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Deskwarming 2011: 19+ Things to Do

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Heiwa elementary school by ajari

If you’re deskwarming in Korea or Japan, and you’re all caught up on lesson-planning, here are some ways to make the most of your time. (Of course, some sites might be banned at your school, but you never know.) I’ve never been in this position myself, but many teachers wind up spending time at their desks for a couple weeks (or more!)–no classes, no students, and few responsibilities (at least, if they’re experienced lesson-planners). It’s a little hard to imagine, but I’ve heard about it from several friends, and who knows, maybe I’ll experience it someday.

Anyway, I dug through my links. I decided to mix the links together, just as I might want to mix the use of my time–professional development, taking a break, and so on.

  1. Play the beautiful, dreamlike games at Orisinal.
  2. Find lesson plans, activity ideas, current research, and lots more at Free Online Journals.
  3. Learn how to use Skype, Ning, wikis, and more for you or your classroom via short videos at Learn it in 5.
  4. Create an account and edit/contribute to Wikipedia, Wikitravel, and Simple English Wikipedia. Don’t know where to start? Try fixing up the page for your hometown or current neighborhood, translating an article that only exists in the local language, or editing a TESOL-related topic.
  5. Set up Anki according to the vocabulary-teaching principles that you know, and study.
  6. Try the novel-like, grown-up versions of “choose your own ending” games at Choice of Games.
  7. Finally get around to joining that professional organization in your area or seeing what they actually do.
  8. Watch those TED Talks that you’ve been meaning to (with subtitles, even).
  9. Read about fascinating things on Metafilter and the endless international help column of AskMetafilter (see orientation if you get distracted by in-jokes sometimes used on the site).
  10. Improve your CV and your chances of getting that next job/getting into that PhD program by submitting an article/activity/etc. for publication at an online journal (yes, it’s the same link as above, but it’s worth saying!).
  11. Play the devilishly cute, misleadingly simple games at Eyezmaze Games.
  12. Start a Facebook fan page for your English program (get permission!), blog, etc.
  13. Get started on Twitter, which can be a great source of support for English teachers, and join me (my multi-post Twitter guide for English learners mostly applies; find people to follow via my lists).
  14. Finally start that blog about your adventures overseas, or the local restaurants, or your hobbies.
  15. Find a site like Just Hungry, Maangchi, or Cooking with (the) Dog (Youtube channel; video starts automatically) to learn to cook like a local.
  16. Get pulled into the underlying threads of fiction at TV Tropes–if you’re not sure where to go, look up a favorite TV show and wander around from there.
  17. Watch streaming media in Korean and Japanese to improve your language skills will entertaining yourself: Crunchyroll, MySoju, Drama Fever, Viki, and relevant searches on Youtube and Veoh (e.g., for example.) Whether the content is legal or ethical depends on the site and content, plus your location and perspective.
  18. Set up Google Reader and add the blogs you want to keep up with (check my sidebar for great ones like The Grand Narrative and English Raven), web comics, etc.
  19. Read fiction–from classics to cutting-edge sf, there’s plenty online. Try my list of free fiction bookmarks for more. (And if you skip the one fanfiction link, you’ll miss “No Reservations: Narnia.”)

Lots more things to do at my timewasters tag on Delicious.

If you like any of these or know of some better ones, pass them along…

(Not responsible for your boss walking in on you while playing Grow!)

Supercuts

Supercuts are videos that include a lot of clips along a theme, usually with little or no other editing. They can be as simple as Spock saying “Fascinating”/the Ninth Doctor Who saying “Fantastic” or as complex as things crashing through glass from countless films and TV shows/a compilation of anime opening credit visual cliches. It occurred to me, though, that ones focused on dialogue might be useful–or at least fun–for practicing pronunciation features (targeted sounds, intonation, and stress), sarcasm and other tone issues, idioms/slang/other vocabulary, and so on. The language is in short bites (mostly) and repetitive, which may be useful for learning. And of course, the videos have the appeal of being either pop culture artifacts or featuring real people–authentic and attractive to students. It can be hard to find these videos; there are a few lists here and there, but they may be a bit out of date.

This is a pretty fun look at the surprisingly common quote “(Toto,) we’re not in Kansas anymore.”:

It’s pretty current, with lots of things that adult students may have seen (like Sex and the City 2 and Avatar). It has a couple of possibly objectionable scenes, though (mild swearing and what may be a sex scene–it’s a little hard to tell, as it’s waist-up and there’s no nudity). But you can always show just part of a video. It really shows the breadth of the situations in which this phrase is used, and how phrases get turned around and changed. (Notes and sources are here.)

“What are you doing here?” and endless variations, always popping up on Doctor Who (skip if you haven’t watched through the end of 2008 and plan to):

I probably wouldn’t actually use this video unless my students had watched Doctor Who (I know some schools have it in their libraries, though!). It does give an idea of the many ways you can stress the different words in “What are you doing here?” for different meanings, though!

Not very useful, but entertaining–”I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you”:

For those of you who don’t hesitate to teach taboo words, this and its variants really are common:

How many ways can you say “What?” How often is it actually a rising sound? When is it a question, a request for repetition, an expression of disbelief? Let Lost tell you:

“Get out of there!” is a phrase that we use in real life occasionally, not just in movies:

The second half or so has some swearing.

“Sorry I haven’t updated” features ordinary vloggers (video bloggers) of various ages, starting off their vlogs with an apology:

It’s really interesting how different they appear to be, and yet how similar their phrasing is!

There are more out there, and you could probably make some yourself to focus on issues your students have. What other uses might there be, or is this a totally crazy idea…?

Post-Holiday Link Roundup

I wasn’t able to post here during the holidays, but I was somewhat active on Twitter. Here are a few links that I shared that may be of interest to you, rewritten a bit for context and easier clicking.

NaNoWriMo: Noveling

November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an international event in which people of all kinds attempt to write 50,000 words’ worth of a novel. If that sparks all kinds of questions in your mind, check out What is NaNoWriMo? and How NaNoWriMo Works. The goal is not to turn out a perfectly formed, exactly 50,000-word short novel that is publishable and beautiful and perfect (although all of these folks managed to turn their NaNos into something that DID get published!). It’s just to get people writing and, even better, writing more than they probably ever thought they could. We all know how thrilled students are when they achieve something significant like their first letter, essay, speech, or phone call in English. Imagine writing your first novel…

I’ve tried it once before and didn’t get too far, but I met some really great people–one of the keys to the thing is that having other people around you at write-ins and so on really helps you push forward! I’m still friends with some of the people I met. Yesterday, I went to a pre-kickoff “meet’n'greet” event in San Jose. There were tons of people there, and it was pretty exciting.

“But wait,” you may be thinking, “I don’t even live in North America!” No problem–there are groups all over the place. Check out NaNo Near You for groups in Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Ireland, Japan, Spain, etc. etc.–there are about 500 chapters around the world.

My crazy idea is actually to write something that’s for English learners. I really like some of the extensive readers on the market, but there aren’t enough out there (particularly original ones rather than re-writes). There’s also not enough that’s in American English. I think I’d like to take a stab at it. I’m pretty sure that even if I manage 50,000 words, many of them won’t be usable. However, that’s better than just continuing to do nothing but think about it. It’s the same principle as when we encourage students to stop thinking everything over and just speak. I don’t know if I can pull it off, but I’m planning to give it a good try!

Annie Rizzuto at Prestwick House also wrote about “the most wonderful time of the year” and how exciting it could be to work with students. NaNoWriMo has a Young Writers Program, in which students can set their own word count goal, and an educators’ guide including lesson plans, a forum, and more.

I wonder if anyone at the Office of Letters and Light (the people behind NaNoWriMo) is interested in hosting a similar, flexible-goal version of NaNoWriMo for language learners … L2NoWriMo sounds good to me.

Anyway, if you’re doing it too, let me know!

P. S. This is my 100th post! I wanted it to be on something more serious, but I’m serious about both ER and writing. So this will do! Oddly enough, it comes just after my 100th post over at Readable Blog.

Halloween Clip Art

If you’re looking to spruce up your Halloween or autumn lesson plans, OpenClipArt.org has you covered. Check out their fall and Halloween clip art packages. As always, the images are completely free to use, and most of the images at the site are large (great for printing), easily resized, and unique to the site (because they were uploaded by the original artists). There’s more if you search for relevant keywords, too.

Check out my previous post, A Visual Feast, for more information about using the site.

Twitter in Print

Thanks to the recommendation of author and Twitterati star Mayumi Ishihara, my Twitter account for English learners (@readable) was featured in a Japanese business magazine. I think it’s still on the stands in Japan–look for the 9/21 issue of 日経ビジネス Associe. On page 98, Ms. Ishihara introduces a few Twitter accounts and hashtags that can be useful to Japanese learners of English. She’s the author of a recent popular book on using Twitter to practice actually using English, so I was really pleased that she liked my account enough to recommend it to others. I enjoy being in touch with international English learners via Twitter–as a US-based teacher (at the moment), it’s an interesting way to get in touch with the concerns of learners in EFL situations.

Learners’ Dictionaries

Gartus_Man_with_book from openclipart.org

I recommend a good learner’s dictionary (or two), not just for your students but also for you, the instructor. Naturally, you already know the meanings of almost all words that students are likely to ask you about, but the problem is that on-the-spot definitions (and even written ones) sometimes come out in the vein of “Well, it’s a sensation that…uh, a feeling that you get–well, most people get they’re frightened –oh, do you know frightened? I mean scared…and…”

Yeah.

There’s a reason for the profession of lexicography and the existence of special dictionaries! When I use the definitions in learners’ dictionaries to define words that are a little hard to explain, I find that students often understand the words much faster–I neither spend a lot of time confusing them nor do they have to resort to their L1 dictionaries (and they don’t get confused by the circular explanations, academic vocabulary, and obsolete historical definitions in regular English dictionaries).

I make a point of introducing learners’ dictionaries to my students and owning multiple levels of them. I tell my students that sometimes I use them myself to give definitions, because the dictionaries’ explanations are shorter, simpler, and focus on the useful/common meanings of a word. (I also spend time demonstrating how a good learner’s dictionary can save students from other dictionaries’ pitfalls, as the entries should include connotations like “disapproving”, and other features like collocations.) Anyway, I think they understand why I sometimes use these definitions with them. It would certainly be less than ideal if they thought I had to look up English words in the dictionary, but I don’t think any of them have wound up with that impression.

I think it’s useful to look at the different varieties out there to see which ones you prefer. They all have different features and different styles of defining words. Cobuild started out strong (as it was corpus-based) but has fallen behind the others in features and usability; I prefer Longman and Oxford. There’s also a recent Merriam-Webster dictionary, in “essential” and advanced, which I haven’t looked at. They produced the excellent guide to English usage that was recommended by Language Log, though, so it might be excellent. There’s a Cambridge set, as well.

Anyway, you can make use of these definitions online, too, if you’re chatting with students, blogging, or just testing out the dictionaries.

One word I had to define recently was “trawl” (the verb), because I linked some learners to “Japanese Power Blogger Trawls Seoul for Hidden Gems”. Interestingly, at least one of the dictionaries’ definitions precluded the usage in that headline–so it’s good to try several tricky or multifaceted words to find a dictionary that makes sense to you.

(P. S. I think there are some other learners’ dictionaries that I’m not familiar with. If you know of any that you particularly like, please recommend them in the comments!)

Updated Links

The summer was just packed–unfortunately, not in the ironic Calvin and Hobbes sense. Between flying to the middle of the country to help my parents with my dad’s knee surgery, getting my new computer in working order after my laptop was stolen, and job-hunting, I haven’t been able to finish any of the posts I’ve started in my head.

Anyway, I’ve updated the links in the sidebar with a few more good ones. Check out Throw Grammar from the Train, Seoul Sub→Urban, and Japan without the sugar–and yes, I’ve purposefully not linked them here in the post, because there are a lot of great blogs over there that are worth a look!

The writer of Throw Grammar from the Train did a nice piece for the Boston Globe–you can read it at “Un-Rules.” If you have a family member who does the “Ohhh no! It’s the English teacher! I’d better watch my grammar!” thing around you, or who irritates you by sending you links to ill-informed rants by famous peevologists, you can blow that person’s mind by sending along this article. It’s unusually well-grounded for a mainstream publication.

Coming up (I think) is a post on the body half of the mind-body equation. Teachers sometimes let health drop to to the bottom of our long list of priorities. If you have any thoughts on it you’d like me to address, let me know here or on Twitter!

Quick Firefox Fixes

foxkeh, the Japanese Firefox mascot by Mozilla

Here are a few things that make my life a little easier. I hope they help you, too. All of these tips are very easy to follow. You don’t need any particular tech skill level to implement them.

  • Install Adblock Plus. Sorry, as long as legitimate websites use pop-unders, flashing banners, expanding ads, and animations, I’ll use an adblocker. Unfair? Well, they can use unintrusive ads like Google’s text ads, and I’ll leave them alone. If you’re using it and a website that should work looks really strange, click the red ABP stop sign and disable it, then reload. You can also use it to right-click and block individual images, which is sometimes useful.
  • Block the Delete Goes Back Action: Annoyed by accidentally hitting “delete” and Firefox going back a page and losing everything you’d typed into a blog comment form, etc.? It’s simple to turn off. (If you want a keystroke to go back and forward, use command/ctrl left and right.)
  • How to tab into pull-down menus and more (OS X): I was used to being able to do this, but it’s not on by default. Using keyboard shortcuts instead of clicking around makes you a more efficient tech user, you know (more on that in the future).
  • Delete useless search engines in the search window (answers.com? honestly!), and change the order so the ones you like to use are at the top. Add ones you use often (I often use wikipedia.jp), and add some that can’t be found through the Add Search Engines option at the bottom (click the little magnifying glass)–Mycroft Project has things like ALC’s Eijiro on the Web, a powerful Japanese/English dictionary.
  • Click on View at the top; make sure Status Bar is turned on (putting your over links will usually show where they take you in the status bar at the bottom), and check, uncheck, and customize the Toolbars and Sidebar until they’re the way you like in terms of functions and screen “real estate.” You can also right-click on the toolbar and drag things around to access some of these features.
  • If you’ve never explored the main preferences (look at the top under Firefox -> Preferences) or your add-ons’ preferences (Tools -> Add-ons, then highlight each one to see if it has preferences), it’s worth doing so.
  • Forget This Site: If you’re going to use Firefox in front of other people, such as in a conference presentation, and you recently read an article at the New York Times called “Sex Trafficking on the Rise in Asia,” or one of Zen Kimchi’s great “Food Porn” articles, you might not want it to flash across the address bar if you type in something else that has a few letters in common. Short of deleting your entire history, if you know there’s a specific site that should be removed, go to History at the top, then Show All History. Search for the site you need to remove. Right-click on the entry, and choose the last option, Forget About This Site. It won’t come up when you start typing in the address bar (so make sure you’ve bookmarked it if you need to go back!).

I am baffled as to why my post on Delicious isn’t coming up as a related post, but since it isn’t, I’ll link it here. I wrote a whole post on it, and it’s so worth using. It’s like a faithfully-following online filing cabinet, butler, secretary, genie, and Library of Alexandria. I love it.

Journals Galore

This is just a brief note to call your attention–in case you’re not on Twitter or you missed it–to the new permanent page I’ve added here. The List of Free Journals collects a range of open-access scholarly journals on topics related to ELT/TESOL/TEFL/TESL/applied linguistics. I’ve actually added one two since I posted it to Twitter, so the list now stands at 27 28. (I’ll keep updating the page, though not this post.) Most are peer-reviewed; some are more practical (ITESLJ, in particular) but even the very academic ones may have useful ideas. Please check out the page, and comment here or contact me somehow if you have corrections or additions to the list. Thanks!

I plan to make a similar page for magazine-like sites, eventually, so if you have favorites, I’d be happy to know about them.