Thursday, November 30, 2006

EFL/ESL and films

This idea, like so many great ideas, is so simple that you kick yourself for not having thought of it first.

"Last night in one of the classes that I taught here in the Community College, I put students in pairs and asked them to choose two letters of the alphabet. Then the pair had to use those two letters to make a movie title. For example a team might choose M and T. They could make a movie title like, "Murder Train." Then I told them to make up a story line for that movie."

Thanks to Daniel Kirk, EFL in Japan.

Teaching in Greece - The dark side

While surfing (in vain) for other Greek language schools using blogging I came across a site that, as the saying goes, "Tells it as it is". Although Daniel V is talking about a small, provincial town in northern Greece, most of what he mentions is true for the rest of the country;

"It wasn't just that they were supposed to be get-to-know-you classes. You were supposed to be friendly, while at the same time being strict and imposing iron discipline so that they would respect you, while making it clear that this was nothing personal. You had to entertain them, but get them started in the book and make sure they followed the book in a boring way, so as not to let them get too excited at the fun they were having learning English. Furthermore, you could give them maybe one game, as long as it didn't get out of hand, and then you were asked to throw them out of the class if they got too noisy."

See here for the rest of the article.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A great student blog

Today I had a great lesson with one of my private students in which we worked on a video that we posted on her blog. The idea started off as a quick one minute introduction but as we discussed it more it turned into an interview in which both of us worked on finding the most interesting questions and answers. I then taught her how to use Windows Movie Maker and explained that we'd post the video as a way of letting the world know more about her life.

Check out her wonderful blog and leave a comment, I'm sure she'd appreciate it.

Maybe we've discovered a new internet idea; the video meme?

An ancient Greek computer?

I came across this fascinating article just now at the BBC site.

The Antikythera Mechanism, discovered more than 100 years ago in a Roman shipwreck, was used by ancient Greeks to display astronomical cycles.

Using advanced imaging techniques, an Anglo-Greek team probed the remaining fragments of the complex geared device.

The results, published in the journal Nature, show it could have been used to predict solar and lunar eclipses."

See here for the rest of the article.

Email scams - an example

I just opened my email and the first thing that I read was this;


Dear Sir,

I know that this letter will come to you as a surprise but please regard it with full attention, I am Mr. Julius Akim by name, i am heading the officials from the Federal Ministry of Works & Housing (FMW&H),Federal Ministry of Finance and the presidency, making up the contract review panel(CRP)set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria to review contracts awarded by the past military administration. In the course of our work in the CRP,We discovered that, this fund which resulted from grossly over-invoiced contract executed for the FMW&H during the last administration.

The companies that executed the
contract have been duly paid and the contracts commissioned leaving the sum of US$42.462Million floating in the Escrow, I have therefore been mandated as a matter of trust by my colleagues in the panel to look for an oversea partner to whom we could transfer the sum of US$42.462M by legally subcontracting the contract entitlement to your company.

will be able to discuss a favorable percentage after a positive response from you. All logistics are in place and all modalities worked out for the smooth conclusion of the transaction within ten to fourteen working days of commencement after receipt of the following information from you. your full name, address, details and activities, private telephone & fax numbers. this information will enable us to make application and lodge claims to the concerned ministries and agencies in your favor and it is pertinent to state that this transaction is based entirely on trust as the solar bank draft or certified cheque drawable in any of the Central Bank of Nigeria correspondent Bankers in Europe and United states is going to be made in your name.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this letter through the email for now, you can reach me on


Mr. Julius Akim."

However, this is almost definitely a 419/"Nigerian" scam designed to get some poor sucker to part with their money in return for a much larger amount, which never appears. According to Wiki, variations on this con have been around since the 16th century. (see here for more background information)

Thessaloniki - a different view

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Teaching My Big, Fat Greek Wedding In Greece

As part of the course book I use in preparing my students for the CAE and CPE exams there is a section on the different ways families work in England and Greece. To make the rather dry exercise a little more interesting, I decided to use My Big, Fat Greek Wedding in class. Not having a DVD player in the school I used my ibook to show the movie.

Lesson Plan

1 Ask the class if anyone has seen the movie. Since it was a popular film here in Greece ask those who have seen it to explain the basic plot to those who haven't (see here for summary).

2 Now outline the background to the scene you're about to show (1hr 02 mins to 1hr 7 mins).

Ian Miller, the only son of a very WASPy family meet Toula's, Greek American one for the first time and much cultural confusion ensues.

3 Ask students to write down all the differences they can between the two families.

4 Students discuss their answers in pairs then as a class.

5 Ask them if they think that the film offers a realistic portrayal of Greek people.

6 Students post their answers in written form on the class blog or video them and post them via YouTube.

This exercise worked very well and we got a lot of very sophisticated analysis of the film's portrayal of Greeks and Americans.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pulling your hair out

I've been trying unsuccessfully for the last half hour to find a street in Thessaloniki. I'm due to start a new lesson today and it's in an area I'm not familiar with. After failing to find it in the city map in the front of the telephone directory I decided that I'd go on the internet. First, I tried Google Earth, and whilst the city is shown in pretty high resolution there are few place names - forget roads, you'd be hard pressed to find entire neighbourhoods.

Afterwards, I tried to Google "Thessaloniki street map", in both Greek and English with only limited success. The best on offer are scans of map of the centre. Not much use to me as the area I'm looking for is nowhere near there ( the city has over a million inhabitants).

Finally, I came across the University Of Macedonia and Thrace website (it's 1999 all over again) which purportedly gives information about the whole of the city. There I found this;

"Οδικοί χάρτες της Θεσσαλονίκης με εξελιγμένες δυνατότητες αναζήτησης για διευκόλυνση των μετακινήσεών σας:"

- - Χάρτες


"Thessaloniki street maps with advanced search capabilities in order to make moving around the city easier."

Of the five links, four are either broken or irrelevant and the one that does take you anywhere vaguely useful shows the scanned map of the centre I mentioned earlier. Annoyed, I decided to send them an email asking the designers to update the information, only to find out that you can't do this without a password!!! Meaning they've sealed themselves off from any outside contact! Welcome to the new "high-tech" primitives. This may explain their total non - appearance on the top 500 universities list.

In the end it took four phone calls and a lot of needless explanation to find out something that you should be able to do in less than 60 seconds.


There is a happy end to this sad tale. Thanks to Kassandra I found a site that has all the information I was looking for. Check out

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Putting ideas into action

I thought I'd post gain a teaching idea which I talked about recently so you can see how it panned out in the class (see here for full lesson plan).

Imagine a situation:

You're the head of a refugee camp somewhere in a poor, developing country. The annual crops have failed once again and thousand of people arrive at the camp seeking food and medical help. The problem is that you have supplies enough for, at most 5000 refugees, however another 15,000 have come. As the days pass the death rates, especially amongst the very young and the very old rise dramatically. Despite repeated calls to the international community the aid promised by western governments fails to appear.

At this point a local drugs baron/warlord appears on the scene and makes a proposal; in return for supplying food and medical supplies for the camp you must agree to let him use the place as a cover for his cocaine/heroin/etc production facilities.

Do you agree?

In the future I'll ask all the students to respond to the situations like this on the class blog, either in written form or a video clip posted via YouTube. This way students get to choose a form which most suits them.

The most interesting thing about doing this exercise was how much effort the students in Chris's group made so as to make their announcement as convincing as possible. Also Chris worked especially hard on ensuring that his performance was as good as possible. Now I'm sure that knowing that all this was going on the net, and hence would be seen by others was a major factor

Chris's answer

77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno

I think that The 77 Million Paintings is one of the most beautiful sites I've ever come across on the internet. Eno's voice over is especially interesting.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Light years into the future"

I read a recent interview in Time magazine with Brian Eno;

"Pointing to the popularity of do-it-yourself websites like YouTube and the affordability of video-editing software like Final Cut, Eno sees a parallel with the revolutionary effect the 45 r.p.m. single had on popular culture in the '60s. "It suddenly liberated music because people only had to have one good idea," he says. "And it only had to to last 2 1/2 minutes."

See here for the rest of the article.

I think it can be even simpler than that if you decide to use Window's Movie Maker (it comes with Windows XP as standard) or Photo Story 3 i.e freely available video editing tools. As a proof of concept I decided to make this video mainly using images from Flickr. What I hope to do in the near future is incorporate this technology into my lessons.

Free Abdul Rahman Shaghouri

Syrian Human Rights Committee campaigns to release a sixteen-month detainee for surfing the net. Sixteen months has already elapsed since Mr. Abdul Rahman Shaghouri was arrested for surfing sites with special interests to Syrian current affairs, downloading and distributing some news to friends.

Their contact information is here.

History as now - Teaching history as news

The BBC has a series called On This Day that treats recent historic events as if they were breaking news. This gives some excellent raw material for several possible teaching ideas.For example this exercise focuses on tenses and in particular the changes needed when talking about recent events compared with those which are over and done with i.e. the differences between the use of present perfect and past tenses, I know, it sound very dry but the idea is to make those concepts more concrete to the students by using real examples.

You'll need to have;

1 Two photocopies (no more than one page each, one of which is from the BBC's On This Day and the other a more conventional historical account (Wiki would be my first port of call). The event should ideally, be something that the students are already aware of. In this lesson plan I'm going to use the fall of the junta in Greece in 1973.

2 A photocopy with details from a historical event that student know about.

Lesson Plan

1 Ask students what they know about the 17th November 1973 (which is a holiday for students in Greece). Students work in pairs and write down what they know. Tell them that if they don't something in English, you'll translate.

2 Elicit answers from the class.

3 Ask them what they know about the 25th November 1973. Odds on, they'll not know much. Explain to them that you will give them a handout which gives some information about the event.

4 Divide the class into two groups, give one group this page from the BBC and the other this extract from the Wiki page on the Greek junta (from The Ioannidis Regime to the end).

5 Tell the students that they should read it and it is their responsibility to figure out the vocabulary as a group.

6 Then they form pairs with one person from each group.

7 They compare the different versions on two levels;

a the information given
b the tenses used

8 Now choose an event from history that your students are familiar with e.g. The Fall of Constantinople ( see here for the Wiki entry - The Siege and Final Assault of the City). Explain to the students that they have to imagine that they are journalists reporting from the city on the events mentioned in the photocopy. Make sure that they are clear on the use on tenses in this case.

9 This can either be done in the form of a BBC On This Day style report or you could record it as CNN live report on a digital camera/mobile phone and post it via itunes as a podcast or YouTube video on the class blog.

CAE interview - 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 will vary.
Sometimes it may require you describe and comment or
you may be asked to compare and contrast.

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 related question 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. Also use their

3 Start with a question, not a monologue.

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

5 If you can't think of something to add, 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 name.

4 There are no wrong answers, only badly-expressed ones.

Taken an hour ago

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thessaloniki at night

Now that I have a faster internet connection I'm able to try out various ideas I've written about in my blog over the last year. But before I can teach using these new opportunities I must make myself familiar with them. I created this short video using Window's Photo story 3, which can be downloaded free from here.

One more set of photos then I'm off to bed

Ok, I promise I'll stop now.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Still playing

I'm off work sick today, hence the frenetic photo processing.

More weird effects

A little abstract art, anyone?

Thessaloniki at night

Here are some photos I took last night after work in Aristotelous Square (see here for more on my Flickr page).

Vlogging and EFL/ESL

For those of you unaware of the term a vlog is an amalgamation of the words video and blog. Basically, instead of writing a post, you record it on video. I thought that this might be a good way to spark more student interest in their blogs. I've only just started doing this as I only recently got broadband at home. On a standard 56kps dial - up it's not really feasible to upload large files.

Here is a lesson I did yesterday.

Lesson Plan

I Write on the board or hand out a photocopy with the following situation;

Imagine a situation:

You're the head of a refugee camp somewhere in a poor, developing country. The annual crops have failed once again and thousand of people arrive at the camp seeking food and medical help. The problem is that you have supplies enough for, at most 5000 refugees, however another 15,000 have come. As the days pass the death rates, especially amongst the very young and the very old rise dramatically. Despite repeated calls to the international community the aid promised by western governments fails to appear.

At this point a local drugs baron/warlord appears on the scene and makes a proposal; in return for supplying food and medical supplies for the camp you must agree to let him use the place as a cover for his cocaine/heroin/etc production facilities.

Do you agree?

2 Go through any possible problems with vocabulary.

3 Divide the class into groups of three or four students and ask each one to make a decision. Give them five to ten minutes for this.

4 Go round the class and elicit their decision. Alternatively, set up a debate in which those who agree have to discuss their choice with those that disagree.

5 Explain that now a spokesperson from each group is going to justify their opinion in a statement of between 30 and 60 seconds and that you will record it on video and put it on their class blog. The other members of the group will help the speaker with the wording of the statement.

6 Each group chooses a spokesperson (they will probably need some conjoling for this).

7 Go to a quiet place in the class or better still outside and video the student.

8 Post the videos via, say YouTube on their blog. The other students have to write their opinions on the blog.

See here for yesterday's lesson

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

You have the right to be beaten, if you give up that right, we will do it anyway.

Thankfully, there is uproar in the Greek press (see here in English here, and here in Greek) over the beating of a Cypriot student outside the ABC hotel here in Thessaloniki. Not only was this caused by the incident itself, which was captured by TV cameras but also by the extremely provocative statements made by the head of the city's police department when interviewed about the event on Mega channel. Rather than ordering an inquiry or condemning the acts of the police officers, he insulted and even threatened the law professor, Vasilis Floridis, who'd witnessed it, even going as far as to defend the police's actions, arguing that the beating of a detainee was in no way excessive.

The official police report says that the students injuries were sustained when he fell over a moped and into a window box. However, according to an interview he gave to the Eleutheroptypia newspaper says that;

"«Ενας με πίεζε να μου σπάσει το γόνατο. Μου έβαλαν χειροπέδες ύστερα από 20 λεπτά. Με χτυπούσαν μπροστά στους καθηγητές. Με κλοτσούσαν και μέσα στο τμήμα. Τα μάτια μου ήταν πρησμένα και δεν έβλεπα τίποτα. Φοβόμουν ότι είχα εσωτερική αιμορραγία, ότι θα πέθαινα. Τέσσερις ώρες ήμουν μέσα στα αίματα».

Ο Αυγουστίνος εξιστορεί αυτά που έζησε και εξηγεί πως κατάφερε να ενημερώσει την οικογένειά του. «Χωρίς να βλέπω κατάφερα να τους στείλω μήνυμα με το κινητό που είχα κρυμμένο μέσα στα εσώρουχά μου. Δεν περιγράφεται αυτό που έζησα».

"One of them forced me to bend my knee and they put handcuffs on me 20 minutes later. They hit me in front of the professors. They kicked when I was in the police station. My eyes were swollen and I couldn't see anything. I was afraid that I had internal bleeding. I was left covered in blood for four hours."

Augustinos described what he had been through and explained how he had managed to contact his family.

"Without being able to see I managed to send them a message with the mobile phone which I had hidden in my underwear. What I went through cannot be described."

It seems that they the police in this city feel that they are not just above the law but subject to no civilian control at all. How else would you explain the seeming lack of concern by the force's highest ranks when making these outrageous claims publicly, even when the evidence is there for the whole country to see with their own eyes.

By a sad irony a similar incident took place inside the UCLA library with an American- Iranian student being repeatedly tazored (see here).

Monday, November 20, 2006

What would you do?

Imagine a situation:

You're the head of a refugee camp somewhere in a poor, developing country. The annual crops have failed once again and thousand of people arrive at the camp seeking food and medical help. The problem is that you have supplies enough for, at most 5000 refugees, however another 15,000 have come. As the days pass the death rates, especially amongst the very young and the very old rise dramatically. Despite repeated calls to the international community the aid promised by western governments fails to appear.

At this point a local drugs baron/warlord appears on the scene and makes a proposal; in return for supplying food and medical supplies for the camp you must agree to let him use the place as a cover for his cocaine/heroin/etc production facilities.

Do you agree?

This is a moral dilemma exercise which I will do in my lesson this week. It was inspired by the movie Beyond Borders.

Be warned this video contains harrowing scenes

When the police prove more dangerous than anarchists

Yesterday I wrote about the brutal beating of a demonstrator in front of hundreds of witnesses by plainclothes police "officers". Now, no police force has a monopoly on virtue or vice and the actions of a few violent individuals should not be the yardstick by which the whole force is judged. On the other hand when the police force representative goes on live TV to threaten the law professor who witnessed the whole event all that goes out the window. It was not enough that the idiot questioned the academic's patriotism or called him a liar, no he had to go on and threaten him on live TV.

This brings bad memories for many Greeks of the times in the past when the police were free to do anything they chose, knowing full well that their actions would always be covered politically under the cover of "law and order" or because they were for the "good of the state".

According to The Ethnos Newspaper;

"Η ανακοίνωση της ΓΑΔΘ σημειώνει ότι η σύλληψή του έγινε περίπου στις 22:30 της Παρασκευής, όταν επιχείρησε να φύγει από το χώρο, και αναγνωρίστηκε από αστυνομικούς με πολιτικά, οι οποίοι έκαναν γνωστή την ιδιότητά τους και του ζήτησαν τα στοιχεία του. Ωστόσο, ο 24χρονος, όπως αναφέρεται στην ανακοίνωση, «στη θέα των αστυνομικών και επιχειρώντας προφανώς να διαφύγει» έπεσε πάνω σε μηχανάκι και σε ζαρντινιέρα, ενώ επιτέθηκε και στους αστυνομικούς που επιχείρησαν να τον ακινητοποιήσουν."


The Thessaloniki police department's press release notes that (the student's) arrest happened on Friday at about 10.30pm when he attempted to leave the area and was identified by plainclothes police officers who identified themselves and asked to see his ID. However, the 24 year old, as the report states, "in full view of the police officers, he apparently attempted to escape and fell over a moped and into a window box. Also he attacked police officers who were attempting to immobilise him."

Well, as anything who saw the TV footage will testify this is absolutely rubbish, unless you count being kicked in the face and punched in the stomach while you're held in an arm lock, "an attack upon an officer of the law"

See here and here for other Greek news sources.

Technology is not a light bulb, it's a wet paper bag

I've been using computers on and off since I was 14 when I got a Sinclair ZX81 which had 1kb of computing capacity. Later on I discovered the internet and started dreaming of ways in which this wonderful tool could help me teach English. It seemed, even then in 1996 that the net offered unlimited possibilities for foreign language learners with its ability to provided easy access to newspapers, magazines and a wealth of other English language material.

However, it is only been since 2004 that I have been able to put into practice many of the ideas I had years earlier. Finally, able to get regular access to the internet and a PC, many of my students are now in a position to utilise the power of the web in their language learning. Perhaps more importantly, The technology I use has gradually seeped into my teaching practice, slowly evolving from something I used occasionally into a core element that makes me, I believe, a much better teacher.

Using technology in the classroom is not like a light bulb which is suddenly lights up, but rather a paper bag full of water. Eventually the water soaks into the paper until it breaks and spills everywhere.

Blogging hits the political mainstream in Greece

Interestingly, it seem that blogging has started to make itself felt in the Greek political system. Evangelos Venizelos , minister of culture in the previous PASOK government has set up his own blog (see here). Unfortunately for non-Greek speakers, there is no translation in English. However, I will be keeping an eye on it and will translate anything you might find of interest if necessary.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Competition Time at the BBC

I came across this site on the BBC. They want to hear from young people who use online social networks. I'll be asking my students (who have their own class or personal blogs) over the next week to contribute, if they want to.

"Aged between 13 and 19? Into online social networking? And - most importantly - fancy your 15 minutes of fame to a worldwide audience?

Click is the BBC's flagship technology show, broadcast to over 300 million viewers worldwide, as well as on network television here in the UK.

Come on, let's face it - we all do (ok, most of us!). In a few weeks time we're running a feature about you - the teens who are defining the next generation of web users and content.

If you're an active user of one of the rapidly expanding pool of social networking sites, we'd like to hear from you - on the benefits and pitfalls of being part of the latest online craze."

See here for the rest of the article.

Police brutality

Imagine a country where plainclothes police can beat a suspect to a bloody pulp in front of one of the biggest international hotels, have this witnessed by TV cameras, eight university professors (including professors of law) and a whole troop of fellow officers and nothing happens.

Unbelievably, this is exactly what did happen on Friday, the 17th November a few metres from the entrance to the Thessaloniki's ABC hotel in the aftermath of the riots that took place around the university. Five cops systematically beat and humiliated a hapless student in full view of hundreds of witnesses. Whether or not, he'd been involved in the troubles earlier is beside the point. Mega channel showed pictures of police officers kicking their prisoner in the face, punching him in the stomach (whilst the other held his arms) and generally brutalising their prisoner who was later taken to hospital with a broken nose, a mouth full of stitches and concussion.

The worst of all was seeing the head of the city's police department defend the actions of his officers as a legitimate and flatly refuse to accept that they were doing anything blame worthy, even as the images of the played on the screen. Apparently, the official report says that he was "resisting arrest".

Their brutality is only matched by their gross incompetence.

Driving in Greece - A crash course

As I have lessons all over the city I usually travel around Thessaloniki on a Vespa. It's next to impossible to park a car in many areas, and especially in the centre. On the other hand going by public transport is not really an options as it is often slow and unreliable. A journey that takes me 25 minutes by bike would need 1.5 to 2 hours by bus, so it's not feasible.

I found this video on YouTube that was taken in Greece, probably off a traffic camera in Athens. I had a similar collision last year when some idiot did an illegal upturn right in front of me and as a result I went flying over the hood of his car. luckily, I suffered little more than cuts and bruises, though the bike was a write - off. Still, unlike the guy in the video (who was even luckier) I always wear a helmet.

The worst thing about this is that when the driver gets out of the car, instead of asking about the victim or trying to get help she tries to defend her actions!! Even though she'd run a red light (according to the guy).

By the way, Greek law clearly states that wearing a helmet is mandatory. Now if only we can get the cops to figure that out it would be a start.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

17th November march, Thessaloniki

Despite all the trouble afterwards, yesterday's commemoration of the student uprising on 17th November 1973 (see here about the event)went off without incident. Indeed, it was a good - natured affair and I had the chance to speak to many of my old students that I bumped into as I followed the march's progress. I thought I'd post a few photos and a some video that I took.

I saw several student groups that had volunteered to protect the university's building from possible vandalism by more violent factions. I saw them arguing with a group of masked anarchists who'd been stopped carrying empty retsina bottles (apparently, they make for more reliable Molotov cocktail containers than beer bottles).

Inside the university there was a party atmosphere as students listened to rembetika music and generally celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the junta in a relaxed, laid back manner (see here for other reports).

And see here for the video I took of the march which wound its way through the centre of the city and ended up at the Aristotelian university of Thessaloniki.

The Aristotelian university of Thessaloniki, Greece

A Google Earth photo showing where last nights dramatic events took place. The university is in the centre of the city and has about 70, 000 students.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Riots in Thessaloniki

Here is a video I took earlier (see here for others)

I was running away from the advancing riot police, the camera tripod fell out of my backpack and went clattering across the road. I stopped briefly and bent over to pick it up as as I got ready to resume my flight an enraged anarchist, stone in hand screamed in my face,

"τι'εν αυτο;" (what's this?)

and before I could answer he demanded to know,

"τι εισαι;" (what are you?)

As quick as a flash told him I was a blogger, and satisfied with my reply he ran off in the opposite direction to throw the piece of paving stone he was holding at the police who were rapidly advancing. I knew one day that blogging would have some practical use in the real world.

Today is the Polytechniou, on 17th November 1973 students at the Polytechnic in Athens started a student uprising that helped topple the military dictatorship that had ruled Greece since 1967. For educators and students of all ages it is a public holiday, marked by events which celebrate the brave stand that the students took against a particularly repressive regime.

I decided to take part in the march which went off in a peaceful manner and was the best attended I had seen for some time. Yet just like every other year I can remember there were riots and clashes between anarchists and the MAT (Greek riot squad). This year I thought that I would see what was happening for myself and hence angry encounter with the masked anarchist.

Skirting past the police blockade I managed to enter the university campus and see what was happening from the other side. The strangest moment was when the dean and university senate came marching out of the darkness chanting,

"We are dean and senate, we've come to tell the police to leave."

At great personal risk (there were stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown as he left the university grounds to talk to the police) he tried to reason with the young protesters, but without much effect. Like a disapproving teacher trying to bring order to a unruly class he argued, reasoned and implored the demonstrators to put down their stones and return back to the campus.

For the second time in three months I've been tear gassed (see here for September's riots). The trials and tribulations of being a citizen journalist, I guess.

Creating a video introduction to your life

Hopefully over the coming weeks or months I will have the chance to get my students to collaborte with students abroad. What I thought would be a great idea is to create a class video that gives students in say, Canada or Japan an idea of what it's like here in Thessaloniki. I was inspired in this by the example of what students at the Mabry Middle School have achieved. The video could take any of a number of forms. Indeed a major part of the lesson would be deciding just that question. Possible ideas might include creating a photo montage of the city using students' and internet gathered images which are then made into a short two - minute video using Window's Movie Maker.

Alternatively, students could shot short films of their own using their digital cameras or mobile photos and we use that as the basis for the video. The final result could then be posted via YouTube to the class blog.

Mind blowing ideas

In a good month I get about 2000 visitors to this blog, a number that far exceeds my wildest expectations when I started it, however, imagine a school that gets 1.5 million visitors a month to their site. No, not a world famous university, multi-national corporation or big name e-retailer, but a middle school in Georgia, USA.

When I was over at ever interesting Cool Cat Teacher blog I came across an interview Vicky did (listen here) with the Principle of Mabry Middle School, Dr Tim Taylor, who set up the site.
The school is a world leader in the integration of technology into teaching practice and the amazing thing is how low cost and easily accessible most of the tools are. For example, the site itself is, in fact as series of connected Movable Type blogs. What you can't put a price on though, is the sheer inventiveness and creativity of those teachers and students that are making this idea a practical reality.

I found the student produced video particularly amazing. Now that I've figured out how to post stuff on YouTube and have access to broad band at school and at home I'm definitely going to start on some of the video projects I blogged about during the summer.

Check out their film festival here.

Ticking off the boxes

It seems more and more the internet means blogs, I mean that much of what I find interesting or useful on the web comes via blogs or links mentioned on blogs. While over at Ewan MacIntosh's one I came across a short post which linked to an interesting article on young people and technology. Although the article in The Observer was about the huge divide between journalist's and younger people's perception of this technology, Ewan's point was that this gap also exist between teachers and their students.

"These kids have been socially conditioned in a universe that runs parallel to the one inhabited by most folks in the media business. They've been playing computer games of mind-blowing complexity forever. They're resourceful, knowledgeable and natural users of computer and communications technology. They're Digital Natives - accustomed to creating content of their own - and publishing it. (Remember the motto of YouTube: 'Broadcast yourself!')

They buy music from the iTunes store - but continue to download tracks illicitly as well. They use BitTorrent to get US editions of Lost. They think 'Google' is a synonym for 'research' and regard it as quite normal to maintain and read blogs (55 million as of last night), use Skype to talk to their mates and upload photos to Flickr. Some even write entries on Wikipedia. And they know how to use iMovie or Adobe Premiere to edit videos and upload them to YouTube.

Now look round the average British newsroom. How many hacks have a Flickr account or a MySpace profile? How many sub-editors have ever uploaded a video to YouTube? How many editors have used BitTorrent? (How many know what BitTorrent is?)"

See here for the rest of the article.

Spurred on by this I decided to learn to do a few of the things mentioned. Today, I posted my first video on YouTube and despite a few hassles with my first attempt, it proved to be a lot simpler than I had imagined. Although I'm not in Marc Prensky's terms a digital native, I'm doing a pretty good imitation.

I can't see Steven Spielberg losing any sleep over this film, though. LOL

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ideas for EFL/ESL writing

Here are some ideas I used today to help students with their writing skills.

Lesson Plan 1

1 Write the first line of a story (this is a common exam question) on the board.

E.g. "I opened the envelope and inside I saw a plane ticket with my name on it."

2 Write down a second sentence.
E.g "If that wasn't strange enough, there was also $1000 in cash."

3 Ask the class to shout a third sentence and write it on the board.

4 Ask for a couple more sentences and write them on the board.

5 Put students in pairs or groups of three. Get them to write the sentence in their notebooks and explain to them that they'll take turns in adding their own sentences. To ensure that they don't waste too much time, tell them that each person has only 30 (or more) seconds to write their sentences. To make sure they have an idea of the time, count to 30 aloud slowly.

6 Students then swap the book and the other person adds their sentence. If they haven't finished the sentence his/her partner must finish it before adding, their own.

7 Do this four or five times.

8 Ask the student to make a copy of the story in their own notebooks

9 For homework, students correct what has already been written and then finish the story.

Lesson Plan 2

This idea is a way of getting students to practice using relative clauses in a way that doesn't bore them (not an easy feat, believe me).

1 Write a short sentence on the board;

E.g. "Alan is a librarian"

2 Ask students in what ways we can make the sentence longer.

E.g "Alan is a good librarian"
"Alan is not a good librarian."
"Alan is sometimes not a good librarian." etc.

3 If the students don't mention relative clauses the write up an example of your own.

E.g. "Alan, who is married with two wonderful kids, is sometimes not a very good librarian at Kingston college, which is one of the best in the country."

4 Now write a new sentence on the board;

E.g. " Ingrid is the boss."

5 Tell students that they have five minutes to write the longest sentence they can. The winner of the competition has no homework for that lesson.

I did both these activities in my intermediate lesson today and they were a great success with a very lively and demanding bunch of teenagers.

Using music in class

Last week I posted a Rage Against the Machine video, Wake Up and said that I was going to do the song as a lesson. Here is the lesson plan for post intermediate classes. For this you'll need the song along with copies of the lyrics and some information about the song and singer/group (see here).

Wake Up - Rage Against The Machine

"Come on!

Come on, although ya try to discredit
Ya still never read it
The needle, I'll thread it
Radically poetic
Standin' with the fury that they had in '66
And like E-Double I'm mad
Still knee-deep in the system's shit
Hoover, he was a body remover
I'll give ya a dose
But it can never come close
To the rage built up inside of me
Fist in the air, in the land of hypocrisy

Movements come and movements go
Leaders speak, movements cease
When their heads are flown
'Cause all these punks
Got bullets in their heads
Departments of police, the judges, the feds
Networks at work, keepin' people calm
You know they went after King
When he spoke out on Vietnam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot

Yeah, back in this...
Wit' poetry, my mind I flex
Flip like Wilson, vocals never lackin' dat finesse
Whadda I got to, whadda I got to do to wake ya up
To shake ya up, to break the structure up
'Cause blood still flows in the gutter
I'm like takin' photos
Mad boy kicks open the shutter
Set the groove
Then stick and move like I was Cassius
Rep the stutter step
Then bomb a left upon the fascists
Yea, the several federal men
Who pulled schemes on the dream
And put it to an end
Ya better beware
Of retribution with mind war
20/20 visions and murals with metaphors
Networks at work, keepin' people calm
Ya know they murdered X
And tried to blame it on Islam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot


What was the price on his head?
What was the price on his head!

I think I heard a shot
I think I heard a shot
I think I heard a shot
I think I heard a shot
I think I heard a shot
I think I heard, I think I heard a shot

'He may be a real contender for this position should he
abandon his supposed obedience to white liberal doctrine
of non-violence...and embrace black nationalism'
'Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to
pinpoint potential trouble-makers... and neutralize them.
Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to
pinpoint potential trouble-makers... and neutralize them
and neutralize them, and neutralize them, and neutralize them'

Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!
Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!

How long? Not long, cause what you reap is what you sow"

Lesson Plan

1 Explain to the students that they will hear a short extract from a song (20 - 30 seconds). As they listen they should think of some questions using the following question words;



E.g Where is the band from ?
Which album is it from ?

2 Students write down their questions. Get them to check their grammar with each other before you go around and check them.

3 If a student recognises the song and/or performer then they take over your role. All the class's questions will be directed at him or her. Otherwise you answer them.

4 Write questions on the board;

This might be a good time to deal with any vocabulary issues. Just don't get too bogged down in explaining every possible nuance.

1 Why do you think the song is called "Wake Up"?
2 What do you think the song is trying to tell us ?
3 What names (people, places) are mentioned ?

5 Hand out the lyrics and play the song.

6 Students discuss their answers in pairs and groups.

7 Elicit answers from the class, and ask them if they know any of the names/places mentioned.

8 Now tell them that for homework they have answer a longer list of questions(see below) which I've posted on their class blog (I also posted a video and the lyrics to help them). The answers can either be written in their notebooks and discussed in the next lesson or posted on the blog.

Questions 1 Why is the song called "Wake up"?
2 Who was (Martin Luther) King?
3 How did he die?
4 What was happening in Vietnam in 1966?

5 Who was (Malcolm) X?

6 How did he die?

7 Why do you think the song was used in the
Matrix movie?
8 What does the last line mean?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Student blogging - The rules

I came across these guidelines for student posting on their class blog at The Believe It or Not blog, which has been set up by RE department at Nodehill Middle School, Newport, Isle of Wight.

"Before we start, let’s agree we all stick to these ten rules below. They are designed to keep you safe and help you learn from each other.
  1. I will only use my first name
  2. I will never give out my email address
  3. I will never give out my home address
  4. I will never give out my telephone number
  5. I will respect others
  6. I will not use rude or threatening words
  7. I will not use text talk or chat language
  8. I will not copy other people’s work
  9. I will be responsible for everything I write
  10. I will check my spelling before posting

All comments will be seen first by us before going live. So we can make sure all the rules are followed. Remember, BELIEVE IT OR NOT is like a virtual classroom. Don’t do anything here that you wouldn’t do at school. That way, we can all enjoy the blog and improve our RE at the same time."

I'm going to be explaining and implementing these rules with my students' blogs over the next couple of weeks.

When I become a teacher.....

" I want to cover rather than uncover material... and use chalk."

" I going to teach one year 25 times."

"I want to use my computer only for recording grades."

Check out this wonderful video by The Apple Teacher Institute, Lesley University which parodies teachers' attitudes.