Special Together #KindnessHunt

Every school year begins with the same project for my younger learners: a lively language hunt, which is then held every two weeks around the area they live in, as learners form groups and head off to discoveries together.

It takes some time of course to organize, so I usually get in touch with local stores, schools and the -amazing- people who are to take part around August. During September, I put my creative shoes on and try to come up with different routes around the areas, various generic clues to be filled in accordingly when lessons start and progress and, by the end of the month, everything is ready for my little hunters.
It’s always a great opportunity for them to practise what we learn together, only outside our safe circle this time, and a wonderful way to involve their parents in the learning process.

Usually those language hunts stop somewhere before Christmas break and recommence in the new year; it has always seemed to me necessary to pause them during that time, thinking that students would have already been ‘overworked’ and tired.

Things evolved differently this year, however. My kids were thrilled with the hunts and even before November properly came, they were asking where they would be “hunting” for Christmas. I felt that, having already prepared in my head our seasonal project ideas, somehow we would have exhausted the theme, and wondered if we should do more; probably a combination of worry for the students and also myself (still feel I’ve been in need of a long, quiet break for some time now).
Then on one fine morning, I woke to a Facebook notification (to which I have not reacted yet, sustaining in my love-hate relationship with social media) that my dear friend Josette had added me to a group; do you know that moment, the very moment, when everything falls into place? When the puzzle forms into the whole picture – that moment.

The “People Being Nice” group set me off on a path of ideas and, eventually, I settled on organizing a Kindness Hunt for my young ones. In spite of my initial worries that it would not work for a million different reasons, particularly being organised on such short notice, this hunt was ready to welcome my enthusiastic, active learners this week, leading all the way to Christmas day.
In fact, everyone who usually gets involved was eager to participate and each invited more; colleagues, friends, family, the neighbours. Kindness to the power of n.

I’ve been following my young hunters around to be part of their sharing and receiving of kindness and will update this post later on with those magnificent gifts.

You can use or share the clues I prepared for this special hunt from here. They’re specific to the areas here in Athens of course, but feel free to adjust them or get inspiration to create your own.

To close for now, I want to immensely thank each and every wonderful person who helped make this possible and real:

-My kids and their families for their persistence, enthusiasm and love.

-The awesome fellow educators in the local schools – Marianna, Nikoletta, Evi, Antonis, Stavros, Sofia, Liana and Agapi you all make this world a great place to be in!

-The happy kiosk owners and their families, Michalis, Joanna and Giorgos.

-Emilia, Stathis, Giorgos, Anthi and Marina, the effortlessly smiling bank clerks.

-Our superb local café owners and staff, Foteini, Litsa, Andrianna, Sofoklis, Rallou, Jenny, Katia, Michalis and Giannis.

-Amalia, Kostas, Giorgos, Sevasti, Maria, Anna and Nikos, the persistently cheerful store owners.

-The tireless train station security guards, Kostas and Vasilis and their families.

-Father Ioannis of our local church and his family.

-Every random passerby who got caught up in our hunt and helped spread the kindness!

-Josette, for unwittingly igniting this and for being who she is.

I couldn’t help it here but think of Jan Morris’s answer during an interview I watched recently (and I’m almost sure I remember it correctly):
“What is your secret to a long, happy life?”
“Kindness. Be kind.”

Happy holidays and keep spreading the good out there!

 

#Gamers in my class – Teaching through games Vol.2

My previous post on teaching through games was focused more on introducing games as an alternative homework assignment or quick activity for the end of class. A Vol.2 is necessary and is dedicated to my wonderful gamers who come to class fully equipped and enthusiastic!
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Some students just adore games – I daresay more than I do (!). They send me links to every game they try out so I can have a turn, they are surprisingly resourceful with ideas for activities and they make me proud every step of the way with knowing much more than I did when I was their age – keep forgetting, we’ve got digital natives to work with, so we’d better shape up!

Ok, game design isn’t exactly language teaching, but to me it’s definitely one of the greatest, most fun ways to practise what we’ve learned and take it a step further (not to mention digital skills practice!). We work together on lots of different projects and I thought I’d share some in this post.

My young ones have been working in our group on GameStar Mechanic.
Those #ClassicChampions (as my four A2 students have decided to call themselves!) have been doing really well on this platform and keep coming up with new ideas for more difficult games and levels. Safety comes first, so for the time being all projects on the Gamestar platform are posted onto my personal account (Kryftina).

Our first game:

#ClassicChampions first ever attempt on Gamestar Mechanic!

#ClassicChampions first ever attempt on Gamestar Mechanic!

Our current project:

 

Teens though are always up for more challenging work, so Jim, Alex and Antonis (levels B1 to C1) have been testing their skills on Morrowind construction set and mod creation. Not everybody’s cup of tea and truly difficult to get your head around, but they love it and the results are really impressive. Can’t wait for them to publish their finalized projects! Here’s a little taste:

 

#Sleuths in my class – Teaching through games Vol.1

Most, if not all, of the material I use in my classes is decided upon after the first three or four lessons. It’s very important to me to know my students’ tastes and interests, so I can provide them with an easy-going and uplifting learning process. I want my lessons to be meaningful, powerful and fun and I want them to be remembered!
I try to incorporate a variety of materials in every course, from music and poetry to newspapers and social media, but I’ve discovered only one thing can guarantee success: games. Regardless of age and level, all my students have shown a great interest in gaming as a way to learn. Being mad about games myself has been very helpful, as I have a wide selection to suit all tastes. Have a look at some of my favourites on List.ly.

ND_Silhouette originally from http://www.herinteractive.com/

Silhouette originally from http://www.herinteractive.com/

The first ever game homework I assigned was back in 2008, while teaching a group of five 13 year-old girls at level CEFR B1. We were about half way through our coursebook when they asked me if we could ”skip” the unit coming up, or at least the reading and speaking sections, as they were about computer games. ”That’s not for us”, they informed me. My immediate – but suppressed – reaction was to talk that idea out of them. I think I mumbled ”why?”, sotto voce, which thankfully went unnoticed. Instead of going into a fiery lecture defending pc games, I decided to agree to skip that unit, under one condition: they would try out a computer game. I let them moan and protest, as the idea had already taken shape in my head: it was time for the sleuth to come forward.
I still remember the two weeks that followed that lesson; we dedicated them to Nancy Drew and her adventures and they were the greatest lessons we’d ever had as a group. It wasn’t so much that those girls were now hooked on what they used to call a ”boys’ thing”, or that they actually learned through a game. That is a fact in my mind.
What I loved about this the most was that they learned to think twice before they dismiss an idea and I got to see first hand the results of an alternative approach to teaching.

These days, Nancy Drew still finds her way through my lessons in lots of different ways, depending on interests, needs and time available. I use HerInteractive games throughout my courses and have a set of three main activities for each ( listed from most to least time-consuming):

1. Finish a chapter ( set of five or six tasks) in the game and present your mindmap (how you solved it) in class
Goals: Revise vocabulary & functions / practise communication & presentation skills / explore & use digital tools 
2. Finish a task in the game, explain why it was/wasn’t easy and try to predict what will happen next
Goals: Revise vocabulary & functions / practise speaking-giving explanations / storytelling – making predictions
3. Finish an online mini-game. Can you remember at which part of the original game it’s found and what happened after that?
Goals: Practise timed activities / memory training / using Past tenses

I also usually assign three follow-up activities that work well either as individual tasks or as group projects (for groups of two or three students):

– Who’s Nancy Drew? Create a presentation for your family/friends/schoolmates
(Practice: effective web search, decision-making, story-boarding, use of English, editing, digital tools, presentation skills)
-The Nancy Drew Challenge. How many of the #Weekend Puzzles have you solved?
(Practice: getting social, testing skills, using English)
-The Idioms Hunt. How many English idiomatic expressions can you find in the [game title]? Make as many sentences as you can using them.
(Practice: identifying, learning and using English idioms)

I normally suggest several different websites and tools to help out each student, but always let them choose what suits them best. So far, their favourites include Oxford Dictionaries, Wikipedia, Google Cultural Institute, CoggleMindomo, Zoho Docs and Glogster.

Gaming plays-and will continue to play- a big role in the future of ELT and I’m always excited when educators around the world discover or re-discover ways of using games while teaching and then share their experience. To keep up to date, I usually refer to Gamification Wiki and Learning through Digital Games, as well as to great posts by ELTJam and ELT Sandbox (If anyone knows of other relevant blogs or pages, please leave a comment below with a link!). I can’t say I’m using game mechanics fully yet, but it’s an idea truly worth exploring.

*Update: two of my lovely girls shared some of their work (Annie used Chrome’s MindMaps and Marina chose Coggle), have a look:

Tongue-twisters for the EFL classroom

One of the few “issues” I’ve had to come up with solutions for has been finding an activity to cover the last 5-10 minutes of a young learners class after completing the lesson. Since I have scheduled game playing for three times per week and it takes up about 20 minutes each time, something quick was necessary here, but what?

Tongue twisters are well known among Greek students as a fun learning practice in their native language, so why not use them for learning English as well? They are simply great – students love them and they get to practise their pronounciation, vocabulary and understanding of the English language while doing something fun. Tongue twister competitions are becoming increasingly popular among my students and I was thrilled to discover, first the International Collection of Tongue Twisters and then the wonderful section on British Council LearnEnglishKids-Tongue-Twisters, where students listen to the tongue twister and try to repeat it (if only they had put up more of them!).

Here’s some of my students’ favourites:

“I can think of six thin things, but I can think of six thick things too.”

“The great Greek grape growers grow great Greek grapes.”

“If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?”

“One-one was a race horse.
Two-two was one too.
One-one won one race.
Two-two won one too.”

“If you notice this notice, you will notice that this notice is not worth noticing.”

My all-time favourite is the following little story:

“This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody, when Nobody did, what Anybody could have done.”

Maybe not a tongue twister as such, but serves the same purpose – as students have to remember all of it and make sure they don’t mix up the pronouns!

Having fun with Stative Verbs – worksheet

A quick and fun activity for stative verbs I created with one of my B1+ classes (at Globe Language Centre) after finishing the first unit of our coursebook (Close Up) We cut out the words and start by putting the verbs under the correct headline.  Students then come up with examples for each verb.

StativeVerbsGame

This game is also wonderful in the way it has inspired students of different levels: -Our “TheArtofEnglish” workgroup (with students at levels A2 through B2) has turned it into a magnetic board game! -Our “PeerLearning” workgroup ( students at B2,C1 and C2 levels) are currently brainstorming on how to turn it into a mobile app! As always, everyone is welcome to try it out and send me feedback. 

Fun with the English Alphabet!

Teaching the English alphabet is the first step and can sometimes be a difficult task …letters that don’t exist in the students’ native language or are pronounced differently can prove quite challenging.
Apart from using flashcards and interactive media (most coursebooks nowadays provide teachers with numerous activities on iwb) to introduce the alphabet to young students, why not try an all-time classic? A puzzle, of course!

For this activity, I chose “Giant Alphabet”, a beautifully illustrated floor puzzle*:

www.orchardtoys.com

 

It should take you about 15 minutes to complete the activity with a group of 6-8 students. Make sure you’ve got enough space on the floor for everyone to sit around and keep the puzzle cover hidden. Divide students into groups and put all the puzzle pieces upside-down right next to the playing area.
Teams take turns to flip over one puzzle piece at a time and put it in the right place. The winning team is the one who put down the most pieces correctly.
You can make the game more challenging by awarding points for each correct answer and keeping the scores.
This puzzle is also great for review activities, look them up in the coming-up posts.

Try it out and I hope you enjoy!

(*if you’re based in Greece, you can also get this puzzle here)