Saturday’s Book: “Beloved” by Toni Morrison

So very good.

Difficult topic. Really difficult. It’s a testimony to how enveloping and riveting the writing is that I stuck through the whole book (and had trouble putting it down) despite the weight of sadness in this book.

I actually feel as if the book fits into the framework of Holocaust Memorial Day, which we are commemorating tomorrow evening and on Monday. The book “Sophie’s Choice” often came to mind while reading this one.

I have to admit that I liked “The Bluest Eye” even better, but this is so very good.

Morrison deserved the Nobel Prize.



Struggling to Teach Vocabulary Horizontally

I took this one!
I took this one!

Perhaps “Timing”  really is everything. When you read something that relates directly to a problem you are grappling with, it can have a powerful impact. This is what happened to me in regards to Leo Selivan’s excellent post “Horizontal Alternatives to Vertical Lists”

To my delight, our Ministry of Education has published list of lexical items that beginning and intermediate students should know. This feature was taken out of the curriculum at some point and has now, after many years, made a “comeback”. As a special-ed teacher and counselor I can attest that this is very useful. The majority of deaf /hard of hearing EFL students here have difficulties remembering vocabulary. It does not help them at all that every classroom teacher and every tutor they encounter decides to focus on different vocabulary items.

The first word list, for the basic level, has 1,200 items.

I took this one!
I took this one!

Unfortunately, it is organized alphabetically. LONG list of unrelated words.

Now, I agree wholeheartedly with Leo Selivan that there’s no point in continuing to teach the words according to semantic families – colors, animals, etc. This has been done for years and I have not seen results that justify continuing in this manner. That’s why I was so excited by his post – I knew I wanted to organize words differently but wasn’t sure how to go about it.  In this post there are very practical suggestions and examples that I can use when preparing materials for the teachers I work with.

So, where is the struggle?


It would be so much easier for ME to locate the lexical items in the list that go together, that I would like to teach in conjunction, if the words were arranged in horizontal groups (semantically). I’ve sat down to work but I don’t know how to put them into meaningful chunks without sitting and categorizing them first, which is a dismaying thought.

Any suggestions?

Saturday’s Book: King, Queen, Knave by Nabokov & More

I took this one!
I took this one!

My husband has been telling me for ages that I must read something by Vladimir Nabokov, but somehow Lolita didn’t sound particularly interesting. So, when I encountered this book at the library, which I had never heard of, I decided this would be my introduction to this author.

He was right (as he often is!). His style of writing is like no one I have ever read. There are passages that I just had to stop a minute after reading them, just to savor the imagery.

The storyline has some unpredictable developments and certainly held my interest. The beginning and the last fifty pages or so were the best. However, the characters themselves, were not characters I find interesting and did not think of them during the day when I wasn’t reading, like I do with other books I read. Frankly, I didn’t care about them in particular.

Two days ago we went to a play, adapted from Nabokov’s short story Lips to Lips, for one actor (it was at a theatre festival in old Jaffa). It was wonderful! I recognized the style right away. I believe I will try other books by Nabokov  – I had no trouble relating to the character in THIS story!

Now, for two books that I did not get along with:

1) The Bells of Bicetre by George Simenon

Perhaps this one is just a case of bad timing, of a book not suited to my current moods. The writing is nice and the reading flows, but I had no patience for it. A man who has had a stroke slowly, very slowly, reviews his life. Even though the book says he’s reflecting because of his illness the feeling is that the reflections are of an old man. BUT HE IS FIFTY FOUR! I’M ALMOST FIFTY ONE MYSELF! Maybe another time…

2) The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

This is the audio book I abandoned. I was tempted to take a lighter audiobook, a mystery, even a murder-mystery sounded fun (especially with the superlatives in the full-page ad in the New Yorker Magazine).

I listened to the first few hours and couldn’t stand it anymore. NOT MY STYLE AT ALL! The kind of story related to the kind of magazines I don’t read or the TV programs  I don’t watch.

Now to choose the last audio book left to my gift subscription….



EdTech to the Rescue for Homebound Student

Outside the Box (I took this one!)
Outside the Box (I took this one!)

EdTech is the only remedy I can offer my student who is ill (I wish I could offer good health!) – thank goodness it exists! I am now in the midst of discovering what works in such a situation.

While my student has been absent a lot all year, using technology remained a theoretical discussion because she is, frankly, brilliant. Whenever she did attend school she made up for lost time with incredible speed. I don’t teach frontally, so using tech to have her join the class lessons was not an option.

However now that the school year is drawing to a close, and the due dates of important papers is at hand, it became time to begin putting theory into practice. I’m supposed to go over a series of her drafts and guide her to the final product. And we are very busy doing just that!

Since she is hard of hearing (and not deaf) we did start with Skype but that was not convenient. There was a lot of “what was that?” ” Can you repeat that?” In any case, I needed to see the written version of her drafts. She doesn’t have the energy to type up the drafts (surprisingly handwriting is most comfortable for her) and doesn’t own a fax machine. So she began taking pictures of the texts with her phone and emailing them to me. At first she had the text in the body of the email and on the computer it was difficult to read. For some reason they were clearer on my iPod. So I held the iPod in one hand while typing comments in Word with the other.

Then we progressed to having her email the pictures as an attachment. I can now open them  with Picassa (which I use for my photos) and enlarge them. Much better. I’ve picked up speed. But still, I’m sure we could be doing better.

If the text was printed, I could paste it into one of those sites I’ve heard about that let you record comments and mark the text. At the moment I can’t recall a single name but I’ve seen such things used by others. The student is hard of hearing, I believe she might understand with a combination of speech and visuals (as opposed to the Skype). The problem is she is sending me PICTURES. JPEG files. I can’t think of a way around THAT.

Any thoughts?




A comment on: ELT-Ten Things I Hate About You

Angry Cat - I took this one!
Angry Cat – I took this one!

I’m not in a “hateful” mood in the slightest, particularly as I’m happily on holiday vacation. But The Secret Dos always has things to say that are worth discussing, and this post “ELT-Ten Things I Hate About You” is no exception.

This post is the first I remember seeing (pardon me if I’ve forgotten someone!) that actually talks directly about us, the forgotten group, we classroom teachers in national school systems:

…”And this is despite the fact that the vast majority of our practitioners are swimming in the waters of mainstream education. By this I mean that the vast majority of English language teachers are working within the conventional education system… 

Kudos for highlighting this! May you lead the way!

One by one - I took this!
One by one – I took this!

Coming from the point of view of  a classroom teacher, I now must disagree with point number three, even though we are probably not  talking about the same thing when we say levels (harks back to point one – a school teacher’s life is different). It has been my experience that struggling learners and really strong learners benefit more from being in a different group. Not just academically, but emotionally too. I have seen children who resort to being class clown and don’t even try to deal with the difficult material because they feel they don’t stand a chance when the “strong” students are around. In a group of their own there are no pretences to keep up. Some of the strong children stop studying completely. They get so used to tuning out when things they understood the first time are explained again that they begin forgetting to tune back in… In my own classes I have resorted to teaching in the format of a learning center so as to address that problem (it isn’t feasible to divide my students according to their level).

I like the approach to grammar (point number 4)!

I know the best way to learn a language is to travel to a country that speaks that language and spend some time there, but that’s hardly feasible for most people. The current system may be flawed but we can’t get rid of it. And of course, one can’t ignore the fact that some people simply do not learn a language by osmosis – I’m sure we all know immigrants who have lived in a country for years and can barely manage basic sentences in the language of their adopted country.

Photo by Omri Epstein
Photo by Omri Epstein

Finally, I found it interesting that the Secret Dos brings up “polarizing arguments” (point 6) . Aren’t all debates about taking opposite sides? Doesn’t that expose characteristics of each one, even if we believe the right answer lies in the middle? And wasn’t it a bit of a polarizing act to choose such a name for the blog post? The title caught my eye, to be sure. And I’m glad it did. I believe I’ve only just mentioned a small part of the things to think about following this post.


Early Saturday’s Book: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Gaiman

I took this one and it seems to fit the post.
I took this one and it seems to fit the post.

I’ve had belated Saturday book posts, for a change – here’s an early one. I’m on vacation, finished the book and don’t want to wait (I’m already starting the next one!).

This book upset me.


It IS Neil Gaiman, and I couldn’t put it down. I’m sure that whatever book I read of his I wouldn’t be able to stop before the end. But I finished it to feel closure.

The previous book I read, “The Graveyard Book”  had humor and wonder along with scary stuff and fantasy. I found this book so very very cold. I KNOW that a given for all such books is that children have to fight off the “demons” in their lives without parents to help them (so many orphans in these books!).  And, without moving into spoilers, I can see this book either as a fantasy book or a book depicting the way a child perceives all that his parents are going through and how it affects his life. Very clever. But so very cold!

I can’t get over a seven-year old boy’s kitten being run over and his parents didn’t even mention the incident or give him a hug! The book left me feeling unhappy – good I’m off to the next one!

Saturday’s Book: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Hoffman

Oh, how I pined for dialogue!

Don’t get me wrong, the description are absolutelly first rate. Beautiful descriptions. You can certainly picture New York at the beginning of the 20th century, the city and the river, the horror of the sweatshops where the workers were really slaves and their childhood lost and the oddities of Coney Island. Important topics such as the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 which was truly the 9/11 of that century, and she gives faces to these people. Truthfully, at this point of the book I was sorry that I was listening to it as an audiobook. I would rather not  visualize the tragedy that clearly…

But there’s a love story here. An amazing one too. Yet the descriptions of the characters’ state of mind is endless. The story moves back and forth between each of their points of view. At times it seemed to me that the book must have originally been published in installments, because each time we go back to a character the auth0r seems to feel a need to remind us of the characters background and frame of mind. I PAID ATTENTION! I REMEMBER!

It is basically a good book but both characters are super lonely and hardly communicate with anyone – oh how I pined for dialogue! Perhaps a book better read than listened to.


Visualising Students’ Errors -Vocabulary & QR Codes

This is the  third slide show in the series of visualising students’ errors, highlighting vocabulary.

It took me a long time to prepare, precisely because there is so little text on it. I had a hard time simplifying the message. Too much text and it defies the whole goal of creating these slide shows for struggling students.

Now that I already have three slide shows, I created a page with QR codes leading to them. For some students (though certainly not all) the best way to get the slide shows viewed is on their cell phones.

Here is the slide show. The WORD document with the QR codes is below.