Saturday, October 31, 2009

Freedocumentaries - watch, learn and uderstand

The most common belief about teenagers and young adults you come across these days is that they are easily bored, spoilt and not interested in anything.

It is very difficult to make them express opinions and engage in debates as they have, sadly, very little to say. Sounds familiar?

With the communicative approach knocking on the door of every EFL classroom, it has become extremely hard for teachers to come up with intriguing and captivating material that would eventually make students open their minds and mouths.

A few years ago I was working on a summer camp teaching English to adolescents from various backgrounds. Some of them came from broken families, some from very well off ones. Yet they all had something in common – they did not want to speak English and take part in discussion me any my colleagues were laboriously preparing.

The theme of the camp was Travelling broadens the mind and we really wanted the kids to learn something about the world. Unfortunately, interesting (in our opinion) articles about different countries, colourful pictures of fascinating (for us) places, games and group work did not work for them at all.

We spent hours searching the internet but in the end we found what seemed to be perfect. is a website featuring a lot of free and full length documentaries touching upon a great deal of controversial issues. As my students were doing a project about India, we watched ‘Born into Brothels’, a wonderful film about children of prostitutes from Calcutta, whose lives changed after learning how to take photographs. And yes, it worked this time! More than that, it worked like magic!!!

I still have not seen all the documentaries on the website but there are some definitely worth recommending:

·        ‘Born into Brothels’ (take a look at and use it as an extension to the film)
·        ‘Invisible Children’ about children suffering as a result of abduction during the war in Uganda (also see
·        ‘Jesus Camp’ about religious camps for kids in the US
·        ‘Super Size Me’ about an experiment conducted to prove that eating fast food is harmful
·        ‘Ghosts of Rwanda about a civil war in the country
·        India. The Land of Missing Children about kids kidnapped and sold as slaves to carpet factories

Be sure that seeing documentaries from will enliven your classrooms. They are shocking, thought provoking and will stimulate a great deal of productive discussions

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The most enchanting spot in Turkey

I decided to live in Turkey because I love to travel, discover and explore. Perhaps the most important reason that made me choose this particular country was that it is a fascinating blend of modern and exotic. Many tribes and nations have occupied the territory of Anatolia and traces telling their history are to be found in almost every corner of the country.

To me, the most enchanting spot in Turkey is Ani.

This early medieval city, located in the north-eastern part of Turkey close to the border with Armenia, is now ruined and uninhabited.
It was once the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom that covered much of present day Armenia and eastern Turkey. The city is located on a triangular site, visually dramatic and naturally defensive, protected on its eastern side by the ravine of the Akhurian River and on its western side by the Bostanlar or Tzaghkotzadzor valley.

Called the "City of 1001 Churches", it stood on various trade routes and its many religious buildings, palaces, and fortifications were amongst the most technically and artistically advanced structures in the world.
At the height of its glory, Ani had a population of 100,000 - 200,000 people and was the rival of Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo. Long ago renowned for its splendor and magnificence, Ani has been abandoned and largely forgotten for centuries.

I visited Ani in May 2009 and since then have not found a place with more charm and character. It takes at least three hours to walk around the still preserved, grass covered streets of Ani. With hardly any people visiting it, you can easily travel back in time and imagine what the city looked like at the time of glory.
Ani must have been truly magnificent. Anyone who pays it a visit will be simply flabbergasted.

Alternatives to whole class feedback

Last year, looking for some ideas about giving feedback, I came across an article written by my CELTA tutor, Amanda Gamble. Here is what she has to say about the often neglected idea.

What are the drawbacks of whole class feedback?
  • The teacher is in control and decides when to move onto the next question.
  • The teacher is probably doing most of the talking.
  • Just because the teacher has heard someone say the answer it doesn’t mean that all the students know what the correct answer is.
  • This method doesn’t help weaker students – they often get lost during the feedback, especially if they have a lot of incorrect answers.
More importantly, it doesn’t tell the teacher what problems the students had with the activity or if they need further practice. However, the most crucial factor is that students don’t learn anything from this kind of feedback – all they get from it is ‘He drank orange juice’ is correct. They don’t learn WHY it is correct or why, for example, ‘He has drunk orange juice’ is wrong.

There are different types of feedback:
  • Giving students an idea of how they’ve done after a speaking activity – looking at both their errors and the good things they have said.
  • Asking students what they think about an activity they have done or to reflect on recent classes.
  • Checking the answers to activities the students have done.
Let's concentrate on the third one. So students have completed an exercise and now the teacher wants to check the answers. What alternative ways are available to us? Take a look at the following ideas:

1. Give the students an answer key or put the answer key on the wall or the board.

2. Give each student the answer to one or more questions – they read out for the class to check.

3. One student has the answer key and plays the teacher.

4. Get students to write the answers on the board.

5. Get one student to read out his/her answers – the rest of the class see if they have the same.

6. Coursebooks sometimes encourage students to listen to the answers.

7. Give the students a reading text with all the answers in.

8. Students nominate each other to say the answer.

9. Do it as a competition – students work in teams to check their answers and then get points.

10. Teacher monitors while students are on task and makes a note of common problems to concentrate on in feedback.

Why do these?

1. To encourage learner autonomy – the teacher won’t always be there to provide answers. If you put the key on the wall, it also gets the students out of their seats for a few minutes. You can make it more fun by getting them to run to the walls, find the answers and go back to tell their partners – a bit like a running dictation OR give half the answers to one person and the other half to their partner. They share their information like an information gap activity.

2. Although the teacher provides the answers, the students are in control of the feedback.

3. I saw this done really well in an observation. The student with the answer key has to be able to answer questions asked by the class to make it more effective.

4. This is a good way to deal with early finishers.

5. This works well if students have different answers to questions because they can discuss the answer and come to an agreed conclusion.

6. A good way to introduce intensive listening into your classroom with a real purpose.

7. An alternative way to get the students reading in your class. It practises scanning skills and, like 6, has a real purpose.

8. A student-centred version of whole class feedback. It works better if students choose the questions to answer at random as it keeps them on their toes and encourages them to listen to each other.

9. Makes the feedback more interesting and fun and could help to change the pace of the lesson.

10. This saves time going through answers which the students have got correct and gives more time to work on the answers they got wrong and think about the reasons why.

To read more, please visit

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

10 words a foreigner teaching English in Turkey should know

Inspired by Lindsay Clandfield’s blog I have decided to write ten key words and phrases a foreigner teaching English in Turkey should be familiar with as she/he will hear them millions of times every day:

·        YABANCI (that is you – the foreigner)
·        SUS (meaning: be quiet or simply shut up!; the most useful of all words gathered here I guess)
·        YARAMAZ (naughty – very easy to memorize as appropriate contexts are always at hand)
·        HOCAM (again you – meaning: my master, my teacher; a word used primarily by lise /high school/ students; kids at primary school will call you ÖĞRETMENIM)
·        HADI (something like come on!, variations include HADI YAAA, HADI BEEE or HADI BYE, BYE. The last one always heard when someone finishes talking on the phone)
·        GÜZEL (beautiful, nice, delicious, good – used to describe basically everything you like or enjoy; word that is heard all the time. A variation would be ÇOK GÜZEL, çok /read as the English word chalk/ meaning very or a lot)
·        ANLAMADIM (meaning: I don’t understand; why use the past tense suffix then?)
·        SINIF (classroom) that I always confuse with SINAV (exam)
·        OTUR! (said angrily usually works – sit down!)
·        oOOOo (an expression with rising and falling intonation used to express exaggeration and my personal favourite)

O zaman, hadi let's start learning Türkçe arkadaşlar :)))

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Things that amaze me in Turkey

• Nobody I have talked to likes Orhan Pamuk – the only Nobel Prize winner from Turkey

• Students are given homework for the weekend, winter break, summer holidays and any short holiday that comes up

• In any type of organization there are at least 5 levels of management with general director, director, manger 1, vice manager1, vice manager 2...

• Kids in private schools have at least eight 40 min classes a day and frequently attend extra courses after school i.e. they have hardly any free time

• The number of students in public schools can be close to (or more than) 60 per class

• A lot of Turks have never been abroad and have no desire to do so (reason: their country offers them everything they need so why bother and look for something nicer elsewhere)

• It’s very easy to get a passport in Turkey, the only problem being its price (more than $100 for a year)

• A great majority of people who live in Istanbul or the western part of Turkey have never been to the eastern part of the country (reasons: it’s dangerous or there is nothing interesting there anyway)

• It is very difficult (sometimes impossible) to use a pre paid Turkish sim card in a non Turkish cell phone

• Although the redenomination took place in 2005, a lot of people still talk about prices using the ‘old money’

• You will be loved instantly if you tell Turks you support one of their teams – Beşiktaş, Galatasaray or Fenerbahçe. In other words, they are crazy about football.

• People genuinely like artists like Bülent Ersoy (I am still not sure whether he is a she or she is a he)

• The majority of Turks are Muslims but the country is secular. Anyhow, most people drink alcohol but they dread eating pork

• The patriotism, nationalism and unconditional love for Atatürk (founder of the republic) are unimaginable

• Turks use kolonya to make their hands smell of lemon all the time

• They eat bread and yoghurt with almost everything they consume and drink sweet tea with it

• Different stores selling similar items are located in close proximity e.g. stores selling lamps are to be found in Şişhane, fabrics and things for hamam are sold in the Eminönu area

• Some websites including and many others are blocked (still wondering when will be blocked as well)

• Turks love eating breakfasts out, especially in groups and at the weekends

• The sell things everywhere – in the streets, on the ferries, in the middle of the highway…

• A lot of Turks are fascinated with communism, maybe because they have never experienced it

• They love music and a lot of them can play a musical instrument

• A couple can legally get married if they are first cousins

• People eat a lot of fruit, vegetables and nuts, especially pistachios. They can be even an ingredient of ham.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Getting the students’ attention

YL classes tend to be noisy by definition so raising your voice or shouting has a poor chance of success. Instead, try some of the alternative ways presnted below. Not only will you save your throat but you will bring some fun to the classroom as well.

Traditional ways of getting students’ attention:

• Raising your voice or shouting BE QUIET! (not recommended)

Turning on and off the light

Clapping hands

Opening and closing the door

• Going to a particular area of the classroom defined earlier as ‘the silence area’ or ‘you are too loud so be quiet now’

Alternative ways:

• Use sound making objects: trumpets, whistles, bells, rattles, toy guns making sounds

• Set an alarm clock which will buzz when the activity comes to an end

• Play a piece of music, turn on the radio for a few seconds

• If you use background music, pausing the sound should automatically initiate a moment of silence

• Start singing a song

• Say – if you can hear me Stand up!, Raise your hands! Some students will hear you and do what they are told, the rest should notice and follow as well

• Start counting loud to 10/20

• Play the King of Silence Game. Tell students that the one who can remain quiet for the longest period of time will be the winner

If you have better ideas, feel free to contribute!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jug, jug, jug, Videojug

With blocked in Turkey, teachers are left with a minimal number of websites offering videos to use in their classrooms.

There is one website, however, that I am particularly fond of. Having come across it by chance, turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.

There are ten thematically organised categories (Beauty&Style, Creative&Culture, Family&Education, Food&Drink, Health&Wellbeing, Lifestyle&Home, Love&Dating, Money&Careers, Sports&Outdoors, Technology&Cars) each including a vast amount of videos.

Most of them are pretty short, ranging from 1 to 5 minutes and some are clearly inappropriate for kids. That is why make sure that you watch a video before showing it to your students.

What are the advantages of using in the ESL classroom?

• Videos collected there are an inexhaustible source of authentic language use provided in a compact, concise form

• It is a chance to introduce new, interesting vocabulary or phrases

• Because the videos are short, students are left with no time to get bored while watching them

• The website contains videos to match almost any topic you discuss in the classroom

• Bearing the Multiple Intelligences theory in mind, a video watched in the classroom increases the learning abilities of Visual and Auditory students

How can we make use of the videos in the classroom?

• Let students simply watch. It might be a great opportunity to introduce a topic and set up a context relevant to the lesson you are planning to teach

• Watching something controversial or surprising might be a starting point for a productive discussion

• They may watch and simply answer some questions provided by the teacher

• Students might take notes and later compare them with a partner

• Use it as a dictogloss – the students first watch and listen, then listen and take notes, after that compare with a partner and produce a final version of what was being told

• Students can write a summary of what they have seen

• You may choose two similar videos and ask students to pinpoint similarities and differences

• Try to play only the sound, the students have to imagine and visualise what takes place in the video (what the speaker looks like, what the location and time of the day are); allow time for checking if their guesses were correct

I used with my 4th graders last year when we were talking about cooking and practised writing recipes. Having watched quite a lot of videos, they were supposed to write about and present an interesting recipe of a dish they like. The outcome was amazing!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A webiste review

There are many ways that help us reward our students.
Some of them are useful and some, though effective, negate the very idea of teaching.

The ones I particularly dislike involve ‘bribery’ i.e. offering students sweets, toys or stationery in order to reward good behaviour. Obviously, if we promise a 7 year old a toy for being good, the chances are he will do everything to get the prize. We must not forget however that methods based on behaviourism can lead to a dead end. Namely:

• The student will learn to get a prize for anything good he does and will expect it all the time.

• In case a prize is not provided, a teacher may encounter tantrums or any other outbursts of negative behaviour (in my view, fully justified)

• The child’s focus will be on getting something material not on appropriate behaviour or educational objectives

• Any attempt to change the system into more humanist oriented type of rewarding will have consequences as the ones mentioned above

• It is an unnecessary expenditure as there are other ways to maintain good behaviour in class

Most of us have heard of the Star and Smiling Faces types of rewarding good behaviour. They are easy to implement and require minimal preparation on the part of the teacher.

Some of the attention-grabbing ideas I have found on the website discussed are:

• Behaviour Ladder
• Behaviour Train (similar to the ideas I have discussed earlier but more elaborate)
• Class Celebrity
• Peacock Targets (with a downloadable sheet)

Have fun using them in your classes!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Some websites to use with YLs

My personal favourite is It's very colourful and has plenty of pictures to colour ranging from Aesop's Fables to Zodiac signs. The number of categories is amazing but the pictures are pretty basic. Perfect choice for kindergarten and grade 1 who don't really know how tu use a mouse yet :)

For online coloring, you can also try This website also offers printable coloring pages, dot-to-dot exercises and an oline picture maker. The last one is a LOT of fun!

On the we can find games, clipart, learning pages, puzzles and more. I personally reccommend the Fun Learning Games. The Math Flash Card Game was really cool and your students will surely like it too. does not really look appealing but has plenty of coloring pages to bring into play.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Classroom management - In or Out

In or Out works best for kindergarten students i.e. the ones who cannot read or write yet and who respond exceptionally well to visual ways of explantion and instruction.

The basic idea behind the game is that if you are good, you are in the same group with the teacher and other students; if you are naughty, you are out of the group.

Apples in a basket:

During the first week (month) of the school year, the teacher has to prepare a big paper basket and paper apples for every student. They will later colour and write their names on them with the help of the teacher who will have an apple of his/her own as well. Next, all the apples will be placed in the basket hung earlier on the classroom wall/ bulletin board. If one student misbehaves, he is taken out of the basket and put next to it. If his/ her behaviour changes, the apple is placed back into the basket.

The activity has many variations. The teacher may decide to prepare, for example:

bees and a beehive
stars and a model of univers
clouds and a sky
flowers in a garden
wagons of a train
animals in a forest/ jungle
fish or frogs in a pond
starfish or other sea creatures in a sea

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Classroom Management - Football English

The Football English activity works best with older students who have at least some idea about football. It works particularly well in classrooms where the kids are mainly boys.
To make it work you need to prepare a set of YELLOW and RED cards.

You set up the activity by explaining the rules:
  • if a student talks, interrupts, refuses to engage in an activity etc, s/he will be given the first YELLOW card
  • s/he will be given one more chance but in case s/he continues to misbehave, another YELLOW card will be given
  • if the situation continues,  a student is given a RED card
  • a RED card means extra homework, detention, a talk with the principal etc.
The students will realize immediately that the game is similar to football with one exception i.e. the players are given two yellow cards instead of one and the second yellow card does not automatically generate a red card.

A problem that might occur while you try the activity out is the students themselves. They will most probably start writing on the cards or damaging them in some way. In such a case, a good solution might be using colored chalk. Instead of giving the cards to naughty students, mark their desks with red and yellow chalk and you will get a very similar effect. It will also save you time on preparation of the cards.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Classroom management ideas

During my career as an ESL teacher I have come across plenty of teachers who dread teaching children. Because they are naughty. Because they cannot concentrate. Because all they want to do is run around and make a lot of noise. Having taught kids for a few years now I wholeheartedly agree with all the aforementioned complaints. It takes however a few things to bear in mind to make your YL classes work like magic.

Teamwork, games and the sense of competitiveness

Students love competitions and YL are no exception. The only difference is that they love them even more! Hence you should take every opportunity to turn any activity into a contest. Start up by dividing the class into two or more groups.

Give each team a name e.g. oranges and apples or red and blue. You can use the vocabulary you have recently taught to provide some extra practice and give your students an opportunity to encounter the new words again.

Very YLs tend to forget which group they belong to so use colored chalk to mark their desks. Always check that the students know which group they are a memeber of by making them raise their hands and see who else is in their group.

On the blackboard write each group’s name and give them an equal numbers of points for a start. Warn the students they you will erase their points if anyone from the group shouts, walks around, keeps talking, does not raise their hand etc. Tell them that points will be added if group members speak English or complete tasks successfully.

With very young lerners, not being able to use L1 may cause loads of unnecessary stress. My kids, therefore, are allowed to speak their mother tongue only if they whisper to their partners and if they don't do it very often.

Reward the kids for every positive thing they do. Keep in mind that rewards have a much more encouraging and motivating effect than any form of punishment.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Who said blogging will be easy?

My blog definitely looks like a playground now.
Polish mixed with English and no idea how to change that :(
That's a hard task for Miss Bossy!
Technology refuses to comply!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My first post

I guess this is the hardest moment in the life of a blogger. My first post.

To begin with, my special thanks to Lindsay Clandfield who convinced all of us attending his workshop in Budapest that starting up a blog is a piece of cake :)

As I'm in the middle od doing my DELTA my posts might be few and far between but I will definitely write something twice a week to keep it alive (not sure if it's going to be Monday and Thursday though :)

My key interest is teaching English to Young Learners (aged 7-9) i.e. the ones who have just learnt to read and write. In my view, not enough is being written or taught to help teachers deal with them and I'm planning to change it. Hence this blog will be my place for sharing ideas and raising questions that I hope will get answered.

So, off we go!