A Shock to the System

November 30, 2011 § 6 Comments

“Every man can transform the world
from one of monotony and drabness
to one of excitement and adventure.”
Irvine Wallace

Transform your world now!

The gas man came to call this morning. The water heater kept cutting out, the radiators would be nice and hot for a while, then you’d start thinking it’s a bit cold in here, touch the radiator and find it stone cold.

He tested this, fiddled with that, sucked his teeth and informed me what a botch job the cowboy before had made. Through a deliberate set of procedures though, he determined the cause and replaced the right part. My gloveless hands are testament to his success.

If only learning were that easy. We’re not machines, things go in one ear and out the other, and we have to do things again and again. We learn to add s to make plurals, only to start putting ‘s when we learn about possessives.

And on Monday, on a trip up to Halifax in the lovely Pennine Hills in the north of England, where I spent a fabulous day teaching and demonstrating, at one point I had to pull over to let an ambulance pass. The bright blue lights flashing in my mirror and the cacophony of wails and whoops and screeches are designed to catch attention. The good old days of nee nah nee nah are long gone. The trouble is, monotony is boring. We don’t even notice it after a while. We need a greater shock to the system.

End the monotony here!

This is one of the reasons that the ESOL learners at Calderdale College loved the activities we did with Language Garden so much. Seeing words bend and branch before their eyes, the text takes on a personality of its own almost. They didn’t know what was going to happen next, what was suddenly going to sprout out from the blank white screen, the visual equivalent of an ambulance siren.

NLP says you learn by watching experts. See if it’s true!

And when I invited them to put the words back in in Puzzle, they were up out of their seats like they were burning their backsides on a scorching radiator. Like, I’m pleased to say, I can now do.

“The true art of memory
is the art of attention.”
Samuel Johnson

Draw Ravid

November 25, 2011 § 8 Comments

Inundated by requests to hear Alan Tait on the guitar, mainly, it should be stated, from Alan himself, and with a respectful nod to Vicky Loras’s challenge of recounting our personal histories, I offer you the story of Draw Ravid, the Wild West’s first and only cowboy hailing from India, anagram of David Warr that Alan came up with, my alter ego, at least for one night in Milan before the internet was around to distract EFL teachers from fulfilling their more artistic calling by telling the world what they got up to earlier that day.

Let’s hear it now!

(He was Natalia T, by the way, another character with a dark side. We both tried out the activity in class the next day, getting learners to make up anagrams and stories of their classmates. It’s good fun.)

Also continuing with the theme of the last post, this is another figure referred to in hushed tones by one name only. Draw, the fastest gunslinger in the west. You know, when you draw a gun on someone. This is what he did. Admittedly, no-one like him much, but everybody wanna see him draw.

He arrived in the good ol’ US of A by rather unusual means, illegally, and immediately set off to the prairie, taking any job he could find. He was a natural cowboy.

His tastes were, shall we say, distinct. Evidence found in one toilet was surprising to say the least. As I said, no-one likes him much, but everybody wanna see him draw.

Yee hah!

You’d never catch him on the dance floor, or the mountain slopes. The front door of any low-life rundown establishment he occasioned to be in was strictly off-limits. He chose other routes.

Surprisingly perhaps, he maintained his religion, or aspects thereof. Bilingual, on occasion. Not into sport, but gardening, yes, in a modest capacity.

All of this is mere backdrop though. It was his skill with a pistol that attracted the blood-lust crowds, as long as they weren’t the one in his sights. Those who faced him met their maker. He joked, though none ever laughed, you better use a pencil and a rubber if you want to draw against me.

In saloons, the toe-tapping guitar strumming quickly rose to cult status. Dug out and dusted down from the archives, it is for the first time presented to a wider audience. Everybody like him, but no-one wanna see him draw.

Yeah, boy, play that tune!

Honouring the rich and famous

November 24, 2011 § 14 Comments


“Tigers die and leave their skins;
People die and leave their names.”
Japanese proverb

John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Gandhi, Shakespeare.

Pele, Ali.

Galileo, Leonardo.

Tom, Jerry.

One name will suffice for the great and the good.

So without further ado, here is a sample of my favourite blogs. Don’t make me nominate for the Edublog Awards. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. I won’t do it coz I can’t do it.

Alan. You should hear him play the guitar. Actually, you can! Would you like to?

Anthony. He teaches teachers. But who teaches teacher teachers?

Brad. His posts about etymology are awesome, dude.

Candy. She’s sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Cat. She’s cool. All cats are.

Chiew. He has language plants growing out of his ears.

Cristina. I love her wisdom. Her children love her.

Dave. He’s up to his eyeballs in projects, or so he says.

Greta. I keep a box of tissues handy for all her heart-warming stories.

Johanna. Brilliant spelling blog. She and Brad together, that would be good.

Naini. The stuff she does with her primary children in Kenya and India. Incredible.

Oli. He’s a dogmeist, and a language gardener. Such wisdom for one so young.

I feel guilty. There are many I’ve missed, and if you feel you should be one of them, I agree entirely. I  can offer you a hug and these consolatory words:

“Wealth is like sea-water;
the more we drink,
the thirstier we become;
and the same is true of fame.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

ELTBites Challenge

November 20, 2011 § 6 Comments

ELT BITES is an English language teacher resource dedicated to sharing minimal resource activities that can complement and extend lessons at any level in any teaching context.”

Richard has suggested a challenge:

You are in class and all you have is a board pen/chalk, perhaps a coursebook, and the learners of course: NO photocopier and NO digital technologies. Describe an activity in 200 words.

Some have beaten me to it:
I’m learning English
B’s life in English
Teacher Training Unplugged
Thoughts and Ramblings

Concluding with his hearty belly laugh that always made me warm to him, my first ever DoS, an Italian bon vivant fluent in half a dozen languages, recounted how many moons ago a teacher colleague of his, an Irish guy with the gift of the gab, fed up to the back teeth with the highly structured drills which were the norm in the days before Halliday gave the world a more enlightened view of language, slightly modified the “this is a pen” drill the course book was dictating his students should be doing on his last ever lesson before fleeing the country with no forwarding address.

It was all set up, and worked perfectly, so that when their DoS, not like my friendly one, but a stern, authoritarian strode into the classroom in the following lesson and promptly held up a pen as a cue to his question “what is this?”, he was greeted by the compliant but unwitting students with the chorus:

“IT’S A BLOODY PEN!”

The activity:

Take a piece of student language – a word, chunk, sentence, right or wrong, but something that is at the forefront of their knowledge.

“The teacher’s primary function … is to optimise language affordances, by, for example, directing attention to features of emergent language”, as Scott and Luke write in Teaching Unplugged.

You’re going to work with it, improve it, make your learners aware of it, by highlighting words you can add to make it better, longer, more advanced.

It requires you to think on your feet, fly by the seat of your pants, as Candy describes dogme teaching.

And how can you record it?

That’s the good bit! Imagine breaking free from the linear straight-jacket, of mind and of hand you’ve been subjected to all your life. It’s as liberating as unshackling the chains of the linear progression of your course book.

On the board, make a language plant. (148)

Dolce et Gabbana

November 11, 2011 § Leave a comment


If you are lucky enough to be on Hello Cruel World‘s Alan Tait’s Skype contact list, you will see his tagline “dolce et gabbana est pro patria mori”. Funny, eh?

Today is Armistice Day. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent, as did many of us in the UK today at this time, marking the end of the war on the Western Front in Europe. We also wear paper poppies, pretty little red flowers which were able to take root in the churned up fields.

The image at the start has words from the last four lines of the poem by the war poet Wilfred Owen. In true Wordle style, can you piece words together, collocations, phrases, the whole sentence even?

Make your own image too!

The poem is entitled “Dulce et decorum est”, a line from Horace, a Latin staple of public school boys’ education, especially when there are wars to fight: “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”

“Dulce” – la dolce vita – “sweet”.
Decorum – also an English word, meaning right and proper behaviour – “fitting”.
“Pro” – pros and cons – “for”.
“Patria” – patriarch, so father, “fatherland”.
“Mori” – moribund, mortal, mortuary – “to die”.

“It is sweet and right to die for one’s country.” Alan, the buffoon, mixes it up with the fashion label Dolce e Gabbana!

Play with words here!

You can read the full poem here, but here are the last few lines, about a soldier dying from poison gas.

“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
Wilfred Owen

Busy Bears and Hungry Caterpillars

November 9, 2011 § 6 Comments

In a bright colourful school in sunny Sri Lanka, a private language school for Busy Bears, what goes down a treat is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. They love him, do those busy bears, you can imagine, and so that’s what Vini, the mother bear, and I had a go at on Skype the other day, making her first ever language plant.

Make a plant like Vini’s here!

Chiew has similarly taken to language plants with gusto. He’s come on leaps and bounds, I’m in serious danger of handing over my self-appointed status as the world’s leading expert in bending words to some upstart with only a couple of weeks’ experience under his belt. But I do so with gladness in my heart. A recent post of his got us to make a text, a linear text, from the plant he’d made from a lesson that uncovered lexis on electrical circuit breakers. Another post of his looked at modal verbs.

Make a plant like Chiews’s here!

A friend of mine, no names, is funny, he’s always asking faux questions. “Did you have a good weekend? I did, I went to this wonderful art gallery and met some fantastic people and just had such a great time!” The question is called faux – French for “false” – because they’re not really asking about your weekend, they want to tell you about theirs. I’ve done it. Hands up those who have never ;-).

So my faux question is: what’s a favourite EFL quote of yours? Before you answer, here’s one of mine, by Penny Ur, in Grammar Practice Activities, which is the language plant at the start:

“Repetition and interest are not mutually exclusive,
but they are not easily combined.”

In other words, we need to repeat if we want to improve. We can’t just encounter a word, or an idea once, and get it. Practice makes perfect, but as we’re always craving novelty, we have to vary the practice.

That’s what Chiew’s activity does. Learners can work with the plant and rearrange the words. And it’s the basis of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, repetition, with subtle variation, enough to keep us guessing. So here’s what Vini made. And I think those bears are going to love it!

On Monday,
the caterpillar ate one apple,
one green apple,
but he was still hungry.
On Tuesday,
the hungry caterpillar ate two apples,
two juicy green apples,
but he was still hungry.
On Wednesday,
the very hungry caterpillar ate three apples,
three crunchy juicy green apples,
but he was still hungry.

I’d like to combine interest and repetition!

Playing with “play”

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

This video shows you have to make the language plant at the bottom of the page, how to bend and twist and shape and place words.

I’ll have a go at that!

The following lesson may or may not have happened.

I play football.
You do? Are you good?
Not bad.
What sports do you play?
Tennis.
Good. What else can you play? Not a sport. Something else.
Err.
I play the piano.
Ahh! I play the guitar.
I play the violin.
OK, next lesson, no English, we make music!
Great!
Meraviglioso!
What else can you play?
Err.
You can play a sport – football, a musical instrument – piano, and … a game. I play chess.
Ahh! I play cards.
I play backgammon.
Really? I don’t play cards. I don’t play backgammon.
No?
No, I don’t play cards. I don’t play the guitar. I don’t play tennis.
Oh.
Oh.

OK, I’ll have a go. It seems easy enough.

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