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Teaching Tips 165

In Flanders fields
Sounds Interesting

The Breath of Fraternity - Souleymane Keita

In a past Tip we've looked at training learners to become more tolerant of unknown language & cultural differences, combined with material for International Day for Tolerance on 16th November.
We'll add to this with a brief look at how we can help our learners deal with native-speaker intolerance.

First, the past Tip:

Tolerance of unknown language
I'm sure you have students who need to know rules & when an exception comes along they find it difficult & uncomfortable. This could also apply to the newness of cultural differences. And on the other hand, the student who is very open to the new & will accept anything but there is a tendency for a too relaxed anything-goes approach. This is all about the cognitive style of 'ambiguity tolerance' - a positive characteristic of the effective language learner.

Clearly neither of the above descriptions will lead to effective learning & a balance is needed. There needs to be a degree of intolerance as this helps to keep one on the straight & narrow as the unnecessary & impossible are rejected. And as language is organic & not particularly regular there needs to be tolerance in order to cope with the new & a dynamic, changing interlanguage.

It is said that awareness is half the battle won, so a discussion of this aspect in class can certainly do no harm, & very possibly a lot of good in pointing to the right direction. Try the following questions:

1. Do you always need to know the 'rule' or are you happy to communicate & concentrate on getting the message across?
2. If you come across words in a text, are you happy to read on & hope that you'll get the meaning from the context or do you need to know the meaning before continuing?
3. Do you find English-speaking customs strange & alien or do you find them interesting?

Developing intuition can also help. 'Does it sound right?', working out meaning from contexts, encouraging guessing & lots of oral & written fluency work for accuracy-conscious students can help to free them up.

Training in language analysis through noticing tasks & subsequent analysis helps with self study which will enable students to incorporate the new & see the wider picture of the language.

Challenge in the classroom, problem solving & treating the students as decision makers & language organisers make them into better discriminators.

This isn't an area that is looked at much on training courses & in methodology books, probably because it is hard to pin down & because the learner's personality plays a large part.


Native speaker intolerance
And then there is the native speaker intolerance. Obviously writing in very general terms, our learners find it more challenging to speak to native speakers rather than non-native speakers. The non-native makes allowances & understands the difficulties the learner is going through. The native speaker puts up the blocks on seeing the non-native, not expecting to understand or be understood. So we have to help our learners to cope in this kind of situation by trying to allay the native speaker's fears & bring down the blocks.

First of all, talk to your students about this situation, discussing how they might go about coping. Strategies to help can include giving off signals that the learner does in fact speak English & the native speaker should not have difficulties. These signals could be simply initiating the conversation with friendly greetings; 'How's it going?', 'Terrible weather at the moment' etc.. Smiling, as in most situations, can also go a long way.

Then try out some 'blocking roleplays', simulating problems of this kind. You take one of two roles in a roleplay e.g. a ticket seller at a train station. A student then comes to buy a ticket from you & your job is to 'block' the communication i.e. make it difficult for the student to continue. When the student is 'blocked' s/he sits down & another continues & again you try to block. This carries on a few more times & it is all recorded as you do it. The tape recording is then analysed as a class for how the blocks could be overcome & appropriate language work follows. You could transcribe sections of the tape before the analysis. Your students can see that you are catering for their real needs.

If your learners have the opportunity to communicate with native speakers, encourage them to report back in class about problems they had & get advice from fellow members of the class, a chance to swap strategies.


November 16th is International Day for Tolerance - a necessary reminder. As UNESCO say, in a past year, at their Tolerance site:

Alarmed by the rise of intolerance, violence, terrorism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination against minorities, the General Conference adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance and proclaimed 16 November the International Day for Tolerance.

The following ideas use the material from the site, with permission.

Six artists were invited to design Tolerance flags . Here are the flags & a description of each. Ask the students to match them up - five contain clear clues - & then decide which they prefer. They could then go on to design their own flags that celebrate tolerance, put them around the walls & then the class vote on the best.

To see the material:

Below is a matching activity - headings & paragraphs. Maybe begin with a brainstorm on how the day could be observed, then on to the matching & then the students order the activities in order of importance &/or interest. Then you could carry out some of the activities & round up with discussions on tolerance, in its various forms, in the students' countries & the world at large.

The 2010 UNESCO Tolerance page:

This year's message begins:

'The stakes are high. In a world that is more connected than ever, where communication has never been so easy, and where the difference between the 'local' and the 'global' is but one click, tolerance must remain at the forefront of our thinking and action. It cannot be taken for granted. The International Day of Tolerance is a key opportunity for all of us to mobilize in this direction.

The dangers are real. Even as old dividing lines are disappearing, new walls between people and communities are rising – walls that are built of fear, prejudice, ignorance and hatred. Every day tells us the story that it is not enough to communicate -- we must connect. It is not enough to exchange, we must share. Tolerance is the starting point.'

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Australian Remembrance Day '04 poster
In Flanders fields the poppies blow

It's Remembrance Day this week, on 11th November - a timely reminder - as if we need it with the daily slaughter around the globe that we see on television each evening. So, one wonders, what have we learned & how far have we come since the First World War? Not a lot & not very far at all, it seems.

Below is an article from the BBC website that explains the origins of the day, the traditional poppy, the reading of 'For The Fallen', the poem 'In Flanders Field & bringing it to the present with a mention of the white poppy for the 11th September victims.

Here's a brief outline of lesson ideas:

1. See if anyone knows what Remembrance Day is. If not, get the students to guess. (The Day is not only held in the UK - countries involved in the First World War all hold their own remembrances, especially Canada & Australia.)

2. Give comprehension questions & the text - minus the poem. Students read & answer >> compare answers >> feedback.

Read the questions & find the answers in the text about Remembrance Day

1. What does the day remember?
2. How did it begin?
3. Why the 11th?
4. What do people do on this day?
5. How is this day viewed by the majority of people in the UK?
6. Why poppies & how did the poppy wearing begin?
7. And the white poppy?

Give out the final words from some of the lines from the 'In Flanders Field' poem. Ask the students in pairs to match the rhyming words >> feedback.

4. Students then insert the words into the correct line of the poem >> pairs >> handout the poem for the students to compare >> feedback.
A follow up to this might be to get the students to invent a new ten line poem, using the rhyming words as the end of each line.
There could then be some reading aloud of the original poem.

blow - die - sky - glow - foe - fly - throw - high - row - ago

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies ____
Between the crosses, row on ____
That mark our place; and in the ____
The larks, still bravely singing, ____
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ____
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset ____,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the ____:
To you from failing hands we ____
The torch; be yours to hold it ____.
If ye break faith with us who ____
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

5. Discussion - a few prompts - do the students have a similar day in their country? If not, do they think they should have one for a particular war? In small groups, students think of a few days connected to wars in which the victims could be remembered in a similar vein, or how else could the day be remembered. Do these days have an effect? Should we continue to hold them?

There is no language focus mentioned although there are several things to things to pick up on, lexical sets eg. war - tense analysis present simple - passives etc..

And although suitable for intermediate up, you could still use the material with lower levels eg. skim reading followed by listening with you telling them about the day in more detail, followed by the discussion.

Remembrance Day - Poppy Day
Many countries have a special day to remember those that fell in their wars; America has Veterans Day, while France has Armistice Day. The British commemorate those who fought, and are still fighting, in wars for their country on Remembrance Day.

The British Remembrance Day is always held on the 11 November. This is the day that World War One ended in 1918, when the armistice was signed in Compiègne, Northern France, at 5am. Six hours later, the fighting stopped, and to commemorate this there is a two minute silence in the UK at 11am, every 11 November.

The period of silence was first proposed by a Melbourne journalist, Edward George Honey, in a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919, which subsequently came to the attention of King George V. On 7 November, 1919, the king issued a proclamation which called for a two-minute silence:

All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

As well as the two-minute silence, there are marches around the country by war veterans. The Royal Family, along with leading politicians, gather at the Cenotaph, a large war memorial in Whitehall, in London.

The nearest Sunday to the 11th is called Remembrance Sunday, when church services are held in honour of those involved in wars, and wreaths are laid on the memorials which have a place in every town. Many two-minute silences are followed by a lone bugler playing The Last Post, reminiscent of times of war when trumpets were as much a part of battle as bayonets. A poem called 'For the Fallen' is often read aloud on the occasion; the most famous stanza of which reads:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Fourth stanza of 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon (1869 - 1943)

These words can be found adorning many war memorials across the country. The author, Laurence Binyon, was never a soldier but certainly appreciated the horrors of war.

Remembrance day is taken very seriously, with disrespect being avoided at all costs (which is why the vandalisation of the Cenotaph on 1 May 2000 was seen as such a horrific crime). If 11 November falls on a weekday, schools, workplaces and shopping centres generally attempt to observe the silence, although some people choose to ignore their attempts and go about their business regardless.


Remembrance Day is also known as Poppy Day, because it is traditional to wear an artificial poppy. They are sold by the Royal British Legion, a charity dedicated to helping war veterans, although they do not have a fixed price - they rely on donations.

The motto of the British Legion is Remember the dead; don't forget the living, and they are campaigners for issues relating to war veterans, especially elderly ones.

The poppies are worn because in World War One the Western Front contained in the soil thousands of poppy seeds, all lying dormant. They would have lain there for years more, but the battles being fought there churned up the soil so much that the poppies bloomed like never before. The most famous bloom of poppies in the war was in Ypres, a town in Flanders, Belgium, which was crucial to the Allied defence. There were three battles there, but it was the second, which was calamitous to the allies since it heralded the first use of the new chlorine gas the Germans were experimenting with, which brought forth the poppies in greatest abundance, and inspired the Canadian soldier, Major John McCrae, to write his most famous poem. This, in turn, inspired the British Legion to adopt the poppy as their emblem.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

The American Moira Michael from Georgia, was the first person to wear a poppy in remembrance. In reply to McCrae's poem, she wrote a poem entitled 'We shall keep the faith' which includes the lines:

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.

She bought some poppies, wore one, and sold the others, raising money for ex-servicemen. Her colleague, French YMCA Secretary Madame Guerin, took up the idea and made artificial poppies for war orphans. It caught on.

In November 1921, the British Legion and Austrian Returned Sailor's and Soldier's League sold them for the first time.

The tragic events in New York on 11 September 2001, left ever increasing numbers of people feeling stronger than ever the need for peace. This, in turn, prompted the manufacture of white poppies to represent peace. They are not a new idea, though. In fact, they date from 1933, having been designed by a UK Women's Guild. The British Legion was invited to produce them twice, in 1933 and 1988, but they not only declined, they also refused to accept the proceeds from them, because they were seen as disrespectful by some soldiers. They are having a surge in popularity once again as people stop feeling as safe as they once did.

Other material from the BBC site:
Shot At Dawn
The Unknown Warrior

First World War collection of articles from the Guardian:

On 25th July last year Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches in World War 1, died at the age of 111. For some history about Harry:
The rock band Radiohead released a song 'Harry Patch (In memory of)' for 1 GBP with the proceeds going to the British Legion. You can get it here:
The main Radiohead site:

The song can be hear at YouTube:
And together with some WW1 footage here:

Some lyrics from the song:

"i am the only one that got through
the others died where ever they fell
it was an ambush
they came up from all sides
give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
i've seen devils coming up from the ground
i've seen hell upon this earth
the next will be chemical but they will never learn"

One of the traditions of Remembrance Day is to wear a paper or cloth poppy as a sign of sympathy for the day, & in recent years a degree of controversy surrounds the wearing. Some people choose not to wear the poppy & come in for a great deal of criticism as they are thought to be uncaring & disloyal to the memories of those who have died in the two World Wars. Jon Snow the TV presenter refuses to wear a poppy on television & here's what he says about the issue:

Why I don't wear a poppy on air

8 November 2006, 11:53 AM

By Jon Snow

A message from last night's duty log is not untypical. It reads:

"I'm disgusted at Jon Snow for refusing to wear a poppy. He interrogates those people sitting opposite him, but refuses to answer questions on why he refuses to acknowledge those who fought on his behalf."

The Poppy issue is an interesting one - opinions are much more bitterly divided and assertively put than on any other symbol.

Fiona Bruce is to be allowed to continue to wear a crucifix, or a cross-shaped item of jewellery. I am allowed to wear unspeakably bright ties. But there's a world of difference there that we should be assertive about.

My ties are abstract - I do not believe in wearing anything which represents any kind of statement. You may say my ties, my socks are a statement anyway. But of what? A statement of rebellion? Joy? Absurdity? You see we don't know what the statement is - if indeed there is one - and that is as it should be.

I am begged to wear an Aids Ribbon, a breast cancer ribbon, a Marie Curie flower... You name it, from the Red Cross to the RNIB, they send me stuff to wear to raise awareness, and I don't. And in those terms, and those terms alone, I do not and will not wear a poppy.

Additionally there is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there - 'he damned well must wear a poppy!'. Well I do, in my private life, but I am not going to wear it or any other symbol on air.

I respect our armed forces, the sacrifice and the loss, and like others I remember them on Remembrance Sunday. That's the way it is. I won't be wearing a black tie for anyone's death - I don't for my own relatives, so why on earth would I for anyone else's?

When the Queen Mother died, our coverage was not of dark grief but of a happy life remembered.

In the end there really must be more important things in life than whether a news presenter wears symbols on his lapels.

And on the same page you can read some responses from the public.
A couple more opinions on the subject from fellow broadcasters can be read at:


It might appear to be a pretty trivial issue but it's a very emotional one in the UK, with some of the tabloids whipping up criticism of non-poppy wearers, what Snow calls 'poppy fascism'. Those in support of the non-poppy wearer talk of the all those deaths in the wars being for the freedom to choose. This might make for an interesting discussion for mid-intermediate & upwards.
This could then lead on to a look at the responsibilities that public figures have & who lives up to them & who doesn't.


There's an excellent book of materials about special days, including Remembrance Day, in English-speaking cultures: 'The Book of Days Teacher's Book: A Resource Book of Activities for Special Days in the Year' by Adrian Wallwork. To get hold of it:

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Sounds Interesting

I am currently reading the newly published 'Teaching Online' by Nicky Hockley & Lindsay Clandfield (DELTA), shortly to be reviewed on the site, & it contains a host of excellent online teaching ideas & activities.
Among them is one called 'Sounds of you' which uses sound effects as a way of displaying something representative of you.

Make a playlist of sounds, the authors recommend as a place to go for sound effects, & the students listen & discuss what they might mean. Afterwards they then develop their own life soundscapes, play them to each other to discuss. (An addition to the sounds could be photos to go with them.) The follow up is to write a short text, for all to read, about what they have learned about their partners.
A lovely creative & personalised task all round.

This is all very much connected to the past Tip 'Sounds Intriguing':

While mulling over what to put in the Tip this week I was looking at 'Their Circular Life - An Exploration About Human Behaviour' This is a site that shows 24 hours of life from a camera at five different Italian scenes. You are given a circular control to move through the 24 hours & each scene also comes with audio for the different sounds in the cycle. Lovely site, well worth checking out.

This then took me to a listening idea in 'Listening' by Goodith White (OUP) - an excellent book full of practical listening skill ideas. The activity is called 'Sounds of my Day' (no. 2.3) in which students are asked to make a sound diary of a typical day. This could be a short period such as the morning before going out. All bring their taped diaries to class & exchange them so that at home they listen & work out what is happening. In the next lesson they report their ideas to the original recorder to see if they were right. Alternatively in class they could swap tapes around in small groups to find any similarities & differences, with lots of speaking practice.

This then led me to a book I used to use a lot called 'Sounds Intriguing' by Maley & Duff (CUP) which contains a sequences of sounds on tape. The students have to figure out what's going on. For example Sequence 1 has the following sounds:

Water (lapping) - humming - water (gushing) pause - humming - silence - water lapping - sudden shout

For each Sequence the teacher's book gives possible lines of questioning, suggestions for oral work, suggestions for writing, vocabulary & finally possible interpretations.

So what to do with sequences of sound? Here are a few aims:

* For specific language practice:
- To practise the language of present/past deduction - it could /must /might be.....
- To practise the language of sequencing - first there's a man..., then he..., & after that he...
- To practise the language of negotiation - dis/agreeing, giving opinions etc...

* To give freer speaking practice.
* To introduce lexical areas - the sounds & words connected to the sounds on the recording.
* To provide content for a writing task - a story, a short script, a report, a letter - of explanation, apology..., a poem etc...
* To provide content for speaking tasks - story & anecdote telling, reporting....
* To introduce a topic.

You could ask the students to write a series down a series of sounds, swap them & work out a story that connects the different sounds. Or with what they have at hand, tape a series of sounds for use by others in the class.

If you don't have access to the book 'Sounds Intriguing', it is very easy to record a sequence of sounds yourself. It's also a good idea to hand over the recording machine to the students for them to replay when necessary. An imaginative way of promoting speaking & writing. Try it out.

And then I was thinking about exploiting the 24 hour cycle from Their Circular Life in class..........

Teaching Online - Nicky Hockley & Paul Clandfield (Delta Publishing)

Sounds Intriguing - Alan Maley & Alan Duff (CUP)

Listening (Resource Books for Teachers) - Goodith White (OUP)

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