16.11.14

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - Fall and Autumn Cookies


For me, baking season officially starts when autumn days become brisk and short. Last year I baked tons of gingerbread men for my preschoolers in order to make the whole story more interesting. 

This year my choice has fallen on  the song "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" which tells the story of an old woman who swallowed several animals one after the other, each one increasingly larger, in an attempt to catch the last animal she had swallowed.

This song brought to mind the image of happy children and their parents making animal-shaped cookies in their kitchens while listening to the song in the  background. Then I could see those same children later pretending to be the old lady and swallowing one cookie after another following the same sequence as in the song.

To make that vision come true I had to call my good friend Rita who's not only a great teacher herself but also an awesome confectioner. She started her professional career as a psychologist and used her natural talents with kids to teach English to a generation of Spanish students. Despite leading an active and busy life, her love for food never waned, so two years ago, Rita started a food blog mostly dedicated to baking and the fascinating world of cookie decorating.
 

Can you think of anyone more suited to this challenge?

Her blog has several cookie recipes you could choose from, but these two are my favorites for the fall season: Maple and spicy fall cookies, Spicy Pumpkin Cookies


Once we had baked the cookies, we spent a couple of hours decorating them. Althoug I felt a little clumsy because it was my absolute first time, even though I really enjoyed the drawing part… I was oblivious to the existence of edible ink food coloring markers (!!!!) until last Sunday.

And you could do the same with your kids too. Remember that having a good time is one of the basic ingredients for learning!


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1.11.14

YES magazine - An entertaining way to prepare Cambridge exams (B2, C1, C2)

This year I have started CAE preparation (Certificate of Advanced English, level C1) for my 14 year-old genius of a student.

At the beginning of September I was snooping around the bookshop to see if I could find some material which would be appropriate or him, because, even though he's brilliant, he is still only 14, and let's face it, the books on offer for CAE preparation are not exactly what I would call entertaining. 

Of course, I was quickly starting to realise there weren't any decent options to choose from, at least not among course books, when, all of a sudden, it appeared!
Right next to the cash register, with a headline screaming SPORTS… I knew it was the one! So I bought it, right after taking a quick peek inside.

"YES" is halfway between a magazine and an English supplement for people with a good level of English.

According to the people at Cambridge the most effective way to prepare for the reading test is, (what a surprise!) to read a wide range of texts. This should include magazines, articles from newspapers, and online materials on a wide range of topics. So what could be better than reading and answering questions about an article or two, especially since people generally don't like reading so much?

Inside each issue of "YES" you'll find section about current affairs, sports news, language news, science, technology and politics, as well as a dossier about the main topic and an entire section specifically designed to introduce grammar and new vocabulary.

Once you buy "YES", you have the option of downloading a folder full of audio files whose transcriptions are included in the magazine. In my opinion, they really help with preparation for the listening part of the CAE exam thanks to the variety of English accents you'll hear. As we all know, even though English is just one language, there are quite a few differences in the way people pronounce it. But not only that; there are also differences in the spelling and in the vocabulary, depending on which country the speakers come from: a variety that a candidate will definitely have to deal with during the exam.

In addition, throughout  the whole magazine, there are footnotes which explain difficult vocabulary, giving definitions in English or using pictures and, in the section at the back,  you'll find 20 pages of exercises and games to test and consolidate what you've been studying.

So, if you are looking for something a bit different to your typical course book, don't miss "YES"! Here you can find all the information you could possibly need.


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19.10.14

A Fun Way to Teach Left and Right to Children



Hi there! Long time no see! Autumn has arrived in Madrid, the children are back in school and I've been busy, busy and beyond busy, planning new classes and much more.

A month has passed since my last post, written right after getting back, with my batteries fully charged, from the middle of nowhere in Norway (though it already seems an eternity ago), and it's definitely time to get back to blogging.

Today's topic is something I've had on my mind for a long time.
I've been living in Spain for 9 years and I've always been surprised by the fact that when you ask people for directions, most of them usually end up pointing left, when they mean right and vice-versa.

I also remember how difficult it was for me too, as a child, to distinguish left from right, especially during PE classes. I've been wearing a watch on my left wrist since then mainly to avoid confusion and I must admit that this trick still helps a lot.

So, before starting any lesson about left and right, I provide my students with one of those animal-shaped rubber bands you see everywhere to wear on their left wrists.
Then, I ask them to raise their left and right hands several times, pointing out that the left side of their bodies is the one with the bracelet. After that, I teach them this song, and we try to sing and dance while following the instructions. It might seem a bit of a mess, especially the first few times you rehearse it, but it's reeeeaally funny.

Another game you can definitely use to teach children not only left and right, but also some colors and parts of the body, (especially for younger kids) is Twister. The version you can buy in the shops is designed  for a maximum of 4 kids, so I made myself a bigger one, using a white cotton sheet, some fabric paint and a simple circle stencil. The spinner is quite easy to make too; you'll only need a paper clip and a paper fastener.

This DIY option is better if you have more than 4 children in your class, if you want to use a different palette of colors or even different shapes (instead of circles), and it's also handy if your children are not so short, since you can choose what size to cut the sheet and how many lines to paint on. Not to mention the fact that it's significantly cheaper than buying the original version and that painting is a relaxing activity you can enjoy!


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9.9.14

GANGSTA GRANNY by David Walliams

David Walliams, as Wikipedia says, is an English comedian, actor, author, and television presenter. In early 2008, Walliams began his career as a writer of children's books and 'Gangsta Granny' is his fourth.

This book tells the story of Ben, a boy who hates staying at his granny's house every Friday night because all she ever wants to do is play Scrabble and, even worse, every meal on the menu is alway made of cabbage.

Unexpectedly Ben learns that his granny is not so boring as he thought. He finds out that the smelly squeaky old lady was once an international jewel thief and together they plan and almost manage to achieve to steal every great thief's dream: the Crown Jewels.

Walliams style has been compared to Dahl's since in some ways they are both irreverent and humorous and I share the opinion that there are some elements of his style of storytelling that recall Dahl's own style.

The protagonist, Ben, is a child who has a passion which is not approved of by his family and doesn't feel loved by the adults who should be taking care of him instead of packing him off to Granny's. For instance, Ben loves plumbing (like Matilda loves reading) and he dreams of being a plumber someday, while, his ordinary parents who live ordinary lives and are fond of a ballroom dancing Tv show, want him to be a professional dancer.

Also, as in Dahl's novels, there are secrets to be revealed, funny situations, unusual experiences, a surprisingly understanding Queen of the United Kingdom and in the end a valuable lesson is learnt by all.

On the other hand, I find that Dahl is extremely skilled at drawing you into his incredible tales, that, even though the worlds he describes are so distant from our own reality, you can't help but believe that the impossible has become real. You don't ask yourself whether the Oompa Loompa actually existed or if Wonka's inventions could really work (I can't tell you how many times I dreamt of his Great Glass Elevator as a child); you are just sucked into a daydream, a parallel world, where truly anything could happen.

Walliams' book however, didn't make me feel the same. On the contrary, I found myself trying to figure out if Ben and Granny's ideas would have worked in real life. Possibly, the reason for this quite different reaction is due to the fact that, every now and then, the author establishes a direct dialogue with his reader. From a step-by-step guide to pretending to brush your teeth to the detailed description of the Crown Jewels, passing through an explanation of Venn diagrams and Granny's recipe for cabbage cake, Walliams tends to bring us back to real life, creating a sort of contrast that doesn't allow you to fully escape from reality.

Of course I wouldn't say this is a negative aspect of his style. The image of Ben and Granny wearing wetsuits and scuba diving masks on their way to the Tower of London on a motorized scooter with a top speed of three miles per hour, wouldn't have made me  laugh so much if I hadn't been able to imagine them on an actual motorway to London with some very puzzled real-life passersby staring at them.

Click on this link for classroom activities.


More book reviews and lesson plans based on books here

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11.8.14

Summer Camp 2014: IN THE WOODS



I introduced the topic with a nature walk scavenger hunt to make the most of the fact that the classes were being taught in a garden with a lot of pine trees. Here you can download the list of things that the children had to find which you ca use to entertain them during your picnics.

There is a large number of books about woods and the animals that live there but my first pick was "Goldilocks". I showed the kids this video which is quite easy to follow for preschoolers who are attending bilingual schools and then we played several games such as 'Cops and Robbers' using the pictures in this pack.

We also tried to act the story out, we ate a lot of gummy bears and we made finger puppets… They loved it!

Another story we listened to, sang and acted out was "We are Going On a Bear Hunt". It's a good story for children who are learning English because it has a lot of basic sounds that aren't so common in other languages, so kids can practice some phonetics without even realizing.

After that, I scattered some colorful bear footprints around for the kids to run and look for.

A couple of other nice and entertaining stories that are set in woods with animal protagonists are: "I Want My Hat Back" by Jon Klassen and "The Gruffalo" written by Julia Donaldson (video).



During our handicraft time, besides finger puppets, we reproduced a campfire, a porcupine (see pictures) and an owl to make the most of all the dry sticks, leaves and pine needles we were surrounded by.

Oh! By the way, if you're looking for a story about an owl, Kayleigh O'Mara has written and illustrated one that children will definitely find interesting.


Also read: UNDER THE SEA  and AT THE BEACH

Enjoy your summer!

     


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7.8.14

Summer Camp 2014: UNDER THE SEA

Most children's favorite topic always tends to be 'animals'. You can introduce them to the strangest and weirdest animal in the world and they will remember what it's called. That's why, of course, I gave squids, lobsters and jellyfish a try.

You can find many pictures and activities here, here and here.

For the handicraft time I picked the jellyfish from among these puppets and we made
1) a fish decorated with cupcakes paper liners
2) a seahorse with plastic eyes and decorated with anything you'd like 



The children loved singing this song during their handicraft time and we also learned these ones:

Mr. Lobster and Mrs. Crab by Debby
('Old Macdonald Had a Farm' tune)

Mr. Lobster and Mrs. Crab
pinch and snap all day
Mr. Lobster and Mrs. Crab
pinch and snap all day
With a pinch pinch here and a snap, snap there
here a pinch, there a snap
everywhere a pinch,pinch(snap, snap)
Mr. Lobster and Mrs. Crab pinch and snap all day.

 


Fish in the Sea by Jenny
('The Wheels on the Bus' tune)

The fish in the sea go swim, swim, swim
swim, swim, swim, swim, swim, swim
The fish in the sea go swim, swim, swim
all through the day.

The lobsters in the sea go pinch, pinch, pinch,
pinch, pinch, pinch, pinch, pinch, pinch,
The lobsters in the sea go pinch, pinch, pinch,
all through the day.

The octopus in the sea go wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
The octopus in the sea go wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
all through the Day

The crabs in the sea go click, click, click,
click, click, click, click, click, click,
The crabs in the sea go click, click, click,
all through the day.

We played 'The ball goes to…' and, of course 'Go fish'.

Very nice books to read aloud while studying sea animals are:
"Swimmy", by Leo Lionni
"The Rainbow Fish", by Marcus Pfister
"Mr Seahorse", by Eric Carl





Summer Camp 2014: AT THE BEACH and IN THE WOODS

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4.8.14

Summer Camp 2014: AT THE BEACH

As they say "Time flies when you're having fun!", and July has just flown away. I can't even believe it!

I had the opportunity to teach my own Summer Camp again in the same place as last year, with even more children aged 4 and 5.

This year we worked on holidays and I'm sure you've already guessed the topics: at the beach, under the sea and in the woods.

Let's start from the beginning: AT THE BEACH

First of all, I introduced the new vocabulary using this pack where you'll find flashcards and activities about beach items.

We played beach ball games and...


Simon Says at the Beach
Simon Says at the Beach is simply a game of Simon Says with beach theme movements like these.
Walk like a crab. 
Snap like a lobster. 
Swim like fish. 
Roll your arms like a big wave. 
Tip toe like you're walking on hot sand. 
Dig in the sand.

Sand Bucket Bean Bag Toss: set up sand buckets and play a beanbag toss game.

What time is it Mr. Lifeguard?
This is a fun game to play outside. You can change the name to suit any
theme.
The children all line up against a wall or fence.
And one child, (Mr. Lifeguard) or the teacher faces away from the
children, a good distance away from the children.
The children yell, what time is it "Mr. Lifeguard",
Mr. Lifeguard answers 1 o'clock, and the children all take one step toward
Mr. Lifeguard.
The children yell again, what time is it "Mr. Lifeguard",
Mr. Lifeguard answers (fill in the blank) o'clock, and the children all
take same number of step toward Mr. Lifeguard.
This continues until all the children are very close to Mr. Lifeguard,
then Mr. Lifeguard will answer it's midnight, and chases the children back
to the fence or wall that they started at. The first person Mr. Lifeguard
touches will be the new Mr. Lifeguard.

Beach Hide and Seek
Play the game the same as above, except hide the beach object. Then
tell the children individually whether they are "hot" or "cold" to the
relation of the object. Allow the other children to have a change to
hide the object, and tell children whether they are "hot or cold". It may be a good idea to discuss the meaning of hot and cold before you
play this game.

Beach Shape Fishing Game
Tie 3 feet of string to a wooden spoon. Attach a magnet to the end of
the string. Cut and laminate many different colored, and sized beach
shapes from construction paper (not too big though). Attach a paper clip
to each shape. Spread the shapes on the floor and let your child try to
catch the shapes. Have them try to catch the red shape.. or the biggest
shape. For a twist, label the shapes with letters or numbers. Ask the
children to catch a specific shape, or ask them which shape they caught.

We sang these songs:

My Beach Ball Song
sung to "Mary had a Little Lamb"
 

Once I had a beach ball
a beach ball
a beach ball
Once I had a beach ball
Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce

Beach Song
Tune: The Farmer in the Dell
Song - words by Laurie Patsalides

I'm walking to the beach; (Walk in place.)
I'm walking to the beach. (Walk in place.)
I think I'll find a shell in the sand. (Pretend to dig.)
I'm walking to the beach. (Walk in place.)
Repeat with different motions for physical activity (running, stomping or marching).


And every day the kids enjoyed a handicraft activity:

Sand Art
Allow the children to glue sand to a piece of paper to create a beach scene. Add white torn paper for clouds, colored torn paper for umbrellas.

Make your own Leis
Supply the children with flower shapes, a hole punch and string. Have the children punch a hole in the flowers and lace them onto the string for a necklace.

Beach Towel
Have the children design their own beach towel with scraps of paper, ribbon, markers, crayons etc.


Beach Umbrella Art
Cut out a beach umbrella shape and have your child decorate it with paint, glitter, fabric, crayons, or whatever you can come up with.

Sunglasses Art
Cut out a sunglasses shape and have your child decorate it with paint, glitter, fabric, crayons, or whatever you can come up with.


I also showed them a book called "ToThe Beach!" written by Linda Ashman, which besides being a rhyming picture book, it is also really funny. The children couldn't stop saying "These people are crazy!"




Also read: IN THE WOODS and UNDER THE SEA
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