In School in Germany: Lessons in Small Groups

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Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

When I write this post, our country is in the midst of reopening our schools and businesses. We had been on lockdown since mid-March of this year due to the spread of the Corona Virus and its potential of infecting hundreds of thousands and killing thousands without any notice. In retrospects, this virus is nastier than the Spanish Flu, which happened over a century ago, lasted two years and featured three waves- the second of the three was considered the worst. The reasons are the symptoms that are sometimes unrecognizeable and the high rate of person-to-person infection. Handshakes, breathing, coughing and just simply close contact could lead to a Corona infection.

As we continue to return to a normalcy that the majority of us wanted but it’s being considered the normalcy that may have set off the spread of the virus, we are seeing some of the restrictions that may become the new permanent norm, even if a vaccine is created beforehand. For some, it may be a blessing as we take a few steps back and consume less, while at the same time, have fewer people at an event than before.. Look at the schools for example. While children are asked to wear masks and refrain from activities that require physical contact and close quarters, class groups are being cut in half, from an average of 23-32 students in a group to as low as eight and no more than 12. Teachers and parents are wondering why some students cannot sit with their friends in groups to meet and study. Educators are wondering if this is efficiency where a large group can bring forth effective teaching in the classrooms while creating a jam-packed schedule to ensure that students are able to fulfill the requirements given to them.

Speaking from personal experience as a teacher of English, having small groups would be more than beneficial. When I started teaching English at a Volkshochschule (Institute for Continuing Education) in 2001, I had a pair of English classes, where students could come in and speak English for 90 minutes, choosing topics that they wish to talk about. Almost all of the sessions we had produced a lot of meaningful conversations where students learned from each other and from the teacher. As many as 8-10 participants were in class. While I dealt with one pole of the spectrum, the other pole was when I taught groups of 25-30 students at a pair of high schools in Thuringia and one university in Bavaria. From these two extremes, I can only say positive things about small group teaching.

 

Some advantages of small group teaching include:

    • More intensive work- This doesn’t mean working through all the points in one topic as fast as possible. It has to do with working on each point in detail so that people better understand the topic.
    • More individual contact- Even in times of mandatory distancing to avoid getting infected with the virus, individuals can receive more attention and help with problem areas than in large groups. This can be done with the teacher or through small group activities.
    • More interaction- It is a foregone conclusion that when you have smaller groups, students will have a better chance at learning and interacting in class, regardless of the style of teaching used in class. With large groups, teachers are restricted to mostly frontal-style instruction which will takeaway the students ability to join in the classroom discussions.
    • More fruitful learning- Through a combination of frontal teaching, individual work and group work, students have an opportunity to learn more and exchange with others, while the teacher has better opportunities to explain concepts better and in detail.
    • More attention in class- Through small groups, the number of distractions decrease substantially. At the same time, it allows the teacher some flexibility to introduce techniques to maintain the attention span of the students. After an average of 30 minutes, the attention span decreases rapidly and with that, a sharp increase in the number of distractions. Therefore teachers need to be aware of this and vary their techniques to encourage better learning.
    • More flexibility and creativity in teaching- As mentioned under interaction, the more varieties of teaching you carry out, the more flexible you are and the more likely the students will enjoy your classes than if you only have frontal style teaching and in large groups. Even lectures in university halls in front of hundreds of students tend to become boring after a certain time.
    • More efficiency– If you wish to finish the topic as quickly as possible, then this would be another reason for having classes in small groups. However it depends on the content of the topic.
    • Less chances of getting sick- This is one of my key points here. When you have large groups, the chances are more likely to get sick than you do with small groups. This has to do with the fact that with larger groups, there may be more people bringing a virus to spread to others. In small groups, the chances of that happening are close to zero. That is unless we have a large-scale pandemic as the Covid-19 here. From my personal experiences, I’ve been sick eight times when teaching in large groups. In small groups, the number has been zero- all within the past decade.

 

 

With the extensive use of home office combined with the computer being one of the key cornerstones of every household, small group teaching can also encourage learning and doing individual work at home. What is required is a teacher being the facilitator and helping the students out when needed. Homework is made available either by the teacher when in school, through an online platform or through a special online mechanism. The student does the work and the teacher can review it either in class or by sending back the work via e-mail. I’ve worked with this mechanism during the lockdown at my school and my daughter has received classwork and other forms of instruction through an online platform at her high school. If one takes the time to learn how the system work and tries it out, online learning combined with small group teaching opens a lot of doors to learning for all.

While costs and issues with a lack of personnel are a universal problem, these are short term problems that can be solved by getting used to the system. Having dealt with small group teaching for the second month now, I can only say that small group teaching is more effective, healthier and more beneficial than having large scale lectures and classes with 25+ students. While students can see their friends at any time and anywhere and lectures can be held online, it is a foregone conclusion that a school with a classroom size of 20+ students will become a thing of the past.

If we want to be serious about containing the spread of Covid-19 and preventing future viruses from dictating our society, we will have to change the ways we conduct ourselves. While we have a lot to do to make it happen, we must start small and let things grow and go into place. While small group teaching is a start, it is one of many that will put the pieces together in a puzzle that will promote less in life instead of more. When we do that, we will have a more efficient and enjoyable lifestyle to have.

My two cents on this topic.

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The Teacher: Past, Present and Future

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This pic is dedicated to all the teachers out there, who have been in the profession for decades and are about to pack it in and enjoy their retirement, as well as those who are in the profession. It definitely speaks for itself, especially if the teacher has made a tremendous impact on the lives of many, by sharing stories, experiences and the know-how to others, who will surely carry on where the other leaves off. All with one goal in mind: Making a difference in the lives of others.

This goes well beyond what is depicted here. To the person who shared this pic, thank you.

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Why German is a beautiful language

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Picked up this rather interesting set of “word-for-word” translations going from Germany into English with both the literal as well as the actual meanings from one of the German facebook sites. Something to ponder, or even laugh about. Whatever type of humor you have. 😉  Enjoy! 😀

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The Characteristics of a Great Teacher

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What is a great teacher? What makes a teacher great? What is typical of a great teacher? If there was a secret ingredient to being great, it would be great to know about it. Yet if we knew, and we would try and follow it like textbooks, life would be boring, both in the classroom as well as on the street. Perfectionism would bring out the worst from those who strive for it and those who rebel against it. Life as a teacher would be portrayed as inflexible, intolerant and inhumane.

What is a great teacher? Can we follow the footsteps of those who had once ruled the hallways and classrooms of our school? Or read about their lives as we stumble across them on the sidewalks through monuments and Stolpersteine? Or reminisce about the teachers of our time growing up, over a beer or wine at a class reunion? Some say that our teachers set great examples and play a role in our development, but only a few remain close friends for life.

What makes a teacher great? It’s about what you learned from the teachers you had in school; from those who were close and helped you succeed. It’s about learning from your own personal experiences, remembering the stories told to you while growing up, embracing in your own faith, and developing your passion for the job. Molding it together and being prepared to share them with others.

What is typical of a great teacher? It can be best described as follows:

A great teacher enters the classroom like it’s a concert at Carnegie Hall……

……..and comes away with a standing ovation at the end of class.

A great teacher shows competence in his subject and confidence in his class….

…..and never falters to those who think they are better than he.

A great teacher is communicative, humorous and open-minded….

…..and the same goes to the students if it applied correctly in class.

A great teacher always listens to the needs of others……

…..and finds ways to cater to them.

A great teacher devotes his time and effort in his subject with a passion…..

…..so that the students can do the same when learning it.

A great teacher teaches the students what is good and what is bad in life…..

……and follows these examples, both on and off campus.

A great teacher is a great storyteller……

…..and uses it to teach the students the morals in life.

A great teacher always embraces in new things for the classroom……..

……and is never afraid to part ways with the old.

A great teacher is flexible and spontaneous……..

……and never follows the rules like a textbook.

A great teacher never holds back on his opinions and truths…..

……and is not afraid of the opinions and truths from his students.

A great teacher is always creative and tries new experiement….

…..as long as he and his students profit from them.

A great teacher always makes mistakes in class……

…..and should not be afraid to admit being human.

A great teacher is also a great mentor….

….being the guiding light for those who need it.

A great teacher is always there if the student needs help……

…..whether it’s big or small, in school or outside,

….a  great teacher will always be your friend for life.

And when you have a chance to meet your great teacher- your mentor, friend and all- many years down the road, always remember what he taught you and why he got you to where you are today. After all, what he passed down to you, it’s your job to pass it down to your children of the next generation.

That is what defines a teacher a great teacher. 🙂

 

Author’s note: I had some great teachers growing up in Minnesota, but this one goes out to one who was an elementary school teacher and close friend of the family. I had her for the last two years before entering middle school and we became great friends afterwards. Many people knew her for the characteristics that I’ve pointed out here and it was through these key points where people like me took them and made use of them, both as teachers as well as parents and beyond. In her memory, this one’s for you with many thousands of thanks! 🙂 ❤ 

 

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Germany Quiz 8: Part III: The Inventions from Saxony

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Part III of the quiz focuses on the inventions from Saxony. Many of you probably don’t know that one in three household items that we use on a daily basis originated from Saxony. Apart from the coffee filter and the bra, as mentioned in part 2 of the Saxony quiz, what other products were created in Saxony, who was behind the idea and why?  Let’s find out by taking this guessing quiz on the inventions from the easternmost German state. Good luck as you take a stab at the three-part exercise. 🙂

Part 1: Which of the items in the group were invented from Saxony. Choose the ones you think were invented in Saxony and explain your reasons why. 

gas lantern        tissue paper       General Motors             light bulb

mile marker      tea bag               sugar cookies                  steam locomotive

street food        coffee filter       personal computer        daily newspaper

bicycle                laundry detergent          mouthwash       telephone

brandy               beer cap             encyclopedia                   Bible

 

Part 2:  Find out whether the following items originated from Saxony or not. Mark each one with a Y (yes) and N (no).  For each one from Saxony, guess at when it was introduced. 

  1. Thermos-flask (Thermoskanne)  ____________
  2. Coffee cup (Kaffeetasse)               ____________
  3. Pottery                                              ____________
  4. University of Technology              ____________
  5. Cassette tape (Tonband)                ____________
  6. Wine glass                                        ____________
  7. Diesel engine                                    ____________
  8. Toothpaste                                        ____________
  9. Cantilever truss bridge                  ____________
  10. 35 mm Camera                                ____________

 

Part 3.  Choose the best answer for the following questions below.

  1. Homoeopathy, invented by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, focuses on the following two aspects:

        a.  Mentality and physical illness                b. Pills and viruses

          c. Ecstasy and psychology                            d. the brain and the body

  2. Aktendulli, known as ________________ in English, is used to…..

        a. Fasten files in binders                         b. Build log cabins with dowels

        c. Sharpen pencils                                    d. Jack up the car in the event                                                                                                                  of a flat tire.

 3. In what year was the freon (FCKW)-free refridgerator invented and where?

Part a.         1895             1935              1993              2003             2018

Part b.          Schwarzenberg     Scharfenstein    Schlettau      Aue      Zwickau

 

   4. The “Plauener Spitze” is in reference to this type of manufacturing of fabric?

   a. Jeans         b. Embroidery       c. Baseball Caps               d. Dress shirts   

5.  Which city in Saxony was the birth place of the ceramic-ware we still see at the pottery market?

    a. Radebeul          b. Dresden        c. Meissen            d. Riesa         e.Leipzig

 

Bonus Question:  The Göltzschtal Viaduct, as seen in the picture above, is the first brick stone railroad viaduct in the world. True or false? 

 

The Answers to the quiz you can find here. 

 

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Volkswagen: The Wagon of Vikings- Or Was It Vagen for Women? The Tongue Twister Guide to the V and W Words in English

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Vince and Vance went with the Volkswagen Van west to Las Vegas. Vince is from Wiesbaden and Vance is from Wernersgrün. They both have fathers named Werner and they both enjoy Weizenbier (Wheat beer).

Looking at this sentence, how would you pronounce these words? Chances are, regardless of where you are coming from, you are pronouncing at least some of the words wrong. If you are a native speaker of English, chances are you are pronouncing the German words with a W when even though they start with a W, they sound like a V. This puts Wernersgrün, Werner, Weizenbier and Wiesbaden in the line of fire. Yet if you are a non-native speaker of English, be it German, Russian, Arabic, or eastern European, chances are that you are pronouncing the V-words like they are W. This is where Vince, Vance and Vegas fall into that unfortunate trap. Furthermore, especially in Germany, some words that start with W are pronounced with V. Apart from west and wheat in this example, other words that fall into the crossfire include wake, watch and wear.

To keep it straight, as well as short and to the point, the Vs and Ws are always mixed up! 😦  Aside from the TH-words, the VW words are one of the most difficult pronunciations in the English language for that particular reason. Another reason behind it is the way they are spoken, something where Ronnie in this video has an easy way to explain the difference between V and W words:

And while she views W-words as words spoken of a true kisser from the Czech Republic and V-words like a two-eared bunny rabbit saying “FUCK!” when spotted by a vulture, here’s another easy way to explain the difference between the VW words.

With the V-sound, it has a close relationship with the F-words, meaning air is constructed from the top part of the mouth. The difference between the F and V is the length as the V-words are longer and most of the time voiced consonants. The F-words are shorter and mostly voiceless.

As for the W-words, apart from forming that short O in the mouth and then widening it in length, one can refer to the Seven-Ws in terms of question form, meaning the Who, What, When, Where, Why, Which and How. With the exception of Who and whose (since the W there are silent), the rest follow this kissing Czech concept. This is also regardless of whether the W-words stand out alone or if a consonant is added to the W.

This takes us to the Tongue-Twister exercise featuring the uses of V and W words. Homemade by the author, it was divided up into the V-category, the W-category and the mixed category. If you can master the first two, then you should be able to master the third one easily. 🙂 A video is enclosed at the end of the article to provide you with reference on how they are pronounced in case you need assistance. 🙂

So without further ado, away with you in your Volkswagen and be vicious, vivacious and victorious with these examples! 😉  Good luck! 🙂

V-category:

V/F:

Vincent went to Fargo with Fred to visit his friend Vance, who owns a Volkswagen five-some conversion van. Fred is fat from feasting on fawn while Vincent is invincible for being Vice President of the Federation for the Advancement of Unforgivable Follies. Vince and Vance are Friends for forty-four years, while Fred is friends with Faye for fourteen fortnights.

 

V:

The Virgins value the Vikings.

The Vikings value the Vegans.

The Vegans value the Vegetarians.

The Vegetarians value the Viceroys.

The Viceroys value the Vocalists,

While the Vocalists avenged the Viceroys with Viagra.

 

W-Category:

W:

Where was Wally Worthington when we wanted him? Wally Worthington was one writer who won twenty wonderful awards for his work, while his wisdom we want, for Wally wants to whistle a wonderful, unwavering work with a whippoorwill.  But Wally Worthington will walk with a wild woman to Willy Wonker’s white and wealthy, western restaurant. Why? Wally and the wild woman want to eat a whoopee cushion.

 

TW:

Twelve twiddling twins tweeted Mark Twain on Twitter with twenty tweezers and with twelve twitches. The twisted twins tweeted that Twain twined twenty tunes about twinberries and twinflowers, twisting and twittering in a Twinkie. Twain twinkles a Twinkie in the Twilight and twists and twirls with the twins.

 

SW/W:

There was a Swiss doing Swan Lake wearing her Swatch Watch on her wrist. She swaddled in the water and met Katharina Witt, who swiped the Swatch Watch swished it into a weaved swivel with White Washington underwear. Where was Washington who wore white underwear? Underwater with Winona Ryder.

 

TW/SW/W:

Twelve twisted witches were swimming with the wind, when we witnessed twenty twisted wolves, who were witty wonders of the world. The wolves were weeping with wiseguys who wore woolen sweaters weaved by sweating workers twiddling with white whisks, swearing with white wisdom teeth, while the twelve twisted witches swirled with their sweethearts, switching their swords with words.

 

Mixed Category:

V/W:

Waking in Vegas, William walked to Vincent with a victorious whistle, wondering why Warren visited Vanessa while wrestling with Vegas Wally Vanderworth, the world wrestler with wonderful vicious wild faces which wants William to wail him one.

 

V/W:

Wayne Von Western ventured with Victoria Wallace with a Volkswagen Van with four wheels to western Washington. Wayne and Victoria were whistling various vivacious songs about a white Hoover vacuum cleaner with various vinyl vibrating hoses with wax which Viviane and the Women Vikings whacked with a vulture.

 

 

V/W:

Virginia with a wonderful voice, ventured with Vivi in a Volkswagen onto Venice with Winnie to voice their vengeance with world-renowned vocalists Vincent Wallingford who videotaped with Werner and Verne their voices for Weight Watchers.

 

V/W:

Victory was wonderful. Winning was victorious. Women were invincible. Vikings were whipped, while Vince and Vance vacated the white Woolworth and went with the Volkswagen to Vegas.

 

Here’s the video where you can listen to the tongue twisters, some of which even the author stumbled during the recording……. 😉

 

 

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Blacksmithing Words with TH: Mr. Smith’s Guide in using TH-words in English

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When I first came to Germany in 1999, one of the main struggles I saw and even witnessed myself in learning a foreign language was the way words were pronounced. In particular, words in English that have TH in them happen to be a struggle among Germans and other foreigners whose native language is not English. The classic example I can pull out straight away was the problem pronouncing my last name, Smith. Even though Smith is one of the top three most popular family names in the world (along with Johnson and Brown), non-native people had a lot of difficulties pronouncing my last name. Instead of Smith (where the tongue is nudged behind the lower teeth partially blocking air flow), my last name was pronounced as the following:

Smizzzz, Schmiet, Smit, Schmizz, Smis (like Swiss Miss) and Smif (like Smurf).  Funny, isn’t it. 😉  Furthermore, many insisted that my last name should be Schmidt instead of Smith.  Sorry to disappoint you, but we have a lot of Schmidt in the US and Canada, plus a beer bearing that name (which comes from my homestate of Minnesota) 🙂 :

To put it bluntly, the name is SMITH! Even more so because we have several words, whose ending is the same as my last name.

Words with TH are indeed the most difficult to pronounce in the English language- just like with the German CH, Z and all the vowels with the two dots on there. This has to do with the fact that we have two different types of TH pronunciation: the voiced (which sounds like a bee buzzing behind your teeth) and the voiceless, which produced a slight steaming sound with the tongue behind your teeth. A video below better explains how the voiced and voiceless TH’es work from a phonetical point of view:

Also important to note from a historian’s perspective that nearly every second word used during the Middle Ages had TH in there, but mostly at the beginning or end of each word, such as doth, hath, thou, cometh, etc. Many of these words over time have been transformed to the ones we use in our modern time, which meant the THes were dropped. Yet even though we’ll find our TH-words in one out of ten sentences, they are there for people to use, even though practicing can be a torture, which brings up this Tongue Twister activity.  Consisting of both the video and the sentences to practice, this activity will give you amples of opportunities to work with the TH-words so that you not only know how the TH-words are pronounced but also give you the confidence needed to say them properly.

You could say that producing TH-words is like blacksmithing: you work with it until you have the right form to use. 😉

It is highly recommended to watch the video to see how the TH-words are spoken before practicing. Yet how you implement them in class or practice them in groups or at home individually depends on you, the person who wants to handle this rather difficult part of English phonetics.

So enjoy and may the TH be with you. 🙂

 

Something in a thirty-acre thermal thicket of thorns and thistles thumped and thundered threatening the three-D thoughts of Matthew the thug- although, theatrically, it was only the thirteen-thousand thistles and thorns through the underneath of his thigh that the thirty-year old thug thought of that morning.

 

There was a mammoth with the name of Thurman, who thrives in Gotha, Thuringia. The sloth slithers through at three in the morning to slither to Thorn’s thermal threading company in Furth, threading thermalware for thirty thoughtless worthless months for thirty-three Euros a month. Through thirteen months and thirty days, this mammoth threads strings from moths and makes thermal underwear. Thurman is happy.

 

Three Catholic athletes bathe in clothes in a bathtub. The thirty-somethings thoroughly thought something that’s thick through their teeths. Through their theory they thought about thieves, thugs, theocrats and heart-throbbers that thrive through their three-thousand thirty-three throwaway thermos cloth, and loath thirty times a month.

 

Thou hath throweth thy health through thy wrath with thy thick thighbone. Theoretically cometh death onto thee though Beth Smith hath saveth thy life through warmth smooth hearth.

 

The South Path is thin. The North Thruway is thick. Through thousands of thinkers, sleuths, telepaths, sociopaths and youths, badmouthing and thrashing over vermouth for the umpteenth time, is the South Path thick and the North Thruway filthy.

 

Beth’s with Ruth. Theodore’s with Faith. They’re thinking ethics. They’re thinking theology. They’re thinking myths. They’re thinking with vermouth with a twist.

 

The Moth is on meth. The moth does math. The moth thaws myths and thus they’re through with this.

 

There are thousands Smiths on Earth. The twentieth blacksmith with the thirtieth locksmith with the fortieth gunsmith with the fiftieth silversmith with the sixtieth goldsmith with the seventieth tunesmith with the eightieth coppersmith with the ninetieth songsmith with the hundredth whitesmith. Smiths ends with z, while one smith has TH.

 

Author’s note: These tongue twister stories are homemade, by the way. 😉  Feel free to add more to this list if you have some more. 🙂

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In School in Germany: Picture Games

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To start off this article, I would like to offer a word of advice to teachers whose passion also includes photography: Take as many pictures as you can and keep as many as you can. You may never know when and how you will need them- especially if you find the best ones for an activity (or several) for your class. 🙂  This principle I’ve followed for years which has led to not only successful activities but also successful articles.

This applies to vacation time, as two thirds of the population of German children are starting school now, with the remaining third still out until September. The same trend applies in the US, where half the schools start in mid-August; the rest after Labor Day. Children gather vast amounts of experiences through travel, summer camps, visits to long-distant relatives and friends, work and other events that add experience and enrich their knowledge of what’s around them. And at the beginning of the school year, they would like to share that experience with other classmates and especially their teacher.

After all, as we would like to look at their interests and get to know them, we can help them along so they can be what they want to be, right?  Be all that you can be, like in the US Army commercial. 😉

 

If you, as a teacher, have some problems coming up with activities to encourage the students to use their language skills and share their experiences with others, there are some activities that can help. Using a collection of photos, you can introduce the following exercises to them to motivate them to speak and be creative. These activities are not only meant to break the ice in terms of establishing communication between the teacher and the students, it is meant to unlock the knowledge that has been sitting in the freezer inside the students’ heads and it just needs to be thawed out. For the first exercise, photos from the teacher are required for use, whereas the second and third activities one can also use the photos from the students, if requested. In the fourth and final exercise, the students should present their photos and images, even if through Powerpoint or a slideshow.

Here’s a look at the photo activities you can use in the classroom (suitable for all ages and language levels):

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Picture This:

Based on an exercise in Baron’s TOEIC Preparatory Book, the object of this game is to look at a picture provided by the presenter to the group, and identify what is seen in there. How students view it and express themselves depends on what the picture has. The picture can be a landscape, a certain scene with people doing activities, a phenomenon, or something totally different. What is seen is what is to be identified. Some people may feel restricted because they have to focus on the picture itself and therefore may have some difficulties finding the right vocabulary for the pictures. Yet by the same token, especially if the activity is done in groups, one can take advantage of learning new words from this game or even refreshing the vocabulary that had been sitting unused for some time.  There are two ways of doing this activity: one is in a large group where each student can find what is in the picture and make a statement on it. The other is in pairs or small groups, where each one receives a picture, analyses it and can present it to the rest of the class. With the second variant, five minutes of preparing and five to ten minutes of presentation total will suffice, pending on the number of students in class.

As a trial run, use the picture above and find out what you see in there. You’ll be amazed at what you will find happening at a place like the Westerhever Lighthouse at the moment of the pic. 😉

 

Finish the Story: 

This activity comes from the film, Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Originally in the film (produced and directed by the late Sidney Pollack), the character Karen Dinesen (played by Streep) is a story-teller and in a conversation with Denys Hatton (played by Redford) and others, she explains the concept, where one starts the story with a sentence, where the other finishes the story the way it is seen fit. Like in this example:

While one could adopt this concept in the classroom, if it was a one-to-one training session, in larger groups, it would not be as exciting as it is when each student adds a sentence to the first one given by the teacher, and going through a couple rounds until the entire class feels the story is complete. This concept helps students become creative while at the same time refresh their knowledge of sentence structure and a bit of grammar. While one can try this without pictures, more challenging but exciting would be with pictures, especially from summer break, like the ones presented below. Try these with the following sentences below and complete your own story……. 🙂

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It was afternoon on the North Sea coast and a storm is approaching. It is windy and perfect weather for kite-flying………   

 

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It is high tide, and the beach is underwater. Two people sitting in Strandkörbe are taken by surprise……..

 

Make a Story:

 Going further into talking about vacations and things to do in the summer is creating your own story, using a pic provided by the teacher. In groups of two or three, students have five minutes (for those on the beginner or pre-intermediate levels, 7-10 minutes should suffice) to create a story to present to the class. The advantage of this exercise, is that students are able to exchange ideas and knowledge to create a fantastic, rather interesting story to share with the rest of the class. In small groups of six or less, the exercise can also be done individually.  Even when you have pics like these below, which are rather simple, one can create great stories out of it. The whitest and plainest of canvases make for world-class pictures with this game.  Word to the wise  from my former uncle, who was a world-class painter. 😉

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Mini-Presentation:

With time constraints being the thorn in the side of teachers, one has to go by the principle of “Less Means More,” and optimize your class, in order to make learning as effective as possible. Mini-presentations are the best way for students to talk about their vacation in the shortest time possible. With a couple pics as support, each student has 2-3 minutes to talk about their trip.  The downside to this activity is that the student does not have much to talk about. It is possible though to choose one aspect of the vacation that you love the most and would like to talk about. The best aspect always receives the best attention. How it is presented depends on the student’s creative talents. One can focus on a sport the student tried, a wonderful place the student visited, a local food the student tried and loved, or a local event that took place during vacation. It can also include a summer job, summer camp, talent show or even a local festival, such as a parade, county fair or city market. Whatever event was the highlight, the student should have a chance to present it- as long as it does not overlap with another presenter.  🙂

 

There are several more activities which require the use of photos, while an increasing number of them require the use of 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and other interactive platforms, yet these four exercises do not require the use of technology (minus the Powerpoint aspect), but more with your language skills and your creative talents.  While these four activities can be used at any time, with even different themes, such as Christmas or school-related events for example, for the purpose of reactivating their language knowledge and getting (re-)acquainted with the students and teacher, are they perfect for the occasion. By implementing one or more successfully, the class will become so involved, it will appear that the first day in school never happened, and that the class will pick up where it left off before break, without missing a beat.

Even more so, when using photos for classroom use, a teacher can do a lot with them, while the students can benefit from them through their own stories. Therefore, take a lot of pictures and be prepared to use them for your future classes. Your students will thank you for it. 🙂

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In School in Germany/ Genre of the Week: Pelmanism- From the Novel: Don’t Try This At Home by Paul Reizin

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This Genre of the Week looks at a novel that may look ordinary to some readers who go through the whole book (or even half of it before putting it down for another one) and judge it as textbook style- where the protagonist gets caught in a situation where he has to find his way out.

The novel “Don’t Try This At Home,” by Paul Reizin looks at the protagonist from a first person point-of-view, who ends up being entangled in a mafia, getting in trouble with the law, and in bed with several girls in the process. All of these are by accident; all of these despite his attempts of getting himself out of the situation, only to end up digging himself even deeper in a hole until his wit, quick thinking and a little romance got himself out in the end.  How it all happened and what his personal life was like is worth reading and interpreting yourself. 🙂

Yet Reizin’s novel also features a few unconventional games that are worth trying, if you knew how they were played and done it wisely. Pelmanism is one of those games mentioned and described in the novel.

And while in the book Pelmanism had experiments with different types of alcohol while guessing what they were without looking, the game itself can be a useful one that provides the players of all ages with valuable learning experiences in all subjects of study.

Especially, when learning foreign languages!!!! 😀

I’ve been using this game for all my English classes since 2004- most of the time when we have our last course meeting as a group before the semester ends and we part ways for other commitments in life- and the game features words that are sometimes forgotten by some and unknown by others. It also presents some of the typical things and characteristics of some students. All it takes is some guessing what the objects are and who they belong to.

 

The object of the game is simple. You need:

A sheet of paper and a writing utensil

A timer

And a bag with ten personal items- the items should be small enough to fit in a cloth bag (not a see-through plastic one)

 

How the game is played goes like this:

One student grabs a bag and places the contents on the table in the middle, while other students close their eyes and/or look away as the contents are being taken out. Once all the items are on the table, that student signals the rest of the group to open their eyes and look at the table and the objects.  At this point, students have one minute to identify the ten items on the table in their working language, namely the foreign language they are learning. At the same time, they should guess who these objects belong to.

Once the teacher, who runs the timer, says “Stop!”, the students are called on upon random to name the objects and who they belong to. The student, who gets all the objects right as well as the correct person, will be the next one that chooses another bag, and repeats the same procedure.

This whole process continues until all the bags are used up or the teacher ends the game for time reasons.  There is no clear winner, but the objective of the game is to get the students to “reactivate” their brains to remember the words they learned in the past. At the same time, they also have an opportunity to learn new vocabulary- much of which may need to be listed on a sheet of paper with the native language equivalent, should the foreign language level range from beginner to intermediate (A to B level, according to the Common European Framework). In some cases, small devices that are new to the students will need to be explained by the person who brought it with the other objects.

 

I’ve had some weird but interesting examples that warranted explaining, for instance:

A can of deoderant that is actually a capsule for fitting a small object for hiding in geocaching, a pen that functions as a light, laser pointer and hole puncher, small books full of quotes, USB-sticks with company logos, stuffed animals (also as key chains), pieces of raw material (wood, rock, metal), postcards, pictures and poems. If you can think it, you can present it and be genuine at the same time. 😉

As mentioned earlier, Pelmanism can be played by all ages, regardless of language knowledge, and if you can have at least four participants (the more, the better), you can treat yourself to an evening of fun for either the whole family or friends. If you are a teacher in an English class, you will find this useful and fun for the students; especially if you participate in the game yourself.

Pelmanism is one of those games found in a book, where if modified for use in the classroom and mastered properly, it can be a fun experience for those learning new words, especially in a foreign language. It reactivates your brain and gets you reacquainted with words learned in the past (but seldomly used in the present), while at the same time, encourages active learning and acquisition of new words into an ever-expanding vocabulary. It is a fun game for everyone, and if you are as lucky as the protagonist in the story, you might come out with more than what words you learned in the game. 😉 ❤

Thanks, Paul!

 

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Genre of the Week: What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

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Typical one-room school house and church in Iowa. 

Teaching:  A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds.  Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students.  In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.

Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay.  This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.

And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉

But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.

You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel.  And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉

If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the Worldpublished in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.

So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What aspects of teaching do you like?
  3. As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
  4. If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
  5. Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?

For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job.  🙂

And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉

 

Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.

Video with soundbyte from Mali:

 

Image courtesy of Zen Pencils:

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

 

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