Month: October 2011

Moving away from a Fear of Plagiarism towards a Melting Pot of Creativity

Who owns your dreams?Recognition and Ownership

I was reading an excellent post (as always) by Scott Thornbury “O is for Ownership” and it was one of those posts that really made me stop and think. We all care a lot, in fact, about our ideas and, more to the point, recognition of ownership of our ideas. I can think of various occasions when my work has been “appropriated” and even “presented” in various different contexts as someone else’s. I have been described as naive because I still share the ideas I’m enthusiastic about, with almost anyone who is interested enough to listen, and I have been told in no uncertain terms not to give my worksheets, data etc. to other people at conferences etc. in case they “steal” them and pass them off as their own. I know what it feels like and I have felt hurt and betrayed by this type of behaviour, and I also know  that my career has probably suffered as a result.

In the long run, however, I have to say that my career is actually alive and well and, in a way, it is a backhanded compliment. After all, if people steal your ideas doesn’t it ultimately reflect worse on them, since it means that they cannot come up with their own! I may have a new idea tomorrow, and, whilst I’m sure that none of my ideas are completely my own, at least I know that I am developing my own work and not simply stealing someone else’s.

Plagiarism is live and well

Plagiarism is alive and kicking, perhaps more than ever before, since it is so easy these days to copy something from the Internet and paste it into a word processor then passing it off as your own. Generations of students are having to be taught about copyright and essays need to be processed by programmes that check for plagiarism, such as Grammarly. Despite all this I feel that plagiarism has always been around and is basically a sign of lack of ethics, fear (of not being good enough) or greed (when people copy someone else’s work for their own personal gain).

Let your thoughts fly off into the worldThe Picture is not all black

These three monsters: fear, greed and lack of ethics, who may well be dancing ghoulishly around in our lives (and unfortunately not only at Halloween) , are symptomatic of the times we are living in (or maybe simply of human nature itself) and will certainly not disappear overnight. On the other hand, however, it always amazes me how generous a whole range of my colleagues are and many writers and thinkers in the EFL world (Scott Thornbury is an excellent example of this) in that they are willing to share ideas, experience and resources, both by giving excelent presentations at conferences like Iatefl, as well as by contributing here in the blogosphere. So many people do this freely and altruistically by blogging and unfortunately I can’t include everyone here but three of my favourites are:

Chiew Pang’s blogs (he has more than one) aClilToClimb

Janet Bianchini’s blog: Janet’s Abruzzo Edublog

Sue Lyons Jones: The PLN Staff Lounge

In fact, all it takes is a visit to someone’s blogroll these days to see a whole wealth of altruistic individuals blogging away madly. This is the staff room I always dreamed of as a young teacher, where people, who were enthusiastic about what they were doing, couldn’t wait to share it with others. At times I have found that in the staff rooms I’ve been lucky enough to work in but never has there been so much creativity available as there is now.It seems to me that in this part of the world the monsters fear and greed don’t get much of a look in and the result is a real sharing of ideas and growth. So, it is possible, in fact to be naive and share your ideas with others. They will take them and like David Warr’s language plants, help them to bloom into something new. We can all learn from each other, in this way, and develop professionally.

We all need colour and funStay foolish and Stay naive

Of course, it is not always easy to say where our ideas come from and after an idea has been around for a while everyone talks about it and in a way it passes into the public domain. As Scott asked in his article: when do we have to stop citing Jerome Bruner when we talk about “scaffolding”? I know that a lot of my work, ideas, worksheets and activities are the result of the influence of lots of people that I have read over the years and then adapted to different contexts. I owe an enormous debt, for instance, to Mario Rinvolucri and Alan Mayley, and yet I would hope that I bring something of myself into my work too, in the same way that we all do. This is the growth and development aspect. One of the great resources I love at the moment is the #ELTCHAT meetings on Wednesdays on Twitter, and even though I am now working during the day I still try to get to the evening meetings. These are chats where people really share ideas, opinions and resources, and then blog about them afterwards. So the whole chat becomes a springboard to development. The summaries are an amazing resource too, that you can access whenever you want to see the sort of things people chatted about, on a whole range of elt related subjects. So in this online melting pot where we meet and “cook” our ideas together we are moving towards the opposite of this concern for ownership towards a concern for growth and development, and somehow when we let go of the fear there is a natural need to recognise other people’s work as a mark of respect, which comes naturally to those who are reasonable ethical and secure about themselves and their own work. So I’ve adapted the words from Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, which I find particularly inspirational and have been working on with my students for a week or so now, in which the words “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”, which he himself took from Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog. My version is “Stay Naive” because I would not want to not feel the need to share my enthusiasm with others when lessons or ideas work well, and “Stay Foolish” because who wants to be serious and grey ;-).


Halloween will soon be here

Meet the Pumpkins

The leaves turn and our thoughts go in the direction of Festivals

Autumn and Spring are the in between times and for some reason that really appeals to me. I like the crisp feeling in the air, in autumn, the fact that the sweaty August heat has finally gone and I can think and turn my thoughts in new directions, once more. As the leaves turn colour we begin to think about the darkness of the winter months, which we can eleven with the color of festivals like Bonfire Night, Halloween and Christmas. I noticed, in fact, that a lot of people seem to be reading my Halloween post from last year, so I decided tp update the wiki with new resources for this year. (Last year’s resources are still there, for those who like the idea of the Halloween Compound Noun Activities).

The picture at the top of this post is one I took recently in Yorkshire when I came across this delightful “Halloween Family”, who I named “The Pumpkins”. I decided to make a Halloween lesson around them to practice descriptive writing for my students at various levels. After all it is the task that stretches the learner, isn’t it.

I put this one and another on a Voicethread to give my learners the choice of either practising speaking or writing, and set it up for them on the wiki. I’d be very happy for other people to contribute too. The more the merrier. Just go to the fun and games page on the wiki and follow the instructions.

I also added a second activity for those who are motivated by songs, which is based on “Halloween” sung by “Aqua”, which I found on the resource Lyrics Trainer.  This is another fun resource, if you haven’t seen it before. It takes songs from YouTube and students can read the lyrics, listen to the dong and do a gap filler exercise as they go. You can choose the level you want as well. beginner, intermediate or advanced. This is both useful and fun, especially when combined with a few learning strategies to help learners along. For more on this go to the same link as before and I hope we’ll all get a lot of fun out of it.

Happy Halloween

Blooming Phrasal Verbs

The title of this post, of course, may well have you nodding in sympathy for all those generations of learners who curse about phrasal verbs. The focus, though, as you may have noticed, is green and when I say “blooming” I really mean it in the horticultural sense. This is, in fact the reply to David Warr’s latest blog challenge, to use his great new (and altruistically free) plant maker tool. To find out more visit his blog and follow his instructions for using plant maker.

I decided to combine this with a lesson for my C1 university students to raise their awareness of how we can use the same words at different levels, in different ways. So this is how it works:

1. Learners are given the title of the poem and asked to discuss what they think the “dream” is?

2. Learners look at the plant and make as many lines to the poem as they can;

3. Each line has the word “hold” in different meanings. Learners should say which meaning they think corresponds to which level: A1, B1 etc.

4. They could then make their own plant poems and post them on our class blog as a sort of “class challenge”

The English Vocabulary Profile a nifty tool

Follow up

This whole plan grew out of my perusing the English Vocabulary Profile an amazing resource, created as the result of a joint project. Based on the findings of the Cambridge Learner Corpus researchers have classes lexis alphabetically into levels of usage. This means not what we think learners should be using but what they actually are using. On September 30th the resource was made available to everyone free, so you can simply sign up to be able to use it, so that it can be used for all kinds of things such as writing tests, preparing materials etc. etc.

Using the English Vocabulary Profile in class

In this lesson I wanted to do a search of the word “hold” search at all levels. (At present the levels go from A1 – B2 but the more advanced levels are being worked on)

I simply put in the word “hold” to the search box (see the screenshot above) and was provided with this list:

By clicking on the links you can then see more information including examples of the way learners use these items and what level these learners are. 

This, I think we can safely say, takes peer learning to a whole new level.

Oh, and you wanted to know the original poem…

OK, then here goes:

She held a book

a book in her hand

She held a dream

a dream in her mind.

They held a lesson, an English lesson

They held an English lesson every Monday.

She held her dream and her head up high.

Simple but effective, so thanks David. I think I’m going to have to get the advanced software…

Flippng the classroom with Steve Jobs’ Commencement address 2005

Text of Steve Jobs’ Commencement address 2005.

This would be an excellent lesson for the start of a new academic year. Particularly for those of us working in universities. My quick suggestions are:

In class:

1. Ask if anyone knows what a “Commencement Speech” is. Does it come at the beginning or the end of a university career etc.?

2. Direct stds to Wikipedia for the answer (or see if the answer comes out of the discussion)

3. Discuss what happens when students graduate. What do they expect to be told in a speech like this?

4. Direct them to Inspirational Commencement Speeches. and ask them to look at the slideshow: halfway down the page: looking for motivational advice (Click on the arrows to see the slideshow. If you click on the text you can see the whole speech but that would be too much overload for this exercise) Show stds how to look at the slideshow and then ask them to look at it at home.

5. Show them the Steve Jobs page (see link at the top of this post).

If you feel that your learners need more guidance for this work (watching the video, reading or both) go to this link to see more materials I’ve put on my wiki:

6. If you think the text may be too difficult for lower levels show them how to use the Oxford 3000 Text checker to help them find the red words that might cause them problems. (simply copy and paste the text into the white box. The red words are the ones that are not in the Oxford 3000 most frequent words. In this text 95% are in the 3000, which confirms my impression that this would be both a useful and interesting text to read, as well, of course, as being extremely topical.)

At Home

1. Ask them to find the idea that motivates them the most from the slideshow.

2. Ask them to look at the Steve Jobs Commencement Speech. (They can read it or simply watch video, or both. With lower level students show them how to use the Oxford 3000 text checker .

3. Ask them to make a note of:

a) two ideas they find interesting

b) three expressions/chunks/collocations that they want to remember

In class

1. Begin with group work to pool their findings;

2. Build a discussion of the most motivational ideas;

3. Finally ask each student to focus on one idea that they want to carry with them throughout this academic year.


Write up ideas on a discussion forum and discuss further.