18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 4. Errors

Smiley Crane (Naomi's Photos)
Smiley Crane
(Naomi’s Photos)

This is part four of my blogging challenge
As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why.

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 17 : “Do Correct Mistakes”

Yes, yes and again yes.
Yes with struggling learners, students with special needs and adults who have had years of negative experiences with English.
Correct gently, be sensitive, mix with lots of encouragement and praise what is good, but do correct.
Here’s what I have found.
Correcting means attention.
Students crave attention, particularly those learners who are having a hard time.
Correcting means you listened to them or really read what they wrote.
Exercises with an auto correct function on the computer can be helpful, but in small dosages. The students want to know that I am paying attention to what they are doing, that I noticed they finally remembered to add “ed” after having to correct it so many times, etc.

Note: Corrections are most effective within a short time!

This is a tip close to my heart and day by day experiences in class! What are your feelings about error correction?

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 3. Interesting Lessons & Discipline

Don't turn your back on me! Naomi's Photos
Don’t turn your back on me!
Naomi’s Photos

This is part three of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: 100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 13: “Make the lesson interesting”

A big YES along with a “but…”

Of course I wholeheartedly agree that the more students (each and every one of them!) are involved, interested and engaged in the lesson, the less opportunities there are for discipline problems. Bored students are a recipe for trouble.

That is a tip I certainly always strive to apply, though cannot honestly say I succeed every single day and every single lesson.

However, that’s not the “but”.

This tip strikes a raw nerve. Still raw even though it harks back to my first months as a teacher back in 1985!

I started teaching elementary school after beginning my third year at the university. Not ony hadn’t I graduated yet, the university courses taught us many things (such as normal and abnormal language development) but classroom management wasn’t one of the topics dealt with in any meaningful way. The message I did get, very very clearly though, was that if the lessons were interesting, I would not have discipline problems.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

But I had discipline problems. Lots of them. The kids saw this young teacher’s lessons, who only taught them 3 hours a week, as an opportunity for “party time”.  Back then there were no cochlear implants and when a deaf child chose to ignore the teacher and not look at her, the situation was very difficult (no visual contact, no communication).

And I couldn’t understand it. I worked harder and harder and brought in amazing visuals and activities. I found out what the kids were interested in and tailored my activities to their level and interests, taking into account the students with additional learning disabilities and handicaps.  I thought the main problem was me not being able to create interesting enough lessons.

My “aha” moment came after a lesson where I had truly outdone myself. I have no recollection of what I actually did in the lesson, but I remember carrying lots of bags with me on the long bus ride (three busses, actually) to work. And I will never forget that every single one of those eight misbehaving children came to me at the end of the lesson and thanked me for the lesson.

I was sure I had it nailed. Now they knew that lessons with me could be awesome and they would give me a chance to teach them the next day.

Ha. Little did I know. The next day was business as usual. Or lack of it.

That’s how I learned the lesson that first the students need to know that you mean business, that their behavior will be reported to the home room teacher / the computer system / the parents / the grade system and that there is a clear system of consequences in the lessons with this teacher too.

THEN, when your lessons are interesting, you will hardly need to activate any of these consequences…


18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 2. The Right Answer

Multiple lines Naomi's photos
Multiple lines
Naomi’s photos

This is part two of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 9: “Allow lots of right answers” 

Clarification – in this section the author is referring to coursebook grammar and vocabulary exercises, which usually have one right answer for each item. She suggest ways in which to change the exercises to allow several right answers.

I may fall back on Penny Ur’s statement in the introductory section of the book: “…be aware that not all {tips} may be right for you” .  I think this one falls under that category.

I don’t use coursebooks very much. That has a lot to do with teaching in the format of a learning center. But when I do have the students do the grammar and vocabulary exercises from a book, they do them on their own, in class, while I work with some other students.

In that situation I’m happy that there is one right answer for each item, so I can quickly pop over, see what the students are doing and then let them continue.

In addition (and I think this bothers me the most), is the crazy complexity of having the students ignore the instructions in the book and do the exercise in a different way (even though it is more fun and provides more practice!). When working with deaf and hard of hearing students, getting students to pay attention to the existence of instructions, to read the instructions and actually follow the instructions is an ongoing “battle”. Case in point: the drawback of my entire “fun/enrichment” corner in the learning center is the time wasted by students who will not read instructions for an activity, even if they are in mother tongue! Note: that’s the advantage of having a multi-grade classroom, one can always send an older student over to give them a nudge in the right direction…

The comforting thing about those grammar and vocabulary exercises in the coursebooks is that what is expected of the student is usually familiar and then the students get working right away, on their own.

Not going to adopt this tip at this stage, but at least now that I have thought about it, I know why! What about you?

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 1. New Material

Which way to go? Naomi's Photos
Which way to go?
Naomi’s Photos

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 4: “Teach new material first, review later”.

Oh yes!

Yes for all of my deaf and hard of hearing students. An even more emphatic YES for those who I would call struggling learners

In the book, Ur refers to the structure of a lesson, but for me, in my class structured as a learning center (mixed grades, mixed levels) this refers to the plan for the school year.

We always begin the school year with something new, something slightly more challenging. Despite knowing without a doubt that the new 10th graders need a review of the basic tenses, of the “WH” questions and much more, we start with a grammar topic they hadn’t encountered in junior-high (the passive voice, the first conditional), a new literature piece, writing a short letter, etc.  The 11th and 12th graders also start with something new, whether or not they have completed all the material the previous year.

When the students begin the school year by working on new material they feel that they have gone up a level, made progress, are respected as being older. Then they don’t really notice that a lot of the material they are working on for the new topic includes serious review of basic material.

Self esteem is so important for success.

The only time I have a major problem when applying this tip is when it comes to absolute non-readers. For deaf and hard of hearing students, reading is the main source of exposure to the foreign language. In the (thankfully) few cases I’ve encountered where the 10th grade student  felt physically ill from just looking at any sort of review of the letters, I’ve resorted to starting with short sentences (or four sentence paragraphs) and an electronic dictionary. Then backtracking. However, I prefer using an organized methodology for teaching reading first.

How does this tip work for you?

Update on “The Coincidence Makers” by Yoav Blum

The local scene - yellow everywhere!
The local scene – yellow everywhere!

Sometimes it’s great to be wrong!

When I enjoy a book I like to write it about it on my blog, as you know. I also like to tell the author, if possible.

Well, in this case it was possible.

And the author, Yoav Blum, was kind enough to write me back.

With good news.

The book has been translated into English and is available as a Kindle Edition. See the link here.

I had no idea.

It also turns out that the bio information on the cover of the book isn’t updated. The author no longer lives in the same city I do!  But he stayed really close, so he can still feel the local magic…

As I said, delighted to be wrong!



Saturday’s Book: The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Peeking at the sunset over the entrance to Kiryat Ono
Peeking at the sunset over the entrance to Kiryat Ono

What a fun book!

My apologies to those of you who don’t read Hebrew, I sincerely hope this book will be translated soon!

This book takes a novel and humorous approach to the romantic tale. The main characters are “Coincidence Makers” – beings who look like people but are in fact in charge of creating the situations we call coincidences. It takes meticulous research and careful planning to create a perfect “coincidence”. Coincidences that cause two people to cross paths, some that lead to major discoveries in medicine or even getting someone fired so as to get him/her to move on to do what he/she always wanted but was too afraid to try.

But the best part of it all, for me, was how Blum treats it like a serious profession and gives excerpts from the Coincidence Makers’ textbooks and exams (you have to study to be certified) which clearly poke fun at familiar things from college entrance exams and course material.

There are also official Imaginary Friends…

I also enjoyed the way he described situations, supposedly seriously but then with a twist of phrase that made me chuckle.

As I said – a fun read!

P.S. It turns out the author lives in Kiryat Ono, just like I do! If you’ve forgotten the wonders that can be found in our little corner of the world, see here.



It’s Saturday: So the Brain is like an Attic, Sherlock?

Not sure they have attics... (Naomi's Photos)
Not sure they have attics… (Naomi’s Photos)

The past year has been an extremely hectic one for me (good things, no worries!). Large quantities of new information of different types landed on my brain’s “doorstep” and moved in.

Their arrival seems to have displaced information I used to have at my disposal and I seem to have less room for taking in new information (I forget things I was recently told!).

One memory has surfaced quite clearly though. In fact, it is demanding my attention quite frequently. There is a question to be answered:

Was Sherlock Holmes (or rather Conan Doyle) right about the brain being like an attic after all? 

The claim was made, in “A Study in Scarlet” which I believe was the very first story about Holmes, published in 1887. Dr. Watson had just expressed shock that Holmes didn’t know something about the solar system, possibly that the earth rotates around the sun. I read the story years ago yet Holmes’ reaction stuck in my mind more than the actual plot of the story.

Here’s the quote. What do you think?

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”



Saturday’s Triple Book Post

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Once again, I have been reading, but haven’t kept up with the posting.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Sides – part two

In my first post about this book I promised I would update when I finished it.


I had thought I might quit when the going gets rough (as indicated by the subtitle, it’s not a spoiler), but who could quit? Especially as I was dying to know how the author had such detailed information about the different stages of their polar journey. Also, the crew seemed to have a knack for overcoming impossible odds until…

Now THAT would be a spoiler.  Read the book!

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes, by Backman

The beginning of the book requires patience, but afterwards I found the book to be very engaging and enjoyed it. The book begins with rather too many details from the stories Elsa (almost 8 and gifted) is told by her “crazy” grandmother. While it is obvious that the stories are important to the plot, at that stage I found it hard to be interested in all their details.

However, once the plot really got going, I was really drawn in. Elsa’s family and neighbors, her feminist-trail blazing-unorthodox grandmother and Elsa herself are all rich and interesting characters.


The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Not for me at all.

After enjoying the lovely concept in the first chapter of assigning books to cure people like a prescription for medicine, I lost patience with the book fairly quickly and abandoned ship.

I truly dislike platitudes about “what women want” or “what men are like”. And that’s just for starters…


The CHIPS are for the Teacher Too!


Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

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 videos 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.

In one memorable segment (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  struggling learners to experience success.

We teachers need to work on keeping those chips high too.

I 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 when I decide to attend the International ETAI Conference during my own summer vacation, or even simply decide to ignore the laundry  to write on my blog (like I am doing now!),  I’m doing something good for me.

I’m simply replenishing my chips.


Blogging for ETAI International Conference – An Interview with Hugh Dellar

Hugh Dellar
Hugh Dellar



That word alone is enough to spark heated debates in any gathering of EFL teachers. The issue of how much grammar to teach, what is the best way to teach it, what will happen if lexis is emphasized over grammar –  are all “hot” topics indeed.

Hugh Dellar, the experienced teacher, teacher-trainer and author will take up such  “burning” issues in his plenary talk at the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) .  In this interview he shares some of his insights and his own personal journey. 

Q: The title for your plenary talk is “Making the LEAP from Grammar to Lexis”. Based on your extensive experience, what constraints do teachers have to overcome? 

A: Well, obviously, to a large degree, the constraints depend on the context teachers find themselves working in. There may well be external exams that teachers need to prepare students for, and these exams may be very grammar-heavy; there may also be internal school or larger national curriculum pressures that lead teachers to believe a certain way of approaching grammar in class is required; this may also be exacerbated by perceptions teachers have about what students, parents, colleagues, etc. want from them. Ultimately, though, the biggest constraints are internal, and these are often the result of our training. So much of the way we are trained to see language and thus to think about what’s important when trying to teach grammar, vocabulary, etc. stems from our training, and it’s there that the biggest breakthroughs can be made in terms of helping teachers overcome or at least tackle outdated ways of thinking about language. 

In my plenary, I’ll be acknowledging some of the reasons why PPP (Present-Practise-Produce) has become so entrenched as the dominant way of tackling grammar, before going into more detail about why it really is time for it to be at least partially replaced with an approach that addresses some of the many limitations inherent in PPP.
Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos
Q: How did you become a teacher and what attracted you about the field of lexis?
A: That’s a tricky question. I guess the short answer would be that I did English Literature at university and was always interested in literature, words, and language. I was also in a semi-professional band that split up soon after I graduated, leaving me at a bit of a loose end, and initially at least just drifted into ELT – as so many native speakers do – as a way of getting out and seeing a bit of the world. In terms of what drew me to a more lexical view of language, it was partly my own experience of learning Indonesian when I was living in Jakarta in the 90s, as I very quickly realised that the memorization of countless single words from bilingual word lists coupled with the study of grammar forms and meanings wasn’t helping me produce anything particularly resembling Indonesian as it was really spoken; there was also a growing frustration with the language coursebooks they were giving me to teach, little of which bore much resemblance to English as I spoke it. What then helped crystallise these vague feelings of dissatisfaction into something more focused and coherent was reading The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis in 1995, when I did my DELTA. It provided me with a way of looking at language that very much tallied with my own experiences thus far and which then forced me to reassess my own classroom practices and – ultimately – to get into writing materials too. 
Hugh Dellar 1
Q : You are a teacher,  a teacher-trainer, and an author of ELT books – do you enjoy doing any of them more than the other?
A: This is the easiest question I’ve been asked for a long time! If I had to give up everything else and only keep one of the areas I’m involved in, it would without a doubt me classroom teaching. This was my first love, and the thing that’s made everything else I’ve done possible, and I still love the immediacy and excitement and satisfaction of teaching. 
Q: You work with teachers all over the world. Do you find any differences between their approaches to the issue of lexis?
A: Yes, there are quite noticeable differences. One hates to generalise, but in certain countries such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine, for instance, teachers generally speak remarkably good English and are very receptive to the kind of ideas I’ve been banging on about for years. They don’t seem afraid of the hard graft aspect of language learning, and generally have high expectations of their learners and how much language they can shoulder. Other markets – Italy and Japan spring to mind – are still very very rooted in what’s essentially little more than Grammar Translation, and the teaching reflects this. 
Q: What do enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
A: Recently I’ve been so busy working – writing, setting up our new school (www.londonlanguagelab.com), teaching, training, travelling, etc. – that I honestly haven’t had much free time, but as and when I do get some I still play in a rock’n’roll band; I collect old 60s vinyl 45s; I watch Arsenal Football Club; I read; I cook; I have been known to frequent a pub on occasion; I go to the cinema . . . all the usual stuff, to be honest.
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