Category Archives: Visualising Vocabulary

Counting Re-Entry of Vocabulary Items – Elementary School vs. High- School

Bottoms Up!
Naomi’s Photos

Incidental learning.


“Incidental learning” as in picking up vocabulary that wasn’t taught explicitly in class. Or an expansion of that – vocabulary items that were introduced in class, being reinforced in an unplanned manner outside the classroom walls.

“Incidental learning” as in the Deaf student who showed me the word “racist” in a comment on a website after the word “racism” was introduced while teaching the poem “As I grew older” by Langston Hughes. (Happy Teacher!) Or the Deaf student who worked on a text related to online shopping which included a reference to “Amazon”. She was sure it was a reference to the Amazon River, which she had learned about in Junior High School. No one in her family had ever ordered anything from Amazon and any casual conversations she might have encountered in the hallway or on the bus mentioning “Amazon” were not heard.

In short, Deaf / hard of hearing students need extra exposure to words in class. Repeated exposure to vocabulary items (mainly in written form!) in context and lots of practice!

With that in mind, I’ve been examining the Ministry of Education’s words list for high school students for ways to count and increase the number of times I use words from the list in context, in writing.

“We’re not kidding!”
Naomi’s Photos

And I have formulated a plan.

Or at least a way to begin.

Refreshing a small unit I prepared from the elementary school vocabulary list (see below the horizontal lines) helped me decide what not to do for the high school students while sticking to a “re-entry plan”.

For the unit for elementary school, I chose a random set of 20 words and word-chunks from the list which I felt I was able to effectively place in a meaningful, visual context (I used two words not from the list as well). Then I created a visual lead-in activity (slideshow), a short film without dialogue that ties the items together, then the same film again with questions using the vocabulary items, ending with a Quizlet word set to practice with.

For the high school students, there is no need to choose a random set of words to begin with or to create the context. I already have a context that I spend a great deal of time teaching anyway – the pieces in the literature program.

Not only do I know exactly which pieces I will be teaching over the next three years, I also have no particular interest in creating activities that don’t tie in with the literature program and could take up time that I don’t have.

“Bear with me, okay?”
Naomi’s Photos

There are some vocabulary items on the list, such as the word “poverty”, that stand out.  These are words which I will put under the category of  Across The Board – words I can use in many (or even most!) of the poems and stories I teach.  Roger and Mrs. Jones from “Thank You, Ma’am”, are poor, as are characters in “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” and  “A Summer’s Reading”. The concept of poverty can also be related to poems such as  “As I grew older” and “Count That Day Lost”.  I’m keeping a special eye out for those words at the moment. I haven’t thought of a good title for the words that are relevant to only one piece yet…

So, what’s my first step?

I’m about to begin teaching the stories “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes and “A Summer’s Reading” by Bernard Malamud. I’ve started off by comparing the word list to the former story. Here are the  “Across The Board” words that I have identified as relevant to this story:

poverty / trust* /  to struggle* / to escape / an offence / an entrance / an exit / a promise / literature / racism / to steal / tone / setting / share / witness / to survive /  theme / to threaten / in return for / the main thing / to blame / to bear in mind /  youth / get away with / it resulted in

  • Only  “trust” and “to struggle” (out of the above list) are in the text of the story itself, though the word “escape” does come up frequently when discussing phrases such as “make a dash for it” that appear in the story. “Escape” is, naturally, also a very useful word when teaching a Summer’s Reading, but I’ll get to that story in another post.
  • Madam / God / Kitchen – these words are both in the text and on the list, but are “story specific”.

The next step is to go over the questions, activities, and exercises I have for this story. I have begun checking which questions I would like to rephrase or change so as to ensure that the items from the above list will be used.


The Egghunt

1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:

Egg buy Take care! hungry
Caveman* Hunt * Be careful! long
Spear* fall That’s not fair! angry
film smile How many sad
food watch sure
another break true


2. Here is the lead-in activity for the students. It must be done BEFORE watching the film.


3) The animated film (no dialogue, remember?)

4) Questions related to the film embedded in the film, courtesy of Edpuzzle.

5) A set of the vocabulary items on


Bearing Left in BEAR COUNTRY

Inviting you to unfamiliar wonders
Alberta Canada, Epstein family photos

If you, dear reader, will bear with me for a few moments, I will try to briefly explain how “bears” can baffle a tourist.

Obviously, one must grin and bear the inconvenience of long flights and jet lag with grace, if one wishes to see the wild wonders of Alberta, Canada, including a few of its bears, in person.

That is, bears that are animals. Whatever the fur color, I certainly had in mind bears that are unconcerned with linguistics.

Actual live bear in Canada, but not a great picture…
(Naomi’s photos)
Bears in Alaska (just because it is a better picture!) Epstein Family photos

However, it seems that the region is “bear country” in more than one way.

Please bear in mind, as you read this, that people in Canada have a delightful reputation of being very polite.  This politeness extends to the SatNav or GPS system that came with our rental car. It is the first such system we have ever encountered when traveling abroad that says “please”before the instructions, as in:

“Please turn right”

“Please bear left”.

For some unknown reason, “bears” were mainly invoked when turning left, not right, though not exclusively.

At first I found myself attempting to assess the angle of the turns – it had always been my understanding that for a fork in the road, or a slight veering to the left off the main road, one could say “ bear left” . But at a classic junction , with a  90 degree angle, one must “turn” , not “bear“.  However, I could not find any correlation between the characteristics of the turn to the  device’s use of “turn left” or “bear left”.

I know, no turn of any sort in this photo, but so beautiful!
Epstein family photos

Since I couldn’t bear the thought that I had misunderstood the terminology all my life I turned to Google. As far as I can ascertain, the “bear” question seems to be a cultural issue – American English vs. British English. As a native speaker of American English my understanding of the usage appears to be quite common. That’s a comforting thought.

When do YOU “turn left” and when do YOU “bear left”? When do YOU invoke bears in your driving instructions?











“Everyone is a Genius” – An Adaptation

Full disclosure: I’ve never began a post this way before.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

There’s no real reason to continue reading this post. Hana Ticha’s lesson “Everyone is a Genius” has everything you could want a lesson to include – vocabulary, grammar, syntax, discussions, general knowledge and FUN! The quote chosen has a such a nice educational message too. So why adapt it? What happened to “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Just go on to Hana’s post!

I had to adapt the lesson because I wanted to use it in my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing students. Each lesson is for a jumble of  10th, 11th and 12th graders, at all possible levels. This activity is not for all them.

In addition, due to my students’ hearing problems, I would have to write out each clue, as they woudn’t be able to follow the spoken language. That would be cumbersome and time consuming.

In short, I needed a version that students could work on fairly independantly, with me guiding and helping from time to time (and then hopping of to help someone else).

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

So I typed up the lines for each letter of each word of the quote, so the students would have that information as a hint. I also added the first letter of most of the words (not the grammatical ones). I also wrote clues for about two thirds of the words. Some are very simple clues, others demand more of the student.

Here is the word document (two pages):

A Quote Challenge

I’ve done it with a few students so far. One by one (not in the same lesson). They are all students who enjoy a challenge, students who are curious.

They loved it!

Filling it in led to them asking great questions. The students tried to use “he” instead of “it” for the fish, which led to a review of the difference between  “it’s” and “its”. One very deaf student was puzzled by the word in the clue for tree “leaves” which he was positive was only an irregular verb in the past. The whole idea, naturally, of an “f” (leaf) changing to a “v” (leaves) is strange to him. Another student was sure that “everyone” should be plural but could tell that the number of letter spaces didn’t match the word “are” and figured out on her own that the following word must be “is”. The only word they all had trouble figuring out was “if”, even though they got the “will”. Perhaps I shouldn’t have a clue for it, and then it will draw more attention to the conditional form.

The students really enjoyed the detective work! However,they all needed my help in understanding what the point of the quote was. One thought it meant he shouldn’t go off on “wild goose chases” such as looking for fish on trees…

All the students who have done it so far are kind of “loners”, students who don’t always “fit in”, for different reasons. Once they got the point of the quote, they really approved!

“Reading Videos” Sails with iTDi Summer School MOOC’s Kites

Flying High with iTDi
Flying High with iTDi

As you can see, the amazing iTDi Summer School MOOC, with its impressive variety of FREE sessions offering online professional development to teachers around the world, has chosen kites as it’s symbol.

Kites, to me,  symbolize the wide expanses of possibility, hope and energy, along with variety. Kites come in every shape, size and color. So do teachers. And their students.

iTDi recognizes that.

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

My kite has been chosen to be included in the Summer School Mooc. My session on “Using Videos to Improve Reading Comprehension Skills” will be given this Friday, August 1, at three o’clock in the afternoon local time, which is one o’clock GMT. In the talk I’ll be discussing (with many examples) how videos without dialogue can help learners of all ages improve their reading comprehension skills and expand their vocabulary.

For more information, see here:


Confused: Teaching Vocabulary “Horizontally” or “In Context”?


Out of context (but pretty!) I took this one!
Out of context (but pretty!)
I took this one!

Now that I have completed my first installment of an activity set related to the word list appearing in the updated curriculum, I feel confused by terminology.

I approached the preparation of  this first set of activities for tutors of children who struggle with vocabulary acquisition in class (with a hearing loss or not) with Leo Selivan’s post Horizontal Alternatives to Vertical Lists in mind.

My goal was to work on the vocabulary not according to semantic sets, (transportation, colors, food etc.), which is the vertical approach, but rather teach the words with other words they go with (horizontally). I hope it will aid retention.

I chose a short animated film that I feel is age appropriate (elementary school) and suitable for use in schools. It is the centerpiece of the activity set. The I then decided upon 23 vocabulary items that relate /appear in the film. The activities you see below present and practice these items in different ways. Additional activities may be added later.

The decision to have all the activities connected to the film is grounded in a belief that what is made memorable is learnt best. I do this often with homework assignments for my own students, with many elements I’m trying to teach, not just vocabulary. The visuals in films (I always use ones without dialogue!) add a powerful element.

This decision led me to add three words that do not appear in the Ministry of Education’s word list. They are needed in this context (they are marked with an asterisk).

Which leads me back to my original question.

Have I simply put the words in context and not taught them horizontally? I feel the two terms overlap a great deal, but  perhaps there is a specific emphasis I should be adding?

I need to figure this out before continuing to create a new set of activities for this very long list of vocabulary items.

The Egghunt

1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:

Egg buy Take care! hungry
Caveman* Hunt * Be careful! long
Spear* fall That’s not fair! angry
film smile How many sad
food watch sure
another break true

2. Here is the lead-in activity for the students. It must be done BEFORE watching the film.

3) The animated film (no dialogue, remember?)

4) Questions related to the film embedded in the film, courtesy of Edpuzzle. Edpuzzle has made it so much easier to work with film. Now that the activities are embeddable I can use them for my counseling job (with students I don’t teach or meet), not just with my own. They keep updating the possible ways to use the films and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming next.

5) A dustbin classifying game using

Thanks to Chiew Pang and his wealth of resources for introducing me to the game.

6) A set of the vocabulary items on

7) A “search-a-word” online activity which is temporary because I’m not pleased with the results. I may perhaps go back to the printed version as it didn’t limit me to so few words. Still thinking about that one.

Here is a printable verison of this with QR codes.
Egghunt QR codes English

Attempting to Visualise Students’ Errors

It’s that time of year again.

At the high school these are days of final preparations for the big internal exams that precede the national ones.

Students may differ, there are new students every year, but some mistakes that my weak students make on their reading comprehension tests have earned the term classic – seems like I encounter them on a regular basis.

So I’m experimenting with visualising.  I created a short slideshow to present one such common error. It took me a long time to simplify the text (it is not productive to throw a lot of text at weak learners, if they could deal with that they wouldn’t be weak!) and to choose the format in which to present it. I have found that students must have something active to do (as opposed to “read the Powerpoint) so the last slide has the students fill in the final answer with immediate feedback.

With all my simplifying efforts, it is still not something my weak kids would deal with on their own. However, with the students I’ve tried it with so far the presentation led to a good discussion. They all claimed that they know students who do that but THEY would never answer a question like that.  I feverently hope that it is the case!

There is only one common mistake presented in this one. I think it is more practical to have lots of short slideshows than a long one presenting many different pitfalls.

And frankly, in this manner  these slideshows don’t become a massive project, requiring identification of all the mistakes I want to address before producing a complete project.  If I’m pleased with the results, I can gradually build up the slideshow library.

I had my students in mind when I created this first one. I’d be interested to hear if you find it useful as well.


Using Internationally-Known Words – Beware the Cultural Interference Factor

There is a delightful article by Stephen Reilly in the March-April 2012 issue of “Voices” entitled “I remember you”.

Reilly says, regarding adult learners:

“Beginner-lever learners posses a wider and deeper word-base of English than they realize and unearthing this offers them foundations they can build on”.

I heartily agree that “unearthing” these words gives the students a sense of pride that they actually DO know some English and can serve as a “springboard” for learning.


Photo by Omri Epstein

However, when using internationally –known words, the teacher must be constantly alert for cultural interference. When the student’s face lights up and he “crows” “Oh, I know this word”, is that student ascribing the same meaning to that word in English that you are?

In the United Sates, a cottage is a very simple form of dwelling. Something you might have by the lake as a fishing retreat, very modest. In Israel you would hear someone say: “Did you see that awesome cottage he just moved into?! What a place!” Most certainly not a plain, modest, rudimentary abode!

The word  test in Israel refers to the written part of the driving exam. Students are often confused when they encounter the word in texts and try to find a connection to driving. As this meaning seems to be so entrenched I have resorted to placing little signs with the word “test” on the desks during exams. Having the word at the top of the students exam papers had no effect at all.

In fact, the word student itself is a problem. In Israel students are only those who study at university. A sentence describing a first-grade student can be very puzzling!

There are many more examples.

I would like to add a word of caution regarding use of such words as a tool for learning the sounds of the letters. Many words entered the language from English in a somewhat mangled form. How many people properly pronounce the letter “H” in hamburger? Many would swear that is an “ambuger”!

I’m assuming that this phenomenon is true in other countries as well, as it seems logical that it would be.

Can you tell me if my assumption is correct?

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!



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?

My Post for the “Disabled Access-Friendly World” Blog Challenge

I was very impressed by Marissa Constantinides’s initatiative to gather lesson plans for raising awareness of the members of our society with special needs, but I wasn’t sure what I could contribute. After reading Vicky Loras’s post on this topic which was based on a poem, I thought perhaps this lesson I have taught may be of use. It presents a poem by a deaf poet.

Since I teach deaf and hard of hearing students the motivation for teaching this poem was not to raise awareness but rather to show them that there are deaf poets writing about things these students can relate to. Perhaps for a class of hearing students it will serve the purpose Marissa intended. Here is the lesson plan in three parts. The full poem can be found at the end.

Part One

I began the lesson by writing the following on the board:

Solo Dining While Growing Up

A poem by Curtis Robbins*

Line 1: When my whole family sat down at the dinner table:

The students and I translated the title of the poem, emphasizing the meaning of the word “solo”. The vocabulary of the first line of the poem is quite simple so most of the students went on to read it themselves. I then asked them if they found any contradiction between the title and the first line. Some students saw it, some didn’t – why is he saying he ate alone when it clearly says that he sat with his whole family?

I then pointed to the asterisk after the name of the poet and wrote on the board:

* Curtis Robbins is a deaf poet.

Immediately, ALMOST the students (THAT was amazing!) got it – the poet felt he was dining alone even though his family was there because they were hearing people and he was deaf. The poet couldn’t follow the conversation over dinner. Some students pointed out that his family probably didn’t know sign language. Interesting to note that about a fourth of my students have deaf parents and did not grow up being left out at the dinner table, yet they immediately recognized the situation. Many students who do have hearing parents said they didn’t feel like that with their immediate family but have had this experience.

Part Two

On the board we brainstormed as many nouns as we could think of related to dining, such as forks, napkins and plates.  Now the students were able to read the following version of the poem (with missing words) which I handed out:

Solo Dining While Growing Up

When my whole family sat down at the dinner table:

There was always

a lot to eat from corner to corner

There was always _____________

between forks and spoons

There was always _____________

between glasses and cups

There was always ________________

between napkins

There were always

empty plates and empty bowls

But the knife that laid between them all-

from mouth to ear-

from mouth to eye –

_____  _______  ______.

Part Three

After making sure that everyone understood all the vocabulary items I told the students that the same word was missing in the first three blanks. As a collaborative effort we brainstormed what that word could be and then filled in the word “conversation”.

Then we discussed what the last three words could be. I pointed out that it is related to a knife, so they were able to come up with “cut” but did not know “cut off” (which I explained). They easily understood that the poet was the one feeling cut off so we quickly identified the word “me”. Then I wrote the missing three words which they copied in: “cut me off” .

I left time for students to express their feelings about the poem and to share any related stories, feelings or thoughts but this part was important for emotional / psychological reasons only – it was all done in Hebrew!

Here is the complete poem.

Solo Dining While Growing Up