Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Three

Take it slowly, relax! Epstein Family Photos

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – Everything we used to teach about using a dictionary is now useless.

First of all, using an electronic dictionary does not exclude use of a printed one, and there are many students who will still benefit from knowing how to use a printed one.

In addition, while it is true that it is no longer necessary to know the alphabet well or where to find head words when using an electronic dictionary,  most other skills remain relevant indeed!

Naomi’s Photos

Tips: Start with the most “critical” points

“Critical” as in the ones I find lead to the most common errors, at least when working with struggling learners.

  1.  “S” & “ies” –  Whether we are talking about the plural “s” or  one that has been added to the third form singular verb,  you must remind the students repeatedly to “drop the s” before looking words up (and “es” / change “i” to “y). They must get used to doing that.

I stand by this statement despite the fact that the latest models of the electronic dictionaries are much more sophisticated than the ones we used in the past. There are now words which students can type in as they see them in the text and the dictionary will lead them to the right answer.

For example, If the sentence reads “He buys apples every day” the  dictionary will now lead you to the definition of “buy” in the         suitable context even if you type in “buys“. However, in the context of the sentence ” She flies to London every month” , not changing the verb form to “fly” informs you that “flies” is the theater term for the area above the stage for storing scenery. I admit, I did not know that. True, taking advantage of the arrows will lead you to a more suitable translation but struggling learners tend to use them less than I would like.

2. Suffixes “er” “est”  – The same principle.  Type in “bigger” or “smaller” and you will now get a suitable translation (believe me, this was not so in the past!). However, if you type in healthier you will be directed to “healthy.

If you type in “unhealthy” you will get a suitable translation. But if you type unhealthiest you will be redirected to unhealthy.

Note – To the extent that I have seen, the prefixes “un” and “re” typed in along with the word seem to lead to the desired result.  I am referring to the latest models.

*** Being able to identify a word as a noun or as a verb before looking it up is (of course!) a powerful dictionary skill which enables students to find the most suitable translations.

More on that in one of the future posts in this series.



Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Two

Naomi’s Photos

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – The teacher can ignore the purely technical aspects of the electronic dictionary – the students are all “digital natives” and know how to use the device immediately, on their own.

While there most certainly are students who will feel at home with any new technological device within a very short time, there are also students who are surprisingly clueless about anything digital that involves more than posting photos or messages in the current popular social platform. I know it seems hard to believe when it feels that the students’ cell phones never leave the palm of their hands, but it is true.

The models in the market today are very “user-friendly”. Nonetheless, there are some points that need to be discussed. particularly those related to classroom management and teacher’s peace of mind.

Naomi’s Photos


  • NAMES!!! Since there are only a few models of approved dictionaries, large numbers of students in every class will be using the exact same model of electronic dictionary. You really can’t tell them apart. It’s vital to start the year by having the students write their names on the inner side of the cover (if the model has a cover) or on the back. In my classes using Tippex (white-out) for writing is the prefered method as stickers are easy to peel off and some markers can be rubbed off. “Vital” as in avoiding unpleasant situations with students and their parents.
  • SOUND!!! For some unknown reason (to me!) devices come with a beeping sound every time you hit a key. Thankfully, this sound can be easily turned off. Just look for MENU / SETTINGS/ SOUND – OFF. This is an excellent time to enlist those “digital natives” in your class to help everyone get their beeping sound turned off. In my experience the sound  bothers most of the students (hearing and hard of hearing ) as well and they are happy to comply.
  • CLEAR – It’s a good idea to point out the “clear” key. Some students turn the dictionary off and then on again every time they type an error and want to start the word over.
  • Point out which key to use when changing languages.
  • Demonstrate how use of the arrows brings up phrasal verbs and more uses of the words. Even “digital natives” usually don’t notice that one on their own.
  • Batteries – Electronic dictionaries that I’m familiar with run on three small, round and flat batteries. They last a long time, often more than a school year. You don’t plug them into the nearest socket every day, like a cell phone. I’ve had so many students that were astonished when their dictionary suddenly stopped working. It never occurs to them it might be the batteries! Some don’t even know where batteries are sold (or is that just some of my students?).  It’s a good idea to point this fact out. 

More to come – watch this space!

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part One

The real definition of “B & B”?
Bison with birds!
Guest post by Omri Epstein

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – Use of an electronic dictionary will result in all students getting stellar grades without studying any English.

It is completely possible to fail an exam “spectacularly” with a top quality electronic dictionary (“spectacular” as in grades such as 18 out of 100…).

The English language is not a simple language: many words have multiple meanings, use of idioms is common and the grammatical structure of the language is often very different from that of the students’ first language. This is particularly true for students whose mother language is not based on Latinate origins or whose main mode of communication is their country’s sign language ( Sign Language is not universal – different countries and languages have their own signs.).  A student needs a command of syntax and grammar in order to choose the right dictionary entry for a given context. In addition, he/ she must be able to think in a flexible manner when translating and reorganizing words translated into meaningful chunks.

Consider the following sentence:
When Dan arrived, he found out that there was no room in the car left for him. 
If a student chooses the first meaning appearing in the dictionary for every word in this sentence he will come up with a totally incomprehensible sentence. The resulting translation will appear as a jumble of unrelated words, including “left” as a direction, “room” as in rooms in a building, while “found” may become separated from “out” and be translated as founding an organization.

Knowledge is required in order to use a dictionary efficiently and correctly – using it mechanically will not improve a student’s results. Time is also a factor. It is worth noting that a student who hasn’t studied at all and looks up every single word in the dictionary will not finish the exam in the allotted time, even with an exam accommodation granting “extra time”.

The long path… Epstein family photos

TIP: Demonstrate ridiculous translations

At the beginning of the year, before exam time rolls around, choose sentences from texts you are using and write them on the board. Ask students to pull out their dictionaries, and translate the sentence totally mechanically using the first meaning given for every word, ignoring phrasal verbs and not changing word order. Discuss the results.

One lesson won’t do the trick. As students work with the dictionaries or hand in work, point out errors based on reckless use of the dictionary and have the students play detective and see if they can figure out what should have been done.  Bring up the matter when relevant, but students need this message repeated.

Unfortunately, some students need to do poorly on an exam before they heed their teachers’ warnings. Without naming names, put together  a worksheet demonstrating pitfalls students didn’t avoid on their recent exam (such as choosing the meaning of a word as a noun, not a verb, ignoring phrasal verbs and other things that will be discussed in the next posts).

More to come – watch this space!





June is “Take your Camera to Class” Month!

Sunny June
Naomi’s Photos


The month school ends.

It’s a great time to look at the classroom as it is now, before thinking about changes and improvements.

It’s also an opportunity for me to answer that eternal question –

“What does a multi-level, mixed age, learning center for teaching English as a foreign language to Deaf and hard of hearing students even look like”?!

So now you can join me for a morning at work!

Oh, by the way.

I really do have a lovely walk from the parking lot in the mornings. Interesting in every season.

Have a wonderful vacation!



Warning! Your Motivational Message on Errors may BACKFIRE!

Sneak Attack
Naomi’s Photos

As a teacher of English as a foreign language I spend a great deal of energy convincing students to try to use the language, that making mistakes is actually fine and can be a great learning experience. You learn by doing and when you “do” you make mistake. Take a look at how Scott Thornbury stresses the importance of feedback on errors in his blog post “P is for Problematizing”

As a Special Education teacher I spend a great deal of energy convincing students to continue making the effort to learn English, even though it is challenging for them when they are Deaf or hard of hearing, have additional learning disabilities and more. Since I teach high-school I often meet students who have had years of discouraging experiences in the classroom.  They need to feel that the classroom is a safe place, they won’t be ridiculed for making errors and that there will be many opportunities to try again.

The following inspirational video has been floating around my social media feed. At first glance it seems fine – who could argue with a positive message like “Always rise above the criticism and stay strong”?

Feeling worthless…
Naomi’s Photos

But the more I thought about it the more I realized you could call the little video a  “fire hazard” , particularly if you teach teenagers. Dealing with errors is an incendiary subject at this age – how teens perceive their peers opinions’ of them is crucial.

The teenagers who need motivational messages the most, the ones who are most vulnerable, will never make it to the inspirational message at the end of the video. We will lose them at the part about being laughed at for making one single error, the part about how one mistake cancels out all the other good things you do in the eyes of the world.

Yes, I know that’s not the point of the video. But I also know my students.  Some will only see it as strengthening the “lets throw in the towel attitude”. Why bother making the effort to study? Why risk the consequences of making errors? Why not play it safe?

Videos can be a powerful motivational tool. But they must be chosen with care.

By the way, there’s an error in the video. One doesn’t say ” a wrong mistake”.


A Video for an Imaginary Staff Meeting on “BALANCE”

Never enough time… (Naomi’s photos)

Note – I first learned of this video from the Film English blog, a blog well worth following.  If you are looking for an additional lesson plan for students with this video, I suggest visiting  Cristina’s blog, Blog de Cristina .

There’s never enough time at school to talk about some things. So many truly pressing issues take priority. And aren’t we are all in a hurry to get home at the end of the day?

Or maybe issues such as “balancing all the ways a teacher should ideally be meeting the students’ needs” simply seem obvious to everyone. No point in discussing obvious things, is there? That’s what blogs are for – I shall hold an imaginary staff meeting. Perhaps you’ll join me?

Different Strokes, different colors, different needs…
Naomi’s Photos

At my imaginary staff meeting, everyone is sitting comfortably,  sipping their favorite beverage and not worrying about the time (I did say imaginary…)  I would begin by showing the following powerful video. Without uttering a single word, this video manages to be truly moving and to raise several issues worth discussing. I’ll settle for discussing the following one.

Alike short film from Pepe School Land on Vimeo.

In what ways do teachers strive to keep the balance in their classes between letting students express themselves and learning the material that must be learnt? On one hand, when watching the video, it’s truly heartbreaking to see the child’s creativity being snuffed out. The child literally loses her colors! On the other hand, we are doing children a big disservice if we don’t teach them how and when to follow rules. If you don’t learn to form your letters in the standard, accepted way, no one will be able to read what you have written. If you don’t learn the importance of coming to class on time (because perhaps you stopped to watch your street musician) you may have a hard time holding a job in the future.

We like to think of book reports or projects as opportunities, or outlets, for students to express themselves, but is that enough? I teach in the format of a learning center, which enables students to get up and move around during the lesson, and do a little “happy dance” if they need to. Which is something I’m pleased about but I don’t think that’s the point either.

A balancing act…
Naomi’s photos

If we return to the video for a minute, think what would have happened if the teacher had responded differently to the little girl’s drawing. Perhaps she could have said that she would create a folder for the child’s lovely artwork so it could be kept and admired but now she also needs to practice her letters. Otherwise no one will be able to understand what she writes. In other words, the teacher tries to get her to see the point of what she is asked to do, gets her on board with the rationale.

Isn’t understanding the point of what you are doing a critical step in taking ownership of your learning? Then, perhaps, it would be much easier to find the balance between academic learning and self-expression. It is, of course, easier said than done. Teachers have to prepare students for high stakes exams. Sometimes the reason for doing something is “it’s on the exam…”

Then again, perhaps the whole take away from a teacher’s perspective should be that making the student feel noticed and special can make a world of difference. It can let her keep hearing the violin play in her head!

What would you say if you attended my imaginary staff meeting?



But Teachers DO Take It Personally – A Refreshingly Different Take

Gil Epshtein’s photos

It’s the standard thing you encounter in every teacher training  course or teaching manual (and a quick Google search):

“When students (particularly teenagers!) get angry and hurl insults at the teacher, DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY, it’s not about YOU. The students are bringing in things from outside the classroom, issues related to their home life, their relationship (or lack of) with their peers, their academic struggles and much more. So taking it personally is a huge mistake. The insults roughly fall into two main categories – insults regarding the teacher’s appearance or insults regarding the teacher’s professional abilities.

Supposedly only an inexperienced teacher (or an unprofessional one) gets insulted. This is the cause of  all the teacher’s troubles, and what is obstructing a calm and cool response.

At an in-service teacher’s training session I attended at school today, the instructor took a refreshingly different approach, one that rings true and makes more sense to me.

Gil Epshtein’s photos

In a nutshell, the instructor explained that feeling insulted is an automatic and instinctive human reaction, a survival strategy which indicates the person must protect himself /herself.

Therefore, it is utter nonsense to tell a teacher not to take insults personally. We’re human beings, that’s what makes us caring teachers. Students crave empathy, to be really and truly seen, that requires emotions.

Actually, the instructor claimed, teachers who can respond appropriately and in a constructive manner to a student’s outburst are those that RECOGNIZE their feelings and have given thought to how he/she reacts to such feelings and what works to enable them to regain their equilibrium. Teacher’s aren’t robots! I believe Palmer discussed this in “The Courage to Teach” but I read that a long time ago and don’t encounter such an attitude in my reality.

Interestingly, the instructor noted that research has shown that what really gets under most teachers’ skin are insults relating to how good they are at their profession and not barbs targeted at personal appearance…

I would add that what hurts more than anything a student  could say is when a staff member whom you turn to for support and understanding replies:

“You took that personally? What?! You should know better by now”!

Note: I recommend checking out this very practical post, on a different angle: “Controlling the Power of Words: Teaching Students How to Confront Insults” by Dr. Richard Curwin



MOST of what teenagers post on INSTAGRAM is…

Hello! You weren’t here before! (Naomi’s photos)

Sometimes things turn up just when you need them. I always like to practice a point that needs highlighting by using something thought-provoking or generally informative.

A few days ago I read a very inspiring lesson plan called “Image challenge – how to teach critical thinking through INSTAGRAM” on Magdalena Wasilewska’s blog. I really recommend checking it out!


My lovely colleague pointed out yesterday that some of our Deaf and hard of hearing students  may have a problem in the upcoming exam with the word “most” since we’ve been reviewing superlatives for the last few weeks. In their reading passage, the word is used when describing the results of a survey, as in “Most of the young people said that…”.


(Naomi’s Photos)


The topic of teenagers who post pictures of themselves in an alternative reality, works beautifully for my purposes.

I chose a different video than the one Magda used as I thought it was less suitable for my class, especially as the characters clearly seem to be talking. What they are saying doesn’t matter, but with my students I prefer videos where it is clear that you don’t need to hear the audio.

Today I started using the following worksheet in class. All sentences include the word “most” but are related to the video.

Here is the worksheet.

most and instagram

Here is the video.

I hope it works well for you too!





Giving “Pride” a Concrete Expression

It started out small.
(The names of the students have been blurred).

There we were again. Once again my 10th grade student, whom we’ll call Dan, was throwing a tantrum in class over his test grade.

He got an 87.

Which is a very nice grade for a fairly high level exam. But it wasn’t a  grade of 100 or at least one that is over 90 , which is marked with a different color in our computer grading system.

The tantrum was somewhat milder than the previous incident when he threw the test into the trashcan, stormed out of the classroom and shouted some more, so as to attract the attention of more teachers.

Dan has a particularly loud voice even when he is not shouting. Not only does he come from one of those families in which the volume of  daily communication is turned up high, he is one of those hard of hearing people who hear themselves well when they speak very loudly. In addition, his tone is often very aggressive. This attitude has served him well in life and compensates a bit for his learning disability – it seems that people are willing to do a lot just to get him to quiet down. It is quite difficult to have meaningful conversations with Dan as he is always ready to go into “confrontation mode”.

I tried to tell him  before he got the test back that I was really proud of him. I knew he had actually studied for the test and had done all the practice work. I was there when the class took the test and I saw that he really had made every effort.

I told Dan that I was proud of him and that I wanted to post about his achievement on our “I’m proud of YOU!” board.

But the number of the notes on the board is growing…

Dan refused. He was gearing up for his tantrum. It’s purpose was to get me to add 3 points to his grade.

I didn’t. He tried to get my lovely co-teacher to do it but she wouldn’t do it either.

Two days later I had the opportunity to talk to him outside of class. I told him how disappointed I felt that he wouldn’t let me celebrate his achievement by posting on the board (I don’t post about students without their permission.). Dan replied that only when he gets a perfect grade of 100 he will grant me permission.

That’s when I had a moment of inspiration and said:

… and growing!

“I wouldn’t want to post about you if you had gotten a grade of 100.  No way. That would have meant the test was really easy for you. I want to post about how much effort you put into studying for this test (which was not easy) and then did really well. I don’t post about kids for getting perfect scores”.

He actually listened to me. Not something to sneeze at.

Then Dan smiled, started walking away and shouted back:

“Then you should post about me on the board!”

From “100 Days of Rejection” to an “I’m Proud of YOU” Board

Wow, isn’t he something?
Naomi’s Photos

For some of my students, it is simply not enough for me to smile and say “Wow, that’s really clever of you, well done!” when they show me a video they made for a friend’s birthday. They need other students to know the teacher knows. More importantly, they need all the other students to see that I respect some things the student does even though everyone knows that in class he’s busy trying to pull girls’ pony tails, hide someone’s cell phone or off looking for his own lost school supplies.

Frankly, I myself need reminding too – we’re talking about 11th grade, did I mention that?!!

Then there are the good students, even the excellent students, who really need to hear  (or see, in my class of Deaf and hard of hearing students) a good word said about them that isn’t related to academic achievements. Some are so quiet that even their academic achievements aren’t well-known.

Word is spreading…
Naomi’s Photos

Duh, you may say (especially if you teach teens). EVERYONE, including we teachers, want to be noticed.

So why am I equally excited and worried about the new I’m Proud of YOU!” board now hanging in our English Room? My plan is to hang up notes, scattered around the board (wall wisher style) mentioning things students did as they happen, taking off old notes when it gets too crowded.

What could go wrong?

For starters – I really recommend watching the TED Talk below. I’m sure the teacher mentioned in the beginning of it had the best of intentions, but her intentions were not what mattered to the poor student. And my students need the board in order to add a tiny extra layer of protection to all the rejection many of them encounter in life.

The names of the students have been blurred.

At least, that’s what I hope.

I don’t want anyone to feel insulted.

I don’t want anyone to be made fun of.

I don’t want anyone to feel forgotten but it would be defeating the purpose if I hung up notes about all of my students on the same day. Everyone would lose interest in the board if it didn’t change. I plan to keep track of the names that go up.

Back to the TED Talk. My take away from it was that I should try.  I won’t be able to improve and make corrections if I don’t start! And I teach these students for three years, so I have time to make amends if needed.

The new board has been up for a few days but I’ve been out sick, so no students have seen it yet. I remain hopeful and concerned.

Updates will follow…