Saturday’s Book: We Need to Talk about Kevin – Part Two

I’m very conflicted about this book.

Lionel Shriver’s writing is brilliant. She (Yes, Lionel is a woman’s name! I was surprised!) draws the reader in and captivates with truly impressive prose.

Obviously she’s trying to shock and provoke the reader. Somewhat like a well written version of a Michael Moore film. There are certainly points to think about regarding society, media, parenting and more.

On the other hand, I felt that the author undermines her own message by depicting SUCH a dysfunctional family. It’s hard to buy the message that it isn’t just the parent’s fault with these parents, particulary the father and the relationship between the parents. I kept screaming at them ( in my head) throughout the whole book, from the beginning almost: “why aren’t you all in therapy?!!

Also, the ending -sigh. I watch a lot of foreign films (foreign, as in not Hollywood) and well, without spoiling it for anybody, that was an American ending. A movie which I actually hated (gave me nightmares!), but deals with comparable topics and has an ending which is more believable is Funny Games by Michael Haneke (the original version, don’t know anything about the American Remake).  Though I’m not actually recommending you watch the movie… there are others that are more palatable. Just here the topic is similar.

I’m also somewhat concerned – many of the people who recommended this book to me aren’t parents yet. I do hope this book hasn’t scared them!

My next book will be something more cheerful!

Will a “No-Tech” Lecture Lead to THIS?

Photo by Gil Epshtein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

At the upcoming ETAI (English Teachers’ Association of Israel) conference I will be giving a no-tech talk for the first time and I’m somewhat nervous about it.

I’ve always* given talks using an overhead projector, both at conferences and at various other venues (such as teacher in-service days or evenings for parents). I do not read from notes at a talk. My transparencies always contain an abundance of pictures (“visualising ideas” person, after all!) and a sentence or two. That has kept me from getting confused and missing something when I’m nervous.

* About the always – there was one notable exception. It happened about 12 years ago. I had my transparencies ready, of course, but there was a power failure five minutes after the lecture began. I gave the rest of the talk to the 35 people who came by the light of a few emergency-lighting lamps. It was the first time I had (uncharacteristically) gotten my hair done before a lecture. Have never done THAT again!

At this conference BARCO projectors will be available in every room but the presenters must bring their own laptop.  Overhead projectors are “passé” and are no longer available. I don’t own a laptop and don’t intent to buy one in the near future. Ninety percent of the time I really don’t need one.

I’m working on  a talk with a situation similar to that of many teachers in the classroom – just me , the learners and the whiteboard. Trying to put some “dogme” in it too (we’ll see!).

Rationally, it sounds like a good plan.

Still, I’m nervous I’ll get confused without my picture prompts.

The lecture is at three fifteen in the afternoon. Will it be interesting enough without slides to keep the audience from yawning?

An #ELTchat Summary – How To keep learners’ English going during the break?

DSCF0129                                                                                                               Photo by Roni Epstein

At a time when the school gates are being locked for the summer and the students are shoving their schoolbags into the darkest corner of their cupboards, the #ELTCHAT community gathered to discuss:

” How To keep learners’ (especially young learners and teenagers) English going during the break?

The discussion was very animated, inspiring and packed with ideas. A few of us thought it a shame that we hadn’t had this discussion a few weeks ago as the school year has already ended in some places!

This is my first #ELTchat summary so I hope I’ve managed to convey the great chat we had in a clear manner. You can read the transcripts here


Part One – A Preliminary Question: WHY?

The following question kicked of the discussion (and got quite a few Retweets!)

@Fuertesun: Can I start by asking Why can’t we lay off ‘em and give ‘em a break?

@pjgallantry seconded that and added: Yeah, why not give them a break? We won’t have anything to teach them in September otherwise. 🙂 @Fuertesun points out that: They’re at school all year in private classes etc. @eyespeakbrasil and @Shaunwilden agreed, reminding us that that’s why it was called a holiday! @Fuertesun elaborated:  Why can’t they be kids? I suppose my problem is that there is no research that you put homework in and get something out. Okay yes lifelong learning but they’re “minis”. I think the whole concept of summer is, that it’s a BREAK!

@ sandymillin highlighted an additional difficulty by asking: how likely are you to end up with the same students after the summer holiday?  In my case, chances almost nil (if at same school!)

For a moment there it seemed as if this question would put an end to the chat after it had hardly begun (there were murmurs about going to bed early!) but @Shaunwilden declared Haha, good point – ok break not an option :-).

And then we got down to answering @Feurtesun’s questions relating to “WHY?”:

@Sandymillin was the first to reply: Some students ask for things to do over break! It doesn’t have to be like homework! Giving them a break is good, but nice for them to have some fun things to do to keep it up. It’s important to keep them interested in the language…there’s so much fun stuff for English out there!@NoraTouparlaki points out that: 3 months in Greece is too much, students need something to do!  @eyespeakbrasil: and @Marisa_C  both agree with Nora and Marissa adds: it is a bit too long – a lot can be forgotten, especially by young learners. @KarenInGreece points out that: my students have a 4-month summer break from lessons. It’s too long not  to do anything, don’t you think? A lot is forgotten over that long break, especially if they don’t stay in touch with the language (i.e. books/movies).

@bcnpaul1 adds that in his opinion: giving them a break is good but they need something to keep them engaged. He agrees with Sandy that some students DO ask for things to do over the break. @Shaunwilden agrees that: for those that who want to study we should be able to direct them.

@ShellTerrell sums this part up by saying: I think we can suggest activities for students to keep up their English skills but we should really suggest since it is their break. As there seemed to be general agreement that summer activities shouldn’t be mandatory, the discussion moved on to…

Part Two – If it’s optional – how does that work?

* @Fuertesun agrees with @Shaunwilden that direction is fine: What I mean is that in my case I’ve never had a kid asking for stuff only parents. kids are always so busy here in Spain…

* @NoraTouparlaki comments that : kids will never ask for extras:) to which @Fuertesun replies: I don’t blame them! Nora’s rejoinder: me neither, but we have to persuade them that learning never stops. @naomishema It HAS happened to me that kids ask for something. not often but does happen! Some of the lonely kids would enjoy suggestions. there are kids that just move from tv / computer @NoraTouparlaki says that those children who DO ASK are the easy part of our task (did I detect a sigh in that tweet?).

* @ShellTerrell: I think we can suggest activities for students to keep up their English skills but we should really suggest since it is their break.

* @Fuertesun we always give out the same tired handout with the usual websites to look at, but they never do – needs to be more ‘why’ involved. “Why” is the question – trying to generate intrinsic motivation is the answer, in my opinion. If the summer ideas aren’t mandatory then those who are drawn to it can benefit . I wouldn’t make it mandatory.

* @bcnpaul1 stresses that we’re not asking for hours a day – just something small

* @pjgallantry of course, it depends on context – if the learners are in a NNES (Non-Native English Speaking) environment, they’ll need more than if they’re based in the UK, for example.

* @Shaunwilden raises an important problem:
  But then how do you deal with, after summer, when some want to show what they’ve done and other have nothing? @Fuertesun replies:they look like goody two shoes and everyone hates them!

I (yes, I’m @naomishema)  feel very strongly about this point, perhaps as I’m a special-ed. teacher:

In any case all ideas are problematic insofar as show and tell – one kid had a blast to tell about while the other kid did “Nada”! If not mandatory, kids don’t necessarily have to present to the whole class, Teacher can think of ways to showcase. Teacher’s praise would mean a lot to some kids! (to which @Fuertesun  warns that teacher’s praise is a whole different topic!) @naomishema suggest letting students present materials relating to things they would have liked to do, can be imaginary.

@Shaunwilden summed up the agreement that online sharing overcomes a lot of those show and tell issues

shadow children

Part Three –suggested activities


* @harrisonmike :How about setting up a reading list for your students of books they might be interested in like this ? OK, you don’t give them methodology books LOL. But direct them to teen fiction, graded readers, maybe set up reading in cafes… (see post links below) @Marisa_C adds: Anyone thinking of a summer library?  Books, books, books

* @bcnpaul1: find things they’re interested in and tell ’em to keep up with those things by looking at websites in English  = real world need. It doesn’t have to be ‘study’ maybe more of a ‘this is why you learnt stuff’ type focus. For example, most kids love music. Why not get ’em to come back with their favorite English songs of the summer with at least one student generated worksheet. @Vickyloras also supports using music. @chrisemdin A great summer activity that isn’t laborious & builds skills is to have youth listen to and break down lyrics to songs

* @vickyloras: Take them on a tour at a bookshop or local library before the holidays,to browse with them and help them find what they like.

* @ShellTerrell For students who want ideas we can list them in a Wiki, blog, or even with a hashtag on Twitter  Anyone do this?

      @ThirdGradeTerri Love the hashtag idea. My students watch my tweetdeck  after recess and love #elemchat #edchat and they are 3rd graders

     (@naomishema: think though – what language should the summer ideas be listed on a site? maybe L1 and English? Otherwise ideas lost in translation)

* @Marisa_C: Children need to play – why not collect a number of games for them in a wiki

* @ShellTerrell: Social media is a great way to get them conversing like a Facebook page or weekly chat. If there is already a class blog, Wiki, Twitter, Edmodo or FB group, many students will just continue communicating there @mthornton added todaysmeet is great for this!   This suggestion lead to some discussion:

                       @pjgallantry:Chances are that the students already use social networking sites eg facebook, but in L1 – What’s the advantage to using English for them? @naomishema :since Facebook is in L1 AND GOOGLE TRANSLATOR is available (problematic translations don’t bug my kids) they surf without ENGLISH

                       Also, I raised a concern :Have you ever had issues with parents concerning joining an online community? who is supervising they may ask? To which @ShellTerrell replied that she discusses this with parents. She also explained: When I’ve asked parents for suggestions for the wiki of English games to play I’ve gotten great involvement”

                      General consensus among chat members that parental involvement and support important here! NOONE likes pushy parents!

* @eyespeakbrasil Augemented reality sites are cool – for self discovery. In addition, they could use voice recognition software to practice their listening, speaking, pronunciation, stress and fluency skills

* @NoraTouparlaki I’d sugggest using movies,cartoons  @Marisa_C: Get them to make a movie of their summer with drawings which they caption

* @Shaunwilden: they could use portable devices to record what they do on their summer holiday.Set  21st century equivalent of ‘what I did for my summer” that would appeal i.e. use phone, take pictures ,videos, have a blog as a journal

* @Fuertesun They can do the drawings or take pictures during their holidays – keep a scrapbook @pjgallantry an idea might be a ‘found language’ scrapbook – bits and pieces they’ve heard, seen, read, collected together. Which they could also make on glogster if they dont have a scrapbook 🙂

* @naomishema Students could make a slide show with summer holiday snapshots and write titles (or narrate, for the hearing kids!) lots of sites! @harrisonmike adds: Get them on #Flickr to share snaps from their holidays

* @NoraTouparlaki I’d say just get in touch with tourists:) trying to chat and make friendships! @Marisa_C adds teachers could organize a website to find a summer pal @nutrich: Make friends with foreign kids at the beach – that’s what some of my YLs did in Spain. It’s not class, it’s real life communication. that always helps!They try to speak in English and keep up their skills,as it’s the only common language! @nutrich My students are always proud to tell me about times they’ve spoken English to a tourist/someone else!

* @pjgallantry an online noticeboard such as this- might be a way to keep them engaged -posting as much/as little as they like

* @naomishema: wonder how many would continue reading a book or story  if we  read till the cliff hanger at the end of the year?

* @sedayyildirim during our revisions last two weeks, I want them to / be alert for the target language(music, internet, news) / practice & google

* @Marisa_C: Get them to make a movie of their summer with drawings which they caption

* @ShellTerrell: With parents I suggest a family game day where they can play English board games like Twister, Charades with kids @Shaunwilden adds: Other games include Clue, Apples to Apples, Taboo, etc  @ShellTerrellI also suggest English events. In Germany we have English Stammtisch, English clubs, English movie theatre, etc

* @naomishema: for young learners, make placemats with english vocab & drawings on it at end of year. Kids eat & learn all summer on them! When the things interest the children it is amazing what they absorb while eating!

* @vickyloras Especially for adult Ss, podcasts from newspaper,magazine and radio station websites – easy stuff to access and learn from.

* @sandymillin: You could get them to share fun youtube vids w/ e.o. Mine loved &

* @nutrich: Suggests that kids teach their siblings/ parents/ grandparents "let’s make grandad say English things!" etc

*@ BethCagnol I tell my kids (university age) to go to the States with their parents. Make it a family adventure. @ShellTerrell Some will travel to another country, we can have them do wallwisher/Linoit of useful travel phrases

* @ nutrich Boring car journey – label things in English, play games with siblings/ parents – cloud, tree, road, car, bus, lorry…..roadkill!

* @MikeCollins007: Why not do a treasure hunt of sorts using QR codes?

* @ hartle Sometimes do diving games in swim. pool for questions on waterproof cards, thn come out and ask them


Part Four – Useful Websites for Independent Learning

* @sandymillin: 3 great websites:, &  

Also, – good for games

* @naomishema: headmagnet –

* @flocabulary Our literacy scavenger hunt has a list of fun ways students can keep up their skills around town this summer:  Scavenger hunt ideas include "educational eavesdropping" and analyzing street art, amongst many others.

* @AzraelleM –

* @Marisa_C voicethreads for sharing storybirds, snapshots and more.

* @ShellTerrell online ELT communities like Gapfillers & My EC

* @ShellTerrell  Ecobugs is a free app that is also great with lessons from teachers on the site

* @ harrisonmike for sharing reading and getting recommendations. For sharing reading lists also I use #weread on #Facebook to share a bookshelf on my blog:

* @eyespeakbrasil  Mingoville

* @hartle: This is link to my class if anyone has students who are interested??

* @bethcagnol I list some parent/child games here

* @tarabenwell: MyEC to create blogs, videos, take part in audio, writing challenges etc. Also Hulabaloo with your YL

* @hartle: Summer Glogs a good way of doing show and tell

* @hartle my 6 lesson free online conversation course, young adults, uni welcome


Part Five – Organized Summer programs

This issue was brought up by @bcnpaul1: how many of your YLs get sent on summer camps in the UK – good or bad?

@Fuertesun:summer camps great. for experience not necessarily their English. Also points out that they are not all very expensive. @sandymillin I think there are good & bad points for it. not sure much eng. gets learnt but it is good exp. At same time they find the motivation. Do they carry that home with them?

@ShellTerrell :I think a lot go to English camps because I’ve taught in some every break with tons of kids. I like the idea of giving like a summer Advent Calendar of activities! Maybe thru Google Calendar or other social media way?

@bcnpaul1 YES it’s all about independence, making friends & positive associations with the language & finding love!!

@sandymillin We have one week summer schools at our school that some of our kids do – all project-based & fun. (12-week holiday)

@ vickyloras Sometimes I take them out during summer,we go to shops and chat only in Eng – then they like it and they do it w/friends too!


Part Six – Recommended posts on the topic

* @ShellTerrell wrote  a post using games to get students learning English in the summer

* @harrisonmike recommends @JezUden’s post on setting up reading in cafes:

* @Sandymillin:This was the lino I was making for an adult student who wanted to practice listening at home. Good for teens too:

* ShellTerrell: I found this QR guide by @coolcatteacher really useful

Saturday’s Book: “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver

The recommendations to read this book were very strong and kind of “creepy”:

* A “must” read – it will rock your world.

* Steel yourself but hang in there until the powerful conclusion.

* Don’t plan to be doing much else while you read it as you won’t be able to stop

To top it off the librarian said (when I checked out the book)

“I couldn’t read anything else for a week after that,  I was so shaken”.

A bit scary!

I’ve just read chapter one so far and am hooked (though still not enough to have trouble stopping, yet). Will save commnets for next Saturday’s post – too early to talk about it!

Part Two of Comment on Scott Thornbury’s “Open Spaces” – Getting Sidetracked!

Have you ever seen a bicycle for five?!! My husband just did! I immediately wanted to use the photo for this post for the following two reasons:DSCF0331 Part one of this post was about my experiences as a pupil (Comment on Scott Thornbury’s “Open Spaces” – My Experiences Both as a Pupil and as a Teacher).

I fully intended to write the continuation of the post in the same manner. But I’ve been sidetracked by thought-provoking questions raised by fellow bloggers. What have been the influences on the way I teach (Tyson Seburnt’s “Influential ideas on my approach to ELT”)? Has my own autobiography as a learner shaped my teaching (Willy Cardoso’s “Off-track existentialist young-being” )?

Like the bicycle in the photo I’ve been going off in different directions. So…

No! here’s the short version!

Now I teach in the format of a learning center with 10thto 12th graders (and a sprinkling of kids up to the age of 21 or so) all mixed together in one open space. Levels ranging from ABC to top levels. All have hearing problems, some have additional problems, many have emotional issues.

Sometimes the open space format is wonderful!! Kids form different “coalitions”, its non threatening, the kid “jumping around” who needs to get up every 10 minutes doesn’t stop the others from learning, the kids are progressing at their own pace and much more. I’ve been posting about this a lot.

But sometimes, (especially when there are too many pupils and no teacher-aids) like the bicycle in the photo, it seems that everyone is pulling in a different direction and needs something else and I am frustrated! Some things are easier to teach frontally to groups that are tracked by level. Although I HAVE taught a few frontal lessons that included EVERYONE, the sad fact is that’s good for special events. Those bright high-level children who are writing essays in English and those that need to be shown why “at three o’clock” cannot be the answer to the question: “Where does Tom live?” cannot be taught frontally together.

But that bicycle in the photo DOES move forward, and we do too!

Books Teachers Recommend to Other Teachers

*Photos by Gil Epshtein

My aunt in the U.S.A.  has said she wants to send me a book. I went looking for recommendations.

Since I couldn’t find such a list I’m starting one myself. I hope placing the recommendations in one place will be helpful to others and will allow me to have a list to look at next time someone wants to send me a book!

Please feel free to add a book recommendation!

slightly open doors

Here are four books I own and recommend:

1) The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer

The Courage to Teach

This book deals with our feelings as a teacher. For example, Palmer writes about how we can get hurt by being vulnerable with our students yet how being vulnerable allows us to really connect : “ Unlike many professions, teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life”.

Not light reading but really relevant.

2) Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn R. Jackson

Never Work Harder

The author writes as if you were hashing out the issues with her face to face. Lots of practical advice regarding structuring classroom practices so that the children benefit and the teacher doesn’t collapse from overwork! Very readable.

3) The Classroom of Choice: Giving Students what they need and getting what you want. By Jonathan C. Erwin

Classroom of Choice

The author focuses on the emotional side of the learner. As he points out – who doesn’t know students that could do well academically but don’t because of emotional issues?

Lots of practical things to try out no matter what subject you teach.

4) Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching By Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury

Just began reading this one. I’m very interested in the theory and am eager to learn more about it!

The following are recommendations by other teachers. I haven’t read any of them YET! Please add your own!

let there be light!

5) Images by Jamie Keddie


Recommended by @harrisonmike – “lots of practical stuff”!

6) We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Talk about Kevin

Recommended by @harrisonmike – “A MUST READ!

7) Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright

Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities

Recommended by @CeciELT – An old favorite!

(note: I HAVE read this one though don’t own it! Great!)

8) Bluff your way in Education by Nick Yapp

Recommended by IateflPoland – “for the cynics among us, only 64 pages long, funny too”! “A very humorous, skeptical look at the profession by a teacher who became a Headmaster and went back to being a teacher again”.


9) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge

Teaching and Learning

Recommended by @nutrich – {Have used } “during DELTA and my MA module on approaches and methods. It’s accessible, not too academic”.

10) Visual Impact Visual Teaching: Using Images to Strengthen Learning by Timothy Gangwer

Visual Impact

I remember getting a warm recommendation for this book and that it is full of practical ideas. Although I duly noted that info I’m embarrassed to say that I did not note who recommended it… Will be happy to add that information!

11) Lexicopoly 1: Reproducible Resources for Language Teachers by Helen O’Brien


Helen (@warnhopepark) was kind enough to send me activities in the style that appear in the book. An impressive array of varied activities designed around a theme.

“Lexicopoly is packed with ideas for integrating vocabulary, grammar and language functions through speech.”

The comment-space can be used to add suggestions of your own!

Comment on Scott Thornbury’s “Open Spaces” – My Experiences Both as a Pupil and as a Teacher

When I read the post “O is for Open Space” on Scott Thornbury’s blog I realized that I have had (and continue to have) personal experience with learning and teaching in a similar framework. Many of my experiences have been  positive, some have not.

Part One – My Experiences as a Pupil

As a child I attended Pierce School in Brookline, Mass, USA. Although only part of my last year at the school was spent in the new specially designed open space building (with ONLY two classrooms and bathrooms that weren’t “Open Space”, read the description here) the school had been functioning according to this approach within the constraints of a red brick schoolhouse.


Second and third grade were mixed classes. So were fourth and fifth grade. In my second/third grade class we were 26 pupils with a teacher and three student-teachers. The room was very large and had “corners”. There was a reading loft with cushions, an animal corner (rabbits, turtles, mice and a boa-constrictor), a play area with a small wooden play house and two areas (maybe three, it was a long time ago!) where there were tables bunched together. There was a chalk blackboard on a side wall. That’s where our beloved teacher posted the tasks that had to be completed that day. You could choose to do them whenever you wanted during the day, in any order. The teacher and student-teachers ran small groups during the day related to the tasks and you could choose which ones to join and when. It was very cold most of the year in Boston and the school did not have a playground. There was no specific recess – you played between other activities.

There were no tests that I can recall, except for dictations that our exasperated 4th/5th grade teacher gave when she received a class of non-spellers. Instead of report cards there were conference sheets that the child filled out while sitting with the teacher.

                                                   highres wild drawing by Alice Axelbank

Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? And that was just a brief description! I really liked going to school during those years! However, roses have thorns and there were drawbacks.

Some students were unable to plan their time and get the work done. There were students who spent part of the day in a different , small classroom, where they could concentrate.

I wasn’t interested in them. I had no trouble organizing my time and was busy writing stories and plays. I was a “good girl”. Nobody seemed to notice that I elegantly avoided joining math groups. When I did participate nobody noticed that I was unable to connect activities using mirrors or measuring  leaves to actual numbers and didn’t understand the concepts. I didn’t fail any tests because there weren’t any and no red flags were raised. Fostering creativity was important and I thrived in that respect!

I needed private math tutoring from 6th grade (when I moved to Israel) through high-school. The private tutors helped me stay afloat, except for one year.

That was the year we moved to a high school where the classes were divided according to general academic ability. There was no grouping according to level for math. I was placed in a class with bright, and quick pupils. The kind that always seem to be having fun yet know all the answers and get good grades. I wasn’t quick by any definition and was the kind who needed to study.

I failed math that year.

It was only the following year when they created a special math class for all the failing kids did I find the setting in which I could learn math. All the other kids were like me, we weren’t embarrassed when we made stupid errors – we were all in the same boat! Being in that small class of the lowest graded level was the best thing that the school did for me. I actually did pretty well on my math finals but numbers remain an intimidating thing for me till this day.

Part Two – Coming soon in Next Post

Saturday’s Trip!

Ramat Rahel -1

We went on an interesting guided tour today in Kibbutz  Ramat Rahel (southern tip of Jerusalem). They have ruins there that are thought to be 2,800 year old!
There are also unusual environmental sculptures by Ran Morin.
These are two of them. The one with the olive trees is in a clearing surounded by olive trees.

Ramat Rahel 2 Ramat Rahel-3