October Happiness

Mornings are getting darker and darker where I live – I can’t believe it’s 1 October already! To brighten up the autumn cold, here is a great printable calendar from ActionforHappiness.org: you can share it with students and encourage them to complete each daily task in English and write about it a special diary or even on Instagram.

My prinout with a bit of my desktop is featured in the photo – you can share yours πŸ˜‰

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Finnegan, begin again

I’ve been re-reading this article for quite some time: it’s about the so-called ‘shoshin’, or the beginner’s frame of mind. Apparently, the term related to Japanese Zen, but the idea can be applied to other spheres, especially professional development. Christian Jarrett, the author of the article, explains in a very clear and simple way how overestimating one’s expertise can lead to close-mindedness, and then lists several ways to keep one’s mind fresh and open, like the mind of a beginner. For example, it’s useful to notice gaps in one’s knowledge, develop a growth mindset and – a rather unusual technique of finding things that inspire awe.

P.S. You can laugh all you like, but tonight I was feeling awed by the sheer beauty of English grammar (infinitives with modals of deduction, of all things)!

Stacking your talents

Here is a very interesting idea to consider for professional development in the broader sense: it’s hard to reach the absolute top in one area, but it’s much more realistic to be in the top 25% in two areas that, taken together, give you a unique profile. Kyle Kowalski describes the idea in detail in this longread and then applies it to his own work experience, qualifications, personal strengths and interests.

Applied to the ELT world, good ‘stackable’ skills could be teaching exam preparation classes, being an examiner – and perhaps something less usual, like statistical analysis or universal design… For my own part, I’ve been focusing on very similar, language-related skills (translation, interpreting, teaching) So, perhaps it’s time for a professional audit and a venture into a totally new, but complementary area?

So boring that it’s not

Here’s an idea for Friday night lesson prep. Why not have students retell their favourite films (or books) in the most boring way possible? For examples see this hilarious collection where things are totally turned on their head. How do you like this one: ‘Guy finds a ring, and his nephew returns it to the factory’. πŸ™‚

Apart from the obvious linguistic challenge of summarising, it can give excellent vocabulary practice and, perhaps most importantly, increase the awareness of what makes a text less boring – au contrario. I’m definitely going to try it as soon as I can!

Do you speak corporate?

If you like teaching Business English, here’s a wonderful article that can keep your higher-level learners busy and happy. Olga Khazan from The Atlantic writes about corporate buzzwords from a surprisingly balanced perspective (surprisingly because of the headline: ‘Corporate Buzzwords Are How Workers Pretend to Be Adults’). In fact, even though phrases like ‘disruption‘, ‘touch base‘ and ‘growth hacking‘ can be seen as annoying, fake or pretentious, knowing how and when to use them can save you time in the workplace, help you transition from home to work (like a business suit you put on in the morning), and generally make you feel part of the in-group.

As for English language learners, the usefulness of corporate speak is even greater – you need to learn it before you can ditch it, right?

Paying it forward

I was reading the PBS Research Digest this morning and found this account of research done by the University of California: apparently, random acts of kindness in the workplace encourage the recipients to ‘pay it forward’ and result in ten times more prosocial actions within a month. While the application of this effect in the workplace is obvious: let’s just be kinder to each other on purpose, I was wondering if the same idea could be used in the language classroom. For example, students can be assigned a random buddy that they need to help in secret, or they need to observe their ‘buddy’ more closely and write down the best language they have used in the lesson… I haven’t experimented with it myself, but it sounds very promising!

Food likes and dislikes

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If you’re teaching a lesson about food, this collection of images with text is an absolutely amazing resource. You can have students pick and choose from 25 different stories of kids around the world and their weekly diets. The pictures are lovely, the descriptions are quite simple and yet have loads of interesting vocabulary. There is also a lot to discuss about different standards of living and life situations of these kids, so it could make for a lesson about global issues, poverty, inequality – or just use these texts for home reading or an introduction into a food-related project. I’m planning to use this soon!

So, do we translate or adapt?

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What’s the best way to teach online? Do we try to replicate the face-to-face experience, or do we try to benefit from the new medium? I suppose many of us started out by ‘translating’ our real classroom practices into Zoom, and yet we quickly found those ‘untranslatable’ elements. As a former literary translator of many years, I can tell you that it’s perfectly normal: in any book, nothing is really translatable if you want to find 100% equivalents. Languages are different after all. And yet everything can be translated in one way or another: you come across a pun – you make another pun in your own language, or you add an endnote, or you add a joke in another place… there are lots of possibilities, all depending on the context, audience and so on. So, we can try to replicate our classroom experience in the virtual world, things will work differently, and it’s ok. Perhaps this is what we should set out to do from the start – create a new experience, adapt our teaching and stop trying to translate it? This is what today’s link is about, among other things.

Zoom fatigue is real

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Here’s an post to share with colleagues and students: a suggestion why teleconferences feel more draining than regular meetings (and face-to-face lessons). There are several reasons the author puts forward: trying to pick up on people’s body language in the absence of information, still learning to use the new medium, multi-tasking, bad physical posture, paying too much attention to one’s own image on the screen – these are pretty obvious. But the author goes further, into theories of perception, and writes about eye contact, body positioning in space and makes other interesting observations.

How about you, do Zoom lessons exhaust you or not so much? If yes, what can we do to mitigate this?

A coronadictionary to enjoy in our isocosm

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Have you seen these amazing posts by Tony Thorne?Β The author has collected dozens of new coinages and repurposed lexis that people started using during the Covid-19 crisis. The first post in the series (#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral) mostly deals with scientific terms like ‘flatten the curve’ or ‘shelter in place’ that suddenly became very popular in our conversations. The second (#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral – 2) veers in the direction of slang and colloquialisms, and what a treasure trove it is: from coronanoia to covid waltz, quarantrolls and zoom mullet and even new emojis – it’s all there. A great collection to read on your own or share with friends, but I believe it can also have teaching uses. My lower secondaries are particularly keen on discussing the virus, so bits and pieces from these posts could be a great CLIL warmup. Advanced adults will probably appreciate the humour in some of the slangier expressions. If you have more ideas, let me know πŸ™‚