The Protege Effect


Just a quick post today not to break the streak 🙂 Here’s another interesting link explaining why learning by teaching is such a good idea. There is a suggestion to introduce a kind of cascade system where older students teach younger, and those teach even younger; another option would be to have a ‘teachable agent’, or an AI system that has to be taught by students and through this help them achieve better results in their own learning. A few useful terms as well: the Protege Effect (the positive effect of teaching on your own learning) and the Yiddish term nachas, which apparently means taking pride in someone else’s success – really cool, I have that often!


Halloween lesson planning


It’s this time of year 🙂 So why not go with the flow and use the Halloween vibe for a bit of extra learning? I’ve been scouring the Internet all day in search of something practical. My main criteria were, in no order of importance: 1) minimal resources; 2) minimal teacher participation; 3) appropriate level of challenge; 4) course fit. I’m sharing the results here because I hope it can save you some time – and I’d love to hear from you what resources you’ve picked this year!

  1. Vocabulary prep: this is something I will need for all the lessons as background resource for all the activities. I’ll print one set for a wall exhibit for younger groups, and give the Quizlet link to the others. I like this set because it has only the topical words, and there are visuals to support the definitions. Quick and effective.
  2. Writing paper: not exactly paperless, I know – but I think these sheets will encourage the learners to write neatly and create a festive atmosphere, so totally worth the investment. I’m going to use them for all writing activities regardless of the age (well, maybe coloured paper for the younger ones…).
  3. Creative writing: we have the paper, now we need a plot generator or a set of prompts. Homework time!
  4. TED-Ed lesson on suspense in writing: this could also be useful for my upper secondaries who are just completing a unit on storytelling. The lesson has a listening comprehension quiz and discussion questions. We may have done the topic to the death though (ha, sorry, couldn’t resist!), so another option would be a webquest
  5. Jigsaw watching. Here’s a selection of other TED-Ed videos with interesting topical facts: Where do superstitions come from; The fascinating history of cemeteries; The Egyptian book of the dead; Why is being scared so fun; Are ghost ships real; How did Dracula become the most famous vampire; Facts about pumpkins. All the videos are short and can be watched from the students’ mobiles. The simplest task would be for the students to share the facts with the others as a presentation, or perhaps make a quiz. An alternative would be to arrange stations, or have a Padlet with questions – I haven’t decided yet!
  6. Grammar practice. I found this idea here: Scary Situations. Students come up with scary situations (‘I’ve got a ghost under my bed!’) and then give each other Agony-Aunt-type advice. It should work really well with my lower secondary group because we’ve just started doing should and must.
  7.  TED for adults. This talk will be interesting for my Proficiency group: a writer is talking about fear and how it can help us cope with life challenges.
  8. Spooky idioms. This is a great idiom set from Macmillan for higher-level learners. It can add just a bit of seasonal charm to the lesson, but the idioms can be used in all kinds of situations. Definitely a keeper for all adult groups this week! (I’ll probably have them make short dialogues illustrating the meaning.)

This should be enough for one week, I think! What are your top picks?

Never stop trying


Here is a new post by George Couros that made me think about why we have to try out all these techniques in the classroom. He writes about inclusive education and how a student found it much easier to read because the teacher – almost by accident – gave him or her an iPad. “The teacher, in this case, tried something new, and it made all of the difference to this student.” And then he goes on to say that it doesn’t matter what medium we use as long as it helps the learners succeed. This is why we have to keep trying, and changing tack, and doing something new everyday, until it clicks with every student. At least that’s what I’ve been trying to do, sometimes fumbling around a little. And you? 🙂

P.S. Check out that presentation I made a few years ago about The Slight Edge and how we should always stop and think: maybe there is a little tweak that can make this activity even more effective?

Post-conference efforts


I was talking to a few teachers during a conference coffee break on Saturday, and they shared how unrealistic many of the things they’d heard are. Yes, there are too many ideas and so little time to put them into practice, and sometimes the students are not as ideal as we would like them to be – and yet I feel that it’s worth making an effort and trying out at least something new. I saved this cool link some time ago, and I think it’s the perfect time to share: it’s advice from conference experts (in a totally un-ELT field, which makes it even more interesting) about how to plan your work and thinking process after an event. There are quite a lot of approaches to choose from: create a special template, write about the best ideas, rewrite and teach, ‘pick one for one’, analyse the ‘wow, hmmm, meh’ – some excellent tips there! Hopefully, this will help with conference hangover 🙂

My impressions about the Grade Teachers’ Conference 26 October 2019


Are conferences worth it? You bet. For me, each day is a month’s worth of professional development. You meet amazing people, you listen to their stories and of course you attend all kinds of interesting workshops. If you have a chance to speak, it’s even better! That’s why I’m so keen on these events, and I’m always sorry I don’t have enough time for all the cool events that happen in Kyiv (to say nothing of more distant places).

So, what did I gain from the yesterday’s conference? (By the way, it was really well organised by Kateryna Protsenko and her team, they are absolute superstars.)

I saw six talks and workshops:

  1. Adrian Underhill is always a pleasure to listen to, and I’m really happy for the participants who saw him in person for the first time. And pronunciation, ‘the Cinderella of teaching’, needs all the attention it can get, really! His advice to NNSTs and I suppose any speakers of English: ‘Teach your own accent and expose students to multiple others’.

2. My wonderful colleagues, Alina and Mariya, spoke about the neuropsychology of signposting in perhaps the most memorable talk of the day.

3. Kris Kirby gave loads of helpful advice about how to tweak speaking tasks so that students use the target language and keep speaking.

4. Tony Prince, one of the amazing NILE tutors I’ve been privileged to study with, was there with a great plenary on critical thinking. Such an important topic nowadays, and never enough time to go into it deep enough.

5. A team of academic managers/teachers from Lviv spoke about their favourite ways to engage learners (and used Mentimeter – nice).

6.  Irina Sushko spoke about the importance of good learning habits. Now this is definitely something I’ll discuss with my teens!

And, of course, I presented my own talk and really enjoyed talking to the participants and listening to their ideas. It was a bit of a challenge, to speak in the last slot, but I think we all did really well 🙂

Now I have lots of new ideas to try out in my classroom – what a breath of fresh air!

Disappearing sounds


There’s been talk here and there about the interdental ‘th’ (or rather, /ð/ and /θ/) due to disappear in about 40 years. I can’t be sure of the academic veracity of this (plus, it all looks a bit too entertaining and at the same time rather political). Still, what a great conversation starter with students! And, if the conversation continues, I would send them to this great article about interesting facts in the history of English pronunciation and spelling: it’s a bit more academic, but a real treat for curious learners and a good refresher for teachers like me who last did Pronunciation and History of English, ahem, more than twenty years ago 🙂 Did you know, for example, that wasp used to be waps and then a bit of metathesis happened? So cool.

The ABC book of progress


Making an ABC book together – what a great idea for a final project of the term or year! You can find a lot of examples and suggestions in this article at Education World. What I particularly like about ABC books is a great sense of completion they can give. After all, there are only so many letters in the alphabet. As for topics, I suppose vocabulary is the obvious choice for ELT contexts: for example, weather or free time activities could work well? And of course all of this can be digitised (or done digitally) and proudly demonstrated to parents 🙂

Vocabulary menu handout

vocabulary menu

Do you like vocabulary cards as much as I do? I routinely use Quizlet online and in printouts, good old paper cards, vocabulary organisers – but sometimes I want to do something new (preferably low-prep, paperless, engaging, student-centered and of course effective – well, never settle for anything less :)). Here’s what worked in one of my lessons yesterday: a simple menu of activities that students can do in small groups. It can be as fast or as slow as you like, and it leaves you free to monitor and make notes of which words need more practice. It worked so well that I couldn’t resist and had to put it into a handout/poster that you can download and use here.

It’s set up the usual way, when students pick a card one by one from one stack or their  own sets. And now the most important thing: it’s not the student who has the card who does the activity. If you take the word, you ‘own’ it, and you are the one to choose an option from the menu and ‘test’ another student. It adds just the right element of control and tension! (Alternatively, you can use 12-digit dice for this, but student agency is also nice, isn’t it?)

Do let me know if any of you have found it useful. Now I’m suffering from writer’s remorse because I’ve spent so much time making the poster!

Student agency for final projects


Here is a really nice post by Catlin Tucker about giving students an opportunity to choose their own final project. She provides a picture of the choice board, as well as several Google doc templates that can be copied and adapted for different types of classes and classrooms. I’m all for student agency and I think Catlin has very good arguments there: “when they are challenged to make key decisions about what they do and how they do it, they must actively engage in the learning process”. I would only add that it’s important to scaffold their choice a little so that they consider the ‘why’ as well – why is a physical model or a TED-style talk, for example, the best way for them to show progress in this particular situation?

And now I’m thinking: when I suggested making an audio show instead of a live presentation and my students said ‘nooo‘, why did I simply accept it and not ask them why they still prefer the live thing? Well, there’s always a next time…