Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? Crowdsourcing Q.5

This is Libby, the half sister Dora was writing to in the U.S.A. She could not have had real memories of Libby. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer's studio. Dora was only born in 1920...
This is Libby, the half sister Dora was writing to in the U.S.A. She could not have had real memories of Libby. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer’s studio. Dora was only born in 1920…

Note: This is part six of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

There's only one word that isn't clear in this letter. It is clear that Dora's life is unravelling...
It's not dated but I believe it's from September 1938.

*** Beata Gulati has supplied some very interesting suggestions to explain the problematic bits of Dora’s previous letter. You can find them at the bottom of the previous post.

“Dear Sister,

Really there passed a long time since I got from you a letter and a post cart but till today I had not find time to answer you. When a man has troubles and is not contented from the circumstances he forgets from all. Now when the father writes you a letter I wish also to answer you.

Thank you very much for the pictures, I was very happy with them. I showed them to my friends and they did not believe I have such beautiful sister. You look very fine and young. Your cart from your vacation I got also and thank you a second time.
About me I have none interesting things to write. My vacation I spent in Brest. I can not leave the house because my mother is ill. All my friends went to Warsaw to study farther in the university. They study all English because here in Warsaw you are not accepted in medicine, stuiathology (??? see below) or other, only in humanistic  it means to learn languages. I remain here and till today I do nothing because they are not yet accept to Jews and I am without working.
The wintertime is nearand there comes new troubles. Till the time that I was a pupil in school I did not need much money for dresses et cetera… But now I must dress myself better and in my present conditions it is difficult because I can not take all from the father. My mother is ill so what we must spend money on physicians and medicine. That’s about me.

unknown subject at Univ
unknown subject at Univ

From Palestine we have none letter. We hear very bad news from here (there?), this also brings new troubles.

I write you enough not necessary things, excuse me for this, but sometimes a man must tell a little to the other.

Perhaps have you better news?”

Revisiting “Teaching CONTENT is Teaching READING!”


Between a rock and a hard place. Naomi's Photos
Between a rock and a hard place.
Naomi’s Photos

It’s that time of year again.

The finals are looming ahead and many of my students are taking the last reading comprehension exams of the year.

It’s the time of year when the connection between content knowledge and reading comprehension is highlighted in particularly bold colors.

After today’s exam I went back to Professor Daniel Willingham’s slideshow and nodded the whole time I watched. It may be from 2009 but it is still true. The students DO need to study Geography, Art, History, Science, Civics and Music! Focusing on reading comprehension skills without the background knowledge is not so effective.

Believe me. I battle with this lack of knowledge in class every day.

I would give other examples from those in the video (taken from recent lessons):

* Yes, devices that save energy ARE good for the environment. There IS a connection between the two.

* No, the first African-Americans did not walk from Africa to the United States (nor did they arrive with a tourist visa and decide to stay, by the way).

* To “give up tobacco” DOES mean that the person stopped smoking. Yes, dear student, there is tobacco inside of cigarettes.

Anyway, here’s the video.

The last bit is when I start shouting YES! YES! YES!.



Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? Crowdsourcing Q.4

We can only see reflections of the girl who once was... (Naomi's Photos)
We can only see reflections of the girl who once was…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Note: This is part five of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

Today’s letter is not dated, but it must have been written in November 1937, since Dora writes that she will graduate in six months. We know from the first letter that I posted that she graduated in May 1938.

In this letter it is clear that Dora was not very impressed with the manners of an American visitor, an American who was once a townsman… The letter is torn in places. Any thoughts as to what the missing words may have been are appreciated. There are also two words I cannot make out. As always, I have not changed grammar or spelling.

“Dear Libby,

There passed already a long time that did not write to you anything. I am very busy, many times I sit till twelve and one o’clock in the night and learn. I finish this year the school and I must get a maturity test (called here matura). It is very difficult, because I shall be asked __________ (missing word) a ???? ( word I can’t make out) which consisted of not y________ (only the first letter of missing word remains) so that it is difficult to get such _______________ (missing).

rude american 1


You asked me in your letter if I wish really come to America. I can say that this American who was with us summer is a very silly man if he thought about this seriously. He saw that my mother is a sick woman, so that I can not leave the house. I am not yet in such bad conditions here in Poland.

Missing piece

…as beggars. We accepted him as a friend who came after 24 years from America. I don’t know if he did not see a more beautiful house in America, he thought that we are very rich. He is a great “sow” called commonly, for instance, he was ___________ (torn) with us and not leave for our house girl who served him a  ????? (can’t make out). The Europians are more cultured and with better characters than in America. I cannot imagine that a man who was 24 years in America can behave himself so that he did.  He does not write even to us. It will be enough about him. It will be very tedious ________________ (torn bit) you will certainly think  _______________ (torn bit) myself a great “sow”, perhaps the American understand such the thing.

rude american 2

Write me more, not so as I to you because you must understand that I have not free time on the second year. After 6 months I shall write to  you more, it will be after the examine.

Good by,

Yours sincerely.


Here are possible explanations, thank to Beata Gulati!

I think that in the first part I shall be asked by a commision (the board of examiners) which consisted of not (probably) your teachers??? usually Matura exam cant be taken in a presence of teachers who taught you but independent teachers ( from other classes who do not know you) the examiner has to be neutral

and in the second part we usually call someone who is not kind to us who behaves rudely and sometimes unfairly we call such a person “Świnia” which means “pig” (I believe that she found the name sow for a female pig and he didn’t give to a house girl (house maid) who served him a penny. It is a kind of grattude to the “servants” to give them tips, but he didn’t give a penny

Going Green – or NOT


Not just green... (Naomi's Photos)
Not just green…
(Naomi’s Photos)

In class my high-school students and I encounter a substantial number of reading comprehension passages that have to do with the environment. I think it is a “safe” subject for book & exam writers and is most certainly an important one.

However, this week I became worried that my students now think that every mention of the color “green” has to do with the environment. Despite being aware of the fact that one shouldn’t be teaching lots of idioms together, all at once, I felt I needed to highlight the fact that not every use of the word “green” is related to the environment. So I’m using the video below as a trigger. The related worksheet appears under it.

Going Green

“Hmmm”, you might be saying now.

“This teacher has completely ignored all the wonderful personification going on in this video”.

“But”, I would argue, “I use videos to serve a purpose and don’t build lessons because I found a great video (I waited with this one for more than two years!!!)”.

You might be staring at me, patiently or not, at this point.

Okay okay.

I needed to find a way to use the video for the weaker levels, those teenagers studying elementary level material. Something which could be also be good for the teachers I work with as part of my counseling job who do teach younger learners. So I related to the topic of feelings without actually using the term “personification”. I’ll let every teacher decide whether it is time to introduce the term or not. (See exercise below)

(Note – I specifically began with multiple choice questions before moving to open ended ones, since my students need modeling).




Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? A Few Answers

Dora 1935
Dora 1935

Note: This is part four of a new Saturday series, in which I, with croudsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unkown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

In the first three posts I asked the readers several questions that have come up so far when closely reading Dora’s lettters. I’m delighted to report that I received answers! Many thanks to Laura Green, Sandy Millin, Dorit Renov and Beata Gulati for their help. Special thanks to Beata who has wholeheartedly taken up this project!

First of all, I realize I should clarify exactly where Dora lived. I understand that there are places with similar names and spellings, not to mention the borders that were redrawn. The letters quoted in this post were sent from Brest in what used to be Poland. Today it is in Belarus (see map). This much information  I have known since childhoold, since that is where my own grandmother grew up. The letters I have are without envelopes, so I have no address. However, it seems that Dora wrote some of the letters on stationery from her father’s workplace. Their logo includes an address. Beata looked into locating this address. Street names have changed and Google maps does not help here. However, Beata’s following explanation has led to a little story I had never heard:


“Brześć n/B is on the river Bug in Polish n-for “nad” and “B” Bug the name of the river where Brest is situated :)))”

I asked my mother if her mother had ever mentioned a river in her tales. “Oh yes!” my mother said. “The river Pok. She grew up by the river Pok. She used to say that the reason they ate so much carp fish in those days was because the river was full of the fish and it was cheap”! I had never heard this story before!

Dora wrote that she took her matriculation examinations (“Matura” exams) in May 1938. I asked if it was safe to assume that Dora was born in 1920 in light of that information. Beata has located an example of a graduation certificate from the same year awarded to someone who was born in 1920 and heard from people that in those days people graduated at 18, so I believe this is a very reasonable assumption.

I was unable to make out the letters of the name of the “healthing place” Dora went to on her summer vacation. Everyone has agreed that she must have gone to the spa town Busko-Zdrój .

I also was unable to figure out what word Dora had written because it never occured to me that she might have begun a sentence with the word “much”. Beata explains:  “…those letters are written straight from the heart of Polish girl and just translated into English but the way of thinking is Polish. So it is not Blush or Hush it is “Much I can not write you” in the meaning I can not write too much because I am busy with my Matura exam.”

This post is quite long so I will begin the next letter next week. I will just tell you that it is undated but seems to be from late 1937 or early 1938.  A visitor from America makes an appearance and the letter is torn in places, resulting in missing words…



Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You Dora? Crowdsourcing Q. 3

The younger days were happier...
The younger days were happier…

Note: This is part three of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

I began my journey into Dora’s letters with one that was clearly dated and was easy to read. However, it has become clear to me that it isn’t the earliest letter. I believe this one is, based on the content. The date isn’t completely clear and there are some words I can’t make out. I’m looking forward to your suggestions as to what the missing words may be.

But first, regarding the date. It is obviously Dec. 28 and not the year 1928. As you will see in the quote letter below, it sounds like it was written in the winter of Dora’s 11th grade. For years it was common here to use the European terminology and refer to 11th and 12th graders as seventh and eighth formers. Since in the previous letter we clearly saw that Dora graduated in May 1938, I believe this letter was written in Dec. 1936.
The first question is what then is written after the name of the town, which is the Polish spelling of Brest?
The second question is do you think the word in red is really “blush”?
Finally, can you make out where Dora went on holiday?

In the letter Dora writes ( as always, quotes include original errors in English):

date 1937
“I beg your pardon for my long not writing. So it is, each man is occupied by his own work, and sometimes forgott even about sister. But when I recollected about you I feel that I am not in order according to you. Now when the father writes you a letter and I have time (it is the time of Winter holidays) I write you also a few words. Blush.

” I can not write you because in the last time I have no patience to write letters and I have not also a dictionary, so that is enough difficult for me. You see until to day I can not write well English without a dictionary because my knowledge is confined.
About me I can write that I am in the Vll class and on the second year I shall end the school. I have very much work because we prepare to the mature exam on the second year.
In summer I was in ???? It is an healthing place. I spent here the time very well.

health place

Now I finish the letter. I send you my lovely regards.
You Sincerly,

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts regarding my three questions!


Wacky Web Tales & the Art of “Some”


Where's the party? Naomi's photos
Where’s the party?
Naomi’s photos

Many EFL teachers, particularly those of struggling learners, reject using first rate online materials mainly because they feel their students can’t deal with the vocabulary or the sentence structures. Sometimes this may be a wise decision but in many cases wonderful opportunities are missed.

Identifying these opportunities all depends on employing “the art of SOME”.  The activity called Wacky Web Tales is a great example of this.

To create a Wacky Web Tale, student first see a series of prompts, asking them to fill in a noun, an adjective, a large number, the name of a song, etc.  All they know about the story they are going to get is the title. I chose, for our example, an absolute all time favorite called Simply Delicious . 

This is the part that is so incredible from the teacher’s point of view, particularly so when the students realize how these stories work. Suddenly these struggling learners ask  to be reminded what a noun/verb is. These distinctions very important for such students. One of the reading comprehension strategies they need to acquire is how to decide which words to look up in the dictionary (verbs often give the most meaningful information in a sentence, for example) and then how to choose the definition/translation suitable for their context when they do turn to the dictionary. English is a language full of words that have a different meaning as different parts of speech!

There's only part of the tree... (Naomi's Photos)
There’s only part of the tree… (Naomi’s Photos)

It gets better.

Students are motivated to dream up what they deem to be interesting answers, so that their story will be funny. Since they usually don’t know many of the words they want to use, they look them up! These aren’t words I, the teacher, asked them to use – they are self-motivated to look up these words. That’s what I call meaningful learning! 

Even spelling comes up! Two 16 year old girls in my class (it’s a great activity for pairwork) today argued about the correct spelling of “beautiful” and “Italy” . Without my intervention they corrected their own spelling!

Now we get to the second part. When the students have filled in all the missing words they click to see their completed story. Here’s the “Simpy Delicious” story I created:


my simply delicious

There are many difficult and unknown words in the completed text, which in this case is a recipe. But that doesn’t matter at this stage. I have no problem supplying any unfamiliar word  (and they can read the words they inserted themselves!) as this is the stage to share a good laugh with the silly story they created. Remember “the art of the some”! We’ve done plenty of meaningful learning!

While the site is geared at 3rd grade American children, I find it suitable for use with struggling students with poor vocabularies in junior high-school and high-school as well.  I haven’t tried it with adults.

It’s great to be wacky sometimes – enjoy!