Wednesday, May 31, 2006

films and stuff

I have seen some good stuff on DVD from the video club recently. Over the last few days I have been watching the first series of 4400 which, since I'm a sci-fi fan was really great. Still, even if you don't put down Jedi as your religion on census surveys or learn Klingon in your spare time it has a lot to offer. Like the best of sci-fi it allows you to think about big moral and philosophical questions in a new way. I was thinking of using it in my lessons.

The basic premise of the series is that 4400 people abducted by aliens (?) over a period of 60 years are suddenly returned en masse. Nobody, least of those abducted have the slightest idea what happened or why. Later we find out that those who have returned have been altered in subtle and not so subtle ways. I'll leave it there and not ruin your suspence.

Also I rented Pride and Prejudice which was just gorgeous.I made a copy using DVD Shrink as I know one of my students, Esmerelda will just love it. She's currently reading Emma, also by Jane Austin in English. I remember reading it when I was here age and finding it difficult. Imagine doing it in a foreign language!!!

Private lessons and classroom teaching

Like most EFL teachers I do private lessons to supplement my income and I think that like most teacher I initially saw this as just simply a way to get more money to pay the bills.

If you love teaching then the classroom is your canvas, your stage, the chance to create and perform in front of others. It is the place where you can really express yourself and help others. The perfect amalgam of self - interest and aultruism. I love it. Rare is the class that I don’t leave feeling better than when I went into it. Sometimes I even feel guilty that I get that much out of my time there.

On the other hand private lessons take you away from that limelight and put you into a far more intense form of learning. When I first started doing a lot of them I found them intensely difficult. What exactly do you do for one or two hours with, say a 13 - year old teenager whose lifestyle, interests and attitudes are so different to your own ? Sometimes the time passed so slowly I could have sworn that that I’d discovered a new variation on Einstein's theory of relatively. It seemed to stretch endlessly.

However as I did more and more private lessons and spent more and more time with my students I started to realise that there were hidden opportunities here that I did not have in the classroom . First and foremost, I had the opportunity to try out new teaching ideas and techniques which would have been ‘verbotten” in most of the schools in which I had taught. Films, music, internet at first, then later on blogs, podcasts and so on. All of the things I love doing in class were tried out first in my private lessons.

On a more subtle and I guess, more personal level, private lessons gave me entree into a whole new world. A world which I would only have been vaguely aware of. Chatting and getting to know my students allowed me to see things through a whole new set of eyes.

In a way it reminded of the hitch - hiking I had done when I was a student. I’d get a lift from people who’d tell me stuff they wouldn’t have told their nearest and dearest. It was a unique way to gain insight into other peoples’ lives.

The upshot of this was a deepened respect for the people I teach, whatever their age, and a better idea of what it means to be a student, to stuggle with new ideas and meanings and all the other stuff people have to deal with.It also made absolutely convinced that there is no such thing as the perfect approach or method (including my own pet favourites). That, as a teacher I have to be able to call upon a whole range of techniques and methodologies if I want to help student achieve their aims in ways that suit them best

Monday, May 29, 2006

Barefoot and blogging in the park

A person sat idly surfing on the net while sat in an idylic park setting must be one of the iconic images of the wif-fi age. It gives us the sense of freedom from cables and wires that the new technology offers, the idea that we can use the internet when we want, where we want and how we want. I, for one have been seduced by such images, and for the last few years I have looked on with barely controlled envy as cities such as San Francisco and Philidelphia put such dreams into practice.

So you can imagine my joy when I discovered that you can do the same here in Thessaloniki, a place not famed for either the abundance of its parks nor ease of access to the internet. I found a place near the White Tower where I could happily write this post while relaxing in the shade of a tree.

However, as with so many dreams the reality is not quite what I expected. The ground is hard and unforgiving, you have to squint to see what's on the screen and the keyboard is beginning to look like an outake from A Bug's Life. Maybe a nice, soft sofa in an air-conditioned room isn't so bad after all? LOL.

Maybe blogging outside is like picnicing; Nine tenths anticipation and one tenth participation ?

Why technology ?

I thought I'd set out and reply to a comment I received on a post a few days ago from Daniel.

"The overwhelming majority of humans on the planet who learn languages other than their mother-tongue are doing so without the aid of current computer technology.

it's a tool...a very good one perhaps, but not an indispensable one."

This post is an attempt to answer in more details a valid point that he has raised and also a way to help me put straight a few things in my own mind. It will be a bit long so please bear with me as I believe the points I'm going to make are worth writing about in more depth.

I guess Daniel's basic idea is that technology such computers and the internet are less important than we give them credit for, that there are other ways of learning languages which do not rely on such gadgets and are equally, if not more, effective and have the added advantage of costing far less.

It is a persuasive argument which is backed up by an enormous amount of empirical evidence, if we look at language learning both historically and on a global scale. It could be argued that multilingualism is the far more common than monolingualism. Also, historically speaking, the idea of a country in which everyone speaks just one language is a relatively new idea. Even in Europe, countres we think of a linguistically homogenous, were nothing of the sort until quite recently. So it certainly safe to say then that technology has not been not necessary for language learning.

That people learn, and learn well, second and third languages depends on three factors, none of which have the slightest connection with technology.

1 Need: Chidren growing up in multi-lingual language environments pick up languages easily, they quickly learn what they need to know in order to enjoy the company of their peers, to communicate with parents etc. Take them away from such situations and put them in a single language environment then they quickly forget what they have learnt. The other languages are no longer useful and hence get forgotten. Similarly, communities work on the same principle, the members learn and use language based on their utilitarian value. If for some reason the language ceases to fulfill a valuable social function, it too is forgotten. Examples of this can be seen in Greece with Vlahika, Pontiaka etc.

2 Desire. People learn a language because they want to, because in some way it will enhance their status, self-worth, standing in the community etc. Whether it be the members of the pre-revolutionary Russian aristocracy or the children of the Indian middle class. One of the good things about teaching in Greece is that the fact that most people realise the desirabilty of learning English. This does not mean that very student rushes to class, full of determintion to learn the present perfect rule or phrasal verbs, but rather I don't have to try and convince them that English is something that is going to help them. They may reject the learning but not the underlying desire.

3 Meaningful commuication on a regular basis. People learn when they have the chance to use the language(s) to do something, when they come into contact with its speakers in a way that requires them to do use it. Most languages learnt well are ones that are used often for conduct of real-life tasks.

So where does that leave us in countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Korea etc ? The current system of foreign language learning is, to put it politely, flawed. Put less politely, extremely ineffective. Bilingualism is not the norm in such countries and despite the fact that an enormous amount of time and money is spent of teaching foreign languages the results are disappointing.

This is where I feels that technology can and will in some way replicate once again the kind of learning experience which encourages language learning in poorer and more linguitically diverse countries. Paradoxically, it is going to take a whole lot of money and high tech tools to reproduce what is, and has been historially, a natural state of affairs, namely easy and regular contact with speakers of other langauges.

Traditionally, language teaching methodologies which place a teacher in a classroom with a a few books and a bunch of monolingual kids has been a cheap way to fob off demands for real foreign language learning. It is a pale shadow of the real life situations which encourage and reinforce such language aquisition.

However, technologies such as blogs, podcasts, skype telephony, teleconferencing, video etc. offer us the chance to provide meaningful contact with the other speaker of the languages we want to learn cheaply. And I believe it will go along way to recreating a sense of need and desire to learn within our students. It will open up to them the idea that what they are learning can be used to achieve any number of goals. None of this will happen spontaneously and the role of the techer will remain as vital as ever. However, this is where technology will have a defining effect on the way we learn and finally start fulfilling some of the hype that has surrounded it for so many years.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Updates: On the hour, every hour

I'm at school now and about half-way through my stint as unofficial student counsellor, those who have finished their interview seem to be happy, on the whole, with how they did. I thought I'd just post a few photos to give you all a taste of what's happening.

Practicing what you preach

A quick post as I have to wake up my daughter soon and take her to her friend's house. I'm off to he school today as my students are doing their interviews for the FCE/CAE/CPE exams (don't we EFL bods love our TLAs - Three Letter Acronyms).

It's my chance to help them relax as far as possible and get them to speak to the best of their abilities. In yesterday's post I complained that nobody was speaking English before they went into the exam. There is an worse alternative which I've seen over the years, namely, having your teacher frantically bark random words and phrases at you in the desperate hope that you'll be able to absorb in the last six minutes before the test, whatever you have been unable to during the last six years of crummy lessons.Or students mindlessly repeating a set speech, which, of course, is utterly useless in the interview (and, in fact, is penalised).

Nope, usually all you need is a little bit of time chatting with the students, asking them what they've been up to since you saw them last, or a silly joke to break the tension. Occasionally, I play games like Fish and Silver with the very nervous ones, basically, anything that gets them thinking in English and takes their mind off the exam.

Time to wake up Lydia and make her breakfast.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Banging heads (the teachers', not the students')

Today, one of my students, Thanasis is taking his oral exam for the ECCE. Basically, this is a ten-minute interview during which his spoken English is assessed. In a sense it’s like preparing the whole year for a 100m dash, since it will be over so quickly that he won’t know where the time went. I have no worries about Thanasis as he is a confident, intelligent teenager, full of ideas. We’ve practiced the exam format several times and I don’t think he’ll have any problems.

However, a strange thought entered my mind as I was waiting for him to show up; nobody here is speaking English. Not the kids, not the teachers with them, not even the school owners (who use this whole event as a public relations exercise.)

Instead they are expecting the students to suddenly go from speaking Greek to speaking as well as they can in English. Imagine asking an athlete in the biggest race of his career so far to perform at his or her best without any kind of warm -up!

Imagine what you’d say about a coach, who in the last hour before his sprinter's big race, does nothing but chat about what was on TV last night or what he had for dinner.

I see the owners, who have made thousands and thosands of euros out of these kids and their parents idly stand by and let them go into the interview unprepared. They still can’t even fathom something as basic as getting your kids to do something in the language they are going to be examined in BEFORE they enter exam!!!

Good news though, Thanasis came out of the test happy and confident about his performance. So, all we have to do know is keep our fingers crossed until the results come out.

Personalised learning

I see this article today on the BBC News website and I think it touches on many of the same points that I have made on this blog about teaching. It's not just technology we need to look at but also the way in which the whole learning experience is structured.

Tailoring lessons for every pupil
By Mike Baker
BBC News education correspondent

Mike Baker
There is a very tricky question which is bothering many people involved in schools today, namely: "What is personalised education?"

The question is important because "personalisation" is the current buzzword in the Department for Education and in schools.

See here for the rest of the article.

Friday, May 26, 2006


There is a beach that I really enjoy visiting. As well as being very beautiful with crystal clear waters, it has some great three, four, even five high metre waves. It's the thing that keeps me coming back to the place time and time again. However, most people here prefer the sea when its calm and smooth as a billiard table, they like the fact that it is just like a swimming pool, predictable, safe.

Now the secret to swimming with large waves is to know when to enter the sea. Go in too late and you get hit by the full force of the wave, which can knock you for six. Get it right and its like having your own personal carnival ride.

It occurred to me that this is a good analogy as far as using technology in the classroom is concerned, reading blogs such as Cool Cat Teacher, Ewan McIntosh's Edublog or EFL Geek I see teachers wading out to meet the huge changes that are rapidly approaching, preparing their students to deal with and even enjoy the such developments'

On the other hand those teachers and institutions that ignore the existence of such changes are going to hit doubly hard by the swiftness of the technological, economic and geopolitical wave that is coming our way.

They believe that they can keep on teaching using the materials and approaches they have always used and feel most comfortable with. That the outside world will not intrude upon what happens inside the classroom. I wonder how deep the water has to get before they realise change is inevitable ?
I stepped out of the blogosphere and into real life today when I dropped off a DVD at a fellow blogger's home. For some unknown reason I had been under the impression reason that Theodora P was in Larissa. Imagine my surprise when she emailed me her address which was here in Thessaloniki. So, not wanting to waste time (or the price of a stamp) I decide to drop off the DVD in person.

To tell you the truth I was a bit apprehensive as I rang the bell of her apparment. It is one thing to chat with somebody via the comment section of their blog, quite another to turn up on their doorstep. Or even worse having to explain things such as blogs, podcasts and the like to, say a suspicious spouse or parent, without sounding like a complete lunatic.

So it was great relief when her husband said come on in and knew all about me and asked me to wait until Theodra came back from work. It was great to chat to another teacher and blogger, to put a face to the words (I know she's posted photos, but its different seeing someone in real life). Once again thanks to Theodora and family for their hospitality and I hope she finds the podcasts useful.

Eating out in Thessaloniki

I thought I’d take a break from the serious teaching stuff. The exams have almost finished and the summer is here. So, at least for the next few posts, I have decided to write about different parts of Thessaloniki.

This is Ouzo Melethron, which is a nice taverna located off Venizelou St. The whole alley way has been converted into a open - air eatery, which gets pretty busy after 2pm and again at night, after 9pm.

As well as the classic greek dishes it does a lot of unusual ones with very odd (but funny) sounding names. The food is good and the prices are reasonable as well. You can eat well for about 15 euros per person.

Also It’s a great place to sit, watch the world and soak up the atmosphere.Just one thing, if you do eat there make sure you take somebody who reads Greek as the (very long) menu is just in Greek.


I found another wifi hotspot today here in the centre of the city, not far from the White Tower. Any ideas about where the transmitter may be ?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Summer storms

There's a storm heading this way, according to the local tv channel they are already telling the fishing boats at sea in the Thermaikos Gulf to high tail it back to port. It reminds me a bit of the end of Terminator. All we need is the dramatic drum - based music booming off in the distance instead of the thunder that seems to be steadily approaching.

You know that old cliche, "The atmosphere was electric.". Well, I can see where it came from. The sky has that weird intensity which I associate with storms.

It's just started raining and I hope the city will cool down, it hit 35c today in the centre, where I happened to be. One of my private students was getting ready to take the interview part of her FCE exams. I'm glad to say that she came out of the British council building smiling and happy with her performance in the test.

Sudden interest

Does anyone know anything about a place called Langley, Virginia? Judging by my hit counter there seems to a lot of teachers interested in EFL there. Alternatively, they could just be really into barbeques. Sorry guys, I'm fresh out of recipes LOL.

OK, I'm now officially freaked out

Sometimes you come across stuff on the internet so strange that it takes your breath away, things that seemed until recently to belong to the realms of science fiction or at least very glossy Hollywood movie productions. One of the add-ons/plug-ins/widgets, (whatever they are called) that I added to my blog was Geovisitors, which shows where in the world your visitors are. What I didn't discover until just a few days ago that you can then zoom in on that visitor using Google Earth, something I find a little spooky to tell you the truth. Depending on the resolution of the satellite pictures you can even see what building the visitor was in !

Well, if that wasn't revelation enough, I zoomed in on a visitor from Moscow (see photo above) only to find that they were located within the walls of the Kremlin! It doesn't get much stranger than this. Of course, I know that the Cold War has been over for many years and that the KGB no longer exists, but for someone of my generation the fact that the Kremlin is taking an interest in your affairs creates a strange frission.

Of course this could less the start of an international conspiracy which I have accidently stumbled upon than some guy in the Russian parliament building idly looking for a killer bbq sauce recipe LOL.

Telephone at Random

Another exercise based on Droit's book, but brought up to date for our web 2.0 age. If you read the extract below he suggests that we should phone somebody at random, of course in the past cost would have been the most important thing to worry about. Now with Skype you can phone anyone for little or no cost. If the person is in Skype Me mode then they are saying that they would like to talk. It seems the perfect way to try out Droit's experiment.

Well, that's exactly what I did last night's lesson. I had my ibook with me and while the school only has a slow dial-up connection, there is a wifi hotspot at th back of one of the classrooms (courtesy of somebody in the neighbourhood, I guess) which means we could use Skype. I asked one of my students to phone somebody at random from those in Skype Me mode. After several failed attempts, as Droit predicted, we ended up speaking to somebody in Finland, much to their suprise.

The beauty of Skype, apart from cost, is that you can choose the language, country, age, gender etc. of the people you want to talk to.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fantasy headlines

This is another exercise based on an idea from Roger-Dol Proit's 101 Experiments in Everyday Life.

Lesson Plan

1 Ask sudents about the most interesting thing they've heard recently in the news. Student talk to each other about it.

2 Explain to them that they are going to create a two - minute news segment, but instead of focusing on the usual diet of death, mayhem and human stupidity, they are going to create a fantasy newscast, incorporating all the stuff they really like.

For example,

"In a shock announcement George Clooney announced that he was leaving Hollywood to move to the greek city of Thessaloniki. When asked about his sudden decision, Clooney, once voted America's sexiest man, simply replied that he had found true love and that he wanted to be close to the woman of his dreams."



"David Beckham has signalled his intension to cut short his stay in Spain and sign up with the Greek team, Paok, currently at the top of the national league table. He added that since he wanted to play with the best team in Europe, Paok was a natural choice.

Thousands of delighted Greek fans greeted his arrival at Thessaloniki airport. Overwhelmed by the response, Beckham thanked those at Paok for giving him the opportunity to help the team win yet another European championship."

3 The students then create a newscast with three news items which can be on absolutely any subject, including themselves. At this point you may need to help students with style, grammar or vocabulary difficulties.

4 When you and the students are satisfied with the newscast, students record them using digital cameras or ther mobile phone, either audio or video.

This can be saved on the class/teacher's/student's PC to be used later as part of their porfolio. Alternatively, students listen to their broadcast and rerecord it at home to improve pronounciation.

Although this particular lesson plan is aimed at advanced students the exercise could quite easily be adapted for younger or less advanced classes if you give simpler examples such as ;

"Today The Fifth High School, Kalamaria won the Thessaloniki Basketball Tournament. Andreas Ioannidou scored 50 points in the great match which was on TV."

Using philosophy

A couple of years ago I picked up a copy of 101 experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life by Roger - Pol Droit for a couple of pounds in a bargain bin of a bookshop in Bristol. I was fascinated by the titles and the fact that each experiment could be described in just a page or two. Over the last year I have been doing some of them (be warned they can get pretty weird - those wacky French, huh) as lessons either in class or with my private students.

Rant for Ten Minutes

The basic idea is that student chose a subject to rant about, but whatout genuinely getting angry and then vent off steam for a few minutes.

This proved particularly effective in one of my classes as everyone shouted their heads off (in English, I may add) and it proved to be a wonderful way for them to practice and more importantly inject some emotion into their language. It is all too common for students when speaking to sound "robotic", almost like a computer read text, as they are so busy trying to remember the correct word or grammar rule that they forget that they are speaking to fellow human beings and not just "solving an exercise".

I always tell them they have got to put more of themselves into their English, to become as expressive emotionally (which includes anger as well as all the other stuff) as possible. Just because you want to speak English well doesn't mean you have to burden yourself with all the cultural baggage that goes with being English (or American, Irish, Jamaican etc.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Great Bus Journeys of the World

Ok, Here is a left-field idea I have had floating around at the back of my mind for some time now. It's the idea of using a digital camera/mobile phone to record a bus journey. Strange I know, but I thought that this could form the basis of a class project and which could be shared with other students from abroad.

What you do is that you ask students to record a bus journey (it could also be done by passengers in a car or pillion passengers on the back of a bike - or Vespa, in my case). The students could record a travelogue as they went, explaining where in the city they are, what they think about the places passed etc. Or more realistically, add it later using Windows Movie Maker. The aim is to give a 10-20 minutes guide to the city which could be posted on a blog or burnt onto CD and shared with the other students.

If the idea of holding a video/digital camera for such a long time doesn't appeal then students could take still photos and again use Windows Movie Maker to create a slide show and then add commentary, titles and even music.

A standard digital camera with a cheap 256mb SD card can record 20-25 minutes of video.

Videoing your course book

This is another idea I have shamelessly stolen from Video by Richard Cooper, Mike Lavery and Mario Rinvolucri. Basically, it involves using a video camera to practice various grammar points in your course books. In this case the present continuous rule.

Lesson Plan

1 Present the rule in whatever way you usually do it.

2 Ask one student to work the digital camera or use his mobile phone. the others line up in a row, standing, and the person at at the one end mimes an action, e.g. brushing their teeth. The next person asks them:

"What are you doing ?"

The second student replies, "lying";

"I'm eating an apple"

The second student immediately starts miming eating an apple.

The third student asks:

"What are you doing ?"

The fouth student answers

I'm chopping onions."

And so on and so forth.

3 The whole class view the computer screen.

4 Darken or turn round the screen so they the students can only hear. The students take dictation of each new present continuous tense.

5 Now use the course book to present the tense.

Sounds of the City

Back again. OTE has finally fixed the phone so I can do this from te comfort of home. Anyway here is the my thought /idea for the day. Recently, I have been using the Guardian's Sound of the City podcast series. This is a series of descriptions of six Mediterranean cities, aimed at visitors.Each one is about 25 minutes so it's not something you can do in class. Instead, I give them to my private students and ask them to compare and contrast say, Nice with Thessaloniki.


1 If possible, use Google Earth to find the city you want to discuss. Ask students to see if they can find any differences between their own city and this one, for example it's near a river, not the sea, people live in houses, not flats etc.

2 Now ask students what they think it's like to live there. Encourage them to speak in general terms such as, "It must be hot in summer since it's in the South of France." etc

3 Give the podcast for students to listen at home and ask them to list all the similarities and differences between their town and this one.

4 Next lesson, discuss the answers with the students and ask them to say which place would be best to spend a weekend visit.

If students don't have access to a PC, then you can use a map and give them a CD/DVD with mp3s on them. Remember that most DVD players now play mp3 files. Alternatively, you could turn the podcasts into audio files and give them an audio CD.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A brief respite

I may not be blogging much over the next few days as my internet access is hampered by the fact that OTE (Greek Telecom) has still not fixed the line, so I'm forced to do this from outside. I'll get back to you soon, I hope.


The usual English response to the Eurovision Song Contest is one of derision and light - hearted contempt. The sucess of the English entry is of no more consequence that the success of the English ice skating team, if they win great, but if not, so what .

Yet I can’t help but think we are on the cusp of a new era as far as European identities are concerned, the old cliches, at least as far as the old Eastern block are concerned, are in flux. Nations are emerging on the international scene and it is a time rich with possibilities and potential for the futue.

Who would have believed that Riga would have become an fashionable destination with British tourists. The old prejudices have vanished, new ones yet to be formed.

Sometimes I think I am living in a weird alternative version of the future, something akin to Phillip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, that in reality the Cold War is still in effect and that old divisons hold true and that what we think is true is merely the wild imaginings of a novelist.

Imagine going back in a time machine to the mid 80’s and explaining to anyone who would listen that Poland, for example, was a member of, not only the EEC but also NATO ! or that Latvia would be a cool weekend holiday spot for Westerners (how quaint that phrase sounds now, thank God).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Quote of the day

“Engagement is more important than content.”

I came across a wonderful set of podcasts created by Ewan McIntosh which were recorded at a seminar in Shropshire, UK. Basically it is about the different ways we, as teachers, can engage and motivate students. The main idea is that technologies, such IM, video games and personal web pages are changing how students learn outside the classsroom, and that we have to utilise some of these changes in order to engage students in lessons

Prensky argues that If students are engaged then learning will happen, in fact it is difficult to prevent. This is something that I’ve seen a number of times with students I’ve taught. As I tell parents if I can find the right “button” to press i.e. find a topic, hobby or interest that inspires them, students will learn for themselves and all I have to do is point them in the right direction.

Another important point that Prensky made was that while all learning requires effort, in certain conditions this effort can seem like play rather than work. If we can engage student’s interest than real learning can take place without it seeming like work in the traditional sense.

I’m not sure that Greek student’s lives have become as “digitised” as their American counterparts, since only a minority use the internet regularly, though video games are popular, especially with boys. Even the use of mobile phones is necessarily limited by their expense. Still, young Greeks have rapidly adopted and mastered these technologies and so, according to Prensky, are learning in a completely different way to their parent’s and (my) generation.

Thanks again to Ewan McIntosh for taking the effort to record and post the podcasts.

Friday, May 19, 2006

One step foward, two steps back

With the aid of Skype I have just turned my ibook into the world's bulkiest mobile phone. You just can't beat progress.

Using digital cameras

I think that digital camera and mobile phones can be used to great effect. Over the next few posts I'll outline a few ideas which may prove useful.

A book that I have used over the years with beginners and post beginners is the Longman Photo Dictionary by Marilyn Rosenthal and Daniel Freeman (out of print). Basically each page is devoted to different aspects of everyday life with photographs to illustrate things such furniture, fruits etc. However, this book was published in 1987 and so is somewhat out of date. The idea is that students use their phones/camera to create their own, updated version. This could be a great way for students to practice basic vocabulary. This could also perhaps form the basis of a wiki page or be used to create a cd-rom for use by all the students in class.


1 Divide the students into pairs. Give each pair a photocopy of one of the pages from the book.Deal with any vocabulary items they may not understand.

2 The students do the exercise on the page.

3 Now explain to the students that they have to produce their own page, using pictures they have taken themselves to illustrate the various vocabulary items.

For example, one page is entitles Actions at Home and shows people;

combing their hair etc.

4 The students then use the picture(s) to create a page that does the same job as the original photocopy. This could be done at home, in an internet cafe or students could be put into groups, each sharing a PC.

(I'm not sure which programme would be most suitable for this to tell you the truth.)

5 Students then use the internet to find photos of more exotic pages such as Winter Sports.

6 The various pages are all collected into one file which could be part of a wiki page or left of the hard disk of a class computer. Alternatively, each students could take a copy home with them on their mobile phone memory card, mp3 player or a CDR.

Possible Problems

1 The most obvious one is access to a mobile phone or camera. Perhaps the students could pair up.

2 Students feel embarassed taking photos of family and friends and showing them to others. If you have worked on creating a supportitive atmosphere in your class then this problem can be overcome. Also this is not something you would do at the beginning of the course when people don't know each other.

3 Students lack the technical knowledge to add their pictures to a Word or Power Point file. Then keep it simple, use Wordpad.

4 Lack of access to the internet in school. Students use their own computers or use yours to collect files. Not everything has to be done via the school.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Quick doctor, bring the straitjacket NOW!

You know that something is amiss when the guys who spend most of their days foaming at the mouth and mumbling about secret plans to take over the world (sorry, to any Da Vinci fans reading) start tutting and sadly shaking their heads when they see you. That's what happens when you try out Skype on your laptop while sat on a bench in the park here in downtown Thessaloniki. I suppose it does look kinda of weird some guy happily chatting away to a white box.

Still, it was worth all the strange looks to be able to talk to England, Bulgaria and people here in Greece on their mobiles all for the grand total of 1.6 euros!

A flatter Earth

The Earth just got a little flatter. I'm proud to say that I've just got a visitor from my 50th country (thanks New Zealand). When I started this blog in September I thought that it would be viewed by a small number of students here in Thessaloniki and that its appeal would be strictly limited to those in my immediate circle of friends and aquaintances. I still can't get over the fact that people from many different parts of the world have viewed it.

I do suspect that many of my visitors are looking for barbeque tips and recipes though. LOL.

Changing lives

I think that all teachers like to believe that we help change peoples' lives, hopefully for the better. It's one of the reasons that attracts people to the job. However, it's rare to see such changes in the short-term. Today I bumped into one of my old students while in the centre. We had done private lessons together last year as she wanted to improve her English in order to, perhaps, get promoted.

As she was working for the tax authorities in their economic crime unit, I decided that the usual course books would be both boring and irrelevent, and so searched the internet for material we could discuss in the lessons. As a result of this I came across some job vacancies with the European economic crime unit (OLAF) and I thought that a mock job interview would

be a great way to practice real-life skills such as writing a CV and speaking. Imagine my surprise when she decided that the job I had found was exactly what she wanted to do.Later on we worked on her application together, which was also a wonderful learning opportunity.

When I saw her again this morning she had just got back from Brussels and was waiting to find out if she got the job. Even if she proves unsuccessful, the idea that I've helped open up a whole new set of alternatives for somebody is very satisfying.


Excuse me for a moment while I wipe the last of the egg 0ff my face. It seems that Skype is not offering free phone calls to North American landlines, after all. The calls are free only if they are made within North America. Sorry for getting all your hopes up and thanks to EFL Geek for pointing this out.

Still, at 1.7 euro cents a minute it's still a cheap alternative to other phone services.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Free phone calls to North America

Skype has announced that all phone calls to US and Canadian landlines and mobiles via the internet will be free until the end of the year!!! So all of you with folks there get calling.

"Let's go surfing now"

It seems that this surfing outdoors seems to be catching on.

Central Park to be wireless hub

By Jeremy Cooke
BBC News, New York

New York has announced plans to expand free wireless internet connections into Central Park and other public places across the city.

Officials estimate that the new system will be up and running by the summer and will attract thousands of outdoor computer users.

See here for the rest of the story.


I read a very interesting comment on the fact that technology is still very much a minority affair if we look at things on a global scale. Indeed, what use is a blog to the billions of people on the planet who have never made a phone call, let alone surfed the net ? Even in the parts of the world where life is a not a daily struggle for survival, expensive high-tech teaching techniques using PCs must seem a an irrelevent distraction from the hard job of educating people when you have minimal resources.

Two thoughts come to mind, both based on what I read in other educator's blogs. The first comes from one of the first things that Ewan McIntosh blogged about in August 2005. He mentioned the rapid decline in the number of english students studying foreign languages. The point being that even in a well-funded system with lots of high tech teaching goodies, learning can still fail to take place if other factors such as the desire or perceived need to learn are not present.

The other thought comes from the points that Cool Cat Teacher has made, that we have to use the technology/resources available. It's no use bemoaning the fact that the PCs we have are out of date or the internet connection is painfully slow (I know, I know I do it but that's different.LOL). You need to create with what you have, not what you want.

Conclusion ?

1 Learning can take place even in the most difficult situations if we use our imagination and teach with what we have to hand, be it our hands, a piece of chalk or an out-of-date PC running Windows 95. Our students can't wait for the school, educational ministry, state etc to get their act together.

2 The technology we need to totally transform a classroom is far less expensive than we might first imagine. While I'd love to teach in a school where every student has their own laptop and every classroom is connected to the internet, I don't think it's necessary. Even access to just one computer is enough to get the ball rolling. This combined with things such as mobile phones and cheap (relatively) digital cameras and mp3 players can produce great results which will enthuse your students.

3 There are limits to what technology can do even in the best teaching situations. It is a poor substitute for the passion, imagination and knowledge that good teachers bring to the classroom.

"Better good enough today than perfect tomorrow."

Or to quote the Rolling Stones;

"You can't always get what you want,
but if you try sometimes, you just might find,
you get what you need."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Using podcasts in the classroom

Yesterday I came across the Guardian podcast travel page (see here) and downloaded their podcast on Athens. I thought that it would be a good for my private students to listen to. They could compare their experience of Athens (the older ones usually go there at least once during their high school years) with that of the presenter.

Actually, I as loaded it from my ibook onto her mobile phone, which can play mp3s, it suddenly occurred to me that this same phone could be used to create a similar podcast (with photos) about Thessaloniki.

I know that I’ve mentioned this idea before in previous posts but I could now see how such a project could be done with equipment that many of my students carry with them: a mobile phone and then be transferred effortlessly to a PC where it could be turned into a podcast using readily available programmes which can either be download free from the internet or come with Windows as standard.


1 Ask students about their impressions of Athens. What they liked or didn't like and what they would recommend people see and do.

This is probably best done by asking students to spend a couple of minutes jotting down ideas and then putting them in groups or pairs and comparing notes.

2 If you do this in a private lesson then give the Guardian podcast for homework and ask the student to write down how it compares with their experience of Athens.

If you’re doing this as a class play a short three to five minute extract from the start and ask them to compare it with their own experiences. Students then discuss answers and listen to it a second time.

3 Ask students what places would they recommend a foreign visitor to go to here in Thessaloniki.

What is the place ?
Why is it interesting ?

You may encounter some difficulties at this point as students may have never visited the tourist traps or have seen them so often that they are hard pressed to describe something they consider self-evident. You may need to work with them on how to “distance “themselves from their home town in order to see it afresh.

4 For homework ask students to visit one of the places described and write down a few notes in English and Greek (if necessary) on the questions mentioned previously. Also ask them to make a note of any difficult vocabulary items that might be useful when describing these places.

5 In the next lesson students discuss their ideas and ask for help with vocabulary etc.

6 Explain to students that they are going to use their mobile phones to record a short, five-minute podcast. Remind them that they can do this on their own or in pairs, as a kind of interview.

7 Students then write down a brief outline (and make sure it is brief as we want a sense of sponteneity, rather than the droning lecture).

8 Check the outline and make suggestions, if necessary.

9 Students record their podcast for homework and if possible, take photos (again, using their phone).

10 In the next lesson transfer (hopefully, the phones should all have USB cable connections - check to see if you need any other kind of cable).

11 One idea is to use Audacity and Lame to join and edit the different podcasts. Alternatively, Window Movie Maker (which comes with Windows XP) could be used to add photos and titles to the podcast.

12 The final product could be put on YouTube and then their blog, burnt onto a cd or stored on the student's PC for use in their European Language Portfolio

Possible problems

This is not something I've actully tried out yet so there could be some teething problems. Usually, I try out such ideas myself, then do them with my private students and then apply them in class. However, I thought I'd outline some potential trouble spots.

1 What happens if some students haven't been to Athens ? Well, get them to interview the ones that have.

2 They can't understand the podcast. This exercise is definitely for advanced students, however, you could give them some printed materials instead e.g. a page from a guide book.

3 They can't think of anything to say about their own town. Again, spread the workload over as many students as possible. The more difficult the tasks the bigger the student group that works on it.

4 They don't have mobile phones that record. Then students pair up.

5 The don't do the assigned exercise outside the classroom. This is difficult as many students are not as motivated as they should be. However, tell them if they don't do in spoken form then they have to write up their descriptions.

6 I can't connect the phone to the PC. Ask all the students to bring their phone cables with them. Hopefully, there should be some overlap and hence if somebdy does forget, the others should have a similar cable.

Forget technology, it's all about teaching.

As far as teaching ideas are concerned there is nothing new under the sun. Blogging is just an updated version of the diary or class yearbook, podcasting, our generation’s version of amateur radio, and of course home video has been around for at least 30 years. However, the major breakthrough has been the vast increase in usability of such technologyy and an equally impressive decrease in cost. The result being that ideas that were developed only for the most privileged parts of the developed world’s educational systems can be used in a much broader context as the cost and ease of access to these tools has changed.

The $1000 dollar video camera has given way to the $60 dollar digital camera, the complexity of say, ham radio, which meant that free, long - distance communication was the preserve of a tiny, techno-savvy minority has been replaced by the demotic simplicity of the internet.

I think that the technology has matured enough to be used in every aspect of our classroom experience, it's not necessary to have a computer lab full of the latest PCs, one medicore desktop or even our own laptop can transform a boring book or lesson into a wonderful learning experience.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Since I have now have access (at least some of the time) to reasonably fast internet connection that means that I can use Skype, so if you want to chat, send an email (just click on View Profile to find it) with your Skype name. Don't be shy, I don't bite.

CPE interview tips

Cambridge CPE interviews do's and don'ts


1 Be friendly, be polite. This is a chance to show the
examiners how well you can speak English, not a fight to
the death.

2 Learn some words that may come up, e.g. the name of
the subject you are studying or the job you want to do
in the future.

3 DO NOT learn a little speech by heart. It sounds
unnatural and you'll get even more nervous than you
need to be trying to remember it.

4 Keep eye contact with the examiner. That means looking
him or her in the eye rather than staring at your shoes
or some point on the wall behind them.

5 Remember there are no wrong answers here, only well-
expressed and badly expressed ones.

6 DO NOT give short, monosyllabic answers, nor tell them
the story of your life.


1 If you don't understand the question ask the examiner to
repeat it. You'll not lose marks for this. However, you will
lose marks for answering the wrong question.

2 Move your chair so that you are facing the other person.
Remember what we said about eye-contact.

3 Start with a question, not a monologue.

4 Listen to what the other person says, comment on it, ask
them questions.

5 Disagree with the other person whatever they say. It's
always easier to have something to say if we disagree.

6 Give the other person chance to speak. You'll lose
marks if you monopolise the conversation.

7 DO NOT stop speaking until the examiner tells you that
your time is up.

PART THREE (part one)

1 Make sure you understand the question before you start
speaking. If necessary, ask the examiner to explain it.

2 Give yourself a few moments to think about what you
want to say.

3 Remember there are no wrong answers. Nobody
expects you to be an expert on the subject of the

4 Feel free to ignore the prompts suggested. You do not
have to use them, if you do not wish.

5 DO NOT stop speaking until the examiner tells you that
your time is up.

6 Listen to what the other person says as you will be
asked to comment on it.

PART THREE (part two)

7 Remember the longer questions asked towards the end
of this part are always connected with the topic
discussed in the prompt cards.

8 Give full answers, not just short, monosyllabic ones

9 Comment on what the other person says, use their

10 There are no wrong answers, only badly-expressed

Lesson plan

1 Hand out the photocopy with the advice and go through
any difficult words or ideas.

2 Choose two students and do a Cambridge interview with
them. The other students then have to see if those being
interviewed have followed the exam tips.

3 Divide the class into two, each of the students
interviewed then discuss their performance with the group.

I often record these interviews on digital camera and put
it onto a cd which the students can watch at home.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Exam tips for the FCE interview

Cambridge First Certificate in English interviews do's and don'ts


1 Be friendly, be polite. This is a chance to show the
examiners how well you can speak English, not a fight to
the death.

2 Learn some words that may come up, e.g. the name of
the subject you are studying or the job you want to do
in the future.

3 DO NOT learn a little speech by heart. It sounds
unnatural and you'll get even more nervous than you
need to be trying to remember it.

4 Keep eye contact with the examiner. That means looking
him or her in the eye rather than staring at your shoes
or some point on the wall behind them.

5 Remember there are no wrong answers here, only well-
expressed and badly expressed ones.

6 DO NOT give short, monosyllabic answers, nor tell them
the story of your life.


1 Remember that the question you'll be asked about the
photos will have three parts, answer all of them.

2 If you don't understand the question ask the examiner to
repeat it. You'll not lose marks for this. However, you will
lose marks for answering the wrong question.

3 DO NOT stop speaking till the examiner tells you your
time is up.

4 Pay attention to what the other person says as you will
be asked a similar question to theirs when they finish.


1 Make sure you understand the question before you start
speaking. If necessary, ask the examiner to repeat it.

2 Move your chair so that you are facing the other person.
Remember what we said about eye-contact.

3 Start with a question, not a monologue.

4 Listen to what the other person says, comment on it, ask
them questions.

5 Disagree with the other person whatever they say. It's
always easier to have something to say if we disagree.

6 Give the other person chance to speak. You'll lose
marks if you monopolise the conversation.

7 DO NOT stop speaking until the examiner tells you that
your time is up.


1 Remember the questions asked in this part are always
connected with the topic in part three.

2 Give full answers, not just short, monosyllabic ones

3 Comment on what the other person says, use their

4 There are no wrong answers, only badly-expressed

Lesson plan

1 Hand out the photocopy with the advice and go through
any difficult words or ideas.

2 Choose two students and do a FCE interview with
them. The other students
then have to see if those being
interviewed have followed the exam tips.

3 Divide the class into two, each of the students
interviewed then discuss their
performance with the group.

I often record these interviews on digital camera and put
it onto a cd which the
students can watch at home.

CAE and CPE exams

Good luck to everyone doing the CAE and CPE exams today. Actually, by now thw last of the students should have have finished the listening test and be heading home. I'll see you before you take the Intereview so I won't say goodbye quite yet

First visit of the year to the beach

I had the chance to pop off to the beach today with Lydia , I hope to spend a few weeks at this place in the summer camping out under the stars. I would tell you where it is but it's crowded enough as it is without a bunch of bloggers turning up. LOL.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hotspot de jour

For those of you who have been to Thessaloniki this one shouldn't be too hard to work out. However, it does seem to be THE place for the local homeless population.

BTW I've just witnessed another car accident. I heard a big bang about two minutes ago, it doesn't seem that anyone was hurt though.That makes three this week, the last two happening within the last 12 hours on Egnatia St. I tell you, people here drive wilth all the dedication and attention to safety that we used to associate with kamikazi pilots.


Today is the big day as far as FCE students are concerned. They should be finishing their essay paper any time now. It's going to be strange not having to worry about marking, grades and the like.

So good luck to everyone from the Vafopoulou school of langauges with their exams today and the same goes for the CAE and CPE candidiates who'll be strutting their stuff tomorrow.

I have a real problem today with bugs, I mean literally, as I'm writing this in a park, under a tree and they keep on falling onto the keyboard. LOL

Friday, May 12, 2006

More photos of my students

Basically, this was the last week in the school year, give or take a lesson or two. once again some photos from the classes I taught this year and once again good luck to all those taking exams over the following weeks.

Another day, another hotspot

Obviously I haven't been paying proper obeisance (my word for the day) to the telecom gods (known here as OTE) and they have seen fit to cut me off. I've had no phone for 24 hours and when it did ring this morning the call was for next door.

It reminded me a little of the party (i.e. shared) line my parents had when I was young. Then because two or more homes had to share the same connection you could listen to the others phone calls. Not that I did, as in those days the phone were treated with a a kind of fearful reverence as it had the ability to bring financial destruction upon a home if used for anything other than the most absolutely vital of calls.

Anyhow, The lack of internet at home has spurred my quest for free wifi outdoors. Today's find was in the centre, in Agias Theodoras st.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Finding those elusive wifi hotspots

Lately, I have been searching for free wifi hotspots here in Thessaloniki as an alternative to my very slow and not to mention expensive dial-up connection at home. It's a little like like finding water holes in the desert. They are few and far between and "dry up" without any notice. I've had to give up my regular spot on the bench in Iktinou street and have been wandering around trying to find a replacement which doesn't involve me squatting in the middle of the pavement like some kind of techno-begger.

I'm writing this in a small yard just outside a church in the centre of Thessaloniki, on a bench in the cool of the shade. it's now too hot to stay any length of time in the sun, at least for someone as pink and "burnable" as myself. Next I'm off to the university campus to see if I can get access from there.