Category Archives: Visualising Vocabulary

Attempting to Visualise Students’ Errors

It’s that time of year again.

At the high school these are days of final preparations for the big internal exams that precede the national ones.

Students may differ, there are new students every year, but some mistakes that my weak students make on their reading comprehension tests have earned the term classic – seems like I encounter them on a regular basis.

So I’m experimenting with visualising.  I created a short slideshow to present one such common error. It took me a long time to simplify the text (it is not productive to throw a lot of text at weak learners, if they could deal with that they wouldn’t be weak!) and to choose the format in which to present it. I have found that students must have something active to do (as opposed to “read the Powerpoint) so the last slide has the students fill in the final answer with immediate feedback.

With all my simplifying efforts, it is still not something my weak kids would deal with on their own. However, with the students I’ve tried it with so far the presentation led to a good discussion. They all claimed that they know students who do that but THEY would never answer a question like that.  I feverently hope that it is the case!

There is only one common mistake presented in this one. I think it is more practical to have lots of short slideshows than a long one presenting many different pitfalls.

And frankly, in this manner  these slideshows don’t become a massive project, requiring identification of all the mistakes I want to address before producing a complete project.  If I’m pleased with the results, I can gradually build up the slideshow library.

I had my students in mind when I created this first one. I’d be interested to hear if you find it useful as well.


Using Internationally-Known Words – Beware the Cultural Interference Factor

There is a delightful article by Stephen Reilly in the March-April 2012 issue of “Voices” entitled “I remember you”.

Reilly says, regarding adult learners:

“Beginner-lever learners posses a wider and deeper word-base of English than they realize and unearthing this offers them foundations they can build on”.

I heartily agree that “unearthing” these words gives the students a sense of pride that they actually DO know some English and can serve as a “springboard” for learning.


Photo by Omri Epstein

However, when using internationally –known words, the teacher must be constantly alert for cultural interference. When the student’s face lights up and he “crows” “Oh, I know this word”, is that student ascribing the same meaning to that word in English that you are?

In the United Sates, a cottage is a very simple form of dwelling. Something you might have by the lake as a fishing retreat, very modest. In Israel you would hear someone say: “Did you see that awesome cottage he just moved into?! What a place!” Most certainly not a plain, modest, rudimentary abode!

The word  test in Israel refers to the written part of the driving exam. Students are often confused when they encounter the word in texts and try to find a connection to driving. As this meaning seems to be so entrenched I have resorted to placing little signs with the word “test” on the desks during exams. Having the word at the top of the students exam papers had no effect at all.

In fact, the word student itself is a problem. In Israel students are only those who study at university. A sentence describing a first-grade student can be very puzzling!

There are many more examples.

I would like to add a word of caution regarding use of such words as a tool for learning the sounds of the letters. Many words entered the language from English in a somewhat mangled form. How many people properly pronounce the letter “H” in hamburger? Many would swear that is an “ambuger”!

I’m assuming that this phenomenon is true in other countries as well, as it seems logical that it would be.

Can you tell me if my assumption is correct?

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!



Has the DOG Run Away with My Ticket?

I was inspired by Magpie Moments “Using Tickets – an Unplugged Approach” lesson to try and adapt this lesson using authentic tickets. The idea for using tickets came from Sandy Millin’s very inspiring (Almost) Infinite ELT ideas blog.

I thought this would be suitable for a beginning of the year activity, when the students are making the switch from the freedom of what is known here as “The BIG Vacation” to the demands of the school year.

However, as I changed the original lesson more and more, I began to wonder if I have lost the “unplugged” aspect of the lesson and it is no longer “Dogme” – hence my question: Has the dog run away with my ticket?

I’ll describe the lesson I’m planning according to Anna’s framework.

Think about it

Anna says “… a topic like transport, journeys or events why not take a bit of time to find out what your learners’ experiences have been. Do they have any stories to tell? Or can they imagine some?”

While some of my teenage students are very active and are experiencing life just like other teenagers, others have an extremely limited life experience. I don’t want students to feel bad that some of their peers went to Europe over the summer vacation while they have nothing “cool” to tell. So I’m going to emphasize imagination. But in order to imagine things, you need to have some knowledge. I’m sure that if I asked those kids what types of tickets they could think of they would be able to think of only one type – either “cinema tickets” or “bus tickets” depending if the child ever rode on the bus alone. So there has to be a section of the lesson that precedes having them imagine things.

Get it ready

It’s great to plan this lesson now – it will be easy to collect a wide variety of tickets over the summer holidays – will ask my friends to help! Unlike Anna, I will not bring in blank colored papers – these are teenagers! A third of them will be new 10th graders, just beginning high-school. At the beginning of the year teenagers are especially concerned about their image – that would seem babyish to them!

Set it up & Let it run

As I teach in the format of a learning center, students will be working on this in pairs or groups of three. In order to be creative later, the students must first see how many different kinds of tickets there are. I plan to scatter a bunch of different kinds of tickets on the table, have the students choose tickets (each one numbered) and fill in a chart on a worksheet looking something like this:

Ticket Number

What is it for?

Which country is it from?

How much does it cost? Would you like to go there?

We did not have an oral discussion before the activity as we speak Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language in class and it wouldn’t serve as a language preparation. Yet we will be discussing background information as they work on filling the chart (unfamiliar names of countries & currencies, unfamiliar concepts such as “a fair”. etc.)

Round it off & Follow up

Now I go back to Anna’s lesson and turn to the WEG style table for the MAGIC TICKET. This will be with Velcro on the back so that it can hang on the wall. Actually there will be more than one sheet as this will be for all the kids, to be filled in over the first week. Each student fills out what he /she would do with a magic ticket to anywhere. The table will look like this:

Type of Ticket Where to? Why?

As the students are from wildly different levels and I basically want them all to do the activity, some students will need more help than others. But that’s the beauty of having it as a beginning of the year activity. In regards to the new 10th graders whose level I’m trying to asses – seeing how much help they need with this activity will give me a great deal of information about their level of English and general world knowledge. In addition, the students will be working in pairs or groups of three so they can help each other too.

Of course, there may be one or two who won’t cooperate at all…. Sigh!

There’s the lesson.

Have I lost the “Dogme” part by adapting it so much? I knew I was teaching “unplugged” that day the students came in wet and we worked on that on the spur of the moment. However, I can’t begin the school year, with a third of the students whom I haven’t met, in such a manner!

So, has the dog run away with my ticket?

My Post for the “Disabled Access-Friendly World” Blog Challenge

I was very impressed by Marissa Constantinides’s initatiative to gather lesson plans for raising awareness of the members of our society with special needs, but I wasn’t sure what I could contribute. After reading Vicky Loras’s post on this topic which was based on a poem, I thought perhaps this lesson I have taught may be of use. It presents a poem by a deaf poet.

Since I teach deaf and hard of hearing students the motivation for teaching this poem was not to raise awareness but rather to show them that there are deaf poets writing about things these students can relate to. Perhaps for a class of hearing students it will serve the purpose Marissa intended. Here is the lesson plan in three parts. The full poem can be found at the end.

Part One

I began the lesson by writing the following on the board:

Solo Dining While Growing Up

A poem by Curtis Robbins*

Line 1: When my whole family sat down at the dinner table:

The students and I translated the title of the poem, emphasizing the meaning of the word “solo”. The vocabulary of the first line of the poem is quite simple so most of the students went on to read it themselves. I then asked them if they found any contradiction between the title and the first line. Some students saw it, some didn’t – why is he saying he ate alone when it clearly says that he sat with his whole family?

I then pointed to the asterisk after the name of the poet and wrote on the board:

* Curtis Robbins is a deaf poet.

Immediately, ALMOST the students (THAT was amazing!) got it – the poet felt he was dining alone even though his family was there because they were hearing people and he was deaf. The poet couldn’t follow the conversation over dinner. Some students pointed out that his family probably didn’t know sign language. Interesting to note that about a fourth of my students have deaf parents and did not grow up being left out at the dinner table, yet they immediately recognized the situation. Many students who do have hearing parents said they didn’t feel like that with their immediate family but have had this experience.

Part Two

On the board we brainstormed as many nouns as we could think of related to dining, such as forks, napkins and plates.  Now the students were able to read the following version of the poem (with missing words) which I handed out:

Solo Dining While Growing Up

When my whole family sat down at the dinner table:

There was always

a lot to eat from corner to corner

There was always _____________

between forks and spoons

There was always _____________

between glasses and cups

There was always ________________

between napkins

There were always

empty plates and empty bowls

But the knife that laid between them all-

from mouth to ear-

from mouth to eye –

_____  _______  ______.

Part Three

After making sure that everyone understood all the vocabulary items I told the students that the same word was missing in the first three blanks. As a collaborative effort we brainstormed what that word could be and then filled in the word “conversation”.

Then we discussed what the last three words could be. I pointed out that it is related to a knife, so they were able to come up with “cut” but did not know “cut off” (which I explained). They easily understood that the poet was the one feeling cut off so we quickly identified the word “me”. Then I wrote the missing three words which they copied in: “cut me off” .

I left time for students to express their feelings about the poem and to share any related stories, feelings or thoughts but this part was important for emotional / psychological reasons only – it was all done in Hebrew!

Here is the complete poem.

Solo Dining While Growing Up

Student smelling their way to the Second Conditional

Today I  was finally able to begin using the first of the computer lessons I prepared over the vacation “Use Your Senses with the Second Conditional” (The link takes you to the lesson I posted 10 days ago, explanation and download-link).

If you were there...
If you were there...

From previous experience I knew that my students learn the technical side, the form of the Second Conditional easily enough but that they have trouble with the “hypothetical aspect”. Being born with a hearing loss often results in a language impairment. One of the common manifestations is a tendency toward concrete thinking.

It worked out well that I chose pictures of two extreme places where students have never been. None of them had heard of Namibia.

I explained to them about the second conditional but did not say that the questions they would have to answer were related to the senses. The first question relates to how they would feel if they were there. That seemed reasonable to them. But then they got to “what would you smell”. Some students immdiatly jumped to conclusions and read the word as “small” (most don’t know the vocabulary item “smell”). They also decided “sweat” was “sweet” and then could not understand what to do with the question. When I helped sort that out some of the kids were shocked – no one has ever asked them about smelling before!

Only when they read the suggested (funny ) useful words of “penguin-poo” “camel -poo” and had a good laugh (“phew, I don’t want to go there” some said) did the idea that they have to IMAGINE being there sink in. One boy was troubled by “dead fish” (in the suggested vocabulary) because he doesn’t like eating fish. Only when he got past THAT did he get the hypothetical aspect.

By the time they got to “what would you hear” they all knew to relate to what could be heard whether they can actually hear it or not ( a lot of students have cochlear implants and can hear lots of sounds, speech is more of a problem).

As they had to write the word “would” more than 10 times I hope that the connection between the form and the concept was made. Time will tell. They seemed to enjoy it and three boys were even arguing if wind made noise in the desert!

Two problems:

1) I had to write “useful words” as many of the students have such a limited world knowledge they wouldn’t know enough to imagine what could be smelled or heard. However, they did not try to add any ideas of their own (using their bilingual electronic dictionaries). Without words some would have been more creative, others would have gotten stuck. I suppose I need two versions…

2) Computer woes. For some reason not all pictures look as they should on the screen. In the photo from Antarctica you couldn’t even see the Zodiac-boat! The c omputer is new but the screen is much older – that way the computer looks older and is less attractive to possible thieves… Since all my other computer lessons won’t work (involving PDF and a video clips) I’m working on getting a compuer person to come in, so we’ll se if that can be solved.


Some people would say that I’m creating work for myself…

I “CLOUDED” my site too!

David Dodgson suggested making a WORD CLOUD  of one's blog.
Having seen David's cloud and Cecilia's Cloud and
Sandy Millin's CLOUD I decided to follow suit!
Here it is:

word blog cloud
I'm somewhat puzzled. Some things are obvious. The words
"goals" and "project"
are very prominent because of all the posts related to the
 30 goals project I'm participating in!

It makes sense to me that the words
"fascinating" "excited" "intriguing" appear because I feel
all these things about the new blogosphere

Family is very important to me though I suspect the word
 is fairly large because some of my Saturday's Books
have been devoted to books all the family can enjoy.

But why is the word "students' so much smaller than
on other people's blogs? I thought I had been
writing quite a bit about my students! Puzzling...

Leveling the Playing Field – Playing Games when Teaching One-on-One

I never pretend not to know the answer when I’m playing with a student in a “one-on-one” setting. Students see through that right away. They expect the teacher to know the answer and would have no respect for a teacher who didn’t know the answers.

Teachers don’t have to pretend. There are many ways to level the playing field. Teacher and student can enjoy really playing while still ensuring that the student will win a fair amount of the time (but not ALL the time!).

Here are some examples using the game BASEBALL:

Baseball game for class

A simple baseball diamond is drawn on a piece of paper, on the board, or (as in this picture) pasted onto cardboard with a picture of a baseball player in the middle. Baseball is not a common sport in Israel, so the picture makes it easier for the students to visualize the actual game.

The “ball” is one die. You can’t throw higher than 4 so if you get a 5 or 6 you must throw the die again (I sometimes place stickers over those numbers). Colored discs, coins or anything else can be used as markers.

The basic rules are simple. You begin at home-base. You throw the die. You must complete the number of tasks that is indicated by the number on the die. In our example the task is translating vocabulary items that appear on flashcards. Then you progress from base to base. Every time you pass home base you get a point. The player with the most point wins.

Now, how does the pupil play against the teacher?

Option One:

The student is the only one who throws the die. If the pupils throws “3” but could only translate two words out of three shown on the flashcards, the student progresses two bases and the teacher progresses one. If the student knew all three words, the teacher, on that turn, didn’t progress at all.

Option Two:

Both the student and the teacher throw the die. The teacher doesn’t have any task to do but always has to move one base less than the number indicated on the die. The student progresses in the same manner as before.

Option Three:

I use this one with students with emotional issues. The student gets two turns, the teacher gets one turn. If a student gets a translation wrong, he has to repeat the teacher’s correction and then can progress.

Option Four:

The pupil competes against the clock and himself, not the teacher. This is a circular game; it doesn’t really have an end. The pupil plays for 4 minutes and writes down the number of points she got. The next lesson she plays with the same pack of words, same time, and sees if she improved her score.

Works with all ages!

Comment on ” Going, going, gone (in)”

Jason Renshaw describes a lesson here based on the “disappearing dialogue” technique, which he used with a text created by the students with his guidance. I also read Anna’s  very helpful description of her adaptation of it here.

Had my first shot today at adapting this with 4 of my fairly strong Hard of Hearing 10th graders. I knew there would be problems but I also know that I need to try something out in order to understand how it ticks and what I need to adapt.
Instead of Christmas we created a passage about the upcoming Purim holiday. It  started off well. These are kids who have a better vocabulary and do speak a bit. However, they don’t understand each other in English and I had to write every single thing they said down. Which is fine for the first part, as we were creating a short reading passage. The difference between the vocabulary item “party ” and “celebrate” came up and that was good. They also confuse between “Present” as in “gift” and “present” as in “present simple”, which they practice (I said they were pretty strong!)

We wrote it using Passive as we’re working on that now.

After we read the finalized short text (6 short sentences). I erased all the verbs + aux verbs (6).  Then I made the mistake of having them copy the text and fill in the missing words. WRONG. I should have offered each one the board-marker and have them choose a missing word to fill in on the board. Then I could have erased more words and repeated the process. This way I was stuck. There was no way that I could give them new paper and have them copy it out again with more words missing – they DO NOT LIKE COPYING OFF THE BOARD.

By reflecting on this blog I find that I actually defined what I could have done differently and see how it could work even with the need to write everything down.  Especially if I let the pupils come to the board (some want to stay there!).

Since it’s a learning center, I had other kids in the background doing other stuff (two were taking a test and two were with a teacher’s aid). I’m eager to try the strategy again with Deaf students who don’t speak English orally (we use Hebrew and ISL in class).  But I’ll wait until I have assistance in the lesson again. I ususally don’t spend more than  a few minutes at a time by the board explaining something. This activity requires a frontal lesson and I can rarely include everyone in anything at the same time.

So, this post is a “to be continued one” too!

Is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without knowledge of vocabulary?

I’m teaching the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” to a large group of my Hebrew-speaking deaf and hard of hearing 10th and 11th graders. It’s in the curriculum.

I find it to be a puzzling situation. On one hand it seems absolutely insane to teach it to most of these kids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of them only know two to four words in the entire poem. Even a word that seems familiar to them such as “sorry” isn’t in the right context as they only know it to mean “please forgive me”.  Even though we did a pre-reading exercise which included translating the really difficult words (such as “undergrowth” “hence”) they didn’t know most of the other words either and couldn’t even begin to read any sentence of it on their own.

On the other hand, this poem is about dealing with dilemmas and making choices. We did a pre-reading activity on how they solve problems and many of them were interested in that. The vocabulary exercise I gave on those really hard words had them match the Hebrew translation to a simple definition in easy English, so there was reinforcement of vocabulary, just not of the vocabulary of the program. In addition they learned  a bit about metaphors, how to infer something and about the poet. Some of the pupils actually said they find the poem related to life!

However, to answer the low order reading comprehension questions (which were in English they could handle) they relied mainly on the translation of the poem. Since I foresaw that, I made sure they had to copy out lines of the text to prove their answers otherwise they wouldn’t have looked at the poem itself at all!

I wonder if I could have achieved the same effect by having all these nice activities and tasks in English, about a poem written in Hebrew?! So, is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without vocabulary?