Category Archives: The Visual Corner

Slippery Soapy Homework

Switched at Birth Task

It is “soapy” because the task involves a two minute segment of soap opera called “Switched at Birth”, which has deaf teenage characters in it, who use American Sign Language.

It is “slippery” because I find that one of the many parameters I have set for myself for defining the optimal online task  is always eluding me. I make sure one is “in” and woosh another slips away.

As someone who avidly follows blogs who plan inspiring lessons with films, such as Film English and The Lessonstream Blog I have to admit that I could not follow their lead and take a “meaty” topic from the segment to discuss in a  framework of a formed set of activities, such as a Deaf boy dating a hearing girl ( with me totally ignoring the soapy aspects of that particular hearing girl being the one who was switched a t birth with the deaf girl – boy do I dislike soap operas!). Since the mode of communication in class is Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language such a discussion wouldn’t lead to learning English…

So I prepared homework tasks related to the segment. Here are two levels, the “blue” version is the more advanced one (I had the really advanced kids write a description of the segment. We are working on description essays now). The tasks comply with the requirment that they utilize the Internet (not just Word documents posted on line) and the questions use formats that we need for their reading comprehension exams (though I gave up on defining the word “record” in simple English and just used L1).  They are also short and I can safely say the topic is relevant.

Switched at Birth Blue

Switched at Birth Red

The big parameter that slipped away on this one was the “Google Translate” factor. How much are they actually learning from this exercise with all the cut / paste going on?!

Yet how could this be built differently? I, myself ,have said before that graphics which make it harder for the students to copy/ paste into the translator (students have to copy things in small chunks, more chance they will pay attention to the connection between word and translation) are better. But now that I have begun using Google Forms as the means to submit homework (the students are SO pleased with how easy it is to hand in homework now!) I find myself limited with the graphic aspects.

Something always slips away…

Any suggestions?



The Silence of the Walls

As you may remember, I’m teaching a summer course at a private language school. As someone who has invested a great deal of thought and energy into the creation of the English Room which is our learning center, I’m very aware of physical space.

The room at the language school is quite new, with a fresh coat of white paint. No peeling walls or old chairs with metal legs that I’m busy collecting tennis balls for (think of walkers for infirm people). At the high-school I’m currently in the process of getting each metal leg  inside a ball to stop scraping noises (many thanks to Netalie Wolfson for this brilliant idea!).

The computer is wonderful and the room has a projector. When you turn on the projector the screen slides down automatically. The whiteboard is huge so there is some room left to write on the side even when the screen is down. The computer in my own classroom is good too (no projector) but the school intentionally left us with an old screen when it upgraded the computer. The kids then think the computer is old and complain. This how the school holds on to the feverent hope that the computer won’t be stolen.

The air conditioner at the language school is AWESOME! Not only does it work really well, but the best thing about is that nobody knows how to turn it off. The 20-something year old girls in my course are just like my teenage girl students. They come skimpily clad, complain of being cold but scoff at my suggestion of bringing some sort of wrap. In school, arguments ensue and I can’t always stop some of the students from turning off the air conditioner on their own and then on again. I expend a lot of energy when I teach and I’m simply delighted with the temperature.

However, those nicely painted wall of the language school are bare. Empty. Just white. Those walls aren’t doing a single useful thing (English wise, that is. I really am grateful that they are holding up the ceiling!).

In my school classroom, the upper half of one entire wall is covered with a carpet. That’s perfect for hanging large flashcards which can be used for practicing or just to look at for reference. Easy to replace and reorginize. During the summer course, every time we encounter a phrasal verb, I have to stop myself from saying – well, just look over there, do you remember now?

Those walls hold no notice board for those who repeatedly forget things announced. This is particulary good as a self defense strategy for those who try to claim I never even made the announcements in the first place. I just silently point to the notice board and that’s that.

There is nowhere to hang diplomas. I have a sneaky feeling that adults would like that too but I haven’t tested that theory out.

The back of the door in the language school is empty as well. One can’t hang things for color and well, for fun. Nobody (not even the teachers’ aids) knew what an otter was but they still enjoy looking at the adorable picture on the door, as shown here:

I enjoy teaching this summer course and I certainly enjoy the modern perks. But I have to keep holding my hand down to refrain from pointing to the walls where there is nothing useful!



Simon’s Cat & HOTS

Photo by Omri Epstein

This is the first of my new batch of exercises as part of my Reading Pictures Strategy for  improving the reading comprehension skills of struggling learners.

What is different about this new batch is that I’ve placed more emphasis on the HOTS (higher order thinking skills) which is now a major issue in high-schools.

I’ve added a category and a tag called “HOTS” to make these exercises easy to locate. In addition, they can also be downloaded from the blog page titled “Downloadable Goodies!”

The Simon’s Cat short videos are perfect for discussing the skill of “identifying patterns of behavior”. This cat most certainly exhibits clear patterns of behavior!

Here is the worksheet. You are welcome to adapt it to suit your needs. I would be delighted to hear what you do with it!

Simon’s Cat

A No-Tech Talk – A Hard Act to Follow

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Last July, at the ETAI English Teacher’s conference in Jerusalem, I gave my first completely no-tech talk.

I know I’m tooting my own horn here, but it was very well received. Discussing a strategy to get some learning done while relating to what is completely distracting your class (and has caused you to throw your lesson plan out the window) using only the whiteboard and a marker seemed to really resonate with teachers. The plain whiteboard seems to still be the most widely used tool in the classroom.

Pondering on teachers’ interest in utilizing the whiteboard, in addition to an audible sense of relief that not everything today requires tech, I toyed with the idea of being the teacher who is known for giving no-tech talks at the conferences.

I knew I had time to think about it till the next conference.

The proposal form for the upcoming summer conference has just arrived.

I haven’t used any new strategies for the whiteboard (still really like the old one!).

In addition, most of what I’ve been actively learning this year has had to do with utilizing tech tools for online homework.

Even if I abandon the idea of being the teacher who presents simple” take this home and try it” strategies, that require nothing more than a whiteboard (at no-tech talks) I’m hesitant to plan a talk on online homework. I discussed this with a friend who is a “regular” high-school English teacher and he said that there is no way a teacher with 6 classes of 40 pupils could possibly deal with online homework the way I do with my small special-ed classes. Furthermore, presenting a bunch of tech tool without a framework of why they are worth using (in my case, for the online homework tasks I give) is not the kind of talk I would want to attend myself!

So, at the moment I’m finding my own talk a difficult act to follow and have not yet filled in the presenters form. I’ve presented at the conference many times before but have not had this quandary till now.

Do you know what I mean?


Using (word) Clouds in Class or for Homework – Which Increases Rainfall?

As I’ve been checking students’ first homework task using a word cloud for the past week, I find myself pondering this question.

Inspired by the activity described on the macappella blog, I created a word cloud from a text which my student teacher had just read with the students. The original activity involved creating sentences using words from the cloud in class. I assigned it as a homework task.

Since I give a short homework task once a week (which I always check!) it made a lot of sense to have students review the vocabulary taught by creating sentences using the vocabulary items from the text. If I relate to Christina Markoulaki’s list of benefits that can be derived from suitable homework tasks (post on the iTDi blog) this certainly was a task that looked attractive, was something they could do on their own (all my students use Google Translator for homework) and left room for creativity. The students were free to write about anything they wanted as long as they used at least one word from the cloud on each sentence.

So, you may ask, what is the problem?

If I get back to Christina’s list, she talks about homework being an opportunity to consolidate grammar and vocabulary.

The students certainly reviewed the vocabulary. That goal was achieved. Even if there was a grammatical error in the sentence (and believe me, there were grammatical errors) I accepted sentences in which the words were placed in the correct context, i.e. used correctly. Some of the students wrote sentences that were related to their own lives and were pleased when I was able to make comments related to their interests in class. That was really great!

However, the grammar aspect remains an unresolved issue. I had the opportunity to sit with some of the students individually in class and work on their sentences. Since we were working on their own original writing they were more attentive than usual to explanations about grammar when correcting the sentences. That was incredibly useful – those students had had reading comprehension (the original text), vocabulary practice AND grammar practice!

The rest of the students did not get this grammar practice. It is not possible to go into the same detail when replying to a student’s homework task by email. I do not want to return a task full of error markings (much more efficient to focus on one or two points). In addition, a student will not really read a long reply from me. In any case, long replies are not sustainable as giving homework on a weekly basis demands creating and checking it every week.

In short, giving word clouds for homework made it rain. But it seemed to rain harder when done either in class, or with a follow up in class. Learning curve hasn’t been completed yet…

Peering Through the (word) Clouds at Error Correction

The ITDI Blog’s focus on error correction couldn’t have come at a better time (though it seems to me that any time is a good time to talk about this ongoing issue) as it is very much on my mind at the moment.

This round of debating how to correct errors began with an “AHA” moment when reading the post “What’s it all about…” on the excellent Macappella Blog. There’s a really practical suggestion for using word clouds to review language.

Word clouds are very cool.

However, we use technology to teach, not the other way round and the ways in which I tried to use those clouds weren’t really contributing to the learning process. But Fiona’s suggestion offers the best of both worlds!

So, off I went!

I clouded the text my student-teacher has just taught about Gallaudet University, the university for the Deaf in Washington DC. I asked the students to create sentences using words from the cloud as homework. I did not set any limits beyond the fact that there must be at least one word from the cloud in every sentence.

Certainly reviewing language!

So, now that the sentences are beginning to appear in my inbox, we get to error correction.

Here are the sentences that one student sent (11th grade!)

  1. I am not know to speak English.
  2. My room mess.
  3. Have many students in the school.
  4. I am deaf, and my parents also deaf.
  5. USA biggest country.
  6. I hard communicate with my friends`s class.
  7. I am 16 old year.
  8. No everyone can study in Gallaudet  university.

The vocabulary in these sentences was placed in correct contexts but the grammar is incorrect.

On the one hand I achieved my goal, the students had to think about those vocabulary items and generate sentences. The fact that the context is right means the items were understood. However, none of these sentences are correct.

Now I’m debating to what extent to correct or ignore these errors, as well as in what manner to correct the errors. There will be no frontal lesson to review grammar rules (long story) so the feedback will have to be made individually, either by email or in class.

In a past discussion regarding the topic over at Cecilia Lemos’s blog “Box of Chocolates” (Yes! She is the same one from the itdi blog) Cecilia and Tyson Seburnt suggested a technique that would be just the thing if I were teaching in a “normal” class situation. They suggested taking sentences from different students’ tasks and placing them on one page and having students help each other correct the sentences (with assistance as needed). However, I have not been able to adapt this for dealing with errors on homework tasks. The pupil whose sentences appear above, for example, doesn’t have classes with students at the same level!

Any suggestions?

Using the Holstee Manifesto Video to Practice Expressions of Opinion

When I saw the Holstee Manifesto video on Sandy Millin’s excellent blog: (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas I knew the timing was perfect.

My favorite kind of homework task is one involving a video. Such videos have to be short, suitable for teens and, of course, don’t require any listening.

Such videos aren’t a “dime a dozen”!

This one not only fits the bill but ties in nicely with the topic the strongest group of students is working on – writing opinion essays. I wanted them to practice using other phrases besides “In my opinion” or ” I think”.

This video if full of statments to agree / disagree with so I prepared a worksheet for it.

The students have begun handing it it and its great fun. These are 17 and 18 year olds. They seem shocked at the idea of not looking actively for the love of your life. They agreed, in theory at least, that if you don’t have enough time you should stop watching TV. They also supported the idea of trying to change things. One student thought that “sharing your passions” was a bad idea, passions should be kept private. I’m going to ask him and see what he understand “passions to mean”. “All emotions are beautiful” came under criticism and jealousy was cited as an example of an ugly one.

One statement seemed to strike most of the students as stupid – “Getting lost will help you find yourself”!

You can find the film clip on Sandy’s blog, on Youtube and on our class site, with my worksheet here: (bottom of page).

Thank you Sandy Millin!



Using a “Homework Video” for Homework


I discovered this short video on Sandy Millin’s blog as part of her excellent summary of the #ELTCHAT on the topic of homework.

I always check out a video without sound to see if it is suitable for use with my students. In this case I actually recommend using this one without sound for hearing pupils – I think it is more amusing (and less stuffy) this way.

I liked the idea of discussing homework habits at the beginning of the new school year. I prepared two simple tasks, the “blue” version and the “red” version. As always, there is more L1 in the  “red” version and the task is even easier.

You can find the tasks under the Downloadable Goodies tab on this blog, included in the category “reading videos”.

I’d love to hear what you did with this video, if you decide to use it!

How Can I Bring Personal Travel Experiences into the Classroom?


(click on the photo to enlarge and read)


There is a part in me that objects to the question I myself have just posed. Being on vacation, traveling (or doing something totally different from ones daily activities) is important to any person’s well being. There is no need to translate everything into classroom terms – I believe that a happier teacher is a better teacher!

And yet…

I saw the sign above, with the poem, on the very first day of our family trip to Alaska. Beluga Point was our first stop after leaving Anchorage. I found that the poem “stuck with me” throughout the trip, because it connected to the very strong sense of awe I felt while visiting Alaska. We are not intrepid backpackers who spend a week in a tent in the rain or hike in inaccessible areas. We stayed in cabins or B&B’s with hot showers and went on hikes on familiar trails.

Nonetheless we had awe inspiring experiences.

Not only are the vistas along the roads stunning, the close encounters with glaciers incredible, the bald eagles whizzing past majestic (and of course there are the bears and the moose!) consider experiences such as the following:

* On a guided boat ride in Kenai Fjord we saw humpback whales collaborating together in what is called bubble-net feeding. They all exhale at the same time and create a bubble that sucks in the fish.


* On a small hill next to the B&B we were staying at, we saw (at close range!!!) a herd of about 400 caribou migrating from their calving area to their winter area. The next morning we saw them fording the river.

DSCF1457  DSCF1521

So, I think it is clear why the feeling I feel the strongest from this trip is a sense of awe.

If I want to think in classroom terms I need to define what is it exactly I want to share with my students and a sense of awe regarding nature is not a very clear definition to work with.

I’ve had an unsuccessful experience with travel tales in the past.

A year and a half ago our youngest son went on an amazing youth trip to the ANTARCTIC!  After our son returned, he made a slide show and lectured in different classes at his high-school. In the slide show you could follow the stages of his long journey on the map, see icebergs, penguins and life on the boat. So, I decided to create a suitable worksheet (with answers to be found in the slideshow) in easy English for my pupils and bring it to class. The level of general knowledge and world geography knowledge is pretty low in many of my high-school groups of deaf and hard of hearing students.I had hoped that the fact that this is a true story about my own son would capture the student’s interest and something about the Antarctic might sink in.

The results were mixed. Some pupils did react as I had hoped. But others basically only reacted to the fact that the teacher’s son was lucky enough to get a full scholarship and THEY would never be so lucky (luck, yeah, my son found the organization himself, filled out forms, wrote essays, got recommendations, got the scholarship only the second time round, but for them it was like winning the lottery). They weren’t interested in the rest at all.

So, any suggestions (beyond sneaking some of these photos into online worksheets) on what to do in the classroom with my strong sense of awe of the natural wonders of Alaska?

A Picture Guide to Being a Teacher

* Photos by Gil Epshtein

Being a teacher is making each learner want to exclaim, “I’ve got mail”!


Being a teacher is giving them a safe harbor in which to work on their boats before sailing away.


Being a teacher is “kvetching” about your day and then coming into school the next morning with a smile on your face.


Being a teacher is being incredibly alert for seven or eight hours straight, day after day.


Being a teacher is juggling between the needs of the class and those of individual students.


Being a teacher is explaining the same thing in twelve different ways.

different interpretation

Being a teacher is wondering why on earth you got into this profession in the first place!


Being a teacher is recognizing that part of your work is like footsteps in the sand – you have nothing in your hand at the end of the day to hold up and show: “Here is the imprint I made in the learner’s brain”. Nonetheless, the imprint was made!