Saturday’s Book: “The Last Days of Night” by Moore

Naomi’s Photos

So how would you like to “meet” Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell and J. P. Morgan? Or “see” the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as it is  being built and “visit” the new Metropolitan Opera (it seems the old Opera House wouldn’t accept the likes of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt so they needed a new one…)?

I did!

Well, not exactly. But it feels that way!

I treated myself to three audiobooks, and this historical legal thriller is the first. The excellent narrator was able to make each character sound a little differently, which added another dimension to the book. The book is rich with details and background information and in many parts its quite easy to imagine being a fly in the room, with a front row seat to the legal battle.

Naomi’s Photos

Make no mistake – while there’s a lot of fascinating history here, this is  a legal thriller in the tradition of any of those courtroom dramas series you happen to favor on T.V. It turns out there was a huge dramatic battle over who and how the USA would become a country with electricity. The lawyer (whose eyes you are peering through as the story unfolds)  is young and dashing and of course there’s a love story too…

It’s certainly a good choice for an audiobook as the drama makes listening to it rather energizing – I got a great deal of cooking done while listening!

I understand there is going to be a movie version soon. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’m glad I read it before the movie comes out!



Saturday’s Book: “The Rights of Desire” by Brink

Naomi’s Photos

And to think I almost didn’t read this book!

I picked it up at the “readers-give-readers” corner at our library but it remained on the bookshelf while I read other books first. Not only had I  never heard of the South African author,  the title and the cover weren’t particularly appealing. It clearly wasn’t what once was called a “10 cent paperback” but the book didn’t appear particularly appealing either.

As they say, appearances are misleading. I’m now ready to read any book by Brink I can find, and I understand he wrote several.

The style of writing had me hooked by page one. The main character is a former librarian and the book is full of references to other books, in addition to moving paragraphs about the degree in which books can make a difference in a person’s life.

The setting is in post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa, though the story weaves past, distant past (there’s a ghost!) and present. All turbulent times in different ways.

And yes, there is desire, lust, love or lack of it, from different perspectives. Don’t expect any “saccharine coating” here, but there is tenderness along with reality.

A wholly unpredictable book.

I’m so glad I read it.

Students Writing for an Authentic Audience affords A Peek into their Hearts

Behind the mask…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Spelling, grammar, vocabulary – it is well known that these skills improve the more students practice their writing. Naturally, when students have an authentic audience to write for, they are markedly more motivated to pay attention to their writing.

In addition to all that goodness,  I discover time and again that such a kind of writing leads to many other meaningful things as well. Meaningful for both the students and the teacher.

I just want to share the joy!

My lovely co-teacher just gave birth and I opened a Padlet virtual wall so that the students could write congratulatory notes for her. My teenage students like  Padlet’s cool backgrounds and the ease in which they can edit and add pictures.  So it’s always a good choice for me. The students were eager to wish their teacher well – no prodding was necessary.  It’s good for a teacher to be reminded that the students care!

  • MOTIVATION – Got that covered! CHECK!
Handmade for you!
Naomi’s Photos

One student  wished the teacher “good health and happy” so we talked about happy vs happiness. Another expressed hope that the teacher would come back next year with ” new powers”, which is a direct translation from Hebrew. So we discussed leaving “the powers” for the superheros and went with “lots of energy”. In short, the kind of discussions an English teacher expects to have, you know what I mean. Some mistakes I did not correct or point out – going  over each note with a fine tooth comb would have been counter productive.


One student started to write his note saying that he hopes the teacher feels better again soon and will come back to class as soon as possible… We had a talk about the fact that  having a baby is not like being sick and in any case the teacher won’t come back soon, she’s on maternity leave. I had a similar talk with a girl in a different group who wanted to write a note but claimed she only knows what to say when someone is ill. We mentioned useful phrases for this situation in L1 as well. Other students did not have this problem and even asked for pictures!

Naomi’s Photos

One student wrote a particularly long note. Half of the note was devoted to telling the teacher to make sure her husband takes care of the baby too. A sample sentence: you gave the new baby for the world and father need to do something also.hahah :)”. It was a strong reminder of the student’s own “thorny” fatherhood woes  and how it must be an issue close to his heart. I did not point out any errors at all on this student’s note…


I saw one student having Google translate an entire paragraph typed in L1. I was about to protest strongly  (they are not supposed to do that in class!) until I saw what she had written. The kind of “flowery blessing”, which was obviously something she had encountered at home, was important to her. “This is the right thing to  say when someone has a baby”, she said with a big smile. The student would not have been able to produce sentences such as the following on her own: “That the sun on you will always shine. And your family will grow and blossom. That they sow endless love”. So I just smiled back and didn’t say a word.


In short, wishing someone else well, in written English, did us all good!







The “look-alike” Trap on Exams

You won’t catch me!
Naomi’s photos

No pictures, videos or creative games.

I needed a direct, no frills approach, to highlight my point this time.

My high school students’ final exams (internal and then national) are coming up. In between we have holidays and school trips (not to mention a slew of lectures), all cancelling lessons.

The clock is ticking.

It’s time to pick my fights – review skills most of my struggling learners have been able to employ successfully when they actually remember to keep them in mind.

What’s more, I have discovered that using the word “trap” seems to awaken a competitive streak in some of the students, so I’ve decided to capitalize on their awakened interest.

One correct answer and three distractors
Naomi’s Photos

I told the students that  whomever it is that writes the national final exams knows that some students have a system for answering multiple choice questions on reading comprehension tasks.  A system that doesn’t require reading. These students simply look for words that look alike in the options and in the text and then choose their answer without further investigation. For example:

The Sentence from the Text The Wrong Answer
1. Mr. Jay invested 11 million dollars in the football team. X Mr. Jay earned 11 million dollars from the football team.

Such students see the words “11 million dollars” and fall blithely into the trap the exam writer has set. They distractor that “looks-alike” is the wrong one (“Duh”, my strong students would say, but this is not for them)!

So, I challenged the students to outsmart the exam writers and not fall into the look-alike” trap that has been set for them.

Together we examined 8 sentences, which I have modified from actual national exams (I had to modify the sentences to make them clear when being read out of context) and corresponding incorrect answers chosen by unknown students who had forgotten about the “traps”. I didn’t worry about vocabulary – I supplied any glosses needed. The students led the activity, almost all of them were able to explain why the answer chosen was incorrect. Or, to rephrase, what caused the unknown student who picked  such an answer (they, of course, would never do such a thing!) to do so.

The fact that the students were able to analyze the errors successfully with hardly any guidance on my part (mainly glossing or adding context) didn’t mean the activity was too easy.

Quite the opposite.

They seemed to feel empowered. They could avoid a trap! They weren’t going to lose 8 points over nothing!

But will all of this actually come into play when the students take their national finals?

That remains to be seen…

Naomi’s Photos

Here is the worksheet I used. The downloadable document contains two versions  – one with the “critical” words underlined, and the other with no hints whatsoever. I used the version without any words underlined.

***Remember – this is not a worksheet for self-study. It is the discussion that matters. I was even able to sneak in a reminder about superlatives…

the look alike trap-2nwne8w


Saturday’s Book: “Ravelstein” by Saul Bellow

In the same boat
Naomi’s Photos

To start at the end, I now know that this book is refers to a real person and that the book has raised many controversial issues. But frankly, I don’t think the point of this book is to discuss an attack on liberal arts university education in the USA, the AIDS epidemic in the past and lifestyle choices or just to present a very unusual, larger than life character.

I think is a book about friendship.

It is about having a friend who has become an inseparable part of your life, and then having to deal with the empty space you are left with when that friend is gone.

It remind me of the book by Ann Patchett – “Truth and Beauty”.

In both books the friend in question is not an easy friend to have and actually complicates ones life. Yet not being a close friend of this person is unimaginable. In both books the friend passes away.

Saul Bellow’s book is a much slower read than Patchett’s and it’s constructed in a kind of circular fashion. You encounter some events more than once but with additional information. The style only becomes a direct chronological narrative of events after “the friend” passes away.

It took me time to get into this book (and figure out what it is about)  but there’s something about the writing that made want to continue reading, though I can’t say what it was. It is a somewhat strange book but I’m glad I read it.


A Book for Teachers: “My name is Leon” by Kit de Waal

Childhood experiences vary greatly…
Naomi’s Photos

I rarely post about a book before I have finished it, but I’m so very excited about this book that I just want to talk about it and so many things related to it!

Believe me, I would have finished reading it by now even though I just started it a few days ago. I was completely drawn in by the end of the first page. It’s just that life gets in the way… There should be “good book days” like “snow days” so that I can stay home and read!

First of all, the writing itself is amazing. The story is told from the point of view of 9-year-old Leon, yet on occasion lets us adults in on what is really happening to Leon before the child himself understands it. Leon lives in early 1980s Britain and is taken out of his completely dysfunctional home and placed in foster care. His little baby brother, who is white (from a different father) is quickly adopted, leaving Leon, who is mixed race behind. The story is moving and keeps the reader completely involved.

It is not an Oliver Twist kind of story. While I haven’t quite finished reading it, this is not a tale of abuse in the “newspaper headline sense of the word”. No one is being beaten, starved or locked in dark cupboards. Issues of economic status, race and welfare do come up, of course.

Actually, I find this to be a book about how children going through difficult family situations need to be heard, listened to. Noticed.

And that’s why I truly think this a book teachers should read. Every teacher has some students who are not having the kind of childhood we would like children to have.

Finally, I’m also excited by the fact that an advanced 12th grade student of mine lent me this book. My students choose their own books for their book reports, (though they must run it by me for approval) and one student brought in this book which she purchased. This particular student has had experience with social services in her life and she liked the book.

I could see this as a book that students could read – it is certainly thought-provoking!

Check it out!

Note: Actually, “Good Book Days” are not a good idea. There are so many good books out there – when would I teach and meet the kids?!


“Teacher, why won’t the new kid play with me?” – Inclusion in the Classroom

Are you ignoring me?
Naomi’s Photos

It is so easy to imagine the situation, because we’ve encountered it. The children are curious about the “new kid in class”. Someone asks “the new kid” to play, but he doesn’t respond. It seems to the children that he is ignoring the invitation and that angers them.

How can we talk to students about those children who do want to be friendly but might not respond in a familiar way?

Erin Human knows how to present a subject in a way children can relate to. Even better, her winning combination of pictures and simple text “Social Skills for Everyone” make the infographic sideshow suitable for learners of English as a foreign language as well. And that’s a lucky break because inclusion is a very real issue that needs to be discussed in class. New immigrants , children with a hearing problem, children on the Autism spectrum and more – you will find them all in the so-called “regular” classrooms.

From Erin Human’s “Social Skills for Everyone”


Head over to Erin Human’s blog to see the complete slide show “Social Skills for Everyone” . Erin has kindly permitted me to share the link (given below) to download the slide show as a PDF file for use in class.


Inclusion needs to be discussed.

“Frog on His Own” by Mayer & the JOY of Wordless Books

Who will sit here? What will they watch? Story prompt? Naomi’s Photos

This post was going to be a joyous “Sharing -books-with-kids-ROCKS” kind of post, not related to work or the classroom, a suitable post for the weekend. But the teacher in me can’t look at a children’s book without thinking about sharing the joy in class…

Yesterday I stumbled upon a short post praising the use of wordless books in class “Using Wordless Books with English Learners” by Herrmann. It stopped me short, with my finger still on the mouse.

I can’t believe I forgot about this. I haven’t thought about such books for years and haven’t been recommending the use of them.  Wonderful books that tell an entire story in pictures, nary a word in sight.

Total amnesia.

So I went to the bookshelf and found the four books that I own.

“Frog on his Own” by Mercer Mayer was a hit with my own kids and in class. This amusing story of a pet frog having adventures in a local park was very clear to my sons and they enjoyed telling the tale. From a very early age children  know that in “traditional” books their parents are reading the words to them but here it is permissible to tell the tale a bit differently each time, and for the child to “read”  to the parent. This also worked well in class when I taught grades 3-6. Students wrote up the sequence of events, invented the text or the dialogue. Pure educational FUN!

My own sons loved the books “Moonlight” and “Sunshine” by Jan Ormerod much more than the previous one, but I couldn’t take them to class. These books are a gem for parents because of the combination of humor and reality of life at home with a child. Moonlight tells the story of a little girl who doesn’t want to go to bed while Sunshine depicts  the same girl who plays ” the big girl” and looks after herself while her parents sleep in. We loved everything about these books!

However, the heroine of these books is clearly around five years old (okay, maybe first grade, maybe) and there was no way my fifth graders at the time would accept such a book.

Which reminded me why the books were forgotten.

The first three are too childish for high-school…

There’s that pesky age where children refuse anything that might make them seem childish…
Naomi’s Photos

I do have one wordless book considered suitable for older readers “Anno’s Journey” by Mitsumasa Anno but, sad to say, I don’t get it.

The book is highly praised, it is supposed to include hidden storybook characters, visual puzzles, reference to famous paintings and more among the drawings, but I am truly embarrassed to say that  I myself have identified very few. Except for the pages with the windmills, I can’t even tell which parts of the journey are supposed to depict which European country – it could all be the British countryside as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps I need a teacher’s guide for it..

If I can’t narrate it myself, or write clues for the students to read and go on a treasure hunt , I truly can’t bring it to class.

I guess my “amnesia” had a reasonable basis.

So I will now return all four books to the bookshelf, and wait for grandchildren to share them with…

A “Zeeting” to Spark an ACTIVE Discussion on TOLERANCE

It depends on how you look at it…
Naomi’s Photos

As I have mentioned before, I’m taking  a great in-service course on using digital tools in the classroom.  “Zeetings” is the latest addition to my virtual “toolbox”.

Everyone likes being asked their opinion. Everyone! “Zeetings” lets you create interactive presentations, allowing the viewers to participate and get  instant statistics. That’s exactly what you need if you want to spark a discussion!

This is just my first presentation created on “Zeetings” and I was delighted to find that their presentation tool is almost completely intuitive to use – I added a video and the interactive questions following it without reading the instructions (I’m actually someone who does read instructions, but not this time!). I could preview my creation and easily edit out the wrinkles.

So, if you would like to have a class discussion on  the ways in which media  does / doesn’t promote tolerance toward those who are perceived as different, or would just like to raise awareness regarding  Deaf people, you may find the following helpful. In any case, the video (many thanks to the lovely Beata Gulati for sending it to me!) is a great message for Valentines Day – LOVE despite communication difficulties. Some of you may remember seeing the video on this blog in the past, as an Edpuzzle exercise, created for reading comprehension activities. I’m using the video again this way because it raises so many great discussion points (and students love it)!

Let me know if your students liked it too!



Lost in a Book: “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follet

Not a giant at all…
Naomi’s Photos

Ken Follet knows how to push all the right buttons.

Here’s the thing.  I usually abhor authors who seem to count the number of pages needed to insert regularly something related to affairs of the heart / flesh, particularly in conjunction with a generous sprinkling of “costume drama” (ranging from clothing, buildings and any other comforts of the aristocracy and the rich).

But Follet so cleverly combines those “buttons” with so much fascinating historical information, behind the scenes diplomacy and egoism that affected the lives (and deaths) of millions of people,  that I was willing to forgive the author for just about anything irksome in the entire book.  All 920 pages of it! I stopped reading my magazines – the book was addictive!

The characters are presented in such a  vivid and engaging way, the Welsh mining family and the local aristocracy, the German diplomats, the Russian peasants along with the American contingent. The book follows these imaginary characters along with very real politicians of the period during the years that lead to WWI, through the war years and immediately afterwards. You feel the tension of the arguments and the decisions even though I knew the outcome of some of them.  I’ve read extensively about WWll but realized I didn’t know nearly as much about how so many countries got involved in this war.

That’s not all. The book follows the battle to give women in Britain the right to vote. I had no idea of the influence the war had on that issue and even of the perception of women’s roles. It also brings you right into the heart of the Russian revolution. Somehow I had never thought about how all these things were happening at the same time and what that meant.

In short – I was HOOKED.

This is the first part of a trilogy. The first two books quite literally fell into my lap, without the third. I’m going to wait a while before starting the next one – not ready yet for another world war!

I’ve now started a completely different kind of book. Updates will follow!

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