Say something nice

I don’t bring an electric keyboard and toys to class to teach grammar rules. That’s the job of the “formal” English teachers. My job is to help kids practice speaking so that they learn how to actually use all of those rules that sometimes even native speakers don’t fully understand. If you don’t know how important that is, look here, or search Google for “Lexical approach”. Since my job is also to teach them to enjoy English as a spoken language, I want that practice to be interesting, varied and meaningful while creating a pleasant, non-threatening environment for everyone.

It’s sometimes hard to relate to sentences written in a textbook. However, students often have trouble creating their own sentences using a specific format.

Recently I was helping a group of weak students practice (again) the different forms of “to be”, an essential English verb that has no Hebrew equivalent used in common speech. This time I tried something new. Each student had to compliment another student. To make sure we included he, she and you, they had to say the sentence to the student and then tell us the same thing. Example – “You are strong. She is strong.” Sometimes they had something to say about more than one student – “They are good at art”.

Not only did students leave class likely to make fewer mistakes, they also had more reasons to feel good about themselves.

Teach children the way they learn

Whether you teach full classes or small groups, in or after school, it’s important to keep your students interested and engaged in lessons.

Children don’t just like to move, they need to move. Research also shows that they learn best when they’re active, using their bodies as well as all their senses. We don’t need to wait for students to learn some vocabulary to have fun – we can have fun while we’re teaching it. Memorizing lists of words and translations is boring. It may improve test scores but doesn’t do much to improve speaking skills. Learning with all the senses is much more effective.

Do you spend a good part of your lessons telling students to sit still and be quiet, punishing them if they don’t? Do you use a lot of worksheets because your students have trouble sitting still, hoping that this will keep them from moving around?

Are you ready to try another approach?

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Summing up the year

A year ago I was looking for a change. The niche I had created by combining my music and drama skills with English had me labeled as an English teacher and almost forgotten as a musician. Sales had gone down as the availability of free materials went up. I began a program for teacher-entrepreneurs and started to develop a new music project. I also took advantage of the program to reorganize my business.
Then I was offered an exciting challenge – 4 days a week teaching the program I’ve developed over the last 15 years, using songs and games in active, engaging lessons.  I also took on several after-school groups. Suddenly I found myself busy doing exactly what I wanted to do, not compromising and not looking for work. I also keep my music career going as a pianist, playing at a hotel and going to jam sessions.
So I put my indepent business, English is Fun, on the back burner, along with other projects I started. Occasionally I would promise myself I’d get back to something, but didn’t. I was frustrated by what I wasn’t doing, until I realized why – I’m happy where I am now. It’s not a cop-out. I started working in education because I love working with children, especially when I sing and dance with them. I don’t enjoy selling and marketing. Now I create new materials, use them in class and put them on YouTube – and the kids are impressed that I have my own channel even if it doesn’t actually create any income yet.
At the beginning of the summer I went to the ETAI international conference. I used to have a table at the book exhibit, where I would sit all day and try to sell CDs, books and workshops. A few years ago I stopped because I wasn’t making enough to cover the cost. Now I go as a participant, attend workshops and often lead one, mingle, meet new people and have a wonderful time. I like my role as an educator rather than a publisher. This time I lead a forum on songs and games. It was a fun workshop, and I realized that I do have a lot to offer. And it’s always good to have something simmering on that burner.
So once again I’m trying to restart my blog/mailing list, again in a new format. I hope to reach more people and provide occasional ideas and tips. So please follow me here and on Facebook. As you can see, there won’t be too many posts.

What did we learn today?

Teaching creatively while maintaining structure means adapting many conventional ideas. 

One of my favorite sources is החופש ללמד  Their latest series of tips talks about having students sum up what they learned. I usually end a lesson either by having students collect objects while naming them, or with a chant “What did we learn today?”.  They suggest having several students write down something new they learned to see if they understood what we consider the most important points of the lesson.

Writing doesn’t really work in my groups. I teach spoken English. Students don’t have pencils out unless they’re learning about school supplies, looking for objects that are yellow or start with “p”, or using them to tap a rhythm. Some of them haven’t learned to write yet, and since the point of the lesson is learning to speak writing won’t demonstrate that.

So last week toward the end of lesson I opened the voice recording app on my phone and asked who wanted me to record them saying new words or phrases. This was a lot more exciting and more students wanted to answer. Most classes asked to hear the recording and students had an opportunity to hear themselves speak English. I save each recording by class, along with speech-to-text,  to have a record of their progress throughout the year. 

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Let’s finish the year with a smile

It’s the end of the year and everyone is tired. Maybe you’ve finished the textbook and maybe the kids just don’t have the patience to open it. This is the time to review everything you’ve done during the year and let groups choose their favorite games, songs and activities. Here are a few more ideas:

  1. Summary game – Make cards for different categories you’ve taught and spread them out, then set out objects or pictures representing words from each category. Children in turn choose an object/picture, say the word and place it in the proper category. You can also call out words and have them run to the proper card.
  2. Another good activity to refresh their memories is “Name that Tune”. Play or sing a few notes of a song they learned and see who can guess first.
  3. Review Weather and Seasons with an emphasis on “hot” and “summer” (yes, I know it’s still raining) – sing The Weather Rock, play the game hot-cold, sort out objects and clothes by season.
  4. Swimming, Swimming – one of my favorite camp songs. I wish I had written it, but since I didn’t this is the best clip I could find on YouTube https://youtu.be/HeMOaMwTgp0
  5. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream – Familiar to many and easy to teach if students repeat after you. Emphasize the difference between “I scream” and “ice cream”.
  6. Give students a certificate of completion to show that they have “graduated” and can speak English.
  7. End-of-the-Year celebration – My book English is Fun on the Stage contains short playscripts that can be performed by students. You can also put together your own, or just have them sing some of their favorite songs.

Hopefully you and your students have had a fun year. Finishing on a high note will help them remember it that way. 

Using Songs as Text

If they don’t like English something’s wrong
And you don’t have to sing to use a song!
This post is based on the following observations –
·         Songs are an excellent way to reinforce vocabulary and grammar.
·         Songs are more interesting and easier to remember than text.
·         Not all English teachers sing – fewer play musical instruments.
·         As children get older they don’t always want to sing in class.
·         Children and teenagers usually enjoy listening to music even if they don’t like singing.
·         Israeli teenagers listen to a lot of songs in English.
So how can a musically-challenged English teacher use music to enrich English lessons?
Start out by presenting the song the way you would present text –
·         Write the title on the board, review some words and/or discuss the theme of the song.
·         Play the song for the class.
·         Ask the pupils which words they recognize.
·         If you want to concentrate on reading comprehension, hand out the lyrics. Another option is to hand out the lyric sheet with words missing and have them fill in the blanks.
·         Play the song again.
·         Discuss the song – what did they understand, what is the song about, etc.
·         Write some questions on the board.
·         Play the song once more, asking the pupils to listen for answers to the questions.
There is no need to actually teach the song, but after playing it a few times you will find pupils singing along. Once they are familiar with the lyrics, it’s time to divide into pairs or small groups and be creative. Ask each group to present the song in pantomime, stage a “video clip” (actual filming isn’t necessary) or even choreograph a dance. You can play the song in the background while they’re working. This way they will hear it a few more times without getting bored. If the song tells a story, they can put on a short play. Another option is to play a game like charades using words or phrases from the song.
How should you choose songs, and where can you find them? It makes sense to use songs that are connected to what you’re teaching. The connection can be subject matter, or specific sentence structures or vocabulary. Look through your own or your children’s music library, or search the internet. If you’re feeling lucky, go into a lyrics site and search for the vocabulary or chunk that you’re teaching, you may just find a song you know. Asking pupils to suggest songs promises more interest, but obviously you should review the lyrics carefully before using them in class. For younger or weaker students be sure to keep the lyrics simple. There are also songs available written specifically for the EFL classroom, including my own series, English is Fun.
Remember, creativity is the key.

And do they know the Earth is round?

I was in the car listening to the radio tonight. During the news I heard Bennett, the Minister of Education, talk about his new English program. “Children in Israel need to learn spoken English… The ability to have a conversation in English is a necessity today… Our children will know how to speak English and not be afraid to open their mouths when they’re overseas.”  Later I heard other speakers discussing the program “A student can do a 5-point Bagrut in English and still not be able to speak.” “Children need to speak a language before they learn to read it.”

Bennett’s quotes made the headlines, the interviewers sounded interested, but I think I’ve heard this before. Oh, right, I said it yesterday when I presented my English group to parents. And in the past to school principals. My motto “English is not just a subject in school, English is a language” basically sums it up. No, I’m not Galileo. Plenty of other people have discovered, researched and said all these things.  But now the top bureaucrat of education wants English to be taught as a language. This could get interesting.

The obvious question is – Will anything really change? Written English is so much simpler to teach. Students do exercises from a book and memorize vocabulary lists. Teachers prepare them for tests and then test them on the material they prepared. Tests can be graded quickly with numbers that go into a computer to be compared. Everyone can see which students are smarter and which schools are better. 

Now Bennett is talking about extra time for spoken English, debate clubs, oral exams. In other words noise, disagreements (maybe even political), no objective standards and all that extra time and effort! Teachers will need to learn new skills, and no one will be able to measure their success with standardized test scores. 

They will only have the satisfaction of hearing their students speak English and knowing that they made a difference in their lives.