Sunday, January 20, 2013

Experiment: long and short lesson planning

I have finished my two-part experiment with long and short lesson planning. Successfully!

Part 1 was short planning, done in late November last year. I restricted myself to 20 minutes per student for the whole week's lessons (approximately 14 ). During the week, I asked each student 3 survey questions at the end of each lesson:

  • What was the level of difficulty today? Easy, medium, difficult?
  • Did you feel the teacher was well prepared?
  • How well did the lesson fit your personal needs and goals in learning English?
All students answered very positively to all the questions. 

Part 2 was long planning, done in mid-January this year, 2013. I allowed myself to take all the time I wanted, roam the Internet, delve into my files and library, create new worksheets, etc. during the week, I asked the same survey questions again.

All Students answered positively again!

This experiment showed me several things about my practice:
  • 2-3 hours preparation is enough to satisfy my students
  • Long preparation put me in a "mold" which didn't allow enough student centeredness
  • I should do more experiments like this, because they produce valuable student feedback
My next step is to do 2-3 hours prep on the weekend and use the thus freed up time weekdays to tend my PLN, read professional journals, and experiment/create new materials.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The power of words

Dear Students,

Please watch this video and write a comment! Please!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jeremy Harmer's "perfect" lesson plan

I watched Jeremy Harmer present a demonstration lesson at IATEFL Poland's annual conference, September 7-9, 2012. 

The lesson was so perfect, I just have to put it down here. Integration was the key: content, blended beautifully with student participation, grammar and lexis, audio and visual elements, and excitement.

The elements were watching and listening to a video, focus on collocations, intonation, and effective presentation skills.
The content was Michelle Obama's speech at the U.S. Democratic Party convention, and the video is here. Jeremy used just the final two minutes of the speech. (text is below)

Warmer (10 minutes)
A wordle made up of words from Michelle Obama's speech. Task was to search for collocations with a partner. We tried to find strong collocations and distinguish them from simple adjective-noun pairs.
Strong collocations:
American dream/jail time/better life/younger generation/love life
Adjective-noun pairs:
proud immigrants/women farmers/Great Depression

There was a lot of discussion! Jeremy asked for ANY adjective-noun combinations, then for subject-verb combinations

Next, he asked the group to guess where the words in the wordle came from (we didn't know the lesson was based on Michelle's speech)

Our group guessed: epic novel, maybe The Great Gatsby, newspaper article, historical material, country western song, poem, something "thespian"...

Then the video was shown (it was actually shown 3 times during the lesson, more often than I usually do, but surprisingly we never tired of it)
We were asked how we felt while watching. There were lots of questions.

The video was shown again. Harmer asked us to think What makes it a success?
Pointed out: emphasis on "surely" and "if", body language. Long-short words, reiterate the same grammatical structure

A student was asked to read the script out plain without any intonation or shifts. We discussed that.

Intonation and Stress activity (pairs)
A: Ask B about a film
B can answer four different ways, using intonation
a. I definitely loved it
b. I really enjoyed it
c. It was fabulous
d. It was absolutely terrible
Then again, using do-DO-do-do-do-DO-do (I DEFinitely LOVED it) This was modeled by Jeremy, with plenty of chorusing and laughter

Pointed out difference in meaning between THANK you and Thank YOU.
Pointed out that Michelle used pitch and intonation very well.

Sonnet by e e cummings, "It may not always be so..."
it may not always be so; and i say
that if your lips, which i have loved, should touch
another's, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another's face your sweet hair lay
in such silence as i know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;

if this should be, i say if this should be--
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that i may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands

We read the poem to ourselves and noticed its structure (sonnet, 14 lines with 2 stanzas of 8/6 lines, Petrarchan aabb, melancholy) Punctuation (--- ; comma) guides breathing when reading aloud. Then a student tried it before the group.

Return to Michelle's speech: it was played again, for the third time

  • speaks to all constituents (workers, blacks, gays-lesbians etc.)
  • iconic moments - "if" + past tense - NOT conditional!!
  • the positive CAN

FINALE: Then a student tried giving Michelle's speech from the text provided. Very dramatic, lots of varied pitch and intonation. We applauded!!

Michelle Obama's speech (final excerpt)
If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire, if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores, if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote, if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time, if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream, and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the alter with who they love then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream. Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country -- the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lesson plan about visualization and presentation for advanced business English students

A TED lecture by David McCandless (18 minutes) is the basis for this lesson with advanced business English students.


1: the students will consider the power of visualizing data
2: the students will raise their awareness of presentation technology
3: (if applicable) the students will decide on a new medium for their next presentation


Students discuss visuals they used in the first presentation they ever gave (overhead slides, etc.)
Students describe visuals they used in their most recent presentation (PowerPoint?)
If students have not presented, they can compare older and more recent presentations they have attended.


Students and teacher together build up a time-line of presentation visuals

  • Teacher's notes here:
    • 50's-60's: overhead projector and slides (actually 1940 - 3M company, transparencies)
    • 50's: slide projector (ITA, used for home trials, Kodak)
    • 60's-70's: mind maps, Tony Buzan (Porphyry 3AD)
    • 1980's: PowerPoint, developed by Apple employee Rob Campbell
    • 1986: Harvard Graphics - DOS - MS Windows based
    • 90's: Wordle/tag clouds - Flickr/Delicious/Technorati
    • 2007: Prezi, developed by two Hungarians, an architect and a software developer
    • !7500 B.C.: the first Infographic? cave painting of Lescaux, France - data of a hunt
    • Information design is the creation of infographics
    • Richard Saul Wurman, founder of TED, coined the title information architect
This video can be used in small segments, because the presenter, David McCandless, shows the following graphics separately. You could just use one or two of his graphics instead of watching the whole video.
Topics of the graphics:
  1. How billions of dollars are spent by countries
  2. Fear generated by the media
  3. Broken romances
  4. Human senses
  5. Military budgets
  6. Health and food supplements
  7. The political spectrum
  8. The Iceland volcano

Students can listen and tick the expressions they hear. Alternately, teacher can point out some expressions for discussion. Students could implement the expressions in role plays or homework tasks.

info overload
data glut
failing that...
scrape (as an IT expression meaning to collect data from various sources)
mushroom to...
mountains out of molehills
lack of transparency
millenium bug
data detective
milking a metaphor
convey something to somebody
poured into our eyes
exquisitely sensitive


  • Discussion can go on during or after viewing of the various segments. Focus on both the points made and the way they are delivered visually.
  • Invite the students to choose an alternate method for their next presentation (retro to overhead projector or whiteboard! or ultramodern Prezi?)
  • Hold a debate using the rubric: "Information architects manipulate our views for their own purposes." Agree or disagree?
What's next

Students bring in infographics from their company or industry and discuss how well they help visualize the data.
Students recast one of their previous PowerPoint presentations with different technology and present it. Discuss the relative impact.

Lascaux caves, prehistoric paintings: the first infographic?