It’s Raining BOOKS, Hallelujah!

It really is. I’m a bit overwhelmed!

 Photo by Omri Epstein

Photo by Omri Epstein

First I found a book in the library that I had been wanting to read for a long time.

I didn’t go to the annual book fair (every June) because I don’t buy books anymore, remember? But my sons did. Two of the books they bought are books I would like to read.

Then I got a book as a gift. It was the biography of Steve Jobs, translated into Hebrew. I don’t read translated versions if I can read the language of the original. In addition, the library carries the book in English. So I exchanged it for TWO BOOKS (it was a hardcover).

NEXT (taking a deep breath) I got a ONE YEAR SUBSCRIPTION TO AUDBILE! Wow! That’s TWELVE audio books! I’ve begun listening to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. Two readers!

Finally, I got another book as a gift from a friend. I love her choice except for the fact that I actually own it. Its ” the hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson, which I really enjoyed. So I took it back to the store. But since I’m now feeling rather overwhelmed, I could not find anything to exchange it to. I took one of those documents that show how much credit I have at the store. What are they called in English?

So, do you see what I mean? It IS raining books!



Crowdsourcing – Why Turning 50 is a GREAT Thing for a Teacher!

You may say this post is one of self-delusion. Doesn’t everyone want to be 29 or 34 forever?

But since turning 50 (today!) is no delusion, I’ve decided to ask you all for help in listing all the advantages a teacher turning 50 has. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Lets see how many we can get on this list!

1) My boys are young adults now.

I took this one!
I took this one!

Not that they don’t need some “Mommy Time” too (not to mention food and laundry) but its nothing like when they needed to be picked up from nursery school  EXACTLY on time. If I want to stay, on the spur of the moment, in the English room at the end of the day and finish something up, I can.

2) I really care a lot less what people think. I recently joined the local gym, which is near my house and gives a better deal than the private places I used to go to. I don’t mind that the many teachers from my school who also go there (and I’ve met a former adult student too) see that I’m a Klutz.

3) HUGE PERK , only for Israeli teachers in the national school system (as far as I know!): 2 “age hours”. That means that instead of a full time position being 24 proper teaching hours, it will now be only 22 hours!!! I will actually be working 24 hours next year too (my co-teacher just had a baby!!!) but will be paid extra for those two hours. Hmmm, I think there will be two more “age hours” when I turn 55!!

4) Experience – you would think that I would put that first, wouldn’t you?

Not a walk in the park
Not a walk in the park

But that’s a tricky one. On one hand, every day, EVERY LESSON, gives me more “experience points (remember the board game “Careers”?). On the other hand, every year brings new challenges. Changes in the curriculum is only part of it. I’m a special-ed teacher. There is a strong push toward mainstreaming in this country. That means that the percentage of  students with multiple disabilities,emotional difficulties, illnesses or broken homes rises every year. Its not getting easier.

5) I used my fiftieth birthday shamelessly as part of my campaign to get permission to go the recent IATEFL conference in Liverpool.

My conference bag
My conference bag

I milked it for all it was worth! It worked!

Bring on the ideas – how long will this list get?

Note from two days later:

Thought of another one!

I’ve always had trouble remembering names. The older I get the less odd it seems!

Check out the suggestions coming in the comment section!


Guest Post from an English Speaker learning Hebrew through Russian

After recommending Tyson’s Seburn’s post “Z is the 1st letter of their alphabet” , related to the experiences of American children studying at a school in Moscow, I heard from a number of teachers who found the video fascinating. One of them is Sharleen Harty, who has had the unique experience of learning a language she doesn’t know through another language she doesn’t know!

Photo by Gil Epshtein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

Here is what she wrote.

Sharleen Harty is a new immigrant to Israel & can be contacted at or visit her website:

How I am learning Hebrew – in 2012

by Sharleen Harty


Never before as a ‘linguist’ (I studied English, French, German and Italian at University of Cape Town; English, Afrikaans and French at school in South Africa; on-line Spanish in a USA college), have I had the opportunity to explore a language in the land in which it was born, died and then revived. Sixty-four years after Israel became an independent state, Hebrew is alive and well – with a meaning much as it had in Biblical times.

During the first five months as new olim (immigrants) in Israel, most non-Hebrew speakers attend five hours each day of intensive (and free) Hebrew exercises at Ulpan. However, my twenty fellow students in Akko were entirely Russian speakers (which is not unusual in the north apparently), and the teacher spoke very little English – so at the end of each day my output was more Russian than Hebrew.

I was confused on many levels by the daunting process of learning a new language and alphabet (Hebrew) through the context of listening to another language (Russian) that I did not know. Even the homework was largely presented in Russian and Hebrew. With the help of various (free) computer programs I was able to: observe and listen to a clearly articulated Hebrew audio track on-line (as opposed to the dominant Russian heard in class); cultivate a more authentic Israeli (and less Russian- or English-sounding) Hebrew accent using transliteration and audio playbacks; learn the Hebrew alphabet, and build a small vocabulary that I could use through the daily words posted on Facebook – visit

By Gil Epshtein
By Gil Epshtein

The best classroom, however, was definitely out and about in the sleepy, 6,000-year-old fishing village of Akko itself. I learned Hebrew words and context from each memorable encounter, much as a child learns his or her mother tongue (English for me) until it becomes ‘habitus’ or second nature. Another creative way to acquire Hebrew vocabulary was to listen to Israeli musicians (my favourite was Idan Raichel), while following the transliterated meaning and English words on-line. If only I could sing it would be an even more useful way to form and practise my Hebrew accent.

All Akko wanted to practise their English so I assisted two single Russian moms studying to be English teachers, taught oral bagrut at the local high school and was treated like a celebrity while teaching in Arab and Druze village schools. I may have stumbled on a new career as the sole, native-speaking English teacher in and around Akko. If more Anglos settled here I believe that we could easily start an English school – or at the very least teach the meaning of words and sentences through mime/charades.

I stopped the ‘Hebrew in Russian’ input after one month and several migraines of being “Lost in Translation” (a must see movie for those who are experiencing the sensation of being lost in a new language, culture and environment)*.  However, I continued to acquire knowledge as I set up a home in Akko, made friends, networked and found work in the schools. Being creative with my Hebrew language procedure allowed me the freedom to prioritize my daytime activities, and study at night if necessary. I even indulged my passion for archaeological meandering and exploration in the old Crusader-now Arab city, followed by a swim at Akko’s country club and processing Hebrew during my laps.

According to new olim have eighteen months in which to use free Ulpan lessons, so it remains an option if my anthropological hypothesis does not bear fruit within a year. If observing while participating does work, however, Arabic is next on my list…not to mention Russian.

*Two hilarious miscommunications during Ulpan: I thought I understood – to my horror – that a Russian student wanted to “drive drugs” in Israel (actually trucks) and that Israelis like to go to the store to buy “snakes” (actually snacks)

P.S. I moved to Nahariyya in 2013 and will resume my Ulpan practise there to supplement and speed up the Hebrew I imbibe daily.


Saturday’s Book: “Encore Provence” by Peter Mayle

Since we’re going to Provence (and the French Alps!) in a few weeks, I decided I should read this book to get into the spirit of things.

I read and enjoyed “A year in Provence” many years ago, though the book I remember better is Hotel Pastis, with its amusing tales of the cycling-bank-robbers and the extra cyclist.

I didn’t choose it as a travel guide. I don’t expect literature to do that and who would choose a travel guide that was published in 1999?!

But the book DOES try to be a travel guide. And instead of being lighthearted and endearing, I found parts of it to be tiresome and repetitive. Particularly as I’m not a “foodie”!

I still have a warm spot in my heart for Peter Mayle but the previous books were much better!

Using Video for Reading Comprehension – Take 4

I defined my series of activities using video for teaching reading comprehension as an experiment.

And experiments don’t always go so well.

There was no problem with the activity I had planned. I felt the students learned something from the discussion on how choice of vocabulary reflects the writer’s opinion. They certainly didn’t know a lot of the vocabulary items involved.

The video was the problem. I had debated whether I should use a commercial for something the students can actually buy. The previous ones I used were commercials too but not for anything relevant. However, the use of language here seemed so perfect for English Language Learners and the sentiment is lovely, that I decided to experiment on the adult learners. There is a difference in what one can do with adults compared to a class of high-school students in the national school system.

I won’t be using this commercial again. It spoiled the effect of the pre-viewing activity, which is the part which should stick in their minds.

Here it is. The worksheet is below. I have added a page with the full text from the commercial.


Which Word Means The Same As          Which Word Answers

Saturday’s Book: “Exit Ghost” by Philip Roth

Bottom line – I didn’t understand the book.

I first tried reading Roth as a teenager (Portnoy’s Complaint, I think it was). I was much too young. I didn’t even consider trying another of his books for years.

Until my husband read Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and got me to read it too. It is an excellent book and I was completely drawn in.

So when I encountered this book at the library I thought it high time to try another of his books.

There ae passages which were a pure pleasure to read.  He most certainly can write! However, I finished the book feeling puzzled. I didn’t get the point of it and did not get involved with the characters. I’ve read some reviews so now I know more about what I was (perhaps) supposed to “get”. I didn’t need any reviews to help me with the “The plot against America”.

Oh well. Have already been to the library!


Short Films for Reading Comprehension – Take Three!

This is the third part of my experiment in using video to teach reading comprehension strategies.

Take One, focusing on WH questions, can be found here.

Take Two, highlighting ” support your answer” type questions, can be found here.

This exercise focuses on “main idea” type questions. The purpose is to make the following message more memorable:

The distractors given are usually true sentences (or facts) from the text. But they are not the main idea. So you must read the distractors carefully.

I used three videos though only showed the students two. The first exercise relates to the “Power of Words one we saw two weeks ago. It is a very memorable video and I see no reason not to use the same video for multiple purposes.

The second one is a very short commercial. I don’t know where I heard about this one. Here it is:

This one I learned at the conference from Jamie Keddie’s excellent talk and CD. In his talk he used it completely differently. I hope to try some of the strategies he used in the future. However, I don’t think they were designed for a class of 33 struglling adult students (note: I’m not being inconsistent with the numbers, we are now a class of 33!). In addition, I’m pursuing a different agenda at the moment.

Here is the worksheet I used:

main idea


Overall I was pleased with results. The students loved the videos and did not find them childish or unsuitable. I overheard two students discussing the fact that I show them really educational commercials. However, one student complained that the worksheet was too easy. Easy as in the answers were too easy to find (most certainly not the level of English!). I replied that I wanted the point to be clear, that they would see how all the distractors relate to vocabulary and information that IS there and that they must be careful. I added that if the examples were very hard we would have to spend a long time on the exercise (which we didn’t) and perhaps the point wouldn’t have come across so clearly.

Now I’m not as sure. I don’t know if the exercise shouldn’t have been harder. It would certainly be difficult to think of more difficult distractors.

On the other hand, only one student complained.

I’ll have to think about it. Lets see how carefully they treat the “main idea” questions in the tasks they have.



A Different “Saturday’s Book Post”

For starters, today isn’t Saturday.

Over the weekend something suddenly happened to all the formatting on my blog. The texts were there but everything else was wrong. As you can imagine, I was very upset. But I have to hand it to EDUBLOGS (who host this blog) – they responded very quickly and very efficiently. Everything has been restored.

But that was that for writing that Saturday.

Second, instead of telling you about the book I am reading (you’ll have to wait for next Saturday) I’m referring you to a blog post on a DIFFERENT blog. This is too good to miss. The post is called “To Light a Fire”, by Steve McCurrry. I have to admit, I didn’t recognize the name. He’s the photographer that took the famous “Afghan Girl” photo, National Geographic Magazine.

The fire is being lit by reading books!

Both the quotes and the photos here are great! I love the first one by Victor Hugo – didn’t know that one. Did you?

An Odd Tinge of Envy

Photo by Iddo Epstein

I believe I can safely say that sharing educational materials I prepare is something I do easily and gladly. Not only are materials up on this blog, I share them on our local email group, on my class website and face to face.

For lesson number three with my class of 32 struggling adult learners trying to pass a high-stakes reading comprehension exam, I prepared “Short Films for Reading Comprehension – Take 3. This time the focus was on “main idea” type questions.

This course is given at the same hour in two groups. I’m fortunate to be teaching with a friendly teacher with whom communication is easy. We both swap materials before each lesson. So naturally I sent him the worksheet with the links.

My lesson on Tuesday went a bit slower than I had planned. These students are allowed to use an electronic dictionary on the final exam. It won’t be of much assistance if they don’t know how to use it. Each lesson I highlight something students need to know in order to find the correct meaning. This lesson’s focus was on parts of speech, mainly nouns and verbs, but some adjectivs too. I particularly like starting with the word “play”. Almost all students know the meaning of the word “play” as a verb but most of them think the meaning of the noun is “game”.  Here is the worksheet I prepared:

Parts of Speech_Keys

It turned out that many students had trouble telling the difference between a noun and a verb in L1. We spent more time on the worksheet then I had expected.

Since the students needed their group-work time on the article planned for today, I postponed the “video part” to next week’s lesson. I feel that was the correct decision, I can’t overload with frontal work.

Meanwhile, the other teacher DID have time for it!

While it was very rewarding to hear from him that the students really enjoyed it and he would like some more, I admit to feeling a bit jealous.

I wanted to try it FIRST!


Saturday’s Book: “Room” by Emma Donaghue

THIS time I DID read a book in less than a week.

I couldn’t put it down. When I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I never would have checked the book out of the library (I’ve seen it there many times) if it hadn’t been from a strong recommendation from my friend Zmira. I don’t enjoy reading books that sound as if they are going to be gruesome stories of cruelty. I knew the book was about a young woman and her five year old son who were forced to live in one room.

But its not like that all, in fact nothing like I expected.

The writing is first rate. The whole story is told by the point of view of a five-year-old discovering life and it is fascinating. It is also about the power of words to create reality and how we use words to make sense of it. It is about coping and love.

I’ve paused to read some reviews by others ( I don’t read reviews till I have finished a book! They tend to have spoilers) and I’m pleased to see that Roberto Benigni’s “Life is beautiful” mentioned. There were points when reading when I thought of that too but this book is really quite unique.

I don’t want to have any spoilers in this post so I am stopping here. I”ll settle for: