Thursday, 23 April 2015

Throwback Thursday #2

A trip to London with my ex students (June 2009). They were a group of nurses - some of the most fabulous ladies I've ever met!

Unfortunately, one of the ladies is missing from the photo since she was the one taking all the pictures.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Homework? Project work!

Most of my students aren't thrilled about homework, but when it comes to project work, things change radically. I don't know if it's task personalization or presenting their work in front of their classmates that makes them go the extra mile (and the possibility of extra credit doesn't hurt, either), but even the grumpy ones will do their projects gladly.

Some of the most successful (and popular) projects my students have done this year:

  • Personalizing and acting out course book stories
In The Sky finger puppets: easy to make but effective.
I got the idea from one of my ZGUČAN colleagues.

  • Posters
My family

My city

My favourite animal

  • Fakebook profiles
Notable Slovenes

  • Board games

  • Comics

  • Reading badge projects


I'm finally finished with the ZGUČAN programme!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Throwback Thursday

My students from Pionirski Dom rapping and dancing to the Afro Circus song (Festivalna dvorana Ljubljana, May 2014). Rock'n'roll! :)

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Student teachers in my classroom

I've recently had a group of students from the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana in my classroom. It was a part of their lesson observation practice and they were observing two of my lessons (grades 4 and 9). This was the first time I was being observed by students but luckily, I'm used to being observed because of the ZGUČAN programme and also, since I've been doing my own lesson observations for that programme, I knew what the focus of these observation is (sample classroom observation form) and it was much easier for me to prepare. However, I'm about to be finished with the programme (finally!) and in the coming years, those English students and their mentor might become my only source of feedback other than my students. I mean, yes, there's also peer observation, but I think we all know how much of that really goes on at schools. Anyway, I think having student teachers in your classroom is a valuable experience you should not turn down if given the opportunity. They aren't the only ones learning from it. Also, by hosting three lesson observations you get a point for promotion to titles. 

And have I mentioned that the students teachers and their mentor Urška Sešek, PhD have been extremely nice and supportive? :)

Monday, 6 April 2015

ZGUČAN Teaching Practice

We had to do quite a lot of teaching practice for our ZGUČAN programme - actually, I compared the requirements for ZGUČAN teaching practice to the teaching practice I had to do while I was still a student of English and I realised I had to do more for  ZGUČAN!

ZGUČAN teaching practice as a subject consisted of primary classroom observation (1st part: 5 lessons or more, 2nd part: 15-20 lessons) and teaching lessons independently (8-10 lessons), all of which then had to be documented in a portfolio. I have to point out that we had other microteachings beside teaching practice. Actually, you had to do at least one for pretty much every subject we had in the ZGUČAN programme. So lots and lots of practice. Time-consuming as it was, it was the best part of our programme since we got to see fellow teachers in action and this gave me lots of new teaching ideas. However, the problem was we were all tired of doing so much work at the end and what happened was we just started doing the same lessons in different courses to save time and energy. Therefore I feel a lot of the time meant for teaching practice and microteachings was wasted. In my opinion, the same effect could be achieved in less time devoted to teaching practice - especially since the programme is primarily meant for teachers with experience, not students.

As for the classroom observations, there is a thing or two I think language teachers could learn from primary teachers. The first thing I noticed was something about YL attention span. The general opinion among language teachers is that young learners' concentration span is extremely short. The idea is that the activities we use with young learners should only last a few minutes each and then we should switch to something else. However, as I've been doing my class observation tasks, I now know that regular primary school teachers don't hold the same beliefs. Yes, with proper classroom management, children can absolutely do maths or whatever for twenty minutes IN SILENCE. Yes, successfully. No, they won't burst into madness and start running around or fall asleep behind their desks. Yes, I've seen it with my own two eyes. And classroom discipline? Top-notch. Who knew. Anyway, I'm not saying that we should start having boring lessons but I don't think using activities longer than three minutes is always bad. And the second thing that caught my attention? The handwriting primary teachers use is flawless. We all know why that's important for YL students but I'm afraid language teachers often neglect it.

As part of our teaching practice, we also had to prepare a list useful YL websites and a list of YL activities that work. I published a blog post with useful websites a while ago and I'm sharing a few activities in this post.

  • The one and only Simon Says. It's probably the most (over)used game among English teachers and for a good reason. It's incredibly versatile, you can use it for pretty much any vocabulary field, and students love it! I'm pretty sure you know the rules to Simon Says and if not, click on the link. Simon says is a TPR activity but in time (and in small groups) you can get students to make up their own instructions and assume the role of Simon. Here are some instruction ideas:

    • Simon says stand up/sit down/turn around/jump/swim/fly/dance (movements)
    • Simon says open your pencil case/close your notebook/take your pen (classroom language)
    • Simon says touch your nose/ears/legs/trousers/slippers (body parts/clothes)
    • Simon says stand next to/behind/on/in front of your chair (prepositions)
    • Simon says play basketball/football/tennis, go surfing/skiing (sports)

  • Washing line: I've been using this activity for years and I wouldn't think about even putting it on this list but I've recently had a group of English students with their mentor in my classroom and they loved it. So here goes. You need a washing line, some pegs and some old clothes. Tell your students that you've washed some clothes which now need to be hanged on the washing line. Ask two students to hold the washing line (or attach it in some other way). Then put all of your clothes on a desk and tell individual students: "The (T-shirt) is wet. Can you hang the T-shirt on the washing line, please? Do you need any pegs? How many pegs do you need?" etc. Once all the clothes are hanging on the washing line, call individual students and tell them: "The (T-shirt) is dry. Can you take it off the washing line for me, please? Can you fold it, please?" until the clothes are folded. The students can then do this activity in pairs or groups. Due to shortage if clothes you have probably brought with you, they can do this activity with clothes they have cut out of paper.

  • Fruit tasting: Prepare pieces of different fruits. Have the students sit in a circle. Blindfold individual students and ask them to open their mouths. Put a piece of fruit in the student's mouth and then he/she has to guess what fruit it is.
    *Don't force students to eat fruit. Some of them might be allergic to something, others might simply not like it.
    *Think about all the regulations that might apply to activities involving food, such as HACCP.
  • Fruit market: prepare pieces of different fruits. Bring some Monopoly money or have the student make some. Improvise a fruit stand. The children should individually approach the fruit stand and buy what they like. The conversation between the costumer (student) and the costermonger (you) should go like this:
    • Hello!
    • Hello! Can I help you?
    • A (banana), please!
    • Here you are!
    • Thank you!
    • One pound, please!
    • Here you are!
    • Thank you!
    • Goodbye!
    • Goodbye!
  • *This activity works with other foods as well. It also works with models or pictures instead of real foods, but it's less interesting.

I hope this comes in handy. You'll be able to read about some other activities we did in other subjects, such as science experiments for kids, in one of my future posts. :)

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Happy Easter from My Slo English Classroom!

May the Easter Bunny be generous with those chocolate eggs ... and anything else you wish for!

Friday, 3 April 2015


CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) refers to teaching subjects such as mathematics, science, P.E. or even art and music to students through a foreign language. CLIL was a big part of our ZGUČAN programme as it is apparently the basis for the YL syllabus. We had CLIL as an independent subject and then there were other indivudual subject such as mathematics, science, art etc. which I'll cover in one of my future posts.

As for CLIL, it started with some basics of the concept. You can find out all about that online, for example HERE, so I won't even go into that. Instead, I'll focus on my impressions from our own CLIL microteaching presentations which were the second part of the course.

Our microteaching topics were mostly taken from science and maths as they are believed to be the most suitable subjects for CLIL lessons, although we did cover some P.E. and art topics as well. The first thing I noticed was that not all topics are neccessarily suitable for CLIL. I do agree that it was easiest to cover topics from science and maths but even when choosing among topics from these two subject, you have to be careful. There are topics that will be difficult if not impossible to explain in simple English, suitable for young learners - even with lots of demonstration and paraphrasing. When you're choosing your topic, first you have to think about the language you're going to use when explaining it. What you want to do is recycle as much of your language input as possible - spiral teaching is key. Second, you'll have to be able to demonstrate what you're saying as young learners probably have little to no knowledge of English.

What turned out to be difficult for me was focusing primarily on content goals instead of language goals. It's easy for a language teacher to start teaching words when you should really be teaching, say, science. Moreover, the topics in CLIL are often similar to our usual coursebook topics so it's easy to do your lesson the way you're used to.

As far as our course goes, I have to admit I wasn't too thrilled by the atmosphere there. Let's just say our own alternative ideas of YL teaching (so anything other than CLIL) weren't always very welcome. But at the end of the day, I do like the CLIL concept. I've witnessed some very interesting and engaging CLIL microteaching lessons from my colleagues. However, I don't want to be limited by CLIL when teaching YL as I still feel there are lots of proven, effective and engaging ELT techniques other than CLIL that my students would like and benefit from.

By the way, some interesting topics for CLIL: measuring lengths in non-standard units, science experiments for children, mathematical riddles (for example The Wolf, The Goat and The Cabbage problem) and others. See some sample lesson plans HERE (Slovenian only).