Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

New School Year? Seeking “Islands of Stability” Amid the Changes

Which set of keys is the right one for this year? Naomi’s Photos

“Are you sure Teacher T.  didn’t have a baby? I don’t know what to write for someone who moved to a new apartment”, asked one of my 10th-grade students near the end of the previous school year.

“Just write HAPPY BIRTHDAY! – that works for everything” advised another.

As I launched into my “greetings/best wishes lesson”,  I hoped to recreate the lesson we had several years ago when the aforementioned Teacher T. actually did have a baby: “Students Writing for an Authentic Audience Affords a Peek into their Hearts”.

The students back in 2018 were motivated to write, we practiced vocabulary, grammar, and syntax in context. In addition, we focused on  PRAGMATICS, which is something my Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students certainly need to work on.

Well,…

It wasn’t a repeat performance.

I hear you!
Naomi’s Photos

For starters,  moving to a new apartment clearly doesn’t tug at students’ heartstrings the same way that having a new baby does.

I understood that but nonetheless, I handed out whiteboard markers, wrote a suitable title on the board, and attempted to inspire the students by acting out how pleased the teacher would be when she arrived at class and found all these good wishes on the board.

One student actually started off on the right track – he wanted to write: HAVE A GOOD MOOD APARTMENT! So that led to the kind of educational discussion I was hoping to have.

But then a student literally stood with her hands on her hips, gave me a sort of “Are you kidding me” look, and said very emphatically:

“She knows Hebrew.

I know Hebrew.

And YOU want ME to write to her in ENGLISH?!”

She proceeded to shake her head sorrowfully…

The big drop… Naomi’s Photos

The OLD teacher in me immediately began thinking:

“Which of our old “Writing for an Authentic Audience” projects was worth revisiting? Or should I look into new options?  Perhaps we could…”

These thoughts were drowned out by the NEW teacher in me shouting:

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

This past year was really difficult, despite being back in class. It was a struggle to have a sense of continuity when we actually never had the allotted number of lessons a week. Even those students who didn’t feel the need to skip at least one day of school a week were often absent due to class excursions, lectures, exams in other subjects / getting tutoring hours for upcoming exams in other subjects.

And of course, some students were also absent due to illness. I was too, as a matter of fact. The pandemic hasn’t disappeared yet…

Turbulence… Naomi’s Photos

The NEW teacher in me says “focus on building “islands of stability before thinking about anything else. ”

It doesn’t matter that my summer tradition has always been to find/learn some new tweak, practice, routine, or different take to start a new school year with.

I need to figure out how to bring back what actually worked well before the pandemic hit and was lost or dramatically downsized.

Look back, not forward, before this school year begins.

How’s that for being open to change?

There are tunnels on the road ahead… Naomi’s Photos

Since I teach in a multi-level, mixed-grade learning center, some examples of what I would like to see  once again in class:

… students coming to class, actually remembering what they are working on and independently pulling out the material they need.

… students practicing their vocabulary on Quizlet without asking what the icon for Quizlet looks like …

… getting the WORD STATION up and running again and ensuring the students use it regularly without asking me what to do …

You can read about that “work station” here:                  https://visualisingideas.edublogs.org/2010/12/25/y-a-l-p-10-minute-system-part-2/

… reviving the lessons involving the “look up and read” method adapted from John Fanselow’s book “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning”.

You can read about that here: https://visualisingideas.edublogs.org/2018/04/22/one-tweak-at-a-time-reflecting-on-fanselows-textbook-for-efl-teachers-2-read-and-look-up/

And…

of course…

… seeing students continue to use the one thing that actually was an island of stability for both the students and I throughout the years of teaching alongside a pandemic (including the distance learning part!) , the tool that enabled each student to log on and only see his/her personal assignments, called…

AARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All gone… Naomi’s Photos

The wonderful off-the-school-grid Learning Management System I rely on, Edmodo, is shutting down.

For good.

It was just announced – in Mid August!

School begins Sept. 1st.

I’ve been using it for at least 10 years and have a vast amount of material organized into small units, for different groups, levels and individual students. I even have a small pedagogical library there!

The one thing that was not harmed by the pandemic (on the contrary!) is disappearing.

Writing for an authentic audience?

That will have to wait.

I’m going back to basics first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asking the Narrator of a Story to “CHAT” with the Students Directly

“I was prepared to dislike Max Kelada even before I knew him”.

W. Somerset Maugham’s opening sentence of the story “Mr. Know All’ is crystal clear.

This is a story dealing with prejudices.

I should be saying:

“Great, Naomi. You already have a pre-reading task ready on “being too quick to judge”, go prepare something else for the upcoming school year”.

I try to convince myself:

“You even posted about the importance of focusing on the central idea of the story in the pre-reading task, including a quote from a reading expert! Move on!” (Shifting the focus of pre-reading tasks, August 2018)

But I can’t.

Well, I use a computer… (Naomi’s Photos)

 

Look at the next sentence:

“The war had just finished and the passenger traffic in the ocean-going liners was heavy”.

The war in question is World War 1.

You may think that it doesn’t really matter that my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students haven’t a clue as to when that war ended (some are a bit surprised that there was a WW1 even though the numbering should have been a clue…) but it actually matters a great deal.

For starters, if I don’t emphasize the time frame my students cannot fathom why the characters are spending two weeks on a ship instead of hopping on a plane, spending their time ignoring the other passengers.

There would be no drama without the journey on the ship.

Not a ship. Let’s imagine a horse and buggy, ok? Naomi’s Photos

But then my students get the whole issue of nationalities mixed up.

And it all comes up in the first paragraph.

The narrator was traveling from San Francisco to Yokohama

My students assume the narrator was American (once we ensure everyone knows where these cities are located…) because who else travels from San Francisco?

After my students have already jumped to conclusions it’s much harder for them to internalize the information about the British Empire and who is or isn’t a real “British Gentleman”.

At least someone is sure of himself! Naomi’s Photos

“… I should have looked upon it with less dismay if my fellow passenger’s name had been Smith or Brown.”

Those surnames do not indicate any nationality at all to my students…

In short, I created a new slideshow.

While there are a few spaces where students are required to fill in the missing information (“look it up, students!!), this is not a task meant to be completed independently, without teacher involvement.

While difficult vocabulary items can be glossed, setting the stage for the story is crucial.

Now I can work on updating the glossary…

Here is the slideshow.

Pre Reading Mr Know All.

At Last! An Authentic Conversation with Students about Making Mistakes

Sports Day! Naomi’s Photos

There aren’t many authentic opportunities for a teacher in the school system to truly model seeing mistakes as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

You know what I’m talking about.

We teachers are always being told that we should teach the students to try, fail, and learn from their mistakes.

To view mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Important, right?

A truly important message for my Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students learning English as a foreign language.

Yet we are expected to get this message across in a school system geared toward good grades and “getting it right”. A system in which the students trust me to know the material I am teaching them well.

So how do I show my students, at least occasionally, in an authentic way,  how I make mistakes, try to understand what went wrong, and try again? And again and again?

EUREKA!

Failing doesn’t mean falling… (Naomi’s photos)

Fast forward to the day after our recent annual national sports tournament day, for schools with programs for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students from around the country.

We’re back at school.

One 10th grade student catches me coming down the stairs on the way to the classroom:

(No hello first…)

” Why didn’t you take a picture of me when I was ‘doing’ the penalty kick?!! The teacher of the other school took pictures of her students! I saw you with the camera by the football field!”

The second 10th-grade student said “Hello” and “Good Morning”. And then (more politely)  wanted to know why I only sent her one photograph of herself at the netball game,  (standing still!) when she clearly saw me taking lots of pictures of her during the first part of the game.

You need to learn to use the keys to unlock the right doors… Naomi’s Photos

Both students got the same candid reply:

“You know, I’m trying to learn artistic photography with a real camera (as opposed to a cell phone camera) and it was really hard for me to take pictures when you were moving so fast. Most of my photos were awful. You still have two more years at the high school. I hope you participate in lots of school events and I’ll keep trying. Maybe in the future, I’ll succeed in taking a good picture of you”.

Their reactions?

The “net-ball girl” – “Okay, I’ll be competing again. You keep practicing and try again. I got one picture, that’s a good start”.

The “soccer boy” – “Well, I’m not blaming you but if it’s hard you should practice. Maybe next year you’ll do better”.

Maybe I will take better photos of sports events and other school activities next year.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, bringing my camera will work out well!


Additional notes:

  • I ALSO told the “soccer boy” that I got hit by a soccer ball kicked directly at my leg while standing by the field, which didn’t encourage me to stick around. He didn’t really find that detail relevant… A true photographer doesn’t let small discomforts get in his/her way, right?
  • One of the few “action photographs” I do have from the girls’ netball game is actually a funny one of a boy who barged in during the warmup time and caught the ball! You aren’t going to see it though – I don’t post pictures of my students anywhere online.

“Grammar Pens” Caught in a Teacher’s Self “Ping Pong”

What’s the next move? Naomi’s Photos

Ping: “Oh Pong, listen to this! I’ve got a new idea for the next school year. Let’s use…”

Pong (interrupting):  Now hold it right there. Did you just say a new idea? As in a NEW IDEA? Weren’t you the teacher complaining about feeling overwhelmed and tired?

Ping: That was me…

Pong: So convince me why I should even LISTEN to this new idea when you can stick with what you already have. Go ahead, let’s see what you can come up with.

Ping: It doesn’t require much teacher preparation time.

Pong: Not bad. Keep going.

Ping: Making small changes, even “tweaks” to the routine always boosts my work-related motivation level, and I really need some of that after this school year.

And the students might learn something…

Pong: Okay, okay, good points. Let’s hear the new idea.

Hear my words…
Naomi’s Photos

Ping: You see, we’ll have “Grammar Pens” to… (Pong interrupts)

Pong: Wait a minute. “Grammar Pencils” are “A THING”. You can Google them and find sites to purchase them from. Those pencils have confusing grammar points on them, such as “to, two & too” or “there, their and they’re”. Are you already planning out-of-pocket purchases for the English Room?!!

PIng: No, no, calm down. Absolutely not. This idea was just inspired by those products. Our students prefer pens and purchasing things like pencils makes no sense as they aren’t made for long-term use.

Pong: Whew… (sighs in relief).

Ping: You know those students who never bring a pen to class? I once read that in such cases a student should leave something of his/hers until the pen is returned at the end of the lesson. Such a method would be problematic to implement with some of our Deaf and hard-of-hearing adolescents (I don’t what anyone taking off their belt, for example!). However,  I thought that perhaps I could still turn the situation into an educational experience.

Is that Gandalf?
Naomi’s Photos

So, before I let them use one of the English Room pens, they will have to tell me what the difference is between your/you’re,   its/it’s,  have/has, etc. I can add confusing vocab items such as long/no longer too.

Pong: What happens if they don’t know the answer?

Ping: We do what we always do, unrelated to this particular idea – I tell the student, and then the student has to tell it back to me.

Pong: How are you going to emboss/ engrave the target words onto the pens?

Ping:  I’M NOT!  Even if I knew how to do such a thing I wouldn’t.  It’s the same principle that holds true for playing board games in EFL lessons – you don’t want the target item to appear in a fixed place. On a board game, if an instruction or a vocabulary item is written in the top left corner, the students quickly memorize what they need to say or do when they reach that corner, and stop reading the words written.  If the words are permanently on “the red pen”, or the “large pen”, the students will just use such cues to retrieve an answer without focusing on the words written.  The cards can’t have numbers on them, for the same reason.

I’ll place a little box with the target words on cards beside our pen holder.  Easy to shuffle cards or pull out ones that are below/above a certain student’s level.  You get a lot more repetition with cards, compared to “fixed words”.

Take a card, respond, get a pen – easy peasy!

I can use it with the highlighters/colored markers too!

Ha ha ha!
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: If you’ve got all that worked out, why did you call me in? I usually only show up when there’s a problem.

Ping: (Sighs in regret)* There is a problem.

Actually, there are two problems.

Pong: Start with the easier problem.

Ping: It’s a learning center, so not all the students are doing the same thing. If a student began the lesson working on the computer, and then went on to something else, he/she may ask for a pen in the middle of the lesson, not at the beginning…

At the moment they just go over to the table and take one without my involvement.

You must look at it all…
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: Hmmm… What’s the other problem?

Ping: What about the students who ALWAYS bring their pens, pencils, erasers, dictionaries, markers, and anything else they might possibly need for the lesson?

They need to practice these items too…

Pong: Why don’t you ask your readers for advice? Maybe they can offer suggestions.

Do you have any suggestions for me to consider?

____________________________________________

  • Can you guess which poem I have been teaching recently, yet again?

 

 

Why Teachers Keep Going – A Visual Comment

You work hard every day, sometimes you need to let your imagination run wild… Naomi’s Photos

Before the pandemic, I rarely read blog posts that weren’t written by teachers of English as a foreign language.

As far as I was concerned, “enhancing my teaching skills” meant reflecting on EFL teaching practices, learning new techniques, and getting acquainted with additional teaching resources.

However,  I find the ongoing experience of teaching alongside a pandemic quite stressful. As the months go by of yet another school year rocked by instability I find myself drawn to posts that fulfill a different need.

These are blog posts that support a teacher’s well-being and reflect on what it means to be a teacher.

When I see a new post from George Couros’s blog land in my inbox, I keep it unread until I can sit and give it my full attention. His posts are often about the conversations I’m not having with anyone but wish I did.

The post “Why People Keep Going” is one that needs to be more than just read. I need to personalize it, think about it, make my own version.

Retirement isn’t on the horizon yet (despite teaching for 35 years) so reminding myself of why I go to class each morning is necessary.

In addition, this blog isn’t called “Visualising Ideas” for no reason – I’m itching to liven up some of those grey visuals!

*** George Couros presented sixteen points in his post. I am reflecting on seven of them, and adding one of my own.

  1. Seeing potential
Growth happens even in challenging conditions

Some of my students are making clear progress, despite the difficult conditions.  Therefore, even those students with the sketchiest attendance must still be getting something out of the lessons they do attend – I just haven’t seen the “shoots” burst out yet. I must hold on to that thought.

2. Future  Focused
Take one step at a time
Naomi’s Photos

This is a point which I’m struggling with right at this moment. Having a clearly defined plan of what is expected of them and knowing “where we are going” this semester absolutely does mean something to my 11th and 12th graders. It matters. However, with my 10th graders it’s an uphill battle. It took an incredible amount of energy in the first semester ” to get the information to sink in”, including posting the plan in class, sending them individual messages talking to them and then the homeroom teacher…

Now a new semester has begun and I balk at having to repeat the process. Some students have already made it clear that I must – I should be preparing individual notes for the students instead of writing this blog post…

Yet writing this post reminds me that venting is good, tomorrow is a new day. Right?

3. Recognize Other People’s Struggles
Off balance…
Naomi’s Photos

Bearing this in mind helps. A lot.

4. Work as a Team
We’ve got you covered! Naomi’s Photos

The pandemic has placed a lot of constraints on meeting team members. Not only have many teachers have been out due to the pandemic, I basically stay away as much as possible from the staff room, eating my lunch in the English Room or outside. However, I have found that making an effort to seek out staff members during my free periods is truly one of things that keeps me going.

5. Manage Time
Tea Time! Several Times a Day!

Actually, LETTING GO of “managing time” is what is keeping me going. I am getting dramatically less done (perhaps you have noticed that I haven’t posted about my books recently…) but I find I need more frequent breaks. Lot’s of tea. And time to play “Wordle”!

6. Find solutions
You can’t stop me, I’ll just go around… Naomi’s Photos

Ha! Until I sat down to write this post I hadn’t really considered that I have “my “Special Ed Teacher” skills here on my side! A student needs to take her test at a different hour from everyone else, while another needs a retest, yet another has lost his notebook, doesn’t have a pen, can’t remember his password to the class site – that’s nothing new for me. Pandemic or not – that’s a reality I can deal with!

7. Confident
“Is that you, cousin Bob”? (Dino looking at the cover of “Dinotopia, by Gurney) Naomi’s Photos

Well, Mr. Couros (may I call you George?), I wouldn’t need this lengthy reflection on your post if the experience of meeting certain students 3 hours a month (instead of 4 hours a week!) hadn’t rocked my confidence in my ability to teach them more than they knew before they met me.

It’s a good thing I’m a blogger. Facing fears, in writing, is a step forward.

I do feel better.

                         The following point is not in the original post:

8. Move out of your comfort zone within the safety net of a beloved hobby

Part of taking a good look at myself as a teacher, reflecting what I can and what I must strive to do better, is , well, actually looking at myself.

So, this year’s challenge in my journey to develop my skills as a photographer includes placing myself in front of the lense.

Lessons in confidence, 101.

Self-portrait, holding the book “Dintotopia” by James Gurney

 

What keeps YOU going?

 

 

Going Where the Kids are – Vocabulary Lists & Computer Games

All comics on this page created using MakeBeliefsComix

 

 

 

 

See, Mom?

Here is the list of words for middle school that the English teacher told all the parents about when you came to school.  The teacher gave us the list too.

The teacher  gave us a challenge:

Find as many words from the list as we can, in our computer games.

We add the words to a shared online document – see how many words we found today?

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fx5OGLYvR_oTRD-C06GinG_VRSRqWY22PCK3AvmLt3A/edit?usp=sharing

Now I’m looking for screenshots of words in the games.

Look! I found a few already.

 

appearance, creator /create (NBA)
team, continue, available  (and objectives from BAND 3)  FIFA

Now, Mom, I have to call some friends. They have different computer games than I do.

I want to hear what they found.


  • The list linked to in the post is a “work in progress” and will be updated! Note my comments in red  – the difference between “fresh” and “refresh” leads to a discussion of the prefix “re”!
  • If you and your students find additional words or create a list of your own, please link to it in the comment section, so we may all use it!
  • I’d love to hear about discussions you had or activities you prepared based on the connection between computer games and the “Band Lists”. Tell us about them in the comment section!

 

EFL Students, Your Exams are Coming Up – Time to Head into Outer Space!

Space, the final frontier…
Naomi’s Photos

This post is a direct continuation of my previous post:

BUT SERIOUSLY, EFL STUDENTS, MEETING A COW WILL HELP YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR EXAMS!

In that post, I explained how the gaps in struggling students’ general knowledge about the world hinder their performance on reading comprehension tasks regularly.

“The gaps in general knowledge are most striking when it comes to texts related to environmental issues.  There are many such texts in our practice books and exams.”

Well, the amount of trash/debris cluttering up outer space is also an environmental issue. It’s time to push the boundaries of the students’ world knowledge and help them visualize the topic.

Wild animals in the city… It’s a JACKAL
Naomi’s Photos

But first, a quick detour.

I began this “general knowledge project” with the video about cows and the environment (see aforementioned previous post) adding captions on a website called veed.io.

It really wasn’t particularly challenging to add captions using this website!

Video number two, on the topic of wild animals moving into the city also worked when using the site, despite its length. The site allows you to “chop off” a bit! My students were interested in the topic despite the fact the video is longer than the one about the cows. A few of them even had stories of animal sightings to share. I shared a picture of a jackal that I had taken, too.

Here is the original video. I’ve added a link to the captioned version (Hebrew captioning) below.

This is a link to a slightly shortened version of the video with Hebrew captioning. The captions have been edited for length and clarity.

https://www.veed.io/view/38f0c2fe-8513-4db2-9864-e879c8cfd9a0

Now, back to outer space…

The same captioning site did not work well with the video below. The helpful captioning in English on the original  (which I think is good for learners, regardless of the status of their hearing) is large and appears in different places on different scenes.

More importantly…

The topic of space debris and the dangers it poses when hurtling around outer space is much more complex and includes more terminology than the previous videos did.

It’s much easier to take in the clear visuals and read the text properly when you stop the video frequently.

But who wants to stop a video frequently on their own initiative? Especially if viewed in class?

Fortunately, I have a  wonderful 10th-grade computer whiz volunteering in my classroom – Amitay Merhav. Amitay translated the captions and spent time trying different captioning options to find one that works for my students.

For this video, we decided to use Edpuzzle, which I used to use intensively, but haven’t done so in recent years.

In this viewing mode, you see the English captions first, then the Hebrew version, and then the video stops completely until you hit the  “continue” button.

In short, the viewer controls the pace.

Captions in any language can be added this way.

Or questions about the text.

When the video stops there is time to think.

Here is the original video. The link to the version with Hebrew captioning, the one with the pauses, appears below.

Here’s the link to the captioned video:

https://edpuzzle.com/media/61bf18b89b9e1c4304b36977

If you have any suitable videos to suggest, please do so in the comments. It would be great to have a video library of visuals related to common topics in course books and on exams!

Giving Robert Frost Digital Advice on Choosing Roads

Advice needed!

Note: Inspired by one of my favorite children’s books, “Fortunately” by Remy Charlip.

FORTUNATELY, we’re back to teaching at school every day – no distance learning!

UNFORTUNATELY, due to Covid, the students have missed out on many school activities, both academic and social /emotional ones, and have a lot of catching up to do this year.

FORTUNATELY, schools are intensively trying to make up for lost time – students are going on school trips and outings, experiencing workshops on topics ranging from health and safety to inclusion, and even doing volunteer work.  Wonderful things! These experiences are certainly more meaningful for high school students than the additional reason their English lessons are canceled – taking exams in other subjects…

UNFORTUNATELY,  I have discovered that Merriam-Webster’s definition of the musical term “staccato” is now applicable to my lessons:

“1acut short or apart in performingDISCONNECTED staccato notes”

By the time we discussed the last stanza of  “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost during one of the lessons that did take place as scheduled,  my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students needed a review of what we talked about at the beginning of the poem…

I needed an activity reviewing basic understanding of the poem.

Response cards

Suggestion cards

FORTUNATELY,  I had a review ready, one which I created in 2019. In this review, the speaker solicits advice from a friend about his dilemma and then explains why he rejects the advice.   You can find that activity here:

DARING TO DIVE INTO THE DILEMMA – “THE ROAD NOT TAKEN”

UNFORTUNATELY, The review activity is written on flashcards, housed in a box in the classroom. This means that the activity can only be done in class…

There is so much ground to cover when the students are in class…

FORTUNATELY,  I just created a digital version of the activity. I now have the speaker, stuck at the point where the two roads diverge, using his cell phone to solicit advice from friends.  I posted it online using LiveWorkseets, a format which is convenient for the students to access and use, even on their phones, and is easy for me to work with.

I did not make the worksheet a self-check one. I wanted the students to type in the missing sentences, so at first glance, it would have made sense just to type in the answers and let them check themselves.   However, my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students often type with spelling mistakes, and then LiveWorksheet would mark a correct answer as WRONG.  I simply ask the students to send me pictures of the completed worksheets.

UNFORTUNATELY,  the students ended up doing the review activity in class after all…

I may have completely wasted my time but perhaps I’ll be glad to have a digital copy in the future.

I’m sighing now but I shall not be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence – I will have forgotten about it by then!

Here is the link:

https://www.liveworksheets.com/et2648217sy


 

“Beware of the Underscore!” & Other Classroom Adventures

Moving forward – always something new to learn! Naomi’s Photos

It seems I don’t have to worry about falling into the veteran teacher’s trap of thinking that I’ve seen/heard it all.

I have my students to thank for that!

Access Denied!
Don’t Give Up!            Naomi’s Photos

 

When your student repeatedly fails to log onto the classroom website, you’ve looked at her username, reset her password twice, tried typing the details in yourself (on two different browsers), and rebooted the computer, check the underscore!

I now know that it is very easy to miss the fact that a student has chosen to use a double underscore in her username (or was it a typo? We’ll never know).

Case Closed
We’re out of here – BYE!   Naomi’s Photos

When launching into your standard “pre-poem-teaching” conversation with a new student about invisible barriers, stereotypes, and racism, your student suddenly shuts the book firmly and declares (in mother tongue):

It is not right to judge people by the color of their skin. That’s what the point of this poem you want me to learn is. See? I learned that. We’re done here.

When this happens, try to remember to close your mouth after your jaw drops…

The Draw of a Drawing

When you decide to add a drawing which you “created” in three minutes* to a message in the class WhatsApp group instead of using a carefully chosen humorous photograph (which you took yourself using a real camera!!) and then a student who never reads messages actually comments on it, don’t get insulted!

It seems that among the countless photos a student scrolls through, a drawing stands out a bit more.

Who knew? I can’t draw so I certainly didn’t know…

– – – – – – – – – – — – – — – – – – — –

I created my drawing thanks to a recommendation from Pete Clements, who blogs at  ELT Planning  

Open Peeps  – A hand-drawn illustration library 

It’s very easy to choose a character and then edit it using the menu. I go into the site from my phone (though you can use a computer), save my “creation” to my phone and send it off.  I didn’t download anything, I just use the “Blush” option.  Play with it!

 

But Seriously, EFL Students, Meeting a Cow Will Help You Prepare for Your Exams!

The sea of knowledge is vast… Naomi’s Photos

I can’t possibly teach my students everything they need to know.

I couldn’t do that even before the pandemic granted me the pleasure of teaching students who haven’t studied without disruption for the past year and a half. Students whose studies may be disrupted yet again in the near future…

What DO my students need to know?

This question has an obvious answer, considering the fact that I’m a teacher in the national school system and we have a curriculum to follow.

So there’s plenty of familiar material that needs to be taught.

However…

There’s an additional factor to consider.

Let’s shed some light on this… Naomi’s Photos

I feel that the pandemic has widened the gap between my strongest students and my weaker ones.

And believe me, it’s not because these strong students (most of them, there were a few exceptions)  studied English on their own!

You also can’t claim that the students who are profoundly Deaf, from Deaf families,  whose primary mode of communication is Sign Language were benefitting from watching movies in English without subtitles or following the lyrics of songs in English (the latter is very difficult for hard-of-hearing students to do as well).

One of the things that I have noticed about these strong students is that they are super observant and make connections.  All sorts of connections!

They pay attention to words in English on packaging, clothing, bumper stickers, computer games, and websites they use.

But it’s much more than that.

I notice everything!
Naomi’s Photos

When the stronger students watch the same movies (or T.V programs) as their classmates, they garner useful information, even when the quality of some of the movies is questionable. From a film about aliens landing on the White House lawn and snatching the US President, they recall all the other references to the fact that the capital of the US is Washington DC and not New York ( as some of my students think… )

They take note of the fact that in the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, athletes from Greece always head the parade regardless of alphabetical order and want to know why.

When encountering a reading passage on their national exam “Next Stop: Mars?” or perhaps about “Trash in Space” the stronger students can visualize scenes from various movies they have seen (such as “Apollo 13” “The Martian” )  and computer games they have played as aids in understanding the texts, despite the complex vocabulary.  They recognize the symbol of NASA and know what it refers to.

Some of the stronger students had even seen footage from the International Space Station and even from the rover “Curiosity” when they read the news online.

The strongest students are more curious than their classmates.   When reading a text in class about “invasive green parrots” or “Piano Stairs  – The Fun Theory”, they will use Google to see visuals without me telling them to do so.

GENERAL KNOWLEDGE IMPACTS READING COMPREHENSION!

So many gaps…
Naomi’s Photos

The gaps in struggling students’ general knowledge about the world hinder their performance on reading comprehension tasks regularly.

This has always been true.

However, before the pandemic, I had more time to discuss background information for every single reading passage with them.

The gaps in general knowledge are most striking when it comes to texts related to environmental issues.  There are many such texts in our practice books and exams.

It’s one thing if the students don’t know that it’s very cold in Canada and that Amazon is a name of a company that delivers products, and that drones can be used to do so (all my students know about Ali Express!). It is much more problematic when the students haven’t a clue no about the connection between cows and the environment (actually, I’ve had students who didn’t even know cows could graze on a pasture – they assumed cows were only raised in enclosed spaces). Think of a reading passage on the topic of environmentally friendly meat substitutes…

They need to know that satellites even exist before reading about trash in space.

Wild animals in the city… A Jackal
Naomi’s Photos

Forget satellites – a few of the struggling students are unaware that wildlife exists outside of a zoo or the continent of Africa. A text about the problems that arise when wild animals live in the city is harder to make sense of when you can’t visualize such a situation.

So…

Remember the ongoing problem called “lack of time in class”?

I’ve begun creating short homework  (or independent-work-in-class-time) tasks for my students in which the students watch a short video (VISUALS!) about a topic related to an environmental issue and then answer a few lower-order comprehension questions just to make sure they have paid attention to the main points of the video.

My students are getting these videos WITH SUBTITLES in L1.

It’s very simple.

These videos are too challenging for my struggling learners in English.

AND…

I don’t want to spend time teaching vocabulary items such as “satellites” or even “factory” when there is such a large number of basic and frequent words/phrases these students do not know.

The dictionary will tell them what a satellite is in L1.

What I am concerned about is that the struggling learners will know what THAT word is denoting when they see the translation.

Note: For some of my students, Sign Language is their mother tongue. I hope to add a version with sign language for each video during the school year – I have asked for assistance in this matter, so I’m quite hopeful.

Here is the first video, in English.  Perhaps it will be helpful to you as it is.


Here is the file with Hebrew captions. This is not a one-to-one translation, some captions have been edited for brevity and clarity. I’m trying to get a message across!

If you create captions in other languages for this video, please let me know!

Here is a link to download a copy of a Google form with “very unsophisticated” questions to ensure attention to the points I wanted.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Cr1IAGESBVJOT0dbVT3Hs4tFXz0KljLZ4JCwUezK6TY/copy

I’m currently working on the next video!