Blogging as taking notes

Note-taking for life

You may have noticed that this blog has limited itself to events and presentation slides. In truth, I felt that after a year I had reached a limit with paragraph blogging, and my collection of ELT ideas was now repeating itself. I was looking for a new format that would excite me: you can’t run a blog on willpower alone, it should be inherently motivating, do you agree?
I’ve finally found something else instead: this book by Sönke Ahrens (How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking) which has convinced me that I was doing the right thing all along. What is this blog if not a version of Zettelkasten (according to the method that Ahrens writes about, a slipbox of cards with thoughts formed by reading and reacting to what you have read)? If used properly, the system described in the book can become a great thinking tool which encourages learning, creativity and serendipity of ideas.
So, it’s actually good that similar ideas come up in the blogosphere and get me interested – I’ll just make sure I build more connections between them, and see what learning comes out of it. Consider it a public commitment of sorts 🙂
P.S. If you’d like to know more about the note-taking system, I’d rather not link to Amazon, but here’s a free video.

Reading Stevick 7 of 10: poetry


Stevick insists that oral communication should have the language and the reason to talk, otherwise it’s just an aeroplane without fuel (or with one wing). Discussing poems is not the first of the techniques he recommends, it’s one of the ‘other ways to oral activity’ – and yet it’s an intrinsically interesting and authentic way to encourage learners to speak. Students can discuss what happened in the poem, think about their own reaction, try to understand the writer in terms of language and ideas… It’s a nice reminder of how valuable those simple things are – and the benefit is that the students are really invested in the discussion.

My favourite teaching poem is, alas, not very romantic or mysterious. I use it to practise ‘th’ and ‘s’: I can think of six thin things… Well, you know how it goes 🙂 Anyone cares to share theirs?

Adventures of adventure book writers


Here is an inspiring post by Alastair Lane about writing ‘gamebooks’, or ‘choose your own adventure’ stories for language learners. Much as I love reading, I have never been a fan of those books: I just want to focus on one storyline and one world that the author has created for me. On the other hand, these books are a great opportunity for narrow input and revision, and they can be incredibly motivational provided they are written well and use elements of gamification. And, judging by the post, Alastair’s and his co-authors’ books are definitely worth checking out!

P.S. I’ve already linked to an article about QR codes to make adventure stories in the classroom; ‘A hero’s journey’ describes the power of narratives for learning. If you’re interested in the process of creating graded readers, check ‘Up a level, down a level’.

Of books and bloggers


If you’re into transferring typical online activities into an offline medium (‘tweeting’ on slips of paper, ‘liking’ with felt-tip smileys), here is an ‘Instagram’ reading and writing activity from Eva Buyuksimkesyan you might like. In essence, learners discuss books and authors, and then write their Instagram bios and book posts with comments – but on paper. The best part is that in Eva’s version the students also took interesting pictures of their books to publish them later with a real hashtag #bookstagram, so the offline activity moved into the real online world – full circle.

So, who’s up for some ‘bookstagramming’?

Making a character scrapbook


My own attempt at using The Character Scrapbook for one of my favourite characters of all times: Ayla the Cro-Magnon.

Another useful find at freetech4teachers: an interactive character profile from Scholastic which can be completed online and then printed or saved digitally. Elementary and lower secondary students will probably enjoy it the most, though I can see adults appreciating the structured approach and bright colours. You don’t have to limit yourself to book characters, either! Why not use the template to create a new character for an original story, or describe a family member (or a pet – there are options for animals)? Simple and nice.


Tracking progress – what can be easier?


Here is a great example of how tech can help teachers track students’ progress in the most painless and time-saving way. The author uses extensive reading as an example, but this method can be applied to anything else you would like to track, especially if there are a lot of students and a lot of checkpoints. The answer is simple: Google Forms: you input the results with one click and get statistics in a neat spreadsheet.

Could be useful for that action research project you have been planning for ages!

Reading: take it slow


If the skills we teach in the classroom should prepare students for life, it seems that reading should be reduced to skimming – isn’t it what we do every day when we swipe through blogs, emails and tweets? This article from Language Log, however, is a great reminder of the importance of close reading, when we really take the time to understand the complexity of a piece of prose or poem, the way it sounds and what it means. It’s by no means a militant article urging to go back to the good old times without technology (there’ve been too many recently!). We simply need to encourage our students to develop in both areas. Sounds like a plan!

The book begins…

book-first page

Here’s a post describing a structured procedure for a reading lesson: from quick reading to reflection, there are all kinds of interesting stages that are meant to help students read authentic literature. Yes, the lesson is based on real fiction, the first pages of well-known books. What a treat!

As the author says, it could be particularly useful for Cambridge exam preparation, but I know quite a few people who think it their mission to develop a love of reading in their students (whispering: we know who we are…). So, what are you waiting for? 🙂


Book reports: perfectly painless


Have you started a monthly reading challenge with your learners yet? Here is an excellent description of a foldable book report that can be used in an ELT classroom, even though the author, Robert Ward, created it for his English classes in an LA middle school. It’s very hands-on, very creative, easy and fun: the learners will get to think of a new title for the book they’ve read, devise metaphors for the main character, create a licence plate for their car and critique the book. The benefits? Language and skills development, motivation and engagement – and of course revisiting the book is an opportunity for revision and achieving a greater sense of progress.

Would you do something like this in your classroom, or you prefer more digital solutions?


Is this the real thing, is this just fantasy?


I was reading this post about teaching critical thinking in history classes and thinking how great it must be to work in a school where subject teachers cooperate and teach their learners the same skills through different contexts. We don’t have that luxury in a language school! Still, I can use the historical images and the web app (Factitious) from the post and hope this helps the learners in more ways than one. For example, the ‘critical thinking test’ for spotting fake news from Factitious the author of the post describes is great for developing reading skills, internet search skills and of course critical thinking – several birds with one stone. Do try the test before giving it to students though: I got quite a few wrong!