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Teaching Tips 151

Revisiting Rods
Buy Nothing Day '09


is time of year there are lots of lists about the best/worst/most popular etc..of the year. And this year there are also lists of the 'noughties' - the first decade. The website has released lists of the most popular questions asked during 2009. Look at the following categories & try to guess what kind of questions were popular:

Top Ten Questions of 2009
Most-Asked Questions About Personal Finance
Top Questions About Traveling
Top Health Questions
Top Fitness Questions

It's quite a difficult task. Have a look at the categories & questions below to see if you came up with any of them.
It's easy to ask students to predict & use their imagination with little chance of them coming up with similar ideas. You could argue that it doesn't matter, that they are sinking into the theme anyway. Nevertheless I would tend to choose tasks that are achievable.

So how to use this material?

You could give out the top three questions from chosen categories all jumbled up & the students have to discuss which categories they go into. Then onto some analysis of the question forms before the students discuss which ones they can actually answer. They can then write their own questions, pass them around the class & students write answers if they know them. This is similar to the Tip 'Real Why Questions' at: Top Ten Questions of 2009

* How much should I weigh?
* How do I get out of debt fast?
* How do I get pregnant?
* What is Twitter?
* What is Miley Cyrus' phone number?
* What is the meaning of life?
* When will the world end?
* How long does marijuana stay in your system?
* What are symptoms of Swine Flu?
* What time is it?

Top "Big" Questions

* What is the meaning of life?
* Why is the sky blue?
* What is true love?

Top "Is it Real" Questions

* Are vampires real?
* Is Santa Claus real?
* Are aliens real?

Most-Asked Questions About Personal Finance

* What is a good credit score?
* How do I file for bankruptcy?
* How do I start my own business?

Top Questions About Traveling

* How long does it take to get a passport?
* What is the exchange rate for the Euro?
* What can I bring on an airplane?

Top Health Questions

* What is Autism?
* What are the symptoms of Swine Flu?
* What is Lupus?

Top Fitness Questions

* How many calories should I eat a day?
* How can I get a six-pack fast?
* What is the best exercise to burn calories?

As we're on the theme of questions, here are a couple of activities & past Tip around the theme:

- logic problems - give the problem to a student & the rest of the class or small group ask 'Yes/No' questions to discover the answer eg 'A man goes into the field with a pack on his back & dies' - 'Was he attacked?', 'Did he have a heart attack?' etc (Answer: his parachute failed to open). See the past Tip 'Building up a narrative' for including a narrative build into this:

- students write their own comprehension questions, for extensive questions, from prompts such as a headline, students write 2 or 3 questions they would like answering - they read quickly to find the answers.
With reading texts, intensive tasks can be written after an extensive task. students write & questions & then hand them to a partner to answer. Saves you the time.

- picture roleplay - choose a picture of an unknown but interesting-looking persons. Ask the students to storm all the questions they would like to ask the person. Then hand the photo to a student & they become that person who the others proceed to interview.

- concept questions - see the past Tip 'Capturing the Essence':

- encouraging your students to ask you questions - see the past Tip 'Questioning it':

- the students write their own progress test as in the past Tip 'A Snail Race':

- students write questions they want answering before tackling an extended reading text, as in the past Tip 'SQ3R':

- lots of questions in crossword ideas in 'A grid, clues: down & across (9)':

- class questionnaires - eg. to find out who's the laziest in the class, the students mingle & note down the times that everyone usually goes to bed & usually gets up. They then work out who spends the longest time in bed - the laziest person in the class. Lots of fun & applicable to lots of other areas.

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cuisenaire rodsRevisiting Rods

We haven't mentioned cuisenaire rods for quite a while so thought it time to revisit them.

Cuisenaire rods are small blocks of wood (or plastic) of varying lengths & each length has a different colour. Originally invented by Georges Cuisenaire, who was a Belgian primary school teacher, for the teaching of mathematics - his book 'Les Nombres en Couleurs' was published in 1952. He met Caleb Gattegno, the founder of the Silent Way, in 1953 & Gattegno realised that the use of cuisenaire rods combined discovery learning & language & were ideal for teaching of languages.

The rods are still widely used in the teaching of maths with a lot of information on the Net explaining how to use them. Unfortunately there isn't much information at large for language teaching.

If you'd like to get a box of rods, Educational Solutions will be pleased to help you out - you can contact Mike Hollyfield & they offer a small carry around set plus a bigger international set:

Below are some ideas on using the cuisenaire rods. Some of them are illustrated at:

Introduce them them bit by bit - get your stds used to them so at first don't ask them to do anything too taxing with the rods. Have them at hand & use them for short activities.

To teach literal representations - 'rod' & the different colours - & use these as an aid to teach other things such as prepositions of place: 'Put the red rod in front of/behind/on the blue rod. Or imperatives & one/s: ' Pick up the white rod, put down the rod one, put the green ones to one side etc..'

To highlight comparative & superlative adjectives: Which is taller; the red one or the blue one? And which is the shortest, tallest, brightest, dullest, more interesting, most boring, etc.'

For storytelling: choose any narrative & the rods represent the different things such as roads, trees, people, shops, -- whatever you want them to be they will be invested with a magical meaning.

For previewing a reading article. If you've got a tricky reading or listening article coming up in the coursebook, then tell the story of what happens before they listen/read so that the load is a lot lighter when they come to the text.

For representing just about anything - relatives & friends: stds are asked to take 7/8 rods & decide which relative or friend each rod represents & then tell a partner about them - you'll find that they pick them up & demonstrate with them, making the activity much more interesting - there is a real focus. The same could be used for talking about the area the stds live in, describing their company, colleagues etc.

For dictations: the teacher creates a scene with the rods, which the stds cannot see, & then describes the scene & the stds re-create the scene with their rods. At the end they compare with your scene to see if it is similar. The stds do the same with each other.

For memory tests to review a lexical area e.g. animals - take a rod & ask which animal it represents, put it down & then get a different coloured rod & elicit another animal, put it down & recap on the first & second rods - carry on with the ten different colours so that you have ten animals represented - don't forget to keep recapping as you go along. When all ten are out ask the stds to close their eyes & tasks 2 or 3 away, they open their eyes & tell you which animals have gone. Can be done with any related vocabulary.

For graphs: use a long rod for each axis & the others to represent trends which could come from a text or you could be looking at the language of trends - going up slowly, coming down, peaking off etc.

For telling the time: a long rod & a short one is all you need to represent the clock - use this to present the time & then give the stds a couple of rods each & they test each other - 'Could you tell me the time please? It's five o'clock Thanks'

For clarifying meaning: e.g. present & past deduction- it must/can't/might/ be behind the red/green one.

For clarifying form: the present simple affirmative, negative & question form e.g. I / get up / at /seven./ - / I / do/ not / get up / at / eight/ - What time / do / you / get up?/ Each section has a colour, lay out each utterence using the rods & the stds can see at a glance what is happening to the word order. Good also for the active/passive voices.

Directions: make a street map with the rods & use this to teach directions - turn right/left/around, go straight on etc - & if you've got a small toy car to use with it as well..

Correction awareness: For those stds who want to be corrected all the time, give each a red, green & orange rod. If they want to be corrected they put out a green rod, if they don't want correcting they put out the red one & if they want correcting at the teacher's discretion they put the orange one out - just like the traffic lights. They usually begin with green, get fed up & go to red, get fed up & end up on orange - which is what you wanted all along! See the correction triangle Teaching Tip

To use when listening a non-linguistic task e.g. for an extensive task with a difficult text they could simply use the rods - when they hear speaker A they put the rod standing up & for speaker B they lay the rod down. Or they could choose the rod that represents X.

For representing meaning: timelines & tense clarification lend themselves very much to the rods. A long rod represents the horizontal left to right time frame & the other rods can be placed to represent states, habits & events.

For clarifying phonological aspects: lots of uses here from sounds to intonation. e.g. for awareness of rhythm & stress teach the group a nursery rhyme, you will need all of the rods of two colours, & lay out the rods according to the stressed & unstressed syllable. There's an example on the illustration page & we've also put in a page of nursery rhymes, with their corresponding rod representation over in the phonology section.

For grouping stds: ask the stds to pick a colour & when all have got one they sit beside the person with the same colour. As tokens for ensuring all speak: all have ten rods & when they speak they discard a rod & when they have discarded all ten they cannot carry on in the conversation. Allows the quieter less assertive stds to have a chance.

They can be used as tokens in other activities too e.g. in a bargaining roleplay where the rods represent different things.

Apart from planning specific activities that use the rods, take a box with you into each lesson & you'll soon realise how many uses will occur to you.

Some links to cuisenaire rods on the site:
Uses for the rods:

Rods for rhythm:
Cuisenaire Rods and Silence by Tim Hahn - article:
rods_ tim_hahn.htm

Rods lesson plan:

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BNDay 09

It's Buy Nothing Day again this week - Friday 27th in the US, Black Friday, & Saturday 28th in the rest of the world. This is what Adbusters say of this year's campaign:

'There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.

So this November 27 (November 28 in Europe and overseas), we’re calling for a Wildcat General Strike. We’re asking tens of millions of people around the world to bring the capitalist consumption machine to a grinding – if only momentary – halt.

We want you to not only stop buying for 24 hours, but to shut off your lights, televisions and other nonessential appliances. We want you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off of your computer for the day.

We’re calling for a Ramadan-like fast. From sunrise to sunset we’ll abstain en masse, not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our five-planet lifestyles.

Take the Plunge: You know what they say: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. You feel that things are falling apart – the temperature rising, the oceans churning, the global economy heaving – why not do something? Take just one small step toward a more just and sustainable future. Make a pact with yourself: go on a consumer fast. Lock up your credit cards, put away your cash and opt out of the capitalist spectacle. You may find that it’s harder than you think, that the impulse to buy is more ingrained in you than you ever realized. But you will persist and you will transcend – perhaps reaching the kind of epiphany that can change the world.'

Unfortunately the first I heard of the Strike was when I went to the BND site, so no doubt that many others have not heard about it either. This in itself might make an interesting approach to the theme for the business-minded students - after introducing them to the theme of BND, get them to work out a marketing campaign to widen the current audience. Lots of speaking practice that draws on their business knowledge. You could also find a marketing procedure on the web to use as a reading, & incorporate it into their discussions.

While they are working on ideas for the campaign, introduce the three interesting mp3 recordings of the MTV, ABC & CTV broadcasting channels rejecting advertising for BND - you can find these on the BND page, near the bottom. They are in flash so difficult to download but if you've got a computer with internet connection then they would make some useful listenings.
Students could decide which of the three is the most direct, which is the friendliest etc. They could then go on to draft a letter to one of the channels commenting on the telephone conversation. A roleplay could then follow with a follow up call.

Buy Nothing Day videos:
There are a couple of new videos on YouTube for BND
Black Friday 2008: Recession - people shopping!

Here are links to lots of classroom material & ideas from past years to check out:

But Nothing Day 2008
Buy Nothing Day lesson plan:
BND 2005:
BND 2004:
BND 2003:
BND 2002:
Buy Nothing Christmas - 'Happy holidays' Tip:

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