Category Archives: Books teachers Recommend to Teachers

Revisiting the “18/100 Challenge”: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s “Teaching Tips” – Sight Words


Years of materials and ideas tucked away -which ones contain what? Naomi’s Photos, 2023


Do you also sometimes feel that memories related to your life as a teacher before the pandemic hit have faded or even disappeared? Materials you once prepared lie dormant, forgotten in some binder or box, their underlying rationale swirling murkily in your memory?

Or is it just me?

Thank goodness I got a lifesaver in the mail – the program for the Upcoming July ETAI International Conference.

It jogged my memory.

The amazing, world-renowned Penny Ur will be speaking at the conference!

After hearing Penny Ur talk at the ETAI Conference back in 2016, I was so inspired that I undertook a blogging challenge called 18/100, in which I reflected on one tip from each of the eighteen sections that compose Penny Ur’s book: “100 Teaching Tips”. 

The combination of short sections in the book along with brief reflections really packed a punch.

I’m so looking forward to hearing her speak again next month!

Here is one of the original posts from 2016, part 17.


A better view Naomi's Photos
A better view
Naomi’s Photos (taken in 2016)


This is part seventeen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher, it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 89: “Teach a lot of vocabulary”

* Note: I was sorely tempted to reflect on all the tips in the vocabulary section, but a rule is a rule…

I love it when practices we recommend for teaching Deaf and hard-of-hearing students are recommended for everyone.

Sight words are words you understand right away without the need to decode.  Check out this quote from the book (page 106): ” It appears that a large sight vocabulary …is the main condition for successful reading comprehension”. When you have words at your disposal that lead to meaning effortlessly, you can focus on the content of the text must more efficiently.

The thing is, the sight vocabulary needs to be large. Even students with normal hearing cannot pick up enough vocabulary based on incidental learning and by seeing words in context in books. Vocabulary has to be taught and practiced. A lot!

Vocabulary flashcards rock!

They will “rock” even more if you include collocations!

Especially good for pair work – an opportunity for students to be teachers too. Meanwhile, you, the official teacher,  can work with someone who needs extra help.

The only caveat is the issue of general knowledge. The students have to have a reasonable grasp of the concepts the words denote. Otherwise, the ability to quickly translate the words into their mother tongue does not contribute to reading comprehension.

Which may sound extremely obvious to you.

Unless you are working with Deaf and hard of hearing students…

(For more information on that issue, see the post on the Q/A blog: Translating words into L1 isn’t always helpful. Why?




Books that Pack a Punch: “The Rain Heron” by Arnott & “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ozeki

A regular heron! Naomi’s Photos
The Rain Heron by Arnott

What a unique book! You could call it an eco-fable, as I have encountered many reviews that do so.

There IS a mythical rain heron (and some pretty unique squids!) but otherwise, the book is certainly not mythical or a fantasy book. The reality it depicts is completely possible – greed, corruption, and power most certainly affect the environment. Naturally, consequences follow.

Everything is cleverly told, in such a way that holds you tight until you reach the end.

So don’t try to read too much about the book before you begin it!

I found the strong women, who are the pivotal forces of the plot, to be fascinating.

Great book!

Naomi’s Photos
A Tale for the Time Being by Ozeki

This book took hold of me and wouldn’t let go of me until I had reached the end.

Even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue reading.

The book has many things going on – some parts are fascinating, some uplifting, some heartwrenching, and some parts totally mystical. Oh, and there’s quantum physics too!

The characters are so real and “alive” that I was extremely disturbed by the parts depicting the bullying at the Japanese school that teenage Nao went through. As a teacher, I was even more horrified at the school’s role in the situation.

Note that my gut reaction just shows how powerful the writing is – you feel you know the author and her husband (who live on a remote little island) personally. You become part of their growing involvement in the lives of Nao, her extended family, and her grandmother/Buddhist nun. Zen is certainly an element of the story. The past is just as alive, in the form of an uncle/kamikaze pilot…

There is a lot going on. More than I mentioned.


First and foremost, it’s a good story and I enjoyed it.

One Tweak at a Time: Reflecting on Fanselow’s Textbook for EFL Teachers – 1. Skepticisim 101

This is part one of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – experiment with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning”   so as to see how I can keep honing my teaching skills.

Small things add up…
Naomi’s Photos


Fanselow certainly knows how to attract a veteran teacher’s attention.  That is no small matter. As an EFL  teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I don’t actually expect authors to be familiar with my specific classroom setting. I’m used to adapting everything. However, I do need strategies that are applicable for teachers in the national school system with a full work load.

For starters, there’s the title. I never would have chosen a book for my blogging challenge that called for “overhauling your teaching”! “Small Changes”, one “tweak a time” – now we’re talking.

Now forget the title. Take a look at this from the foreword, which Amazon lets you read for free without purchasing the book (No, this is not one of those blogs that has the blogger earning money from clicks on Amazon…):

Look up!
Naomi’s Photos

“My suggestion is for you to be as skeptical about your present practices as the alternatives I urge you to try.”

“…you must not only not believe anything I say but anything anyone else says. Do one of your usual activities, make a small change and compare the effects, over and over and over.”


Fanselow is offering me a “win – win” situation.

A small change leads to better results? Win!

The old way gets better results? Now there’s a reason and  a rationale for doing things this way. Win! 

Naomi’s Photos

Join me on this blogging challenge as I experiment in class, starting off with the effects of “Read and Look Up” on my students!

You will find that in the next post.

Team Work, Book Clubs & a Podcast – A Comment

Aren’t ideas always depicted as lights that are turned on?
Naomi’s Photos

While the title of Tyson Seburn’s fascinating post is “Serial Podcast for Extensive Reading”, I was only able to focus on the novel idea of using transcripts of an incredibly popular podcast tale for a book club when I read the post the second time.

The first time I read the post I was totally floored by the team work of Tyson’s staff and how a team can promote an instructional goal. Working with the constraints of time and not overburdening the staff, they set up a virtual book club program to promote extensive reading across the board, including all students and teachers. It is more than just a division of labor.

The pigeons’ staff room?
Naomi’s Photos

If you think the expression “floored” is a bit dramatic, consider the following. I’m currently working my way through a book called “The Power of Teacher Teams” by Troen & Boles. It talks about how truly good teacher teams not only help lessen the load of the individual teacher but actually improve students’ academic achievements. Sounds wonderful, right? Reading Tyson Seburn’s post had me fantasizing there for a short while that our multi disciplined staff of special education teachers could promote extensive reading in the students’ mother tongue in such a manner. An art teacher, math teacher, history and civics teacher should also be able to promote reading, right? Many Deaf and hard of hearing students do not like to read. Reading improves academic achievement across the board, so every teacher should be on board with this goal. At least in theory…

Unfortunately, the book scares me completely. While writtten in a very readable manner, it makes it clear that it is REALLY hard to get a staff of wonderful teachers to work efficiently together to achieve goals across the board like that. It involves organized sessions devoted to working on team-work skills, preferably having an outside instructor to get everyone to see that it actually matters and could be done.

Naomi’s Photos

One of the nice things about people who write blog posts is that they are perfectly happy to answer questions and one can simply write to them. Tyson Seburn confirmed that his staff had also had specific team training sessions.


Anyway, to get back to the question related to using transcripts of a podcast for a book club – I’m all for it. A podcast such as Serial offers a compelling narrative and rich language , with the added bonus of general knowledge.

Personally, I stopped listening to Serial very quickly. I do not like the true crime genre and do not watch such TV shows either. But that’s just me. So let me run the Douglas Adams  group in the book club ….

Books Teachers Recommend to Other Teachers

*Photos by Gil Epshtein

My aunt in the U.S.A.  has said she wants to send me a book. I went looking for recommendations.

Since I couldn’t find such a list I’m starting one myself. I hope placing the recommendations in one place will be helpful to others and will allow me to have a list to look at next time someone wants to send me a book!

Please feel free to add a book recommendation!

slightly open doors

Here are four books I own and recommend:

1) The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer

The Courage to Teach

This book deals with our feelings as a teacher. For example, Palmer writes about how we can get hurt by being vulnerable with our students yet how being vulnerable allows us to really connect : “ Unlike many professions, teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life”.

Not light reading but really relevant.

2) Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn R. Jackson

Never Work Harder

The author writes as if you were hashing out the issues with her face to face. Lots of practical advice regarding structuring classroom practices so that the children benefit and the teacher doesn’t collapse from overwork! Very readable.

3) The Classroom of Choice: Giving Students what they need and getting what you want. By Jonathan C. Erwin

Classroom of Choice

The author focuses on the emotional side of the learner. As he points out – who doesn’t know students that could do well academically but don’t because of emotional issues?

Lots of practical things to try out no matter what subject you teach.

4) Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching By Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury

Just began reading this one. I’m very interested in the theory and am eager to learn more about it!

The following are recommendations by other teachers. I haven’t read any of them YET! Please add your own!

let there be light!

5) Images by Jamie Keddie


Recommended by @harrisonmike – “lots of practical stuff”!

6) We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Talk about Kevin

Recommended by @harrisonmike – “A MUST READ!

7) Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright

Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities

Recommended by @CeciELT – An old favorite!

(note: I HAVE read this one though don’t own it! Great!)

8) Bluff your way in Education by Nick Yapp

Recommended by IateflPoland – “for the cynics among us, only 64 pages long, funny too”! “A very humorous, skeptical look at the profession by a teacher who became a Headmaster and went back to being a teacher again”.


9) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge

Teaching and Learning

Recommended by @nutrich – {Have used } “during DELTA and my MA module on approaches and methods. It’s accessible, not too academic”.

10) Visual Impact Visual Teaching: Using Images to Strengthen Learning by Timothy Gangwer

Visual Impact

I remember getting a warm recommendation for this book and that it is full of practical ideas. Although I duly noted that info I’m embarrassed to say that I did not note who recommended it… Will be happy to add that information!

11) Lexicopoly 1: Reproducible Resources for Language Teachers by Helen O’Brien


Helen (@warnhopepark) was kind enough to send me activities in the style that appear in the book. An impressive array of varied activities designed around a theme.

“Lexicopoly is packed with ideas for integrating vocabulary, grammar and language functions through speech.”

The comment-space can be used to add suggestions of your own!