Tag Archives: Notes from the classroom

Goal 30: Sneaking General Knowledge in Through the Back Door!

This is the last of the 30 goals challenge! It has become such a part of my life that I will miss it!

Although writing about a project was suggested (and turning my classroom into a learning center is certainly an ongoing long term project which I initiated), Sandy Millin’s post relating to stamps inspired me to take this post in another direction completely.

When our boys were young both my husband and I encouraged them to collect stamps. Stamps were not themselves the end but rather a great trigger for igniting curiosity about the world we live in. As the stamp collection grew so did their familiarity with the Atlas which in turn led to accumulating information about these places and the people who live there. Long after they stopped collecting stamps they remain very curious about the world.

Many of my own students have an extremely limited view of the world. Some students, due to the unfortunate combination of having a hearing problem and a problematic family background have a dismal lack of general knowledge. The passion I have been trying to pass on to them is this curiosity about the world we live in. I don’t know if some of the students will remember any of the English I taught but perhaps they will remember that in other parts of the world it rains in Summer!

I haven’t tried using stamps with them (I don’t know if I could have interested my own boys in stamps today – we rarely get any letters with real stamps on them anymore!) though after Sandy’s post I just might give it a shot! But here are some ways I try to sneak general knowledge in through the back door:

* When I teach comparatives and superlatives, I write sentences such as “The longest wall in the world is in China”. Then I add,  “It can be seen from space”. The year after the tragedy of the Columbia (the mission included an astronaut from Israel), this lead to a question from one of the 10th grade boys: “How do we know it can be seen from space?” I explained that astronauts had told us about it (I know, there are sattelites too, but didn’t mention that then).  The boy then exclaimed “But all the astronauts blew up so they couldn’t have told people about what they saw!” I then shocked him completely by my insistence that there had been other astronauts before the tragedy. “But Ilan Ramon was the first astronaut in the world” he protested!

* I’m blessed by having a brother in law who is a photographer. Until fairly recently, when he moved completely to digital photography, he would give me large quantities of photos that he printed that weren’t good enough. Besides using them to cover old binders and surfaces, livening up the worn things, there are educational purposes I use them for, which I’ll leave for another post.

While rummaging through the pictures the students sometimes ask questions.  One pile of pictures happened to be from China. After seeing some pictures of huge parking lots filled with bicycles and pictures of street life, a pupil (17 years old!!!) asked me: ” There seem to be a lot of people in China. Are there more than in Israel?” We have a map of the world in the classroom and can see where the photos were taken. I particularly love it when a pupil looks at a photo and sighs, “Oh, I wish I could go there” and I reply, “you can! This one was taken right here in our beautiful country!

* I have a photography book presenting Israel from a bird’s eye view. The students have a page with sentences describing some minor element on pages of the book and they have to flip through it and write the corresponding page number. This leads to all sorts of questions. The sentence “On this page you can see animals that came from Africa” was very difficult for some students. The picture was of zebras at the Safari Wild Animal Park in Ramat Gan. They knew what zebras were and most had even visited the park. They didn’t know that they weren’t natives of the city of Ramat Gan!

I’m a long way from where I want to be – those of you who have read previous posts know that I’m often frustrated by some of the students lack of curiosity and interest in the world. But teaching English as a foreign language lends itself so well to learning about the world that I will continue to try to ignite sparks of interest! That’s my passion!

Enthusiastic Comment about Mike Harrison’s “Reverse Reading Comprehension” Post

I  had my first chance to try Mike Harrison’s Reverse Reading Comprehension Strategy today, with “a twist” and it was a big hit!

The first period of the day gave me the perfect opportunity to try it. Three students were taking a test, three were absent and the remaining two are pretty much on the same level,  comparitively strong pupils. So I called them to the board. Each one of them got a whiteboard marker.

Part one

Instead of writing five or six questions I wrote one question on the corner of the board : Why did Branco dive to the bottom of the lake? After we went over the question (they didn’t know “lake” or “bottom”) they wanted to know who this Branco person was and how should THEY know why he did it. I replied that it was up to them to decide and to please answer the question. So they wrote (and then we corrected) the sentence “Branco wanted to study the fish“. I responded to that with question number two: What was he surprised to find at the bottom of the lake? Then they began to get interested. They had Branco find a treasure chest, take it home, discuss it with his wife and spend the money on a new house and car. They wrote five sentences, each one numbered as an answer to a question.

Part Two

I erased words from the sentences, a fairly large amount and they split the work of filling them back in. Since these are fairly strong students and they just wrote the text themselves this was easy for them. I left this stage after one “erasing exercise”.

Part Three

I asked the students to turn these sentences into a news report. I told them we don’t have to write everything again, only certain things need to be changed. We looked at every sentece. The first answer now became the opening sentence ” A man named Branco dove into a lake in Italy” and so on. The rewriting took us to the bell.

Later on in the day I repeated the activity with two weaker students (going for a lower level of the national exams but nonetheless still strong enough to TAKE the national exams!). They also came up with a treasure test and had the pirates come and rob the treasure back from Branco. They had to work much harder to create each sentence and needed more corrections so our second stage was erasing words till the bell rang. Rewritng was not suitable here and they REALLY enjoyed the activity as it was!

I also tried the activity with one 12th grade students who reads FAR FAR better than he writes. He always forgets articles andmixes up tenses. However, this activity is a more socially oriented one and giving it to him  alone was a mistake. He wrote that Branco found shoes in the lake and then he threw them back into the lake. I’m sure that if he had had a partner he would have come up with a more interesting idea and then it would have been more fun. Even the policeman I ” sent” to the lake just said “you shouldn’t do that”!

I really feel that my students are benefitting from my PLN!

Goal 25 – Relationships are Built on LITTLE Things!

Goal 25 of the 30 goals challenge “Build relationshipes with them” made me smile. Good relationships are often built on little things, unrelated to curriculum. Let me tell you about the kid who:

* ALWAYS asks to use my pencil, never brings his own (17 years old, has a million health problems). I don’t say a word about it, just let him use mine every lesson!

* the shy kid with C.P. who comes to class 10 minutes BEFORE the bell rings as he sometimes needs a quiet place.

* the girl who oftens sleeps over at friends’ houses and comes to school with a ton of stuff and stores it in my classroom till the end of the school day.

* the kid who ALWAYS needs to go out for a few minutes each lesson. He gives me a signal and I let him go. We don’t even say anything.

* the EXTREMELY tense girl who is VERY stressed by math. I let her join extra math tutoring groups on English lesson time before major math exams.

*** I take the pictures at the Purim Festival (it was last Friday). I posted almost 70 pictures this year of the kids in their costumes and the festivities! I send pictures to any pupil that takes the trouble to politlely ask me for the pictures in better quality !

The Light and Dark Side of Goal 24

Goal 24 of the 30 goals challenge relates to supporting character development. An important topic and one I feel rather frustrated about.

On the light side, I’m proud to say that our school promotes volunteering for various causes. Our Purim Festival, two days ago, was also a fund raiser for a learning center for underpriveleged children. Some of the deaf students manned a stall, as they do every year. These kids are the same caring kids that volunteer for all sorts of things.

In addition, In Israel it is mandatory to put in 60 hours of volunteer work during 10th grade. In the past, most of the deaf students didn’t do it mainly because they live far away from school and have no flexibility due to the timetable of the transportation services. An energetic Lit. teacher changed all that and organized volunteer work for kids in school. My learning center is a good place for that (always posters and materials made of construction paper that need to be redone!) and till recently I had 5 kids coming in. Some do it gladly however some are sullen about it.

Some students also volunteer at the children and youth clubs that the “Shema” organization runs. That is awesome!


It’s a certain group of teenagers that are active and caring. The rest are incredibly self-centered. Worse, they lack curiosity about anything that isn’t related to them directly. The exhibit a lack of interest that sometimes drives me “up the wall”. If I sit next to a pupil and try to tell him /her a bit about the topic he’s working on many simply don’t care. So what?

One of the disadvantages of teaching a foreign language in a learning center format is that we almost never have class discussions. We don’t speak in English (discussion would have to be in Hebrew) and the levels of ability and sophistication are too wide to be bridged in many cases (we learn through reading).

Some of these students buy into the “don’t confuse me with the facts” doctrine. The most extreme example I ever had (but that was only one pupil, thank goodness!) was a student who would not be convinced that in other parts of the world it actually rains in the Summer. His classmate said that she visited Spain in the Summer and it rained on her but he refused to accept that.

With some of the students I’m still battling with respectful behavior in the classroom, never mind volunteering to help with something or being interested. If there is something that makes me lose my temper is to see students abuse materials in the classroom (tearing parts off a poster, scribbling on something, or drawing with the “white-out” I bought for use in class). A 12th grader (!!!) screamed at me last week because I insist on leaving the window partly open even when it rains because we need air in the class. She doesn’t pay any attention to her parents and she is only interested in me when she is in the mood to care about her grade. This pupil had to leave the class and was reported but that hasn’t made any inroads on her behavior when she’s annoyed in the past two and a half years.

In short, I feel that in regards to supporting character behavior, there are many pupils with whom my record is dismal.

Goal 23 – 10 ways I Utilize a Computer with No Internet Connection in the Classroom

Goal 23 of the 30 Goals Challenge is to integrate Technology Effectively. Here’ s what I do with our classroom computer, which has no Internet connection (we got this up-to-date computer less than a year ago):

1) Showcase students’ slideshows. Every year we would reserve the computer room and see the slideshows pupils made for their literature project. If you weren’t there that day, you couldn’t see them!

2) I do a lot of activities involving answering questions about pictures (for more info on that see “The Visual Corner” category). I used to look for pictures I could cut out of magazines because printing large color images from the Internet was not a viable option. Now I bring all the colorful pictures in on my flash-drive and they look clear and attractive!

3) I have a handful of students at the highest level who are working on writing sophisticated compistions of 120-140 words. These need to be written and rewritten. Most of them would much rather do that on WORD than by hand!

4) WORD has a dictionary. It isn’t as good as the electronic dictionary the students are supposted to bring and most certainly not as comfortable to use (actually, the kids hate it) but in some situations having the option to use it is a big help!

5) The students get homework online from our class site. Using screen shots from the site (with my trusty flash drive) I’m able to explain things related to the site and to the h.w assignments.

6) I have a hard of hearing student who is very dyslectic. I have one textbook that comes with a cd. The text is highlighted as it is read outloud. This girl hooks up to the computer directly with earphones (we don’t have speakers) listens and reads the text.  It is not uncommon at all for books to come with a CD but with my population of students I never purchased these CD’s before. They are unable to understand the speech on a CD player, but on the computer, in combination with the visual aspect, a few students can take advantage of the listening component. I must obtain additional CD’s in order to take advantage of this exciting new possibility.

7) I have a few simple games. Some are more educational, some are just for fun! That’s important too!

8) I use the computer to create worksheets. I used to write my ideas on a piece of paper and type them up when I got home. Now I create as much as I have time for during the short breaks when I don’t leave the Enlgish Room, take it home on my flash drive and continue from there! Much more efficient!

9) Since my class is a learning center, the computer functions as a work station for one or two students, thus enabling me to have more work stations. This is very important for classroom management.

10) Class image: the students think our class is more modern becasue we have a computer. However, they complain bitterly that they can’t check Facebook on it. I’m thrilled. When we go to the computer room I have to disconnect everything (well, sometimes) in order to exercise MY RIGHT to go to the teacher’s room when the bell rings – they want to spend the break on Facebook!

Goal 21: Cuba, “Kubbeh” and Creative Writing

Photo by Gil Epstein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

I don’t do creative writing with pupils whose vocabulary in Enlgish is so small (in 10th grade!) that we could sit down and count it.

However, since I’ve entered the world of blogosphere and started experimenting with all this new stuff, interesting things have been happening. And since, as usual, these 30 goal challenges seem to be have a direct link to current events in my classroom, here’s a brand new story related to goal 21: encourage creativitity! I thought I would write about slideshows some of the kids made for the poem “The Road Not Taken” but there’s not really much to tell.

A story in three parts (so far):

Part One

Our beloved retired volunteers, Linda and John ( a married couple) were away for 3 weeks. When they returned, Linda sat down next to a very weak 10th grade hard of hearing pupil, who we’ll call H.,  who wanted to know where she had been. I told H. that she could ask Linda what she wanted to know and that we would write a story about it together.

When H. heard that Linda had just returned from Cuba she exclaimed ” But that’s a name of a food” (Kibbeh in Israel is pronouinced Kubbeh)! We put a hold on the activity until Linda took H. to the map on the wall…

H. asked the questions in Hebrew and I wrote out Linda’s answers in simple English. Here’s the story we produced:

Linda went to Cuba and Costa Rica. It is far away. She had fun. She saw beautiful birds. She went for one week.

H. hadn’t known the words “went” ” fun”  “far away” or “birds”.

We read it twice and then I erased one word in each sentence.  We did this several times (each time only one word a sentence) . H. really concentrated and was very proud of herself that she completed the missing words. Linda copied the story off the board and she put it in the binder.

Now, that may sound educational but hardly creative writing.

Part Two

Later in the day H. had another lesson, without Linda. Using the story we wrote about two vacations she went on, replacing info in the original story (such as: Eilat instead of Cuba, dolphins  instead of birds, one week instead of three). She was very focused.

Part Three

Two days later she came to class, pulled out the story and said: What are we going to do with MY STORY today?

I think that counts as creative writing!

This story isn’t over! To quote Tyson Seburn ” One of the best things you can do with material is milk it for all it’s worth!”

Goal 20: Share Your Resources

Once again this challenge of the 30 goals challenge seems to be related to current events. I just got the ” speaker form” for this summer’s ETAI conference (our local affiliate with TESOL).  I may be immodest here, but for a teacher who teaches a very specific population, my lecture at last year’s conference was very well attended. It seems that my assumption that strategies and materials I use are applicable for others  in different teaching settings is correct (make no mistake, when I tried to focus my lecture on pupils with hearing problems in the regular classroom, the largest attendance I had was four people!).

So, that wasn’t very modest of me but thinking about it did actually make me feel better. Today was a “burn-out” today. It rained really hard this morning and some girls didn’t bring an umbrella and (big surprise, right?) got wet and then got all upset about it!

So here’s a taste of one of the strategies I spoke about at last year’s lecture, using pictures to help weak high-school students prepare for their national matricualtion exams.

General explanation and picture activity one:


The most popular “reading picture” activity


If you want more, check out the “visual corner” category on this blog.

Goal 19: Why teachers should get credit for bird watching.

This goal of the 30goals challenge deals with  “burn out”, which is a very real problem for me. I’ve been a teacher for 25 years and I’m very involved in what I do.

I’ve been spending less free time doing other things  since I started blogging and reading all these fascinating blogs by others! Yet I feel that doing so encourages me to keep going! Don’t really know what to do about that one.

Anyway, here’s something I wrote for a local English teacher’s  publication, the ETNI RAG on why bird watching is good for teachers:


a puffin

Goal 18: Sharing a Story about Take2 of the DISAPPEARING TEXT!

This goal of the 30 goals project is ” a piece of cake”! Participating in this whole challenge has been about sharing my story! Since I’ve begun the words seem to come pouring out!

So, today’s story is about my second attempt at adapting Jason Renshaw’s disappearing text strategy. I’m really excited about this. Tried it twice today!

Lesson one went very well. There were only 3 students (3 were absent!), two VERY weak 12th graders (20 year old girls) and one bright, 10th grade boy. Once again we created a text on the board about the holiday of Purim. The weak girls suggested the content (in Hebrew) and the bright 10th grader supplied a lot of the vocabulary and sentence structure in English. Again, 6 sentences.

Then we started erasing words. At first one by one they came to the board to complete the words. But then just the girls took turns at completing missing words and they turned to the boy who fingerspelled the spelling of the words for them. Suddenly these girls were paying attention to those pesky “is” “are” which don’t exisit in Hebrew. These are girls who don’t remember the meaning of simple words such as “walk”. But here, because they helped create the text, at least during the lesson, they remembered the meanings of the individual words and focused on whole sentences and structure! Wow!

Two hours later I became ambitious and tried the strategy again with a rambunctious group of seven  10th and 11th graders (with 2 other pupils doing other things in the back). These kids use four different coursebooks, big differences in level. It was noisy but they liked creating the text. They were surprised enough by the idea of me erasing words to be fairly quiet when I had them come one by one to complete two missing words each.

But then I had a bit of a problem. When I ereased words the second time, the pupils who weren’t writing gradually stopped following. There were seven of them and the process went too slowly. Ideally we should have split into groups for the second “word filling” time, but how was I supposed to do that? It’s a tricky issue to divide them into two equal groups (fair share of different abilities) and, since they just invented the text, I didn’t have the text to hand out to each group! They wouldn’t copy the text off the board – that most certainly doesn’t work with these pupils.

Any sugesstions?

I’m really pleased about the addition of this new strategy to my “toolbox”!

NOTE: This counts as completion of goal 16. Teaching frontally in such a manner is definetly a change in my learning center!

Goal 17: Help Them Shine

I see this goal of the 30 goal challenge as something different from what came up before regarding the need to look for some kind of academic success as a basis for future learning. This one is about making sure students know that their classmate is good at something, even if its hardly related to their English studies.

With some students I’m proud to report that my strategies work. Once again, I bless the YALP vocabulary program we’re using. When students tutor each other with the vocabulary flashcards, the “tutor” doesn’t need to know the vocabulary, the answers are on the other side of the cards! What matters to the students is who is the patient, encouraging pupil acting as a tutor. Some of the weakest pupils are good tutors (repeating for emphasis “some“. Nothing ever works for everyone in my class!)

Then there are the kids that are our “resident computer experts”. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’re just wrapping up a literature project. The pupils needed WORD and powerpoint. Some pupils needed help with these programs. We have a computer in class (no Internet) so our “experts” were very helpful. This computer has WORD7 which is fairly new to me so they helped me sometimes too!

In addition, I think the fact that all levels and grades are mixed places slightly less of a spotlight on the students still working on 5th grade material in 11 grade. There are so many different books (different colors of the covers) being used that an easy book doesn’t stand out quite as much.

However, there are definetly situations when the weak students are acutely aware of where they are compared to the others (I have a 10th grader still on her ABC’s) and they don’t feel happy…