Pirate turned teacher


To continue the topic of hooks and anchors: have you read Dave Burgess‘s book ‘Teach like a pirate’? PIRATE is an acronym that stands for Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, Enthusiasm. It’s not just a rehash of the tenets of the communicative approach: it’s inspiring, energetic and a bit wacky – in a good way. To get an idea of ‘pirate teaching’, I really really recommend reading this innovator teacher’s series of posts about implementing ideas from the book; and here is a pdf of the best pirate hooks from 2 Smart Wenches that you can start applying straight away.

Ahoy, mateys! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

Hooks for discussion and thinking


What happens if you bring hooks into the classroom? Metaphorical hooks, of course: short and challenging (low-floor, high-ceiling) tasks, sometimes with a visual prompt.

“There was confusion, conversation, wonder mixed with frustration, some magical revelations, and lots and lots of rigorous thinking.”

And then:

“…my lessons feel different, classroom discussions click, rigorous thinking is undertaken, and students enjoy learning. From the students’ perspective, … class becomes fun.”

All this is coming from a math teacher who started creating special hooks for students and was amazed by the results.  If it works for maths, can’t it work for language?

I can imagine a guided discovery sheet with two contrasted jokes. Or an interesting quote taken out of context. Or a secret message written down in phonemic script that has to be reconstructed – more ideas?

Posters that can cast anchor


What happens to posters we create in a lesson? In my experience, they either disappear, never to be seen again, or slowly peel off the walls, collecting dust and blending into the background. How about making them more effective and useful? Here is a great article about ‘anchor charts’  which explains how, when and why they work. There’s much more to classroom drawings if they are planned well!


Take the scaffold down


Here is an article from Katie Martin (the name resemblance is purely coincidental) which questions the amount of scaffolding and support we provide to our learners.

She says, “When we limit people to what we know or what we teach, we are limiting countless possibilities of what they know and can do without us.”

In her experiment, the trainees were able to produce much more original results than they would have if she had provided a template.

Definitely something to consider!

I can’t get no satisficing


Here is a rather nifty lesson plan built around the idea of ‘satisficing’ versus ‘maximising’: how some people are happy with what they get, and others need to get the absolute best. According to the author, it can be used at the pre-intermediate level, but looks like higher levels may benefit more, especially if you use the TED video linked to the lesson and perhaps give this article as reading homework.

My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (6 of 6): General impressions


This was my third IATEFL conference, and I finally felt less like a beginner. Weak pre-intermediate, perhaps.

Looking back now, I am sure it was worth the hassle of travelling, the expense of tickets and hotel, the nerves of getting ready to speak in front of an unknown audience.

It’s not just about the workshops and talks, even though I did my best to attend as many as I could. After all, you can watch some online, and read about many of the others.

It’s not just about another opportunity to spend time in a country I love – though who am I trying to fool? 🙂

It’s not just about discussions in the breaks and networking, and not only about seeing old friends, though very much so.

It’s about the atmosphere, the unique background against which all the rest was happening.

Ok, call me an idealist, but you are among thousands of colleagues who are keen on their jobs, open to new ideas, seeking answers to their questions. It heightens your perception, makes everything you hear more memorable and exciting, builds new neural connections. A year’s worth of professional development in one week!

So, for me IATEFL 2018 was just the same as IATEFL 2016 and 2017, or multiple local IATEFLs in Ukraine, or the Teaching Skills Forum in Jordan, or translation seminars at writers’ conventions I used to attend: absolutely amazing. And this concludes my conference series for now.


My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (5 of 6): Plenaries

‘How did you like the plenaries this year?’ asked a colleague I’d met in Glasgow in 2017.
I hesitated and didn’t answer at first.
Did I like the plenaries?
Plenary sessions are tough. If you make them too practical, they won’t be relevant for half of the audience. If they are too far removed from ELT, the other half will say that they have wasted their time. If they are done by ‘luminaries’, someone will come forward and say that there are no new voices, or no equal representation.
So – no, I didn’t like some of the plenaries, but I enjoyed the others. And, whatever my personal preference, I really liked the choices that the organisers had made.

1. What is SLA research good for, anyway? / Plenary session by Lourdes Ortega


Is there any tension between ELT practitioners (teachers) and researchers (linguists)? If there is, we need to learn to work together: linguists can make their research more accessible, and practitioners can accept that knowledge is contradictory and conclusions are never finite. Lourdes mentioned several myths that had been discredited by research but are still popular in ELT:
1) Less L1 in the classroom does not mean better L2; it’s actually the other way round
2) Earlier is NOT better
3) Error correction… wait, the jury’s still out on this one.
Something to think about.

2. Sausage and the law: how textbooks are made / Plenary session by Dorothy Zemach

I had to watch this session online because my own talk was scheduled immediately after it, and I am glad I found the time. Dorothy made it clear why so much seems wrong about materials writing and publishing, and at the same time remained very supportive of coursebooks. If we want to have better materials, we need to examine and compare them and speak openly to the publishers. And of course not to pirate copyrighted materials.
And yes, books should be written by professionals.


3. Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalised women/ Brita Fernandez Schmidt


Brita’s session was unusual and very touching. It was about the power of education and human kindness, her organisation called Women for Women, and other things which she described much better than could ever be done in a blog.

4. Living to tell the tale: a history of language testing / Plenary session by Barry O’Sullivan


A fantastic journey into the past of IELTS, the Main Suite and other beautiful instruments of torture for poor candidates. Here are two ideas that I’d like to re-post:

1) The future of testing is tech-driven, localised and personalised (not global!)
2) A test is a snapshot, so is always slightly out of focus. If possible, we need to use other kinds of evidence to supplement it.

5. Mugging de Queen’s English / Plenary session by John Agard

ScreenCapture at Tue Apr 24 20:54:22 EEST 2018

This was a fun show by a poet who had decided for some reason that we are all primary teachers, and even said so. We didn’t mind because his poems were great anyway. More literary readings, please! (I really recommend watching his recitals, e.g. here or here.)