Archive for the 'The Visual Corner' Category

May 08 2012

Simon’s Cat & HOTS

Filed under HOTS,The Visual Corner

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

No responses yet

Mar 14 2012

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?


4 responses so far

Mar 06 2012

Using (word) Clouds in Class or for Homework – Which Increases Rainfall?

As I’ve been checking students’ first homework task using a word cloud for the past week, I find myself pondering this question.

Inspired by the activity described on the macappella blog, I created a word cloud from a text which my student teacher had just read with the students. The original activity involved creating sentences using words from the cloud in class. I assigned it as a homework task.

Since I give a short homework task once a week (which I always check!) it made a lot of sense to have students review the vocabulary taught by creating sentences using the vocabulary items from the text. If I relate to Christina Markoulaki’s list of benefits that can be derived from suitable homework tasks (post on the iTDi blog) this certainly was a task that looked attractive, was something they could do on their own (all my students use Google Translator for homework) and left room for creativity. The students were free to write about anything they wanted as long as they used at least one word from the cloud on each sentence.

So, you may ask, what is the problem?

If I get back to Christina’s list, she talks about homework being an opportunity to consolidate grammar and vocabulary.

The students certainly reviewed the vocabulary. That goal was achieved. Even if there was a grammatical error in the sentence (and believe me, there were grammatical errors) I accepted sentences in which the words were placed in the correct context, i.e. used correctly. Some of the students wrote sentences that were related to their own lives and were pleased when I was able to make comments related to their interests in class. That was really great!

However, the grammar aspect remains an unresolved issue. I had the opportunity to sit with some of the students individually in class and work on their sentences. Since we were working on their own original writing they were more attentive than usual to explanations about grammar when correcting the sentences. That was incredibly useful – those students had had reading comprehension (the original text), vocabulary practice AND grammar practice!

The rest of the students did not get this grammar practice. It is not possible to go into the same detail when replying to a student’s homework task by email. I do not want to return a task full of error markings (much more efficient to focus on one or two points). In addition, a student will not really read a long reply from me. In any case, long replies are not sustainable as giving homework on a weekly basis demands creating and checking it every week.

In short, giving word clouds for homework made it rain. But it seemed to rain harder when done either in class, or with a follow up in class. Learning curve hasn’t been completed yet…

2 responses so far

Feb 23 2012

Peering Through the (word) Clouds at Error Correction

The ITDI Blog’s focus on error correction couldn’t have come at a better time (though it seems to me that any time is a good time to talk about this ongoing issue) as it is very much on my mind at the moment.

This round of debating how to correct errors began with an “AHA” moment when reading the post “What’s it all about…” on the excellent Macappella Blog. There’s a really practical suggestion for using word clouds to review language.

Word clouds are very cool.

However, we use technology to teach, not the other way round and the ways in which I tried to use those clouds weren’t really contributing to the learning process. But Fiona’s suggestion offers the best of both worlds!

So, off I went!

I clouded the text my student-teacher has just taught about Gallaudet University, the university for the Deaf in Washington DC. I asked the students to create sentences using words from the cloud as homework. I did not set any limits beyond the fact that there must be at least one word from the cloud in every sentence.

Certainly reviewing language!

So, now that the sentences are beginning to appear in my inbox, we get to error correction.

Here are the sentences that one student sent (11th grade!)

  1. I am not know to speak English.
  2. My room mess.
  3. Have many students in the school.
  4. I am deaf, and my parents also deaf.
  5. USA biggest country.
  6. I hard communicate with my friends`s class.
  7. I am 16 old year.
  8. No everyone can study in Gallaudet  university.

The vocabulary in these sentences was placed in correct contexts but the grammar is incorrect.

On the one hand I achieved my goal, the students had to think about those vocabulary items and generate sentences. The fact that the context is right means the items were understood. However, none of these sentences are correct.

Now I’m debating to what extent to correct or ignore these errors, as well as in what manner to correct the errors. There will be no frontal lesson to review grammar rules (long story) so the feedback will have to be made individually, either by email or in class.

In a past discussion regarding the topic over at Cecilia Lemos’s blog “Box of Chocolates” (Yes! She is the same one from the itdi blog) Cecilia and Tyson Seburnt suggested a technique that would be just the thing if I were teaching in a “normal” class situation. They suggested taking sentences from different students’ tasks and placing them on one page and having students help each other correct the sentences (with assistance as needed). However, I have not been able to adapt this for dealing with errors on homework tasks. The pupil whose sentences appear above, for example, doesn’t have classes with students at the same level!

Any suggestions?

5 responses so far

Feb 07 2012

Using the Holstee Manifesto Video to Practice Expressions of Opinion

When I saw the Holstee Manifesto video on Sandy Millin’s excellent blog: (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas I knew the timing was perfect.

My favorite kind of homework task is one involving a video. Such videos have to be short, suitable for teens and, of course, don’t require any listening.

Such videos aren’t a “dime a dozen”!

This one not only fits the bill but ties in nicely with the topic the strongest group of students is working on – writing opinion essays. I wanted them to practice using other phrases besides “In my opinion” or ” I think”.

This video if full of statments to agree / disagree with so I prepared a worksheet for it.

The students have begun handing it it and its great fun. These are 17 and 18 year olds. They seem shocked at the idea of not looking actively for the love of your life. They agreed, in theory at least, that if you don’t have enough time you should stop watching TV. They also supported the idea of trying to change things. One student thought that “sharing your passions” was a bad idea, passions should be kept private. I’m going to ask him and see what he understand “passions to mean”. “All emotions are beautiful” came under criticism and jealousy was cited as an example of an ugly one.

One statement seemed to strike most of the students as stupid – “Getting lost will help you find yourself”!

You can find the film clip on Sandy’s blog, on Youtube and on our class site, with my worksheet here: (bottom of page).

Thank you Sandy Millin!



3 responses so far

Sep 19 2011

Using a “Homework Video” for Homework


I discovered this short video on Sandy Millin’s blog as part of her excellent summary of the #ELTCHAT on the topic of homework.

I always check out a video without sound to see if it is suitable for use with my students. In this case I actually recommend using this one without sound for hearing pupils – I think it is more amusing (and less stuffy) this way.

I liked the idea of discussing homework habits at the beginning of the new school year. I prepared two simple tasks, the “blue” version and the “red” version. As always, there is more L1 in the  “red” version and the task is even easier.

You can find the tasks under the Downloadable Goodies tab on this blog, included in the category “reading videos”.

I’d love to hear what you did with this video, if you decide to use it!

5 responses so far

Aug 12 2011

How Can I Bring Personal Travel Experiences into the Classroom?


(click on the photo to enlarge and read)


There is a part in me that objects to the question I myself have just posed. Being on vacation, traveling (or doing something totally different from ones daily activities) is important to any person’s well being. There is no need to translate everything into classroom terms – I believe that a happier teacher is a better teacher!

And yet…

I saw the sign above, with the poem, on the very first day of our family trip to Alaska. Beluga Point was our first stop after leaving Anchorage. I found that the poem “stuck with me” throughout the trip, because it connected to the very strong sense of awe I felt while visiting Alaska. We are not intrepid backpackers who spend a week in a tent in the rain or hike in inaccessible areas. We stayed in cabins or B&B’s with hot showers and went on hikes on familiar trails.

Nonetheless we had awe inspiring experiences.

Not only are the vistas along the roads stunning, the close encounters with glaciers incredible, the bald eagles whizzing past majestic (and of course there are the bears and the moose!) consider experiences such as the following:

* On a guided boat ride in Kenai Fjord we saw humpback whales collaborating together in what is called bubble-net feeding. They all exhale at the same time and create a bubble that sucks in the fish.


* On a small hill next to the B&B we were staying at, we saw (at close range!!!) a herd of about 400 caribou migrating from their calving area to their winter area. The next morning we saw them fording the river.

DSCF1457  DSCF1521

So, I think it is clear why the feeling I feel the strongest from this trip is a sense of awe.

If I want to think in classroom terms I need to define what is it exactly I want to share with my students and a sense of awe regarding nature is not a very clear definition to work with.

I’ve had an unsuccessful experience with travel tales in the past.

A year and a half ago our youngest son went on an amazing youth trip to the ANTARCTIC!  After our son returned, he made a slide show and lectured in different classes at his high-school. In the slide show you could follow the stages of his long journey on the map, see icebergs, penguins and life on the boat. So, I decided to create a suitable worksheet (with answers to be found in the slideshow) in easy English for my pupils and bring it to class. The level of general knowledge and world geography knowledge is pretty low in many of my high-school groups of deaf and hard of hearing students.I had hoped that the fact that this is a true story about my own son would capture the student’s interest and something about the Antarctic might sink in.

The results were mixed. Some pupils did react as I had hoped. But others basically only reacted to the fact that the teacher’s son was lucky enough to get a full scholarship and THEY would never be so lucky (luck, yeah, my son found the organization himself, filled out forms, wrote essays, got recommendations, got the scholarship only the second time round, but for them it was like winning the lottery). They weren’t interested in the rest at all.

So, any suggestions (beyond sneaking some of these photos into online worksheets) on what to do in the classroom with my strong sense of awe of the natural wonders of Alaska?

8 responses so far

Jul 13 2011

A Picture Guide to Being a Teacher

* Photos by Gil Epshtein

Being a teacher is making each learner want to exclaim, “I’ve got mail”!


Being a teacher is giving them a safe harbor in which to work on their boats before sailing away.


Being a teacher is “kvetching” about your day and then coming into school the next morning with a smile on your face.


Being a teacher is being incredibly alert for seven or eight hours straight, day after day.


Being a teacher is juggling between the needs of the class and those of individual students.


Being a teacher is explaining the same thing in twelve different ways.

different interpretation

Being a teacher is wondering why on earth you got into this profession in the first place!


Being a teacher is recognizing that part of your work is like footsteps in the sand – you have nothing in your hand at the end of the day to hold up and show: “Here is the imprint I made in the learner’s brain”. Nonetheless, the imprint was made!


9 responses so far

Jun 24 2011

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?

13 responses so far

May 27 2011

Has the DOG Run Away with My Ticket?

I was inspired by Magpie Moments “Using Tickets – an Unplugged Approach” lesson to try and adapt this lesson using authentic tickets. The idea for using tickets came from Sandy Millin’s very inspiring (Almost) Infinite ELT ideas blog.

I thought this would be suitable for a beginning of the year activity, when the students are making the switch from the freedom of what is known here as “The BIG Vacation” to the demands of the school year.

However, as I changed the original lesson more and more, I began to wonder if I have lost the “unplugged” aspect of the lesson and it is no longer “Dogme” – hence my question: Has the dog run away with my ticket?

I’ll describe the lesson I’m planning according to Anna’s framework.

Think about it

Anna says “… a topic like transport, journeys or events why not take a bit of time to find out what your learners’ experiences have been. Do they have any stories to tell? Or can they imagine some?”

While some of my teenage students are very active and are experiencing life just like other teenagers, others have an extremely limited life experience. I don’t want students to feel bad that some of their peers went to Europe over the summer vacation while they have nothing “cool” to tell. So I’m going to emphasize imagination. But in order to imagine things, you need to have some knowledge. I’m sure that if I asked those kids what types of tickets they could think of they would be able to think of only one type – either “cinema tickets” or “bus tickets” depending if the child ever rode on the bus alone. So there has to be a section of the lesson that precedes having them imagine things.

Get it ready

It’s great to plan this lesson now – it will be easy to collect a wide variety of tickets over the summer holidays – will ask my friends to help! Unlike Anna, I will not bring in blank colored papers – these are teenagers! A third of them will be new 10th graders, just beginning high-school. At the beginning of the year teenagers are especially concerned about their image – that would seem babyish to them!

Set it up & Let it run

As I teach in the format of a learning center, students will be working on this in pairs or groups of three. In order to be creative later, the students must first see how many different kinds of tickets there are. I plan to scatter a bunch of different kinds of tickets on the table, have the students choose tickets (each one numbered) and fill in a chart on a worksheet looking something like this:

Ticket Number

What is it for?

Which country is it from?

How much does it cost? Would you like to go there?

We did not have an oral discussion before the activity as we speak Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language in class and it wouldn’t serve as a language preparation. Yet we will be discussing background information as they work on filling the chart (unfamiliar names of countries & currencies, unfamiliar concepts such as “a fair”. etc.)

Round it off & Follow up

Now I go back to Anna’s lesson and turn to the WEG style table for the MAGIC TICKET. This will be with Velcro on the back so that it can hang on the wall. Actually there will be more than one sheet as this will be for all the kids, to be filled in over the first week. Each student fills out what he /she would do with a magic ticket to anywhere. The table will look like this:

Type of Ticket Where to? Why?

As the students are from wildly different levels and I basically want them all to do the activity, some students will need more help than others. But that’s the beauty of having it as a beginning of the year activity. In regards to the new 10th graders whose level I’m trying to asses – seeing how much help they need with this activity will give me a great deal of information about their level of English and general world knowledge. In addition, the students will be working in pairs or groups of three so they can help each other too.

Of course, there may be one or two who won’t cooperate at all…. Sigh!

There’s the lesson.

Have I lost the “Dogme” part by adapting it so much? I knew I was teaching “unplugged” that day the students came in wet and we worked on that on the spur of the moment. However, I can’t begin the school year, with a third of the students whom I haven’t met, in such a manner!

So, has the dog run away with my ticket?

6 responses so far

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