Tag Archives: ELT

Stories from #EdYOUfest 2016

In the midst of my year off, and through a rather unexpected turn of events, I found myself in Italy in the middle of August 2016, on the hottest days of summer. One of the reasons I was there was to attend #EdYOUfest in Sicily. I had heard about EdYOUfest online and also from Chuck Sandy while I was in Japan, and after a great deal of thought, I decided to change my travel plans and take a leap of faith. I booked a flight to Europe.

There are many, many good things about EdYOUfest – many, many things that I truly enjoyed. I tried to sample everything. I woke up early and went to yoga every morning. Dora was a patient yoga instructor, and I was a complete newbie who kept falling over, and it was totally worth giving up an hour of sleep for. One of the sessions I learned the most from was Julie’s “zero resource” classroom. I learned how much you can make from nothing, and how to look at nothing and see resources galore. I learned how to turn any space into a learning space. Sasha’s session on brains and memory left me thoughtful, and I am still thinking of it to this day. Philip’s NVC sessions awakened a part of me that I was soon to need. In short, everything was amazing.

But what was most valuable for me were the friends I met and the discussions we had outside the classrooms. In the company of these other teachers from all over the world, everything seemed possible. Ideas came to life and creativity flowed. And I needed to write. So I began asking for story prompts. Here are a few of the stories that resulted. I wrote them just for fun.


Writing my stories at EdYOUfest. (Photo by Jayne de Sesa)


Dying from Eating Cannoli (Roberta’s prompt)

Micky sat at the table, in the same seat he sat in every meal, every day, every year for the past 73 years. Today was special. He felt his toes tingle with excitement. His butler came in with a covered platter.

As you requested, sir.

Thank you. Please take the night off.

Yes, sir.

The butler disappeared.

Micky uncovered the silver platter to reveal three perfect cannoli. Each side was overflowing with sweet ricotta, one with chocolate pieces, one with orange rind, one plain. Micky took a small jar from his inside jacket pocket. Removing the lid, he sprinkled the contents on the plain cannolo. Replacing the jar, he straightened his tie. He brushed off his cuffs.

It’s time, he said to the empty room.

Slowly he ate the cannoli one by one, saving the special one for last. Then he closed his eyes and smiled and waited.

And waited.

His butler peered through the keyhole smiling as Micky fell asleep. He had replaced his boss’s “secret” jar with cinnamon the day before, dumping the original contents out the garden window. The only one who’d be dying from eating cannoli today was the chicken.


The Suitcase was Full and Heavy (Dora’s Prompt – original story)

I’m bored and hungry, said Fili. He was standing in the corner in his usual place. In the closet around him were a variety of forgotten things: coats with pockets filled with tissue, worn-out hats, umbrellas with missing spines. Fili was old, too, but at least he was whole – he had wheels that rolled smoothly, a hard shell, and a cavernous belly. Now that belly was empty, and it had been for far too long – but the seed of thought had been planted and a new trip was in store.The closet door opened.

That old suitcase should be in the corner, Sasha instructed. Hands grabbed Fili and tugged him out of the closet. Excitement made his wheels tingle.

What’s the combination, Mom? Asked Mike.

Your birthday, Sasha smiled.

Fili lay open, exposed to the warm sunlight filling the room.

We’ll need these clothes and your sneakers, Sasha began. And sunblock and toothpaste.

Slowly Fili was filled with things to begin a trip. He wondered where they were going. To the beach? Camping? A resort by the lake? Maybe a 5-star hotel in Prague! Fili dreamed about new places until his lid was slammed shut. Mike sat on him until the latch caught and then snapped the buckles in place and twisted the numbers on the metal lock.

All ready! Sasha said and Mike lifted Fili upright. Let’s go to the airport. Our flight to Greece leaves at 4:30. Greece! Fili was so excited. He was full and heavy, and as happy as he had ever been.


The Happiest Goldfish (I don’t remember where this prompt came from)

Valerie was the happiest goldfish in the world. She lived in a small pond behind the Baker house. Tommy Baker had filled the pond with brightly colored stones, and Marie Baker came out every morning to drop food in. Valerie loved her colorful home.

One day, Marie did not come. Valerie didn’t mind. She wasn’t that hungry. Marie missed the next day as well. Valerie ate moss from the rocks. The following day, Valerie began to worry. She ate moss and bugs, but she missed her fish flakes. What would happen when the moss was gone? But Marie still did not come.

Valerie grew tired of bugs. The moss grew back, but Valerie was tired of that, too. She swam more and more slowly, noticing how dull her colorful stones had become. She found she didn’t care. Letting herself go, she turned onto her back and floated to the top of the pond. The dark clouds gathering above her were the last things she saw.


“Life is a strange thing; just when you think you’ve learned how to use it, it’s gone.” (Sasha’s prompt)

I’ve attempted to write this story four or five times already. I don’t know what it means to “use life”. Some of the themes I have tried for this are:

  • The old man who has finally turned his life around only to discover he has some fast-acting disease and about a week to live.
  • An elderly couple at the end of their lives who reminisce about the things they’ve learned.
  • A young drug addict who is trying to get clean, but gets caught up in a gang fight.
  • A mom in an underground shelter who is struggling to let go of the anger and hatred she feels toward the fighters when the bombs begin to fall.
  • A middle-aged repressed woman who has finally decided to step out of her shell, say to hell with everything, and travel the world. The first flight crashes. No survivors.

The trouble is, I don’t know enough about these people to write their stories.


That’s all for now, but if you have a story prompt for me, please leave a comment. Other comments are also welcome, of course.

And to be a future EdYOUfester, you can sign up here: http://edyoufest.com/

Writer’s World: How I learned to use AntWordProfiler

Last year I was very lucky to be invited to try out ELT writing. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity, and for the people who believed in me enough to give me the chance. I marvel at how lucky I am (and what amazing friends I have!).


So anyway, I joined a project writing reading texts for a middle school book. I started learning immediately.


I was given an excel file with a vocabulary list. Words in white were level 1. Words in green were level zero. Words in yellow were level two. I was asked to use 70% of the headwords from the white list. I was also given a grammar point to include, and specified a format, topic, and word count.


Now I’m a bit of a tech-dunce, but not a technophobe, and I saw a couple problems.


Dunce cap flickr kmakice

Image by kmakice on flickr (CC)


1) The words were all mixed together (arranged alphabetically and not separated by color). How on earth was I going to compare a 200 word text with the vocabulary list without painfully going through it word by word? Particularly since words like ‘I’, ‘a/an’, and ‘the’ are on the green list!


2) They weren’t all lemmas! Multiple forms of some words were on the list, but not others. But ‘headwords’, they said, so I assumed inflection would be okay.


What I needed was a way to compare the texts with the word lists. And before I could do that, I needed distinct word lists.

Did you know Excel can sort by color? That’s the first thing I learned. This website explains how to do it very well. But because of the way the excel file was set up, I had to do it column by column. Each column was a letter of the alphabet, so that meant 26 times of sorting and then grabbing words from each level and putting them into new pages.

I already knew about some vocabulary tools. Lextutor, for instance, can compare a passage with the general service list and tell you how difficult it is (by telling you which words appear in the first 1000 or 2000 high frequency words). I needed something that work a little differently. I needed to compare against the lists I’d been given and not the GSL. Was there something that could do that?

To find the answer, I took to Twitter. Costas Gabrielatos came to my aid right away. He is a corpus linguistics expert and really helpful person. He introduced me to AntConc and showed me how to make a corpus out of the texts I have and compare the texts to the excel file to find out how many times the words appeared in which text.


I may have mentioned that I’m a bit of a tech dunce. Even with the screenshots of how this would look and what it could do, I couldn’t really understand how it would solve my problem. Reading his suggestions again, I see now that he was solving my problem very neatly. But at the time, I didn’t get it.


Luckily, there was a simpler way. Mura Nava came to my rescue with a patient, dunce level explanation. have you tried antwordprofiler? that’s exactly what it does. So off I went to the antwordprofiler website to watch the helpful video tutorials. This was exactly what I needed.


Now, antwordprofiler comes with GSL 1 and 2 and AWL already installed. I had my own word lists to compare against, though, and needed to replace them. Fortunately, Mura solved that problem for me, too. He directed me to his Google+ Community on Corpus Linguistics, and to a post about how to deal with specialized or technical vocabulary. His post showed how to extract the off-list words into an excel file and from there use them to make a txt file to add to the GSL files. I already had excel files, so I just used the latter part of the process. Once my wordlists were uploaded, I deleted the GSL files.



Finally, I put my reading passages into txt files and ran the program. It worked.



I made adjustments to make my texts closer to 70% on the second list, and felt very techy indeed. Problem solved. I proudly sent in my first five passages and waited for feedback.


And anyone who has worked in this field can probably predict what happened next.


Please consider the difficulty of the passages. I was told. They should be easier than level 2.

I wish I could say that that’s when I figured out that ‘headwords’ to them meant the 7~10 vocabulary items they will highlight and pull out of the text, but I actually only just figured that out now reflecting back 8 months later. So they meant 70% of those 7~10 words, not 70% of the whole text. The antwordprofiler tool would still be useful, but maybe I should have stuck with the GSL.


On the plus side, now I know how to sort in Excel by color, how to use antwordprofiler, and I can start to learn antconc. And I think that’s pretty cool. 🙂

Korea Reflective Practice Special Interest Group (Korea RPSIG) Day of Reflection, August 22 2015.

Inspired by Dr. Thomas S.C. Farrell, the Korea reflective practice SIG held its first Day of Reflection on Saturday, August 22. Presenters and participants from all over Korea came to Sookmyoung Women’s University in Seoul for the event.
This post was originally going to be an article about the event, but now it’s not so here it is.

Making some omelets with Shannon Tanghe

Making some omelets with Shannon Tanghe

To kick off the event, Shannon Tanghe, a teacher educator of Danguk University in Incheon, gave a workshop titled, “Reflective Teacher Collaboration”. Dan Lortie (75) called teaching an egg-crate profession – teachers tend to be separate from each other and work alone in their classrooms –  and Shannon suggested we start making omelets through collaboration with other teachers. Shannon took us on her own journey exploring collaboration and recommended a lot of tools teachers can use to collaborate together, including collaborative journaling, collaborative lesson plan reviewing, peer observation. She challenged us to identify who we would like to collaborate with and make a plan. Shannon ended by reminding us that reflection does not stop here: having events like a Day of Reflection are great, but they are not enough if we don’t continue to reflect.

"Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills."

“Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills.”

The second presenter was Kim Mikyoung, a high school teacher and teacher trainer from Daegu. Mikyoung graciously shared a program she and her colleagues ran with a group of high school students that centered on teaching students to reflect on their learning. Mikyoung showed videos of student reflections and shared the materials she used in her program. Mikyoung’s presentation reminded us all that students need to reflect to learn, and so do we. She said, “Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills.” According to Mikyoung, it takes reflective teachers to instill those skills in their students.

Charting our professional paths with Jocelyn Wright.

Charting our professional paths with Jocelyn Wright.

Jocelyn Wright came all the way from Mokpo to honor us with a highly interactive third workshop on the day. She began by asking us to use a prompt to tell the story of our own journey to becoming a teacher. This is how she introduced the concept of “revelatory incidents.” By using participants’ own experiences, Jocelyn led us to reflect on the specific incidents in our teaching careers that changed us as teachers. One of the things I realized learning from other teachers in my small group during this presentation is that “revelatory incidents” might feel uncomfortable, but it is just such an experience that helps a teacher to grow. Jocelyn also emphasized that teachers change and evolve all the time and our reflective path does not stop with one Day of Reflection but must continue in the future.

Chris Miller guides a reflection on critical incidents.

Chris Miller guides a reflection on critical incidents.

The fourth workshop of the day was titled “Using Critical Incidents to Further Professional Development.” Christopher Miller, a teacher at Daeil Foreign Language High School, shared a framework for reflecting on critical incidents. The framework included four questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What might it mean? and What are the implications for practice? Chris began by giving examples from his own experience and encouraged us to do the same: to share our critical incidents in groups and hear each other’s perspectives. Chris also provided materials to use on our own for teachers’ and students’ reflections on critical incidents.

Reflecting on the reflections on reflection. Meta-meta.

Reflecting on the reflections on reflection. Meta-meta.

The day ended with a final reflection session in small groups facilitated by Michael Griffin. Michael provided participants with some questions to help them reflect on the four previous sessions and asked groups to discuss the most interesting questions. The group I was in was most interested in teaching learners to reflect and spent our time discussing ways that learners can be motivated to care about their learning. This led into a final question and answer period in which presenters answered participants’ questions regarding their workshops. A common thread throughout all the workshops was that reflection does not stop here — it is a continuous process to develop as teachers. Michael ended the evening by reminding us of this again.

This day of reflection was valuable for me as a teacher, and I hope it was also valuable for other participants. I am eternally grateful to the presenters for donating their time and expertise and to the participants for coming to learn together. I would also like to thank Sookmyoung University Injaegwan for the space for this event. I hope we can have other events like it in the future.

The reflective practice special interest group has regular meetings in Seoul, Daegu, and Gwangju. For more information, search the Korea Reflective Practice Special Interest Group on Facebook.

Bonus photo:

Post-workshop awesomeness

Post-workshop awesomeness

A month of ‘Things That Happened Today’ – a cup of milk

Every month the Daegu Reflective Practice Group makes reflective goals for the month. And nearly every month, I fail to complete mine (or even remember what it was most of the time). Last month, we all committed to bring an incident to reflect on so there would be plenty of material for the workshop (which is tomorrow and is being facilitated by a guest: Mr. Bryan Hale). I realized upon making this commitment that I almost never remember a thing that happened at school without a lot of effort. By the end of a school day, I normally just want to crawl in bed and try again tomorrow. But I didn’t want to come empty-handed, so I made the rather ambitious goal of keeping a running log of at least one of the myriad things that happen each day… for each day. 

What follows is four weeks of things that happened, with edits for clarity where possible and a few pretty pictures that might be related.

Things that happened today:


What are students made of? What are teachers made of?

I took a picture of what happened when we talked about this in Esther’s class.

What is anybody made of, really?

What is anybody made of, really?


Sera’s story of Trevor’s stick up the dog’s butt joke. She also said he gave the finger to a teacher and ran away. And a lot of other bad boy things. She thought it was all hilarious. I asked him what he was playing at, and he said it was a comic he’d drawn and it didn’t really happen. I think I was most bothered by fact that they all found it so funny. Except the violent kid – he thought animal cruelty is horrible.

*Editor’s note: this came up again today in a conversation with another teacher about how Trevor tells stories.


I don’t remember.

*Editor’s note: I don’t remember what happened in class this day, but I have a very clear memory of why not.


Today I gave the M2s their new free writing notebooks and pencils to go with. Then we did free-writing in class to begin the notebooks and I took them away again. I wonder if that was the right thing to do.

*Editor’s note: they were very excited when I gave back their notebooks with comments for each of them.


I was reading a story about trolls who came and stole a sleeping baby while her sister wasn’t watching. While I was reading, Paul and Sera got into an argument. I stopped to see if they would resolve it. They didn’t. So I put the book away. Some of the other students were annoyed because they wanted to hear more of the story.


‘Tom’ walks in the classroom to the usual chorus of groans. I don’t know how to stop them from ostracizing him. I don’t know how to teach him acceptable classroom behaviour. Julie, who wasn’t paying attention anyway, interrupts the class to tell me that Tom has been sticking his tongue out at her. Tom says she started it. She says he started it. I wish they would stop it.


Ellen just flat out refused to work today. No idea why. She put her head down and wouldn’t participate. She wouldn’t speak during the group speaking task, even when her group members tried to engage her and I backed off. She wouldn’t read during the reading task. When I asked her if she had some reason, she said “no.”

Another thing that happened was I realized that kids don’t know how to look at pictures in a story book.

Editor’s note: since I discovered that, I started teaching them to notice the pictures (which are really where the story is).


April Fools’ Day


The Thoughts and Notions class Kakao Group. (I blogged this one because it was such an interesting experience)


Today I changed the seats in NP5 by lottery (pick a card and line up alphabetically according to your card). Ellie was so angry about it, she moped for the rest of the class. Her mood seemed to affect her group, who look to her as a leader (as most of the class does).

Editor’s note: I also remember that when the class ended that day, she came up to me to tell me that she wouldn’t do my homework. I told her to give it a try.


M3 debates: The first group worked out really well. The timing was almost perfect and their arguments were clear, concise, and well-prepared. They also used their survey tools. That was fantastic. The second class was not a train wreck, but not nearly as good. They spoke in Korean a lot, used their phones and dictionaries during the debate, and had a really hard time understanding not only their opponents’ arguments, but their own as well. Their topic was too hard, I think.


Total lack of clarity about homework in the M1 classes and I didn’t really remember either what had been assigned. One new kakao group made.


The mind maps from Junho’s class and Michelle’s class. Peter and Ben had a tiff but Ben didn’t know why.

They haven't generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!

They haven’t generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!


The kakaotalk group class. All but one did their homework. Seriously. And so since they’d done it we were able to make questions about the text and play Golden Bell. Max and Mike won the game – the two weakest students. Their next teacher reported that they came to class smiling and seemed more confident and happy and cohesive as a group than before.


Ellie refused to do the reading: “I skimmed it and I think it’s not interesting to me.” But she was clearly in an awful mood for whatever reason, so I asked her to read it again on Sunday and see if it was interesting then. Later I found out that she was in a bad mood because she had mistakenly told the other students in her class wrong information and half the class came unprepared and it was “her fault” in a sense. No wonder she was in a bad mood.


Katie and Heather’s compliments in other cultures. The difference between singular and plural compliments: Good job! I liked that song. Vs Good job! I like that song. Katie’s response: Oh, no. It was not good. It was just so so. Which led to a mini-discussion on how different cultures respond to compliments (In Korea brush it off; In the USA acknowledge it – we’d all love to know how you respond to compliments!).

*Editor’s note: This conversation might be related to the upcoming #KELTchat.


The M1 debate disaster – only three students talked and as it turned out, they didn’t understand their topic well enough or the information they had found well enough to explain it to the other team (or me). Six silent students, and in the end everyone had the same opinion anyway. What a fail. I wish I’d recorded it. But I think what happened is that they didn’t have clear enough tasks while they were preparing and I rushed them because they’re going to be off for two weeks. Next time I’ll remember this.


Somehow nothing at all got done in OW1 except a spelling test about the months and a memory game using “I want/ He/She wants”. And suddenly the time was over. I don’t know how that happened.


Homework charts finished. Most of the kids get gifts. And I’m the fool who lets them choose. Anyway, so little Paul says he wants o-gamja, the blue one. It’s a potato chips brand. So I went shopping and there were orange, green, and a sky-blue at the store. I got the one that was not orange or green, but was a little surprised because it said it was onion flavored. As soon as I pull it out of the bag, he starts complaining that it’s all wrong. And I overreacted. I just tied up the bag again and said, we’ll just do this later. And I was too angry to talk so I wrote a note on the board for him that said, ‘It’s a gift. Next time, just smile and say thanks.’ But then I changed my mind and gave everyone their gifts anyway. Now I realize that I had failed to leave my baggage at my classroom door and little Paul is in no way to blame (although he was, by my standards, a little rude – he had every right to express that he hadn’t got what he wanted).


I made amends with little Paul and got him the right snack. He said thank you.

I played pictionary with the phonics kids. I didn’t let them draw, though.

I found more mystery puzzles for the M3s because they love those.

Oh, and I took a picture of my graffiti wall. Three weeks of student art. One group asked for a new paper. I said no.


What I learned from the process – lots of things happen every day and it is really hard to decide what is important and what isn’t. Also, writing stuff down isn’t enough. It’s important to go back and read it. Some of the things that seemed important at the time seem pretty trivial now. I wonder what that means. I wonder what I should have remembered about those days. For example, I remember now yelling at a student about his racist comment. How did I not write that down? What did I write instead on that day? I notice I wrote a lot about individual students and their feelings or attitudes, and less about lessons and successes and failures and challenges. This is just the beginning and maybe it would be more useful to focus on a single class each day next month and see how the posts develop. 

TL;DR – stuff happened. I wrote it down. Pretty pictures.

Spiderman: a snapshot

His name is Peter Parker. He arrived as “Albert”, a name presumably chosen by his mother. Within the first week, he had changed it to Peter Parker and has asked to change it to at least six different superheroes since then. He brings their action figures in to show me and to play with during the class. He has never stepped into the classroom without a toy of some sort. He creates stories with his toys and acts them out on his desk or in his drawings. When we learned about family, he turned his family into superheroes and drew them kicking a$$ while using target language. He tells stories and jokes and shares his experiences. But open a textbook in front of him and this exuberant boy who dreams of saving the world and wiping out all the bad guys suddenly starts to fall asleep. His head is on the desk within five minutes. My coworker despairs because he can’t finish a vocabulary test – not because he doesn’t know the words (we don’t know whether he does or not), but because he loses his focus and literally turns away mid-test. (This is pretty much blasphemy in Korea.)

Now, I will admit that as a teacher I am ridiculously easy to side-track. Sometimes I suddenly get to the end of the class and wonder how it is that we didn’t get past the second item on my lesson plan sketch. During class last week, one of these side-tracks happened. We had opened the book and were looking at the cover photo for the unit we were going to be working on (promisingly titled ‘Toys’). I was just getting them to tell me what they could identify in the pictures (or #elicitingvocabulary, if you prefer), when Peter Parker asked for the word for cliff. I always keep a piece of paper nearby for this class because it makes more sense to draw or write there for them than to run back and forth to the board breaking the circle each time. So I wrote the word cliff and drew a picture. I drew a guy tottering on the edge of it, but gave him some water to fall into. And that could have been the end of the story… but it wasn’t.

Peter took a look at my picture and said, but there’s a shark in the water (he probably actually said something closer to water in… shark). And he drew it. His classmate Jack said, no way it’s just a friend pretending to be a shark and drew the person holding a shark’s fin. Peter retaliated with a real shark ready to eat the fake one and Jack drew a whale, which Peter insisted by driven by another stick figure. I added the steering wheel. Soon there was a man-eating dragon and an underwater volcano and a time bomb and a tank all interconnecting in this impromptu draw-and-describe collaborative activity that accomplished the goals of the lesson far better than I could have done with a two-page color photo spread in a textbook. Peter ended it by drawing Tarzan who has certainly come to save the day.

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Ever since that day, I have desperately wished that I could provide what students like Peter need – space to play in English in a relaxed way, with stories, songs, games, and their own toys, and without any textbook at all.

Group work: a snapshot

Lately I’ve started doing a lot more group work with my teens, specifically the thirteen year olds. They’re starting to get that teenager stare that’s accompanied with a hefty dose of silence. So I’m thinking, “Okay. They won’t talk to me any more. Maybe they’ll still talk to each other.”

So I put them in groups. The first thing they do in groups is ask each other how they’re doing.

The second thing they do is check their homework. They check it together first, taking turns reading out the answers (or their writing, depending on what was assigned) and giving each other suggestions or negotiating correct answers when there are differences. They can ask me if they can’t agree.

Yesterday they worked with a listening text. They had to listen to a conversation between a boy and a girl about their weekends and fill in the answers to questions on their workbooks. To be honest, I was curious how it would go. The text included vocabulary from several units before that hadn’t really been recycled much (because how often do you find opportunities to say ‘costume’ and ‘parade’).

Most of the students started out uncertain, so I played the audio again in the class and they tried to figure it out in their groups. They compared answers and the strongest personalities won.

“Okay, group. What did Felipe do last weekend?”
“He dressed up in a car studio.”
“A car studio?”
*giggles* “Car studio!”
“Do you think you could draw that for me?”
*laughter* “Play again. It is car studio!”

So I played it again and one of the other students finally heard ‘costume’. The ‘car studio’ girl insisted I write both on the board, so I did (because teenagers). But I made sure they wrote ‘costume’ in their books.

Teaching teens can be pretty tricky, but this group of them at least is still making progress. One of the most valuable lessons I learned about teaching teens is that just because they won’t talk to me, doesn’t mean they won’t talk.

A car studio

A car studio. Image from wiki commons. 

Playful Writing 7: Something I can’t forgive

The latest in the Playful Writing series inspired by Chuck Sandy’s iTDi blog post here. Chuck Sandy created a list of suggestions for writing playfully. I have been using them with my students for free writing topics. The rules my students follow are: write continuously until the timer rings; don’t erase or cross out; don’t worry about spelling or words you don’t know; don’t talk to each other. I have been slowly increasing their writing time over the weeks and I have also been monitoring for repeated mistakes or errors. My students have been excited to compete against themselves for their word counts and I am quite happy to see that even the ones who don’t have a lot to say during class have plenty to write about.


This particular topic was quite broad. “Write about a song you can’t get out of your head, something you can’t forgive, a scar you have, a difficult student, something you can’t give up, somewhere you always wanted to go but didn’t.”


Today I chose to write about something I can’t forgive. It’s a serious topic and I confess before I even begin that I didn’t follow my own rules. I rearranged the order after my timer went off, and I removed names. The story is, sadly, true, and forgiveness has no part in it. Please skip to the bottom.


Something I can’t forgive.

I learned to move on with my life. I hope we never meet.

I learned to move on with my life. I hope we never meet.

This is going to be serious rather than playful. It may have been ten years ago, I got a phone call. It was from a friend of a friend. “Sit down.” he said. “Are you sitting down?” His voice had no hint of surprise, smile, laughter. Something was wrong. “Yes, I’m sitting down. What is it? What’s wrong?” I asked. “T– died today.” “No.” I said.

T– was a lover and a fighter. His spirit burned with a bright fire. He drove a bright red motorcycle and played as whole-heartedly with the little kids we taught as he did with the adult women he loved. He drew his own Christmas cards for the holidays and made his own jewelery. If someone tried to touch his motorcycle, even out of curiosity, he would rush outside and threaten them. He gave me a spare helmet once to keep in my place so he wouldn’t always have to pack it with him. We rode together all over town. Life was fun. He drank two pots of coffee a day and did 1,000 situps and pushups every morning. He was an exercise fiend, former body-builder (2nd place for Mr. Canada). He lived a fast-paced life and never backed down.

The details came out later. He had been at home with his girlfriend. He hadn’t been feeling well. He was diabetic. He took insulin shots. He should have seen a doctor. When his seisure started, his girlfriend laid him down in bed. She didn’t call anyone. She watched as his whole body tensed up and he finally died. Then she left. Then she called his friend.

You see, she was a married woman. She was committing adultery with him. And that’s illegal. She wasn’t looking for trouble. She was just looking for a bit on the side. So she sat there and watched him die. And never once called an ambulance. Never once tried to take him to the hospital. Not even after did she call the police.

T–‘s sister called me weeks later to find out why. She wanted to know how to get in touch with the girlfriend. She gave me the latest details. I directed her to someone I knew had the information she needed. I shared her pain. If I ever meet the woman who watched my friend die and did nothing, I will have strong words to say.


After I wrote this, my first thought was, “I can’t publish this.” But here it is and here you are reading it. Why? Because my students in class today asked me what I had written about. They were struggling with all the topic choices and needed ideas. I told them I had used the topic “Something I can’t forgive” and they asked what it is so I gave them the abridged version. If I can share with them, why not with you?

Some of the issues with this particular topic that came up in class today (and will probably come up with both groups tomorrow) are too many choices. The students needed a lot of time to think and choose what they would write about. Time was another issue. I gave them an extra minute and one of them ran out of words and got frustrated (and wrote about it!). I don’t think I’ll change the variety of topics for tomorrow’s groups, because students really did write on nearly all of them.  I will give them more time for thinking and asking questions instead. Tomorrow’s group are also older and less likely to run out of words, so I don’t think this issue will affect them. In the future, for the group who wrote today, I think I will keep the extra minute and let them know they can write their feelings and thoughts in the moment if they run out of words on the topic.

If you’re still here, thanks for reading.


Playful writing 6: I can’t live without…

This is the latest in a series of posts inspired by Chuck Sandy’s iTDi blog post: Learning To Play: A Writing Lesson Learned Late. I have been using his playful writing prompts as free writing prompts for my students. And I have been writing them myself so that I don’t have to ask my students to do something without knowing what it might be like for them. So far this project has been quite interesting in a few ways – they’re writing a lot more in the time I give them and some of them are really going deep. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know my students in this way, and a slightly scary pleasure to share myself with my colleagues in the same way.

Regular readers might notice that I missed a topic. Playful writing 5 was “when was the last time you were (feeling).”  I stared at the blank piece of paper-shaped screen for hours, day after day, with nothing to say, knowing that I was going to have to ask my students to do something I currently couldn’t. And my students wrote it last week. They wrote brilliantly, beautifully, and openly. And they inspired me to try again and so later this week I will.

Today, however, the prompt reads:

Write about coffee, ice cream, peanut butter, cheese, or oranges. Feel free to start with “I’m thinking about” or “I remember” but if you’re tired of those prompts try “I’ll never forget …” or “I can’t live without …

I can’t live without… actually, I can live without all of those things. I don’t like ice cream, peanut butter is crazy expensive, I only sort of like cheese, and oranges are a pain to prepare. Coffee is a vice, I admit, but at least once a year I phase it out just to prove I can still do it. To prove I’m not addicted. Coffee headaches are awful, and I really think I feel better when I drink coffee than when I do n’t. But I don’t like the idea of being dependant on anyhting. Maybe this says more about me than if there is a thing.

I know what you’re thinking: “Did she just sway she doesn’t like ice cream?” Yes, I don’t like ice cream. Sometimes I’ll have mint chocolate chip ice cream in a cone and somtimes I throw most of it away. Sometimes I can’t get away with not having ice cream and I have to. But I would rather not if I have the choice. Not because of health, buty just because it’s not very yummy to me.

I don’t think there’s any food or drink that I can’t live without, emotionally. I like variety and  choice and independence from the sorts of claws that addictions can hold. I can give up anything I feel like I might be getting addicted to and I regularly do that . That was what my ramen ban this year was about. I was eating it way too often (according to me!) and needed to make sure I could take it out of my diet. I did it, for a year (except two cheats that I forgave myself for) and I’ll put it back again.

Coffee, let’s explore that. I can live without coffee, but i’d prefer not to. I am nicer, friendlier, and in a  better mood when I’ve had coffee. I smile more, have more energy, and fewer headaches. That’s true even after I’ve given it up for months. One coffee shows me why I should have just kept drinking it. I have a theory about coffee – it is that people who put cream, sugar, chocolate syrup, caramel, and all sorts of other gunk in it don’t actually like coffee. I can’t imagine why they’d spoil the taste of it otherwise.

I am running out of things to say on this topic. That doesn’t happen to me very often but it’s after 1am and I’m tired. I guess I can’t live without sleep (at least not for very long) and I can’t live without my nice warm heater on this cold cold December day. Well, I probably could if I had to.

i do miss things whenI go without them. But I have to prove to myself that  Ican doit. Life is weird and changeable and you never know  when something you couldn’t live without is suddenly six times the price you’re willing to pay for it. Or not available at all.

Free stock photo from www.flickr.com

Free stock photo from http://www.flickr.com


Okay, that sucked. Sorry for it, if you managed to read it all. Some notes to myself – I’ve gotta change the products for my students. Probably fried chicken, chocolate, rice, ice cream, and ? (for them to add their own idea). I have to tell them that I couldn’t think of anything I couldn’t live without so that they don’t feel bad if they draw a blank. I might even give them the option of writing about something they would like to give up instead.

Thanks for sticking with me so far.

Playful writing: I remember/ I don’t remember

Playful Writing 3: I remember/ I don’t remember

This is the third writing prompt suggestion from Chuck Sandy’s iTDi blog post. I have been trying these as ten-minute free-writing activities before I give them as topics for my students, just to see what comes out of it and to make sure I can do what I am about to ask my students to do and to see where it might need to be adapted for them. The results among my students have been quite interesting – for the most part, they have said that the time limit is too short. I’m hesitant to make it longer, though. I’d rather they manage their time and I’ll increase time slowly as I originally planned. They have been sharing a lot of themselves, sometimes quite seriously, under the promise of privacy. I am getting to know them a lot better.

So without further ado, setting the timer for 10 minutes of continuous writing, let’s go!

I remember when I was a university student. I worked in the physics department office as an administrative assistant. I worked 20 hours a week – a decent part time job for whenever I didn’t have classes to attend. My boss was a wonderful woman named Lalla. She knew me better than I thought, in retrospect, and was always looking out for me. I also worked with another group of students – Adam, Nabeel, and Dennis. We used to do the New York Times crossword puzzles every day. They were free back then and we’d have no problem with the Monday puzzles. The Tuesday and Wednesday puzzles were usually okay, too if a bit more challenging. By Wednesday, there were questions that nearly stumped all of us but eventually we figured them out. Thursdays were even more difficult and I don’t think we ever finished a Friday puzzle. We never tried the Saturdays.

Anyway, when we couldn’t finish a puzzle – a Thursday one or a Friday – we would fill in the remaining letters with 7s and ‘silent Q’s. I remember how much we laughed over it. I had complained that you can’t put a ‘Q’ there. It has its own sound and completely changes the word. And Adam explained to me that it was a ‘silent Q’ and it could go there. The conversation usually dissolved into giggles and a group trip to the lunch truck for chicken fried rice.

I remember a couple years ago when I was just getting into professional development and thinking about teaching and how to become a better teacher. Oh, my thoughts are so different now from what they were then. But I was shy and couldn’t find my voice. I was uncertain – who was I, among all these people who knew what they were talking about and had been doing it forever? What if I said stupid things? What if my opinions then stuck to me and I couldn’t change them? How would I protect myself from the world and from myself. I needed a way to speak. And I remembered silent Q.

I remember the day I started using Q as an identity – it was on Twitter in a free informal webinar that probably had something to do with iTDi. I logged in and the room asked for an identity – so I typed in Q. And I met a lot of interesting people that day. But I guess they didn’t really meet me.

Time’s up. 416 words – fewer than last time.

I’m afraid that’s the not-very-interesting story of the origin of Q, now retired because I can use my own voice thanks to the friends who value it and helped me build my self-confidence.

Reading back, I wonder if I am giving my students the chance to know me as I know them through their writing, and if I should do that or need to do that. Would I be willing to share my writing with them? That’s a question worth thinking about, I guess.

This writing task took ten minutes and was pretty easy, mainly because I already knew what story I wanted to tell. I think when I do this with my students, I will give them a few minutes to think before writing about a story they might want to tell. I will also give them the option of writing a series of disconnected memories if they wish.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading.




This one’s for you, friend. Because you asked.


A quick reflection on activities

Daegu’s reflective practice SIG meeting yesterday turned out really interesting. One person brought a couple of activities she wanted to try with her students and we played them together and considered their uses, benefits, drawbacks, and applications and adaptations.

I guess in a sense it was sort of a pre-flection (c Matthew Noble). The focus was on an activity that has not yet been tried in class to see how it might turn out. Doing this really helps to be more flexible in the classroom because when something isn’t working for a group of students then we have ways to change or adapt it on the spot, already thought out.

Anyway, as a follow-up for myself, I took both of the games and tried them in some of my classes today.

The first game was a memory game. The students put the vocabulary cards (two matching sets) face down on the desk and the first student picked up a card. He made a sentence with the word on the card and then picked up a second to try and find its match. If they matched, he kept both cards for two points. If they didn’t, he put them back and the next person got a turn. When we played in the meeting, we realized that the person who went last had the advantage when a large group plays, so I made teams of three. In the meeting the game took about 10 minutes, but my class didn’t finish it before the class time was over.

The students policed each other about their sentences, but I monitored the weaker groups. The words were quite hard for them and at the end only one student had a pair. I wonder if I should focus more on vocabulary in that class. Another thing I noticed is that the students focused more on finding pairs than on using the words. They wanted the matches to win and the language suffered from it. That could be a potential drawback to this game with some learners. On the other hand, they said they enjoyed the game and wouldn’t mind playing again.

The game was pretty low prep – I made it out of the vocabulary from their reading book and printed the cards, copied a few sheets, and cut them out. It took about 15 minutes to prepare.

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/79157069@N03/14080255255

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/79157069@N03/14080255255

The second game was a version of tic-tac-toe. I tried a few variations of this. In a class of young learners, I created the tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses to some of you) squares on the white board and filled them with vocabulary. Then I wrote the target language next to it  and divided the class into two teams. They got really into it – every student participated and were eager to help each other. Then I gave them paper to make their own game and play against their partner while I walked around keeping an eye on things. This only worked for the more highly motivated students, but eventually everyone had played twice.

With a higher level class, I gave them a theme to play with (an idea that came out of our experimentation at the RP meeting) and used vocabulary from their reading text. We played on the board first and the combination of vocabulary and theme proved too difficult. I gave them pre-made games to play in small groups and didn’t force a theme, but it was still too difficult for some of them. They didn’t have positive feedback about the game and left the class looking frustrated. Perhaps part of the problem was the time of day (just before dinner for them), or their age (sixth graders), or that it’s Monday, or that the words were still too unfamiliar for them to use naturally. I need to find a way to support them more to play this with words from their book.

Anyway, that’s my follow-up reflection from these activities. I appreciate any feedback you might have, gentle readers.

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