Saturday’s Book: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

This is a good book.

And then it gets better.

This is the fourth book I have read by this author, despite the fact that this particular one is his very first book. **** (Added note – my mistake! See comment section!) “The Hungry Tide” and “The Glass Palace” were really good, and better than this one. But not by a lot. Like those books, this one is also a historical novel, rich in detail. However,  the only problem in the first part of the book was that it was a bit too didactical, trying to explain everything to the reader. But once the author assumed you already knew what was what and who was whom, things really get rolling. It is the author’s first book, after all.

I couldn’t put it down once I hit the middle part. I must go and get part two now – River of Smoke.

All the books that I have read by Ghosh were historical novels, though actually the book “In an Antique Land” is not a regular novel. It’s about the author, who is from India (a Buddhist) spending time living among villagers in Egypt (Moslem), researching ancient manuscripts about a Jewish Merchant from the 12 century.We learn of the tale of this merchant’s life.  One of the things I like about Ghosh is that he seems to show that people of different castes, religions and countries are basically all the same.

Winding Up the School Year with New Eyes

My favorite color! (Naomi's photos)
My favorite color!
(Naomi’s photos)

It’s the end of June again, which means that another school year has ended and it’s my birthday again.

While last year’s early 50th hoopla was in April (attending and presenting at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool), this year I began giving myself a small, quiet, daily present at the end of February. And it will last an entire year!

I joined a “take a picture a day” project, otherwise known as The 365 Project. People do it for all kinds of reasons but my goal is very specific:

To notice something small, every day, in my regular surroundings.

I’ve been living in the same town and teaching at the same school since 1988. It’s easy to find interesting things when one travels to other places. I needed to see what’s new right under my nose.

It works! This project has already had an unbelievable effect on me. There IS something new under the sun every day, and one doesn’t need to travel to find it. Lots of new things in fact!

It’s a great gift to give to myself. It’s free too. A side effect seems to be that my photography skills are getting better. The first pictures were taken on an Ipod. Now I’m almost always with a camera in my bag!

Here are some things I hadn’t noticed at the Yehud High-School, where I teach.

Here is the link to my daily project:

From “Welcome to Holland” to “Amsterdam Int.”

Saturday’s planned book post will be delayed, as I just had to write about this.

Watchful - you never know (Naomi's photos)
Watchful – you never know
(Naomi’s photos)

In the fascinating book I am listening to (audio-book) “Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon, the author says there is a piece called “Welcome to Holland”. He claims that   just about every parent and educator of special needs children has encountered this piece, written by a mother of child with Down Syndrome (Emily Kingsley),  not only once but frequently. It attempts to explain in a simple way what it means to have a special needs child. The author includes it in the book.

I’ve been involved in special education for all of my adult life and I had never heard of this piece. But then, I don’t live in the United States.

I was intrigued by this way of presenting the situation of discovering your child has special needs, and went to look up the piece on the Internet. I wanted to read it again.

I stumbled upon an expansion of the piece, Amsterdam International also written by a mother of a child with special needs.  Dana Nieder says:

“While Welcome to Holland has a place, I used to hate it.  It skipped over all of the agony of having a child with special needs and went right to the happy ending.

The raw, painful, confusing entry into Holland was just glossed over.  And considering the fact that this little poem is so often passed along to new-moms-of-kids-with-special-needs, it seems unfair to just hand them a little story about getting new guidebooks and windmills and tulips.”

This is powerful stuff. I really recommend reading both pieces. It won’t take you long. I’m still thinking about them both.


Helping Learners Visualize Progress – A Comment

Lizzie Pinard’s latest post: Helping Language Learners Visualise their Linguistic Development: Growing Learning deals with a subject close to my heart. How can learners see, VISUALISE, their progress? Students entire attitude changes when they realize that what we are doing together, what they are doing on their own, makes a difference.

Seeing Progress (Naomi's photos)
Seeing Progress
(Naomi’s photos)

Still, it’s a tricky business. Some of my attempts have worked. Others have not. Here are some comments on the issues raised in the post based on my experiences so far.

Is the design of a flower handout too “sissy”?

The “rule of some” is worth remembering.  Some students will find it appealing others will not. It is always so. On the other hand, I would never advocate having the teacher spend time on creating lots of different versions.

I would recommend two versions (and only two!). One, the attractive flower. The other, a simple chart of columns. I have found that simple charts, where students see the numbers of bars rise, to be very effective. The fact that it’s plain and straightforward makes it seem ageless (particularly important for teenagers and adults who are at a low-level). Let the students choose which one they prefer!

What about the self disciplined learners who don’t  need it?

Odd one out (Naomi's Photos)
Odd one out
(Naomi’s Photos)

In order to get the class excited and used to the visual recording system I would insist that for the firs two weeks (depending on the frequency of lessons) everyone do it. I would ask to see their flowers /charts and make an issue of it. But afterwards the responsiblity must shift to the students. The ones who feel that the marking is just extra work on top of all the work they are doing should be given the option to opt out.

How about an app?

I agree that at an app would be excellent for this. Easier to color in, visually appealing AND students NEVER forget their cell phones. They will always have their charts with them!



Saturday’s Book: The Tipping Point by Gladwell

The book’s full name is:

The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference

It’s a very interesting book.

Not surprisingly the part that I was most interested in was the part about the TV programs Sesame Street and Blues Clues (was not familiar with the latter). What research went into discovering what was effective and was not! Every little detail was considered!

What I’d really like to read is someone’s take on how to use these principles in the classrooms. How to make  messages  such as to say you actually studied before an exam (and to do so!)  cool, how to make things we’re trying to get the students to remember “stick”.


That Pesky Phrasal Verb “Take Place”

The trouble with the phrasal verb “take place” is that learning isn’t taking place.

Or rather, remembering.

Closed for business (Naomi's photos)
Closed for business
(Naomi’s photos)

To borrow a term from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point”, I can’t seem to make it “sticky”.

This phrasal verb appears frequently in high-school exams here and is on my list of absolutely common phrases the students should practice and remember.

While I am unable to say that all my students remember the other phrases on the list I have found that my efforts to make them more memorable have had an impact.

Not so with “take place”.

Is the source of the problem the fact that in Hebrew it translates into one word, not two? The phrasal verb “take partis remembered better (even though the common translation is into one word, there is an exact two-word translation). Even the phrase “in order to” which translates into three words in Hebrew only when you manipulate the word for “in” , gets better results.

Shadows won't do in this case! (Naomi's photos)
Shadows won’t do in this case!
(Naomi’s photos)

Perhaps the fact that pictures don’t help visualise this phrase the way they do with “how long”, “how many”, etc., compounds the problem.

Personalizing a phrase is usually a winning strategy. I gave the students exercises with questions such as:

* Where did our school sports day take place?

* When will the World Cup begin?

However, the students only looked at the WH questions and ignored the phrase “take place”.


That cat that ignored me! (Naomi's photos)
That cat that ignored me!
(Naomi’s photos)

In fact, on texts the phrase usually appears in the past form “took place” (as in “the concert took place in London) , so there was no “carry over” from the question form, even if the questions were highly personalized and related to their birthdays and personal interests.

The biggest problem may simply be the fact that many students actually knew the word “place” from beforehand and therefore find it difficult to relate to it having another meaning when it comes with the word “take“. This, despite work done in class on common phrasal verbs. If you take the meaning of “take” + “place” it makes no sense.  That should be a red flag. However, a typical problem with struggling learners is that they don’t stop and think “that’s not logical, it can’t be right”.

This verbal phrase is incredibly useful. This issue must be tackled.

Any suggestions?

It’s Saturday! On Removing “Dialogues with Mothers” by B. Bettleheim from my Bookshelf

Still life with bird
Still life with bird

About 15 years ago (judging by the ages of our sons) I picked up the book Dialogue with Mothers by Bruno Bettleheim from the “readers donate” corner at our library. He’s the author of the “Uses of Enchantment” which is a very interesting read, and the writing is lovely.

This one, from 1962, is very readable indeed. It is in written in a conversational style, letting the reader feel as if he/she had joined one of his parenting groups. The parents talk about difficulties in child rearing and he comments.

I read it back then, and never returned to reread it. Sometimes I felt I “should” but I didn’t want to. It outlived other books on my bookshelf simply because it never joined the category of books about which I say: “Really? You haven’t read this one? Here, take my copy!”

I am now listening to the audio version of the book “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” by Solomon (more on that in future posts). In the introduction to his book Solomon calls Bettleheim the most evil man in the world after Hitler. That is certainly taking it too far. But his claim that Bettleheim places the blame for the kind of person a child grows up to be completely on the parents’ shoulders, rings true.

I believe, without a doubt, that parents have a powerful influence on their children. But what makes them who they are and turn out to be is certainly not only due to that influence.

I re-donated the book back to the readers’ corner in the library.

Confused: Teaching Vocabulary “Horizontally” or “In Context”?


Out of context (but pretty!) I took this one!
Out of context (but pretty!)
I took this one!

Now that I have completed my first installment of an activity set related to the word list appearing in the updated curriculum, I feel confused by terminology.

I approached the preparation of  this first set of activities for tutors of children who struggle with vocabulary acquisition in class (with a hearing loss or not) with Leo Selivan’s post Horizontal Alternatives to Vertical Lists in mind.

My goal was to work on the vocabulary not according to semantic sets, (transportation, colors, food etc.), which is the vertical approach, but rather teach the words with other words they go with (horizontally). I hope it will aid retention.

I chose a short animated film that I feel is age appropriate (elementary school) and suitable for use in schools. It is the centerpiece of the activity set. The I then decided upon 23 vocabulary items that relate /appear in the film. The activities you see below present and practice these items in different ways. Additional activities may be added later.

The decision to have all the activities connected to the film is grounded in a belief that what is made memorable is learnt best. I do this often with homework assignments for my own students, with many elements I’m trying to teach, not just vocabulary. The visuals in films (I always use ones without dialogue!) add a powerful element.

This decision led me to add three words that do not appear in the Ministry of Education’s word list. They are needed in this context (they are marked with an asterisk).

Which leads me back to my original question.

Have I simply put the words in context and not taught them horizontally? I feel the two terms overlap a great deal, but  perhaps there is a specific emphasis I should be adding?

I need to figure this out before continuing to create a new set of activities for this very long list of vocabulary items.

The Egghunt

1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:

Egg buy Take care! hungry
Caveman* Hunt * Be careful! long
Spear* fall That’s not fair! angry
film smile How many sad
food watch sure
another break true

2. Here is the lead-in activity for the students. It must be done BEFORE watching the film.

3) The animated film (no dialogue, remember?)

4) Questions related to the film embedded in the film, courtesy of Edpuzzle. Edpuzzle has made it so much easier to work with film. Now that the activities are embeddable I can use them for my counseling job (with students I don’t teach or meet), not just with my own. They keep updating the possible ways to use the films and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming next.

5) A dustbin classifying game using

Thanks to Chiew Pang and his wealth of resources for introducing me to the game.

6) A set of the vocabulary items on

7) A “search-a-word” online activity which is temporary because I’m not pleased with the results. I may perhaps go back to the printed version as it didn’t limit me to so few words. Still thinking about that one.

Here is a printable verison of this with QR codes.
Egghunt QR codes English