Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Teaching and networking - why should we?

12:58 AM

As teachers, we know our job is mostly a solo gig and I think most of us chose it for that reason. It's nice to be in charge of what you do and how you do it. That being said, for all my teaching career, there have been all sorts of events, workshops, seminars, conferences, team building events; all meant to foster comradeship and present ample opportunities to network. Ah, that word, network, networking, networked. Why should we?

A quick search on Google will get you several million hits on the use of networking. Not all of them are about teaching, but the principle of bettering oneself though connecting with others is a valid point for all professions. Maybe not if you're an international, Bond-like spy. But for the rest of us, it's safe to say networking is not a bad idea.

So why should we? Here's my list of reasons:

1. Support
You will rarely feel as much part of a professional category or tribe as you do during an event, conference, workshop. There is something intrinsically good about getting like-minded people together so they can meet each other, be impressed with each other, like each other, and ultimately provide support to each other. That is if they are not hell bent on world domination. In that case, bad, very bad.
That feeling of belonging might get you through a bad day, might make you reach out for help, might make you help someone, might  mean a new friend and in a job where you’ll be flying solo most times, I sure do appreciate moments when I can cheer on fellow teachers and get cheered on.

2. Growth
This connects to support. When I started teaching, most of my growth came from teachers I worked with that graciously passed on their knowledge and patiently held my hand. But as your career grows, so do your needs for personal growth and if are a senior teacher, the chances you’ll be on the receiving end are slimmer. 
That doesn’t mean you don’t grow. You will learn about new technology, about new topics and trends, you’ll get a rush of energy from the new people. But you might want more.
Great. Go to a conference, event, workshop. Connect to people you don’t see everyday and you are bound to learn a trick or two. I credit my Delta classmates and the conferences I’ve gone to in the past two years with helping me grow as a teacher and as a person.

3. Change
Unless you live in a big city (or even if you do), you probably have a chartered course that you run though in a week. I’m a work, farmers market, dinner in a couple of places, shopping, walk the dog kind of person. My favourite thing about networking is that it’s usually somewhere I’ve never been. I get to change my course for a few days, see a new city, be around different people, try my hand at the local language (should I say try my tongue?) and enjoy the temporary change.

4. Fun
Most events have dinners, snacks, drinks preplanned. It’s in the schedule. It’s the epitome of networking. So have fun with it. Drink and eat, both until you can still entertain an adult, mumble-free conversation while managing to stay upright. Don't hog people, but rather mingle. If don't know anyone, chances are there are at least 5 other people with the same problem so now, go out there and find them. Most importantly, don't forget your business cards at home. 

So at the end of it all, should we network? Should we go that extra mile?
The answer is absolutely yes.

The Sound Eater

Friday, July 28, 2017

Why do we hear with our eyes?

2:41 AM

Do we really separate our senses? Do we really hear with our ears solely? I don't think that is true and this is why.

"Speech is multimodal and is produced with the mouth, the vocal tract, the hands and the entire body and perceived not only with our ears but also with our eyes"
Marion Dohen
Speech through the Ear, the Eye, the Mouth and the Hand
(Multimodal Signals: Cognitive and Algorithmic Issues, Springer, pp 24-39)

The auditory-visual (AV) speech integration has been steadily growing in importance and has most certainly benefited from recent advances in neurosciences and multisensory research. AV speech integration has started to raise questions regarding the computational rules we need in order to put together  information though one sense or across all senses. It has also made scientist wonder about the shape in which speech information is encoded in the brain (auditory vs. articulatory), or how AV speech interacts with the linguistic system as a whole.
After correcting the umpteenth student pronouncing words wrong because he was reading the word, Ihad a sort of a revelation. After spending a few months reading about AV speech integration and becoming fascinated with it I feel confident enough to say: we hear with our eyes, we listen with our eyes, we make our mouth produce sounds based on what our eyes see. Or at least on the quota our eyes share with our ears in AV speech integration. 

Think about it. Basically every single error correction I have provided regarding pronunciation in the last couple of years was, with very few exceptions, an error resulting from focusing on the visual cues. Learners were basing their expectations and performances of sound on the visual representation of the word. Now, I'm not saying it's wrong to use your eyes and prior knowledge to anticipate pronunciation, this is actually something you should be doing according to how our brains already function. But what did happen was not integration but rather superseding. What did happen was that the eyes and the expectations coupled with L1 interference and filtered through my learners mother tongue trained sound producing apparatus into English.

Any correction given to learners while they are still visually stimulated usually resulted in short-lived results, and sometimes not even those. 
Why? Because neurolinguistic research has shown that the brain learns to process different linguistic stimuli at different levels, depending on what your L1 is, how your senses developed as child, is you had any brain injury or not, etc. So what that means for learners is that something has to give sometimes. Their ears give out to their eyes and they listen with their eyes. This is why learners are so comfortable with listening with the transcript. Our job is to break that pattern and help them develop an (hopefully somewhat) equal AV speech integration that can help their brains decode and encode correctly the English language.

So what can we do about it? I've started experimenting with taking away the visual stimulation or introducing a positive visual stimulation. 
I alternate having learners say the words with their eyes closed, counting sounds and syllables, deciding stress, thinking about and focusing on sound production inside their mouths.

We record words with their IPA transcription, I teach them how to read a dictionary entry, we analyze graphic differences between letter and sound transcriptions, we look at how letters combine to create predictable patterns of sounds.
All small steps that could go a very long way.

What suggestions do you have about improving your students AV speech integration capacity?

The Sound Eater

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mia Sound Pronunciation Boardgame

12:00 AM

Do you ever feel you could so much more with pronunciation in class but you're missing the right tools? Ever thought of a game to teach some basic aspects regarding pronunciation? You haven't?

Well, I have. Here is a simple boardgame to help your students become more aware of pronunciation. Of course Mia couldn't have missed this and so you'll probably want to download this set of flashcards first.

Th rules are simple. You need some coins. Heads is 1 space, tails is 2 spaces. If the students can answer the question, yay! If he or she can't, they can pass it to someone else. If that person can't answer either, the original player misses the next turn. 

The aim of the game is to get the students thinking about several tricky aspects of pronunciation such as stress patterns and syllable count, silent consonants, cognates and how their pronunciation might differ, sound production mechanics. I did design the board thinking of my own Italian students, but tried to make it as internationally relevant as possible. Undeniably, it will work better with Latin-based languages.

You can download the Mia Sound Pronunciation Boardgames HERE.

If you have any suggestions or special requests feel free to drop me a tweet, insta message (@thesoundeater) or a message/comment on my Facebook page The Sound Eater (while you're there, don't forget to hit that like button)
Hope you enjoy it!

Let me know how it goes!

The Sound Eater

Monday, May 29, 2017

How to rock you next pronunciation lesson Part 2

1:10 AM

Here I am with round two of Miss Mia Sound printables. Simple, easy to print and use worksheets that use simple visuals to explore sound production, educate your learners and raise their awareness of the importance of sound when learning a new language.

This time we'll be focusing on the two types of u sounds and two types of o sounds.
You get three flashcards, one presentation handout and one worksheet.
The presentation handout can be used as a visual (pinned to a whiteboard with a magnetic pin) and all  of the work can be finished with a game of Sounds Bingo (click on the link too visit the page where you can download it).

You can get them here.
For any suggestions, leave a comment!

Hope you enjoy it

The Sound Eater

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why teaching feels like Instagram yoga sometimes

1:29 AM


Scrolling through my Instagram feed and watching all of my fav yoga idols effortlessly pull off insane standing poses, midair splits and perfect crows, my (not as flat or tight) stomach twisted. I'll be practicing yoga well into my 50s before I ever get into an aero-twist. 

But teaching isn't really all that different from Instagram yoga nowadays. 

Everywhere I go and everyone I meet has a new kickass method/approach/idea/activity/prop that they use in class that makes my classes feel like a yoga newbie trying up-dog for the first time all over again. We, teachers, talk about what we do and how we do it with ease because, hey, teaching is a personal thing.

So what happens when we make it look darn easy? Easy as standing on your arms and doing a split looks on Instagram or going into a class and rocking it Dogme style, with class selfies to show.
But when you (and me) try it you fall flat on your face 4 times, your face turns purple midway, and probably by the end of it you'd have pulled a muscle. And I'm not talking about yoga.
This is where the fun part comes in. While for yoga we accept that it's going to take practice, consistency and a whole lot of ouch, when it comes to teaching, I feel we tend to give up way too soon. We want to rock it on our first go and most often than not, we can't. For a whole lot of reasons that probably have nothing to do with our teaching capacity as of today, but rather with our teaching flexibility that needs to be gently stretched and transformed into something awesome tomorrow. 

But what do we do with peer-pressure? Watching pics on Instagram with star yogis effortlessly posing in painfully difficult poses is both inspiring and deeply intimidating. We know all about peer-pressure as teachers and we use it day in day out to talk about our students. 
I say we stop for a second and use that word to talk about ourselves. I've been in situations where peer-pressure has made me do things that felt deeply unnatural to me. It was as if I was trying Tuladandasana (standing stick pose - great for balance) wearing high-heels and a cocktail dress. It just won't work. What I need to do was either change into something more comfortable    (i.e. take the time to find out about it, try it out, adjust myself to it, put on a little knowledge, get to where I want one step at a time) or find a pose that suited the way I was dressed (i.e. see what I can do here and now, choose the best that I can for myself and my students, work on bettering myself starting from where I am, invent something new to fit me and possibly others like me). A pose like Utkatasana (awkward pose) would do the trick in high heels and a cocktail dress if you were wondering. 

It would do the trick with teaching as well. We should start being a bit more awkward, less intimidated. And we might just find a way to post a great Instagram standing yoga pic after all.

The Sound Eater

Friday, May 19, 2017

How to rock your next pronunciation lesson Part 1

8:06 AM

Hey guys!

Here is my first bundle for teaching pronunciation with Miss Mia Sound. We will be dealing with the /ɪ/ /iː/ /e/ /æ/  and it contains one presentation handout, one worksheet, three flashcards.


You can download everything here!

The Sound Eater

Monday, May 15, 2017

Three ways to hand over pronunciation to your learners - Innovate ELT 2017 Conference

6:43 AM

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mia Sound - Mix'n'Match Pronunciation Game (visuals galore)

1:41 AM

It's finally HERE!!!! I am too excited.

I love using visuals in class but have had the hardest time finding visuals to teach pronunciation with. So what could I do?? Take a page out of Beyonce's book and do my own thing. 
Sorry for the pop culture reference but it just made sense cause the girl #slays.

So here is Mia Sound. The ultimate tribute to my tiny little grandma Mia who has the strongest possible voice. This little black and white character is my own personal version of my grandma teaching pronunciation. I've been working on this project for a little over 6 months and this is just the first download of many, many to come. So stay tuned for more.
I just introduced Mia to the world at the Barcelona #iELT17 conference and had some great feedback which I plan to incorporate in the project in the future.

Every bundle comes with printable worksheets, some instructions and ideas and a whole lot of love!
You can download the Mix'n'Match game HERE
If you have any suggestions or special requests feel free to drop me a tweet, insta message (@thesoundeater) or a message/comment on my Facebook page The Sound Eater (while you're there, don't forget to hit that like button)
Hope you enjoy it!

What do you normally use when you teach pronunciation?

The Sound Eater

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Top 3 reasons for going to #ELT conferences

7:57 AM

I'm writing this on a very early flight from Barcelona to Rome, my eyes still slightly glazed and trying desperately to adjust to the way-to-bright light of airplane interiors. I've just had a wonderful time at a wonderfully organized conference that makes the inconveniences of economy, early, connection-necessary flying seem well worth it.

If you haven't heard of it yet, InnovateELT hosted by Oxford House Barcelona is a definite treat. You can check out their website or twitter hashtag #iELT17

With the experience fresh in mind, here are my top three reasons for going to #ELT conferences: (insert drumroll)

  1. You get out of your comfort zone.
Teaching for the same school for a number of years, dealing with monolingual classes, using the same coursebook or teaching the same classes; all of these put us in a proximal comfort zone. Realistically we might expand that comfort zone, more to the right or more to the left. That being said, unless you have the opportunity to drastically change all of the above mentioned situations every year or a couple of years, you're probably under stimulated. Conferences are wonderful opportunities for you to connect to your community, learn about new ideas, methods, approaches and tricks. It literally puts you in positive variation of the "fight or flight" mode.

  1. You get to meet inspiring people.
And those people are not just good because they're saying something enlightened that they've figured out, but rather they fuel your own enlightenment and help you see things from a different (and might I say, positive and usually completely mind-blowing) perspective. You might have great co-workers but I've rarely felt as supported as when I'm presenting at a conference and people tell me "I'll be there, you can count on me."

  1. It allows you to grow.
As teachers we tend to become stuck in our beliefs about what teaching is all about. Being in a conference can give you the opportunity to reflect on your own teaching assumptions and embrace change. The ever skeptical will say that conferences also present us with a myriad of talks and workshops that feel either like one big publicity stunt or immensely undoable, but most often than not, there is a silver teaching lining in all of them. You get to learn how to identify what you're not comfortable spending 30 or 60 minutes on, get up and leave. I hated being wrong in choosing the talks I would attend because I would feel stuck. Realistically you should never feel like that. If, for whatever reason, you're not enjoying yourself or it's not what you were expecting, get up and leave. The speaker will carry no lingering grudge and you would have made a significant step in self growth and particularly being assertive.

What would your advice be to conference-going people based on your experience?

The Sound Eater

Sunday, April 9, 2017

5 Easter Pins for your YL Students

1:53 AM

With Easter a week away, this next week will be filled with spring lexis and all sorts of crafts. I have an adorable group os pre-starters that have just learned animals, one of them being rabbit. Perfect timing to bring out some crafts and work on following instructions, developing cognitive skills, improving hand-eye coordination and just having some darn fun.
I've been going crazy on Pinterest, looking at adorable felt or yarn bunnies, paper-plate chicks, paper hyacinths and crazy Easter egg hunts.
I've picked 5 super-doable activities for you guys to try out this week. Or this spring for that matter, since, hey, who doesn't like a nice bunny party hat??

1. The Bunny Party Hat
The image is self-explanatory but I might add that you could use this activity with any age YL, given that you help the little ones with the cutting (prepare it beforehand) and ask the older ones to give their hat a name, invent a story, draw details, etc.

2. The Plastic Spoon Bunnies
This is by far the simplest activity with Easter bunnies I could find. It still involves some manual skills but overall it should be less than 20 minutes. So if you're short on time but still want to do something bunny-ish, give it a go. By the way, I saw another Pin where the bunny was inside a double sided paper egg that had been dutifully decorated, with the front side half the size of the back side, and the spoon's handle serving as a hold. Adorable!

3. Button Extravaganza
Now when I saw this, I instantly knew this was what I was going to do with my students this week. Here they've made birds, but can you already see it? Button bunnies!!! Again, a super simple activity where little preparation is necessary, perfect motor skills are irrelevant, creativity can run free, and the back of you wonderfully original card can be filled with English!

4. Fingerprint Art
Great little activity for YL where they get to get their hand dirty and maybe help each other create different characters (hey, we all have different fingers). Again wonderful little activity for following instructions (since most YL will need help with drawing faces) but I guess you would need to do this activity in 2 phases. Phase one, you make the cards with the fingerprints and put it somewhere safe to dry. Phase two, you draw the faces, extra detail and messages. If you have a long 2 hour lesson, you might be able to do both, but I doubt you will be able in 1 hour.

5. Eggstremely Surprising Card
A short little activity with minimal preparation and minimal drain on classroom time. I would use this with slightly older YL (from 9-10 onwards) that are a little bit more confident and able to draw. Why? Because my experience with little people has taught me that some are naturally better at drawing while others not. But all are acutely capable to discern between a great drawing and a not so great (albeit I think they are all absolutely adorable) drawing. So they mope or bicker or ask for my help more than I would like them to (hey, it's supposed to be their drawing, their moment). So if you plan on doing it with tiny people, show them a "how to" video about how to draw a chick, there are plenty on youtube and it can save you a lot of grief after. When they've mastered (this is highly relative as we all know) the chick drawing, then we go to the do a card on your own part. Mind you, you might need to ask them to draw it multiple time (hence you might need to prepare this project several lessons before). For everyone else, go ahead and do this 15-20 minutes craft.

The Sound Easter

Friday, April 7, 2017

To CLIL or not to CLIL?

12:00 AM

I've just finished my first teacher training course. I was extremely happy to get this opportunity since it is something I would like to do in the future. My school organised a TKT CLIL exam prep and my group consisted of 11 Italian state school teachers.

When I said yes to doing this class, I had to brush up on exactly what this TKT CLIL exam and CLIL itself was all about. As a bilingual child, I've basically gone through CLIL myself and can't speak highly enough of it but in reality, it all bubbles down to the teacher's own agenda, willingness and knowledge. Having had a very positive experience, I felt it was imperative to communicate my enthusiasm for this way of teaching to my "students".

Now, what is the TKT CLIL exam?
The TKT CLIL exam is a Cambridge provided exam, part of the TKT scheme which Cambridge describe as

"TKT is a flexible series of modular teaching qualifications, which test your knowledge in specific areas of English language teaching. You can take as many modules as you want, over any time period. You receive a Cambridge English certificate for each module you complete."

TKT CLIL is one of the offered specialist modules which should be taken after the original TKT Module 1,2 and 3, but can be taken on it's own as well. It all depends on the teacher's willingness and prior knowledge. It obviously contains a mountain of methodology terms and challenging practices that need to be assimilated and reasoned on.

The test in itself is not overly complicated, a multiple choice paper-based test with 80 questions that are worth 80 points and you have 80 minutes to do it. Your results place you within 4 bands(1 being the lowest and 4 being the highest), with an average of 45-50 points placing you in the 3rd band.

But, why take the TKT CLIL exam?
That was the first question I considered when I said yes to dong this course. Why are my students coming in for a 2 hour class packed with tongue-twisting methodology terms, laborious teaching practices and anglo-saxon new-age logic?
My answer was: to better oneself and hence to better prepare ones students. 
Highly idealistic you would say...but throughout the course I noticed my initial assumption was right. My students were there to learn new tricks, experiment new things, challenge themselves and ultimately get a certificate that proves this new acquired knowledge.
So why do it? Because it will make teaching fun and new and rewarding. It's a bit like experienced Celta without the assignments, deadlines, sleepless nights and overload of info.

Last but not least, why CLIL?
CLIL is a world. A magical, difficult, challenging, gratifying world. It means offering our highly globalized kids a real chance, a higher competence, more realistic expectations when deciding to study abroad, a wider cultural spectrum, a classroom that most times levels the playing field and yields surprising results. CLIL is all about giving non-native kids the chance to feel and employ the language, whatever language that is, while at the same time developing their cognitive, learning and coping skills through learning subjects. The focus is on the subject, not on the language. Great mathematicians will need help from great language speakers, and viceversa. You might be the best in History, but will it be the same once you have to use French or English to learn it? You might be a great player, but can you be a great team player? You might have an excellent memory, but can you analyse the information you are given and give your opinion on it? This is what CLIL aims to do.

At the end of my class, we all felt empowered, proud, positive. I was proud of my students for all they had achieved and they were proud of themselves. I felt like I had laid the cornerstone to something great for my future as an ELT teacher, and they felt more confident about their teaching. 
I can honestly say I can't wait for the next class.
In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for my students taking their exam mid April!

The Sound Eater

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I'm a speaker! iELT2017

11:13 PM
Yay! I'm speaking at Innovate ELT 2017 Conference.
I am so excited as this was one of the places I was really dying to get to.
I bought my ticket, booked my Airbnb, drafted my conference presentation and overall finished counting my lucky stars.
Look at this presentation:
Click on the image if you want to go see their website which is awesome!

I am so very excited and take this opportunity to thank them and invite everybody who can come to this wonderful experience!

The Sound Eater

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Sound Logic

1:16 PM

What comes to mind when you think about the word "sound"?
Do you think about your favourite singer? Or maybe your favourite song? Maybe a musical genre or an instrument? Do you imagine an orchestra, a music video? Two cowboys facing each other on the main road at sunset with a whistled song floating in the air? Or maybe a moustached phenomenon in sneakers and a white tank top strutting his stuff up and down the stage of a sold out concert? Maybe you think about how the word "sound" sounds like.
Or maybe, like me, you think about your mouth.
Yes, not exactly our favourite bunch of bone and muscles on the planet.
Most people think of their mouths in terms of eating, drinking, breathing, talking, kissing, screaming, etc.

I want you to imagine a concert hall.
Maybe you've never been in one, so I want you to imagine a theatre.
Maybe you don't like theatres, so I want you to imagine a cinema.
And if you still can't see that, try and remember a concert you saw on TV.
That's what I see in our mouths.
The most unbelievable, incredible, magical concert hall in the known universe.

If our brains are the supercomputers that no computers will ever match, then our mouths are the most perfect concert halls that have ever been created. Sorry Carnegie Hall, it's not personal.
When I say mouth, I refer to all the different parts involved in the production of sound: the lips, teeth, the alveolar ridge, our lungs, the velum aka the soft palace, the hard palate, the uvula, the glottis, the tongue. I must have forgotten something, just like you forget to wish a distant aunt Happy Birthday for her birthday, but you love her dearly for existing.
Every single time I hear a sound I've never heard and therefore maybe never created, the thought of sound creation is electrifying (You're the sound that I want, Sound that I want, Uh Uh Uh). The complicity and multiplicity of biological phenomenons that allow sound to be formed is nothing sheer of magical.

"Speech sound production is one of the most complex human activities: it is also one of the least well understood. This is perhaps not altogether surprising as many of the couples neurological and physiological processes involved in the generation and execution of speech utterance remain relatively inaccessible to direct investigation, and must be inferred from careful scrutiny of the output of the system - from details of the movements of the speech organs themselves and the acoustic consequences of such movements."

Speech Production and Speech Modelling
edited by W.J. Hardcastle, Alain Marchal

Just some food for thought.

The Sound Eater

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Family Tree Fun

10:56 PM

I'm a big fan of creating family trees with my students, but I can never find a really good one that I can use with multiple types of students, so I always end up with at least 10 different photocopies of 10 different family trees. So I made my own.
It looks good enough for kids, but I've used it with teens and even adults and the graphic didn't feel cartoonish.
You can find it here - Family Tree

I'll also share with you 5 things you can do with it.

1. With really small kids (pre-starters, starters, movers) you can ask them to start from YOU and then write the name of mom, dad, sisters, brothers, grandparents. I would suggest to have a spare copy you, the teacher, work on. You illustrate and monitor they are writing the right names. Be careful, if they can't remember or they need extra boxes because their parents are divorced and remarried, be super flexible. Remember you're not doing a census for the government.

2. Again with small kids, you can ask them to start from YOU and then draw mom, dad, sisters, brothers, grandparents. If they can't ask them to draw a symbol of the person. I had a really sweet little girl who had never met her grandma who passed away before she was born. She drew a bunch of flowers because her grandma had had a garden full of flowers that her grandpa still kept. Useless to say I almost started crying.
This drawing activity can also be a continuation of the activity above if you make sure they write on the dotted line and still have space for drawing.

3. With older children, teens and such, I've asked them to write the names of close relatives, like above, followed by a short list (4-5) of personality adjectives that characterise those individuals. Then they had to explain in pairs why they had chosen those adjectives by giving examples, explaining and telling anecdotes. Pairs could be changed several times. This works for adults as well.

4. A variation of the exercise above is to ask them to write the opposite of the adjectives (written in red) they want to use and then have them in pairs work to figure out the correct adjectives. Then they would proceed to have the discussion described above. I usually use this variation after I have done the activity from point 3 a couple of times and I want to recycle and make the activity a little bit more challenging. This works for adults as well.

5. Older teens (like legal age teens) and adults. Set it as homework. They must fill in the family tree with names and adjectives. They must also find a photo or some photos that show all the people in the family tree. In pairs, they exchange photos, describe each individual using both physical description and the personality adjectives they have already written. The partner has to guess who is who.
This can be modified by giving each student a list of 3 or 6 names/personality adjectives/physical description adjectives they need to tick off of a list. That way, they will have a added purpose for listening.

Hope you have fun with it.

The Sound Eater

A Martin Luther King Jr. Day lesson plan (materials included)

12:13 AM

So today will be a double post day, but I'll start with this.
I recently taught a lesson centred on the theme of heroes so I went with one of my personal heroes, the great orator Martin Luther King Jr.

I've got a KEY/PPT slide for you to guide you through the lesson and some extra materials you will need.
Heroes - MLK

During the GROUP READING you should have already set up three separate reading areas with a blown up version of the following text cut up in three piece (Group 1, 2 and 3). This is a very basic jigsaw reading activity.
Group Reading Text
Each student (1, 2 or 3) receives a set of questions to which he doesn't have the answers. Eg: a student 2 will have questions pertaining to students 3 text and thus they will need to share to be able to complete them.
The students are then rearranged and groups of 1-2-3 students are created to share their own info and complete the questions.

I found a really nice True/False activity on as part of a lesson plan and did that as my second activity. It is connected to this Vimeo video. You can do quite a lot with the video.

History: Bet You Didn't Know - March on Washington from on Vimeo.

During the lesson, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation was worked on, recorded and recycled.

I then finished the lesson by asking students to produce a paragraph-speech starting with "I have a dream..." for their next lesson.

I had a lot of fun with this lesson since all the students were genuinely interested and participated a lot in all the different stages.

The Sound Eater

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why I'm not afraid of Babbel

6:32 AM
I'll start my post by asking three simple questions.
1. Do you practice sport?
2. Do you do it alone, at home, or in a gym/sports centre?
3. How do you feel when you do it?

You're probably asking yourselves what does practicing a sport have to do with teaching English or, better yet, with the intelligently well-marketed Babble app.
Well...I've done and am still doing a great variety of sports. Team sports like basketball or handball, Pilates, yoga, running, trekking, walking, tae-kwon-do, gymnastics. You name it, I've tried it.
In the last few years a great number of apps, all specially designed to facilitate my practicing of said sports in the comfiness of my own house, have invaded my iPhone and depleted my App Store credit. I've spent more money on those apps than I am comfortable or even willing to admit.
The latest Instagram fitness guru launches a FREE app with a 19€/month "supercalifragilisticly exclusive" subscription package? I'll try it, thank you very much.
There's a new app that promotes flexibility AND mindfulness? In the same app? At less than a 5€ per month? Yes, please!

I think you get the point. Now, with my new found obsession with fitness apps, I discovered I secretly enjoyed instructing my unexperienced, sport-wise neophyte friends on how they had their lives all wrong. They were oblivious to the "life-changing power of <insert current app obsession>". And yes, I've actually said that to people.
What happened was that some took me up on my pseudo-creepy invitations to be app buddies and see who could do better. Ah, the competition factor. I'll get back to that one. So some of my friends went ahead and downloaded/bought some of the apps I'd tried myself. Some never gave in. Some stuck to the program for a couple of weeks, some for a couple of months, some still use it. I've started using and abandoned more than half a dozen apps. The novelty factor is like getting high for the first time. (Not that I've ever gotten high mom, if you're reading this. It was just for emphasis.) I love the app for two weeks or even six months, it's on my phone, I can do it more or less anywhere (except for burpees and such) and at any hour (ahem, yes 11 pm is an acceptable practice time if you're an English teacher - shoutout to all late-night working teachers).

But, ultimately I gave up. I found something new. I stopped caring that the app stared back at me from my phone. I still have a daily reminder on my iWatch from one of these apps that I use as a sort of time compass. If the reminder rings, I know I still have about 30 minutes before having to leave my house for a set of classes I teach at lunch. The competition factor that led me to become a harassing fit-crazed friend wore off each and ever time like a high (again, mom, it's just for emphasis).

Babbel is an awesome little app. It's well built and very intelligent. It's useful. It's definitely inexpensive.
But, if you're human, it won't last. You'll start to dread it. Or you'll start to get bored. Or you'll find a new Babbel. Or you'll meet someone and be busy. Or <insert here 1,2 million human excuses for quitting stuff>.

Because coming to an English class with an actual teacher and actual classmates and actual human contact is much more rewarding. It's much more complex, unpredictable, educational, memorable, interesting, emotional...human.
You don't just get an educational experience, you're not just learning a language, you're meeting new people, a new culture (sometimes more than one), you're stepping out of your comfort zone (aka your living room), you're going the extra mile. You can smile and frown and cross your arms and slump. And your teacher will see all of these things and react accordingly.

When I last yelled at my least favourite app, calling it an instrument of torture, it calmly said back: "Well done, Oana, 5 to go!"

I deleted it immediately. So I'm good with Babbel. I'll just wait it out.

The Sound Eater

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I had a moment with Siri

1:25 PM

Imagine this.
I'm in my car with my boyfriend driving. We're running late for dinner at my friend Maria Teresa's house. I frantically look through my contacts for her name to warn her of our delay. My boyfriend suggests I ask Siri to call her. I say: "I would, but you know my phone is in English. It won't recognise the name." He looks over dumfounded and says: "What do you mean? I use it all the time."
I proceed to explain in length how I have to pronounce the name with an English, no, better yet, American accent so that my American sounding Siri counterpart to have the slightest of ideas of who Maria Teresa is.

And then, just then, an idea hits me like a moving train. Here, before us, or better yet, in our pockets and bags, we have technology that seemed impossible, downright scientifically fantastic just a few decades ago. We have a technologically advanced programmed entity to help us with little task like looking through our contacts list and dealing a number. Yet somehow, our phonetically predisposed brains managed to narrow the scope of such an ingenious knack by applying the same phonological algorithms that have always represented the hurdles we must jump in order to master a new language.

Now think about that marvellous theory according to which we don't actually read words, but rather beginnings and ends and we fill the middle with what we think should be there. We work on hunches and the marvellous machinations of our brain.
In the same way, I believe, albeit having no proof (or maybe I read it somewhere and it got stuck in my mind), that our brains get wired up to expects and produce certain sounds, our sounds, the sounds we start hearing in-utero and continue to hear during infancy. We are literally phonologically impaired since birth. Couldn't this possible, programmed predisposition then manifests itself in our capacity or incapacity to perceive sounds differently from what our expectations and prior knowledge are? As a teacher I realise I've fine-tuned my capacity to understand even the most phonetically butchered of words, and yet sometimes I still get blindsided with a word I struggle to understand, only to be illuminated when the student spells or writes it.

So Siri, a piece of computational intelligence infinitely more capable than us to store, select and use phonetics, needs to hear the right sounds according to her assigned accent. Just like I would, or you would. Siri needs to hear you say your words, the right way.
And so I wonder, was it technological pain that didn't allow the wonderful men and women at Apple Inc to equip Siri with a universal capacity to distinguish sounds or was it something they didn't even think about? Because despite the eeriest of memes and gifs with Siri conversations on the web, the fact that Siri can be puzzled by mispronunciation is by far the most bewildering of attributes to give our friendly pocket helper.

The Sound Eater