All posts by Naomi Epstein

Hi! I teach English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel and am a national counselor in this field. http://visualisingideas.edublogs.org

Does Turning Words into Numbers Aid Retention of Vocabulary? An Experiment

Different representations of numbers

Once upon a time, there were telephones that had letters of the alphabet by each number.

Letters of the alphabet have numerical values too.

I even read about a method in which one turns telephone numbers into letters as a method for committing them to memory.

However, when I searched online for a connection between activities using words and numbers (as opposed to words and pictures) and vocabulary retention, the only result I encountered had to do with Rebuses and rebus puzzles, which are good for activating both sides of the brain.  Good to know!  Rebuses are fun but hard to make…

Frankly, I was looking for justification for adapting my “Magic E Telephone” SPEAKING activity (which was based on Teresa Bestwick’s “Minimal Pairs Telephone”) to a LET’S ENGAGE WITH VOCABULARY ACTIVITY.  There are several profoundly Deaf students who rarely use voice or speak at all, and rely completely on sign language for communication, in my 10th-grade class. They would feel excluded in a group activity involving speaking.

I wanted to find out if the students would still pay attention to the “Magic E” and if the adapted activity along with additional activities would help them remember the vocabulary items.

Here’s what I did:

I used the original 10 index cards and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).

Above each word, there was a number, zero to nine.

I asked the students what the difference was between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ”.  I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation but emphasized the fact that the addition of the “E” changes the meaning of the word.

I then divided the students into groups of three. Each group had three tasks:

  1. One student had to sign the word for each digit of his cell phone number. Student number two had to write down the numbers being signed so everyone could see if it matched. Student number three timed them and recorded the time. Then they switched roles.
The whiteboard was our scoreboard

You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word or sign it without pointing! I found myself wanting to point to each word! It all goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!

2. Student number one presented student number two with a series of index cards. On each card, there was a “math problem” written in words, such as: “hat + hate = ?”  “hate X cape = ?” on one side.  The numerical solution was written on the other side.

Student number two had to solve the math equation by answering with a number.

Student number three recorded the time.  Then they switched roles.

The “word-math” cards

3. The same activity as before but the students answered with the word that the number denotes.

Initial Conclusions – Pros & Cons

  • We all had fun!
  • The students liked all the activities but they found the one with phone number more challenging and amusing and spent more time on that.
  • Students at different levels could play together.
  • One advanced student encountered the word “hope” in his text the next day. He asked if that was also a “magic E”!

BUT…

  • The cards were fixed in place – the location of the words served as a memory aid. Next time cards should be shuffled.
  • It seems a great deal of energy spent with very few vocabulary items learned, and not particularly important ones. It was more effective as a speaking exercise when the students repeatedly had to say the word.

At least everyone activated both sides of their brains and their bodies!

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Torday

Fishing Net
Naomi’s photos

Sometimes it’s feels good to read a book that is what it says it is (at least according to the blurb!) : “A feel good book with a bite”.

The book is easy to read and humorous. I have a soft spot for books written in the format of letters, with different characters moving the plot forward. I must admit I smiled while reading and finished it quite quickly.

There is a “bite” – some  commentary on politics and government. In addition, despite the fact that I remembered that this book had been  made into a romantic comedy film ( which I haven’t seen) the love story did not end up in the usual, expected way. I appreciated that.

Nonetheless, the “teacher in me” had to be hushed a few times while reading. Why couldn’t the vision they were trying to realize be to bring running water to every village? Improve access to Education and Health Care?

I know, I know. The book wouldn’t be as attractive or amusing. I get that.

But I do wish the author had omitted the “THE” before the name of the country “Yemen”! I have found explanations for the origins of such a form but it rankles…

The Joy of SIMPLE “Self-Check” Activities

A party of one…
Naomi’s Photos

There are all sorts of sophisticated self-check activities out there, ones that look stunning but seem to require artistic abilities that I don’t possess,  props one needs to get a hold of  (such as clear plastic covers of chocolate boxes) or are simply too time-consuming to create.

There are countless variations, such as using puzzle pieces and dominoes and many more. I truly admire these activities and their creators.

Such sophistication is simply not for me. Not anymore.

However,  I did want an effective self-check exercise that I could make on my own, one which I could sneak in a few words from the Band Two Word List that students need to practice.

Particularly one which I could prepare easily.

Scatter the cards on the table. Make sure the word START is face up.

Easy to prepare like the self-check activity involving two-sided index cards. A student begins with the card that says START, flips it over, matches it to its corresponding index card, flips that one over, and continues matching until he/she reaches the card that says THE END.  If the student flips over THE END  before all the cards have been matched then a mistake has been made, and he/she will have to backtrack.

Simple!

I learned of this activity many years ago from Tal Papo. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it!

In my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing high school students, the students progress at different paces. That means that each student is ready for a review activity related to the story they have just completed at a different time.

In this particular case, the story in question is called “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.

I defined vocabulary items that are related to this story from the Band Two Word List, as you can see by clicking on the following link. https://quizlet.com/_63ru7n  In my previous post related to this story I defined words from Band Three Word List and the questions I created.

The word “description” ignited the idea for the activity.  The word “belong” fit in nicely too.  The vocabulary items “crime” and “pair” are also on the list.

Matching sentences DO NOT appear on the same index card!

Here are the corresponding sentences. Remember! The first sentence is written on the back of the card that says START! The words “THE END” appears on the back side of the card that has the last matching sentence. In other words, sentences that match do not appear on the same card!

START –

  • She was a large woman with a purse.    ** A description of Mrs. Jones.
  • It was heavy and had a long strap.  It was large.       ** A description of the purse that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
  • He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and thin. His face was dirty.      ** A description of Roger.
  • In the corner, behind a screen, there was a gas plate and an icebox. There was a daybed too.      ** A description of the room that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
  • He tried to steal her purse.    ** A description of Roger’s crime.
  • A pair of blue suede _____________.      ** A description of the shoes Roger wanted to buy.
  • She picked him up and shook him until his teeth rattled. She kicked him too.      **A description of Mrs. Jones’ reaction when Roger tried to steal her purse.
  • She gave him ten dollars and then led him to the front door.         **A description of Mrs. Jones’ actions at the end of the story.
  • THE END

I hope you find it useful too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Waiting” by Ha Jin

Naomi’s Photos

“Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu”.

That is the opening line of the book “Waiting”, which I encountered in the local library. I had not heard of the author nor had I heard of the book, but with an opening line like that, I was hooked.

The book is clever and unexpected.

For one thing, I wondered how long the author, Jin,  could keep up the main storyline of the book without becoming tiresome – it’s no spoiler to say that the hero is an army doctor, there is a nurse at the military hospital and a wife back in Goose Village.

Jin held my interest for all of the 308 pages.

The book was even more unexpected in the sense of how much background information about rural China (both historical and cultural) and social commentary Jin conveys in an indirect and subtle manner. There are no direct horror stories of “The Cultural Revolution”, nor does the quiet military doctor actively participate in any of the enterprising initiatives that open up later. But as the story unfolds, a clear picture of what it is like to live in an extremely controlled society, one in which you never seem to be truly alone, emerges as well.

Another example of a THANK YOU, LIBRARY” book – books that I find there when I stop looking for books I’ve heard about.

 

Using “Control F” to add Sophie’s Voice to “A Summer’s Reading” by Malamud

Some might find this “creature” intimidating! Naomi’s Photos

There is something intimidating about looking at very long lists of vocabulary items, each list spanning several pages of words written in three columns. There is this feeling of being lost in a wood where the trees are made of words.

Fortunately, technology makes it so much easier to deal with such word lists. I found myself introducing the “control F” function on the computer to several teachers over the last two weeks. Holding down those two keys open a “dialogue box” that allows you to type in a word. If the word appears in the list, you will be magically transported to the right place. If those letters appear in other words as well, those places will also be shown, but the little number on the side of the “box” shows you the number of words available. There are arrows to move between the words.

So helpful!

It particularly came in handy while I was thinking about the character of Sophie, George’s sister in the story “A Summer’s Reading” by Malamud. She’s a very minor character in the story but I thought that adding her point of view could give me a useful way to review the story,  practice vocabulary from the word list in context and the higher order thinking skill known as “distinguishing different perspectives” all in one go.  It’s quite easy to imagine some things Sophie might have thought in reference to her brother.

Her voice is hardly heard…
Naomi’s Photos

I identified 58 vocabulary items from the Band 3 word list as words to use while teaching this story. You can find them on the Quizlet list here: https://quizlet.com/361845610/a-summers-reading-flash-cards/

I wrote sentences on index cards. Each sentence uses a vocabulary item from the list (a word or a chunk) and a few use two words. The words are highlighted in orange. I used 28 items from the Quizlet list. Each index card presents a statement one of the characters in the story may have thought or said. These are not sentences from the story itself!

My class of Deaf and hard of hearing students and I read each card together and then discussed who might have said/thought such a thing. It was really great to see how they explained to each other which parts of the sentences gave them the information they needed to decide from whose perspective it was written. The students were very involved in the activity without officially turning it into a game.  The students could be asked to read the sentences out loud “in character”, but I haven’t tried that yet. Frankly, I was very pleased with the students’ reactions!

Here are examples of sentences from Sophie’s point of view. The activity also includes George’s and Mr. Cattanzara’s possible statements. For the full list of sentences,  click on the title of the attached word document below (you can download it). I hope you find the activity helpful too!

“He won’t come out of his room. I don’t know how he can breathe in there! It is very hot.”

“I don’t understand. He says he is reading books but I don’t see any evidence around the house. Is he telling the truth?”

“Working in a cafeteria in the Bronx means that I’m not home during the day”.

“I wish he would get a job! it would enable us to stop living in poverty!”

“Our mother’s absence really made a difference in our lives. I have to live at home and take care of my father and brother”.

Or as George may have said, sadly:

“Getting some money from my sister is my only source of income“.

Summer Reading Perspective-1owtxz2

 

 

 

Woe! What if EVERYTHING in the English Room “Sparks Joy”? A Comment

Joy in the classroom!
Figures by Yankol. Naomi’s Photos.

I was delighted to read Chia Suan Chong’s useful and inspiring post “Tidying my ELT mess with the KonMari Method™  .   

“ELT mess”… the phrase resonates with me. My EFL classroom /learning center caters to Deaf and hard of hearing students at every possible level. In addition, I’ve been teaching for a long long time… As you can imagine, the classroom closet is PACKED! It’s not chaotic, I’m not ashamed to open its doors in front of visitors, but it is way too full to be useful! It is also harder to keep organized when it is so full.

Just like everyone else, I’ve encountered Marie Kondo’s tidying up method. My sock drawer says “thank you, Marie”! Yet I had no idea how to apply the method, even partially, in the classroom. If the basis of the method is “Sparking Joy” – how does that relate to classroom materials?

Not only does Chia Suan Chong present the reader with some practical advice on applying this organizational method specifically for ELT teachers, but the author also explains how to relate the term “spark joy” to ELT teaching materials.

So off I went to utilize some non-consecutive free periods and declutter that classroom closet”!

There seems to be a problem…
Naomi’s Photos

I ran into trouble pretty quickly.

Sigh.

For one thing, it seems you can’t skip stages.

Placing the stationery items back into their designated little plastic containers is not a problem to do during a free period. I do that from time to time anyway (staplers start migrating to the glue box, markers end up with the scissors, you know what I mean).

No problem. Well done!

But I can’t possibly take out all the books in the closet all at once and make a big pile. I need to teach in a classroom that doesn’t look like a big mess and I can’t deal with all the books in 45 minutes!

So, I decided to begin looking at the books on the top shelf on the right side of the closet, where I keep the books that I don’t use regularly. The plan was to start from left to right and to pull out the books that I can either give away or recycle. Then I would be able to work in small bites.

ALL THOSE BOOKS “SPARK JOY”!

Naomi’s Photos

Each and everyone might be just the book I might need for a certain student, who knows? I have proof, too!  Just a month ago a passage from a book I hadn’t touched for at least 10 years had just the right type of short text with pictures that I needed for a student who had to get an individually tailored task.

I don’t want to part with a copy of the national curriculum from the 1980s, and I certainly don’t want to part with other books from the 1980s that had marvelous stories and passages in them. Every year I plan on creating wonderful activities with selected sections…. (I know, I know. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a bad sign).  I have a slew of grammar books for many levels and age groups, with different kinds of explanations.  Surely I need all of that, right? Then there are the “exam books”. The format of the matriculation (“Bagrut”) exams has changed many times yet it seems wise to keep the old books as some of the reading comprehension texts there could be very useful.

Did I mention that there are the new books coming in, and don’t forget the many binders full of worksheets…

And more…

Perhaps I had better wait till June to attempt this formidable task again!

What’s your strategy for dealing with the ELT classroom closet?

 

 

 

Belated Saturday’s Book: “A Place Called Peculiar” by Gallant

Who are you calling peculiar?! Naomi’s Photos

The complete title of the book is: “A Place Called Peculiar: Stories About Unusual American Place-Names”.

This is the kind of book that is fun to read parts of when you are with a group of people who can share your wonder, disbelief and a good laugh at the really unusual names of places one can find in the United States. Sadly, the rest of the time this book can sit, untouched, for years on a shelf. There’s a chapter for every state and frankly, there are only so many weird place names one can examine at a time.

When reading (or flipping through) this book you’ll encounter place names such as “Coin”, “Tea” or even one called “In Between”. And yes, there’s a town called “Peculiar” like the title of the book! Paradise (California) may (or may not) have inherited its name from a saloon called ” a pair o dice” , you can read about it (there are several other additional places called “Paradise” in the US, did you know that?).

My family and I actually visited “Chicken” Alaska and heard a slightly different version of the origin of the name. In the version we know,  the people who survived the harsh winter thanks to the ptarmigan, wanted to name the tiny TINY place in its honor. However, they couldn’t spell ptarmigan! But they could spell chicken…

“Matura”, Please Meet the “Bagrut”! Accomodations on EFL Matriculation Exams from Two Countries

Spot the differences…
Epstein Family Photos

For anyone who teaches English as a foreign language in a school system, matriculation exams are a big deal. We spend a lot of time learning the intricacies of the exams so that we can spend a lot of time preparing our students for them.

However, how often do we have the opportunity to take a look at what matriculation exams in other countries are like? Do they divide them into sections? Are there levels? Do they allow their students to use a dictionary during the exam?

Now take this one step further.

How often does a teacher of English as a foreign language to Deaf and hard of hearing students have the opportunity to compare accommodations on matriculation exams between countries?

The answer would probably be “ZERO OPPORTUNITIES ” if I hadn’t had this blog.

Out of reach…
Naomi’s Photos

Thanks to this blog I met the amazing Beata Gulati from Poland, who introduced me to Professor Ewa Domagała-Zyśk (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland) and to other members of the research group on the topic of teaching English to this population.

Naturally, I asked everyone lots of questions about matriculation exams. I was fascinated to learn that while there are certainly similarities between different EFL matriculation exams in other countries, there are significant differences in the structures of the exams for the general population and in the accommodations given to Deaf and Hard of Hearing students.

Curious?

Take a seat and check this out!

Naomi’s Photos

I’m pleased to announce that Professor Ewa Domagała-Zyśka and I have written a joint article: “EFL Matriculation Exams for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students – Polish and Israeli Experiences” in which we presented the issue of teaching this population in the context of the Polish “Matura” exam vs the Israeli “Bagrut” exam.  The article was published in “Multicolors: An International Journal of Educational Theory and Research”.  

Such collaborations serve as an “eye opener” and as a reminder – no one in education has a monopoly on “the right way” to teach and assess students. Such comparisons can serve to enrich and enhance our teaching methods.

Here’s to reading, learning, and blogging!

Counting Re-Entry of Vocabulary Items – “Thank You, Ma’am”

Plenty to count!
Naomi’s Photos

One of the stories that my Deaf and hard of hearing students like the most is “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.

I’ve just begun teaching it to a new group of 10th graders so I was very motivated to update my materials for this particular story first. As I explained in my previous post, since vocabulary acquisition often requires significantly more explicit instruction with my weaker students, I want to make sure that I highlight vocabulary that appears on the Ministry of Education’s vocabulary list for high – school students (known here as “Band Three).

I was delighted to see that there is no need to update my pre-reading exercise. I designed it to highlight the higher order thinking skill that we teach with this story  -“Uncovering Motives”. Not only have I been happy with the exercise with previous classes, but the word “motive” is also on the word list!

To download the pre-reading activity click on the title below.

Gift-of-time-pre-reading-Mam-p218o7-1e53wc3

Many ways to highlight one thing!
Naomi’s Photos

However, changes were made to the next part. Due to my students’ hearing problems, we can’t discuss the story properly in spoken English in class. Everything must have a written component.  A worksheet of “Open Questions” help me ensure that the students have achieved a basic understanding of the story (analysis and interpretation come later).

Here is the updated worksheet. Click on the title below to download it. The words that appear on the official list are in “bold”. I highlighted them with a colored marker after printing – they didn’t show up as “bold” after the photocopying machine was done with them.

Thank You Ma’am Open Questions-2ktog3e

Smile!
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve created a Quizlet list of the words I’m focusing on at the moment while teaching this particular story.  I may be updating it as I teach.  See link below.

https://quizlet.com/352417392/thank-you-maam-updated-version-flash-cards/

I’ll let you know!

I

Visualising School – Photo Pause

 

Visual notes from a busy teacher’s long days at school:

 

How to start the day with a smile…

(Just outside the school gate!)

Naomi’s Photos

 

When the sky meets the schoolyard…

(The front courtyard)

Naomi’s Photos

 

Shhhh… Just watch the drop…

(The view from my classroom window)

Naomi’s Photos

 

Tunnel of chairs – what’s on the other side? 

(More chairs…)

Naomi’s Photos