Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Like a sir... teaching with memes

This year at our IATEFL Slovenia conference I attended a very interesting talk of our student helper Nina Jerončič. She presented different types of memes and why she thought they were useful. The force is strong with this one and it's a delight to see you're not the only teacher who puts up these kinds of pictures after students do EXTREMELY badly on their mock-test. Go see her presentation! It's awesome.

But what's a meme I hear you cry!

True story.

Why use memes to teach concepts?

The teens relate to them, at least those who spend at least a portion of their time online. You're bound to have at least a couple of them who know more memes than you can shake a stick at and can explain it to those who don't. (And to hipsters, who will pretend they don't follow memes because they're too mainstream.)

Besides, they're funny. Humour in the classroom is to be embraced and cherished, we get enough seriousness in our lives anyhow. Yes, just like with any thing, there will be students who love it and students who hate it and students who spend their time thinking of how they'd rather be playing Skyrim than listen to the teacher.

So, how about some ideas for the class?

Questions with the Philosoraptor

Does instagraming your lunch make it more delicious?
You can use this advice animal to introduce any sort of question formation. Since the philosoraptor's musings are often quirky and sometimes just plain idiotic, it's a perfect excuse to indulge in a bit of weirdness in the classroom.

Here, have a PPT I used in a lesson on Reported speech.

Poor Bad Luck Brian and Socially Awkward Penguin

The Bad Luck Brian and Socially Awkward Penguin are memes about an unfortunate young man and a penguin that can't talk to girls, respectively. They're great for practicing giving advice. Also, Perfect Modals!

You shouldn't have even run, Bad Luck Brian!
I have employed the help of my trusty partner in finding the memes and he's been surfing the web, dying of laughter for the past 15 minutes. So if even a fellow teacher cracks up, they're bound to be at least mildly amusing. Make sure you have plenty of pictures to show and double check you don't accidentally show something naughty in class. Google Images are right out for this one, so if you're thinking about skipping on prep time and just do a search during class, boy, you're in for some surprise.

This works wonders when introducing PC language to adult advanced students. Teens will just make more silly jokes.

First World Problems If onlies

Who doesn't like a good whine? Okay, so maybe no one does, but the pictures are just begging to be used for the I wish / If only construction!

If only I could reach through the screen and explain why I'm right.

The problems are often trivial, so it's also a good starting point for a lesson on social problems. 
Also, fails and epic fails (disasters of a ...disastrous sort) lend themselves nicely to lessons on I wish and Conditionals.

If I hadn't been so immersed in studying for my English class, I would have remembered that fire and plastic are not friends.

Comparing and contrasting

How about stuff that totally looks like something different? It's find the difference game, but 20% cooler.
President Eisenhower is creepier than Gollum.

And the wild world of Failbook

Grammar mistakes, who doesn't love correcting them? Especially when they've been used to seeing their own mistakes corrected since primary school, take this chance to give the students an opportunity to feel good about themselves when spotting real life grammar mistakes and coming up with suitable alternatives.

(Stay tuned for a lesson on politicians' mistakes and faux-pas, coming soon to a blog near you.)

... and they're filled with puns, for  you vocabulary enjoyment.

Speaking of puns, those of you doing cross-curricular teaching with Chemistry - check out Chemistry Cat for a wealth of bad jokes.

Sentence structure with MemeSpeak

This section owes a big fat Thank you to Nina Jerončič, who first gave me the idea. Before that, I saw memes only as speaking prompts/grammar practice vehicles. 

I'm in your (ur) PLACE, verbing my/your(ur) NOUN. Great practive for the -ing ending. Word of caution, your sentences might be a bit hard to find, most grammar is weird by normal standards. 

You can bring some pictures and have students write their own sentences. Bubblr can help you build streams of pictures that students can share with you, each other, their parents, neighbours' dog...

Adjective noun is adjective
But why are you happy, happy chair?! The suspense...
Same as with the above, you can give your students a list of five adjectives you need to practice and kids can find of take photos (pairwork taking each other's photos miming sentences such as "Confused student is confused." or "Overly attached schoolmate is overly attached."- priceless fun, especially if you let them do it in class).

Go forth and explore!

I'm sure you've used memes in your class before, but if you haven't, explore these:

9gag - lots of pictures, but organisation leaves something to be desired.
Cheezburger - organisation, I love it. They have a category Know Your Meme, where you can find origins and most popular examples of memes.
quickmeme - what it says on the tin.

The above is also my list of sources for this post. And let me tell you, it took almost two weeks to write. Why? Because I got distracted by pictures of cats!

Oh well...

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Post-conference euphoria

You know that lovely feeling you get after the conference, right? The feeling the world is a mollusc of your choice. The feeling of I-can! The feeling of wanting to spend your time learning something incredible and the feeling you're going to wow your class on Monday.

It usually lasts till Tuesday for me. But, on the bright side, this blog helps me relive the experience and that's why, dear reader, you should blog too.

Driving home from Belgrade was an experience. Sharing a car with another teacher, talking about life, the universe and teaching, what a great way to finish the conference weekend.

After singing this at the top of our voices (preparation for the Tuzla conference!)...
(Note: There's an argument about Tesla in the comment section - surreal!)

...the discussion invariable turned to music in the classroom. Useful songs were shared, useful activities discussed. And here are two tools to check out:

Lyrics Training

Step 1:

Step 2:
Step 3:

Rock on! There's an option to listen to the last line again (Backspace) and to skip a word you don't understand (Tab).

If you log in, you can try and beat a high score and see how you compare to other players on the same level.

I usually recommend this to my 1-1 students. It's great for practicing listening and spelling in a fun way. It's an old site but well worth revisiting.


Nanananananana nananananana BATMAN!

But for reals, this is a wonderful site with searchable lyrics. The idea came via Nik Peachey's blog.
You can search for the construction you want to practice and choose the song you think will be the most useful.

It also has an embed option.

Here, have a worksheet to go with it!  Listening + Reported speech. Yes, I know there are other songs more appropriate to teach the Reported Speech, but I like this one.

What to do with it? I used it for introducing the Reported Speech. It could also serve as:

  • a cross-curricular link with history - prisoner deportation
  • a starting point for creative writing: a story from the POV of the wife, the cheated husband, the accused, the bailiff, the cat on the docks...
  • lots of Past Perfect here for all you grammar freaks
I'm sure you have a lot of ideas. You could even show them the original and have them compare the two songs or the two videos.

The possibilities are (almost) endless.

End note:

To edit the pictures you see here I use PicMonkey, because they seem to be the only ones who offer the arrow stamp :P

In the course of writing this post I've also reasearched the online gap-fill maker options. There are none. At least nothing that is free, online and embeddable.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Post-plenary rant

I've had a good night's sleep and I'm ready for new challenges!

I felt extremely motivated by the first plenary by Suzanne Panferov. She touched upon a topic I feel very strongly about – non-native teachers of English.

“Quality English teachers are no longer qualified just by being native English speakers.”

“Have you been to the dentist?” she asks. “Does that make you qualified to be a dentist?”

I've always felt not-slighty miffed by the advertisements along the lines of: “Native speaker? Come teach English in exciting places, get qualified in two weeks!!!!”

I take pride in my work. I take immense pride in the fact that I'm able to, day in day out, get up, walk into a classroom of people who don't want to be there and make their language skill improve, bit by bit. I will not be compared to a student who read a handbook on teaching. I refuse to accept this degradation of what I see as one of the most difficult and least recognised professions in the world.

We can all contribute to the field, native or non-native. And, as I've learnt in the past year, everyone can make a contribution.

Roadtripping to ELTA Belgrade

I am currently balancing my laptop on my lap EXTREMELY carefully, so I can keep my Wi-Fi connection in my hotel room. I'm getting a very war-correspondent vibe, even though it's only a small thing, like a very erratic Internet connection.

Seven hours ago, when I was singing Tainted Love at the top of my voice driving to Belgrade, the conference seemed a hundred miles away. It was close to that, to be honest as we were only just leaving Zagreb. We were making incredible time and we agreed that we're definitely going to catch the dinner event. In Belgrade by eight, eight thirty the latest, at the restaurant at nine. What could possibly go wrong?

We got lost. I stand corrected we did not get lost, just everything else seemed to be temporarily displaced. And everyone seemed to know exactly where our hotel was, except for us. And their explanations got us there. Eventually. An hour later, wrinkled and slightly smelling of defeat.

Things turned immediately for the better when Branka Dečković showed up with two delightful colleagues from TETA, the Tuzla English Teachers' association (go check their website!) It's always a special treat meeting colleagues from the old common country.

Now I'd better get some beauty sleep. The conference starts very early. Too early for my liking. How about we all move our conferences after our second breakfasts?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Joy of Infographics

I have recently discovered the joy of Infographics, which means my whole presentation for the conference is now undergoing a major redesign, three days before I am supposed to deliver it. Oh, four-letter-words and ASCII characters...

Infographics are these lovely little pictures with which you can tell a statistical story. Oh, what fun, I hear you say sarcastically. I promise you, they are cute and colourful, just what a magpie like me likes. Here's a link to someone who knows WAY more than me about it.

I've recently employed Infographics as an alternative assessment tool. I'm covering statistics - large numbers, fractions, decimals and other things that make most people yawn. So I directed my boys to this webpage and told them to record themselves describing the data. Of course the criteria for assessment was given in advance and it all worked out perfectly. Or as perfectly as any homework works out.

What I like about infographics:

  • they make assessment look less intimidating
  • they allow you to visualise a bunch of numbers, quite hard to do for some people
  • when you make one, you feel like you discovered cold fusion - look at the beauty I have produced! And there's a whole lot of generators out there that let you post infographics with minimum amount of fuss.
  • some sites generate infographics for your Facebook posts, twitter activity and your page activity. It could be used as a conversation prompt for the topic of social media. If your students tweet, they can compare themselves to a celebrity of their choice. Or you could explore the life of a hashtag to see what's hot and what's not in the world of Twitter.

What I dislike:

  • if you want to have something highly specific, the templates offered just don't cut it. I have at least four new grey hairs from when I decided to put our IATEFL Slovenia conference feedback into an infographic.
And lastly...
So, I heard you like infographics, so I made an infographic about infographics.

Pre-conference jitters

I both love and hate conferences.

I love the hustle and bustle of the conference itself, sitting down with your pristine brochure to underline or circle (or on one memorable occasion, surround with flowers and dancing unicorns) the workshops you wish to see. I love chatting with colleagues from all over Europe, I love sitting down for a coffee, head full of ideas, staring blankly into space as I think of all the wonderful things I can do with my sparkly new knowledge on Monday...

What I hate are the days leading up to the conference.

It seems that without fail ALL conferences must be preceded by days of frantic report writing, homework correction, test compiling and other tedious work that makes me want to punch through walls. When thinking about it, most of my days (in fact most teachers' days) are full of just that.

But before the conference, when all I want to do is fret about what to pack and which roads to take, I most definitely do not want think about fancy ways in which I can describe all the things I do during the school year.

I especially like the ELTA conference because it was home to my very own, only mine, first workshop. I was so nervous I nearly tripped going inside. You never forget your first and I'm so excited to return again this year, this time with a drastically different approach.