Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Xmas Event 2015 - report on Rakesh Bhanot's talk

 A Winter’s Tale

Rakesh began by wondering why he had been invited to ‘perform’ at the TESOL Macedonia Thrace Christmas Event; was it because such gatherings traditionally involve a bearded old man carrying goodies to distribute to the assembled folk?

Indeed, he did have some, what may be loosely termed, ‘pedagogic goodies’ in the form of quotations from well-known educators garnered in his 40+ years of teaching (ELT) in various parts of the world. To these, he added a couple of acronyms (A.S.K. and D.I.T.O.W. – see below) that he has devised, and presented a very informal interactive session designed to be provocative as well as thought-provoking.

The first speaker of the evening, Sylvia Guinan, had given a slick demonstration of several ways in which modern technologies can foster friendship in the classroom, but Rakesh eschewed technology completely by taking off his shoes and perching himself on the side of an armchair to share his thoughts in an atmosphere akin to sitting by the fireside on a cold winter’s evening.

“No one is a beginner in a second language”, he announced, quoting Harold Rosen, and reminded us that (in the words of Paolo Freire) “the best way to educate people is to ‘start with what they already know’”. Some of what Rakesh shared may have been self-evident but, again, he had yet another quotation from a famous Englishman, Dr. Johnson, who claimed that “people need reminding more often than instruction”. He began by asking us to think of well-known movies that deal with education such as Freedom Writers, Good Will Hunting, Kes, To Sir With Love etc., and what messages such films convey about good teaching and learning.

The thrust of the talk was that ‘teaching is a species of friendship’ – a theme also touched upon by the previous presenter - and that we, as teachers, need to focus on the emotional as well as the cognitive development of our learners; something Rakesh summed up in the phrase ‘teaching below the neck’. He underlined the need for inner cultivation - that is the development of more emotional/ humanistic learning environments even in (perhaps especially in) an age where there is increasing use of technology in the classroom.

To be emotionally educated, i.e. to have an educated mind/body, consists not only of having the right quality of learning materials that are connected to the head, but also to the heart. This means that both teachers and students must jump out of their comfort zones and try out new and “risky” paths in accomplishing higher educational goals.

What are these goals? In trying to identify the more lofty goals of education, we need to start by considering ‘what is LEARNING’? This is often defined in terms of achieving KNOWLEDGE and SKILLS. However, is there more to learning than these two narrow aims? Rakesh offered us the acronym A.S.K. whereby he defines LEARNING as ‘change is Attitude, Skill and/or Knowledge’. He challenged us to consider how often we include changing students’ attitudes in devising or delivering our curriculum. How often do we build-in the idea of changing students’ attitudes into lesson planning? How often we consider addressing issues of social justice in the classroom? Even if we are constrained by government policies, by the requirements of exam boards, by course books etc., we can and should find time to deal with broader social issues in the classroom and not always focus on the narrow requirements of the test at the end of the course. Yes, this will require teachers to take risks, and to try out new ways of teaching, but taking risks offers the possibility of enriching the teaching/learning experience for all concerned.

At one point, Rakesh asked to make a visual representation of what teaching/learning looks like; to draw a doodle of what is happening when teaching/learning is taking place. Some of these images are presented below.

These show how teachers vary in their perception of what teaching/learning consists of and how these differences may be relevant in being/becoming more OR less effective as a teacher. Draw your own doodle and A.S.K. yourself what it tells you about you as a teacher.

In addition to the idea of A.S.K., Rakesh offered us another acronym: D.I.T.O.W. This stands for do it the other (or opposite) way. He began by posing the following conumdrum. Two people are standing in a desert facing opposite directions. There are no mirrors or cameras but the two people can see each other. How is this possible? Most people imagine that the two people are standing back to back but if they both turn around and face each other, then they can see each other and are still facing opposite directions. Rakesh used this simple analogy to show that much of what we do in the classroom – based on traditional practices – may not always be as effective as we would like to think it is. Sometimes, by doing things the other/opposite way we may be able to achieve better results and to increase student motivation. For example, rather than asking students to complete a crossword puzzle by solving the given clues, why not give them a completed crossword puzzle and ask them to devise their own clues? He offered other examples of DITOW, e.g. invite students to write questions for a reading comprehension text rather than mechanically answering questions given in the course book.

A second quotation that Rakesh shared from Dr. Johnson goes as follows: “an educated man (sic.) is not someone who has all the knowledge but someone who knows where to look for it”. To this end, he shared two websites that may prove useful to teachers and teacher trainers. The first one is http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/ - the site of The British National Corpus, and the second www.businessballs.com – a gold mine of all kinds of resources for ideas especially if you teach business English.

Rakesh finished by reminding us that many of his suggestions are likely to prove challenging but that unless we take risks we are not going to be able to teach ‘below the neck’; we are not going to educate the whole person. In the words of Aristotle, “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”

By Vassiliki Mandalou

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Fun Christmas Creative Activity

A fun Christmas Creative activity for you and/or your students with a 100 pound prize!
Deadline extended to 14 December.

Creative Drawing/Writing Exercise
suggested by
Rakesh Bhanot

​With this Haiku card of mine, the artist Magdolna Terray went from my words and drew a picture:


​You are all invited to do the opposite - to DITOW: do it the other way!

1. Draw a picture/doodle to depict or represent yourself (nonverbal)

2. Write something based on your drawing (verbal). Max. 17 syllables!

3. Share your creative efforts by 10 December by sending an email to:


A prize of one hundred pounds will be awarded to the best entry judged by:

Alan Maley
Malu Sciamarelli
Magdolna Terray
Rakesh Bhanot

(The judges reserve the right to withhold the awarding of the prize if the entries are not deemed to be 'creative'.)

Source http://thecreativitygroup.weebly.com/blog/ditow-do-it-the-other-way

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Xmas Event - snapshots

Sylvia Guinan on friendship

Rakesh Bhanot presenting... "the other way"

What does YOUR teaching look like?

The raffle

The buffet

The audience

Photo credits: Margarita Kosior

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Xmas Event 2015

Sylvia Guinan 

A Special Xmas Guest... Rakesh Bhanot 

Sylvia Guinan


Sylvia Guinan is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials and runs teacher training courses. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology. She blogs and runs courses online and runs her own website. She is also Joint Web Editor for the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group.


When Friendship Smiles Upon Learning.


Social and emotional dynamics secretly rule classroom behaviour. Yet, while social and emotional intelligence, or lack, thereof, is a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, we tend to keep our eyes on the wormhole of narrow teaching objectives, while failing to see the bigger picture. Instead of labelling children with problematic behaviour we should be tapping into the relationships that make or break our learning and teaching endeavours.

As English language teachers, we teach communication above and beyond everything else. It's the subtext of second language acquisition and it makes our work more valuable that the lesson we are teaching.

As English language teachers, we are in a unique position to harness the positivities of social cohesion through integrating fun, creativity and social learning into the common experience of children, teenagers and even adults from all walks of life. Obviously, above and beyond the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of our students, we also get to accelerate their learning, as they are more motivated to communicate authentically. Communication is the response you get.

I will share some teaching concepts and lesson ideas using friendship; both as a topic and as a collaborative, multi-media approach to learning, where friendship and social dynamics make the lesson work.

This positive approach to lesson planning is, by default, taking into account the children who come from troubled homes, have no friends or have emotional problems. It's really about inclusiveness, confidence-building and 'being there'. Being the witness, facilitator and caring teacher who can show students that they can be strong and happy. It's all about validation.

The Christmas spirit is the human spirit. This is our message to our students. They lead and we follow their paths to friendship and learning, through friendship and learning.

The magic and Christmas spirit inherent in this multi-media appraoch to learning will take the form of storytelling, poetry, video-making, comic creation, infographics, mindmapping, poster making and lots of emotionally significant and creative activities.

Rakesh Bhanot


Rakesh Bhanot has been involved in various aspects of ELT since 1961 when he arrived as an immigrant in the UK aged 10 - with no knowledge of English. Having learnt English, he went on to teach EFL in Spain aged 21,and by the time he was 29, he was a kind of inspector for British teachers of English in NW Germany. He is the founder editor of Language Issues - the Journal of NATECLA. He says that his only claim to fame is that he won (sic.) the Failure Fest at a recent IATEFL Conference.


Teaching is a species of friendship” - “one is one but two ones make…?


I came across the first part of the title (above) in a well-known book by Chris Brumfit, and the second is something that my late mother would often introduce into a conversation when she wanted to show the value of ‘networking’ and collaborative work.

Unfortunately, both ideas are ‘under-exploited’ in education, and without dwelling on the theoretical (and possibly ethical) aspects of the above, I would like to demonstrate how they have influenced my professional work through a number of classroom activities. What happens in the ELT classroom is clearly much more than the transfer of linguistic codes, learning vocabulary or the rules of grammar; indeed, it is even more than communication as my co-presenter will argue. We do not ‘just teach English’. We do much more. As preparation for the workshop, participants are invited to make a list (max.20 words/phrases) of what they think they do - other than ‘teach’ - in the classroom, and to bring this list with them on 5th December.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Call for speakers!

Here is the online form if you want to become a speaker at the 23rd TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece Annual International Convention!

A Word version is also available if you prefer one. Just email it to tesolmth@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Welcome Back Event 2015 - Report

A very big number of attendees from diverse teaching backgrounds honored the Welcome Back Event with their presence this year at the Amphitheatre of the Central Library of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki on Sunday 27th September.

The event was scheduled with a view to welcoming the new school year, to giving teachers the chance to meet, bond and exchange inspiring and useful ideas and, additionally, to electing the new TESOL Macedonia-Thrace board.

Dr Panayiotis Constantinides from the University of the Aegean was the featured speaker who made an interesting presentation on “Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties in the 21rst century English class”. Dr Constantinides shared the joy he feels when he meets the needs of his students after going the extra mile to discover what their real difficulties are. It was great to hear about the common pitfalls of the field of learning difficulties. Most of the attendees admitted feeling much more confident about avoiding errors in their future classes thanks to the advice given by an experienced and specialized educator.

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) was convened, held and conducted as per the provisions of the TESOL MTH constitution and the rules made there under. A statement of accounts and financial report was presented by the acting chair and treasurer for members to approve, nominations for the elections were considered, speeches were received by the nominees, and the new board was elected in an atmosphere of agreement and acceptance.

All in all, with the motivation from successful colleagues, i.e. school advisors, ELT authors, publishers, a chance to interact with board members, and a bright sunshiny day enjoyed from the gardens of the Central Library of the Aristotle University, it was truly a day to remember.

By Avgi Vafeidou

Photo credits: Margarita Kosior

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Welcome Back Event 2015

"Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties in the 21st century English class"

Meet our presenter

Panayiotis Constantinides


Panayiotis Constantinides is an English teacher, certified oral examiner and licensed dyslexia evaluator. He holds a Certificate in English Methodology from the British Council, a Diploma in IT from the Open University, U.K. and a Postgraduate Diploma in Inclusive Education, Research, Policy and Practice, University of Glasgow. He has been teaching English for 20 years and assesses students with LD since 2012. He has been a member of the IT team at the University of the Aegean, department of Product and System Design since 2000 and an oral examiner of levels B2-C2 since 2005. You can contact him at pkon@aegean.gr 


A professional presentation on the signs of Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties in the English class of the 21st century. What teachers and parents should be looking for? How are Dyslexia and LD assessed? What do EL Testing bodies accept and what are the main points of the legal framework in Greece? Dos and don'ts English teachers should follow, so as to create a "class for everyone".

The Welcome Back Event programme:

10am-11am - first part of the talk
11am-12 - AGM/coffee break
12-1pm - second part of the talk

Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Event 2015 - Report on Anastasia Metallinou's Talk

Short Bio
Anastasia Metallinou is a highly motivated, enthusiastic and experienced English language teacher who specialises in Specific Learning Differences (dyslexia). She studied English and History at Oxford Brookes University (BA Honours). She has also received a master’s degree in Special Education (MEd) from University of Bristol. She teamed up with Dr Anne Margaret Smith and wrote ‘English Sounds Fun’. ESF is an innovative, highly structured intervention programme designed specifically for dyslexic students of English as a foreign language.


Anastasia Metallinou is a highly motivated, enthusiastic and experienced English language teacher who specializes in Specific Learning Differences (dyslexia) and gave her presentation ‘Teaching Dyslexic Learners – Practical Ways of Building Self-Esteem’ at the joint TESOL Macedonia-Thrace and TESOL Greece Summer Event 2015 in Portaria, Pelion (21 June 2015) with a compelling title: ‘Sharing Inspiration’.


After defining self esteem and highlighting its importance, Ms Metallinou mentioned the implications of low self-esteem for students and their families in general and in particular (in the language classroom) and highlighted five ways teachers can help to build self-awareness in their students and encourage self-evaluation and self-correction as important strategies in language learning.

Starting off, Ms Metallinou acknowledged the fact that 10-12% of student population in Greece has officially been assessed with dyslexia so far which affects many areas of language learning: writing, reading, memory skills, spelling etc. The most important implication, however, is that it affects students’ self-esteem which can be more debilitating than a learning difficulty and can also affect students’ families.

Ms Metallinou defined self-esteem as the way we feel about ourselves and evaluate our capabilities depending on the degree our feelings are accepted and valued by others and she highlighted the importance of some questions every educator should ask him/herself about her students:
-         How can we recognize students with low self-esteem?
-         How can we help students with low self-esteem?
-         What kind of solutions can we recommend to help them adapt in the language classroom?

Educators should be aware of clever avoidance strategies students might use in order to avoid failure through taking risks and watch for lonely, withdrawn students with little or no participation or engagement in class. Other implications of low self-esteem can be broken relationships, over-compensation and unsustainable student burn-out.  Unrealistic expectations from parents/self, previous negative experience, misinterpreted comments/feedback from teachers or peers and superficial comparison of self to others were among the causes of student low self-confidence which were also mentioned by Ms Metallinou.
It is very important for teachers and students to realize that mistakes are very important to happen because they can take you further through constructive feedback, they promote professional and emotional growth and reinforce perseverance until goal accomplishment. Ms Metallinou recommended a few activities which can help educators create a positive environment for students, depict their special qualities, show understanding of persuasive techniques, increase student responsibility and make them work in teams and have fun (e.g. drawing a self portrait, creating a ‘me’ commercial, complete sentences about yourself, write a journal story, do a class project which includes a wall display) and highlighted the importance of extracurricular activities parents should familiarize their children with in order to raise their self esteem.

Five ways in which teachers can help their students with dyslexia are:

1.     understand how dyslexia affects students (e.g. literacy/academic performance, self image, school – family relations and behavior)
2.     understand how students learn best (e.g. through motivation, fun, experience, success, inspiration, group work, praise)
3.     understand language difficulties and use multi sensory/media activities, lots of practice and repetition, a highly structured intervention program and small steps in language teaching
4.     take advantage of students’ strengths (e.g. identify individual strengths and skills and be creative with those skills and help students with their weak points)
5.     work in cooperation with parents to maximize positive effects

Teachers could also introduce students to famous dyslexic people, find characteristics they have in common and increase determination in their students. Students should be encouraged to reflect on their own work and educators should help students raise their self awareness (how I best learn) through self correction. As a result, students will believe in their abilities, understand, think and eventually reflect.

In her conclusion, Ms Metallinou explained the importance of self-belief and self-esteem in the language learning process. Students should be encouraged to succeed in learning by teachers and parents through promotion of diversity in learning styles and creativity. Memory strategies and organizational skills should be developed and perseverance should be encouraged in a positive way to foster students’ self confidence.

Report by

Βασιλική Παπαϊωάννου

ΠΕ06, Αγγλικής Φιλολογίας (Ed.D, MA, BA)
Σχολική Σύμβουλος Β/θμιας Εκπαίδευσης Μαγνησίας (έδρα Βόλος)
Συγκρότημα Μουρτζούκου, Χείρωνος & Επτά Πλατανίων Τ.Κ. 38333, Βόλος
24210 47396 εσωτερικό 304 (3ος όροφος)
Κινητό: 6934860473

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer Event 2015 in retrospect; Presentation by Dr Luke Prodromou - Report

Dr Luke Prodromou is an experienced ELT trainer, author and actor and his presentation titled: ‘From Socrates to Bill Gates: a Dialogue with Digital Natives’ at the TESOL Macedonia-Thrace and TESOL Greece joint summer event in Portaria, Pelion (21 June 2015) was about digital technology in a radically changing world, including our classrooms, and about whether multimedia deepens comprehension and enhances learning. This talk, drawing on recent research, took a critical look at the impact of the Internet on our classrooms, our brains and our lives. It asked questions and raised issues that all teachers, parents and friends should be asking, so that we understand what is gained and what is lost as we become more and more connected. Among the objectives in Luke’s presentation were to mention the changes it is bringing to teachers and language classrooms, to raise awareness about what we gain from IT and what we risk losing and suggest a new way forward (old + new).

Luke started off with an ice breaking activity which aimed at energizing present teacher audience and encouraged thinking and discussion about issues related to teaching and ICT use (digital natives and digital immigrants). All teachers felt welcome as all ideas and opinions were accommodated. Some of the questions which were discussed were whether teaching is like bowling, whether we think of ourselves as digital natives or digital immigrants, whether digital revolution has given teachers more ways to respond to students’ individual needs, whether teachers should recognize the need for integrating technology in their teaching and whether, according to experience, the Net is, by design, an interruption system meant to distract students’ attention.

Luke highlighted some of the benefits of digital technology and multimedia in the EFL classroom and explained how they deepen comprehension, strengthen learning and respond to students’ needs as long as teachers recognize the need for integrating technology in their teaching and the need for becoming empowering educators.

However, Luke mentioned that teachers should be very careful when taking advice about using technology in classrooms from IT experts/non-educators because advisors might not always be completely impartial and governments might have subsided teachers with technology due to deep cuts to education, lack of premises or teachers. For example because of the aforementioned reasons, in India children pool their resources and knowledge in the absence of teacher supervision.

Luke asked the audience to read carefully and discuss Carr’s (2010) definition of deep reading:

The ability to know in depth a subject for ourselves, to construct within our own minds the rich and idiosyncratic set of connections that give rise to a singular intelligence.

He added that teachers who engage in deep reading may want to start assimilating with digital native students’ culture and blend traditional learning with new (Bish 2013).

Luke also mentioned the similarity in the dilemma between digital natives – digital immigrants (Bill Gates era) with the oral and written culture dilemma in Socrates era. Socrates seemed to have an argument against written culture related to memory damage writing could bring to people very similar to arguments digital natives might have nowadays against the use of technology in the EFL classroom. Socrates was in favor of critical thinking and the teaching model of question asking which included shared goals, questions and problems, information, interpretations and concepts.

Moving on, Luke explained that, according to research, the effective teacher is the one who improvises, interacts with learners when the unexpected happens (has interactive decision making skills), has a clear language focus, is technically skillful and emotionally intelligent. So, effective teachers should involve technology in language learning only when students learn from each other, learn from their mistakes and not only when students merely write for exams or for the teacher. Classroom management skills are also very important in the EFL classroom, despite the tools or materials used and the effective teacher should be able to stand in the classroom, care for group dynamics, benefit from space and use everything in its best way while marrying the ‘old’ way with the ‘new’ way. Some other features/skills effective teachers should be aware of are voice, audibility, getting attention, group feelings, enthusiasm and rapport.

Luke summarized saying that teachers should have in mind that equipment is not content and that technology might betray them. They need to draw on, extend and build on learners’ experience as motivation will not come from novelty. Technology is one part of the big picture in the map/field of ELT and since we cannot cancel digital technology we can at least regulate it and fit it in the big picture of education. Blended learning is very welcome in 21st century EFL teaching due to its benefits, existing techniques and opportunities it creates as long as teachers combine what’s important from the past with what’s new in the future.

Report by

Βασιλική Παπαϊωάννου
ΠΕ06, Αγγλικής Φιλολογίας (Ed.D, MA, BA)
Σχολική Σύμβουλος Β/θμιας Εκπαίδευσης Μαγνησίας (έδρα Βόλος)
Συγκρότημα Μουρτζούκου, Χείρωνος & Επτά Πλατανίων Τ.Κ. 38333, Βόλος
24210 47396 εσωτερικό 304 (3ος όροφος)
Κινητό: 6934860473

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Summer Event 2015: TESOL MTh and TESOL Greece join forces!

Luke Prodromou


Dr. Luke Prodromou graduated from Bristol, Birmingham and Nottingham Universities. His MA was in Shakespeare Studies and his PhD in idioms and English as a lingua franca.

He has published numerous textbooks and two handbooks for teachers on Mixed Level Classes and Dealing with Difficulties. He has worked for the British Council and a number of teacher training centers in the UK (Pilgrims, Nile et al) and other countries. He has been a plenary speaker at many international conferences. 

Until recently he was a full-time item writer on the KPG. 
Luke is a founder member of the Disabled Access Campaign. He also gives talks on Shakespeare and Dickens - and performances as part of the Dave'N'Luke English Language Theatre. In 2015-2016 the team will be celebrating Shakespeare in the show All the World's a Stage. 

Title of talk: From Socrates to Bill Gates - a dialogue with digital natives


Digital technology is a revolution in our life comparable to the invention of writing, printing and the industrial revolution. It is changing our world, including our classrooms, in radical ways. 

This talk, drawing on recent research, takes a critical look at the impact of the Internet on our classrooms, our brains and our lives. It asks questions and raises issues that all teachers, parents and friends should be asking - so we understand what is gained and what is lost as we become more and more connected.

Anastasia Metallinou


Anastasia Metallinou is a highly motivated, enthusiastic and experienced English language teacher who specialises in Specific Learning Differences (dyslexia). She studied English and History at Oxford Brookes University (BA Honours). She has also received a master’s degree in Special Education (MEd) from University of Bristol. She teamed up with Dr Anne Margaret Smith and wrote ‘English Sounds Fun’. ESF is an innovative, highly structured intervention programme designed specifically for dyslexic students of English as a foreign language. 

Title of talk: Teaching dyslexic learners – practical ways of building self-esteem


Dyslexic learners face many challenges, usually made worse by a lack of self-confidence. In this session simple strategies will be demonstrated for building the self-esteem that dyslexic students need to succeed in learning, and in life.

Only Connect: Seven Strategies for Ensuring Teacher-Student Communication in the Classroom - Plenary Talk by Ken Wilson

Interview with Ken Wilson by Aspa Georgopoulou

In his plenary talk, Ken Wilson talked about the radical change that the teacher-student communication has undergone in classrooms where technology is available and offered valuable and practical ideas on how the vital link between the teacher and the students can be maintained in a hi-tech classroom.

Starting off, Ken took us on a journey through the history of education, showing us some of the most essential changes that took place in the learning environment over the last century. From the one-room school to the round table classroom every major change always raised complaints and concerns, some of which, undeniably, cleared the way for evaluation, re-planning and improvement, thus blazing new trails in the field of education. The hi-tech classroom is today’s latest revolutionary change and Ken wanted to share with us his “small complaint” about technology in the classroom and how it is used. 

There are schools today, he said, where every classroom has a computer at every desk. According to a student, who learns in such an environment, the computers have changed the relationship the students had with their teacher. Reflecting on the importance of this relationship, Ken explained, that good teachers always engage with their students at the start of every class, for a long time before anything else happens. This engagement becomes a conversation, a real life event. However, in the hi-tech classroom, where both the student and the teacher look at the screen and not at each other, this engagement doesn’t work anymore. Additionally, given that every class is mixed ability, putting all our students with their different attitudes and talents in front of the screen, we may not be providing for all their different needs. 

Ken explained that we can’t stop technology but we can make sure that the old fashioned engagement continues and emphasized on the teacher’s role in finding ways to get students together and motivate them. He recommended seven strategies which will help teachers maintain the vital link between them and their students, in today’s hi-tech classroom.

1. “Develop voices, yours and your students’.” Teachers and students should learn to breathe and speak using their diaphragm. If our diaphragm is developed, we have a wider range of control over our breath and we can project our voice better, preventing voice strain in the long term. Finding the diaphragm voice, gives our voices a strong presence and helps us communicate in a much more effective way! Ken suggested an activity called “Sound of the day” to help our students build control and strength over their voices in a fun way. He asked the attendees to stand up, take a deep breath and make the sound /er/ while breathing out. Then, he asked them to let a different sentence each time be heard in their voices while making this sound. The room was filled with funny sounds and laughter that made everyone feel more relaxed!

2. “Talk about yourself.” Ken stressed how important it is for the teacher to actually be part of the class. Sharing a personal story can be a good way to start a lesson and connect with the students. The teacher can also use his/her own selfies to make interesting activities involving lots of guessing and speaking. Ken, himself, showed one of his selfies and asked the attendees to discuss with a partner where they think the photo was taken and what was happening. In a second activity he showed a selfie of him and a famous person at the back! The task was to ask questions to find out who the famous person was! Both activities managed to raise curiosity and instilled everyone with a strong desire to know and learn!

3. “Switch on your phones.” Nowadays most of our students have sophisticated personal technology. Why not include it in the lesson? Ken asked the attendees to take out their mobile phones and access their photo galleries. He called the first activity “10 second challenge”. He asked everyone to find a particular kind of photo and hold their phones up. Then, he went around allowing people to talk about their photos. In a second activity he asked them to show their partner a photo that meant something to them and talk about it. There was a lot of speaking and sharing, driven by the need to talk about things that are about us and therefore really interest us!

4. “Find out what your students know.” Ken made clear how important it is for the teacher to use the student’s own knowledge and areas of interest in the lesson. An interesting activity, he suggested, involved the use of the course book’s content pages. He showed the attendees some topics from such a content page. He asked them to choose a topic and write down a fact about it on a post-it. Then, he asked them to exchange their facts with others and finally, to share with the class someone else’s fact. An activity with a lot of sharing, but also real listening to each other! Ken went on by suggesting to keep the students’ fact post-its and use them when reaching the corresponding units. It became obvious that incorporating student’s own interests into the lesson, can catch their attention and engage them in the learning procedure.

5. “Teach unplugged.” Ken shared with us a personal experience of him being, recently, a student of German and experiencing from the learner’s point of view, the need for a more learner-focused lesson. Occasioned by that, he talked about the Dogme ELT methodology and its key principles, a movement that grew out of ideas and beliefs on the importance of a conversation-driven learner-focused language teaching. Ken pointed out that the implementation of such a philosophy of language learning can be very difficult, especially if a teacher has to follow a specific curriculum and/or a course book. Understanding the difficulty, but not being able to oversee the necessity, Ken’s message to all was to, occasionally, abandon our plan, follow the trails the students have to offer and see what happens! 

6. “Do something unexpected.” Due to lack of time, this strategy was (unexpectedly) omitted. 

7. “Be memorable.” Ken talked about the importance of leaving personal problems outside the classroom’s door and starting every lesson with a smile. This will definitely connect the teacher with his/her students and improve their relationship. And it is much more important than how well we teach! 

7+. “for NESTs” Ken explained that native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) in Greece can speak Greek fluently, because they learned it in Greece, the country the language is spoken. However, Greek students don’t learn English in England which makes learning more difficult for them. Therefore, he encouraged us to step into our student’s shoes and take up a new language ourselves. Learning a language the way our students do, will help us understand their difficulties and suit our teaching to fit their needs.

Ken finished his talk with a quote from Howards End, by E.M. Forster: “Only Connect! … Live in fragments no longer” urging us all to consider that by putting all students behind a screen there is a strong possibility of “fragmenting” their education! 

A thought provoking, highly informative talk with a lot of interaction, sharing and fun. Implementing his suggested strategies, Ken Wilson managed to engage the attendees from the first till the last minute, allowing this way everyone to experience how, connecting with our students can maximize learning opportunities for all. 

By Aspa Georgopoulou

Photos by Margarita Kosior