Sunday, 29 March 2015

Assigning creative tasks wisely

Being a real fan of communicative and project-based approaches I often find myself writing a lesson plan that leads to writing and presenting a poster/idea/concept, etc. Judging by my experience with such tasks and tasks on creative essays, students nowadays are struggling with coming up with ideas and something new. Well, to some extent it's just the matter of their age - boys of 11-15 years old tend to find everything connected with killing, blood and stuff funny. Ask them What would you do if a friend betrayed you? and you will get Kill him! as an answer. It's not that they are cruel or smth, no. It's just that they think it's chucklesome and usually laugh saying that. Other than this bloody topic, it's almost impossible to get some creativity from them. That's mostly about boys though. And it's not a universal rule, just a tendency.

So lately I've been thinking on how to spur their creativity, ability to think out of the box, come up with something new and break through their own borders.

And all that led me to some conclusions and suggestions about how to organise children's project work, which I'd love to share.

1) Keep language in focus. Ensure that eduactional goals are reached: if you want your students to use some particular vocabulary in their presentation speech there are two ways to do that:
- make it a requirement to use 5-10-15 phrases from some particular unit. When evaluating the presentation count how many they used and let it be one of the criteria of your final project assessment (with students being aware of it beforehand of course). However it may add some artificiality to their speech.
- set some very precise questions that should be covered in the presentation and which are unlikely to be answered without the vocab you want to train. These way the language will come to students' minds naturally, however there are no guarantees that they will use the lexis you have in mind. Although if your lesson is structured correctly and the project stage comes after a large number of activities with the vocab in focus, learners are more likely to reach the goal of using new words and expressions.

2) Too wide choice leads to no choiceGiving freedom in terms of subject of the task is good only for students who have sound experience in creative tasks. For students who are just starting to work with them wide field is confusing and, to add more, it even impedes the process of creation, as a learner has no idea what to write or even think about. Too wide choice leads to no choice.
That's why you need to set the topic and give the task as clearly as possible.

To illustrate this idea I can give you examples of projects:

1) what life in old times used to be like? - bad topic
2) what was it like to live in the 19th century? - better
3) what social life did people in the 19th century in France have? - good

The best thing is to provide your students with aspects that can/should/must be covered. As a task it should look like that:

What new home appliance will be invented by 2030?
-what will it do
-it's size
-it's price
-who will invent it
-how will it look
-will it have several modifications
-who will use it most

Give a narrow topic. Set very precise task. Give simple and clear instructions.

3) Collective brainstorming. Before getting into small groups or starting to work on one's own have a 3-5 minutes brainstorming session where students can suggest their ideas in a whole class activity. It will kill two (even more though) birds with one stone:

- shy students will see that any idea can be supported and has a right to live;
- shy students will get more engaged as everybody will be speaking their mind;
- students who cannot come up with anything will be able to choose from the topics suggested and not just sit and blink when time for project development comes;
- students will be able to look at the problem from different perspectives and see that ideas and points of view differ;
- even one word can stimulate smb's thinking process. Combination of ideas that one had in his head and another said out loud can give birth to some new brilliant thoughts.

4) Start together. Give or elicit from students possible ways of starting the writing/presentation.
What can we begin with?
What questions can we answer first?
What phrases can we use to start the speech?

All this will give the atmosphere of mutual engagement + drive the process from a dead-lock.

Wish you inspiration, fun and best of luck at your lessons! :))

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Imitation Game

Yesterday I had pleasure to watch a rather smashing hit - The Imitation Game. To start right away - here are the ways I'm going to use it:
1) grab some new vocab for myself ^_^. And since I recently suggested a scheme for vocab learning, I should probably show it in action
So these are the words that turned out to be new for me


2) look for pieces to use at the lessons, since Cumberbatch is a popular pal.

3) Besides using particular scenes to show vocab or grammar usage, this movie can serve a good lead-in to the military topic. Since the 70th anniversary of Victory over Nazism is approaching, it will be nice to commemorate the event at the lesson in an interesting and new way.

4) Since movie is pierced with puzzles, codes and other enigma ;) it can serve as an inspiration/theme to a lesson-long quest (maybe for some final lesson) or the concept of puzzle solving can be implemented into a part of a lesson on its own.
- Previously I wrote about a crossword app - the post is here. It can become one of the puzzles.
- Then you can create a double puzzlehere
- or a word scramble using wonderfull BusyTeacher service - here.
- Another mystery to challenge your students - deciphering (this one though has little academic purposes, more just for fun or to set the mood).
- You can also use letter gaps, such as: r_l_e_ed, _mb_ _a_se_.

I'll share my worksheets as soon as I prepare such a lesson ;)
Have a very productive weekend! And let your heart be filled with joy =)

Monday, 23 March 2015

How to motivate your students to do homework

Here is a tip I came across in the net I don't remember how long ago. And this semester I decided to try it out with my 5-6 graders. And as you can see from the photo, the thing is working! All the exercises for homework (including written assignments such as essays) are handed in in time and always! Now, the price I'll have to pay is the following :) - when the number hits ten, I'm gonna throw a pizza party for them. And since I'm a bit too soft teacher sometimes, there is gonna be ice-cream too :D Kids love it! Every lesson, in the very beginning, I hang this poster on the board and after I'm done walking from student to student to check if the homework is done, we all count the numbers together and then I write it in the square. idea just stroke me..I should let kids do that! Why am I writing the number? Really! I should have students - each week a new one - write the number on the board! It will make them feel more responsible for the whole process of getting scores for homework + the feeling of achievement.
Great! I'll definitely ask one of the students to write number 7 this Sunday ;)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Vocabulary Learning Strategy

You might be aware of this strategy, however I want to share this little tip with you since I find this strategy to be particularly useful when studying new vocabulary at higher levels

The idea is that you create such scheme and provide two examples, synonyms and defintions for a word (these are the most important parts). Origins may help you memorize the meaning if you are familiar with Latin (lots of words come from it) and transcription...well how are you gonna read the language with thousand exceptions? :)

I used this strategy for my Reading Conference lesson so that's why you can see "Use in context (the book)". For general English lessons you can replace that with Use in context (everyday life), for example.

Hope it will be useful! Enjoy! :)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Speaking Club Ideas + Making Crosswords

As I have promised, I'm providing my plan for a Speaking Club meeting. The first we held was devoted to the topic of city life, or life in Moscow to be particular.
Despite it may seem a bit dull, such topic I mean, the approach and the way we presented the material proved itself successfull and kids loved it!

To set the scene, there were 12 students of Pre-Int and Int level. There were two of us, teachers, and one more teacher who worked with the third group when we were filming videos.

Here is a Busy Teacher link, where you can download it, enjoy -
P.S. At the end of the post there is a short review on a crossword app ;)
Interaction pattern
Supplementary materials/Time
Whole group
Hello, everybody! I’m really glad to see you all here! Today we are going to talk a lot. Please feel free to ask any question at any time, make yourself comfortable.
Please turn off your mobile phones and put them away so that we don’t get interrupted. And tell me, how do you think what is the only rule that we are going to have today?
Come to conclusion that the only rule is to speak English

5 min
Changing groups of 3-4-5 people
Let’s imagine that we went to a café. And it’s like speed dating, where you have to change your companions. At first when we come in there are tables for three people. So when I say Start I want you to unite into groups of 3 and you will have about a minute and a half to learn each other’s names, to learn each other’s hobbies and find something that all three of you have in common. When I say Switch, it means that now you need to unite into groups of four, changing all of your partners. And again you will have about 2 minutes to learn each other’s names, hobbies and find something in common.
Then again into new groups of three or into groups of five.
Poster about info
1)      Name
2)      Hobby
3)      Smth that all of you have in common

10 min
Whole group
Let’s stand in one circle. Okay. Now I want you to tell me the name of the person on your left, his/her hobby and something that you have in common.
A toy or a ball
5 min
Whole group
Great! Thank you everybody a lot! Now when we’ve got to know each other a bit let’s get straight to business! Let’s get to the topic of our today’s meeting. Do you know a game, where you are shown four pictures and you need to guess the word?
Show some examples. Let students guess.
Good! Now let’s try to guess today’s topic. River, golden domes, traffic jam, Dolgoruky monument or picture – Moscow.
So today we are going to discuss Moscow’s most beautiful places, problems that we have in our city and develop some ideas about what to improve and implement, ….. (put the agenda list on the board, read directly from it)
Printed 4pics1word cards

7 min

Agenda list
Whole group
Now I want to show you some pictures that describe city life. Tell me what factors of city life do these pics represent.
Teacher puts up a picture, elicits a corresponding words from students, writes the word on the board under the picture. Afterwards we can divide them into pros and cons together with the students and discuss it a bit.
City life pictures

5 min
2 groups. Each group sits in a circle and shares ideas on the topics suggested
Good! Let’s discuss some points that make a city a comfortable place to live in. What should we have in Moscow so that it’s comfortable, beautiful, attractive for tourists? – write these three words on the board and make students brainstorm quickly, let them shout out their answers.

Now let’s divide into 2 groups and focus more on advantages!

How to divide into 2 groups: cards with Moscow sights and sights from other places around the world. Those who get cards with Moscow sights unite in one group. Other cities’ sights – 2nd group.

Now let’s imagine that we are two groups of designers and architects who have been invited to Moscow to improve it, to provide new concepts.
One group comes from Great Britain (provide students with GB flag and maybe some other GB attributes) and another comes from France (the same).

In your groups now you need to come up with 3 ideas/projects that can be implemented in Moscow. You will discuss it in your groups with a teacher. You need to write down your ideas on the paper that I’ll give you. You will have 10 minutes to do that task.

One teacher per one group to guide and monitor the discussion. Questions suggested to stimulate the topic:
·         How often do we use internet nowdays? Do we have enough wifi access points? Should there be more? Where should they be? Should they be free?
·         Is our city clean? What can be done to make it cleaner? Do we recycle in Moscow? Should we stimulate, encourage recycling? What good does it bring? Where should be recycling bins put? How should they look in order to attract attention? How should we advertise recycling? How to implement recycling systems into houses, not only on the streets?
·         Is Moscow a green city? What makes a city green? What are the most beautiful parks in Moscow? What types of parks do you know? What types of parks should be where and why in Moscow? What programs, campaigns can we introduce in order to make the city greener?
·         What about cultural life in Moscow? Do we have enough celebrations, concerts, fairs and so on? Should we advertise them more? How should we advertise them, through what channels? What annual or monthly or quarterly events in Moscow would you implement? What museums would you like to have in our city? What funny/interesting museums do you know in Moscow/have visited/want to visit?
·         How should a city look at night? How does Moscow look at night? Should there be more lighting?
·         Are you satisfied with public transport in Moscow? How should it work? Should we have more ground transport? If yes, then what types of transport are the best – buses, trolleys, marshrutkas, trams? How can we improve our subway? What do you think of stations in modern style? What do you think of old stations like Ploschad revolyutsii, Mayakovskay? New stations – in what style should we build them? Or, maybe, we shouldn’t care about design and spend no money on eat on order to save it for something more important?
While discussing the topic, the groups need to keep track of their ideas and write them down
5min explanation+ 10mins activity

Write key topics:
Attractive for tourists

Cards for grouping

Countries’ attributes

On screen:
*3 ideas
*what will make our city
-attractive for tourists

A3 papers and markers to write down ideas in groups

5min explanation+10mins activity

Maybe: pictures of subway stations, museums to encourage the conversation
Whole group
Now you are going to present your ideas.

Two teachers - are the Moscow government (provide some attributes as well) and they are going to decide whose project to implement. Students need to compete and advertise their ideas in the best way.

Each idea should be presented by two speakers. Right now you have 5 minutes to decide who is going to present which idea and you also can write down key points of your speech. You will have 2 minutes to present each idea.

These cards (teachers provide every student with a card) have some vocabulary that will help you to deliver your idea. If you use these words in your presentations, you will get extra points.
We will judge your projects by the following criteria: refer students to the slide.

Students prepare their speeches.
At the same time teachers arrange the classroom so that there is their Judges desk, space for presenters and room for audience. When 5 mins are up students come up front in turns and present ideas (1st team couple – 2nd team couple – 1st team couple – 2nd....)

Maybe: before speaking each group is given extra challenge. For example, use this or that word during your presentations, make some gesture with your hands so that it fits your speech, etc.

Judges do the scoring while teams deliver speeches.
After everyone is done, groups post their A3s with ideas on the board.
Then when all points are counted and while announcing the results, teachers give feedback on each idea and besides writing the scores next to ideas, they also give badges and glue them to the A3s:
The most unusual idea
The most practical idea
The best presentation


At the end we as well can provide students with web-links to Moscow government site, where they can suggest their ideas by themselves in their free time.

Now, dear designers, we can have a tea break and rest a little bit before moving on to the next part of our very important discussion today!
2 min explanation+5 min preparation+15 min presentations+5 mins feedback

Cards with vocab

Slide with criteria:
-Usage of the linking words and expressions (one expression=1 point)
-Usability (практичность, реальность применения на практике)
-Timing (not less than 1.5 minutes but not more than 2 mins)
-extra challenge (+5 points)
TOTAL FIRST PART TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes

Let’s enjoy some tea and sweets
Turn the music on
5 min
Whole group
OK, the second part is going to be devoted to the problems that our city has. What is problem number one in Moscow? Put idea on the board.
Discuss it. Break each problem into 3-4 clear points.
What is second largest problem?
Moscow problems:
1)      Traffic/bad roads/parking
2)      Old damaging houses, expensive real estate
3)      Environmental problems
4)      Immigrants
5)      High prices
6)      Homeless and panhandlers
Let’s choose three problems that are the most interesting for you by voting. Now let’s divide into three even groups. How to divide into 3 groups: cards of three colours – yellow, red and green.
Each group needs to pick one problem (cards).

You are political parties running for an election campaign now. In order to be chosen by voters, you need to make your advertising campaign video.
Let’s watch one of the examples of such videos. While watching I want you to focus on the structure of the video. Tell me, what parts does this video consist of?
10 min
Whole group
Let’s discuss now, what should a good advertising campaign video have?

You should come up with a plan more or less like that:
1)      State and illustrate the problem
2)      Say that we (as a party) can deal with it because we are:…….
3)      How we will deal with it
4)      A call to action and party’s motto

Give and discuss briefly some motto examples. Hand out vocabulary lists with words useful for their video. Tell them that they have 20 mins to plan and film their video. Teachers are ready to help them at any stage.
Set the timer for 20 mins.
Vocab lists
5 min
3 groups
Students make their videos, teachers monitor and help out
20 min

TOTAL TWO PARTS: 1 hour 55 minutes

BREAK. Students chatting, teachers downloading videos to the computer, preparing the election process
10 min
3 groups
Now we are going to watch each of your videos. Please be attentive. After the video each group is allowed to ask one question about the video, party or campaign.

Teachers may provide short feedback on each video at the end
5+5+5 min
3 groups
Each student now needs to vote for one of the parties. They cannot vote for their own party. They vote by writing the number of the party on their colour cards and putting them into the poll
Yellow – party 1
Red – party 2
Green – party 3
Poll box

3-5 min
While one teacher is figuring out who won the election, second teacher asks students to fill in the feedback list (about the meeting in general).

E.g. 1-2 topics that he/she would like to discuss next time
What could have been done better at this meeting
Evaluate the meeting judging by: fun (1-5 points), interesting (1-5), comfortable atmosphere (1-5), how useful were the materials provided beforehand (1-5), etc.
Feedback list

5 min
Whole class
Check points on the Agenda list as done. Give each student to pick a card with a summing up question (most interesting activity, new word, some question on the topic, etc.)

TOTAL TIME: 2 hours 35-40 minutes
Question cards

5-10 min
And one more thing I'd like to share today is an application that helps to create crosswords for your students. It's name is Eclipse Crossword. 

Here is the link to the website - - where you can download it, it's free and easy to install.
Here is how its interface looks:

As you see, you can provide clues for the words, make different word lists and then use those wordlists to create a crossword. It's as simple as that :)

Can't wait to use it on my students these weekends bugaga!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Long Time No Write; Teacher's 8th of March

It's been a while since I wrote last, and well mainly it's connected with the beginning of a new semester both at Uni and at work :) so here I am again, swapping my teacher-student roles everyday which is fun and makes me believe The Desk Theory. Or The Desk Effect to be more accurate. It's about changing your behaviour once you are sitting at a student's desk. Like from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. I'm a teacher - a responsible person, joyfully carrying out my duty. And once my lessons (where I'm a student) start at 2 p.m. I turn into a usual student, who talks with fellows, chats in the Internet, doesn't want to do the tasks, yaws, looks at the wrist watch every 10 minutes to check if the lesson is over (depends on the lesson, of course), talks off topic and so on, Love it! :D

Anyway, the post is not about that at all. I'll try to be concise

Big Event Number One. The finale of the Teacher of The Year competition at Unium has taken place! It was great! It was just awesome!! And despite the fact that I didn't even get to the second part of the final contests, I'm happy. Truly happy for having taken part in all this at all. It's been great experience, it gave me so much.. I already see myself next year talking my colleagues into taking part in it and saying how cool and beneficial it is :)) I really want to congratulate Taira, the winner of the contest. I'm sincerely glad that she who won the competition and believe that she deserved it more then everyone else. That makes me love my company even more - the fact that well it was a competition and I'm so happy for my "rival's" victory. It just shows what kind of people work at Unium. Professional, awesome and united.

And of course I congratulate beautiful Ksenia ( on winning the Audience Award! One more person who I'm truly glad for! Thanks to her idea, now I have this cool chart at my YL lessons. Each kid made his/her own hero and now they move up the "ladder" for the correct answers at the lesson.

I love my job, I love my Unium and I'm proud to work there. Well, after all I did become the best teacher of the year, as you may see :D I'm lost in thoughts about the special effort that I've been awarded for though =)

Big Event Number Two. We held a Speaking Club meeting hurraaaaaay!! =)))

It was legen... wait for it... dary! Legendary! And I'm not kidding. Well...I knew I wrote a cool plan of course.. :D But the children! It were the children who made that evening special. And of course my fellow teacher Yana, who assisted me in holding the event as a second teacher. We made projects, videos, had 3 different discussions, presented our ideas, watched Obama's campaign commercial...and all that in 2,5 hours! + about 20 minutes of taking pictures, giving and receiving feedback, hugging with students, Yana and my best ever methodist Genya after that.

I'll provide a short plan for the meeting in the next post, I hope it will help or at least just inspire you :)

I'm planning the second meeting now. It's gonna be in the beginning of April. And having chosen the topic I foresee it to be a success again, with Genya's help we'll make it a piece of cake.

Big Event Number Three. I've got a new job! It's in a bilingual kindergarten. So now my blog is going to be full of pre-school stuff as well. I'll write about it in detail a bit later. For now I'm just trying to figure out the approach, techniques, just run around without full understanding of what I'm doing and why :)))

That's probably it about the big events.. I only want to add a few things

First of all, it was one of the best 8th of March. My ODI and Int kids brought me flowers, sweets and handmade presents, drew pictures on the board and said wonderful things. I think if I write one more time words awesome, cool, great or legendary you'll start thinking that I'm crazy or just out of normal words. But it was really awesome! That's how I felt those Saturday and Sunday - working all days long but very happy. Nastya gave me loom bracelets, Veronika drew a beautiful rose, Dasha brought sweets and a greeting card with very warm words inside, Erlan brought yellow tulips, Luiza - sweets, Alena - tulips, Gleb - a gorgeous rose, Julia - three bright pink roses...and Alina - sweets...Michael brought daffodils in a pot....and Nastya - more sweets..and a candle..

And with every piece of each present I felt like the happiest person. We shared sweets and sniffed the flowers, sang songs, jumped, danced...and studied English through all that of course! With every piece of those gestures, courtesies my heart filled with deep appreciation for what I have in my life and for all the people I meet (especially those under aged pieces of joy:D)