Short Films for Reading Comprehension – Take 2!

Perhaps I should temporarily change the title of my blog to “Films for Reading Comprehension”, as I’m totally into seeing how far I can take this.

Spurred on by the effectiveness of using a short film to review WH questions with my class of 32 struggling adult learners (who need to pass a high-stakes exam) I decided to use another one this week, for the second lesson.

The students need to be familiar with a number of different types of reading comprehension questions and how to answer them. I ended the lesson today’s lesson using the short film “The Power Of Words” to highlight (or rather, put a spotlight on) YES /No questions or TRUE / FALSE questions that require the students to support their answer.

This time we watched the film before reading the questions . But I warned the students that they must pay close attention to details in order to answer the questions. Then we discussed the answer to each question. There are only five sentences on the worksheet but I felt that discussing the answers in this manner really brought the message home. For example:

For the question related to the season, everyone said “winter”. When asked to support their answer,  a few students said that they knew it was winter because of the rain. I pointed out that in other countries it actually rains in the summer too so we can’t use that as proof. There was a murmur in class of “oh, I didn’t think of that”. Which is what I’m driving at – THINK before you answer! We accepted “people are wearing coats and scarves” as the proper answer.

If you think you remember reading about how I’ve used this film in the past, you are right. I have FOUR different versions/levels of worksheets for it, but naturally (is just me?) I wanted something else for today.

Here’s the film. The worksheet is below it.


Support Your Answer

Saturday’s Book: “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr

I had such high hopes for this book! Now I’m entertaining the option of giving up on the remainder of this 531 page book.

I like historical novels. And the explanation of the title seemed so interesting! It seems that at the end of the 19th century people suffering from mental illness were considered alienated from their true selves. Those who treated them were called alienists. I’m interested in psychology.

And who knew that Theodore Roosevelt  was chief police commisioner in New York before he became president (and his nickname at that time was “the president”)?

Generally speaking I don’t have a problem that the focal point of the story is a murder. I have read a lot of murder mysteries and last Saturday’s book non fiction book had a serial killer in it, one Dr. Holmes (who is mentioned in the very first pages of this book).

However, it seems that the author believes that he can’t mention historical facts without making sure that before, after (and in the middle, sometimes) there has to be gruesome and seamy details from the underworld of New York at that period. I find it unpleasant, tiresome and kind of insulting to my intelligence.

I am going to read some more tonight and then decide if a trip to the library is to be added to tomorrow’s plans.

A 40 sec. Ad Works for Both LOTS & HOTS

I learned about the educational value of this commercial from Kieran Donaghy, both from his excellent talk at IATEFL, Liverpool, last month and from his blog post about it on Film English.

It was a big hit in class this evening!

Today we used the commercial for LOTS – Lower Order Thinking Skills. In my first lesson of every course for adults (hearing!) struggling with reading comprehension, we review basic Wh questions and how they are to be answered. This ad works beautifully for this purpose:

* It is very short.

* There is no dialogue (can easily be used for my deaf students as well).

* It is very clear.

* It is funny!

We discussed the meaning of each question and possible answers in the  worksheet (see below). Then we watched the ad and answered the questions. Simple but effective – they were all so focused!

 Wh Q Review

I plan to use this ad for a review of some of the HOTS my students are learning (Higher Order Thinking Skills) when we return to school at the end of August. Obviously it is perfect for the skills of ” identifying different perspectives” and “comparing and contrasting”. My question to you is if it isn’t too “improper” to use the very last scene of the ad for the skill of “problem solving”. The scene seems to fit the stages we learned but considering the location of the man in this scene, should we freeze this particular one to discuss the following?

* The man has identified the problem (lack of THE paper)

* The man has identified his options

* The man has compared his options and then has reached a decision. He calls his wife, Emma.

And then he gets what he deserves.

What do you think?


Notes from Saturday’s Walking Tour

I encountered this pounding the pavements in Jerusalem today!

No, not a proper book post though you could say the tour was related to THE book, the Bible.

Jerusalem is FULL of places that you walk by the outer walls a million times but have only a vague idea of what is hiding behind them (or not at all).This is the place to take guided tours, or you won’t know what you are missing. We do it fairly often.

Today’s tour took us to monasteries behind walls, one with a round church, gardens in the courtyard, and a branch of the Papal Biblical Institute (from the Vatican) in Jerusalem, where we encountered a real mummy from the Hellenistic period and an unusual homage to the Holocaust.

Here are some pictures.

Saturday’s Book: “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

Full title: “The Devil in the White City” ; Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that changed America”

Honestly, real life IS stranger than fiction. I didn’t imagine I would feel such suspense when reading a well researched non-fiction book! The fact that it IS non fiction only adds to the drama and interest because even the minor characters that are mentioned are REAL people and it all ties in with real events.

There’s the ambitious and gifted lead architect with a goal of creating a white city so unusual that I would compare it to the “awe” factor (for me, at least) we find the palm islands of Dubai today. One of the carpenters on site was a Mr. Disney, who told his son Walt endlessly about this magical city he helped build…

There’s the incredibly handsome serial killer. Think of the bad guy in the book “the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – this guy puts him to shame…

There is the city of Chicago itself.. Am I glad I didn’t live there in 1893! The levels of air pollution (the stench and the fumes were unbelievable) and water pollution were horrific. On one hand it may have been a vibrant city with building going up like mad but the crime rate was really bad and poor people could easily starve to death.

The first unions appear (for me  Samuel Gompers was always the name of my first school, here he’s alive and really kicking, battling for decent hours and wages). Teddy Roosevelt puts in  a short appearance (the architect manages to turn him down, no small feat!) as do others.

The start of reciting”the pledge of alleigance” in the school system is also related to the fair!

Added perk of reading non fiction – one of the important character is Olmstead, the landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York (among other things). He was casually mentioned in an article in the New Yorker. I never would have noticed but now I was pleased to know who he was!

I do know the fair got built but at the moment (I’ve read half the book) I feel in suspense – will they get this amazing feat built? How high will the personal costs of it be?

Can’t wait to find out.

Turning the Tables – The Chips are for THE TEACHERS!

Liverpool is full of these creatures!

The speaker at a lecture I attended yesterday took a concept I was very familiar with and presented it to me from the opposite direction.


One of the people who have had a huge impact on my teaching (though I’ve never met him) is Richard Lavoie. When watching his films I have always felt that he has the gift of phrasing things in a manner which is both very simple to grasp and very powerful. I was introduced to his films back in college and have seen them countless times since (its so easy now, with YouTube! Used to be much harder to do.).

In the segement I have embedded below, Lavoie compares self esteem to poker chips. He talks about how the special needs child “loses” poker chips all day long through negative encounters. He emphasizes how everyone who cares about the child should invest in keeping the number of chips the child has high, so that the everyday losses will not have the power to crush the child. That has been a strong influence in my developing and searching for Eureka Moment strategies, which allow the struggling learners to achieve some success in my classroom. The crisis and outbursts are not avoided, but they are less intense and are forgotten more quickly.

The speaker at the lecture pointed out that we, the teachers, need to work on keeping those chips high too.

Yes, keeping a balance between work and the rest of our life is often  a topic discussed in publications, online and even has even been mentioned on this blog. That in itself wasn’t new for me.

What hit me was the realization that I, as a teacher and a person, can’t wait for the administrators to realize that If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students! and start being more supportive of the teachers. I can’t expect the students to stop venting their frustration at me regarding  what they can’t achieve (the fact that they now know more than they did when they begun is scant comfort to the high-school students who can’t take the final national exams with their peers). And I certainly can’t seem to learn to hang clothes on the clothesline any faster than my turtle’s pace…

I lose chips all day too. But, unlike the children, I take responsibility for replenishing my own chips. So it seems like when I make big decisions such as investing in the trip to IATEFL conference in Liverpool or minor ones, such as ignoring everything else and sitting down to write on my blog (like now!),  I’m simply replenishing my chips.

You may say “duh”, but I really hadn’t thought of it that way. Did you?

Creativity, the IMAGE CONFERENCE and List Making

Encountered this on the streets of Brussels on the way back from the conference.

The word “visualising” in this blog’s title is no coincidence. I’m quite mesmerised by the power of visual images and the sheer joy of experimenting with them (or should I say playing?!).  I admit to shamelessly informing my eldest son, who’s interest in photography has been steadily growing over the past two years, which of his pictures I need for my blog or for class. It works for the way words evoke visual images too – remember James Thurber’s delightful story “My Secret World of Idioms”?

So you would think I would be able to figure out how “list making” could possibly be connected to “creativity”. But I can’t!

At the IATEFL conference in Liverpool I, naturally, attended Keiran Donaghy (Film English) and Jamie Keddies’s (lessonstream) excellent talks. I missed Ceri Jones’ talk (Close Up) because it was (thoughtlessly!) scheduled too close to my own talk. AND, it turns out that all these speakers (and more!) will be at the upcoming Image Conference in Barcelona. I certainly hope the talks will be recorded and not just streamed – we only have a one day weekend here and I can’t spend Saturday attending virtually!

Anyway, back to list making.

I’ve been thinking about these talks as part of a “mining for ideas plan”  for my upcoming course with hearing adults. More about that when I start the course and try them out. But lets forget about students for a minute (gasp!) . In one of the clips Keiran Donaghy showed, called “29 ways to stay creative” (so creative, B.T.W), why is “list making” number one? Running around with a notebook makes sense (recording your ideas before they are lost). But list making (which I’m really trying to do now) connects to the non-creative side of people, its just about making sure what needs to be done gets done. Isn’t it?

Can you explain it to me?

It’s Saturday! Celebrating 125 years of National Geographic

I just read an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker Magazine (April 22) reviewing 125 years of the magazine in the yellow border; The National Geographic.

Like so many other people, the magazine is connected to my childhood memories. Though not, as urban legend has it, as a source of first glimpses of female breasts of native women! Gopnik debunks this myth of the children eagerly waiting beside the mailbox for the magazine. There WERE such photos but they were very infrequent.

Even though I was only subscribed to it for three years, I had access to it in different forms for many years. Odd facts have stuck in my mind, from important ones (the Leakey family and the discoveries of the human origins) to trivial ones (“Oh! The name Mercedes existed as a woman’s name before the car”)! The fact that Humpack Whales are the ones that sing is firmly lodged in my brain as I will never forget the excitement of receiving an issue of the magazine with a detachable mini record (!!!) to hear the whales sing.

In the long term, for me,  the magazine had a problem of its never changing format. There was something similair, perhaps a formula, that I got somewhat tired of.  Today I prefer watching the National Geographic on television and subscribing to the New Yorker Magazine. The New Yorker lacks the stunning (absolutely!) photographs but takes me to far corners of the world, tells me of discoveries I have never heard of, then mixes it up with current events and literature in an ever changing format.

However, I believe I would not have been interested in taking those journeys with my current magazine if I haven’t grown up with used to a magazine being a gateway to fascinating things.