Companion Flashcards for “Romance in Rome” Video Lesson

Elementary school dropout (Naomi's photos)
Elementary school dropout (Naomi’s photos)

Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve added Quizlet flashcards to give the students a chance to practice some of the prepositions that were highlighted in my “Romance in Rome” activity.

You are welcome to use my flaschcards. It is important to note that Quizlet is full of ready made sets on the topic of prepositions so there are lots of options. I tailored mine to be closely related to the specific video lesson. It is easy to make your own as Quizlet offers the picture bank as well.


When a Teacher Must Reinvent the Wheel – a Comment

Time to reflect (Naomi's Photos)
Time to reflect
(Naomi’s Photos)

The iTDi  blog is known for the wide range of topics and varied perspectives it offers its audience of EFL teachers around the world. Yet it can hardly be taken for granted that the latest batch of posts included one on teaching a deaf learner in Japan. The topic of teaching students with special needs (SEN) has long been neglected in many international forums and training centers so I’m moved to see issues related to mainstreaming highlighted.

In his post, EFL teacher Mathew Turner describes the challenges he was faced with when integrating a deaf student in his English discussion class, “a class that required the ability to actively listen and respond to other people’s ideas and express opinions”. Turner also writes the following:

“In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had a learner with any kind of hearing impairment, nor by extension have I really experienced teaching a student with a recognised or self-identified disability. In in-service courses, such as my MA program, my DipTESOL, and even my pre-service CertTESOL, there was never a module, workshop, or focus on teaching English as a foreign or second language to learners with disabilities”.

Who will be sitting in that chair in YOUR class? Naomi's Photos
Who will be sitting in that chair in YOUR class?
Naomi’s Photos

First of all, I would like to say how much I admire Turner for tackling the formidable problem of involving a student who doesn’t speak and can’t hear in a discussion class. With no precedent to work from he found ways to both involve the student academically and as a contributing group member of the class. Turner clearly put a lot of time and effort in it. It is also heart-warming to hear how the entire staff and administration collaborated.

As a national counselor for teaching EFL to deaf and hard of hearing learners , it seems to me that the experience could have been a bit easier.

Turner writes: “Firstly, I had to script my teacher talk. Before the lesson, I wrote down all of my planned teacher talk on separate sheets of paper that reflected the stages of the lesson.”

I’m sure that helped the student (who had two student notetakers). However, not only is that incredibly hard work and not always feasible, but good notetakers using a laptop or a tablet  should be able to keep up with a reasonably paced lesson without getting a script in advance and at a much quicker pace than writing. This allows the student to read as the text is being typed and the teacher to go with the flow of the lesson, responding accordingly  (and to have some free time now and then…).  Perhaps some things need to be done by professionals.

There are text-to-speech programs available today. Again, if a computer was being used, the student would not need an additional intermediary to speak for her – her computer would be her voice and the others could get used to that voice. It would be a more direct way to communicate (and again, faster).

I’d like to end with a special note of thanks to Turner for emphasizing this very important fact, with which I agree wholeheartedly:

Talk with the student about how best to help her/him!


Highlighting Prepositions with some Romance in Rome

Wishing everyone a wonderful year! Naomi's Photos
Wishing everyone a wonderful year!
Naomi’s Photos

My deaf and hard of hearing EFL students tend to completely ignore prepositions. I don’t take it as personal affront since they demonstrate an equal lack of interest in using them in their mother tongue as well.

You don’t need prepositions when you use sign language.  It’s all clear without them.

When they do use them there is language interference because many prepositions are used differently in different languages (this year I have students who speak or sign Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic and French at home!). For example, in English you live “on” a street but in Hebrew you live “in” a street.

I know the lovely video below could be used for many many other things (feelings, wishes for the future) but I use videos for what I need and it does a good job of highlighting  the direction of movement.

Especially as I’ve never had the opportunity to teach “bump into” before!

All this doesn’t mean that we can’t discuss the other issues as they come up. I’m just not going to include them on the video lesson.

One more thing.

My teenage students love romantic videos…

*** Many thanks to the amazing Regina Shraybman for finding this video for me!

*** For companion flashcards – see this post:  here:

A reader, Julia Mor, kindly organized the material into a worksheet format. Thank you Julia! Click on the link to download it.



(Almost) Saturday’s Book: The Hare with Amber Eyes by de Waal

A genealogy research journey that absolutely brings the past to life. And what a past it is!
The book begins in a very unexpected location for a tale following Jewish roots. In Tokyo! The author inherits 264 Japanese Netsuke (one first learns what they are) from his great-uncle in Tokyo. An inheritance from the author’s grandmother’s great-uncle (read that again to let it sink in) who was busy being a patron to such  impressionist artists as Renoir in Paris. By following the trail of the Netsuke the story takes the reader on a journey with a unusal family from Odessa to Paris, Vienna, Britain and Tokyo. These places are vividly brought to life at the different time periods as well as the characters.
The author is a ceramic artist and there is a great deal of emphasis on art, particularly in the first part . The first part reads slower but then the pace picks up (with richer details) when the tale moves to Vienna. I knew very little about Vienna, particularly before and during  WWI and now I feel I can picture so much.  Historical facts are intertwined so cleverly with the family’s personal history that everything is in an understandable context.
I’m blown away by the research he conducted – this is a family that left a huge paper trail.
Of course, it all boils down to what you do with all that information and I found the writing skillful and the language rich.

Pondering the Death of “Hangman”

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve always prided myself on almost always using games that actually require the students to practice the target language. Take board games, for example. The target language isn’t printed on the board, where the students can memorize what to do / say according to location. The target language is always on cards that we shuffle and change.

But I did play “hangman” with my deaf and hard of hearing students sometimes. My rationale was that slowly filling in each missing letter of the unknown word makes the students really pay attention to the word and what it looks like.

At the ETAI International Conference I attended last July, quite a few speakers brought up the issue of precious time being wasted on activities, including games, where what was really being practiced was not meaningful use of the language. “Hangman” was mentioned as an example.

I’ve been pondering this.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

My deaf and hard of hearing students need emphasis on the visual aspect – it would seem that this game makes students look very carefully at the letters that form the word, which helps them commit the word to memory.

But does it actually do that?

I’ll have to admit it doesn’t.

When I look back on the times we’ve played it in class, I think the thing we reviewed most is the alphabet. Some students may have picked up  some information about the frequency of letters in a word. But once my high school students discovered what the hidden word was, often after randomly and wildly guessing letters, most of them were not interested in the word itself and the meaning of the word went in one eye and out the other (eyes are better than ears in my classes, remember?). Usage and context wasn’t even a question. The students mainly wanted to know if we have time to guess another word before the bell!

Even if the students chose the words themselves, out of a printed dictionary, they weren’t paying attention to anything other than the length of the word…


I’m relegating this game to the “almost” category I mentioned in the first line of this post. We’re talking about real life after all. Sometimes class dynamics (or teacher exhaustion) requires something light and simple to end a long day for everyone. It least the game is in English…


But I’m NOT Being NITPICKY, Students!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Alternative title – How to lose a teachable moment…

Yesterday we finally got started on creating a “Name Box” in class. Our version of Penny Ur’s recommendation to personalize grammar exercises (see post about that here) got off to a slow start because of two completely different reasons:

  • A friendly argument with another teacher about my claim that even though we are NOT following Penny Ur’s advice and using our students’ names, the fact that the students themselves are choosing the names of the famous people  included in the box will still have a personalizing effect. Students in special education classes are particularly sensitive and I firmly believe extra precautions are required (I use students’ names when I control the sentences, not a book).
  • It turns out that covering a lovely tin (that originally contained BarkTHINS)  with sticky red wallpaper is a terrible idea. All the lettering on the box comes through! And then the  sellotape (scotch tape) I used to tape pictures on the box over the lettering doesn’t stick well to the wallpaper! I’m still grappling with that problem…

Nevertheless, we began. Eleven students have already chosen their famous person. Along with the person’s name each student had to add the occupation and country (of origin).

I was really pleased that the students were interested in the names of professions and countries in English. The difference between “America” and “American” came up and we looked at how Brazil is really spelled.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

But then I ran into trouble. Three students chose names of actors. Great! Except for the fact that they referred to the profession as “players”.

I called everyone’s attention to the fact and tried to explain the difference between a football player and an actor.

The boys in the class thought I was talking nonsense. Why was I inventing a distinction? Why was I being nitpicky?

Not only is the word for both cases exactly the same in Hebrew, those boys play computer /video games and they know about “player one” and “player two”. Actors are just the same. Obviously their teacher doesn’t play enough video games…

At least the girls were more open to the idea of there being a distinction between a player and an actor…

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? The Father’s Letter

Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home ...
Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home …

Note: This is a postscript to my Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post

Translations ascribe meaning.

The trouble is when different people translate the same letter and ascribe different meanings, or at least a different tone to the text.

Among the letter found from Poland (Belarus today) was a letter from Dora’s father, Nachum (Nochim) Meir. The letter is dated April 5th, 1936. It was written to the daughter Libby (in New York) in Yiddish, in very small and difficult to read handwriting, without punctuation marks. It caused difficulties for all who tried to read it. Which only adds to the confusion.

Here are a few examples.

This is Libby, the half sister Dora was writing to in the U.S.A. She could not have had real memories of Libby. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer's studio. Dora was only born in 1920...
This is Libby, the eldest daughter the letter was addressed to. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer’s studio. 
  • One version of the translation claims the letter begins: “I am writing you dear daughter but you will not have pleasure from my letter, because I am writing you now to unburden myself, as they say, as I do not have one good friend. This is why I’m writing to you, you will understand me. I am carrying around a bitter heart from everything”. The other versions claim that the father is writing NOT to unburden himself from all the distress and pain in his heart but just so his daughter will understand him.
  • The next issue is more conflicted. All five of Nachum Meir’s children from his late first wife fled their childhood home with the terrorizing step-mother, and immigrated. Tales passed down the generations tell of a father who never stood up for his children or noticed that they were being underfed, denied proper clothing  for the severe winters and generally mistreated. The question is, did he regret all of that? One version claims he wrote that he feels so bad because he knows he was the worst father in the world. It sounds like a true apology. However, in another translation he sounds like the stereotypical Jewish mother blaming the offspring: “It seems that I am indeed the worst father in the world, as the children do not want to know what I am doing and how I live. Especially since one son and one daughter have children of their own, therefore it should not be like this”.
  • All translators agree in regards to the only mention of Hitler in all of these letters – he wishes his poor health and troubles on Hitlers’ followers.
Dora 1935
Dora 1935
  • Another source of conflicting information is in regards to Dora, whose letters we read. All versions agree that the father is asking for money for his sick wife and for Dora’s schooling. On the one hand, from one version of the translation and from Dora’s letters it seems that she is studying in a high-school (Gymnasium): “ …( cut part) Dora another two years in the gymnasium. Her studies will be finished and then she will earn money. She already earns money now, she has some lessons. For the first lesson she took only two dollars (why would he write about dollars??!), then she immediately got another one…I hope she will be able to earn but she must finish the gymnasium in two years.” We do know from Dora’s letters  that she graduated in 1938 but she mentions working for money only starting that year.  She doesn’t say doing what. A different version of the translation claims that money is needed to pay the tutor who teaches Dora so that she can graduate. No Dora tutoring anyone. Perhaps “pay the tutor” is the same as paying the school?

Was he a contrite father writing for help or did he feel unjustly treated by his fleeing offspring? I want to believe the former because of this sentence (only one translator figured it out): “In life you always make mistakes and the world is such that you always hurry and you run and you stop for nothing and die like a fool”.

I guess I’ll never know.

Very sad, no matter how you look at it.


Saturday’s Book: “Blue” by Lou Aronica

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

How do I tell you about this book without spoiling it for you? I want you to enjoy it too!

I started it in the best possible way – I read the first few pages, got totally hooked and didn’t want to stop. I knew nothing about the book and that worked out really well. Reviews I have seen since completing the book include spoilers! Don’t read the plot online!

I can say that its a young adult book (you can tell) . I generally like young adult books but am usually good at predicting events in them. In this book I was often surprised.

The author thanks Ray Bradbury in the forward. I actually think the book has elements that remind me of “The Never Ending Story” & “The Fault in our Stars”. And yes, there is a part where you will probably be glad if a tissue box is nearby.

The color blue is important here.

There are some bits in the beginning which are slightly confusing but otherwise its a very engaging read, a really moving story with parts that I simply could not stop reading. I finished it quite quickly! I just had to know how it would turn out.

I really would like to believe in the ending…

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 18. Write in Class

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

This is the final part (part eighteen) of my blogging challenge. I’ve enjoyed this challenge a great deal. It has left me eager to start the new school year!

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 95: “Do writing in class”

I certainly use this tip.

Although it does make some sense for students to write their essays at home (writing can be quite time-consuming since students need time to think about what they are writing) it also makes sense to have the students write some of the essays (or work on parts of an essay) in class.

I do correct essays written at home, have students rewrite them and hand them in again. That is good. Nonetheless, the learning experience is different.

Immediate feedback



Opportunity to model work habits

I’ve had students who told me they remembered certain advanced vocabulary items because these particular words were ones I had suggested when they “got stuck” while writing in class. Sometimes students even remember that I wrote the word on the board in the righthand corner, or on a yellow piece of scrap paper that was available.

Emotions and multi-sensory experiences seem to have a role here.

I believe that like most things in life, it’s about striking a balance. I won’t stop assigning writing tasks to be done at home but I make sure to have students sit and write in class.

Do you?


18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 17. Sight Words

A better view Naomi's Photos
A better view
Naomi’s Photos

This is part seventeen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 89: “Teach a lot of vocabulary”

* Note: I was sorely tempted to reflect on all the tips in the vocabulary section, but a rule is a rule…

I love it when practices  we recommend for teaching Deaf and hard of hearing students are recommended for everyone.

Sight words are words you understand right away without the need to decode.  Check out this quote from the book (page 106): ” It appears that a large sight vocabulary …is the main condition for successful reading comprehension”. When you have words at your disposal that lead to meaning effortlessly, you can focus on the content of the text must more efficiently.

The thing is, the sight vocabulary needs to be large. Even students with normal hearing cannot pick up enough vocabulary based on incidental learning and by seeing words in context in books. Vocabulary has to be taught and practiced. A lot!

Vocabulary flashcards rock!

They will “rock” even more if you include collocations!

Especially god for pair work – an opportunity for students to be teachers too. Meanwhile you, the official teacher,  can work with someone who needs extra help.

The only caveat is the issue of general knowledge. The students have to have a reasonable grasp of the concepts the words denote. Otherwise the ability to quickly translate the words into their mother tongue does not contribute to reading comprehension.

Which may sound extremely obvious to you.

Unless you are working with Deaf and hard of hearing students…

(For more information on that issue, see the post on the Q/A blog: Translating words into L1 isn’t always helpful. Why?




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