Saturday, 15 September 2018

A poem to relate to: First Day at School

One of my favourite poems is First Day at School mainly because it encapsulates the whole range of emotions children experience on their very first day at school, strangers in an unfamiliar environment, where they will -- willy-nilly-- spend half -- if no more-- of their day.

If your students are mostly children and teenagers, you could ask them to sketch something, no matter how rough it may be, to illustrate their own first day at school. Explain it doesn’t have to be a realistic image – simply a representation of first impressions and gut reactions.

It is not so important for them to verbalise their experience as to convey a feel of the situation for the time being. It could be something like this 
 or something like that!

Following this introductory activity you could draw up a list of questions to ask, which will elicit some of the poem content though possibly in a different light.

§  What was the first sound that you registered?
§  Did you mix with other children before going into class?
§  How did you feel when you realised you couldn’t leave school?
§  Did the railings look scary? How?
§  What was your understanding of the word “lesson” before you started school?
§  What did your classroom look like? Did you find any aspect(s) of the classroom odd/disturbing?
§  What did your first teacher look like? Was s/he intimidating in any sense? Explain.

The students could write down their answers and compare notes to see how similar or divergent their experiences were.

Following that, you can show them the slide show without the lines the first time and ask them to tell the story of this First Day at School based on the sequence of images in the slide show. It would make the task easier for the students if you provided some key words or if you brainstormed the key words. They should be free to interpret the images and their relevance themselves; you might find the result mind-boggling!

 Alternatively, you could provide the first word of each line and ask the students to continue the line or even supply the last word of the line or both. The possibilities are endless, and you can improvise depending on the level and the aptitude of your students.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A dog's life on a page: a poor effort to pay my respects to a friend

Dogs are the mirrors of our souls. When I see a dog suffer, I feel the world’s most profound sadness.

A Dog’s Life on a Page
My name was Vromas[1] (it showed how much appreciated I was and how much effort went into my hygiene). I was found by a little girl and imposed on an old lady, who may have well loved me in her own way.

I was cute but never showed because, as I said before,  I never had the luxury of a bath. Nor did I get any vaccines or anti parasite protection. But I was robust and only too happy to serve.

I shared my space with other dogs—in fact I picked a few fights with a male who left us before I did. I gave him a bite or two, but nothing fatal .(Talking of fatal!) For a couple of years I was chained because I lived in the proximity of hens and chickens, and as you know, dogs love chasing them.

I grew old gracefully in an enclosed space and would have probably carried on living happily, but it wasn’t meant to be. A fancy dog was given shelter in my enclosure (dog owners often get tired of their pets but some of them can’t bear the guilt of putting them in the street). So anyway one day the fancy dog turned on me in a really nasty way and mauled me around the neck. Blood everywhere and screaming from my owner, but to no avail.

I was wrapped in a towel and left to my own resources for a few hours until another dog owner (unintentionally responsible for some puppies’ death and burdened with guilt) took the initiative to take me to the vet –together with her husband.
I was laid softly on the back seat of the car and driven to the vet. I was still conscious and when she turned round to look at me, I riveted my eyes on her trying to tell her it was no good. But she refused reality at point blank.

The vet was nice. He cleaned my wounds and put me on a drip. He even gave me a relaxing warm bath (the only one in my life) and removed my ticks. The people who brought me here visited every day but I was long gone – far too advanced in age and weary with life.

My eyes, a thousand words, will haunt one of them maybe for a long time, but memories fade. Humans forget humans – let alone dogs.               

[1] The dirty one in Greek

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Adding detail to expand sentences in writing

Adding detail to expand sentences in writing

One of the stumbling blocks when it comes to productive skills is, to begin with, coming up with ideas especially for young learners who are required to sit formal language exams. Assuming that the ideas are there or discussed in class, the word limit for the written tasks may constitute another obstacle to a satisfactory performance. Organisation, accuracy and communicative ability are all very well, but one must learn how to add detail, how to expand a sentence without repeating oneself.

There are two ways in which the teacher can help their students. The obvious one is to provide examples of how to add detail when correcting a writing task. The second is to highlight detail in texts presented in class. I am going to illustrate how to do the latter by looking at a text which I used with a group of students preparing for the Cambridge Proficiency exam (Level C2 for those who might be unfamiliar with formal exams).

The text, an article published by BBC on 8 July 2018, focuses on a Spanish woman’s fight to pursue a career as a military psychologist, to the preparation for which she has devoted two years of her life, without having her tattoo removed.

I spotted a few details in the text which could be removed without detracting from the content or grammatical construction and jumbled them asking the students to fill each gap with the right short extract.
I won’t claim that details can be divided into clear-cut categories, but I will use the text in question to provide some guidelines as to how one could go about it.

The first detail explains what the lotus stands for. The reader would have to look it up if it were not for the relative clause which follows. Therefore, providing definitions for concepts mentioned in writing is one type of detail.
The second detail refers to the place where something occurs.
The third detail describes a condition on which something happens.
The fourth illustrates a point with an example.
The fifth one is a second thought for “two years of my life”.
The sixth one adds a reason why something should be so.
The seventh one qualifies the preceding statement.

The teacher could ask the students to bear in mind those examples of detail and try to use as many as would be appropriate in their next writing assignment.

A final suggestion is to get the students to draw up a list of different kinds of details which have been highlighted in other texts or which the teacher has added in their writing.

Monday, 16 July 2018

A summer night’s vision

A summer night’s vision

The drifting moon
Was gazing down
A seamless blue
The sleepless sea
A swelling lull
The slightest signs
Of life subdued
In its arms
An eerie stillness
The cosmos ruled

A trail of dreams
Wrestling free
Like sailing boats
Under a breath of wind
Their skyward course
Across the nightly cloth
With eagerness pursued

The restless vision
A flight of fancy
In its inception
A  ruthless rift
Insidiously wrought
In the nocturnal harmony

Maria Danoussi, 2 years ago

Monday, 9 July 2018

Mystery and teaching

Mystery and Melancholy Giorgio de Chirico

Ideally, to stimulate and hold the students’ interest you need a touch of suspense and a balanced mix of science and art. It is not every day that I can strike gold in this endeavour, but from time to time I come across some promising material such as a recent item entitled How we Found Three Poisonous Books in our Library on Conversation.
You could introduce your topic by writing down
books                                    poison                         colour
and then asking the students to think of any possible ways to link the ideas. The speculation would enhance the mystery around the forthcoming text.

To test some fine points in syntax I turned some extracts from the text into a transformation exercise, which the students had to do before they read the text. They then confirmed their answers while they read the text.

I also gave them a vocabulary exercise to do in order to practise the new words.

However, I often get this niggling feeling that the students are not quite active in learning when they simply perform tasks, but on the other hand I am aware of the fact that because they are young they need some guidance in order to become independent learners.

To this end, I searched on the internet for some related topics and came up with the following:

The mystery of Caravaggio's death solved at last – painting killed him, The Guardian

Oil paints that could kill: did Albrecht and Margret Durer poison their customers with their paintings? Part I, By Dr. Elizabeth Garner and Joe Kiernan

Next, I devised some kind of framework within which the students can prepare an oral presentation of each text and assigned each to pairs of students. They had to meet up outside school and work together on their presentation. I was pleasantly surprised by how well they accomplished the task and how many questions arose out of doing this independently.
I provide the copies of the Student’s handouts here:
(Some Greek equivalents are given by way of explanation for some lexical items. I am all for such shortcuts when it comes to technical terms or words which it would take too long to explain.)

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Lessons from nothing

Lessons from nothing

Texts, whether they are articles or news stories or literary extracts, provide fair amounts of exposure to the language, which is the most obvious way of learning. However, the challenge for me is how to introduce a text so I can stimulate the students’ interest as well as activate their mind.

I often rack my brains as to how to present a new topic before I actually hand out the text. It turns out that the best ideas come to me in the process of teaching as the students are the ones who shape the lesson – with their unpredictable responses -- no matter how well-prepared a teacher might be. I therefore call these “lessons from nothing”.

For instance, recently I had prepared a BBC article about the death of baobab trees for my B2 students. I attempted to introduce the topic by asking my students to write down some words they associate with “forest”. They seemed to be stuck (not least because the school year was drawing to an end). So I supplied some words and asked them to ask questions using them.

The words I gave them were:
plant, acid rain, destruction, reforestation, deforestation, human activity

It was a small contribution for the questions I got back from the students:
·       To what extent does acid rain affect trees?
·       In what ways does human activity affect forests?
·       How can we stop deforestation?
·       What is the significance of reforestation?
·       Which is the most effective method of reforestation?

The questions form the basis of a writing topic on forests, and the students could go on to write the answers to the questions if they could do so off the top of their heads or alternatively they could search for answers on the internet.

Another example of how a key word can trigger a variety of improvised activities follows.

This time it was a news item I was introducing concerning an explosion in an apartment building in Wuppertal, Germany, published in The Guardian.

I simply wrote down “explosion” on the board and invited the students to share what the word brought to mind. Not surprisingly, they came up with the very words that constitute the causes of an explosion:
earthquake, gas, bomb, volcano

I grabbed the opportunity for some collocations:
A volcano erupts
Gas leaks
You plant a bomb

At that stage, it occurred to me that it was high time we revised possibility in the past. I wrote on the board:
and underneath a question: What could have caused the explosion?

I then elicited sentences with the other causes mentioned by the students.
·       Gas could have leaked.
·       A bomb might have been planted.
·       There may have been an earthquake.
·       A volcano might have erupted.

In conclusion, lessons from nothing can be thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding for both students and teachers.

The links for the two articles:

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Summer is my source of inspiration. Here is a poem I wrote quite recently to celebrate summer.


I hanker after them in winter
But spring my longing makes feebler
And when the midday haze
My body in a stupor lays
Subdued and beaten hollow
The Sun my king I follow

The glorious day is gone
A blaze on the horizon
A myriad stars shoot the skies
Which skywards draw my eyes
The silver sliver slices through
Its sovereignty to claim with a coup