste of time? Not at all!! It’s just that after so many years teaching there are some things that I don’t need to write down on paper anymore, that I just run through my mind. I’ve been using this format for the past 3 years, and still feels like the best one for me.

 

So, up to the challenge? What is your lesson plan story? I’d love to read about it!

 

Updates of Teachers joining in the challenge:

• Sandy Millin’s (@sandymillin) “Planning Evolution” post

• Ceri Jones explains (@cerirhiannon) the lesson plan from the day she had Flashes of Inspiration:  My Lesson Plan: A Walk-through for Ceci 

• Marisa Pavan (@Mtranslator) shows her Lesson Plan History

• Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) reflects on his Lesson Plan Transformation

• Jason Renshaw’s (@englishraven) analyzes lesson planning on Without Reflection, We May Be Planning to stand Still

• Anna Bring and her Lesson Planning in Evolution

• @EclipsingX ‘s colorful lesson planand her use of index cards for LP after reading this post :-)

             

 

 

 

A Fun Lesson Reviewing Adjectives

What do you look for in a friend? In a romantic partner?

 

After I used the Valentine’s Day activities in my groups I decided it would be a good opportunity to have a follow-up lesson to review adjectives and descriptions. Since we had talked about Valentine’s Day, the people we loved, etc it would be easy to link that lesson to one where we talked about what attracted us in people – and what put us off. It worked really well with my students, so I thought I’d share it here:-). I know this lesson might not work with certain age groups or cultural backgrounds. but you can use just part of it, or adapt to your students. Feel free – and share!

 

When the class started I distributed some papers (half of a blank paper), markers and tape, and told the students to tape the paper to their backs. Then I put on some music and asked them to go around writing one adjective they thought described that person. Wait, wait! Don’t start thinking the students don’t know each other that well, this won’t work. This activity works whether they’ve just met or if they’ve been studying together for a while – different outcomes, but everything works. After they have all written on each other’s papers, before I let them take the papers down to see what their friends wrote about them I ask them to say one adjective they think describe themselves. If the students start complaining it’s hard to choose just one, tell them yes, it’s hard (“So is life!” I usually say playfully to my students), but it doesn’t mean they’re just that, but that that characteristic is a predominant one in their personality.

 

Then I tell them to take the paper off their backs and look at the words the other students used to describe them. Then, into trios I have them share their views on if they see themselves the same way others saw them, possible reasons for any differences, etc… Then a quick general accountability with the whole group, asking 2 or 3 students at random about it. I usually spend some time with them reflecting upon the image we have of ourselves and the one we project, etc…

 

After that, I ask them to share what is one characteristic that attracts them in people from the opposite sex. Since the previous activity will have gotten mostly personality adjectives (and to be honest everyone always answer this with a personality trait first, maybe to show they’re not superficial ;-)) it’s very likely that’s what you’ll get as answers. Let them talk, ask them to elaborate a bit if you have an angle (Funny? Why is that? What is a funny person to you? etc). In my group, that’s what happened, to what (after everyone had spoken) I joked by saying “Ok, I’m very proud all my students are such “evolved” people who don’t care about appearances, but let’s be a bit superficial here, because usually it’s something physical that first attracts you to someone. What catches your attention - as far as physical characteristics go? I got a lot of “the smile”, “the eyes”, “the height”… We did a little brainstorm on famous people they considered attractive, and on those they knew weren’t examples of physical beauty but still had something that made them attractive. Then I say they’ve probably talked about this (what they find attractive in people) many times before, and that today we’d take a different turn. Finally I give them the worksheet and take it from there.

 

My class (a fluent group of people between 20 and 40 years old men and women) had a great time with this lesson, laughing, making comments and asking each other questions related to the topic. This was on our 4th class, and only two of them knew each other before the term started – they’re brothers. so, I hope you enjoy it too. If you use it (and feel free to change it in any way you need to adapt to your groups) I’d love to hear how it went. We all know how receiving feedback is important ;-) Here’s the worksheet:

The Laws of UNattractiveness

An ordinary wonderful day in the life of a TEFL teacher

 

 

 

Great things sometimes surprise us…

 

I haven’t had much time to tweet and especially blog – something I love doing, and like doing in a calm way, so that I can really reflect and write a post worthy of being read by so many wonderful people. But end of terms are like this, not only for me but for most people that might take the time to read this. Vacation is around the corner and I hope to make up from it. But today’s post is something I felt I had to write, if just to let it out. Because todays was an ordinary teaching day for me and in so many ways it surprised me. My teaching, my students made a day who started out on the wrong foot end in such a great note. So forgive me for a little hastiness, any typos or other things that might come out wrong. Today I write this post for me. To be thankful for my day, my students and the fantastic career I chose to pursue.

 

 

 

Mondays and Wednesdays are my busiest days. I start teaching early in the morning ( those who know of my sleeping patterns – or lack of sleep is more likely – will probably understand what an effort it is for me to teach bright and early. I am very much a night owl.) then work outside the classroom for the rest of the morning, rush home with son to eat lunch in 15 minutes and rush back to school for a full afternoon of back-to-back teaching. Then a hurried snack/supper and on to a private 1:1 student for another 2 hours. So I usually have a 14-hours shift on these days :-)

 

 

 

 

... and bring us hope.

As I woke up today, I wasn’t expecting it to be a good day. I was a bit under the weather, worried about covering the content with my morning group (only 4 more classes and 3 chapters to go), thinking about paperwork that had to be dealt with urgently… I go into twitter after  I get everything ready in my classroom and am waiting for the students to arrive, and see Gavin Dudeney’s new post. I am not getting into details, but in short it’s about being bullied online, threatened by a person who you thought was your friend, who you’ve shared personal feelings and stories. And his account of the sickening (and terrifying) experience he’s going through scared me. Scared me because I realized I had a false (and potentially dangerous) sense of security on twitter. It scared me because it made me think back about the people I consider my friends on twitter – could any of them be a bully? It scared me because it alerted (?) me that sometimes not everyone is who they appear to be. It made me feel uneasy – I truly believe (still) I have met some fabulous people on Twitter, some of them I have become closer with, many have become dear friends, people I admire and learn from. Are we really living in a world where people are that mean to each other? Where you have to be wary of everyone, every word, every gesture and measure your own even among who you believe to be friends. A place where you can’t trust anyone? I had these feelings and thoughts all over my mind (and heart) as I got into class…

 

 

 
 

And then the first wonderful ordinary thing happened. Instead of the boring, tiring, hurried class I had thought I’d have (covering the content I am late at), my students gave me a great, fun, relaxing class. They (7 students ranging from 10 to 13 years old) started out by asking if we could have class sitting on the floor today. They had never asked for that, but I thought “Why not” – I like sitting on the floor. We did all I had planned out to do, they worked hard, it went smoothly, we laughed… some students were sprawled on the floor, some leaning on chairs or the wall. Everybody felt comfortable. It was light (despite being a “full-force” grammar-nuggets-with-no-sauce-to-make-it-easier-to-swallow class)… and it lifted my spirits a little.

 

 

 Then in the afternoon…

 

more great surprises, new (and somewhat risky) ideas, change of plans… everything worked perfectly. I had an amazing (an unplanned / unplugged) discussion with my students about formal testing (they’re currently going through the many tests to get into college -the feared “vestibular” ). What a great thing having my students so engaged, making such intelligent collocations on the issue… no regrets about the forgotten plan. Totally student emergent, lots of learning, lots of using the language… I learned a lot from them – and about them. The only sad aspect of this class is that it’ll make it even harder to say goodbye in 2 weeks :-) And my final class… well, we’re currently discussing tolerance. And my students’ final task of the day, from the handbook, was to create an acrostic poem about RESPECT. And  in only 10 minutes - they worked in pairs, here’s what they came up with:

 

 

 

“Respectful is everything you have to be to be sociable and accept other people in their own way. There are differences everywhere you go. If you’re not respectful you have to change that and start being tolerant.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Rational behavior that you expect from someone who doesn’t have prejudice, or envy you – can be someone tolerant.”

 

 

 
 
 

“Respect each other without only seeing the differences, but also paying attention to the similarities, because everybody lives in a society so it’s common to meet people with a different opinion or lifestyle.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So here is the main reason for this post, what moved me to write it. it was a big coincidence that the topic we were working in class had to do with what was on my mind during the day. Or was it? What my young students wrote made me hopeful that maybe I am making a difference by bringing these discussion to class, by fostering reflection, making them think about the world we want to live in. Maybe these few students are going to be more tolerant, respect others. They made me feel that there’s more good and good people, good things in this world, in the younger generations. So I thank my students for ending my day in a very positive and cheerful note. For helping send the negative thoughts and feelings away, replacing them with positive ones. How lucky are we to be teachers and see this, eh? Some people could surely learn something from my students today… Here’s to that!