Of Mice & Men: What would you do for a friend?

Spoiler alert: If you’re not familiar with the Steinbeck novella, Of Mice and Men, then do so now!

Reasons to study it in English class:

  1. It’s short – only about 30,000 words which is around one hundred pages

2. It touches a universal theme that is so important to teens – Friendship. We started our unit by writing a definition of friendship and discussing the responsibilities of friendship. At this age friends are the most important group for many kids, more influential than family, so they really warmed to this theme.

3. The end is AMAZING! We were lucky enough to watch a theatre version, (Geneva Amateur Dramatics society) at the end half the class were in tears, and even more touching – so was the actor who played George.

4. The main reason I enjoyed studying this text so much with a class was the texts I received all weekend as students finished reading the book – which wasn’t obligatory as we were going to see the play “This book is amazing Miss”, “Thank you for presenting us this book”, “I’ll never forget this story”, “you made me cry last night Miss”.

The accents and American slang was a challenge for the students ( in fact the language meant the book was banned in several US states), however the students soon got into the language, and by the second half were whizzing along.

So, if you’re looking for a way to introduce English literature into your language class then I highly recommend Of Mice and Men.

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What we’ll be doing on our first day back

Fun stuff basically! So many of my colleagues who teach other subjects spend the first lesson giving out paperwork and telling students how to lay out their ring binders and what the class rules are. I feel that with about 7 hours of that, the students need a break when they get to my class, so here’s some of the things we do:

Getting to Know Each Other

It always surprised me to realise how often after a couple of weeks the students didn’t all know each other’s names in a class. They find their friend group, stick with them and avoid any cross group interaction. I suppose Maths class isn’t the place to yell out and ask a new boy what his name is, but I feel it’s a shame that there isn’t more effort to create a class synergy. So I spend the first few lessons working on the students getting to know everyone in the class with some of these activities-

Line Out – I have the students stand in two lines facing each other. They then have two minutes to present themselves to the person opposite before moving on in speed dating style. Feedback comes by asking the group to tell me everything they know about each person.

Team building activities – such as Marshmallows & Spaghetti are a great way of encouraging students to get to know each other, and also teach them that English class is fun.

Names & Tags – To help students (and me!) get to know each other’s names I ask them to introduce themselves using an appropriate adjective that starts with the same letter to describe something about their personality, “Mad”Max was certainly appropriate, as was chatty Clara!

Write a Letter – not very original I know but I like to give students the chance to tell me what they want me to know about them in a confidential way, and writing a letter to give to me next class seems to work well. Of course they have the chance to send me a film, or twitter, FB or instagram message. one student sent me a film of her miming her day – I got to know an awful lot about her.

Getting to Know the Lesson

By doing loads of oral activities and fun stuff I spend the first few lessons showing students that it’s great to make mistakes and take risks in class, that they can ask questions and especially ask each other – I’m all for an autonomous learning and encourage 3 before me in class.

Textbook Quiz – Ask a bunch of questions about the book “What is Julie’s dog called?” “Find a picture of a London moment – have you ever been?” to encourage students to appropriate their book – and find the dictionary and grammar sections before the end of the year!

Dear Newbie – rather than spend time explaining what I want from class and how we’ll work I ask the students to spend the last lesson of the year writing a letter to future students, I then give these out at the start of the year. They can be quite revealing ” Beware Mrs H if England have lost the rugby”, “if you mention star wars you can get her to talk for hours and she’ll forget about homework” are a couple of my favourite snippets because, yes of course I read them through before handing them out.

Future Me – You are thirty years old, write a letter to your wonderful old English teacher telling her what you’ve been up to for the last 15 years and how you use English in your life.

Get to Know the Teacher

Although they’ve probably already heard more than enough through the jungle drums I always give students a chance to get to know me at the start of the year.

Numbers on Board – I write some numbers on board and students have to guess what they apply to, my age, number of kids, marathons run, average number of detentions given out in a week, kilos of chocolate I expect for christmas, etc. I let them guess a few in pairs before they call out what they think they refer to.

Hot Spot – I use the hot spot a lot through the year when students take on the character of someone from a book or a celebrity and answer questions in that style, it’s a great way of encouraging question practice and class interaction. Start of year hot spot is pretty basic, I sit in a chair at the front and students can ask me what they like – this can become a discussion on appropriacy and social barriers in class as often one student will go to far, but that’a a good way to remind students where the limits are. I’ve noticed that because we chat about life etc. some students think they can talk to me in a way they would never dream of addressing another teacher, so this can be a friendly, but firm way of setting the barriers in my class.

And finally on my first day back, I be collapsing in a heap on the sofa as soon as I make it through the door!

What about you? What have you got lined up?

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Using emoticons in literature class

This year I’m very excited to be teaching English literature to a couple of classes of 16-18 year olds. For my first lesson I need to check what books they studied last year, and more importantly which ones they remember studying.

So here’s what we’ll be doing, firstly we’ll set up a WhatsApp group which will be handy for sharing work and assignments etc. Then we’ll be sharing the books we’ve read over the holidays and the ones they studied last year in class.

Here’s a couple I reread this summer, answers and your own ideas in the comments box below please!



Check out this site to see if you recognise the first lines of some famous novels.

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Revision games

This board game can be used at any level for any subject,

Just write up topics in the colours used on the board,

And when students land on the square they ask a question or speak for two minutes on a subject of the same colour. 

For some reason, the minute a dice is involved it’s playing, not working!

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Being a teacher means…

Recently I asked my students to give an oral presentation on the job of their choice. I was surprised to see how many chose to talk about teaching, but in retrospect it’s probably the job they see the most of and therefore feel they know the best – and so probably thought they had less preparation to do!

Apart from all the stuff about working 8am to 4pm and having weekends and holidays off, and being well-paid (where did that idea come from??!) they said some things that made me stop to think… Continue reading

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Teaching Up – what I learnt about teaching in Pilates class

Photo credit: Robert Bejil Productions via Foter.com / CC BY

The first thing I learnt was that I am the stiffest, most un-supple person in the world – it’s amazing I can bend at all.

The second thing I learnt brought to mind something Carol Tomlinson refers to as TEACHING UP in Assessment & Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom. Echoing Demand High “teaching up” is how Carol refers to what we should be aiming for in our teaching. She says, rather than aiming low and easy, we should plan work that would challenge our most able students, and then work at providing the necessary scaffolding to enable all students to work and learn successfully. Continue reading

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Learning is connecting

Photo via Foter.com

Eureka! Ever since I started teaching I’d been secretly hoping to find the holy grail – the answer to the most important question ever, and no, not 42!

I always felt that if I could discover what learning actually was I could maybe condense it into a brief mantra, or handy swallow-size pill for my students – and especially for myself.

Well, while reading the very interesting (so far!) Assessment & Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom, it came to me, drumroll please… Continue reading

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“The less you do, the less mistakes you can make” – In Praise of Mistakes & Errors: more thoughts from #IATEFL2017

This is just a short post rant to share with you something Andrew Wright said during his workshop at the IP & SEN SIG Pre-conference day at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow.

Andrew talked about a boy who having only written a couple of lines for a presentation in class, explained his reasoning with the quote in the title.

For me this represents the mentality many of my students have or are in the process of developing, but more importantly and worryingly it represents the ethos of my country’s education system, and also that of many of my colleagues.

When did we become a race of people scared to take risks? Is this how fire was discovered? Is this how the lightbulb and internet were developed?

When a baby learns to walk does he fall down a couple of times and then decide “this isn’t for me”?

Let us instead praise and celebrate errors, for they are the path to knowledge.

However it’s not just enough to talk the talk, it’s equally important – and more difficult – to share our mistakes with our students, we can’t pretend to be perfect and get all defensive when we get something wrong and expect our students to take risks in the classroom.

Let’s be brave, tell students when you’ve brought the wrong book, or made a mistake on a test or worksheet (play spot the error!). Share stories with them of that cake you made with salt instead of sugar – or is that only me?!

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It’s about sharing stories: Thoughts from #IATEFL2017

The first year I went to IATEFL (Harrogate 2014) I went to as many talks and workshops as I could fit into a day then dashed backed to the B&B to write a whole pile of blogposts, 7 or 8 in total and I was only there two full days!

This year however it has taken me a while to gather my thoughts and I’ve chosen to write about themes that have come up, rather than workshop reviews. This is because so many ideas have overlapped, reminding me of Diane Freeman’s excellent plenary at TESOL France on fractals.

One of the first themes to develop from IATEFL 2017 was story telling.

As newsletter editor I am proud to be a (n acting) member of the IP & SEN SIG committee (online elections coming soon! – watch this space!) and was very excited to be part of our first ever SIG pre-conference event on Monday 3rd April. This day was filled with wonderful moments, but my highlight was Andrew Wright’s plenary. Andrew talked about his daughter, Alex.

Andrew said something that touched me to the core, this is what our SIG is all about:

“We can’t speak for everyone, we’re trying to help but all we can do is share stories”

For me this is what it is all about, describing his daughter Alex as “autistic” is about as useful as describing her as a brunette, or English, or a bookworm; a very thin start but completely one-faceted and superficial.

Andrew described story telling as “sharing experiences”, “creating and adding layers to relationships that are forming and reforming in the classroom”. This image reminded me of this:

During the trip to Glasgow I re-read Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, if you haven’t read it, do so now, fantastic – better than Harry Potter! If you have, then do you know there’s another book in the series coming out in October?! Anyway, my attention was caught by the moment Lyra persuades the harpies to show everyone how to get out of the land of the dead by telling them stories. To escape you have to lead a full and exciting life and then tell the harpies true stories – a brilliant life philosophy as far as I’m concerned!

Since my return I’ve started reading a book that Sarah Mercer recommended during her plenary called Better Conversations.  Sarah’s plenary will probably get a post all of its own as I think she’s just fab! In the meantime this book has made me reflect on my conversations, not only with peers but with students of course. The Better Conversation beliefs are the following:

I see conversation partners as equals

I want to hear what others have to say

I believe people should have autonomy

I don’t judge others

Conversation should be back and forth

Conversation should be life-giving

That’s all sharing stories isn’t it?

Then of course there’s all the great people I met in Glasgow and the stories we shared.

I’ve always thought of telling stories as “doing the Gruffalo” with a primary class, but I’ve learnt that as a language teacher the most powerful thing we can do is enable our learners to tell their stories.


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Powerful (and fun) learning



End of term exams and revision are upon us again and it’s a challenge to find new, interesting ways to  help the students revise.

This time I gave each student a particular grammar point or topic to prepare in order to teach the class in the following lesson.

Not only did they say that it really helped them revise their subject in depth but it also helped me reflect on my own teaching as I watched them present various subjects to their classmates.

Images & Drawing – One student asked the others to draw various objects to revise prepositions, a fun twist on picasso dictation.

Students up to the board – I always worry that this is a waste of time, but they enjoyed it and it made the lesson more animated.

Writing on the Board -I realised how boring it is waiting for someone to write examples on the board!

Names on the board – They really enjoyed having their own names on the board, in examples or when winning points!

Remember Names! – I think I’m pretty good at this, but one student did mention how a colleague always got their name wrong, and I could tell it annoyed her!

Not only did the students learn quite a bit during the lesson, but I did too!

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