Thursday, 30 September 2010

Group assignment on the English-speaking world

The last couple of weeks, my first year students have worked on a group assignment on various countries in the English-speaking world. I split the class into six groups, and each group was asked to prepare a presentation on an English-speaking country. For this project I also challenged the students' creative sides. I am just feed up with boring power point presentations, and therefore asked them if they could come up with something more creative. All in all I am quite happy with the results. A couple of groups had prepared role plays, two groups had made films, and the others tried to include creative elements in their, well, PP presentations. I must say that my favorite as far as creativity is concerned, was the group who had made their whole presentation into a "Who wants to be a millionaire"-show. The content of their presentation could have been better, but I was nevertheless happy to see that some of the pupils really stepped up and showed their talents as actors/actresses!

As far as assessment is concerned, I asked all the groups to hand in suggestions for assessment criteria, and I used these criteria when making this rubric for assessing the presentations. In addittion, I asked the students to assess themselves afterwards. They needed to say something about how the group had cooperated, how they themselves had contributed in the process, and also what they had learned from the presentations of the other groups. Here are some of the comments from the students:
  • The assingment was actually very nice. It was fun to have the opportunity to be creative.
  • I actually learned a lot about the English-speaking world from the presentations of the other groups, it was fun to watch, and I liked that it was a different learning method then we usually use. Eventhough I feel that I am going to forget a lot. This is not the way facts get stuck in my brain.
  • I think it was fun to do something different in our class. I think it’s good to use different kind of ways to learn English.
  • The assignment was interesting, but hard.
  • I enjoyed the assignment very much actually. I'm very interested in geography, and countries, so this project suited me perfect. Although I would have preferred a different country, like Jamaica or South Africa. The reason to this is probably my interests would have suited better to these countries. Like the World Cup in football (South Africa) or Bob Marley’s life and career. But it was interesting learning about Canada too.
  • From the other groups alltogether, I learned that English is a very common language. The presentations taught me that whereever I am, there is always someone who knows the English language, and that's why it's so important to learn English at school.
I may as well admit that not all the students were just happy about the project. Some were not happy about the country they had been assigned, others complained about groups that did not work. In other words, the usual stuff... My overall impression is nevertheless that they liked the creative part of the project, and that they had some fun working on their presentations. Time will show how much of the material they will actually remember though...

Monday, 27 September 2010

Teaching Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter"

I like to use a lot of oral activities when starting up a new class. There are, at least, two reasons for this. First, I believe it is absolutely necessary for the students to start speaking in class as soon as possible, or else they will remain silent throughout the year. Second, it is important that the students learn to know each other well in order to cooperate in class.

In addition to the oral activities, I usually start a new school year by reading one of more short stories that I know, or hope, the students will like. This year I decided to read Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" with my first year students. Most students are familiar with Dahl's stories for children, like Mathilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His short stories, however, are not all that well known.

I prepared both pre-reading questions and some questions that were to be answered as we read the story. I believe in close reading, but I also think it is necessary to give the students some questions to help them along. Most of the students could contribute in the discussion that followed the reading of this story; maybe one of the reasons was that quite a few had already read the story. I nevertheless think that this story has quite a lot to tell, both about the relationship between the sexes at the time the story was written, and about how you need to read between the lines in order to catch the author's message.

When searching the internet for material to use in class when working on this story, I came across a film version of the short story on YouTube. I guess the film can also be used in class in order to make the story more alive.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Hello! Is there anybody out there?

No, I am not going to write anything about Pink Floyd music (although many of their lyrics might be used in class), but I hope there is someone out there who might be interested in cooperating with me and my students. The thing is, I started up with a new group of students today, and one of the first tasks I gave them was to come up with suggestions on how they were to improve their English skills. I do believe all the "creme de la creme" students have come to my English class this year! They had a lot of interesting ideas on how to work with English, and I am happy to see that they share many of my ideas, too. Blogging was suggested (jippi!!), and I have therefore put out a survey for them to see how many would like to start blogging in English. An other idea I found interesting was getting in contact with students elsewhere, either native English speakers, or EFL learners, who could be our online pen pals. Therefore, I ask, "Is there anybody out there?" Are there any teachers out there who would like to cooperate? Please, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail if your students would like to get in touch with mine, and then we will see what we can work out.

Picture: "Atlas,it's time for your bath"

Monday, 16 August 2010

On the road again

I'm back! It is time for me to go back to school and start teaching again (only for 8 weeks, however), and I must say I have really enjoyed coming back to all my friends and colleagues at school. This first day has been filled with hugs and hellos, but also with information, thoughts and reflections on the school year ahead. I always have plenty of ideas at this time of the year, and I also have ambitions about doing things better, being more organised and more creative than the year before. However, I have been "in the game" for quite a few years now, and have begun to understand that I cannot change dramatically overnight. I guess that my dream is to be one of those teachers who can make an everlasting impression on my students, and change their way of thinking totally - like Professor Keating in Dead Poets Society, or Ms Watson in Mona Lisa Smile. A bit over the top? Probably, but I need to believe that the things that I do in the classroom may be an eyeopener to some of my students, that I actually have something valuable to teach them. At the same time I find it important for me to try out new things, to test new methods of teaching, to teach new groups, courses and topics. Each August therefore represents a new start for me, as it does to many of my students. It is therefore a privilege to start a new school year with a group of first class students. It is a new start for all of us, and I feel lucky to be with them as they start a new chapter in life.

Picture: "Encadré"

Friday, 11 June 2010

Mary Glasgow Magazines

I am still on maternity leave, but I am always on the lookout for internet resources the can come in handy when I return to the classroom. Earlier today, I received an e-mail notifying me about "Mary Glasgow Magazines". I guess the magazines themselves are familiar to many, but I have not come across the online resources before. On these pages you can find "English resources for teenagers. Grammar, speaking, pronunciation, listening, reading and writing activities in print, audio and video format." I will definitely check out these pages later on!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

"The the impotence of proofreading..."

This is for all teachers around the world who are working day and night marking papers before the summer vacation. Take a look and have a good laugh!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Blog on hold!

Here is the reason why my blog has not been updated lately, and here is also the reason why it will not be updated frequently the next months. So long!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I have received an e-mail from a lady asking me about my experiences when it comes to teaching Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and rather than sharing my experiences with just one person, I will post it here for more people to read.

I have read this novel two times with my first year students. I am sure there are various ways of teaching a novel, but when it comes to this particular novel, I have asked the students to do most of the reading at home. I ususally give them some time in class in the beginning, though, just to make sure they all get started. As they read along, I have asked them to fill in information about plot, themes and characters in a table like this:

One of the advantages of taking notes like these, is that the students are forced to make up their own minds about certain central points in a literary text, and they also need to dig deeper into the text in order to find relevant paragraphs and chapters to illustrate their points of view.

When all the students have finished reading the novel, I have set aside time for group discussions on the text. I usually split the classes into groups of 5-6 so that they will all have to participate. The students' performance in these discussions is assessed. The kind of questions I ask, and how many questions I have to ask each group depend on how talkative the students are, but I usually find that most 16 year olds have quite a lot of things to say about Christopher's story so that I do not have to go through a long list of questions.

All in all, I like using this novel with my classes. Most students find the text quite easy to read, and they can also see that Christopher is different, but not all that different from themselves. I guess it is a good idea that we all see the world through someone else's eyes at times, and I am sure I will read this novel with more students in the future.

I have also written about the novel in these blog posts:

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Focus on Haiti

During the last couple of weeks, we have all seen the pictures and heard the cries for help from Haiti. People have donated money and there seems to be a genuine wish to help the victims of the earthquake. But what will happen to the people of Haiti when the pictures from Port-au-Prince will not reach the front page of our newspapers and the headlines on TV? It is a fact that life goes on and that we tend to forget the things we are not exposed to day in and day out. There is still time, however, to put focus on this disaster in our classrooms, and on the New York Times Learning Network, you can find five ways to teach about Haiti right now. Have a look at these ideas and see if you can find 30 minutes to put focus on Haiti in the week to come!

Photo from

Friday, 15 January 2010

A year on the road not taken

A year ago I decided to start writing a blog on which I shared some of my experiences from the classroom, tips and ideas for teaching, and reflections on various things related to the English language and teaching English as a foreign langBirthday Baby uage. During this first year "on the road", I have published 103 blog posts and I must admit that it takes quite some time updating this blog. Nevertheless, I find inspiration in the feedback I get from people around the world and am happy to see that others can find some of the things that I publish useful. Since I was first introduced to blogging a couple of years ago, I have spent increasingly more time reading various blogs. If I search for something specifically related to school and teaching, I visit certain blogs, if I need a recipe for my Friday pizza I visit others. There seems to be a blog out there for everyone, and being a blogger can certainly open doors that would otherwise be closed. So I guess what I am trying to say is that I will continue writing on this blog, regardless of the number of readers and followers I have (I have understood that if you really want to brag about the number of visitors to your blog, writing about interior design is a better choice than writing about teaching English...), simply because it gives me something in return. Right now, however, I will enjoy a weekend without preparing classes or correcting papers. That is a joy of life, too, is it not?

Picture: "Birthday Baby"

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

yellow-wallpaper It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.

A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity but that would be asking too much of fate!

Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.

Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

At the university, one of the short stories that I really liked was Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper". I have often thought that I should reread the story about the lady crawling around in her room trying to sort out what happens to her yellow wallpaper, but still after so many years I have not found the time to do so. One way of browsing through literature, however, is to visit "Book-A-Minute" web page. Here you can find very short versions of many classics; Perkins Gilman’s 6000 word story is shortened to the following dialogue for example:

The Wife:
I think I'm sick. What do you think, my husband and noted physician?
The Husband:
Nah. But stay inside and don't talk to anyone until you're better.
The Wife:
Now I'm insane.

Perhaps this is the way to impress people by telling them about all the books you have read in just a very short time… I think I would stick to the original versions, though, and the complete version of “The Yellow Wallpaper” can be found on this page. If you have not read the story already, I strongly recommend that you find the time to do so in the near future.

Picture from

Monday, 4 January 2010

Native Americans

One of the benefits of this blog, is that I can go back and find lesson plans I have made earlier and use them all over again. I can also read about the things that worked and the things that did not work in class so that I can make changes and adjustments. With a busy week ahead, it is nice to find plans that I have used and that I remember worked quite well in class. Last year I read W.P.Kinsella's short story "Panache" with my students, and I plan to use the same story tomorrow. I find that one of the challenges teaching literature is to make the students dig into the literary text, to read between the lines and also try to come up with their own reflections on the text. Last year I therefore made this list of activities to the story that were meant to force the students to be active participators that had to think and not just recite what others had already said. Hopefully these activities will work with my students this year as well.

Learning about the Native Americans simply by reading literature is not enough, however. As a point of departure I have therefore planned for us to use a couple of factual texts from the NDLA pages, one text dealing with the present day situation of the Indians, and another focusing on the Trial of Tears. I am really happy with most of the resources on the NDLA pages and find them to be of great help when planning a new topic, so I just want to say thanks to all those who have contributed with material!

Picture:'aniishnabek' from FlickrCC

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Bridget Jones's Diary

In 1996 Helen Fielding published her first novel about the "thirty-something career woman" Bridget Jones, and the book quickly became a bestseller among women. I remember that we all loved this novel, and that some of my friends even started writing e-mails in the style of Miss Jones. Quotes from the book were frequently used, and I guess we deep inside were all happy we were still "twenty-something" and not going to end up like Bridget Jones... Later on, the two films based on Fielding's novels have also come into my DVD collection, and I have seen them both numerous times. This morning while I was searching for a proper picture for my first blog post this year, I came across a reading guide for the novel from Penguin, and although I have never even considered using Bridget Jones's Diary in any of my classes, I must say I got some ideas from this reading guide. Perhaps it would be an idea to compare the novel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, or study the two Mr Darcy's? Perhaps my students would not like it, but I am sure I would...

Picture from

… and a happy new year!

New Year Eve London 2008

It is the 2nd of January, and in just a couple of days it is time to go back to school. I wonder what the new year will bring. 2009 was a great year in many ways, and I know that I am a priviledged person and do not really have anything to complain about. Still, I realise that I way too often talk about all the things I have to do and that I hardly find the time to do anything fun during the week. My friend and colleague Ingunn wrote on her blog yesterday that one of the things she wanted to do in 2010, was to have more fun. I guess we should all make the same resolution, and if we do not feel that we have the time to have fun, we need to make time. I am not talking about having big parties in the middle of the week, but simply finding a few things in our everyday life that can give us more energy to do the things we actually have to do. Sometimes calling a friend, watching a film, reading a book or listening to some music can be enough to get your spirit and energy up again. Seize the dayand capture the moment!

During my Christmas vacation, I have spent some time correcting some essays, and this time I was really pleased with most of them. And talking about having fun, I just like to share one of the sentences I found in one of the papers. This student was writing about all the things that influence our personalities and actions, and among the aspects she listed, I found the following statement: “ I have a lot of religious ants that have influenced my upbringing…” Who says spelling mistakes cannot make you laugh?

Wish you all a happy new year filled with fun and laughter!

Picture: New Year London Eye 2008