Happy New Year

January 2, 2013 § 3 Comments

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Happy new year to my friends
and happy new year to my family.
Happy new year to those I am close to
and happy new year to those I am not close to.
Happy new year to those I hope to meet this year.
Happy new year to those who I will meet this year
and happy new year to those who I will never meet.
In fact, happy new year to everyone,
and of course, happy new year to you!

How to be a Genius (with a cabbage)

February 9, 2012 § 7 Comments

Some nice kind people “liked” my concept fan picture in my last post. This post is about making one, and how to be a genius as well. According to someone or other, if you can think of more than 8 things you can do with a cabbage in 2 minutes, besides cooking and eating it, you’re a genius.

So. Are you? A genius, I mean, not a cabbage. Take up the challenge. You’re allowed some latitude (i.e. wackiness), but the question stands: What can you do with a cabbage (besides cooking and eating it)?

Errr. Ooooh. Hmmmm.

Play football with it.

Good. Another?

Hit someone over the head with it.


Errr. Ooooh. Hmmmm. Eight seems a long way away, doesn’t it!

So let’s use a concept fan.

You said play football with it. Why?

Because it’s round. Round, so it could be a bowling ball if you carve out a few finger holes. Volleyball? Nope, too heavy. Play catch with it. Attach a message to it and roll it down a hill to your friend waiting at the bottom. (There’s no signal, in case you ask).

We said it was heavy, which is why you could hit someone with it. Break a window with it (if you want to burgle a house). Drop it on a rat. Stand on it to reach something at the back of the cupboard.

Heavy. A paperweight. A doorstop, keep a window open with it, one of those elegant sash windows. Drop it in a puddle to splash someone.

It’s green. Mash it up to make face camouflage (when you’re burgling the house). Paint a wall green. Dye your clothes green. Dye your ex’s clothes green.

What about stripping off the leaves? Use one as a fan (not a concept fan). That’s a good idea. But why? Why can a leaf be a fan? What properties does it have that make it a good fan? It’s large and flappy, it catches the wind. OK, so it could be a sail for a toy boat, or a handkerchief. It’s curved, so it could be a hat, or protection from the sun. Curved we said? A spoon for soup. Pick up a spider with it. A pooper-scooper for your dog.

How we doing?

24!! We’ve hardly started! What’s the one above genius-level? Surely they’ll have to invent a new category for us. A scatter-gun approach to generating ideas, the way we often think creative minds work, shooting off all over the place, you’ve either got it or you haven’t. Not at all. Far more effective is to be systematically, logically, predictably creative.

Try it with your students! I’m sure they can beat this paltry figure. You could even use the Genius Generator.

Beautiful People

January 5, 2012 § 12 Comments

“Where there is no struggle,
there is no progress.”
Frederick Douglass,
former slave, and social reformer

It’s funny to hear of old men from thousands of years ago, Ancient Greece or wherever, in uproar at the state of the youth of their time. Their quotes are as fresh today as they were then. I must admit though, I did chortle when some wrong answers were read out on the radio recently that 18-year-old students had written in their exam papers.

One was from the poem “Daffodils”, where the poet, William Wordsworth rejoices at the daffodils dancing in the breeze. The first line is particularly well-known in Britain, and what caused such outrage was a student’s answer to this gapfill:

“I wandered lonely as a ….”

Do you know what it is? Who or what could be lonely? More importantly, what does Wordsworth imagine as being lonely? It’s a good collocation activity.

“Sheep”, wrote one ignoramus.

Oh, woe! What is the world coming to?

Actually, it’s “a cloud, that floated on high o’er hill and dale”. A fluffy little white cloud, all alone in the deep summer sky, minding its own business. I can picture it now.

Cristina, who wonders, is looking for teachers to read to her little bunnies on Friday afternoons via Skype. Willy’s done one. I’ve signed up, they’d love you to, too, I’m sure.

I found the poem she tweeted a few months back, one of her favourites, very moving. I’ve made it a gapfill. Can you come up with suggestions for the gaps? (Hint: there are no sheep).

The answers are hidden in the language plant, but they’re given underneath in case you’re struggling. If you do struggle, well, you’re obviously progressing 😉

Could this activity be something you’d use in class? Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

“The most beautiful …… we have known
are those who have known defeat,
known ………, known struggle, known ….,
and have ….. their way out of the …….

These persons have an …………,
a sensitivity, and an …………. of life
that ….. them with compassion, ……….,
and a deep …… concern.
Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Elizabeth Kubler Ross

people, suffering, loss, found, depths,
appreciation, understanding, fills, gentleness, loving.

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:


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)

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?
Good. What else can you play? Not a sport. Something else.
I play the piano.
Ahh! I play the guitar.
I play the violin.
OK, next lesson, no English, we make music!
What else can you play?
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, I don’t play cards. I don’t play the guitar. I don’t play tennis.

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

A Word Cloud Blog Challenge

October 11, 2011 § 21 Comments

If I was a sales rep for Language Garden, I swear I’d have fired myself. I’ve talked myself out of sales of the current resource I have as I’ve raved about a brave new world where everyone, teachers and learners alike, not just me, makes their own language plants, to suit their own needs, and share with friends and strangers – or as we like to call them, friends we’ve yet to meet 😉 .

Plants of the people, by the people, for the people.

Well, stage 1 is here, and I’d like to propose a blog challenge. It’s simple enough: make your own word art – a language plant, a mind map or word cloud using the new language plant maker.

Seeing as there seems to be a large dogme contingent, how about an activity from Teaching Unplugged, “The lesson that was”? You just have to record language highlights from a lesson or activity that has already happened, a post-plan. I’ve done it, it’s the word cloud at the start of this blog.

Click this link, the language plant maker. If you need to install Silverlight, please do so. Most of you should have it already.

Click on the screen and type in a word.
To change the angle, click and drag the first or last letter of the word.
To bend or resize the word, click and drag on the two circles.
To change the colour of the word, you’ve got to click on the Bend circle first.
(Yes, there are a few things that aren’t as intuitive as we’d like; we’ll fix those. And don’t worry about colouring the words grammatically either – more colours to come.)
Finally, if a word goes haywire, just press delete on your keyboard and start again.

When you’re ready, and not before because the screen clears afterwards, click “Save as…” and give it a name. That’s yours now, forever, and all subsequent ones you make. If you’re happy to share, and of course we all hope you are, please publish it on your blog. Any discourse, comments, feelings you have and such, these are optional but most welcome too.

The tool is designed for you and your learners to use – easy and intuitive – that’s our mantra, my developer and I, either before or after a lesson, or better still, actually in class. I’m imagining your young learners fainting with excitement when you tell them to make a word cloud for ten minutes in groups and then present it to the others. Or for homework.

It’s not perfect yet, not by a long chalk, but it’s useable. My developer, he works full-time for someone else and does my development in his free time, he’s now got a month’s break from Language Garden to recharge his batteries. He’s dreading coming back. He thinks you’ll have all given me loads of new ideas. I hope so.

Thanks Rachel!

March 11, 2011 § 9 Comments

She’s only just moved in next door has Rachel, a friendly 18-year-old with Owen, her bonny 6-month-old baby with a smile that makes even the sternest of them go googoogaga. Within just a day or two of moving in, she’d dropped round with a bunch of flowers to introduce herself.

Today I found out that she’d come third a few years ago in a national design competition at school. She’d asked if Language Garden was patented, and used the more legal, but much less common pronunciation – “pat” rather than “pay”, unusual, I thought, for someone to say such a thing, one thing led to another, and I learned about her intriguing 3-D cup-holder puzzle.

She’d just popped by to say hello. I’ve got wires and leads everywhere at the moment, various audio contraptions, I’m making screenshot videos to guide people around Language Garden. I’ve had in mind for a while to record learners and me talking, with viewers being able to see what’s going on on the screen. Rather obligingly, Rachel agreed to be a guinea pig.

It’s lesson material, if you’d like. Chat about pastimes with them, then just play the video, learners would gain a lot from listening and watching, I’m sure. Then Puzzle, which you can all do yourselves as well. Level? Ooh, elementary, post-beginner with more support.

Let Your Love Grow…

February 11, 2011 § 10 Comments

Jeremy Harmer and Steve Bingham are performing their Touchable Dreams at the British Council next Tuesday. I’ve booked my place, and for my wife too. We’re looking forward to it, first spending time in London in the afternoon, then ambling over to what should be an inspirational workshop on how music and poetry can be used with all aspects of language learning. Mixing business and pleasure. My ideal trip.

Anyway, the invitation reminded me of a little language plant video I’d made last year when I had a bit of spare time on my hands. I dug it out, played it and smiled. I liked it.

You may find a place for this toe-tapping tune in one of your lessons. The simplest activity is to play the extract a couple of times, and then see if your learners can work out and write out the lyrics using the language plant, similar to Mike’s activity a few weeks ago about the Holocaust, but in reverse.

Singing and line dancing permitted, recommended even.


“There’s a reason for the sunshine in the sky
There’s a reason why I’m feeling so high
Must be the season when that love light shines all around us

Just let your love flow like a mountain stream
And let your love grow with the smallest of dreams
And let your love show and you’ll know what I mean
It’s the season

Let your love fly like a bird on the wing
And let your love bind you to all living things
And let your love shine and you’ll what I mean
That’s the reason.”

Bellamy Brothers

A Poem By Jeremy Harmer

January 11, 2011 § 14 Comments

These last few days, I had been getting the urge to write my first post in a while. I had in mind a number of topics, having heard some wonderfully enlightening programmes on television and radio, not least on the barbaric experiments by the behaviourists Pavlov and Skinner, and the research showing multitasking to be less efficient than focusing solely on one thing at a time. Then there was the programme on the South, the southern states of the United States, where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. “You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream,” we were reminded. What spurred me out of inaction was reading English Raven’s comprehensive list of activities to go with Jeremy Harmer’s recital of his beautiful poem Knocking and Pulling from Touchable Dreams, with Steve Bingham on violin. The combination of poetry and music like this takes language input to an all together grander, more inspirational, spiritual level. The language plant at the start of this post is of this poem.

Language plants inhabit the huge void between having the full text at hand, and having nothing at all to support the ear. The A and B gapfills that Jeremy provides are another example of filling this, with a reason to listen and interact deeply ingrained in there too.

I love considering rewording things I hear and read, mixing and matching words and phrases, making use of cohesive devices like repetition, ellipsis, anaphora and cataphora. As soon as “and” is used for example, there’s an opportunity crying out for ellipsis or repetition, to speak what the author chose not to, and to change the original. As Jason observes, this poem has a lot of repetition, and is full of affordances for language work. Here are two:

“All this knocking and pulling and turning out”

could be:

“All this knocking and
all this pulling and
all this turning out”

Why did Jeremy choose the former and not the latter? Which do you prefer? Personally, I’m edging towards the second, it’s got a punchier rhythm, but the questions are infinitely more important than any answer. To know that both are possible is enlightening enough.

“Hey carpenter, make me a coffin,
a small coffin
of perfumed wood”

could become:

“Hey carpenter, make me a small coffin,
one of perfumed wood”

Here, I prefer Jeremy’s, but I’m glad I tried something else nevertheless; it makes me appreciate all the more his choice.

The poem has numerous more bits of language to get your teeth into, and using the language plant is a fluid way of trying them out. The new language plant maker is ever closer to completion. It lets anyone and everyone make language plants online really easily, well, not just language plants, but mind maps, or any other image one may wish to make with words. It’s eagerly awaited by some schools and local authorities, and in my mind’s eye, I can see them adopting it enthusiastically across all the curriculum, and blowing the seeds far and wide. That’s my dream.

You can kill the dreamer,
but you can’t kill the dream.

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