Smilebox at Christmas 2012 and at lots of other times…

Verona XmasSmilebox makes storytelling easy and fun!

If you saw my 2011 Happy Easter post, last year, you’ll already have an idea of the way this site works. I started using it a lot at Christmas 2011 and have used it again this year because there were some lovely designs like reindeer travelling across snow covered roofs or traditional living room scenes complete with roaring open fires, mantelpieces covered in Christmas cards and all the trimmings. Here is the Christmas smilebox 2012 that I made for my class thi syear which has a gingerbread theme as the “gingerbread man” had come up in class:

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Smilebox for Storytelling

I started using this site for classroom activities in different ways last year  and decided to try it out as a storytelling tool. What makes it very useful for this is that the smileboxes (ready made storylines and layouts for you to adapt with your own images and text) are conveniently grouped into themes that cover various aspects of everyday life. This makes them very easy to relate to topics that you might be working on in class such as:

  • family;
  • special occasions;
  • travel;
  • sports;
  • pets.

You get the idea. You just need to browse the catalogue to find a topic you are interested in and then you choose the smilebox, feed in your photos or video clips and add comments.

Teaching tips

  1. Instead of text add questions then ask stds to answer them in class or at home before the lesson;
  2. Use the smilebox in class with a clear story line, stop the film and ask stds to predict the next image;
  3. Post members of your family and ask stds to guess who they are;
  4. Post memorable moments and ask stds to discuss why they are memorable (This can be done in pairs first and then as a whole group activity)

Exploring Life

Here is an example of a box I made called Exploring Life, which I intend to use with advanced level classes. They should:

  1. look at the title and predict the content of the box;
  2. then watch to see if they were correct and decide why I chose the images I did and how they are connected to exploring life;
  3. a vocaulary teaching slot may come here with common collocations and verb patterns related to hobbies and activities (take up something new, try something out, see how you like etc.)
  4. then discuss the best way to motivate yourself when you are feeling down;
  5. the follow up activity is for them to create their own motivational smileboxes, which they can then present to the  the next lesson,  with any task they choose (This may require preparation such as showing them the tool and how to use it and suggesting tasks, but it is worth it, in my opinion, as it adds an invaluable personalised investment element to the whole exercise.)

So, here is the Exploring Life Smilebox. I hope you like it 🙂

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Teaching mindfully and Facing exams courageously

IMG_0611I’m Back

I suddenly realised that I haven’t blogged on my poor, neglected space since September!! I can only hang my head in shame and mutter excuses about how tied up I’ve been with conference sin Prague, the student blog and its sister Facebook page,. etc. Please feel free to check them out and I’d love you to participate in some of our discussions if you feel like it. 🙂

Mindful Teaching

Well, I actually wanted to talk about mindful teaching today, which I am trying to put into practice. What this means is basically that I slow down, stop trying to do three million things at the same time in the classroom, worrying about whether we are doing too much, too little, whether it is appropriate or not for my students, what we should go onto next, oh yes, and where did I put that DVD?… You get the general idea? Instead of doing all that what I want to do is to slow down, breathe and notice what is going on in the classroom, notice how I am feeling, what people are saying and how they are sitting, moving and, (tricky this one) feeling. This may seem obvious but I felt the need to remind myself this week. What I noticed as I walked into my C1 university lesson in general English was this:

1) some people looked tired and had various types of colds and snuffles;

2) there was a general sense of agitation in the room and people were whispeirng together;

3) some people had very large wads of paper with reams of photocopies of Powerpoint slides on them.

You didn’t need to be a detective to realise that exams were approaching and everyone was worried about this. Obviously, if you have an important exam to do you concentrate on that rather than on your other classes, so I did the rest of the class in an understanding way, and if people had not done their preparation I made it clear that I realised why. This in itself had a positive effect because everyone relaxed and appreciated their teacher trying to relate to them. (I think)

Accepting Fear and Vulnerability

After this class, though, I went on to think about how students (or anyone else for that matter) can deal with these feelings of fear and nervousness, which can be so strong that they actually stop you concentrating; the exact opposite of what you want.

At some level, of course, this is tied up with the need to be perfect. We live in a world that frowns on mistakes and where we apportion blame rather than trying to learn from our mistakes helping each other. Of course we are frightened of exams, where someone sits in judgement on us, and our performance in twenty minutes or so becomes our very being.

To move beyond this is quite a challenge, but I strongly believe that the secret to success lies in “being who you are” together with all your imperfections, giving the answers you know and understand, in exams, and using the exam to show your examiners all this, rather than showing them your fear.

Courage and Speaking from the Heart

We all need to be courageous, and not only in exams, but the origin of the world lies in “heart” or “cor” in Latin, something we perhaps forget. So to be courageous in an exam means really communicating what you feel about the subject. If you are at unviersity studying languages you chose this degree course because languages are something you love.. so find the meaning and personal relevance of the exam you are preparing (Yes, even if it is a “law exam”, after all “law” is related to human beings and life, so find ways to make it important and meaningful to you.)

I include this amazinf TED talk on the subject of “vulnerability” here. It lasts twenty minutes, but if you take the time to listen to Brené Brown’s words, it will be well worth the effort.

So, make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy: