At the start of the school year I set up the #3bestbits challenge at school, so let me tell you what it is and how it’s going.

The principle is very simple, we know writing a gratitude diary is the secret to happiness, my students also know they should be practising English regularly out of school so I decided to join the two together. Basically the students choose their means of communication, most seem to have gone for instagram messaging, some have gone public and a couple mail me (I even have some who give me a sheet of paper once a week!) and they note down the three best events of the day and add a photo if they want.

I’ve been doing it too of course (lead by example) and even though it’s been tough to find three good bits every day in what has been a pretty tough month, I’ve enjoyed the challenge.

The Three Best Bits about this challenge are:

  1. A chance to interact with my students in a more informal way
  2. The opportunity to learn new things about my students
  3. The best bit has definitely been a few students who have taken to doing this every day – and not the students that I expected to, i.e. the good girls on the front row! I think the private nature of messaging has struck a chord as has being able to choose the medium that suits them

So as I know you are all wondering my 3bestbits today were :

  1. Tea with my sister-in-law (see photo)
  2. Grey’s anatomy is back!
  3. Going for a run
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Write a Letter!

One of the ideas I suggested in my presentation “30 things to do with a piece of paper” was to write a letter.

This week the 6ème have been studying London and the Royal family, they had so many questions about the queen (most of which I couldn’t answer!) that we decided to write her a letter to ask her some of them directly.

After brainstorming questions with a partner, we put them all on the board;IMG_3965.JPG

then we chose the best ones. To avoid our letter sounding like an interrogation, the students wrote their own answers to the questions, e.g. “We speak French at school, but also German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian, what languages do you speak?”

I then wrote up the letter and the students signed it;


We hope she answers us!

You can of course write to any famous person, lots have fan clubs. The most famous person of all – Santa Claus, usually has an address in most countries and will reply with a standard letter if you write to him, in France for example it’s through the post office service.

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What I learnt from reading Marie Delaney’s “Special Educational Needs”

An unexpected day off work was recently the perfect opportunity to make a dint in my reading pile and so I polished off Marie Delaney’s Special Educational Needs. A great, well –organised book for any teacher who has students with SEND in their classroom and has received little or no training, it is also a good read to anyone interested in this subject.

Here’s what I learnt:

  • Many people now refer to SEN as AEN – Additional Educational Needs, and ASD is called ASC – Autistic Spectrum Condition. Living and working outside of the UK means I’m not always up to date on terminology and I like to know what people are talking about as much as I dislike using a term that makes me sound like some 1950’s racist.
  • It’s a good idea to encourage students to share memory strategies, get them to tell each other how they go about learning vocab or revising for a test.
  • Dyspraxia can lead to difficulties in sleeping and migraines
  • Getting partners to sit next to each other not opposite eases discomfort for some students, including those with Asperger’s for example.
  • Gifted & Talented students can get impatient if their concentration is interrupted and they are keen to improve systems and institutions.

AND finally this underlined something I’ve been reading about elsewhere and will try and put into practice this year;

  • Teachers need to manage their energy levels and do things that energize them as opposed to draining them. It’s not about getting everything done ( we know that’s never going to happen!) but about rationing your strength and energy but resting BEFORE you are exhausted. This year I also want to try and remember that mental exhaustion is not the same as physical tiredness, and to make more of an effort to go for a quick walk when I get home, rather than vegging on the sofa shoving biscuits into my mouth all evening!
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What I’ve learnt from my teachers

The wonderful @stephanootis has recently posted on “Would I like to be taught by me?” – a very interesting question.

She goes on to mention what she’s learnt from her Pilates teacher, so here’s what I’ve learnt from teachers who have made their mark on my learning.

  1. Get a Life

I’ll never forget the excitement of our A level history teacher as he shared his joy at having got tickets for the Who‘s “Our Generation” tour, nor the hour long resume in class after the event. I don’t think I ever saw him without his badge either come to think of it. Even though we didn’t like the Who we recognised passion and enthusiasm and loved him for it.

2. Be passionate about your subject

My daughter’s eye light up as she talks about her literature lesson with “Mummy-Descombes”, as the 17 year-old class has named their teacher. She tells us how fired up the teacher gets about her subject, and I’ve seen how she got the whole class to go to the theatre one weekend, just for fun.

3.Support individual learning styles

I’ve recently finished my M.A. TESOL with Sheffield Hallam. It was tough fitting everything in, and a lonely learning experience doing it online. However my tutor (Alice Oxholm) was just lovely, she saw pretty early on that I worked best to deadlines and appreciated face-to-face contact so she was always available to skype, and asked pertinent questions about where I was going next. Her suggestions were never over-bearing and she motivated and encouraged me when I needed it.

4. Enjoy your job

I learnt this from a colleague that made it so obvious that she didn’t, to the point where students would sign up for extra classes rather than sit in study hall and get on with their homework if she was supervising. She also taught me the importance of liking your students. While I realise we can’t all be BFF, there is something to like in everyone and the secret of a good relationship is to find that something. It doesn’t have to be a shared love of your subject, I admire my students’ guitar skills or motivation at football, knowing that they’ll learn English when they need to. They aren’t the centre of my life so I shouldn’t expect to be the centre of theirs. This mutual appreciation helps us all get on and get the most from our time together.

So, would I like to be taught by me? Overall yes I think so. I’d appreciate my passion for life, running and of course Star Wars. I’d enjoy the different projects we did in class and although I’d find my insistence to use English as the language of instruction challenging to start with, I’d probably be grateful later.

What I wouldn’t be to keen on is that sometimes lessons would lack organisation, and that the teacher would come up with cool ideas mid-class that occasionally would fall through, rather than think things through first and only undertake projects she had the time to see through to the end. And that, of course is what I’ve learnt about improving my teaching this week.

Now over to you, would You like to be taught by you?


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The Feel-Good factor in the language classroom.

It’s quite scary learning a foreign language. Communication is a big part of who we are, and being able to express ourselves “correctly” is seen as a sign of maturity and intelligence by many people and in many places. It’s so easy to feel foolish when we make mistakes or frustrated when we can’t say what we want to get across.

This is why it’s extra important to make out students feel confident, especially if as in my case they are teens, and even more importantly if they have SEND (Special Educational Needs or Disabilities).

There are plenty of things you can do to help students feel good about themselves and I’ll be talking about it more in the run up to the IP&SEN Pre-Conference day on 3rd April 2017 at IATEFL Glasgow. In the meantime you can check out my blog post for the IATEFL Young Learners&Teens SIG here.

One thing that I plan on starting in the New Year is #3bestbits – simply I will ask my students to share the 3 best parts of their day, or things that they are grateful for, everyday on twitter, instagram, FB, or in their homework diary, whatever works best for them.

Follow me on instagram (fabenglishteacher), Facebook or twitter to join in.

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Books to get your teaching mojo back


Don’t be put off by the picture, that’s just to grab your attention. Actually most of the books I would recommend for a bit of holiday reading are on my kindle of course. I say of course because recently I noticed that I have over a thousand books on it and although I have never subscribed to the zen decluttering school of thought I did feel a shiver of panic at where I’d put them all.

Anyway, back to the subject of this post, I don’t know about you but by half way through the term I’m often pushed to find the energy and focus to read anything, let alone something to improve my teaching. It’s during the hols, after I’ve had time to zone out in front of netflix for a few days recuperate that I look around for something more meaty and motivating.

Enough blathering, here is this holiday’s list:

Exploring Psychology in Language Learning – I actually started reading this because one of the authors, Sarah Mercer, is a plenary speaker at the upcoming ETAS conference in Zurich  in January. However I got into it really quickly, you know when something makes such perfect sense that it seems completely obvious? I also like the reflection activities at the end of each chapter.

The Growth Mindset Coach – Although this is one of those books that starts at the beginning of the school year so to speak, it is important to remember that every day is a new start, more so a new term, and I’m looking forward to putting these ideas into practice during the next year.

Penny Ur’s 100 Teaching Tips – Despite some of these seeming as obvious as breathing for old hands like us, there’s nothing like going back to basics to iron out all those bad habits.

Urban Myths about Learning and Education – Just in case you still thought that 93% of your communication was non-verbal.

And finally something a little out of the ordinary, Global Chorus is an anthology of 365 pieces contributed by people such as Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Jamie Oliver on the subject of the future of our planet.

I’d love to hear your suggestions, on education or otherwise, below!

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Games Day

Every so often we drop everything and have GAMES DAY! – For example when I’m covering for a sick colleague!

The principle is simple,

a) Get out every game you have and set the classroom so the groups can go from game to game trying them out,



Or even easier, give each student a piece of A4 folded into 16 parts ( half length ways twice and widthways twice) draw lines and number the squares. Students then add their own snakes and ladders, and more importantly, draw something they’ve learnt about recently – hey presto! Our own board game!



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Catch their interest

I’m lucky because I teach English in the primary classroom. This means I can pop in and leave clues about what we will be studying in English class this week.

I love  doing this before lessons start on Monday (with their teacher’s permission of course!) and having them come rushing up and tell me what the next topic is when I arrive in class.

And you, what do you think our next topic is?

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Tweet what you’ve learnt

I like doing this activity at the end of a unit, I ask all the students to write a tweet (140 characters max!) about what they learnt, what they found difficult or a question they have concerning the work they have done. Sometimes we tweet it or sometimes the students write on these fun stickers I bought:

This way they can read each other’s tweets too.

Another end of unit activity I like is for each student to write a question on the board, and then they each go back up and answer someone else’s question. I find students teaching each other a very powerful tool, or maybe I’m just getting lazy!

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A reflection on the first month back


So, we’ve been back to school for a month now, and I finally have time to sit down and think about it. Here, in no particular order are a ramble of those thoughts.

  1. OMG It’s so hard and tiring!!

I probably feel this way every new school year, but this time it was really a shock to the system, maybe as I was particularly busy this summer writing my dissertation for an M.A. TESOL (I passed!) when I should have been preparing lessons as some fool (me!) decided to change the course books for nearly all my classes in the same year.

Also my new timetable means back-to-back teaching all day on both Monday and Tuesday – a challenge for my lack of organisational skills.

The cherry-on-the-cake was falling ill, I don’t do poorly and a bad sore throat has put me in a bad mood all week and certainly hasn’t been helped by parents meetings.

2. Time goes so quickly!

I had all these plans to do loads of cool stuff and haven’t managed half of it. That’s not to say we’ve done nothing. A fantastic workshop by Joe Dale @joedale at the recent ETAS PD day gave me loads of fun ideas, like livening up that boring “present yourself” exercise at the beginning of the year using the yakit kids app on the ipad.


3. I get more out of conferences when I present a workshop

I don’t know why, maybe I get more of a buzz, but the recent ETAS conference was the first  event I’ve been to in a while where I wasn’t presenting and it wasn’t the same. Saying that it was great to link up to some good conference buddies like the amazing Dina Blanco-Loannou and the aforementioned Joe.

4. I need to take time for me

I’m a better teacher when I sleep lots, eat well and run. It’s simple but I forget it too often. Oh and I need to read and have a laugh with friends more often too.

5. It’s worth putting in the preparation time

Probably in all areas of life, but with my packed timetable the best way to get through the week is by spending Sunday (and part of Saturday this week!) planning. That’s not the hardship it might sound because I actually enjoy planning and finding resources and fun stuff to do in class.

6.I love learning

Since finishing my M.A. (which felt like putting the final lick of paint on the Forth bridge!) I’ve signed up to a couple of future learn courses and one on coursera.

And finally, it’s not just about me! How has your “rentrée” gone? Drop me a line and let me know.


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