Category Archives: The Visual Corner

A Blog Birthday and a Bear Tale

My blog is three years old!

puffin collection
My puffin collection is growing!

Thankfully, blogs (and puffins) mature more quickly than human children do.  Despite not being able to lavish as much attention on it as I would like, the blog seems to be thriving. This is post number 377 and I have 1019 followers on Twitter (Google analtyics confound me so I don’t dare to quote numbers, but the “cluster map” of visitors looks great)! Never would have predicted that! I feel that the blog has become an important part of me. I imagine what I would post even when I don’t have time to actually do so.

This past week I had an excellent reminder of why I can’t possibly do without my blog.

Part One: On Monday I finally had the opportunity to watch James Taylor’s “Making the Most of Reading” talk at RSCON4 which I had missed at the conferece.  I found many useful ideas there but one specific strategy caught my attention in particular. It was not new to me, but James had visualised it for me. James presented a picture of a man with the surprising caption ” I punched a bear”. He then proceeded to demonstrate how students first form their own questions and then answer them when they later get the text (about a man defending his family from a bear). I had only done this  using titles of texts, not a line from the text itself (especially with a picture!), and believe it is more effective.

Part Two: On Wednesday I had a full morning of counseling work and met with several teachers. We had a long talk about reading comprehension strategies as that is a crucial topic when teaching English as a foreign language to deaf students. I brought up the idea of using a prompt from the text (preferrably with a visual aid) to have the students form their own questions before reading. Some of the teachers didn’t quite seem to understand what I meant. So, without thinking, I said: “Imagine I’m pasting a picture on the board of a man, with the caption I punched a bear”. What would you like to know about this person? This situation?”. That did it. They immediatly understood and looked at possible lines to use from the text we were holding.

I was so pleased! Not only had I enjoyed the talk but it had helped me clarify things for other teachers!

But what would I have done with this excitement if I hadn’t had my blog and PLN to share it with? My family are incredibly supportive but that level of detail is beyond them. There is no time at school between classes to share such things with other teachers, many of whom would much rather discuss other things when there is some quiet time.

A big thanks to all of you who can share in my excitement and discuss such things with me! This blog is here to stay!

Using Video for Reading Comprehension – Take 4

I defined my series of activities using video for teaching reading comprehension as an experiment.

And experiments don’t always go so well.

There was no problem with the activity I had planned. I felt the students learned something from the discussion on how choice of vocabulary reflects the writer’s opinion. They certainly didn’t know a lot of the vocabulary items involved.

The video was the problem. I had debated whether I should use a commercial for something the students can actually buy. The previous ones I used were commercials too but not for anything relevant. However, the use of language here seemed so perfect for English Language Learners and the sentiment is lovely, that I decided to experiment on the adult learners. There is a difference in what one can do with adults compared to a class of high-school students in the national school system.

I won’t be using this commercial again. It spoiled the effect of the pre-viewing activity, which is the part which should stick in their minds.

Here it is. The worksheet is below. I have added a page with the full text from the commercial.


Which Word Means The Same As          Which Word Answers

Short Films for Reading Comprehension – Take Three!

This is the third part of my experiment in using video to teach reading comprehension strategies.

Take One, focusing on WH questions, can be found here.

Take Two, highlighting ” support your answer” type questions, can be found here.

This exercise focuses on “main idea” type questions. The purpose is to make the following message more memorable:

The distractors given are usually true sentences (or facts) from the text. But they are not the main idea. So you must read the distractors carefully.

I used three videos though only showed the students two. The first exercise relates to the “Power of Words one we saw two weeks ago. It is a very memorable video and I see no reason not to use the same video for multiple purposes.

The second one is a very short commercial. I don’t know where I heard about this one. Here it is:

This one I learned at the conference from Jamie Keddie’s excellent talk and CD. In his talk he used it completely differently. I hope to try some of the strategies he used in the future. However, I don’t think they were designed for a class of 33 struglling adult students (note: I’m not being inconsistent with the numbers, we are now a class of 33!). In addition, I’m pursuing a different agenda at the moment.

Here is the worksheet I used:

main idea


Overall I was pleased with results. The students loved the videos and did not find them childish or unsuitable. I overheard two students discussing the fact that I show them really educational commercials. However, one student complained that the worksheet was too easy. Easy as in the answers were too easy to find (most certainly not the level of English!). I replied that I wanted the point to be clear, that they would see how all the distractors relate to vocabulary and information that IS there and that they must be careful. I added that if the examples were very hard we would have to spend a long time on the exercise (which we didn’t) and perhaps the point wouldn’t have come across so clearly.

Now I’m not as sure. I don’t know if the exercise shouldn’t have been harder. It would certainly be difficult to think of more difficult distractors.

On the other hand, only one student complained.

I’ll have to think about it. Lets see how carefully they treat the “main idea” questions in the tasks they have.



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?


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?

Building an Online Course – Setting the Limits

For starters, I’m not sure if I’m using the term “Online Course” correctly.

The course I’m building (opens this SUNDAY!!!) is certainly online. I’m not meeting the students face-to-face at all.

Photo by Gil Epshtein

On the other hand,  I WILL be actively interacting with the students – checking their tasks, commenting and assisting during the three week course. Its not a self- study course. While quiz -like tasks on the Edmodo platform, whichI’m using, give immediate feedback, all other tasks require interacting with me.

In addition, it is an enrichment course, for 11th and 12th grade high-school students with a hearing loss, preparing for their national finals. It’s goal is to highlight, review or emphasize, not cover a topic from “A to Z”.

I don’t know what exactly to call this course but setting the limits of how much material to put up for each of three groups (the exams are taken at three levels; 3 , 4 and 5 point level, a group for each one) is not a clear cut manner. I don’t know the students. I’ve taught Face-2-Face enrichment days for many years and I know the strongest students, the high achievers, are the ones who tend to show up (or in this case, sign up) for such things. So I want there to be enough material for them to find it challenging but not overwhelm them.

Then there’s the question of setting limits on how far to go to make the material special and attractive. I adore activities using photos and short films. I just saw the latest gem “Paperman” on Film English          (6 min., no dialogue – perfect!) and my head is already buzzing, looking for a way to incorporate it into the course.

Yes, I haven’t finished preparing all three weeks for all three groups. Yes, I have spent HOURS on it. So who had the bright idea of having an enrichment course that spans three weeks?

Oh right. That was me!


Slippery Soapy Homework

Switched at Birth Task

It is “soapy” because the task involves a two minute segment of soap opera called “Switched at Birth”, which has deaf teenage characters in it, who use American Sign Language.

It is “slippery” because I find that one of the many parameters I have set for myself for defining the optimal online task  is always eluding me. I make sure one is “in” and woosh another slips away.

As someone who avidly follows blogs who plan inspiring lessons with films, such as Film English and The Lessonstream Blog I have to admit that I could not follow their lead and take a “meaty” topic from the segment to discuss in a  framework of a formed set of activities, such as a Deaf boy dating a hearing girl ( with me totally ignoring the soapy aspects of that particular hearing girl being the one who was switched a t birth with the deaf girl – boy do I dislike soap operas!). Since the mode of communication in class is Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language such a discussion wouldn’t lead to learning English…

So I prepared homework tasks related to the segment. Here are two levels, the “blue” version is the more advanced one (I had the really advanced kids write a description of the segment. We are working on description essays now). The tasks comply with the requirment that they utilize the Internet (not just Word documents posted on line) and the questions use formats that we need for their reading comprehension exams (though I gave up on defining the word “record” in simple English and just used L1).  They are also short and I can safely say the topic is relevant.

Switched at Birth Blue

Switched at Birth Red

The big parameter that slipped away on this one was the “Google Translate” factor. How much are they actually learning from this exercise with all the cut / paste going on?!

Yet how could this be built differently? I, myself ,have said before that graphics which make it harder for the students to copy/ paste into the translator (students have to copy things in small chunks, more chance they will pay attention to the connection between word and translation) are better. But now that I have begun using Google Forms as the means to submit homework (the students are SO pleased with how easy it is to hand in homework now!) I find myself limited with the graphic aspects.

Something always slips away…

Any suggestions?



The Silence of the Walls

As you may remember, I’m teaching a summer course at a private language school. As someone who has invested a great deal of thought and energy into the creation of the English Room which is our learning center, I’m very aware of physical space.

The room at the language school is quite new, with a fresh coat of white paint. No peeling walls or old chairs with metal legs that I’m busy collecting tennis balls for (think of walkers for infirm people). At the high-school I’m currently in the process of getting each metal leg  inside a ball to stop scraping noises (many thanks to Netalie Wolfson for this brilliant idea!).

The computer is wonderful and the room has a projector. When you turn on the projector the screen slides down automatically. The whiteboard is huge so there is some room left to write on the side even when the screen is down. The computer in my own classroom is good too (no projector) but the school intentionally left us with an old screen when it upgraded the computer. The kids then think the computer is old and complain. This how the school holds on to the feverent hope that the computer won’t be stolen.

The air conditioner at the language school is AWESOME! Not only does it work really well, but the best thing about is that nobody knows how to turn it off. The 20-something year old girls in my course are just like my teenage girl students. They come skimpily clad, complain of being cold but scoff at my suggestion of bringing some sort of wrap. In school, arguments ensue and I can’t always stop some of the students from turning off the air conditioner on their own and then on again. I expend a lot of energy when I teach and I’m simply delighted with the temperature.

However, those nicely painted wall of the language school are bare. Empty. Just white. Those walls aren’t doing a single useful thing (English wise, that is. I really am grateful that they are holding up the ceiling!).

In my school classroom, the upper half of one entire wall is covered with a carpet. That’s perfect for hanging large flashcards which can be used for practicing or just to look at for reference. Easy to replace and reorginize. During the summer course, every time we encounter a phrasal verb, I have to stop myself from saying – well, just look over there, do you remember now?

Those walls hold no notice board for those who repeatedly forget things announced. This is particulary good as a self defense strategy for those who try to claim I never even made the announcements in the first place. I just silently point to the notice board and that’s that.

There is nowhere to hang diplomas. I have a sneaky feeling that adults would like that too but I haven’t tested that theory out.

The back of the door in the language school is empty as well. One can’t hang things for color and well, for fun. Nobody (not even the teachers’ aids) knew what an otter was but they still enjoy looking at the adorable picture on the door, as shown here:

I enjoy teaching this summer course and I certainly enjoy the modern perks. But I have to keep holding my hand down to refrain from pointing to the walls where there is nothing useful!



Simon’s Cat & HOTS

Photo by Omri Epstein

This is the first of my new batch of exercises as part of my Reading Pictures Strategy for  improving the reading comprehension skills of struggling learners.

What is different about this new batch is that I’ve placed more emphasis on the HOTS (higher order thinking skills) which is now a major issue in high-schools.

I’ve added a category and a tag called “HOTS” to make these exercises easy to locate. In addition, they can also be downloaded from the blog page titled “Downloadable Goodies!”

The Simon’s Cat short videos are perfect for discussing the skill of “identifying patterns of behavior”. This cat most certainly exhibits clear patterns of behavior!

Here is the worksheet. You are welcome to adapt it to suit your needs. I would be delighted to hear what you do with it!

Simon’s Cat

A No-Tech Talk – A Hard Act to Follow

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Last July, at the ETAI English Teacher’s conference in Jerusalem, I gave my first completely no-tech talk.

I know I’m tooting my own horn here, but it was very well received. Discussing a strategy to get some learning done while relating to what is completely distracting your class (and has caused you to throw your lesson plan out the window) using only the whiteboard and a marker seemed to really resonate with teachers. The plain whiteboard seems to still be the most widely used tool in the classroom.

Pondering on teachers’ interest in utilizing the whiteboard, in addition to an audible sense of relief that not everything today requires tech, I toyed with the idea of being the teacher who is known for giving no-tech talks at the conferences.

I knew I had time to think about it till the next conference.

The proposal form for the upcoming summer conference has just arrived.

I haven’t used any new strategies for the whiteboard (still really like the old one!).

In addition, most of what I’ve been actively learning this year has had to do with utilizing tech tools for online homework.

Even if I abandon the idea of being the teacher who presents simple” take this home and try it” strategies, that require nothing more than a whiteboard (at no-tech talks) I’m hesitant to plan a talk on online homework. I discussed this with a friend who is a “regular” high-school English teacher and he said that there is no way a teacher with 6 classes of 40 pupils could possibly deal with online homework the way I do with my small special-ed classes. Furthermore, presenting a bunch of tech tool without a framework of why they are worth using (in my case, for the online homework tasks I give) is not the kind of talk I would want to attend myself!

So, at the moment I’m finding my own talk a difficult act to follow and have not yet filled in the presenters form. I’ve presented at the conference many times before but have not had this quandary till now.

Do you know what I mean?