Saturday’s Salty Olives Tale

I took this one!
I took this one!

I’ve often encountered reading passages about the importance/history of salt in course-books for teaching English. I  also knew that the origin of the word “salary” is related to “salt”. But I hadn’t come across any mention of the connection between olives and salt!

And this one!
And this one!

We took a guided walking tour on the outskirts of Jerusalem this morning. Lots of beautiful olive trees. The guide explained that it is a myth to think that people in Bible Times (as depicted in books and movies) leisurely nibbled on olives, which they just reached out and picked off the nearest olive tree.

Couldn't resist adding one more...
Couldn’t resist adding one more…


Freshly picked olives are hard and bitter. You need to cure them first, a process which requires salt. Salt was a very precious and expensive commodity, vital for preserving food. In our hot climate, the guide claimed that nobody would have dreamed of wasting salt for making the olives tastier!

I never thought of that!

Film English’s “Saving Grace” is a HIT!

The brave little plant (I took this one!)
The brave little plant
(I took this one!)

Film English is a highly reccomended blog to follow as there are gems to be found there.

Kieran Donaghy’s Saving Grace lesson plan suited my needs perfectly. First of all, the topic is an important one, and its accessible. Everything in the film is written – my deaf and hard of hearing students aren’t missing any information.

In addition, it was easily adaptable as a homework assignment. I simply gave my strong group of 10th grade students the  worksheet below, based on the lesson plan on the blog, and they understood it well. The new phrase “saving grace” was clear too.

Two of the girls stopped me in the hallway (!!!) and remarked that this assignment was really moving!

Thank you Kieran!

Here’s the worksheet:


Visualising Students’ Errors – Second Error


The branch looks like a bird peeking out behind the tree! I noticed this - so pleased!
The branch looks like a bird peeking out behind the tree! I noticed this – so pleased! Now to get the students to notice things!

This second presentation starts out in the same format as the first one but then moves on in a different direction. I left the review part in slide show format, instead of sending them off to an online questionnaire type thing (with instant feedback).  Frankly, I thought the pictures were important. On Pro Profs Free Quiz Maker (which I used on the last one) you CAN upload pictures to the questions but you don’t see them as nicely (perhaps they need to be really small, not sure).  In any case, variation is good.

Debating what to do about the short vocabulary list I have compiled. I’m putting it up on Quizlet in any case but I’m wondering whether to create a short slide show to highlight a related error and then link to the list, or just give the students the link to the list.

All suggestions welcome!





Saturday’s Story: “The Relive Box” by T.C. Boyle

Powerful futuristic story, utterly believable. I haven’t seen the movie “HER” (read and heard a lot about it) but it seems a possible next step.

The word in the title “relive” is actually re – live. A new console for your living room that allows you to relive (only as an observer though) your past.

Re – living your past has dangerous consequences for your life in the present…

(I read this in the New Yorker Magazine, March 17, 2014 issue).

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.


Saturday’s Book: “Moon Palace” by Paul Auster

Every few years I try to read another book by Paul Auster, hoping to recreate the excitement I felt more than 20 years ago when I read “Mr. Vertigo”.  I read “The Music of Chance” almost immediately after it but can’t recall much about it. However, the others I have tried over the years were a disappointment. Particularly the last one, “The Brooklyn Trilogy”, which I belive I read seven years ago (it was on a trip, so I remember!). That collection of three stories seemed like three versions of the same story.

Moon Palace is much better! I didn’t get excited about it but I enjoyed it. The descriptions are great and the story has some surprising twists. I do think it would have been better if it were a bit shorter.

For a change, I actually don’t recommend this book as an audiobook, which is how I experienced it. The reader was excellent, as always on Audible. But it is a book that progresses slowly. When I was able to listen for a reasonable period of time at once (half an hour?) I “synced” with the pace of the story. But I think it would have been easier with a printed book.

On the other hand, the intonation adds so much!

Anyway, good book.

Ha! Seems that Having a PLN Will Take You Halfway to Happiness

Taken on the way to the car after work this morning
Taken on the way to the car after work this morning

I’m usually quite suspicious of any posts or written materials that claim to have the recipe for happiness. I mean, really?!

But this particular post caught my attention because of the photo with the words:

“You are good enough”.

The term “Good enough mother” (Winnicott) was very significant to me after the boys were born, and so I read on. I was delighted to find that almost all of the “10 Simple Habits Proven to Make You Happier” related to what belonging to a PLN can do for you. So this post, is really about why a teacher who wants to promote her/his happiness level must join a PLN and , when possible, attend an ELT conference (there’s an ETAI one coming up shortly!).

Number one, two and five on the list, are “no-brainers”. In a community of teachers you connect to others, “giving” goes with sharing. Huge exposure and encouragement to help you keep learning new things. And then learn how moderate the amount of new things you learn before you become overwhelmed…

Number ten, now that’s a powerful one “be part of something bigger”. If you have ever participated in an online collaboration or attended a conference, you’ll know what that feels like. Really good.

You may not think that number FOUR (“noticing the world around you”) is related, but I certainly find it to be so. Huge number of ELT teachers contribute photos (for the benefit of all teachers) to ELTPics, a project started by teachers collaborating. The calls for photos on certain topics encourages noticing your surroundings. I’m having a great time with blipfoto (which of course I go to know through my PLN). Every day I upload one picture (you can only upload one a day) of something I have noticed in my every day surroundings. Amazing what I never looked at in the school yard, next to the supermarket and on the way to gym class…  No special photo trips for me! I thought I wouldn’t have time for this, but it takes only a few minutes and feels great!

Numbers six, seven, eight and nine are partial matches. Having the strong support of a PLN and attending conferences does support setting goals and bouncing back from difficulties, seeing the bright side of things and feeling better about yourself. But it certainly isn’t enough. Remember, I did say HALFWAY! To deal with life I believe you need more than that. But one should gather support from wherever it is available, and every bit helps.

The only item on the list that having a PLN does not help with is number three, exercising! Connecting online and attending a conference promotes SITTING DOWN! Which is supposed to be bad for us all. Sigh…

Still, halfway to happiness is a big deal, and I’m grateful.

Note: Yes, I’m very influenced by Shel Silverstein’s poem “This Bridge”:

“This bridge will only take you halfway there”.



Saturday’s Book: “The Tongue Set Free” by Canetti

The full title is “The Tongue Set Free; Remberance of a European Childhood”

And what a childhood it was!

I encountered this book by chance. It was in the “Readers for Readers” free corner. I’m embarrassed to admit that I really didn’t know who Elias Canetti was, but the book said “Winner  of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature”, and I thought I would give it a try. So pleased that I did!

His childhood was truly European. He was born in Bulgaria in 1905, and lived later in many places, such as Manchester, Vienna and Zürich. He learned so many languages! His father died when he was young and life with his mother was a complicated affair. One constant in his life was his passion for books.  I had known nothing of life in the Balkans or Vienna during WW1 and the background is very interesting too.

I can’t resist sharing a story of his from his early childhood in Bulgaria. Those years were spent in an observant Sephardic Jewish Community. I was astonished to read that the holiday of Purim (which we are celebrating this week!) was not a celebration of costumes for children, as it is today. If the children were lucky they were allowed to observe some of the adults’ antics with elaborate masks (some even covering their entire heads). The adults went to the Purim parties while the children were sent to bed!



QR Codes and Autonomous Learning

This is where I would like these plans to be...
This is where I would like these plans to be…

I seem to be going around in circles with this. The possible ways I could use this tool to foster autonomous learning (or flipping lessons, in some cases) seem to grow by the minute but each visualisation of the steps ahead leads me straight back to the same brick wall.

I don’t even HAVE TO be agonizing over this. It’s that endless itch to create materials that has gotten me into this situation.

As my brother likes to say, here’s ” the thing”:

1) My own students need a lot of extra support when studying the literature program (authentic pieces, not designed for learners). Having pages with a variety of QR codes which would lead to different kinds of support material could decrease their dependence on me as a mediator for understanding basic issues. I could focus more on the analysis and Higher Order Thinking Skills parts of teaching the literature.

The kids have smart phones and we only have one computer – QR codes bring the online material to their desk.


3) I’m a national counselor. If I’m investing in materials I would like to create ones that the mainstreamed student (in a regular classroom) with a hearing loss, could use to get the same support my own students (self-contained class) would get.

4) Mainstreamed students wouldn’t HAVE TO use this material. It would need to be attractive, self-explanatory and accessible for them to want to even consider using the material when none will check if they are doing so or not. “Attractive” and “self-explanatory” are not a problem. The web offers tools for creating materials with immediate feedback and also allows me to use video and color.  I’ve been experimenting and am pleased on that score.

Accessibility is the issue.

5) Mainstreamed high-school students would have to use the material on their own. If it is too hard, they won’t use it. If it is too similar to homework (i.e: demands too much investment of thought) I don’t believe they will use it. Ideally, they need to feel as if a teacher answered their question. I don’t see how I can meet those demands without using lots of visuals and mother tongue  (these students don’t use sign language).


An abundance of visual materials and L1 may be good for teaching the story, but is it any good for teaching ENGLISH? When I’m the teacher who is present, I can balance the conflicting needs, intervene when necessary. But I’m not present for all those other students.

So, is it worth bothering to prepare such materials for students in the regular classrooms? What are the chances that they will use it? In addition, if what it takes to get them to do the support activities places English “in the back seat”, do I even WANT to create such activities? Will they be rejected by teachers?





Saturday’s Book: “What Really Matters” by Haim Shapira

I like this book, but in very small doses.

Haim Shapira is a talented person, witty and highly educated person (2 P.H.D’s in Mathematics and an impressive knowlegde of literature). I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing him live yet (here’s a link to a TEDX talk with him. I would rather listen to him in Hebrew, his command of the language is better…)

The book is divided into sections and so are my feelings about it.

The introduction made me smile and even laugh out loud. His writing style is very attractive and I love the way he quotes famous authors, poets and actors.

However, after reading life lessons we should be learning from Winnie the Pooh  I felt such an oversdose of sweet tasting goo in my mouth that I went out and read my first Toni Morrison (see previous posts!), which I enjoyed so very much. As expected, she got rid of any excess sugary taste.

I’m really enjoying this second section, looking at Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass through all sorts of different lenses. Interesting explanation about the difficulties of translating these books! No sugary taste here!

Nonetheless, it doesn’t hold my attention enough to read it all the way through as one book. I think I will again read something else and then come back for another visit.