Saturday’s Book: “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Settterfield

After reading the epic, powerful book “The Day Lasts a Hundred Years” I chose lighter fare.

Perhaps too light.

I was attracted by the books on the cover and by the fact that it is a novel about books and book lovers. I’ve only read two chapters so far. The descriptions ARE lovely – I can just imagine that bookstore! And I like the musings about the mortality /vs immortality of books!

However, those little red signs in my head that say “oh come on!” and “too soap opera-ish” have already begun flashing.

The book is very readable but if the frequency of those flashes rises I may use the QUIT option!

We’ll see!


Mixing a Thornbury Post, Google Translator and My Students


(photo of a bench in Tel-Aviv, taken by me!)

In his  post “P is for Problematizing” Scott Thornbury introduces a very interesting activity.

He suggests a delightful way to highlight the importance of the indefinite article “a”.

Of course, me being me, I didn’t try the lesson in the manner he described.

I ran the sentences in the original activity through Google Translator and made the following astonishing discovery:

Google translator can’t tell the difference between sentences such as

A girl with a long hair.

A girl with long hair

Google translator translated both this pair of sentences and all the others in the original post in an identical manner into Hebrew.

Since I’m very interested in redesigning my homework tasks to take into account the fact that the students use Google Translate intensively at home (more about that here) I decided to use the sentences as a homework task.

I give short homework, once a week, often designed to highlight a very specific topic or aspect. So, highlighting the importance of the article “a” seemed just the thing to do.

I called the task: You are SMARTER than GOOGLE Tranlsate.

I gave instructions in their mother tongue, reminding the students of what he had learned in class about the article “a”. I also explained that the sentences should be translated differently but Google doesn’t. I asked them to take note of the extra options Google Translate offers and translate the sentences correctly into Hebrew.

I gave them the following sentences, chosen from the original post but purposely grouped together to make it easier:

1) This is a room with a glass on the floor.

This is a room with glass on the floor

2) This man is buying paper

This man is buying a paper

3) A room with a light in it.

This is the room with light in it.

4) A girl with a long hair.

She is a girl with long hair.

For some of the weaker students I supplied the sentences translated into Hebrew, but jumbled up.

Well, I’ve checked most of the homework tasks. Turns out I gave a lot of thought to one aspect but ran into trouble with other aspects.

The students who got the translations in the incorrect order did well. They had the article “a” isolated and the difference between the sentences with it and without it was the main thing they had to pay attention to.

The stronger students ran into trouble, in varying degrees.

In the original post the students are asked to draw the sentences. That didn’t seem suitable for homework tasks which I receive by email. But translating is a different skill and I should have known better.

Some students translated “a glass” as meaning “ a single piece” of glass, not a glass you drink from. Only one student translated “ a paper” as a newspaper.

And, surprisingly enough, it was the fourth pair of sentences which students had trouble with (I thought it was the easiest pair!).

What I should have done is give the stronger pupils the translations into Hebrew too, but without the full explanations in Hebrew. Their task should have been to match the translations and then explain what the difference is between all of the pairs of the sentences. That would have been a better way to achieve my original goal.

Next year…

Saturday’s Book: “Danny and the Dinosaur” by Syd Hoff

I have a five year old nephew whom I’m trying to get interested in dinosaurs. When our boys were younger they were crazy about dinosaurs.

I’ve got to get a hold of this book for him. It is perfect for this age – a simple story about a boy and a dinosaur who decides to step out of the museum and play with him. Funny but also (odd as it may sound) grounded in reality. A fairly old book, but it lodged itself in my brain!

For older children and adults, there are the FANTASTIC “Dinotopia”  books, which I posted about when I just began this blog, here.

Letting Gore In the Classroom Door

Let’s get one thing clear right away, I’m not talking  about blood dripping gore! That is out of the question as far as I’m concerned!


(Epstein Family Photos)

My first reaction to Sharon Hartle’s recommendation to the lesson and slideshow about 10 inventors killed by their own inventions on The Lecturer’s EFL Smart Blog was: Wow, I have some 17/18 year old boys who would be interested in this. I can make an activity out of this slideshow.

But then I started thinking about how I would scaffold this for different levels. And for different pupils. I started thinking about how I would deal with vocabulary items such as gangrene and strangled. Although the person who wrote the titles for this slideshow was really careful with the language and did not go into gory details, I can see possible mine fields having to explain what is meant by “had five pieces of his anatomy removed”.

Am I being stereotypic in thinking that many teenage boys are interested in this kind of information while many girls are not?

When I was a student teacher I had to design and teach a lesson using the Jigsaw method we had just learned. I used a story with a scary ending called            The Yellow Ribbon . The version I had was in language even more simple than this, which suited my pupils. My thought that it would add some WOW factor to have a story with such an ending. The lesson took place in the mid 1980’s and I don’t remember any particular reaction of interest or revulsion from the pupils. However, I’ll never forget the horrified reaction of my teacher-trainer when I handed in the paper describing the lesson and the story itself!

How far would you go in bringing scary or gory stuff into a teenage classroom?

Saturday’s Short Story: “The Musical Brain” by Cesar Aira

This Argentinian author begins the story in very simple way, describing  what seems to be a straightforward memory of a clear event.

The shift is slow, at first I didn’t notice it. Then I realized I was riveted to the story as the most unusual things were taking place! One of those of authors who blurs the borders between reality and the fantastic. I really had no idea where this story was going till I got there!

Parent / Teacher Night as an Opportunity for Professional Development

I’ve been attending Parent / Teacher Nights for a great many years both as a teacher and as a parent and have never seen it as an opportunity for professional development.

That is, until now.

Perhaps my time in “blogosphere” has opened my eyes.

I had the opportunity to witness an amazing example of how a teacher communicated with a 10th grader and her mother.  The student was full of complaints. She didn’t think it was a big deal that she used her cell-phone in class once or twice  and sometimes talked during the lessons. Also she claimed that she knew English at a much higher level than the grades she got indicated. You could tell that the mother was indecisive regarding whether she should be berating her daughter or justifying her behavior.


P1051203Photo by Iddo Epstein

I expected such a beginning to lead to either one of two outcomes, both exemplified by the photo above:

1)  The teacher (penguin) scolds the parent for turning a  blind eye to her offspring’s behavior while she, the teacher, is the one who is really trying to look after the student’s best interests.

2) The parent (penguin) scolds the teacher for being mean and vindictive towards her offspring. The teacher just wishes she could disappear and be somewhere else…

This meeting did not go in any of these directions. It lasted for twenty minutes (!!!) and it is difficult to describe in words exactly what went on. I wish I had been able to videotape that conversation! It would have been great to see it again and to discuss it with others.

What I can say is that the teacher kept her voice relaxed and pleasant the whole time. No scolding tone. She stressed how delighted she was to hear that the student knew more English than her grades reflected but the only way the teacher can know such a thing is if this knowledge is shown. If the student doesn’t participate and talks to her friends during the lesson then she is forcing the teacher to rely only on her grades. The teacher also repeatedly explained how important it is to maintain a good “learning atmosphere”  in the class and that she cannot allow disruptive behaviors that interfere with everyone’s ability to focus. The teacher repeated how delighted she would be to take note of any new manifestation of her knowledge of English but not once did she back down from anything that she had said to the student during class or any behavioral comments that had been reported.

The meeting ended with the student promising to participate more in class so the teacher could see her skills in English in action.

All the indicators of tension-leading-to-attack mode were diffused.

Both sides left the table optimistic and satisfied.


* NOTE: This photo was taken in Antarctica. That’s a Southern Elephant Seal and a female, which is why you don’t really see much of a trunk.

Iddo said that the penguins there scold the Elephant Seals a lot. In one instance, in response to such a scolding, a seal rolled over and hit the seal beside it with its flipper. The second seal did not hit the first one back, but rolled over and hit a third one instead! This was passed down through three more seals until there was no one left within “hitting” range!

Scolding doesn’t seem to do anyone any good!

It’s Saturday! Musings on the Importance of Reading the Author’s Biography

I recently finished teaching the poem “An Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins.

I think the line from the poem “ waving at the author’s name on the shore” has finally helped me to define how I feel about reading an author’s biography while reading the author’s creation.

I can’t NOT read some biographical details. For one thing, there’s plain curiosity. Who IS this person who “has given birth” to this book which I am enjoying (or not..). In addition, knowing something about the period in which the author lived does explain some things, at least in some books. Chingiz Aitamatov, whose book “The day lasts more than a 100 years” I’m still reading, had first hand experience of living under the repressive former Soviet Regime. Mark Twain uses some phrases in his books which don’t make sense unless you understand something about the period  in which they were written.

However, I understand Hemingway wasn’t a “nice” guy. Should I care? I enjoyed many of his books! Does it matter if I know that? I’m basically interested in the fact that he had first hand experience of the battles he wrote about in “For whom the Bell Tolls”.

O.K, full disclosure here – I have to admit that I do remember Hemingway drank absinthe which is almost pure poison. Not at all relevant to anything, but the detail has stuck in my  mind.

That’s why I relate to the line from the poem.

I believe that it is good to know something about the author’s biography, but keeping a distance is a good idea. There is no need to get into the fine details.

It’s Saturday! For Once the MOVIE was BETTER than the BOOK!

I found the book “The elegance of the hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery to be a book I couldn’t read.

The book is told in two voices – that of an unusual concierge in an upscale building in Paris and in the voice of a precocious 11 year old who lives in that building.  Each chapter alternates between the two. I could not deal with the parts told by the 11 year old and stopped reading the book.  I later heard people praising the book. This was about two years ago.

Then came the movie! BRILLIANT!

I have excited things to say about every aspect of it – the acting, the pace in which the plot moves, the way those endless strings of words were expressed without being tiresome, the awesome visuals and the wonderful music! And it IS a worthwile story, just like people told me, but I didn’t find the book readable!

I recommend it!


A DOUBLE BLOG CHALLENGE in honor of the Blog’s FIRST Birthday!

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It is a bit mind boggling for me but my blog is one year old!

And this post is the 160th post!

I started this blog wondering if blogging was something I could do and would I be writing for only for me, myself and I. Lets face it – how many people out there deal with teaching English as a FOREIGN LANGUAGE to deaf students?

A year later I can safely say that differences in classroom setting don’t matter much  – there are so many issues all teachers have in common, especially those who also teach English as a foreign language. What matters is an openness and willing to take up though provoking issues and discuss them.

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Over this past year I have “met” a large number of impressive educators who feel that education isn’t something we should take for granted but must explore its “whys” and “why nots” and are not afraid of the question “what if…”.

I can’t imagine life without all of you now! This blog will certainly have a second year!

So, besides inviting you all to enjoy the puffin pictures we took on the island of Skellig Michael in Ireland, there are TWO challenges!

Why two?

Because my blog has two distinct parts.

Sunday thru Friday it is a respectable, professional blog.

On Saturday’s it is a book lover’s blog with an occasional movie or trip thrown in (just because I feel like it!).


If you had a Saturday’s book category on your blog – which would be the book you would start off with?


When I tweet with you all, particularly on #eltchat (but not only then) I feel I’m entering another space. Since this blog is called Visualising Ideas I have a mental image of the space we are in when we chat, discuss, suggest and support each other.

I imagine it as a large room that has a common area and nooks for small groups. There are no computers in this room as it is all about communication directly between people. The chairs are comfortable and there are some hammocks or sofas for people who prefer to discuss things while lounging about. I can’t decide on the colors of the walls – My current thought is that the color changes according to the mood of the discussions – bright colors for animated discussions, soothing pastels for supportive conversations, etc. The acoustics are good so that even if there are many people you don’t feel lost in noise. There would have to a free machine supplying zero –calorie soft drinks – I know a few members of my PLN that wouldn’t stay there for long without it! LOL!

So, how do you visualize our space when we are in PLN MODE?