Reading Comprehension – Reviewing “Soft Skills”

What are they discussing? (Naomi's Photos)
What are they discussing?
(Naomi’s Photos)

The definition of the term “soft skills” that I read on the site,  includes the following words:

“…they include common sense”…

Many of my deaf and hard of hearing teenage students have great difficulty in answering advanced type reading comprehension questions. Particularly those questions which call for taking advantage of common sense and general knowledge.

While I am under no illusion that one worksheet for each type of question (which you will find at the bottom of this post) will be enough review-practice for these students, it’s a place to start. I tried to make them as memorable as I could without resorting to things one wouldn’t show in class…

These three particular question types  have been chosen because they appear in the reading comprehension text of their first exam of the year. I’m hoping that this fact will encourage the students to pay attention when I highlight these question types in class and that they answer them well on the exam. Before we can talk about the sentence structure of the students’ answers they have to really understand what type of answer is required.

It’s one of the big challenges every year.

I’m hoping…

The question types are:

1) What is the answer to the question in the title?

2) Copy a fact that explains the title.

3) What is xxx an example of?

Here are the three worksheets:

Animals and Communication 2

Seeing isn’t believing 2

An example of 2015


Saturday’s Book: “A Hat Full of Sky” by Terry Pratchett

How do I get home? (Naomi's photos)
How do I get home?
(Naomi’s photos)

This is the second book of the series about Tiffany Aching. The series is aimed at young adults and I find that Pratchett absolutely outdid himself when writing for young adults. This series is so very good on so many levels.

Perhaps I enjoy it even more because of the teacher side in me, which as we all know very well, cannot be turned off. Pratchett, while giving adventure and comedy, promotes a love of language and a curiosity about words and the world around us. I just delight in his use of language!

I got this second book as an audio-book. As always, Audible has excellent readers and I got to hear the Mac Nac Feegles’ dialogue in a Scottish accent which was great fun! It made it harder for me to copy out a quote I really took to heart though. Afterwards I discovered that there are pages of quotes from this series online!

I’m thinking of posting this quote in my classroom. I find it to be very powerful. However, while I’m positive it is relevant to my Special Ed students and their complicated lives, I don’t know if they will relate to it.

“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens and what we do”.

(Chapter 4. Don’t ask for a page number because it was an audio-book!).

Taking Up the #SMILEgoal Challenge!

Let's go nurture the new students! Naomi's photos
Let’s go nurture the new students!
Naomi’s photos

Sometimes I encounter a post that echoes exactly what I am thinking about. It echoes, but gives my thoughts a clearer form.

This time it was Josette LeBlanc’s brilliant post: “Play Big: The #SMILEgoal Challenge” . She cleverly created an acronym for the word SMILE that embodies a really practical approach to change.

What Josette also did, for me, was to give me a simple explanation for why I have this need to spend part of each summer vacation working on changes for the upcoming school year. It is true that every single school year that ends leaves me with thoughts of things that could be done better, easier or in a more exciting way. But that’s not the only explanation for spending time changing things.

I need to gather energies to start a new year in a challenging teaching situation. And I need to start the new year with a big smile and a feeling of excitement, despite knowing many of the difficulties awaiting, and the awareness that every single year previously unknown difficulties  (of various kinds) magically appear.

So, I should define my changes for this year using the SMILE approach, and the change will give me the SMILE I need!

Invest my time in the right things. (Naomi's Photos)
Invest my time in the right things.
(Naomi’s Photos)

So here’s one of my most dramatic planned changes, presented according to the acronym.

Background: I determined that what upset me most during the past school year was that all my hard work making interesting, varied, colorful, interactive and practical review & homework material for my students was going down the drain (after 3 years of success) because a large number of students stopped using computers at home completely. Entire families rely only on cell phones. It’s a long story but the myriad of tech problems and emotional reactions that arose was overwhelming and dispiriting. These exercises will now become classwork.

Simplify – Focus on vocabulary.

I decided to focus on the amazingly clever flashcard site /app Quizlet. Since deaf and hard of hearing students have a major problem retaining vocabulary when learning a foreign language (in a nutshell, there is no, or little incidental learning from exposure to the language outside the classroom, because they don’t hear it spoken) I am in the process of creating a classroom for every group of students, with words and collocations that appear in the material we will be studying. Quizlet has ready-made games and study modes, I don’t have to prepare them. I just add the study sets I want.

Measure – Quizlet gives data about the students. Not only who is working and who isn’t, but which items are causing difficulties!

Integrate – The students will see these collocations and words in their material in class & on tests. They will see the relevance clearly. It doesn’t take a lot of time for me to add a set so I can fit this into my teaching schedule (less time than what I was doing before!).

Lean in and let it go – I’ll have to adapt using Quizlet as I go, I can’t relate to this one yet!

Enjoy – I’m already pleased about trying this different approach. We’ll have to see what happens next, but it gives off positive vibes!

So what’s your #SMILEgoal Challenge for the new school year?

Saturday’s Book: “All the Light We Cannot See” by Doerr

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

What a great book!

First of all, because of the fascinating use of language. Such rich descriptions! There are words used in ways I have not encountered, yet ring so true. I must admit that I also encountered some words which were totally new to me. Though I very quickly stopped looking them up. I was too wrapped up in the story to stop for that – it was hard enough to stop when it was time to stop reading!

I had heard about the book for quite some time but was hesitant about reading it. I wasn’t sure that I was in the mood for another book that takes place during World War Two, especially one that is over 500 pages long. I was also afraid that if the book’s main characters were a French girl who lost her sight and a poor German boy, the book would be terribly “shmaltzy’.

The plot is engrossing and the writing beautiful and I was totally wrapped up in it. It could have been a bit shorter and one can argue whether or not the epilogue is as good as rest the of the book, but that’s just quibbling.


Nice Dice Add Spice!

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

In my recent talk on playing games, as part of the 30 goals conference, I mentioned how a teacher can add an extra element of fun simply by using unusual dice.

It occurred to me afterwards that not everyone may be familiar with these interesting dice.

By “interesting dice” I mean multi faced dice, such as those which are used by players of D&D, short for Dungeons and Dragons (which Google defines as a fantasy role-playing game set in an imaginary world based loosely on medieval myth). From the teacher’s point of view, what you need to know about the game is that it is globally popular and there are stores that sell accessories for it. Like these dice!

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

More than 10 years ago I purchased one (just one!) beautiful purple die, with 10 sides. That means it includes the numbers zero and nine. The fun of throwing a really high number and the laughter ensuing when you throw “a zero” really adds spice to a game. As you can see, there are dice with all sorts of combinations, even ones that are in a series of tens (seventy, eighty), though I have not tried to use such numbers in class myself.

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

Two cautionary notes:

When working with young children with emotional issues, I would not use the zero as a zero, but rather call it the magical number that gives you an extra turn, instead of taking it away. If the teacher does not think of such things in advance, the game intended to be fun could end very quickly and badly.

The clear (see through) die-within-a-die is very cool (you don’t have to throw two dice!) but it is the only one I know of that is actually breakable.

So let the games begin!

Saturday’s Book: “Dear Life” by Alice Munro

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

This collection of stories is absolutely excellent.

Often sad, but excellent. Every word is meaningful, no pointless information. I got caught up in each story after reading the first few lines, and took my time reading the book. I wanted to think about the story I had just read before moving on.

I had read some of these stories before, as they were published in The New Yorker magazine. But it didn’t bother me at all. The power is in the details, in the careful choice of words, it didn’t matter if I had some general memory of the plot outline.

This collection includes stories which are autobiographical in nature. It’s fascinating to get an insight into a talented writer’s childhood.

I really enjoyed the book!

Belated Saturday’s Book: “The Humans” by Haig

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

It’s a nice book.

Yes, I know, “nice” is sort of a general term, not one to use when describing a book. In fact, the hero of the story says: “To like something is to insult it, either hate it or love it. Be passionate”.

But that’s just it. I heard it as an audiobook with an excellent reader who did the British accents of different people (and different ages) beautifully. The story of an alien who comes to earth and learns what it means to be humans is nice, kind of feel goodish, but not too much so. For example,  it is kind of nice (there, I used the word for the third time!) to stop and think about the question: “why do we make such a fuss about clothes”.

But it isn’t wonderful, or anything to be “passionate” about. Nothing to hate, either.

Just a nice book.

“Giving Back” – Looking at iTDi & The 30 Goals Conference

Naomi (1)

On the iTDi blog you will now find a powerful and moving set of posts about “giving back”. As the editor, Kevin Stein, writes in his introduction:

“Opening a door, a gentle nudge, an invitation to step outside our comfort zone, mentors do all this and more…The mentors in our community are an example of how the act of giving is also an act of receiving, how reaching out and helping someone else enriches us all”.

For me, participating in the 30 Goals Project was like gaining a set of mentors. Mentors who opened doors for me. Mentors who taught me to that pausing and reflecting would be good for my teaching and my soul. These same mentors also gave me a tool for reflecting – they helped me start blogging!

Now it’s time for me to give back!

I’m participating in the amazing 30 Goals free online conference for teachers. Proud to be there with all the other teachers who have donated their time and the richness of their experience.

My talk, on playing games when tutoring “one-on-one” will be given at the following link, on Sunday, 6 p.m. (That’s GMT +3).

“Message to Younger Teacher-Self”: Closing Plenary at ETAI 2015

Thanks to Jane Cohen for the photo
Thanks to Jane Cohen for the photo


After collecting over 50 responses from teachers of English as a foreign language from all over the world, I faced a challenging task. I had to present all these meaningful, funny, moving and useful short message to a younger teacher-self in a way that would not tire the audience at the closing plenary of the ETAI Summer Conference, 2015. After all, everyone (including me!) had just spent two action packed days of talks and presentations!

To make a long story short (long as in the number of hours I spent figuring this out), I fed all the responses into a “word cloud” generator, and used that as a means of grouping the responses. For example, “DON’T” actually turned out to be the most frequent word. Would this first group of messages (which included the word don’t) all be of the admonishing kind? As in “Don’t smile at the kids till after the holidays?”.  Nope! Take a look and see for yourself, below!

“LOVE” came out smaller in the word cloud, but the word itself calls for attention. I’m sure you think all the responses were of the “love your students” kind. Check it out – you were surprised by the first one, right?

“Salad” was quite small but demanded attention – what on earth does food have to do with advice for a younger teacher?

I’ll leave you to find out on your own.

Here’s the presentation!

(P.S. Was “moodhoovers” a new phrase for you too?! A great one!)

Saturday’s Book: “Past Perfect” by Jacob Shabtai

Spooky... (Naomi's Photos)
(Naomi’s Photos)

This is a strange book.

What’s even stranger is that I can’t put my finger on what stopped me from “abandoning the book”.

It’s not easy to read it. It’s written in the “stream of conciousness” style, with paragraphs being a very rare thing, a period spotted once or twice a page, while commas get special treatment. Everything is very associative and slow. Not a lot of action, either.


It really did seem as if I, the reader, was inside the hero’s head. That IS the way we think, in an associative manner. Imagine walking on the pavement and thinking about the things you have to do next, and in between you get fleeting, momentary thoughts such as :”Who let that dog run out without a leash?” or ” What a terrible color for a car!”

It just seemed that I couldn’t stop until I was officially “released”. So despite having a crisis at some point, I completed the book with a sense of closure. Not sorry I read it.