jueves, 29 de noviembre de 2012

Three and a half people.

This year has brought a change for me. I have taken over from my partner Sonia at her own English school in our small town, and left - with some regret, and not necessarily forever - Workshop in Santiago.

I'll miss the adult groups and the freedom to teach largely what, and how I like. On the other hand, I won't miss the commute and the longggggggg days away from Sonia and Jamie.

The main reason for this move may be visible in the Jan van Eyck photo below.

So I've got a bit less autonomy - I have to do a lot of recovering the local schools' curricula - and less chance to do dogme. Students mainly come so that they can get through exams. End of story.

I hope to do a bit of  brainwashing students into communicative learning in general, and specifically IPA, decent note-taking and function-fluency. I'm pretty sure none of them will have come into contact with any of these before.

However I intend to keep writing up post-plans and my usual assortment of worries, failures, triumphs and half-baked ideas.

And here, for the moment, is where I'd like your valuable opinion.

I made these cards to practice compound nouns with an upper-int group. I brought them into class and... er, nothing much happened. We made a few compounds up, but there was no dynamism, nor any inspiration on my part. What brilliant ideas have I missed? How can we turn these scraps of paper into a scintillating lexical activity?

Oh, to be filed under off-topic....

I've been test-driving Puppy Linux, yet another Linux variant, which is so small and light that you can carry it around on a pendrive. When you boot up with the pendrive in, it installs in the RAM of yer computer, not yer hard drive!!!  It gets touted as ideal for old computers, and since I run a rest home for tired and abandoned PCs, it was only a matter of time before I got round to trying it out.

And first impressions are that on my two senior citizens it runs like greased lightning. Rocket-powered greased lightning. On amphetamines.

 And also you can use your own operating system on somebody else's computer without leaving a trace after you've gone. How cool is that? I'm thinking it might be hell of a useful for people who have to do a lot of conferences using other people's gear.

Internet it found instantly - wired and wireless; multimedia and general stuff seems to work flawlessly. I haven't had the time (see first photo above) to try out printing and scanning yet, or how to install other software, but watch this space. Especially if you have a PC that predates the Iron Age.

viernes, 7 de septiembre de 2012

What's Words Worth?

This August I was teaching mainly secondary school kids who had failed school English exams in June and had to retake them in September.

If you look at their coursebooks, they contain the usual mixture of lexis, grammar McNuggets, listening and so on. But if you listen to any of the kids, they express the syllabus entirely as grammar points: "El futuro, la pasiva, las tres condicionales,..."

So there I was, repasando la gramatica. Except that my kids couldn't get a grip on it.

[Possibly because state school teaching is devoid of meaning, engagement or even practice.]

But also more simply, the kids didn't have any vocabulary. How do you expect a callow youth of thirteen summers to "do" a second conditional if they don't have the vocabulary to even find the verb? Or even know what the sentence is about. How can they if they don't know words as common as "ill" or "busy" or "dangerous"?

But, we managed to make some headway by doing plenty of group-writing in class. The following is a typical procedure I used:

We had been looking at a reading exercise based on an article about a slimming drug [ludicrous as it sounds] and had tried to consolidate vocabulary with a mind-map about health and illness. To follow this up, I boarded the phrase "How I Got Hurt" and challenged them to make up a short story, adding one word at a time round the class. With only a little intervention/guidance from me, we managed to come up with this on the board:

The last day of my holidays, we decided to go to Amsterdam. We stopped in the airport for a souvenir but we couldn't buy one because I had lost my wallet. So I went to the police and asked them for a form. They had found a wallet but it wasn't mine. Then we took it and I ran away but fell down. Then a man looked at my wallet and said "This wallet's mine! Take that! This is mine! Give it to me!"

I woke up in hospital with my leg and three ribs broken.

We followed up with a progressive rub-out-and-read exercise, which you can see here:

And as we were doing that, I realised that this would be a perfect story to act out. Though we didn't have long, we had time to perform it twice, which was perfect, given that there were six of us, and the story has three speaking parts.

I was a bit shocked to read this post by Mike Harrison just the other day, where he seemed to be arguing against personalisation. Then I actually read the thing, rather than just scanning it, and I realised we're on the same side. [Phew. Read the thing properly, Tait!] His exercises have an individual, rather than collaborative bias, but both let the mind do what it does best, which is to make connections.

Anyway, if you haven't tried collective writing before, do give it a go. You'll find that it's fairly easy to get the level of teacher guidance right, and apart from that, there's really nothing you need, except for a title. I have to say that the kids did seem to be turning up with a bit of enthusiasm rather than the usual academic trudge.

Have fun!

viernes, 10 de agosto de 2012


I'm just going to surface from my summer hibernation to share a curiosity with you.

If you have access to Ubuntu - or any other Linux box - you might want to cast a teacherly eye over Picsaw. It's a lovely simple little app that cuts up an image into a jigsaw. Very clean and of course, free. Available from your usual software channels.

Now I'm thinking that if the image contained text, you could make a nice little language exercise. Maybe something like this:

So there you go. Do let me know if you try it out.

PS - It doesn't seem to work on pdf's, at least on my rig, so if you've got a text document, a screenshot is the simplest way to go.

miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2012

Beat the Teacher

or Finding Affordances, volume III.

I wanted to share a post-lesson plan with yous while it was fresh in my mind. This was with five ~B2 level adults.

We started off with a board game called Beat the Teacher: Teacher challenges the whole group to make a correct and coherent sentence by calling out words one by one round the class. The words go up in the order they are called out - no inserting or editing - and they can't suggest ideas to each other. It might go like this:

Abigail:         We
Brian:            went
Charlotte:       to
David:           the
Elisa:             my
Frank:           house
Gillian:          STOP

(Frank isn't allowed to call out a word and say STOP - it has to be the next person.)

In this case, it's a point for teacher, because in English you can't say "the my house".

I use this exercise a lot as a tail-ender, but today I wanted to use it at the start to see if we could generate any affordances. Regular readers of this blog will notice that affordances is the current bee in my bonnet.

(Hope you like my bonnet - Sandy Milliner made it for me ;)

Affordance One

They came up with up to lunchtime which not everybody was familiar with. I used the other board to brainstorm different uses of up. Up is a preposition of a thousand faces (OK, four or five...) so we just looked at the following -

a) the ordinary UP for higher/more: - get up, speak up

b) UP for approaching: - This guy comes up to me, a car pulls up

c) UP for totally: - clean up your room, wrap up warm

Affordance Two

We stumbled upon broken-hearted, so we took a look at this family of compound adjectives -

blue-eyed, left-footed, dark-skinned and so on.

Affordance Three

Somebody suggested since, and we clarified that it's actually two separate words:

a preposition/conjunction of time: - Since the war, Since my baby left me

and a conjunction of consequence: - Since you don't know I'll tell you.

And just to wrap up, we listened to Elvis singing Heartbreak Hotel on YouTube with lyrics, which contain the latter two affordances.

How do you go about generating affordances? Can you share any tips with us?

Beat the Teacher

a) Yes, I know - there are several games out there with the same name.

b) It's well worth tuning this game to the level of your students, since otherwise they simply stay in their comfort zone. You can push them by adding the rule that you the teacher will give them the first word. This allows you to start them off easily with pronouns or nouns, or give them something much more challenging. Try starting off intermediate students with a gerund, or a past participle, or a conjunction and see if they can cope.

lunes, 30 de abril de 2012

Dice dice baby.

Have you ever played Russian Roulette? Slept rough in Paris? Worked as a spy?*

Sadly, questions like this rarely appear in oral exams, but the structure abounds. And it's frequent enough as a conversation starter in real life. (You remember real life... those disorientating moments when you're neither teaching nor sleeping...? No? Well never mind. It abounds in oral exams.)

If you have a dice and a cup, you might want to try this game out.

Write or project up the following expressions:

1. No, I haven't had the chance.
2. I'd be a bit scared, actually.
3. Oh, yes, lots of times.
4. I couldn't afford it.
5. Once or twice.
6. I'm not really into that kind of thing.

(Here, maybe drill for pronunciation)

This is how it works:

Student A takes the dice and shakes it in the cup. She slams it down and looks at the number, keeping it secret. Her objective is to ask the student on her left a have-you-ever question, and elicit answer 4 from student B. He has to answer, choosing the phrase on the board which is closest to his own truth.

So if I throw a 2, and I know you're not very physical/sporty I might ask you:

Have you ever tried boxing?


Have you ever been go-karting?

...and I hope you'll answer "I'd be a bit scared, actually."

And it's simply a question of going round the group and awarding points.

The nice thing about this is that it offers an insight into your students likes, interests and experiences. You may be able to use these affordances in future lessons.


This game can also be used with the structure "Would you like to...?" or "Do you ever...?", which also feature frequently in oral exams.

* PS: I have done ONE of these three.

miércoles, 11 de abril de 2012

New Register Time

If you are a teacher or academic manager, you probably spend a fair bit of your time handling registers, or lesson records, group sheets, work-done records or whatever you call them.

And in springtime, a young man's fancy turns to administration. My point is, I intend to redo our old school registers soon. And my question for yous, my PLNers, is how.

What kind of document will be clear, save time, act as a lesson diary, help me to keep track of what we've done and what we'd like to do, and so on?

A separate one for register and work-done? That's how I've done it so far, but I'm open to persuasion.

I would like not to have to rely on any other documents. And I would like it to be plain A4 monochrome and easily stickable into plastic document pockets.

Brilliant ideas will be shamelessly pilfered.

So go do 
that voodoo
that you do
so well....

martes, 10 de abril de 2012

Subverting Myself

made / away from home / by jaguar
became / apprenticed / to the planet Venus
settled / an upholsterer /
attempted / his living / to live in the jungle
was / two crossings of the Atlantic / to a pirate
managed / with his mother / by a shark
ran / a mink farm / with a pistol
talked / bitten on the arm /
was / a dispute / to Buenos Aires
moved / ardently /
made / suicide / playing baccarat

Ages ago I had suggested this article to Sandy Millin for her Almost Infinite Ideas blog.  The article was an obituary of an adventurer called John Fairfax. I then made a fairly conventional reading lesson which kicked off with the matching exercise you see above. As you might imagine, students had to guess the true facts from the fragments.

Having tried the lesson out twice with groups and finding it lacking a bit in affective engagement, I stumbled on a much more enjoyable and production-orientated way of using it. Instead of matching what they thought might be the true sentences, I just asked students to come up with their favourite combination instead- just one per student:

David moved with his mother to the planet Venus.
Ana attempted suicide playing baccarat.
Carlos was bitten on the arm by a pirate.

... and so on.

"We're more popular than John Fairfax."
Then I arranged the seats with one out front facing the rest - no desks.

In turn, each person had to go front-centre and call a press conference to answer questions about their "adventure" (from which they had just returned.)

The others were all journalists and had to ask the adventurer questions, forcing her/him to flesh out the story.

"Roberto Garcia from the Financial Times - Did you have technological support?"

"Ana Campos from Hello Magazine - Where did you get the shark from?"

 and so on.

This kind of whole-class activity can be daunting for some, so I decided to be the first adventurer myself, and I took five minutes or so of questions on how I made two crossings of the Atlantic by jaguar.

[It's actually pretty easy - you just harness them to your boat like huskies to a sled, load up with tins of Baked Beans, get the whip cracking and before you know it you're in Cape Cod. A five-year-old could do it.]

If I recall, we spent most of our allotted 60 minutes on this daft game, and didn't get round to reading the article at all. In the end, I gave the students the title of the article and gave them optional homework to google it and read it.

Were there affordances?

Yup, loads: Question structures, past tenses, expressions like "How many/much/far/long", the difference between a jaguar and a Jaguar, and so on.


The idea of a press conference came from the improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway, which has been posted extensively on YouTube. Their game is somewhat different, but also has tremendous potential.

David Warr thinks I spend my entire life watching repeats of Whose Line. I wouldn't go as far as that, but I know I'm not the only teacher who thinks that improv games have their place in the EFL classroom. 

Have you ever used improv in the class? Have you ever subverted your own material? Or just stumbled accidentally on a new way of doing things?

jueves, 29 de marzo de 2012

What We've Done Today...

No, this ISN'T us going to bed...
Small children need to go to bed even when they don't want to. One of the things that calms Jamie down is having a walk with Pappy; I pick him up and we stroll round his darkened room 'chatting' about things till he falls asleep. One thing that has caught his imagination recently is me retelling an episode of Shaun the Sheep.

He isn't asking to be carried through to the living room to see it again: He wants to hear my version of the story. And he doesn't even want the whole episode - he specifies he wants to hear 'the beginning.'

Other times he likes to recap bits of our domestic mythology - the time he helped Pappy drill a hole in the wall, the Brown Dog and the Quiet Cat that live along the street, and so on.

Recapping seems to work a lot with kids - The popular BBC childrens' series Balamory always has the main character Miss Hoolie recapping the whole episode. And Derek Jacobi retells each episode at the end of In The Night Garden, as key moments are played back in the form of cartoon stills.

This is something I hardly ever do with my students. We usually start off with a summary of the previous lesson, but maybe it's worth doing more same-lesson recapitulation.

So I'm going to come back from my Easter break with a Resolution - I will set aside three minutes at the end of every lesson for recapping, and we'll see if it makes a difference.

If you do this already, or something analogous, please let me know below.

As always, thanks for reading!


In this post, I've mentioned the idea of recapping the content of lessons ;)

martes, 20 de marzo de 2012

Can We Afford it?

I'm just back from tesol-Spain in Bilbao with my head full of ideas.

One of the sessions I attended was Nick Robinson's Dogme presentation, where we got a succinct outline/brainstorm of how dogme teaching might work. Among the various terms mentioned, the one that most of us were a bit fuzzy about was affordances.

So with that in mind, here is my take on exploiting affordances from student-generated text, from a recent class of four pre-intermediate adults.

We started with an exercise called the Magnificent Seven, which I've blogged about elsewhere. The exercise finishes with pairs of students writing a mini-story from a list of words. Here are the two stories in their original form:

While I drove to the beach my car broken down its wheel. I stopped and saw a whale so I put on my jacket of wool and down to the sea for taking a photo. When I return at home I will hang it on my wall. I feel well when look to the picture.

While we went to see the whales, we had an accident, we crashed into a wall and the wheels were broken. Finally we got well and tomorrow we will go shopping and we will buy wool clothes for going to a birthday.

What affordances are there for scaffolding?

Well first off, the two pairs swopped stories and peer-corrected with a little help from me. That cleared up a lot of careless errors in tense and collocation.

It also affords an insight into learners' correction strategies. What kind of errors do they pick up on, and what kind are harder to catch? I think self-correnction is a vital skill, and one that learners can develop with experience and feedback. Do you make a habit of peer-reading and correcting in class? Does it work for your learners?

Then we had 20 minutes left: I focussed on what seem to me like two frequent structures:

Affordance I

We down to the sea.

...ignoring for the moment the final prepositional phrase 'to the beach.'

Verbs with adverbials  [VP went [AVP down]]  often express how (the verb)  + where (the adverbial).

My students had correctly put in the big idea first, down - the where, but forgotten that it's not itself a verb, so we needed to add one to express how the movement happened. Which one? Well, choose whichever is appropriate. How did you get down to the beach? Did you walk down, skip down, sprint down, drive down or what? We generated a few common versions.

For Romance L1 speakers, this structure is totally alien. In Spanish you might say:

bajamos corriendo [we descended running]

...where the verb says where and the -ing form says how. I took the chance to spell out explicitly how the words deliver the ideas, and we drilled and generated a few more.

Affordance II

we will buy wool clothes for going to a birthday.

or,  how we express the reason for doing something. In English we have three common alternatives:

I went to get batteries.
[VP went to get batteries]

I went for batteries.
[VP went [PP for batteries]]

I went because I needed batteries.
[CON because [S I needed batteries]]

I had noticed they had been a bit wooly about this. So again we discusses and generated.

In what way is this dogme? Is it not just grammar teaching? Is it not just the same as me bringing in the corresponding exercise from Murphy or Swan at the start of the lesson, and saying "Today we're going to look at two features of predicates"?

I think there's one vital difference - the stories are theirs. At least I hope it's a vital, rather than trivial experience. No individual teacher can hope to test this kind of thing objectively.

jueves, 1 de marzo de 2012

March of the Gladiators

Imagine a huddle of men in the shadows inside a great stone building. Outside a huge crowd stamps and bays. The men are clutching swords, spears, shields, and they are murmuring to themselves, or to their gods - for minutes from now, many of them will have died, brutally and publicly. A distant voice shouts an order, and the crowd roars again in anticipation. As the fanfare starts, they march out into the dazzling, roaring Colosseum:

March of the Gladiators, Julius Fučík (1872-1916)

Legend has it that the Czech Republic's army still marches to this.


Now that you're in the right mood, here's the question I wanted to ask you:

What is the daftest classroom idea in your teacher's repertoire?

Not a one-off crazy thing that just happened: Something you use regularly.

Please send your own exhibit - in a secure cage - to the Freak Show.

miércoles, 22 de febrero de 2012

A Question of Etiquette.

Ken Wilson has written recently of his dismay at all his fellow German students slavishly following the oral grammar-practice task while he and his like-minded partner chatting around the same subject. Now clearly, the ball is in the teacher's court on this, but I sense that Ken is especially frustrated with his classmates having bought into the conspiracy of dullness.

In the unlikely event that you haven't been following Ken's diary of a Learner, you can do so here.

Now I'm certainly not going to comment on the thoughts and motivations of a bunch of people I've never met, but the feeling is familiar to me as a teacher, especially if my adult students are new to communicative lessons.

Why are they so passive? Don't they want to bring something to the lesson?

Now it could be dullness or passivity or loss of youth. But I feel that it's more a question of etiquette. They don't know what behaviour is acceptable and what isn't. The classroom is a foreign land for them.

And I know what I'd do if I found myself in Laos or Zanzibar tomorrow - I'd do what everybody else was doing, and submit to any authority figure there. Wouldn't you?

I think our passive adults have found themselves in a foreign country. How should they behave? The closest reference they may have is their own memories of  high-school. In high school, there are two ways to behave - either defer to authority or be a rebel without a cause. And now as adults, Dennis the Menace has dissolved, leaving only Walter the Softee. I think that's the default acceptable role for an adult student.

Walter and Dennis discuss TPR
If we expect our students to be cheerful and proactive, independent and experimental, I think we have to tell them. In other words, I think it's legitimate to establish classroom etiquette openly. But how to do it is another matter...

When giving instructions for a pair speaking activity, I make a point of including phrases like this:
"If you finish discussing all the points, keep going. Improvise a little. It's great practice."

We make no bones about establishing class etiquette with children and adolescents. But that's largely a question of "Don't do this, don't do that." Is it feasible to establish the etiquette of "Please do more of this and that."?

Do you teach adults unfamiliar to adult education? Do you explicitly set up classroom etiquette in some way? Do you find that your students are able to settle into a bigger role as time passes? Or is it an exercise in futility? I'd love to hear.

lunes, 13 de febrero de 2012

My Challenge to You

And once you've done that, show it to your students and get them to do the same.

I for got to say two important things - no reading, and no editing the video. Upload it warts and all!

  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #  #

In lessons, I find I'm referring more and more to Benny Lewis' blog Fluent in 3 Months. Not only does he offer a great set of specific techniques, but more importantly he gets to grips with THE problem of language learning - fear.

I've taken this challenge directly from his blog, more specifically here and here, although there are many others. It was a real challenge to me, since I've never really spoken Galician before. It's always been there, but Spanish has always been the easier option, and the conventional one, since locals automatically speak to guiris (foreigners) in Spanish.

But all the practice involved in making that short video really gave me a boost in confidence. I feel a bit like a Galician speaker now. Not a good speaker, true, but a speaker. i.e. not a learner.

I gave this task as homework to a group of approx B2 level adults last week. Although they all looked like rabbits caught in the headlights of an oncoming 18-wheeler, I am chuffed to report that every one of them had done it. And it was a comfort for all of us to see all the others grappling with the same problems. Searching for words,  fluffing a verb form, that I've-made-a-mistake-so-should-I-just-leave-it-be-or-correct-myself feeling. And so on.

I'm certainly going to give them video homework again, and I think the second time, we'll all approach it with more courage.

Have you made speak-to-the-camera videos with your students? Do let me know.

And I can't wait to hear your second languages!

miércoles, 25 de enero de 2012

Histoire d'O

This is my third visit to the problematic area of sound-spelling relationships in English. As before, I'm going to try to show that the link between a written vowel and its sounds, though not perfect, is far from arbitrary. Our students can learn at the very least to make an educated guess about the pronunciation of a written word, and an educated guess about the spelling of a word they hear. I know that we do a lot of the former in class, but very little of the latter. As a language learner, I find it really useful to mentally visualise the written form of a word I hear.

Today, boy oh boy, it's O! The Big O!

This time, we're going to start modelling the pure sound. Adrian Underhill seems to favour this, rather than practicing syllables, words or phrases, at least at lower levels. I've tried this method out in class, and it does focus attention marvellously. 

So, here we go. Today we're only going to contrast two sounds:

ɒ - lock, bottle, song

əʊ - show, coat, phone

Practice this yourself first if you don't feel very comfortable with pronunciation. ;)

Make sure your students get it spot on. If you think you can get away with it, do it Silent Way style - you can mime or wave your arms around, but not a sound. This forces your students to find the sounds themselves. Search for Adrian Underhill on youTube to see a couple of extracts of him presenting sounds.

Make it clear that əʊ is a diphthong. In other words it's a sound that starts in one position and glides towards another. Note that if you're uncomfortable about finding the schwa yourself, don't hesitate to use the Standard American version ɔʊ. I've given Roy Orbison the American version below.

And that's the hard bit done!

ɔʊ prɪtiwʊmən!!!!!!!

Now that they can make a really good approximation of the sound, they'll find it easy to relate to the IPA symbols. I like to get my students practising drawing huge versions of them on the board or leftover paper.

Now write up a few transcriptions like these:

fəʊn    rəʊz    bəʊt    lɒk    sɒŋ    pɒt

Ask the students (maybe in pairs) to decide what they sound like. (Ask them not to worry about the meaning at this stage.) Elicit their versions and model/correct if you really have to. Remember you can still do it Silent Wayly.

Now do they recognise any of them?

You can give them some clues:

transport on water; a flower; something musical; a common gadget; something to keep a door closed; a container for cooking.


Please note that I write up one or two IPA transcriptions on the board in pretty much every class, and model them, so my students will already have a minimal familiarity with IPA symbols. Simply doing this exercise I've shown here in isolation will have less impact if you don't follow up with tiny regular doses of IPA.

səʊ lɒŋ!

Oh! A footnote. This is Adrian Underhill doing his other thing...

martes, 17 de enero de 2012

Mi no save mekim ol poster*

I thought I would share with you an attempt at a poster project. Whoop of triumph, cry for help or death rattle? You be the judge.

I have a class of four 10 year-old boys. Although the boys are no trouble whatsoever, I always feel at a loss trying to find appropriate content or materials for them - I have absolutely no formal training for YL. Or put another way, we all enjoy ourselves in class, but I have the sneaking sensation that they're not learning any English :)

Recently I thought we would try to make a poster in class. It would be about a single country, since we've done a few online quizzes in class and they generally like geography. We had a few goes at an online geography quiz as a warm-up. I specified that it couldn't be a European or Spanish-speaking country. The most geographically-curious student, A, plumped for Papua New Guinea, and the others were fine with that.

Now this was a bit of luck, because my old friend Tiziana had spent a few weeks there some years back. Did the lads fancy composing an email to her asking for her impressions and maybe a couple of her photos? Fine. So we team-wrote the email and I sent it.

Come lesson 2, Tizi hadn't let me down. So we looked at her text and photos, doing a little language work on them and composed a short reply, with thanks and a couple more questions.

What to do now in the rest of the lesson? Clever Alan hadn't given the slightest thought to this bit. In the end, we stumbled rather untidily to the end of the lesson, looking and reading snippets from YouTube and Wikipedia. Wish I had put more thought into this. (Surely the third conditional is the saddest tense...)

For the next lesson, I had found a couple of short relevant You Tube videos, although in the end they didn't make much impact on the lads. What actually crystallised them more was the results from Google Images. PNG is visually arresting, with spectacular flora and fauna,and dazzling cultural artefacts like carved masks and face-paint. It's also one of the least Westernized countries in the world, in whose highlands many people live largely stone-age lives, complete with terrifying inter-tribal violence, and the occasional practice of head-hunting and ritual cannibalism. Things which ten-year old boys love.

So by the end of lesson four, we had the poster wrapped up, complete with a few printed photos, their own hand-drawn illustrations and a couple of short texts.

Lessons learnt? Well, it was useful to find out the effectiveness of Google Images. And secondly, posters are fairly easy to do in class, logistics-wise - just some rudimentary art supplies. Thirdly. the reality of writing to a real person did make a difference, even at this young age. Fourthly, they seemed to enjoy making their own drawings more than I expected - I thought they'd opt for the slicker printout rather than the hand-drawn stuff.

And maybe most encouraging of all, the kids responded well to WEIRD STUFF.  The little glimpse into a faraway place. I'm not especially anti-coursebook, but I would like to see more weird stuff in books. Stuff that extends people's mental horizons more, rather than opting for the lowest common denominator.

But, I'm not all that happy about the amount of English used and produced. Essentially we spent four hours to produce a few short snippets and two emails. (And the emails were the result of a lucky coincidence.)

And I have no idea how to go about scaffolding or recycling the language generated.

And the poster itself can't be taken home to show to parents, either :(

Would I have been better preparing texts for them beforehand? I would love to find a more learner-driven way of doing research during class time, but with four young students, I just couldn't think of a way to do it. Any ideas?

*" I don't know how to make posters." in Tok Pisin.

miércoles, 4 de enero de 2012

Go to Sleep of a Prostitute Time

Recently in Jose Antonio Millán's great but sporadic blog El Candidato Melancólico, up came the curious subject of the children's book Go The Fuck To Sleep.

I found Millán's analysis a lovely introduction to that most bizarre of linguistic habits, taboo language. I've taken the liberty of translating an extract here. [Spanish speakers can read the original post here.]

Go The Fuck To Sleep is published in Spain as Duérmete Ya, ¡Joder! (Mondadori) although more literally it would be Duérmete de Una Puta Vez.
This kind of swearing shows two interesting features: Firstly these elements are superfluous, at least to the simple meaning of the sentences. (Of course, they add an expressive and pejorative charge). Secondly, they have lost their literal meaning: We can't say Go the Copulation to Sleep, or  Go to Sleep Of A Prostitute Time.

Millán also remarks how the Spanish translation for the Latin American market is Duermete, ¡Carajo! Is carajo less offensive in American Spanish than Iberian Spanish, he wonders. (Carajo is yet another name for the dangling trouser bishop.)

Millán goes on to list a few other translations of the title. Here I've translated his list literally back to English. See if you can identify the languages and reconstruct the original foreign-language titles. Full points wins a chicken curry at my house.

Do this prick of a sleep.

Bollocks, go to sleep.

Damn shit, sleep one.

Sleep and don't shit!

Go to sleep, fuck you.

Cheats will find the answers on Millán's original blog post - link above.

 *!&#*!&#*!& #*!&#*!&#*!&#*!&#*! &#*!&#*!&#*!& #*!&#*!&#*!& #*!&#*!&#* !&#*!&#*! &#*!&#*!&#

Dealing with taboo language in class has a multitude of pitfalls:-

Do we allow it in the first place? Is it an inevitable part of communication? Can we teach it? Should we? If so, how? Is it approachable through dogme? Does it depend on whether each individual teacher uses taboo language in their own speech, or is that imposing our own linguistic identity on others? Will we get into trouble from our DoS or parents? Is its use just too complex inguistically or socially? Etc, etc, etc.

What do you think?

I'm going to copulate off now and prepare some lessons.

martes, 3 de enero de 2012

Thanks for a lovely future.

This is my first January as part of an online community of EFL teachers. I started reading blogs around this time last year, starting with the venerable Ken Wilson, and accumulating more blogs through the blogrolls. In March I was persuaded - very much against my instinct - to start tending my own little vegetable patch.

And now I can't imagine what the hell I did without it....

Readers and writers, colleagues and penpals,

Thanks for what you've done,

but even more, thanks for what you're going to do this year.

[Oh and a tiny footnote. I didn't see this post because I hadn't realised that Chiew Pang's A CLIL to Climb has moved!]