My submission to the IH LP competition

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I tried my hand at International House’s Lesson Plan Competition which is a part of their year-long 60th anniversary celebrations and whadyaknow, I came in third place (yayyyyy) but didn’t actually win anything (noooo). Sigh … as Edie Masey, one of my favourite demented characters from a John Waters film once said “Well, you can’t be lucky everyday.” ¬†Plus I do have my very own ELT first aid box ūüôā

You’ll find my lesson plan here. ¬†Let me know what you think – the challenge was to use the theme “sixty” and follow the IH approach to lesson planning closely as laid out in their sample lesson. ¬†I have to admit that in retrospect I only paid any attention to “sixty” in my lead-in. ¬†Maybe, I should have bombarded the poor Ss with all things “sixty” at every stage of the lesson.

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Sometimes what you say doesn’t really matter | A dialogue activity

I’ve been attending a lot of drama-related workshops recently. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the second installment of Writing through Movement – this time with Yuki Ellias and popular playwright, Mahesh Dattani. ¬†As usual, one activity stood out for me for its ability to engage learners and deliver a powerful aha moment.

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Materials: Photocopies of whichever dialogue you choose to use.

Procedure: 

1. Divide Ss into pairs. Distribute the dialogue and ask Ss to commit it to memory (they should learn the lines for both A & B).

2. Give each pair 5 minutes to discuss and create a setting in which they can enact the dialogue. There are some rules they need to follow:

  • They can’t introduce any additional words or lines.
  • They can’t provide any context before performing.
  • They can’t use any physical objects; they must mime any props they require.
  • They can’t involve anyone else in the performance.

3. Have each pair perform their dialogue in front of the rest of the Ss.

4. Debrief by asking Ss about what they observed and what brought the dialogue to life.

Although each pair will say the same words, the result will be very different. By using the voice, body language and action, some pairs will completely transform the dialogue into something enigmatic, hilarious or magnificent . In the workshop I attended, one pair set dialogue 1 in a prison with an inmate on death row Рreally moving stuff; another had an at home scene with a constipated husband on the commode.  The best performances will be those where Ss interact effectively with each other and their imaginary setting and the objects it contains.

The activity is meant to teach writers how dialogue, which they may pour their souls into, may not be as important as the setting, characters and objects that surround it. However, I reckon the activity holds an important lesson for teachers. Our approach to language with its focus on form and lexicon puts Ss at a disadvantage when it comes to “performing” in real life – situations where your non-verbal skills and proxemics may be far more important in helping you stand apart. ¬†Sometimes, what you say doesn’t really matter.¬†

Variations

  • With advanced Ss, while they are performing, impose new constraints or settings on them e.g., you’re the same husband and wife going about your morning routine but now you’re in a leaky little boat in the middle of the Pacific.
  • Insist that Ss deliver their lines as they perform the actions instead of separating the two which is what most non-actors will do.
  • While Ss are performing, have them suddenly swap roles so A becomes B and B becomes A.

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Dialogue 1

A: Two eggs

B: Yes

A: Brown bread toast

B: Yes

A: Two slices

B: Yes

A: Orange juice

B: Yes

A: Freshly squeezed

B: Yes

A Masala chai

B: Yes

A: Without sugar

B: No

Dialogue 2

A: It’s over

B: No

A: Finished

B: No

A: Khatam*

B: No

A: Tomorrow

B: Yes

*Khatam in Hindi means ‘finished’

My ELT Survival Kit

Thank you everyone for helping me win the OneStopEnglish ELT Survival Story contest. A far larger box than I anticipated arrived from England yesterday and I was presented with this view when I opened it.

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The box contained a first aid kid, Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT (a book I’ve always wanted to own) and three Macmillan readers.

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And this is what was on the inside. Mostly stationery and some random items like Tic-Tac.  The baby highlighters are fantabulous though Рnever seen anything like it in India.

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Does anyone have any bright ideas for putting the first aid box to use in the classroom? I’d hate for it to lie around rusting in our salty, humid air.

Improv & ensemble storytelling activities

Last month, I attended a day long improv and ensemble storytelling workshop.  The goal of the program was ostensibly teamwork but there was lots of potential for application in the ELT classroom. Improv has the ability to help participants become less inhibited, test the boundaries of their comfort zones, create better connections with others, listen more actively and become more conscious about actions and speech. Ensemble storytelling helps participants build  stories collectively and create discussion-provoking tableaus. These are useful outcomes for any language classroom.

I’m going to describe the activities as I remember them. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with ways of using them in your classroom. Most of these activities should be done without footwear to ensure that no one gets stomped on.

1. Foot 2 foot obstacle course 

Pair Ss and ask them to sit facing each other in two circles. So you have an inner circle and an outer circle. Ss in the inner circle sit facing their partner in the outer circle. Now, ask them to put their legs out such that their soles are touching their partners’ so they create a diamond shape between their legs. You’ll now have a foot to foot obstacle course. Give each pair a number. When a number is called out, the pair get up and start running through the obstacle course, ensuring that they are not stomping on anyone and only placing their feet in the space created between people’s legs.

  • Outcomes: Energize Ss and break the ice.

2. The “you” pattern game¬†

This one’s going to sound a little complicated but it was perhaps the most enjoyable activity of the day. ¬†You shouldn’t have more than 12 people playing this game and if you fewer than 6, it might not be all that challenging. ¬†If you have a large group, you can divide them into smaller circles – we had three circles of 11 or 12 people.

  • The basic pattern: In your circle, ask everyone to raise their hand and point their index fingers at the ceiling. T starts the game by lowering his/her hand and pointing to someone in the circle while saying “you”. ¬†This person then points to someone else while saying “you”. ¬†Play continues until everyone gets to lower their hand and say “you” to someone – no repeats allowed – the last person points to the T and passes the “you” back to him/her. Ask the Ss if they remember who they received the “you” from and who they passed it to because they are going to stick with these people. Play two more rounds so Ss become comfortable and encourage them to go faster.
  • The second pattern: Tell the Ss that they are now going to practice a different pattern. Point to someone (different than the first round) and say your favourite breakfast food/dish. Repeat procedure until everyone’s pointed to someone and said a favourite breakfast item (no repetition of people being pointed at or food). Start the “you” pattern and about 30 seconds in, begin the breakfast pattern so you have two patterns going at the same time. Ss will generally drop one. Encourage them to concentrate and keep the momentum with both.
  • The third pattern: Now introduce a third pattern – favourite animal or superhero. If Ss master this quickly, move on to the finale.
  • Finale: Tell the Ss they’ve had it easy till now because all they had to do was memorize where the “word” came from and where it was going so it didn’t really involve genuine concentration. In this round, when someone points to them and says “you” or a “breakfast item”, you need to swap places with them. Begin again with the “you” pattern and gradually introduce the second pattern before bringing in the third. At first, it will be completely chaotic but after some time, most Ss will be able to get into the kind of “flow” described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book of the same name. At that point, it might look like they are performing a contemporary dance.
  • Outcomes: Energy, focus, teamwork, concentration, flow, momentum, intonation, supporting each other, being fully engaged.

3. Yes and …¬†

Have all the Ss sit down and ask 3 or 4 to come and stand where everyone can see them. These Ss stand in a line facing the audience. The audience needs to give them a product to sell and those in the “yes and …” line say things that describe or promote the product. However, they cannot confer with each other and each person says their lines spontaneously. Here’s how it plays out:

  • The audience asks those in the “yes and …” line to sell a toothbrush.
  • All four Ss step up and pump the air with the fists while saying “Yes and” and then step back.
  • One of the Ss steps forward and says “Yes and … this is a magical toothbrush that grants you a wish every fortnight.” ¬†While this Ss steps back, everyone in the line says “Yes and …” and another Ss steps forward and adds his/her line.
  • Ss will try to choreograph each other by conferring, guiding, forcing others to say something etc. Don’t let them to do this. Some of them will also contradict each other by saying “No and …”. Stop the activity, tell the Ss that the reaction should always be positive “Yes and …” and ask them to do it over.
  • Outcomes: Building on each other’s ideas, spontaneity, creativity, fluency, allowing autonomy of action, not stage-managing other people’s words or actions, not seeing the way in your head as the only¬†¬†right way, going with the flow and lots of other things.

4. Affinity … to me¬†

You need a slightly larger space for this activity. It would work well outdoors. Demonstrate by calling out something you like a lot, for example, “dogs”. Everyone who likes dogs runs to you and forms a tight huddle and those who don’t like dogs need to get as far away as possible. The game is spontaneous. Anyone can call something out and if you have an affinity for that thing – you run over to them and if not, you run away.

  • Outcome: Getting to know each other, energy, taking initiative.

5. My enemy 

Ask everyone to silently and subtly choose someone in the room. They must not let this person know (in any way) that they have been chosen. This person is their enemy.  Ask them to now choose another person. This person is their guardian. At all points of time, they must keep their guardian between themselves and their enemy.  Play for a few minutes before asking Ss to switch perspectives Рtheir enemy is now their guardian and vice versa.

  • Outcome: Dealing with change, thinking about how we view people

6.  Samurai

Ask Ss to hold their right (or left) hand out vertically so it’s folded up at their elbow. They need to form a fist but put their little finger out. Tell them that they are samurai warriors and this is their katana, their traditional sword. At all points of time, their hand must be held up and out as if it were a sword with their pinkie sticking out. ¬†The objective of the game is to kill others in the room by using your sword. Samurais can only die if some part of their torso is touched by another warrior’s pinkie finger. Ss can only defend and block using their sword. Start the game by asking everyone to raise their swords and striking the floor while making the noise of steel against ground. Then, stand back and watch the battle. Those who are killed should fall to the floor and play dead.

  • Outcome: Getting into character, strategy, playing by the rules

7. Letter by letter

Divide the Ss into groups of three or four. Write seven letters on the whiteboard, avoid tougher ones like X, Y & Z. Call out a letter by crossing it out and announcing a time limit of one or two minutes depending on the level of the Ss. Ss need to write out a story within the time limit but there are some rules. Each group member can only contribute one word at a time and they must write this word on their piece of paper. Ss shouldn’t influence each other or compel their group members to write something they don’t want to. Each word that is contributed must begin with the letter called out for that round. For examples, all the words in the story begin with “t”, including function words. When the timer runs out, call out the next letter and so on. Finally, have groups pick a person to read out their story using their voice and eye contact to bring it to life.

  • Outcome: Building on each other ideas, collaboration, avoiding helpful sentence completion, letting others think for themselves, encouraging team members while letting them be themselves, creative writing, working under constraints, making the most of the voice.

8. Freeze frame

Divide the Ss into larger groups of between 5 and 7 people per group. Ask them to sit together and share experiences that were life-changing or life-affirming in some way. ¬†They then need to construct seven tableaus that narrate the story. These are frames where there is no movement and no dialogue. ¬†Give Ss ten minutes to design and practice their frames. Each frame must include everyone from the group. Point out that each person doesn’t need to be a character – they could also be objects or a part of the setting.

When everyone’s ready, get Ss to sit down on one side of the room. Get the first group to come up and ask Ss to put their heads down so they can no longer see the are the performance is taking place. The group quietly gets into position for their first frame. Say “freeze frame” and have everyone look at the frame. Then says “heads down” and the group gets into the next frame and so on. ¬†At the end of the seven frames, ask observing groups to reconstruct the story, reflect on what they liked about the frames and which details they found most enjoyable or memorable.

  • Outcome: Teamwork, collaboration, being resourceful, using everyone in the group, storytelling, visualization, coordination.

9. My story for the future

In the workshop, the facilitators asked us to pretend that human civilization will have to undergo some world-changing tribulations in the near future. As a result of this, we will lose most of our repositories of knowledge, culture and stories. Ask Ss to think of a story that has significance for them and bequeath this to the people of the future by preserving it in an abstract sculpture we will launch into space. The facilitators got us to write (most people wrote names of books or movies) our story titles on thin pieces of wood which had grooves so they fit into each other. When we were done, they invited us to construct the sculpture so it became a piece of installation art.

I think the activity would have been more powerful if Ss had written their own stories on the piece of wood. It could be a story inspired by an existing narrative or one that is somehow significant to them – but something that people from our future would find moving, funny or interesting and would become a treasured addition to a culture that is bereft of stories. Instead of wooden squares, you could create the same effect with cardboard from old boxes. I tried, it works as long as the cardboard is a little thick – saw 4 grooves into it where it could be connected to other squares.

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I hope you have as much fun facilitating these activities as I did participating in them!

A Summary of Russell Stannard’s talk at the British Council Mumbai

Russel StannardRarely do ELT celebs grace us back-of-beyonders with their presence and rarer still is a visit by someone who’s been making a difference in the lives of educators for yonks and not charging a dime for it. Although Russell Stannard’s talk titled ‘Tools that can really impact our teaching and learning’ at the British Council Mumbai was scheduled right in the middle of a weekday, I just knew I had to attend.

The audience seemed to (comme d’habitude) mostly comprise school teachers. ¬†I tried to take some pictures but that is definitely not one of my strengths. Also Russell likes to dance while he’s talking; while it’s endearing, it didn’t make it any easier to get clear images.¬†He spoke about three free tools: myBrainshark, Jing and Present.me.

I’m familiar with all three and use the first one extensively but Russell shared some nifty ideas for tweaking how you approach and use these tools. Here is a summary of his talk from earlier today:

1. myBrainshark

This is versatile tool that allows you to add audio narrations to documents. You upload your presentation and for each slide, record narration. So, you could ask Ss to record their voices as narration for their own slides and send it to the instructor or peers for feedback. This could be a good way for them to prepare for an important presentation. Teachers could also use myBrainshark for blended learning by getting Ss to go through concepts at home and using class time for processing.

The document that you upload could also be a picture. For example, you upload an image that’s connected to you in some way and then introduce yourself to your peers by recording the audio as a voice over for the image. Then share the brainshark with everyone before the course begins.¬†You may need to demo how to use the tool in class. Alternatively, you can create a brainshark showing Ss how to use it.

For large classes, you can get Ss to create brainsharks in teams and as a part of group activities. It’s particularly useful for developing oral skills because you can get Ss to do the speaking activity at home in a way that enables you to give them feedback. Russell has used myBrainshark for teaching practice too, getting trainee teachers to reflect on lessons they have delivered. He suggested that oral reflections are often stronger than written ones. For example, in a teaching practice activity, Ss use some form of technology (his illustration used the erstwhile Wallwisher). The instructor then sends a presentation to them – each slide contains a reflection question. Ss then upload the deck to myBrainshark and record their responses to the questions on the slide. ¬†Apparently, you can get a lot more information from Ss on their experiences working with the group or the activity.

The site is free but restricts users to 15 minute videos. You’ll need to sign up and it’s possible to limit access so only your Ss see their peers’ brainsharks. Russell also said that the tool is reliable and works effectively on slow connections as well.

2. Jing

This is a screen capture application that records what happens on your computer screen along with narration i.e. whatever you’re saying while you move your mouse around, click, highlight, type etc.

You can use it for video feedback or screen capture feedback i.e. a video of the teacher correcting the learner’s work. Russell initially did this with distance education Ss who would send him essays. He would then use Jing to create a video of his screen as he corrects the essay and provides feedback.

The feedback is both visual and aural  and it allows you to provider far richer feedback because writing as fast as you speak is next to impossible. You could also do video feedback with a blog. So you open up the URL and then highlight sections as you provide feedback.

Another useful application involves using Jing to do error correction and give the class collective feedback. During a lesson, you notice a pattern of errors and you make a note of it. You open up an MsWord document and write & talk about a grammar point while recording it on Jing. Then share it with Ss. It could also be used to give feedback on pronunciation. You list some words in an MsWord document, record yourself saying the words while marking stress.

These are teacher-led uses of Jing but you could also get Ss to use the application. For example, you give out an assignment which involves using Jing to talk about a famous person while their photo is up on the screen.  So you can do a lot of practice in class but then get Ss to go home and do their recordings.  Other Ss-led activities on Jing include:

  • Talking about a timeline
  • Discussing a website
  • Creating some training
  • Reflection
  • Talking about a picture
  • Commentary on a video
  • Telling a story

The completed screen capture video gets uploaded to the cloud (screencast.com). This is a Jing server in the US which has an upper limit of 2GB per user. Each video can’t be longer than 5 minutes which is alright because people can’t really listen to more than 5 minutes at a time.

3. Present.me 

This site lets you upload a presentation and then add your webcam so your video appears alongside the presentation, sort of like the video lectures in Coursera. This could be used with all the techniques discussed under myBrainshark except that you also have the additional video element; two students could interview each other based on questions in a presentation or the teacher records the lesson and posts it online. ¬†You can’t download the videos and the site can sometimes be quite slow.

Here’s a link to Russell’s goldmine of a site.Russel Stannard 2

 

Help my story win!

My submission for the One Stop English Survival Story contest has been nominated as one of the top three entries. To win, I need to get enough votes from visitors to the site and I am trailing … badly!

Poll

Please help me win by visiting this ¬†link¬†and voting for my story ‘COPPING IT‘. Voting ends on July 17. ¬†Thanks a million ūüôā