It’s worth keeping an eye on this blog

vale+la+penaJanet Biancini and Mike Harrison, two excellent bloggers and paedagogical tinkerers like myself, have to my delight included me in their lists of 10 blogs “worth keeping an eye on”, an initiative originating as “Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog“. Thank you!

Now I am to continue the chain by naming 10 more such blogs that haven’t been mentioned yet. That means I can’t mention Chris Adam’s Bits n Bobs/ Show n Tell blog, though it reminds me every day how much more there is to life than lesson plans and deadlines. Or Karenne Sylvester’s Kalinago English blog, by one of the most authentic, articulate and unabashed pullers of strings. Or Darren Elliott’s The Lives of Teachers, one of my very favorite blogs. Or Jamie Keddie, whose infectious love of teaching jumps off his blog. Or Nicky Whitley, whose lesson plans and approach are fresh. Or Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto’s Teaching Village, Lindsay Clandfield’s Six Things, Sue Lyons Jones’s PLN Staff Lounge, the great PLN collecting around Shelley Terrell and co., or Eva Simkesyan. None of those. Others in the close-knit blogging teachers’ circuit have listed them. Sheeeesh.

Well, ok, can it be that the following marvellous, wonderful blogs have yet to be mentioned?

For learners:

  • Jeffrey Hill: The English Blog – My first recommendation to learners, he finds excellent cartoons and topical videos
  • Markus Brendel: Der Englisch Blog – Providing videos with language pointers, games and a forum to German learners of English
  • Stew Tunnicliff (“theLingoGuy”): goodopenenglish – Doing community TEFL at the grassroots level, including creative writing

Two of Spotlight’s “corporate” blogs, written for learners of English:

  • Dagmar Taylor at Spotlight – Telling very funny, original stories about her children’s bilingual language acquisition
  • Ian McMaster at Business Spotlight – I’m starting to understand economics better thanks to his Economics for Amateurs series

And here are some delightful blogs I read for inspiration of various kinds:

  • Scot W. Stevenson: USA Erklärt – My favorite blog about US culture in review, explained to Germans in German. Scot lives in Berlin
  • S. Abbas Raza et al.: 3 Quarks Daily – My daily dose of global enlightenment, a digest of science, art and literature
  • Ze Frank: Ze’s page – My eye-opener. A web mover and shaker whose blog was introduced to me by Lucy Mellersh

Dear bloggers, you can carry on the flame and copy the badge and recommend ten more blogs – perhaps ones not all that well known to your readers.

And dear reader, have you got a favorite blog you can recommend? Also have a look at my blogroll and tell me which ones you like.

Pigeon: Impossible

Pigeon Impossible, the silent animated film by Lucas Martell released on 9 November that took 4 years to make, passed the 1 million views mark on YouTube after less than 2 weeks online. The film is set in the neighborhood of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where two of my nieces and I spent an enjoyable afternoon in October. I grew up in Cold War D.C. – I hope other teachers haven’t had exactly the same idea yet: Here’s my contribution of a lesson plan to the upcoming EFL blog carnival.

Target group: Adult education, Business English (group and one-to-one)

Level: multilevel, ca. B2

Language goals: 1. Speaking 2. report writing 3. spy/ thriller vocabulary (a one-to-one student is reading Le Carré) 4. predictions; 5. could/ coudn’t/ was able to (describing general ability vs. single achievements)

Material/ preparation: Go online to Watch film online. If not possible, download video “Pigeon: Impossible” (use Download Press Kit pdf to show film stills on screen. No handouts. Save those trees!


Pre 1: Present title of video “Pigeon: Impossible.” Predict genre. Revisit Mission: Impossible series 1966-1973; 1988-1990; film series with Tom Cruise. Use soundtrack or poster if necessary to help recall.

Pre 2: Hypothesize content of film. Brainstorm spy and Cold War vocabulary (e.g. for reference: to gather intelligence, secret agent, espionage, operation, operative, screen someone, be in disguise, conceal your identity, code/decode, crack codes, cypher/decypher, wiretap, detect surveillance, brief/debrief; Cold War, Berlin Wall, Iron Curtain, Star Wars, rocket, target, cruise missile, explosives)
Wordle: Spy and Cold War vocabulary

During: Watch film, and stop at likely places to ask “What will happen next?”

Watch film to about 1:50. Look at still of pigeon inside the briefcase. Collect and write up predictions (note grammar: I think, will probably, is likely to). (If teaching a group, let separate groups develop and present their scenarios.)

Watch to about 2:32 (pigeon has discovered that the suitcase can fly and is armed; man finds bagel again). Again, predict.

Watch to 4:04 (bagel has hit red button, Washington Monument turns into launching pad, rocket is underway to Russia). Again, predict.

Post 1: Reconstruct and summarize what happened: Contrast outcomes with predictions “I/we thought he would… and/but he…”

Post 2: Write “Incident on F Street” on the board. Make three columns. Headers: pigeon couldman couldn’t, man was able to

Tell students they are the man and will have to write a report to their line manager about the unforseen incident with the pigeon. (If you’re teaching a group, do this in pairs.) Tell them to concentrate on describing what the pigeon

  • could do with the additional powers at its disposal,
  • what they (as the man) couldn’t do to interfere and
  • what they (as the man) were ultimately able to do to stop pigeon and end the incident

Note grammar: contrast “could” for general ability with “was able to” for ability in a specific situation; couldn’t is more natural for negatives.

Have them use the film stills as guides. If they ask for it, watch the whole film again as they finalize their notes. Then they write reports. They pair up with another group to read each other their reports.

At least that’s what I’m planning to do. This is an action enquiry. I’ll let you know how it went later on this week in the comments. If you’re using this film in a different way, or have other ideas about how you would, I’d be delighted to read about it.

Blog Carnival archive - esl, efl, ell carnival

Crying in my coffee

Writing can be a lonely and frustrating business. Writing for online learners of English as I do is particularly tricky: I don’t get much feedback from my readers. As my employers are very busy, asking them to review and edit my work is not always possible. But that means that any errors I make and any nonsense I write is my problem, and it’s out there, and there’s nobody to tell me what’s going on. So when they do, it’s like a gift, like a mantel of love.

Sometimes I get negative feedback from readers, in the form of two stars out of five. (Love notes, Wanted! The crime of the century) That makes me feel about five years old. Seeing those nasty stars makes me cry in my coffee. That helps.

Yesterday I got wonderful, constructive feedback from Gill. And I met the people who will be working with the Moodle stuff I’m writing. That was wind in my sails, I’m on my way with that project.

So back to work.

Jean-Paul Nerrier’s Globish

This is a comment on a great post by The Tesla Coil on the Graddolization of EFL. David Graddol honored MELTA with a visit last summer. Thanks, Tony Watt for the Globish link:

Only 4% of the people communicating with each other today in English are both/ all native speakers. Jean-Paul Nerrier wants to “make it more comfortable for people to talk to each other all over the world.”  He’s redefined the core elements of English, breaking it down to 1500 words, with simple structures, no idioms, no jokes. Out of respect to “real” English he calls this language Globish, and has courses to go with it. His pitch:

Now, I’ve been training business people here in Germany for 12 or so years now, and must say: He has a very good point. Most of the people I teach do business in English in teams and business contexts where most members are non-native speakers. As soon as even one person can’t speak German, talk switches to English. I’m amazed at how good-natured everyone is about it. Some companies are offering DAF (German as a foreign language) courses, but it takes foreigners longer to learn the language, especially when their spouse is not German, than for the rest of the company (!) to brush up their English.

Some sort of Globish is clearly the type of English they need to handle most back office work or the occasional from-the-airport-to-the-meeting business trip, which is perhaps 95% of the English-speaking situations my students will be in. All they can afford to reach in English is lower intermediate: Basic functional language is just one of the skills they need.

But there are two little problems with this:

First of all, while my learners want to work on producing language themselves, which is great, they’re lousy at understanding other non-native speakers speaking another brand of English. How many people are speaking the same lower-intermediate interlingua today? Have any of you compared lower intermediate Business English books being used in, say, China or Saudi Arabia with those being used in Germany or Greece? Have you taught using them? Are the interlinguas at all connected to the teaching, and how do they compare?

The second is the lure of the real world. Anglophile kids. Movies. Music. Social networking. Trips. It’s there, that curiosity to actually understand the sexy sides of real English. I always manage to sneak them into my courses. Most of that exploration won’t happen on the company bill. But, hey, what did God make the internet for?

Learning English? How do you feel about the concept of Globish?

Question: Inspired by a fault?

Django Reinhardt was born 100 years ago yesterday. He lost the use of the third and fourth finger on his left hand when the family caravan caught fire, and as a result developed his own unique style of guitar playing.

Seriously inspirational, that is. Can you remember any other artists in any genre who became who they were because of some physical or mental disability? I can think of two artists who were visually impaired, and created iconic works of art as a consequence: Alberto Giacometti, with his strange and lovely “drippy” sculptures, and the great El Greco, the Spanish Renaissance painter whose paintings appear modern because of the way he stretches his figures. (PS: See corrective note in the comments!) Can you add any of your own?

a fault:

  1. the fact of being responsible for a bad or unpleasant situation
    It’s not my fault!
  2. a feature of something that makes it less good
    There’s a fault in the system.

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Question: Can you learn from a robot?

I had great fun last week, exploring what it is like to talk to a chatbot. It was Shelly Terrell who originally put me up to it, advising me when I was gathering ideas for a Spotlight Magazine article edited and coauthored by Jo Westcombe on ways English learners can use the Internet. I spent the better part of a day and evening experimenting, trying to figure out how chatbots make sense of my input, wondering whether or not our exchange sounded “human”, and thinking about whether I’d want students of English to use chatbots to develop their language skills. My findings will go online as a language exercise to supplement the article on Tuesday, and I don’t want to jump the gun here, but I’d like to share some of my impressions of the process with you.

What I’d like to know from you: Can you learn from a robot? Have you ever “interacted” with an inanimate system to improve technical and/or life skills? What sorts of skills do you think robots could teach? And would you enjoy using them in place of a “human” teacher?

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Question: Do you believe in learning styles?

In my profession there’s a hot debate going on about “learning styles”. You know, finding out whether you are a visual learner and need to see things to understand them, or an auditory learner who prefers to hear things, or whether you are a kinethetic learner and have to do things to really get them. Those are just some of the more famous learning styles, there are many more (such as whether you learn more on your own or in a group, or whether you are more analytic or non-analytic.) I found a video by Professor Daniel Willingham who calls the whole idea of “learning styles” unscientific. I find it particularly interesting, as it got me thinking.

I also liked this response by New Zealand teacher Craig Hansen:

My opinion? If the idea of learning styles helps a student learn, I’ll run with it, whether it’s science or religion. Because, no matter what you call it, learning improves when you’re motivated, and finding out that your way of dealing with learning is taken seriously enough to actually have a name can be very motivating. Students start to learn better once you’ve given them some attention and looked at what they need to become better learners.

What about you, do you believe that we have learning styles? If so, does that knowledge help you learn?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences.

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