“Dear me” letters

“What would you say to your 16- year- old self if you had the chance?” That’s what 75 celebrities were asked and they wrote a letter expressing their thoughts. Dear Me Letters is a book that collects those letters.As a kind of follow-up, its website extended the idea to the public and allows readers to submit their own letters.

The Guardian published an extract from the book in an interactive article in the online version of the paper.

It is very interesting to read about the insecurities and suffering of people who would become so successful in life. And It is a very good source for an activity with (very) advanced students.You need to have a very relaxed atmosphere in class as well, and be sure that talking about the past won’t upset anybody.

Step 1

Ask your students the same question: “What would you tell your old self if you had the chance? What would you have changed?”.

Tell them about the book. In groups, each student reads one or two letters from The Guardian (print them or let them read them on their phones/tablets). Then, they have to share information about all the advice given in their letters and ellaborate a list of traits all teenagers seem to have in common.

Step 2

Tell them they are going to listen to a radio programma about Dear Me, featuring the editor of the book, Joseph Galliano. You can play the whole recording or concentrate on the first 4 minutes, when Galliano reads his letter to his old 16 self.

The students take notes and compare what they heard with the list they have written from the other letters.

Step 3

As it might be too personal to ask students to write a letter of the same kind, ask them to write a letter to someone from the past or from the future.

To illustrate the idea, play this video, in which Stephen Fry talks about letters. He is asked three questions:

  1. What letter either sent or received had an impact in your life?
  2. To whom would you write a letter now including someone form the past or future?
  3. Why is it important to keep writing letters?

Before they watch it, students answer the questions themselves in groups.


(The interview was filmed at Letters Live at the Southbank on World Book Night, in aid of The Reading Agencywriting )

An alternative to writing a letter to someone from the past or the future can be writing a letter addresed to themselves in the future. They can write a real letter o an email to FutureMe.org. This website is based on the principle that “memories are less accurate than e-mails”, so they invite you to write an email reminding your future self of whatever you want to remember . And then they’ll do “some time travel magic and deliver the letter to you. FutureYou, that is.”

You can write it as a private email to your own self or make it public (but anonymous), which will be included in the “public letters” section.






Views on Education

With this post we would like to compile several resources that have been suggested in our Facebook group to talk about education (particularly by Laura Martin).

1. First of all, the classic talk by Ken Robinson, one of the most popular video in TED: Do schools kill creativity?’

Also by Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms

Have a look at the fantastic lesson around this video in Film English, by Kieran Donaghy

2. The perspective of a motivated and motivating teacher in TED: “Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, once heard a colleague say, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.’” A rousing call to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.”

3. Education and technology:

No computers in the classroom in Silicon Valley

4. Free schools:

5. Some notions on “unschooling”:

6. Hackschooling:

If you have any more ideas to add here, please let us know in a comment.

The Times in Plain English |

See on Scoop.itCosas que encuentro para clase

News in plain English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and ESL, information for immigrants and students improving their literacy skills and learning about health, jobs, immigration and American government. Useful for lower level students, but you can also challenge your advanced class and ask them to rewrite the articles using more complex structures!

See on www.thetimesinplainenglish.com

Teaching The Right Grammar?

Through the very active Facebook page of EFL SMARTblog, I came across and read the column ‘20 Common Mistakes that (Almost) Everyone Makes‘. I was very curious to know how many of those 20 I make (and teach). And funnily enough, I found out that that I was among those ‘(almost) everyone’.

I must say that I don’t agree with this “grammar geekery”, as the author of the article puts it. I confess that my mistakes are not teaching the difference between ‘may’ and ‘might’, and teaching the use of ‘since’ as a synonym of ‘because’ in certain contexts. And I don’t think that is really a problem. I guess that the article, and the book it is based on, is aimed at native speakers who want to become authors or academics.

(This article in The Guardian offers an interesting view on the topic: Sorry, there’s no such thing as ‘correct grammar’.)

The problem with ‘grammar geeks’ in the context of EFL is that teachers who are not native speakers tend to be even more radical in their approach to grammar than natives, probably due to a lack of confidence or the way we were taught. This insistence on accuracy in grammar has determined how we grade the language level of our students for years, in detriment of fluency or the ability to communicate, and it might have been the cause of the poor level of English among Spanish students, who were unable to utter a word in the language despite spending years studying it at school.

Finding a balance is the key to success, but where is the balance here? An example of this attitude towards grammar can be exemplified with an attitude that I witnessed when I started teaching 20 years ago: one typical mistake that used to mean an automatic failure in the oral exam in some schools in an advanced level was saying ‘people is’, irrespective of what they had said. “He said ‘People is’. He can’t pass the oral exam at this level with that kind of mistakes.” This is not the case any more, I hope.

What are the mistakes that you consider ‘serious’? What’s the (recurrent) mistake that really annoys? Share it with us!

Learning English by Doing: Photography

Taking pictures has become really easy with sophisticated digital cameras available for a more than reasonable price and mobiles, especially smart phones, incorporating good quality cameras. And we love to share these pics, that’s partly the reason behind the success of social networks like Facebook, Twitter and the latest craze Pinterest. People want to share all their moments.

And taking a photograph seems to be as easy as to push a button. But is it really that simple? There are certain rules of composition that have to be followed for the photo to be of a decent quality. But, how can we learn about them easily?

The Internet is an amazing source of videos teaching you almost anything you can think of. One of the best websites to find them is Videojug, where you can find thousands of videos of professionals giving you tips on their particular field of expertise (law, driving, cooking, etc) and other videos with a hint of humour explaining the steps to follow in orden to be better at different aspects of life. A very funny example of these kind of surreal videos is The Rules of Pavement Etiquette.

And, of course, there is a video teaching the rules of composition in photography that we were looking for:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The activity is designed to be carried out with students who like social networks and are ready to share personal photos, so it might not be suitable for all groups. The best thing to do with Facebook and students is to create a private group specifically for our lessons, a good way to communicate with those who are connected but without creating the awkward situation of having to “befriend” each other, teacher and studentes, mixing worlds.

Step 1. Post the video in your facebook group. If the level of students is not advanced, help them with vocabulary. Set a deadline for the activity giving students plenty of time to get involved.

Step 2. Students have to take a couple of pictures: one breaking the rules explained in the video and another one following the tips, and post both onto the Facebook group.

Step 3. Everybody writes a comment for each photograph and “likes” the one they consider is well done according to the rules explaining why they believe so.

Step 4. We take the best pictures to class and the authors talk about them.