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Teaching ESL: How to Have a Successful English Corner

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I must admit that after hearing “What-a is-a your favorite-a color?” for the 100th time, I was not too interested in English corners. The idea was to give the Chinese students an opportunity to speak to the Americans and practice their English. Hopefully, we could then persuade them to visit our training center and take classes. In theory, it was a good idea for everyone except for the Americans. I can still see the shy elementary school student being prodded by his Chinese mother to “show off” the few English phrases the boy had memorized. I felt sorry for the boy as I tried to keep an hour-long smile up and could relate to the boy’s awkwardness.

After spending over 300 hours in English corners over the 7 years that I spent in China, I have found that there are right ways and wrong ways to have them. We were initially told that if we, the Americans, would simply show up somewhere, that a large crowd of aspiring English learners would bombard us with intense English conversations. This never happened. I helped to hold English corners in libraries, bookstores, parks, colleges, on a busy street and even at McDonald’s. Each of these had to be built from the ground up, but can be developed into a very successful program.

We had two types of English corners – free talk and activity based. Free talk English corners were usually effective in colleges and libraries. Activity-based English corners were effective in each place, but required more work and preparation. Listed are a few tips on how to have a successful activity-based English corner.

  1. Decide on the format of the English corner. We typically broke up the English corner up into 4 parts. First, we taught 8 – 10 “Frequently Used American Expressions.” These were either idioms or collocations that we could act out and try to present in a vivid way. We never tried to explain the meanings, but instead we tried to act them out so the students could try to guess the meanings. Next, we usually taught a song that had simple words to understand. Then we taught a culture tip, and finally played a game.
  2. Decide to enjoy the situation. I knew that if I was bored with what I was doing, then my students would be bored too. I clearly remember trying to teach the idiom, “You’re barking up the wrong tree.” I had a student stand on a chair, while I pretended to bark like a dog up at him. We always did what we could to throw in some spice into the lessons, not only to keep the students coming back, but also to keep ourselves interested in the lessons.
  3. Be flexible. I vividly remember teaching for two years in McDonald’s. We sectioned off a corner of McDonald’s and had a weekly English corner at 3:00 PM on Saturdays. We brought a portable display to let people know what we were all about. We brought a professional sound system with two cordless mics. Whatever we needed to do to try to make the English corner a success. However, many times, something went wrong. Either there was a mistake in the worksheet or no batteries for the mics. Sometimes we would plan for 30 students and 100 would show up, and sometimes we would plan for 100 and 5 would show up. If you ever conduct an English corner, you’ll have to be willing to “ride the waves.”
  4. Follow the 10% – 50% focus rule. Typically in China, I would look at one of my classes and divide it into half based on their English level. Then I would take the lower half and come up 10%. This usually was a good focus for the material. I would try to give this 40% of the students the majority of my time and effort. For the top 50% of the students I would throw out nuggets (not McNuggets from McDonald’s) of harder English to keep them interested. Then whenever we had pair work or group work, I would focus in on the lower 10% and try to give them some individual help. Be warned. English corners in public places will attract everyone. It was common for our public English corners to have both kindergarteners and college English professors all looking to learn some English.

I still have many great memories, and I made many friends through the work at the English corners.

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Teaching Styles: Guide on the Side or Sage on the Stage?

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In the early 90’s California teachers were getting released in record numbers. There was a huge budget crisis, districts were raising class sizes and eliminating classrooms, which meant many of us had to go. I was a second year teacher, untenured. I received my goodbye notice in March then set out scrambling to find another position.

I found myself interviewing in the growing community of Moreno Valley. I felt I was ready for anything, but I’ll never forget the interviewer asking my about my style of teaching. He asked, “Would you consider yourself a Sage on the Stage or a Guide on the Side?”

What a great question. Simply asking the question implies so much. If I say that I am a Sage on the Stage, immediately I might be considered a micromanager. A power hungry control freak of a teacher who needs his/her students to act only on command. Or even worse, I might be seen as a showoff whose main goal in teaching is to hear ones’ own voice.

As I sat in the interview room, it seemed the more politically correct answer would be the Guide on the Side. “Guide” doesn’t seem like such a loaded word as “Sage”. A guide leads the way. A guide points out facts. Guides know what pitfalls to avoid.

I had to make a snap answer. It’s been almost two decades, and I still think about my response. I expected that in time, I would make revisions to my answer. Surprisingly, I feel still feel good about the response I gave.

Basically, I believe that there are times when a teacher needs to be the Sage on the Stage and times when the teacher needs to get out of the way and be a guide on the side. Additionally, I’ve seen very effective teachers who can work a class, create amazing discussions, and help students construct learning all from the front of the class. By contrast, I’ve seen other teachers who spend very little time in front of a class, choosing to do most of their teaching in groups. Therefore, the situation and the personality of the teacher play a great role in the debate: Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side.

Reflecting on the question “Sage” or “Guide” is not a bad idea. My philosophy in teaching, as well as life, has always been balance and moderation. There have been times when I’ve been stuck in the Sage or Guide roll for longer than is necessary. Just asking yourself the question might lead to some meaningful soul searching and deeper understanding about yourself as a person and a teacher.

The Merits and Demerits of the Sage on the Stage

There are definite merits to the Sage on the Stage approach. The teacher on his/her stage, managing the flow of information is definitely faster than the Guide on the Side. I’ve tried to incorporate “guide on the side” strategies for my grammar lessons, but I’ve found that direct instruction works best when introducing initial concepts. I may use “guide” strategies to aid mastery of the information. However, there are dozens of grammar and punctuation skills the students are required to learn in ten months which does not lend itself to the Guide on the Side philosophy.

This benefit is also the biggest argument against the Sage approach. As more and more demands are heaped upon teachers, it is easier to get through the curriculum with this method. However, besides being exhausting for the teacher to be on the stage all day, students require time to digest and process information. Sage techniques such as lecture and group discussion tend to favor the quick thinkers. These students do most of the critical thinking for the class. Consequently, the majority of the class misses out on this important skill.

The Merits and Demerits of the Guide on the Side

I recently began a sixth grade unit on the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt like this:

Imaging that you were a guest in someone’s house. After a few weeks, you realized that you were doing all the chores in the house, your mom was cooking all of the meals, and your dad began to pay all of the bills. You were once a guest in this house. Now, what have you become?

The students had to read the material from their social studies books and explain how the Hebrews were like your family in the story. The connections they found were excellent. The follow up discussion continued to bear fruit as one group after another pointed out new ways to look at the analogy. I was a guide on the side, interjecting hints along the way.

The follow up to this was that the students had to create the second part of my “guest” analogy. They read about Moses and the Exodus and had to create an analogy about how they were able to move out of the house where they had become slaves.

The lesson was time consuming, but very effective. As effective as it was, I noticed that there were still things that I needed to teach the students directly. Many students, having no background knowledge on the topic, needed me to put this time in history into context. Once again, I was back to being the Sage on the Stage.

Final Thoughts

The moral of this story is that the art of teaching is knowing when to be the “guide” and when to be the “sage”. Once again I return to my original point: Simply asking yourself the question “What Kind of Teacher Am I?” is enough to help make you a better teacher. Being ever mindful of the balance between the two provides the opportunity for the self-reflection we all need.

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Greatest Ever Barcelona XI

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Like many of the best teams in the world, its almost impossible to have just 1 team as a greatest XI. Barcelona arguably have had the biggest turnover of superstars to have played for the club. You have a who’s who of football to have turned out for the club. I could quite easily go for 3 teams for this great club, but I have settled for 2 teams.

Goal Keeper

Like most attacking sides, they have not had the very best goal keepers to have kept goal for them, so I have gone for Andoni Zubizaretta. He is Spain’s most capped player with 126 caps and was a very good goalkeeper.

Right full back

I have gone for Albert Ferrer, who was part of the first “dream team”. He was a very good defender as well as being excellent in going forward.

Left full back

I have gone for another member of the so called dream team, Sergi Barjuan. He was very identical in play to Ferrer as they were both quick, great on the ball and he could defend very competently.

Central defenders

I have gone for Miguel Nadal and Carlos Puyol. Both excellent players and whilst Nadal was known as “the beast”, he was very good on the ball. Puyol always gives his all in every game that I have seen him play.

Midfield

I have gone for a 4-man midfield comprising of 4 all-time greats of the game in Michael Laudrup, Johan Cruyff, Luiz Suarez and Laslo Kubala. Michael Laudrup was a wizard with the ball and perhaps did not get the world renown that his talents deserved, partly to do with the fact that he was Danish. Cruyff is a living legend and his reputation goes before him. Suarez is arguably the greatest ever talent to come out of Spain whilst Kubala was voted Barcelona’s greatest ever player.

Forwards

I have gone for Diego Maradona and Romario. I have read too many times that Maradona was not successful at Barcelona, but that’s comparing him to himself and not by any other player’s standards. I have seen matches that he was involved in at Barcelona and he was breathtaking at times. Romario was just a born goal scorer.

Team 2

Goal keeper

I have gone for Francisco Platko, the Hungarian, whom, I have to admit I have never seen play but he is reported to be very good and I did not that many options.

Defenders

This time I have gone for 3 defenders and they are Jose Ramon Alesanco who captained the club for a long period of time and was a very good defender and leader, Ronald Koeman, okay, he was not a very good defender in terms of actual defending and maybe he would just pip a tortoise in a 100 metre sprint, but he could pass the ball like no other and had a shot on him to die for. He also scored 1 of the most memorable goals in the club’s history, when he scored the winning goal at Wembley, against Sampdoria for Barcelona to win their first ever European Cup. The third defender is Migueli who played for Barcelona from 1973 to 1989.

Midfield

I have gone for a 5-man midfield comprising another array of wonderful footballers. The first is Luis Figo, whom I felt played his best football at Barcelona and he was absolutely terrific. Whilst teammate, Rivaldo, was getting all the plaudits, Figo. I felt was the best player. The second midfielder was a mainstay of Cruyff’s dream team and that was Pep Guardiola, who was one of the best playmakers, I have ever seen. Injuries blighted a bit what should have been a superlative career. Ronaldinho is my third midfielder as he is truly majestic and surely, even at this stage in his career, already an all-time great. The next is his Brazilian compatriot, Rivaldo who will always be remembered fondly at the Nou camp for scoring, perhaps, the greatest hat-trick ever, against Valencia, which enabled Barcelona to qualify for the champion’s league, on the last day of that particular season 2000/2001. Last but not least, I have chosen volatile but brilliant Bulgarian attacking midfielder/forward, Hristo Stoichkov. Stoichkov had a seemingly love-hate relationship with equally brilliant and equally volatile Romario. One minute they are hugging each other for setting up the other for another brilliant goal and the next minute they are sniping at each other because one of feels that the other did not pass the ball to him.

Strikers

I have gone for the absolutely brilliant Brazilian Ronaldo and Sandor Koscis.

I know I said I will only pick 2 teams but way too many players that I like have not been picked because just too many greats played for Barcelona, so I have managed to squeeze in a third team

Goalkeeper

For Goalkeeper, I have gone for Antoni Ramalletts who played for Barcelona in the 40s to 60s and won the best goalkeeper award for 5 consecutive seasons in the 50s

Defenders

I have gone for Abelardo Fernandez, a very capable defender who always gave his best, Juan Asensi who was also a very good defender for both Barcelona and Spain and Eric Gensana.

Midfield

I have gone for Bernd Schuster, the current manager, who was a brilliant midfielder and should have won far more caps for West Germany, if not for his bad relationship with the West German FA. Luis Enrique, one of my favourite players with his all-action style and loads of goals to boot. For a midfielder, he scored a fair amount of goals. Allan Simonsen, the brilliant Dane, who was European footballer of the year in 1977. Johan Neeskens, the current assistant manager, who was a wonderful midfield player.

Strikers

I have gone for a 3-prong attack and they are Paulino Alcantara who though I have never seen play scored 357 goals in 357 matches, now that is impressive. Josep Samiter who scored 326 goals for Barcelona and Hans Krankl just edging out Samuel Etoo and Patrick Kluivert.

Some of the players that I have not mentioned include the present crop of players like Rafa Marquez, Thuram, Xavi, Deco, Messi, Zambrotta and past greats and good like Hagi, Prosinescki, Laurent Blanc, Gica Popescu, Carles Rexach, Jari Littmanen, both De Boers, Cocu, Laarsson, Mark Hughes, Lineker, Beguiristain, Goikoietxea, Edgar Davids, Riqueleme and Sorin amongst others.

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5 Simple Steps to Be a Media Star

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This series of articles are focused on how to become known as an expert. Today we will focus on how to gain media attention.

Dale Carnegie said in his famous book – How To Win Friends and Influence People, “babies cry for and grown men die for”. We all want attention and recognition. We seek media attention to get our name splashed in newspapers, radio and TV. Not only is it something we personally want but it is also a great strategy to gain expert status and get clients.

I have been written up in print, interviewed on radio and TV. Did you know one appearance on TV can catapult you into fame and launch your career into the stratosphere? Fawn Germer, who I recently hear speak, was featured on Oprah. She has leveraged it to the hilt. We all know what can happen if you are seen on The Oprah Show. Businesses become hugely successful and a million books are sold! Dr. Phil and Dr. OZ started as guests on The Oprah Show. Now they have their own shows.

So how do you get attention of the media?

Here are 5 simple strategies:

  1. Find an angle that will appeal to the media: It is quite easy to look up what current stories are already being covered in the media. Just find an angle to latch on to the story. It is not enough to say that you are a chiropractor or a massage therapist. What is new, unique or newsworthy about your profession?
  2. Prepare you story: Once you know the angle, create a pitch that is easy for you to communicate. Human interest stories are featured all the time. Pick a struggle and how you or a client overcame that struggle.
  3. Get a list of reporters: Today it is easier to find reporters on the internet. Social media has made reporters and journalists much more accessible. Pick the target market you want to focus on and find the reporters who cover such stories.
  4. Call or email them: Depending on the information you have and how timely it is, you can just pick up the phone and call the reporter. Make sure you are aware of simple protocols. TV, radio and print media – all have different strategies in collecting and sharing information. Pay attention to when and how you should approach the media.
  5. Build a relationship: I consistently write comments to the reporters. You will be amazed how many of them will reply back. Make it a habit to communicate with them so you can be recognized. Today the media is required to build a following and be in touch with their audience.

These simple and effective strategies will help you start moving towards being a media star.

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