Sep 20 2014

Saturday’s Book: “Alone in Berlin” by Hans Fallada

Filed under Books I enjoy!


Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos


I was a bit afraid of reading this novel, it sounded quite intimidating.

Once I began I had trouble putting it down. I became completely engrossed despite the serious topic and the fact that it was clear that there would not be a happy ending.

The point of view is so different from other books about the second world war. This book was written shortly after the war by a German author who had suffered the Nazi regime first hand.

Before I read the book I thought that “Alone in Berlin” referred to the isolation of those who dared to defy the regime, who refrained from becoming party members. However, by the time I finished the book my understanding of the title had changed. I now feel that the book emphasizes how the Nazi regime isolated everyone, encasing them in their bubble of fear. No one could trust anyone, it was best not to be in contact with others (nor to confide in them). It was an atmosphere straight out of 1984 – you never knew who would denounce you. Every word could be used against you. Even the party members and high-ranking officials were not exempt from these fears. At any minute they could fall from favor and get the same terrible treatment they had been administering.

I was a bit disappointed to discover just now that the original title in German was “Every Man Dies Alone”, which may not support my theory at all. Alone in Berlin made more sense to me.

What a book!

It reminds me a bit of “The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years” by Aitamtov, which I read three years ago. Also powerful, also very authentic, but “Alone in Berlin” is a much easier read, style wise.

I recommend them both!


2 responses so far

Sep 17 2014

“Because I’m Happy” – New Year’s Activity


Happy New Year! Naomi's Photos

Happy New Year!
Naomi’s Photos

I had to consider so many different constraints when creating this video-homework-task that it became quite difficult. Time will tell how effective it was.

1) The first constraint was actually time – I HAD to have it ready by Monday (two days ago). I’m trying to get my new students used to doing homework online, once a week. I post new tasks on Monday nights. Believe me, with this group it is an uphill battle.

2) We’re celebrating the New Year next week and I really wanted to have the activity relate to happiness in some way.

3) I really needed to practice the word “would” right away, even though many students haven’t learned the second conditional yet. It’s a very common word yet the electronic dictionary doesn’t help them understand it. My goal was to stress the hypothetical aspect of the word, and only that. Trying to imagine yourself participating in one of these two videos and thinking about what it would be like to have certain things happen to you, seemed to me to be the way to go.

4)  Students indiscriminate use of Google Translate (or alternative online translators) make it very problematic to assign certain types of tasks. If I just ask the students to create sentences to describe things that would make them happy, copy sentences into suitable columns in a table, or sequence events depicted in a video, they’ll do it all in L1. I call this situation:

“No English was harmed in the course of completing this activity”.


So I added gap-filling to the sentences before copying them into the table, simply to make it harder to use the online translator blindly. Not entirely satisfied with the results, but I had to stick to the “happy” theme.

5) I had to use TWO videos. I knew my deaf students would like the video made by deaf students at a Film Summer Camp. However, I have a group of new (very new) hard of hearing students who not only don’t use sign language, they don’t want to have anything to do with it.  I believe they will relax over time, I’ve seen it happen many times before. The kids study together! So I used a version without sign language and made sure the questions didn’t mention it.

6) I had to make sure the activity fit into one page. It is quite astonishing how many students do not “see” the part on the second page!

So, here are the two videos. Below them are two worksheets. The “blue” one is a bit harder than the “red” one.


 Because I’m happy blue2

Because I’m happy red



6 responses so far

Sep 13 2014

Saturday’s Book vs. Movie – “The Giver” by Lowry

Filed under Books I enjoy!

Look who peeked out at me!

Look who peeked out at me!

Before watching the last movie adaptation of a book (The Book Thief), I debated a great deal and asked everyone I knew for their opinion of the film. I was afraid of spoiling the way I felt about the book. I was actually very impressed by the film.

With “The Giver” it was different. This book was something our boys and I had shared and enjoyed. The moment we heard that the movie was being released we  decided to watch it together. So I was committed! I did so eagerly despite the last time we went to a movie based on a book I had shared with them when they were younger – “Cheaper By The Dozen” is a great book and a terrible movie! But when you have sons in their 20′s and they want to go to a movie with you, you move quickly!

I’m incorrigible. I compared the book and movie mercilessly. I found the movie to be pretty good. The visuals are beautiful and the acting is good. I don’t expect a movie to be a replica of the book, that doesn’t work. So I was o.k with some of the changes they made. And I think they managed to show the community quite well in a short time.

But I missed more of what Jonas went through to be able to understand what the Giver was showing him. It’s against his entire life indoctrination. And most of all I was troubled by the change regarding the friends sticking together. I know they needed to make more of the love story for the movie to attract an audience and needed the action sequences with the friend, but in the book Jonas is very much alone, cut off from his peers. Which is one of the reasons its such a potent book for teens who feel different.

Still, I’m glad I saw it. And it was a great family outing!

2 responses so far

Sep 11 2014

Fortunately / Unfortunately – An EDTECH Tale


Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

Note: Inspired by one of my favorite children’s book, “Fortunately” by Remy Charlip.

Naomi, the teacher, must teach the story “True Love” by Asimov.

*FORTUNATELY, Naomi had the idea to prepare a short slideshow comparing the story to the movie HER, as a lead-in activity. Visual activities are good for deaf & hard of hearing students.

UNFORTUNATELY, Naomi teaches in the format of a learning center and students need to watch it at different times.

FORTUNATELY, Naomi easily uploaded the slideshow to Edmodo using slideshare. She has a computer with Internet access in her English Center-Classroom . Students can watch when needed.

*UNFORTUNATELY, the air-conditioner in the English-Center-Classroom has been out-of-order since Sept. 1 and Naomi must teach every hour in a different room,  without access to a computer.

The English Center on wheels, every period

The English Center on wheels, every period

FORTUNATELY, Edmodo has an app.

UNFORTUNATELY,  Naomi used slideshare which means that another app must be installed to watch the slideshare. Not good.

FORTUNATELY,  Naomi reposted the activity, uploading the original PowerPoint instead of slideshare.

UNFORTUNATELY, some  of the students who  DID use the computer (in the library or at home) to watch the slideshow didn’t watch it in “slideshow” mode. Which meant that  the link to the section of the trailer (for the movie “Her”), which was cropped using Edpuzzle, wasn’t clickable. Some pasted the link into the browser but others did not watch the clip. On slideshare all the links are clickable.

FORTUNATELY, those who watched the slideshow found it pretty interesting (“how could a person possibly love a computer?” they wondered) whether or not they saw the clip.

UNFORTUNATELY, Some students didn’t watch it all before beginning  the story because their confused teacher, who was exhausted from lugging all the class material over half the building, every period,  didn’t check Edmodo’s progress charts.

FORTUNATELY, everyone seems to be doing very well with the story (seems a good choice for these teens!) regardless of how much of the lead-in activity they saw, if at all.

So why did Naomi bother preparing a lead-in activity?












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Sep 06 2014

Saturday’s Book: “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Trigiani

Filed under Books I enjoy!

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

The bottom line is that I read the book to the very end.

All  475 pages of it.

So I guess that’s what counts. But…

I received this as a gift. I DID know when I began it that the basic story line is (and believe me, not giving anything away here, it’s not a spoiler) : boy – girl meet, lose each other, meet again, separate and finally marry. The book is called the Shoemaker’s WIFE, so there can be no mistake.

I began the book and it is such an easy read that I treated it like comfort food. After such a stressful summer (in so many ways) I was ready for a predictable, comforting book. I cried in the right places too. In the first part it also seems as if it is an historical novel sharing the experience of immigrants from Italy to the USA in the period preceding WWI.

But the historical aspects are very superficial and fade away as the book progresses. World War 1 is supposed to have had a huge impact on the male character’s life yet his experiences there are summed up quickly, in a few pages. At some point the platitudes about women and men become annoying. People aren’t rounded enough, the good are so very good ALL the time. clichés abound. I read the last 150 pages “arguing” with the book and myself for continuing, not feeling comforted at all.

Yet I couldn’t stop. I needed closure.

A much better, rounded out and realistic picture of the immigrant scene in New York, complete with a love story, is the book “The museum of extraordinary things” by Hoffman which I read  a while ago. I compared the books several times as I read.

Oh well. Reading this made me eager to start “Alone in Berlin” which I was a bit apprehensive about. The first few pages caught me right away!

2 responses so far

Aug 30 2014

Locating Lessons using Videos on this Blog

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

Just a short post to say that I have finally made it easier to locate posts that describe lessons using videos. All these posts include downloadable worksheets, often several worksheets (different levels).

All you need to do is:

1. Look for the title “Categories” on the first sidebar on the right side of the blog’s homepage.

2. Click on “Video Lessons”.  All the posts describing the use of the videos and downloadable worksheets can be found there, one after the other.

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Aug 30 2014

Saturday’s Books: “Tenth of December” by Saunders & “Cain” by Saramago

Filed under Books I enjoy!



This certainly has been a summer of eclectic reading, each book very different from the next one, which is just the way I like it. Though I must say I read less than I usually do over the summer. This post includes two books because my blog was “on vacation”.

I was so pleased to find an interview with the author at the end of the collection of short stories that make up the “Tenth of December”. Suanders is interviewed by David Sedaris. Each story was very easy to get into, utterly absorbing, yet disturbing. Each one I finished left me wishing that I was back in college and could discuss the stories in class. I couldn’t even put my finger on exactly why the stories disturbed me, which made me wonder if it was just me. The writing is such a pleasure, the stories are varied (some take place in the future!), then why am I left with a  feeling of disquiet?

The interview helped to clarify. The author intends to rock your world, to make you think of social issues, morality and more. He wants you to think of people and issues you might not usually think about .

I give a lot of my books away, but I’m keeping this one. Short stories, for me, are something that can be reread, especially when there is a lot to think about in each one.

“Cain” is a short book, and a quick read. Saramago uses the Biblical character Cain as his spokesman. Cain, whose punishment was to wander, becomes a time traveller under Saramago’s hand, participating in many Biblical events. Cain doesn’t like what he sees and makes his opinion of GOD quite clear. He has many dialogues with GOD until Cain finally interferes with GOD’s plans. The dialogues are witty and sharp and the ending is unexpected.

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Aug 26 2014

“True Love” vs. “Her”

Where is the flower going?

Where is the flower going?

This is a lead-in activity before we begin studying the story “True Love” by Asimov, as part of our literature program.

I don’t usually post activities until I have tried them out with the students. However, since the question of what the first weeks of the new school year will be like is so unclear, I don’t feel like waiting. At the moment we have been told that only some of the students will come each day (rotation) so that we can teach in classrooms next to the shelters and get to them in time.

Hopefully there will be a follow-up post.

I designed this activity for very weak students who must study this Asimov story. Not only is their English poor, their general knowledge is very poor too. They must watch the slideshow in class, then copy out the sentences that describe what both tales have in common.

I hope that making the connection to the movie “Her” (Spike Jonze) in their minds will help them understand that the narrator of this story is a talking-thinking computer. It’s not a hard concept to imagine nowadays. I deliberately did not include the fact that the story is an old one (1977) as I think it will really help the students if they imagine the computer Joe as a laptop or tablet, things they relate to. It’s not  important that Asimov probably imagined it as a huge mainframe thing filling a whole room.

I used EDpuzzle to crop a section of the official trailer of the movie. I chose this section because it works without sound. There is no need to understand the speech (which isn’t very clear for a weak student that CAN hear well) to see how happy the man is and that he is communicating with the cell phone. I also wanted the students to have the information regarding the movie, so that it will be clear that the clip is not from the story! 

Another reason I chose to compare the story to the film as it is a good opportunity to review one of the higher order thinking skills we must teach for the literature program; comparing and contrasting. It’s also a chance to review the very useful phrase “in common”. The students encounter it on their unseen exams.

Here is the slideshow. I hope it will work well!

“True Love” vs. Her from naomima


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Aug 22 2014

Saturday’s Book: “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Riggs

Filed under Books I enjoy!

Reflections of 2 Dream Catchers

Reflections of 2 Dream Catchers

* I missed my blog…

This was a recommendation from Adele Raemer, and I’m grateful indeed. I enjoyed it! I received it as an audio-book gift and listening to it was a bit like a play. The excellent reader did accents, Welsh, Cockney and others! On the other hand, I understand the photos in the book are unique. I did download the PDF file that came with the book but have not had time to look at them properly.

It is a young-adults books. There are parts where this is very obvious. It IS a  coming-of-age story. But the book is well written, and surprised me a few times when I felt sure I knew what would happen. More important, there are layers of meaning and lots of things to think about here.

And a rocking good adventure story with suspense.

So when are they making a movie out of it?


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Aug 03 2014

Saturday’s Books: “Azazeel” by Ziedan & “Horsey” by Aini

Filed under Books I enjoy!

When the crow calls... (Naomi's photos)

When the crow calls…
(Naomi’s photos)

Azazeel by Youssef Zeidan is an unusual book. It’s rather hard to describe. I”ll start with a quote from the back cover:

“Set in 5th century AD, Azazeel is the exquisitely crafted tale of a Coptic monk’s journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of massive upheaval in the early Church.”

While at times the book seems to go into a lot of detail regarding Christian theology, it is actually a historical novel about someone grappling with very universal questions, ranging from why is it so difficult for people of one religion to tolerate people who believe in another one, to why shouldn’t women be educated and influential. Also there’s quite a bit about why should monks have to stay away from women, but that’s not a universal issue. Hint, there are most certainly encounters with women in this book!

The book begins slowly but the pace picks up.

Reading about how the author’s book was received in Egypt, by Moslems and Copts (written by the translator into English) is fascinating.

The pic has nothing to do with the book, just took it today and like it! LOL!

The pic has nothing to do with the book, just took it today and like it! LOL!

Horsey by Leah Eini is completely different. It is a lighthearted engaging fable. She takes the basic storyline of “girl waiting for the man of her dreams to come riding by on his horse and rescue her” and gives it a feminist, funny and very horselike twist (if I say more about the twist I’ll ruin the book).  She plays with every possible phrase related to horses (O.K, I’m probably exaggerating. Many phrases). The book, written in Hebrew, takes place partly on a farm in Israel and partly in El Paso, Texas and the characters are larger than life. It was a good read for when I couldn’t sleep….

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