Monday, 20 April 2015

How To Turn Your Lesson Into a Quest in 15 Minutes

Today I decided to add more fun to our usual small competitions and unite all the exercises under one topic. We had an Adventure Islands Quest. You can see our route on the right. As you see, it takes not more then just a picture on the board.
As we were doing it I thought that I could have made a paper boat so that it would travel for real. That would have added some interactivity, you now.
This quest can be planned in advance and have some special points, tasks and so on or can be included into your lesson without any special preparation.

When to use it at the lesson:
1) As a HW-check activity if you had at least 3-4 exercises. Plus you can always add some extra practice to the topics assigned for HW and here you go - already about 6 exercises, which is good number for any quest.

2) As a New Topic journey. You can arrange the stages in accordance with grammar-vocab-use of english-listening-writing-.. scheme. Or plan the stages as introduction-let's come up with the rule-drilling-freer practice-etc.

3) As an activity that will go through the whole lesson. In this case a more profound background story is probably required, so that it unites different parts of the lesson. Or you can just have stages (e.g. HW-check, new material, practice) and substages at each of the major stage.

How you can prepare such an activity in 15 minutes before the lesson:

1) Choose a topic. The easiest way is to go with some journey - islands, space, town, country, etc.

2) Count how many exercises you have in your plan today (or how many HW exercises you have if you decide to make it as a HW-check activity).

3) Draw stages in accordance with the number of the exercises (e.g. 5 HW exercises mean 5 islands). Set some ultimate goal at the last stage - find a treasure, rescue your friend, catch a thieve, collect all the puzzle pieces to make a picture, etc.

(optional - 4) Draw some extra stuff/characters/surroundings/etc. It will take you not more than 60 seconds, but will add significantly to the atmosphere.

(quite optional - 5) Take a magnet and put it at the first stage to mark the beginning. Move the magnet as your group conquers the quest.

6) Copy all the exercises from the textbook and cut them out so that they look like some cards (it takes about 3-4 mins, but kids will love them more than just regular Open textbook page blah-blah exercise blah-blah).

(optional - 7) You can also stick these cards to the stages so that kids can come up to the board and grab them - the more they move the better.

It's as simple as that! I tried these Adventure Islads with both teenager Elementary and Young Learner's groups and it worked just great!
I hoppe your kids will love it too=)
Wish you fun and effective lessons ;)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Waking Up With The Sun

Good morning to everyone!

Sun is hiding behind the building. But it's there.
And it's the most important thing :)
I want to share something beautiful with you today. It's been 6th day now (with one failure in the middle) that I'm waking up with the sunrise. It sounds really crazy to me! Such an owl, a sleep-in person I am! I have always had troubles with waking up in general. And now I feel like I'm a bird that wakes up with the Sun and flatters with smile and joy.

All this became possible thanks to two awesome young ladies :)
We decided to do a marathon and wake up with the sunrise every morning for 40 days in a row. As we wake up and watch the Sun going up we do some special physical exercises, more like stretching or gymnastics I should say.. I don't know for sure though if the word gymnastics in English has the same second connotation.
If we fail to keep the promise, we are to buy flowers for our mums :)
And another great routine that we've established is taking photos to show each other the sunset at our places.
And this is when it comes to smth beautiful to share with you. Today's sky was amazing. And inspiring.

These are the flowers I bought
for the day I failed to wake up in time
I am grateful for the fact that I have our sunrise team. And well I've been trying to write this post for three days now, and since then I've had two more failing days due to being seek and conscious understanding that that day I needed more sleep. And here is the thing - although I failed, I know that I can do it. I can move on and proceed. If I was doing it alone, I doubt I would have strength and motivation to continue after having skipped two days. But now I know that the girls are waiting for me, and tomorrow I will post a new sunrise photo to our chat :)

Besides that, I am determined to start walking in the morning. See that picture with the Sun hidden behind the building? I am gonna get moving and find a place to watch the Sun rising for real. I've taken one unsuccessful attempt already :D it was cloudy that day and 10 minutes after I went out it started to rain. But! It was a great walk nevertheless - fresh air, empty streets, I even found this nice piece of art between some houses, which was really nice, like a discovery =)
When you see such a sky
in the morning,
you just can't help smiling
and feeling awesome =)

I really enjoy our marathon and now I even know that I'm strong enough to keep up with it. I'm sure I will write an enthusiastic feedback when it's over.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Reading as an Integral Part of Education Process

Last Friday I had a wonderful day attending an annual conference on reading and literacy issues held by Reading Association of Russia ( It was a fruitful experience as I got to learn a lot of theoretical and practical info, which I am going to share with you :)

Information and statistics

First of all, some interesting facts which were mentioned in young scientists' reports contest:
- girls read more than boys;
- top-3 popular books among children of 12-17 years old in Russia:
1) Harry Potter
2) Hobbit
3) Twilight
-1/3 of primary schoolers in Russia read 60% of info from screen.
-48% of teenagers prefer paper books
-modern parents are more concerned about children's reading than generation before
-fewer people join libraries comparing to statics of 2005
-the reading intensity has grown, that is children read more books in one month now

I also put down a name of book which is probably worth reading - "Библиопсихология. Библиопедагогика. Библиотерапия" (Bibliopsychology. Bibliopedagogy. Bibliotherapy). I was lucky enough to meet the authors and listen to their short presentation of the book and it sounds like a profound study.

Practical tips

Second part of the event was devoted to workshops, where reports on different topics were presented. One was supposed to stick to one workshop section and listen to the reports grouped under the same topic. Some participants however found it more useful to cruise around and attend several sections. So did I, and having listened to the report on mindless reading which nowadays is widely spread not only among children with disorders (who usually tend to have these difficulties due to improper brain function or disabilities). Mindless reading implies reading without understanding the sense of the text/sentence, without paying attention to details.
Two women, who I started to admire after their speech as it was truly great in terms of usefulness and ideas presented, suggested some tasks for primary and pre- schoolers to prevent mindless reading. These exercises however can be successfully used in ESL/EFL classroom

1) Read and assume
Students are given a short piece of text. The information is not given directly. Students need to draw a picture in accordance with the text, adding details that are based on logical assumptions.
Text: it's the 1st of September (p.s. for readers from other countries - it's an official first day of school all over Russia). The sun is shining. Children are hurrying up to school.
What your students should come to:
- it's the 1st of September, therefore it's autumn. So some trees are probably yellow. Sun is shining - not many clouds in the sky. Maybe some paddles on the ground.
2) Hypothesising
You give text piece by piece (sentence by sentence) and students need to give predictions after each piece of info. Text should give ability to change hypothesis with each next piece.
What season is it?
It's windy. (can be any season)
It's snowing. (can be autumn, winter, spring. BUT: here children are likely to conclude that it's winter. Discuss this together)
The grass is green. (can be autumn, spring)
Snowdrops are coming out (spring)

Then I had a chance to attend a workshop where teachers shared their techniques of creative writing and reading. Here are the ideas that can be put into practice:
1) Every story has 4 major parts:

  • Each story can focus mainly on one of the parts. So we can try writing one story 4 times shifting the focus each time
  • When writing first stories, it's wise to focus on one part at a time. For example, one week is devoted to the development of characters, next - to the setting, and so on

2) Writing while reading a book tasks:

  • Story inside a story: ask children to write a one-page story to put inside the story they are reading. It can highlight some particular moment in a character's past or explain some of the actions
  • Small changes lead to important consequences: ask students to retell (or rewrite if you are a cruel teacher :D) the story changing/eliminating one of the events or characters
  • Changing the structure: stories may have different structure, For example, they can be told as a flashback of events from the past or have a circular structure. Ask your students to retell the story changing its structure

3) There are 5 types of conflicts which a story may have:
Man vs. Man
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Self
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Digital World (that's rather new one)

  • You can ask students to add one conflict to the story you are reading and imagine what would change
  • You can start creative writing activities by writing a short story with one particular type of conflict in focus (usually good stories have several of them)

4) There are 6 main types of character:
Round (usually main character)

  • You can ask your students to imagine what the story you are reading would be like with a different type of character
  • You can classify all the characters in the story and find similar and contradictory features

5) One of the greatest reading activities is mindmapping of course. Any info presented in graphs, schemes or pictures is more interesting and more likely to stay in memory. I'll be writing a post focusing on mind maps a bit later (soon I hope), and I plan to make it useful and informative, so for now I'll just mention mind maps as one of good strategies to work with texts.

To end with, here are some important points that I have come to through my personal experience:

  • As you see, all the reading and writing strategies are quite interchangeable, and all the reading tasks can be given as writing activities with an aim to create one's own story and therefore develop imagination and writing skills.
Even Mickey is writing ;)
  • It's essential for writing activities to start writing at the lesson. Write at least first 5 sentences at the lesson, together, so that your students don't have to start with a blank list staring at them and frightening them.
  • Comments on written work are crucial to students' motivation, self-esteem and effectiveness. Write at least 2-3 sentences about each essay/story/composition so that your children feel that their work has been carefully read through, their efforts are appreciated and progress is noticed.