Monthly Archives: March 2012

The greens and fruit of ELT

What have you heard of? Parsnip? You should know, it’s outdated!



Well the caption to this picture Luke Meddings took the other day in Glasgow got me laughing and instantly gave me an idea for a lesson to try out with a group of students I teach at university.

Conveniently enough, two weeks ago we had 3 hours of heated debate sparked by PARSNIP subversive activity from 52 aka my treasure book (if by some odd chance you still haven’t, check The Round now and learn more about it, download the sample and buy the whole of it, this is a must, frankly speaking). I hope to publish one outstanding piece of student’s writing, one day, now you just have to believe me the classes were awesome and caused some productive verbal fight (nobody injured, I”m not a bad referee), a couple of subverted minds, and all in all made a lot of difference.

Today the task for them was to think ANTI-PARSNIP – create an acronym for themes they would LOVE to discuss in an English classroom. Sure it had to be either a veg or a fruit, to stick to the eco trend. I didn’t expect it could become so exciting for them – we spent 1.5h (brainstorming/creating/sharing). 

Sorry for the quality, I”ll comment on each of the posters below.







This poster expresses environmental concerns. Mostly agreed these are pressing problems. Did not agree whether e-cars are the future or not (voted for hybrid models in the end). Agreed Russia should think forward and not rely too much on the export of its resources.





Olympic Games



This poster represents cultural aspects of interest, and rather funnily (but unintentionally) puts MONEY in the very centre)) Unanimously agreed all of these themes are exciting for all. Came up with an idea for a project to be done in May – reporting with photos and video on the exhibition/event visited. Agreed that coins and banknotes tell the histories of the countries. Looking forward to discuss London and Sochi Olympics, as well as the previous games, records and athletes. Will be interesting to see if the Chinese sportsmen will prove their dominance.

 Now comes the one poster which could be the two posters as each student feels very defensive of his own ideas, and of course the compromise is including both variants in some cases.



Unabled/disabled people

Creativity (especially in science)

UK best TV show (Top Gear)

Modernisation/mobile phones

Big Ben (stands for symbols of cities and countries around the world)


Relativity (!)



As it turned out, relativity is the cause of worries of many of my students, which is of course explained by the fact they have an introductory course into General Theory of Relativity first year of university and some find it really bizarre and ambiguous and fear credit time=).

I”m so happy to see young people are educated, creative, concerned. They have diverse interests, they are active and ready to think critically, arguement their viewpoints, or take opponents’ side.

This is very inspiring. THEY are very inspiring!


Image from


Go fresh with your class!



British, American and the follow-up.

I was PLN-sourcing to find answers (or rather to gather authentic response) on the essence of Americanness and Britishness a couple of posts before, and not only did I recieve comprehensive commentaries from you lovely friends here on the blog, but also incredible resources on the topics related keep coming my way through your tweets, FB posts, and other ways. I”ve been favouriting them and marking and bookmarking but it’s clear I should publish these in a separate space open 24/7 and for everybody to use – I believe some of these may come in handy and spark lots of ideas and conversation.



Vicki Hollett’s blog “Learning to speak ‘merican” is in itself an inexhaustible source of views on Americanness (there is not such a word, right?…hm)


Measuring the U.S. Melting Pot is an interactive US map showing distribution of nationalities across the country county by county. Astounding to learn that Germans seems to occupy like most of the US=)


Two infographics illustrating American Dream: Catching Up with the American Dream and Not Your Parents’ American Dream (the changing face of it). Expect me soon to come up with some activities on these. 


America For Beginners is the blog I”ve recently found a link to in my mailbox. Its main idea is to bring American culture closer to new immigrants, and what’s intriguing – the blogger is a Russian girl Anna who’s currently a resident of Boston. Unusual stuff. 




“Make Bradford British” – a very timely TV show on Channel 4 (not to be broadcast here anyway). Check the home page for the main idea of the project, and the Union Jack composed of characteristics of Britishness tweeted under the hashtag #MakesYouBritish (flag updates every 30 sec).


An interesting article on BBC News page from Mark Easton “Define Britishness? It’s like painting wind.”


“What does it mean to be British” podcast. More debates.


A whole lot of various activities on UK Culture for learners of English from LearnEnglish brought by British Council. The vitals of contemporary culture, audio&video embedded and ready for use, recommended for Intermediate level and higher. 


My blog posts with the precious comments coming first-hand – to be checked here for American (the initial idea) and here for British (the follower to cover for another unit, and the one which got me considering Scottish/Welsh/Irish as very separate -nesses indeed).



I hope this post can be helpful not only for me but for some of you as well! Would be grateful if you leave any other relevant links in the comments, I will update the post that instant!




By <3

How far should ‘learning by heart’ technique extend in the process of learning a foreign language?


Image from 

I have a confession to make – I rarely make use of it. But today I had a stressful (for me) debate which made me react defensively..and give it a thought. Do I miss something worthwhile there? Should I rely more on this *conservative* method, which was used on me and (maybe) even worked?…
 Important: the debate was around a certain point: learning whole texts by heart.

Arguments put forward by my opponents: it serves the basis for vocabulary building, phrases and chunks are remembered as those *memorized* parts of the text and may in future come out when necessary. Learners should learn by heart paragraphs of text, fullstop.

 The first thing that comes into my mind is that I am a bad teacher who has gone too far with communicative approach and fancy tech and dogme style teaching, that let the important and proven to be working methods slip away. Neglected. Ignored.

One of the opponents is a successful language learner who drew from personal positive experience. The opinion of this person is not professional but valuable and the one to be trusted, absolutely.

 My arguments: every task should bear a meaning and serve a short-term objective and a possible long-term goal. Texts are undoubtedly an endless source of various kinds of activities. I could also somehow put up with a widely-used task type – writing own essay, then learning it by heart (I’ve seen it done in many schools, though I don’t practice it myself). In this case learning a two-page length text is not the ultimate goal, the ultimate goal to be achieved is expressing an idea in written form. You will not *probably* remember phrases from this essay for the reason that you actually learnt them, but because you first had had to consciously put them down, as rendering the idea you had intended to. And anyway you’ve practised lots before.
Basically, I don’t believe in ‘learning by heart’ as a separate teaching method to deal with lexis. I feel seriously confused and ashame and really caught off guard here.

I haven’t seen that as something particularly beneficial.

 I remember the torture of it when I had to learn a whole file of 30 topics by heart. With little to no chance to make a mistake. Won’t remember a thing now. ‘London is the capital of Great Britain” – yes, that’s pretty much what stays forever.

Note: we’re speaking of teens!

I”m in favour of learning poems, and maybe even a piece of outstanding prose.


Please, share your viewpoint!

How do you approach this issue? Do you set a task to learn by heart?  What can be a subject to that? What’s your opinion of learning texts?…