Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


This is the first Hindi film from Bollywood that I have watched, and although I have included four parts from it to use in this post, I didn't enjoy it that much.  However, this post is not about a film review.  It is about how we should consider why there are far too many teachers, lecturers, state edu-departments and school boards who appear to have got it all wrong when it comes to what students need and what, in fact, they want.

This first video shows...a typical classroom teacher asking for a definition (of machine). One boy stands and offers a simplistic, yet creatively amusing definition. His effort is severely rejected by the teacher. Then another boy stands and gives out the text-book definition, to which the teacher replies, "Wonderful, perfect."

The fact that the teacher wants to have the exact definition as laid down by an author, and in no way can it be described differently, is exactly what too many teachers want their students to do: rote learn, memorize and never question conventions. 

EQ: Why do teachers and schools wish for their students to only memorize, and not fully understand what it is they are being 'taught'?

EQ: Why should you use language you fully understand, and language that can be better understood by the audience?

The second video shows...how teachers and professors can have a power-hungry hubris that seriously affects and undermines students' confidence, development and creativity. Even though the student has flouted numerous attempts to make deadlines, he is castigated for this by failing his graduation.

EQ: Why should teachers and professors make themselves very clear and the serious outcomes for students not following conventions and norms expected at school?

EQ: Why are many students put off from following those conventions and norms by hubristic and annoying teachers?

The third video plays out a very emotive and affective scene...the main 'idiot' alludes to fact students are put under far too much pressure at school, and it is a huge problem causing suicides.

a great quote: 

"If engineers could make a machine to measure mental pressure, they would find that most suicides, in this context, are in fact murder."

The professor goes onto claim it isn't the fault of schools and teachers, but the students themselves.  
The student reminds him that there is no point to such ideals.  He adds that most students don't discuss ideas and conventions of theories, and they only "discuss grades, jobs and settling in the USA."

This is a serious issue in Turkey where I live, also. The desire of students and their families to get the highest grades, at all costs, so they can make that move to US universities that expect and accept only the students who are willing to conform and comply.

EQ: Why do parents force their children to sacrifice true learning & understanding for grades alone? 

EQ: Even though there is a movement to change this idea, why is it so difficult to break down antiquated conventions and norms in higher education?

The fourth and final video shows..."the number one idiot" giving the professor a lesson on how to teach. The scene highlights how ridiculous many tasks given in classes around the world are taught. Tasks that have no bearing on real life investigative enquiry.

He shows the students how they are so willing to do what they are asked without questioning it at all. He calls it a "race to nowhere" which I believe is a perfect summation.

A great quote: "A circus lion will get on a chair for fear of being whipped. Does that mean the animal is well-educated or well-trained?"

EQ: Why do teachers and professors not want their students to question their words of 'wisdom'?

EQ: Why are weaker and/or slower students far too often ignored or left behind the real learning-curve?

EQ: What is better for students, to be well-trained or well-educated?

I included several Essential Questions for you to use in your own classes.  My colleague and I will be using this lesson on our return from the festive holiday period. Thanks to Bollywood, but a wee tip: drop the dancing for such a serious subject (it is the only idiotic thing in the well-intentioned movie script).

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

IF YOU WERE A BOY, There WOULD BE Certain ConditionALS...

Even with all the frustrations teaching a foreign language brings, I have to be honest when I intimate that deep down I really love it.  One of the most plausible reasons for that is the explicit grammar instruction I include in our syllabus.  I have always enjoyed exploring, reading and listening to myriad of student grammatical errors, so that I could help them eliminate them in future work or correspondence.  

So, thankfully, in my own case, gone are the (horrifically ineffective, yet forced upon by line managers and badly written curricula) lessons with no explicit grammar instruction..., ONLY facilitated communicative activites, then "acquisition will happen, don't worry", no matter how poorly this gave forth support and instruction to a micro-generation of Turkish EFL students.  Indeed, this approach was heavily supported and blindly promoted in the late 90s-early 2000s as the 'best' way to teach EFL-Students.


Nowadays, many more people agree that explicit grammar instruction is also required, especially at the beginning stages of learning a new language, if the learners are to become genuinely proficient in the medium to later stages of their studies.

With grammar back in vogue I co authored, and now implement a strongly-focused syllabus on language-in-use, i.e. the mechanics; especially during the first semester of the year (approximately 350 contact hours). That does not mean other skills and attention to detail are neglected. On the contrary. We are strong proponents of Grammar-in-Use (not the Murphy version btw) through practice & drilling of exercises & speaking, plus grammar instruction through reading and writing in context.  In the first semester, we use explicit grammar instruction as the primary focus, with the other skills used to support the grammar being taught at that moment.  It is that approach which leads me to the validity of this post...

THE SECOND CONDITIONAL (as a label) or THE CONDITIONAL used to describe unreal or unlikely events for the present and future. I think this picture sets the tone perfectly :-)

So, using songs has long been a favourite of most language teachers, since it definitely
taps into the students' 'likeabilty' and 'engagement' of grammar factors.  It all depends on the student audience for which songs you can use, but generally, with teenagers, it has to include a catchy upbeat, or emotional downbeat, a likeable singing-hunk or gorgeous- primadonna, tacky boy or girl group, and most importantly, a cool YouTube promotional video.  

If you have any or all of the above you are off to a flyer!

The song we use for this Conditional is Beyonce's,"If I Were A Boy".  It has all the cool elements required by teenagers.  For older students it would also suffice, since the lyrics are very powerful pro-feminism and anti-mysoginistic in their tone. Truly emotive for both sexes to eagerly and enthuisastically respond.  However, with younger teens, and at pre-intermediate levels, the following worksheet is what we use, and we found it to be very effective and had all the students joining in.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Common Curriculum: An Amazing Resource for Lesson Planning

Common Curriculum, simply put, is an ICT resource that every teacher should have.  Just imagine that instead of writing out your daily lesson plans in Microsoft Word or even on paper, you could save them in a place that is easy-to-use, accessible 24/7 from any computer, and with the ability to share lessons and units with colleagues at the click of a mouse.  Then, for the extra cherry on top, when you come back to school from your summer holiday, all of your lesson plans that you entered into the website will still be there, ready for you to simply change the date of the first day of school, and away you go.  Common Curriculum will put all of your lessons into place as you had them in the previous year.  So, while your colleagues feverishly try to remember what they did last year, and put all brand new lesson plans for the upcoming academic year, you can sit back and chill.

Luckily for me, my colleague, David, stumbled upon this website last year.  In fact, he made a introductory blog post to the website, which you can read by clicking here.  It is a brilliant way to understand the basics of what the website is all about.  This post, however, is about the major updates and features that the creators of Common Curriculum have added to the site this year.  They have made it even easier to collaborate with your colleagues.  There are so many new features, in fact, that I decided the best way forward would be to show you the website in action. Check out the video feedforward below...

In order to try to keep the video somewhat short, I was only able to show you the major updates to Common Curriculum.  There many more to see.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment on the blog, or contact the creators from the website.  They will be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

IDIOMATIC LOVE & Star-Crossed ESL Students...

Students frantically sharing love-idioms and building correct sentences before submitting their work to the "Grammar-Doctor", ie their English teacher

These idioms have been used casually, automatically and by rote ever since we realised all those years ago, on February 14th,  Valentine's Day, had some kind of emotional cross-over between ourselves and first-loves in Middle School.  Although it is traditional for the idioms to roll off the tongue in February, for us as native speakers, it is not the same for second-language learners. These phrases are soaked in cultural nuances, and as they are quite rarely used by anyone other than English native speakers, since the subject is almost always catered for in the students' own language, it is not so easy to get them at all.  But don't let that deter you.  Once mastered, idioms play a great role in student-student communication, and almost certainly help to build self-confidence.  

We have this as a suggestion for idioms, and any other vocabulary or grammar point you may wish to try it with.

Post the pictured idioms at various places around the room.

Separate the students into pairs and have one student sit at a desk as listener-recorder, while the other waits to be the reader-runner.

The reader-runner goes to one of the walled-idioms and reads it, plus the definition.

The reader-runner returns with it in his mind and shares it with the listener-recorder. They then have to come up with a sentence together, that is both logically sound and grammatically perfect. (This could further consolidate any new grammar point taught that week).

Once each idiom has a sentence written for it by the students they take their joint-effort to the teacher who checks them for correctness.

Inevitably, there are careless errors from spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic of the idomatic usage of the phrase.  So, the teacher sends them back to their table to correct the error.  It is more fun to go down the list and send back on each mistake. It takes longer, and it builds suspense in the students.

at this point, it is a good idea to inform the students they would do better to check for errors by reading the sentences to each other, as it will save them time.  But since excitement takes over, nobody listens to the advice and (reasonably organised) frantic chaos ensues, as the students attempt to fix their mistakes under pressure. 

It is a great fun activity for getting students to use idioms and idiomatic language in the ESL classroom. We really recommend this as an addition to your ELT-Tool Bag.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Viable Approach to (mandatory) Yearly Projects in Turkey

The Ministry of Education in Turkey (MEB) provides schools with state curricula and standards. One of the more exciting parts of that curriculum is the Yearly Project (Dönem Ödevi). I choose to use 'exciting', since it introduces students to genuine project work, creative thinking practices, research techniques and a whole host of academic skills that they can take with them throughout their educational lives.  For us, as English teachers, it further complements our project-based work and syllabus to give more credence and 'props' to our program as a whole.

We have found that by extending and including more parts to the whole, students give more importance to the project, and they can also grow as they learn and complete each stage with  more enthusiasm.  I will now describe each stage of the year-long project, and expectations therein.

Since we use ICT as a powerful support tool with our students, we decided to use electronic materials and platforms to develop each stage, which is based on close-reading and academic skills process writing to realize the project.

Students are given a list of e-readers from which they choose one title to read and work on for the next six months.  This reading is completely independent of the day-to-day reading materials they have to work on in and out of class.  We chose the readers from genres, such as thriller and escapist, because generally young ESL/EFL teens tend to baulk at period drama or historical 'literature classics'(dare I say it as an English teacher: on many levels, THEY ARE RIGHT!!).

Once they have chosen their title, it is downloaded to their mac, ipad and/or smart device, and it is then their responsibility to read the book in their free time. In addition to close-reading the book, the students are required to make a 250 word summary.  This summary requirement is possible because the students have already been taught how to summarize large texts in their preparatory school course. The SUMMARY PROCESS is in 

your eye-line now on the left, and a document we use is HERE. The students are given TWO MONTHS for the first part as they are also expected to take very detailed highlights and make annotations, which also correspond to another skill they are taught in the first quarter of the year in our Preparatory year.


The students have to make a list of the characters and write a brief description of their role, and what they get up to throughout the narrative. This task, for which the students are given a month, is an easy one you may think. However, it gives further evidence that they have actually read the book.  It shows how much they can identify with each character, and it also gives great process writing practice to each student.


Now the students, again with a deadline of a month, have to write about their favorite chapter, and why. This is to consolidate their Opinion-Writing Skill, which has been ongoing since the beginning of the second month of the year.  Here, we and the students, can see if they have fully grasped how to organise their ideas and opinions in English.  It also gives us further evidence to show they have proficient close-reading skills.


Since our high school requires its students to have proficient literary reading and writing skills, we also teach our Preparatory students how to analyse texts and make a written commentary.  This is a highly technical skill, and it is the reason it falls into the penultimate month of the project-calendar.  I have written a blog-post about the detailed process and methodology we apply in our classes, S.C.A.S.I. , and it can be seen HERE.  We really like this approach to such a difficult task in literay analysis, and it is also completely valid for speakers of any language, and the language of literature they are being faced with.  The students find it extremely useful because it breaks down the task into five smaller sections, which undoubtedly helps them complete this part of the yearly project.


The final stage is for the students to complete a presentation and share it with us and their class peers. To complete the collaborative nature of the yearly projct with our primary syllabus content, the students are expected to show each stage in a powerpoint by displaying quality content, but even more excitingly, the presentation skills they have become masters of over six months.  We have our students present each month one mini project to build self-confidence, self-awareness and show their 'semi-professional' presentation skills.

We know that this is a really comprehensive approach to the yearly project, but we believe by approaching the dönem ödevi in this way, the students get much more out of the experience than they do from completing an essay, a composition or a poster on the last weekend of April.  It teaches them responsibilty, time-management, academic process writing, close reading, note-taking, highlighting of important information, reflection, vocabulary building, character and narrative timeline awareness plus a sense of genuine self-achievement over a sustained time-period of six months.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


The old showbusiness adage, "Never work with animals or children", rings true for teaching, well at least the animals part.  However, many long days into the semester, you cannot help but thinking how difficult teenagers can be to work with.  They have the habit of pushing the frustration, disappointment, sadness, irritation and irrational buttons of themselves, their peers and of course us, as their teachers.  It takes many "counts of ten", "deep breaths" and "time-outs", in order to get through the week. But, that is our profession, and it is what we all signed up for, right?  

What do we do to overcome such feelings? Well, experience does allow you to work through those emotions with some semblance of sanity, but it isn't easy for anyone.  So, with eighteen years under my teaching belt, I am still looking for ways to make an impact on my students to keep them inspired, motivated and willing to follow through on the promises they make to themselves (and us) at the beginning of the year.  My latest addition to my teacher-bag of tricks and tips is 


The details and expectations of the Manifesto are all part of what the students know already.  With continuous reminders on Monday mornings, when they have forgotten why they are learning, the students have switched off to the warnings, cajoling and, dare I say it, threats from my colleague and myself, we reached a point when we were facing apathy, disengenuous (positive) and rather impartial attitudes from every student.  The winning factor, as to why the new strategy has initiated a new face of our prep. class students, is that we didn't force it upon them as something they had to sign up to.  We gave them the choice of following the Manifesto and adhering to it.  This meant they gave, or didn't, their important signature.  You can see how much a teenager's signature means to them when you ask them to commit.  We made it work for us, and last week was a huge turnaround.  It was an exciting and fulfulling week. Were we tired? Of course! But it was more physical than mental. This was the difference, and I would rather have that type of tiredness any weekend day of the week.

The students were given the option to sign it or not (their version has a blank box for name and signature on the bottom left). Fortunately for us, they all signed up, and here are some examples of what the students think of the new Manifesto and Student' commitment.

“When we think about the Manifesto, it is a new start for us with new rules, and we are happy.”  Emre

“The Manifesto isn’t just about splitting the class level.  It is also about doing homework on time, and with full concentration.”   Talya

“The students who chose not to sign the Manifesto will have less chances to improve in the new activities.”  Sinan

“The Manifesto makes us push to speak and use English more.”  Rüzgar

“The best point of the Manifesto is it tells us we shouldn’t think only about points, and take more risks when we are learning.”  Oğüzhan

“Some of us stopped doing anything properly.  It will change our attitude to lessons.”  Gözde

“Last week, something outstanding happened in our class.  The Manifesto is a huge advantage for us.”  Kaan

“I hope when we finish this year we will all have a higher level of English.”  Lalmina

“This Manifesto should help us to push ourselves to do better homework.” Melis

If you would like the template, email me at hisarhazirlik@gmail.com

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Improve Reading Engagement with Kahoot!

Last week, while perusing Scoop.It! (which, along with Twitter, is my favorite place to find new teaching resources and apps), I came across an article highlighting a new online quiz-making website called Kahoot.  As you are probably well-aware, there are tons of websites that can do the same thing.  So, what makes Kahoot so different, you might be asking yourself?  In short, Kahoot takes student engagement to a whole new level by turning a normal multiple-choices quiz into a whole-class trivia game against the clock!  On top of that, Kahoot has gone the extra mile by making these fun quiz games accessible from any device, be it a laptop, tablet or mobile phone! Let me explain how it works...

Steps to Set Up a Quiz Game

1. To get started, all you have to do is go to the Kahoot website, and sign up for free.  

2. Once there, you get the option of creating a quiz, discussion or survey.  Click the quiz button, give it a name, and then fill in the questions and answers as you would normally do with an online quiz.  However, if you wish, you can make your quiz even more engaging for students by including an image for each question by inserting a picture.

3. After completing the questions and answers, click the Next: settings button in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.  There you can adjust the amount of points given for each correct answer, the time given for each question, and other basic information about your quiz.   

4. Then, after clicking Next again, you can include a cover image for your quiz, and click Done.  Now, your quiz is ready to play with the class!

5. When you are ready to play, connect your computer to a smartboard or projector.  You must have either one to play because your students will see the questions and answer-choices from there.  

6. Next, log in to Kahoot, and go to your profile page by clicking Me in the top left-hand corner.  There, you will be able to see all of the quizzes that you have created and saved.  

7. Click Play, then Launch, and Kahoot will show a game pin number on the screen, as pictured below.  

8. Your students simply then connect to the internet from any device, type in kahoot.it into the URL, and then enter the game pin.  

9. Once there, they can enter their names, and wait for everyone to join.  As they enter their names, you will see them on the screen.  

10. When ready, click Start now, and let the fun begin!

For sure, there are many different ways you could use this brilliant website.  You could use it to review for exams, review vocabulary items, or even as a fun way to teach grammar.  What we did, this week, however, was to use it as a way to get our students more engaged in their reading.  We told them that before we went down to the library to read around 20 pages of our current story, that they had to read extra-carefully because we were going to play a game when we returned to class.  We made the Kahoot quiz about the story, ranging from easy to very difficult questions from those 20 pages.  Once we started playing, we couldn't believe the look on their faces.  The students were so engaged and competitive with each other to see who could get the highest score.  (As a side note, the faster the students answer the questions, the more points they receive for correct answers.)  Just take a look for yourselves of our class in action below... 

The most amazing part for us as teachers was that a student in our class, who normally has a difficult time reading, was so enthralled in the game that she came in third place!  This was such a major confidence boost for her because it helped her realize that she does understand the main points of the story.  Now, many of our students have already been asking when is the next time we are going to play because they want to beat the first winner of the game, Kaan, but more importantly, they know that they have to read more carefully in order to do so!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Peek at the Week with Touchcast

For the past year or so, the term 'Flipped Classroom' has become all the rage in educational circles, particularly in the field of ESL.  Just in case you are unfamiliar with the term, it is the idea that teachers can record their lectures or lessons and upload them to the web, so that students can follow them at home.  This way, teachers and students have more time at school for practicing and applying the subject they are currently working on, rather than the teacher spending most of his or her time instructing from the board.


To be up front, this post is not about whether or not the 'Flipped Classroom' educational model should completely replace the more traditional one we have now, but simply that, if you are excited about using technology in and out of the classroom, it is a wonderful time to be a teacher.  Almost weekly, it seems that there are new 'Flipped Classroom' apps being developed and launched, and already there are some favorites among teachers, such as Ask3, Educreations and Knowmia.  

While these are indeed great apps, Touchcast has recently become my absolute personal favorite, as it allows the user to include so many different real-time apps and effects as you are recording a video.  In other words, you can interact with anything on the web in real-time while making your video tutorial. For example, lets say that you are making a video for a writing assignment where you want your students to use a certain website for research.  While giving the directions for the assignment, you could also show your students where and how to use a website in real-time. 

This is only a simple example of what you could do with Touchcast.  The possibilities are endless.  Just to give you a sense of what I mean, check out the following introductory video for the app made by one of its founders...

Our First Touchcast Project

After my colleague and I discovered and began playing around with Touchcast, making a few videos of our own in the process, we decided that we wanted to again 'flip the classroom' in a sense.  Instead of us, the teachers, making all the videos, we wanted to get our students involved straightaway.  With 23 lessons with the same students per week, it is understandable that they get tired of seeing our faces.  So, we thought it would be even more engaging if the students could see a different one of their peers in a video each week.

What we decided to do is to make a news-like video each Friday to tell the students about the program and activities for the upcoming week, something we call 'A Peek at the Week'.  We write out a short script for a student to read, and include some pictures of the upcoming activities.  Then, Touchcast allows us to make it look and feel like a real newscast.  We can include a 'Breaking News' title across the bottom of the screen.  In addition, we can make the pictures pop-up on one side of the screen as the student talks about it. We can even add audio effects like laughter and applause.  

Finally, after making the recording on a Friday afternoon, we get the video ready to show all our our students first thing Monday morning.  It gives them an engaging way to learn about the activities of the week.  Furthermore, it gives the student being recorded a wonderful opportunity to practise his/her speaking, as well as help build his/her self-confidence in English.

To wrap it all up, have a look at this week's video featuring Kaan, and check out Touchcast for the Ipad...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

HOW to MAKE A PREPOSITIONS ROLE-PLAY (with a cloze-listening exercise)

The meta-language associated with grammar instruction can be rather ineffective with many students.  However, if students have been subjected to acquisition practices for years, and they still don't get it, why not try to use the meta-language as an alternative method of instruction.  We introduce it as such, but we don't labour the point once it has been used as such.  Of course, we still refer to it as articles, prepositions and conditionals, but we make an extra effort to get the students using each compartmentalized language function in context and relatively authentically.  That said, the activity I wish to explain today does involve the terminology, but only at the beginning of the role-play we did with our teenage students.

Having done the preposition Presentation we then did some drills to accustomize all our students, with varying levels of English, of the need for using prepositions, and even more importantly, the correct prepositions. This takes time, but it is my experience that with the vast majority of EFL students (in Turkey at least) accurate grammar acquisition simply does not happen.  A more focused approach is required over several brain-wrenching years. But that topic is for another post. Today is all about role-playing after a listening exercise as the starting-point.


Put students into groups of 3/4 depending on the size and number of your class.  If you don't have the fourth student, you can have another student enter for effect towards the end to assist in completing the role-play.


Have the students choose one "listener & recorder" from their group. That student will listen to the narrated story from the teacher, and record the prepositions in the spaces provided throughout the text. (a section of the  document is below)


After you have finished dictating the story, at normal speech-pace, the students go back to their groups to start the role-play.  They get three minutes to run through the acting/miming themselves, also friends can help add missed prepositions while they practise.


The students, now ready to perform in front of their peers, are asked to gather together at the back of the class, while each group steps up to perform the role-play. 

A video of the only group to complete the role-play is below.  The groups were allowed THREE PREPOSITION MISTAKES before being asked to sit down.

The take-away for the students was by asking them why doing such an activity can benefit their understanding and show that prepositions are necessary for both speaking and writing, if what is being read or said is to be understood by the reader or listener.