Sunday, 31 May 2009

Susan Boyle- Eating My Words

Well, what a shock! What a night! I was really confident yesterday and predicted that Susan Boyle would win this year's Britain's Got Talent hands down and by a long margin. I was wrong, but hey, that's life. Totally unpredicatable and fascinating. The dynamic dance troupe "Diversity", who put on a truly spellbinding and electrifying display for the final, won a £100,000 prize and will perform in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. Susan Boyle was magnaminous in her praise for the winners. Judge Amanda Holden stole the show in her amazingly glamorous figure-hugging crimson Ralph and Russo dress.

In Seventh Heaven

This morning, worthy winners Diversity must be feeling very happy indeed. In fact, they will be over the moon, on cloud nine, elated, overjoyed, ecstatic. How will they cope with the pressures of the worldwide fame that will surely come their way? Only time will tell.....What do you think?

True Happiness is.....................
being with those you love and care about
doing whatever you want without any worries
eating your own homegrown produce

Lesson Idea: dictate the following phrases above and ask your students to jot down their ideas. Set a time limit and then get students to compare what they have written in pairs or small groups. This particular activity usually generates a lot of feelings and discussion.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Susan Boyle- The Final Countdown

Will singing sensation Susan Boyle crack under the extraordinary pressure she is currently under? I doubt it. Tonight she will sing her heart out in front of a world-wide audience, all fascinated by this totally unexpected 21st century fairy tale story. My prediction is she will win by a huge margin, despite the current backlash she is experiencing in certain corners. Judge Piers Morgan has said that Susan Boyle had fleetingly been thinking of "throwing in the towel". See this latest article from Yahoo. However, he is convinced that she can "nail it", (win easily). Simon Cowell has reportedly begged the singer not to give up at the eleventh hour. Everyone is rooting for her. (hoping she will win).

The Sound of Music
What a coincidence that I revealed one of my childhood secrets in my last posting "Nuns in the News" and confessed to loving the Sound of Music. Here's Hollie Steel, the ten-year-old finalist tonight singing her second attempt at "Edelweiss".

And the winner is........we'll have to wait and see the show tonight!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Nuns in the News

Posted by Picasa

The recent news and featured post in The English Blog about the group of men who were arrested in Crete for dressing up in nuns' attire has brought back memories of my youth when I was rather fixated in becoming a nun. The wonderful film "The Song of Bernadette", which won four Oscars in 1943 for Best Actress (Jennifer Jones), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Music and then of course, the amazing "Sound of Music", which won 5 Oscars in 1965, all inspired me to enter the mysterious, inner sanctuary of a convent....

This is one of my favourite songs from the musical- "Climb every Mountain".

Lesson Ideas

Talk about Childhood Ambition
Ask your students in pairs, to discuss what they wanted to be when they were young. Be prepared to tell them what you wanted to be, and if possible, to make it more personal, show them something which refers to your childhood dream , like I have demonstrated above.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" Write the above proverb on the board and ask your students to discuss the meaning. Then refer to the article about the men dressed as nuns and get the students to discuss whether this sort of behaviour would be acceptable in their countries or not.

Hypothetical Question
Ask your students to discuss the following question in small groups: If you had to organise a night out on the town with friends, maybe on the occasion of a "stag do" or "hen party", what costume or "accoutrements" would you suggest all your group could wear?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Fun "Twitter" Expressions

Twitter has been voted number one top learning tool of 2009 in a recent poll published by the Centre for Learning and Performing Technologies. I decided to set myself the challenge of creating a little dialogue about the top tool of the year after reading Nik Peachey's excellent "Quick Shout Blog" where he presented how to make comic strip cartoons by using Make Belief I was inspired to create the comic strip above. It was quick and very easy to do and I had a lot of fun! Please click on the cartoon to enlarge it.

Twitter and Colloquial Expressions
twitterless: being without twitter
tweetless: being without a "tweet" (a message on twitter)
a twit: a silly person
twitter on: go on about something
tweetie pie: a play on the endearment "sweetie pie"
cheers: thanks
no probs!: no problem!
a doddle: very easy, a piece of cake

I found out today that Janet's Abruzzo Edublog has been included in Onestopblogs!. I feel greatly honoured to be amongst other illustrious ELT bloggers and it's a very proud moment indeed. I hope to continue publishing posts that will inspire teachers and students of English.

Kalinago English Blog
Today has truly been fantastic. My blog has been mentioned in kalinago English Blog under the posting "Best Articles Circulating the Blogosphere - May 2009". I am happy that I am doing what I love and I am experimenting with new web 2.0 tools and trying to keep up in my own modest and very simple way.

Guess the Idiom
The picture below is a clue to an idiom which you might think applies to my writing about the two mentions above. Can you guess it???

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Are you up for some" Slang Fun"?

The film above consists of a little dialogue created in just a few minutes. I was inspired by Nik Peachey's "Quick Shout" Blog post about Dvolver. For students, this scene would be a nice introduction to the new expressions used by the two characters. I am sure students of any age would really enjoy making their own short mini-dialogues to practise slang, idioms or other vocabulary areas.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Villa Santa Maria - a Review

A view of Villa Santa Maria taken some time in the past

A few days ago I visited a delightful little village located at the foot of a vertical rock called La Penna. Two things made me want to go to Villa Santa Maria. Firstly, my best friend Wiesia had just sent me a cookery book called "The Food of Italy" by Claudia Roden in which Villa Santa Maria was mentioned in the Abruzzi and Molise chapter. Secondly, K had just read an article in Motitalia, a monthly magazine produced by The Federazione Motociclista Italiana, in which there was a full page spread on "La Panarda Abruzzese" featuring Villa Santa Maria. It seemed more than a mere coincidence that reading the chapter in the book and the article in the magazine both happened on the same day. I had to go.

An Awe-Inspiring Sight

It was a scorching day when we set off in search of the fabled , world-famous "Village of the Chefs". The story is that most Italian and internationally renowned chefs are trained in the Culinary and Hotel Management School located in the medieval village. We drove through beautiful countryside passing Alanno, Manopello Scalo, Guardagriele, Lago di Bomba until we finally set eyes on Villa Santa Maria in the distance, set amongst rocks and .....completely and unavoidably dominated by an enormously high, ultra-modern bridge. None of the reviews/articles had mentioned this fact nor indeed shown any recent pictures of this awe-inspiring work of humankind!

A Jewel of a Restaurant

We came across a delightful "agriturismo" called "La Casetta" which was tucked snugly under the bridge above. We had the most amazingly delicious food in the grand culinary tradition of Villa Santa Maria, served by a charming lady called Antonella. We were offered fresh, homemade "antipasti", gnocchi, roast veal and potatoes, lemon pie, red wine (for me) and espresso.

Picture above of typical Abruzzese "antipasti"

To begin with, we were the only 2 in the whole restaurant and the service was discreet and impeccable. After half an hour, the restaurant became completely full with the arrival of a very lively, joyful, talkative, ravenously hungry group of smartly dressed policemen, and voluntary workers in bright day-glo yellow uniform. Each of them very politely said "Buon Giono" to us in turn as they came in and we said "Buon Giorno" back about 20 times in the space of a minute. They were also served quickly and efficiently by Antonella and a co-worker. We enjoyed the rest of our meal with "gusto" in typical Italian fashion. I would highly recommend eating at "La Cassetta" as the food is delicious, the ambience welcoming and the staff are very friendly and charming. Its unique setting is a fascinating feature.

An Intriguing Question

We set off into the village and walked up narrow, cobbled alleyways. We were invited for a coffee by one of the villagers as we passed her house. We politely declined in true grand British reserved fashion but if we had accepted there would probably be a fascinating story to recount.... We walked up and up and passed a beautiful church. We marvelled at the beauty of this tiny village. Everywhere we went, we caught glimpses of the monumental bridge. How had the villagers reacted to it being built right over their homes? Why was there no mention of this bridge anywhere? It was as if this bridge did not exist at all.

San Francesco Caracciolo

The patron saint of Villa Santa Maria is San Francesco Caracciolo also known as "Patrone dei Cuochi d'Italia (Patron Saint of Italian cooks). He was born here on 13th October 1563. There is an annual "Sagra dei Cuochi del Sangro" ("Festival of the cooks of the River Sangro) every October. Another good time to visit is during the first two weeks of August when Villesi from all over Italy and the world return to enjoy the festivities of the Feast of the Madonna in Basilico.

The Remains of the Day

We made our way home marvelling at what we had experienced in this lovely village. The end of the day was fabulous with the most wonderful sunset captured by K just as we came towards home.

I would love to hear from any "Villesi" from Italy or abroad. I hope I have captured the essence of your delightfully unique village.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Good Earth

How did I spend our "Red Letter Day" yesterday? In the garden digging the vegetable plot ready to put tomato, pepper, melon, cucumber, peas and lettuce plants in. Have a look through the lovely pictures and words from "Farmgirl Fare's Blog" regarding the joys of lettuce. I can't wait to start eating my own freshly grown produce. It is indeed one of the true great pleasures in life.

Earthly Matters
Whilst busy digging away, turning the soil over with my spade, I was able to reflect on earthly matters. An empty plot of land which will soon become a source of fresh, organic food. I have never experienced the joys of organising my own vegetable patch. It's a first. I wish I had observed my father's techniques back in Oxford. He certainly has been blessed with the proverbial "green fingers". I have not opted for the "No-dig gardening" method. We'll see what happens doing it the hard way!

Down to Earth
I reflected on the fact that I am a "down-to-earth" (practical) type of person and it has stood me in good stead in life.

Lovely Compost
As soon as I have finished digging the soil, I will add some Growmore and then dig in my very own fresh compost to enrich the soil. I have been avidly reading Dr D.G.Hessayon's "the Vegetable Expert" which gives invaluable tips and advice on gardening matters.So what am I waiting for? It's off back out to continue my labour of love!

The "Credit Munch" Garden
I have just read an article regarding this year's Chelsea Flower Show. Due to the current economic recession and the "credit crunch" we are facing, the organisers of the show have reflected the times by focussing on greenfingered ideas for saving money. What is the most popular activity that has been taken up by thousands recently? Yes, you've guessed it....growing your own vegetables!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Slang dialogue - 2

I have just been inspired to create another Xtranormal movie after watching Russel Stannard's excellent video tutorial. It was simple to create and fun to do.

I would use the above short video extract as a listening activity to introduce the following colloquial expressions, or as a vocabulary review activity:



Once the students know the meaning of the words I would ask them to make up their own mini dialogue using the above and then act it out in front of the class. An alternative would be to get students to create their own video film in small groups or pairs and then view them open class.
I am certain students would find this sort of activity challenging and great fun.

Have a go yourself and see what you can produce and then report back here, if you like. Good luck!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Macmillan Webinar Feedback: Lindsay Clandfield - The Power of Lists

I have just attended my first live interactive Macmillan "webinar" hosted by the top ELT author Lindsay Clandfield on the "Power of Lists". The session proved to be very worthwhile and practical. The webinar was attended by teachers from all over the world including Russia, Turkey, Argentina, Morocco, Slovakia, Germany and Australia to name but a few. So it was a truly international and cosmopolitan mixture of people.

An effective talk
My computer behaved itself and everything went off without a technical hitch in sight. I was able to communicate short messages and do interactive activities via a text message box. The session lasted 30 minutes with 15 minutes at the end for questions from the floor and answers from Lindsay. The slideshow presentation was very effective with clear points and pertinent images. The timing was impeccable ( a sign of a good teacher, in my personal opinion) and Lindsay spoke at a very good pace. I felt involved and motivated throughout the talk.

Famous ELT lists
Lindsay explained his fascination with lists of all kinds and how they can be used in the classroom. His lists are always in groups of 6 things. We brainstormed 2 types of lists, personal and ELT- related, via our text message boxes. The six most famous lists in ELT are the following: I will write down the lists but not the subject matter- see if you can guess them:

  1. go-went-gone
  2. A1, A2, B1......
  3. linguistic, intrapersonal, logical-mathematical....
  4. noun, verb, adverb.........
  5. monitor, input+1, natural order.......
  6. the, of, an
6 things to do with lists
1) Take a list of your choice and get students to guess what the list is about. Eg
  • JKRowling
  • Bob Geldoff
  • Stephen King
  • Nick Hornby
The connection is that they are all famous authors who have also taught English at one time or another.

2) Dictate a list of the most disappointing sites visited by tourists round the world but leave out the first site. Ask students to guess what the first site could be and then as a follow-up, get them to think up their own list of best sites/disappointing sites etc. This is a very good communication activity and an excellent springboard for student production.

3) A fascinating site for lists full of chunks and common verb phrases is the following:

Get students to do their own "To do" lists and thus present perfect grammar can be exploited eg
"Have you done the shopping yet?
Yes, I've already done it / No, I haven't done it yet.

Another useful site suggested by Lindsay is

4) Lists are excellent resources to practise correct pronunciation and intonation.

5) Lindsay demonstrated an unusual icebreaker/speaking activity based on good things and bad things about having his particular name and surname. Eg with my name Janet Bianchini

Good things about my name?
  • I am named after the famous 1950s actress Janette Scott
  • Janet means "gift from God" in Hebrew
  • I share my name with Janet Jackson

Bad things about my name?
  • Not many people can pronounce my surname correctly
  • Not many people can spell it correctly
  • I used to be called "bikini" at primary school and I hated it

I like this activity as an icebreaker and I am sure students would have a lot to say on this topic.

6) Jumbled up lists
A good source of lists which can be jumbled up and then used to do a ranking / pyramid activity is the following from (for some reason, the site wouldn't allow me to hyperlink it here).

Finally, Lindsay showed us his blog entitled I have just quickly looked through it and it is indeed a veritable "Treasure Trove" for EFL teachers like myself!! I will enjoy looking through it at leisure and will try to add it to my RSS sidebar for easier access.

Final thoughts?
An excellent webinar and I can't wait for the next one on Wednesday 10th June.
Thank you Lindsay for a stimulating seminar!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Too much BLING?

For some unknown reason, I seem to like the word "bling". I have just read this article about one police force in England warning the general public not to wear too much "bling".
As I like wearing a bit of bling on occasions even in the garden (cheap costume jewellery from second-hand shops, I hasten to add!), would I be stopped by the Gloucestershire Constabulary if I happened to be walking around Gloucestershire in my usual attire?? An intriguing question.

Have a look at this Youtube video advocating the sale of "Bling" jewellery. I think you will get the meaning of "bling" if it is a new concept for you!

Is Big Brother watching YOU?

I don't know about you, but the story above does seem excessively OTT (Over The Top). Does living in England now involve you watching over every citizen and encouraging a world of snoopers, a world of secret surveillance, a "spy on your neighbour" society?? It used to be like this in the former Stasi state of GDR, where I lived for one year in 1982. I am still patiently waiting for information regarding whether I was surveilled during my time there......

1984 by George Orwell is an amazing book full of prophetic glimpses into our future and actual present. I was fascinated by it when I read it for the first time as a teenager. It seemed like a surreal society back in those days. However, I feel a lot of his vision is indeed true today and I think we are getting closer and closer towards an "Orwellian" society. Do you my readers, have any thoughts on this?

On Top of the World

Well, here I am sitting on top of my very own hand-made haystack together with Joey. It has taken me months of labour to get this far and I am justifiably proud of my handicraft. Indeed, I feel as if I am on top of the world and I couldn't be any happier. Such moments are to be cherished as they do not last forever. This picture reflects a moment in time. Life has a habit of dealing the unexpected and so the moral is "Enjoy the simple pleasures of life whenever you can."

As busy as a bee

The past few days have been spent in the garden busily pruning olive trees, tending to seedlings, turning over my fresh compost and getting down to digging my vegetable plot all in bright sunshine. On 13th June it will be the anniversary of my first year of life in the Abruzzo countryside and it has all passed unbelievably quickly. I feel I have adapted to my new life and I love living here. On 6th June, I will write about the day my life changed forever....

A bit of a hybrid
A very interesting question was asked of me by popps, a reader who has recently commented on my blog. Do I consider myself to be English or Italian? Well, my answer has always been that I am English, as I was born in England and spent most of my life in England. However, my blood is 100% Italian as both my parents were born in Abruzzo, Italy. I am in fact a Hybrid- a mixture of both. I would say my character is typically English - quiet and unassuming, but on the other hand, I do have a lot of typical Italian traits- namely, sociable, gregarious. My mother tongue is English and yet I was brought up listening to Italian. My grandmother Natalina, who lived with my family for 30 years, spoke very little English and in fact communicated to me only in Italian. However, I feel I do not speak Italian like a native and am trying hard to learn and brush up my skills.

Heart and soul
Another interesting question was where would I like my remains to be placed at the eventual end of my life. It may indeed be a taboo issue but it is one that is inevitable and unavoidable. Would I like to remain in Italy or be sent back to England?? Well, the answer is I don't know. My spirit will be in the ether and so does it really matter where my mortal remains are? My heart is English but is my soul Italian?? A fascinating question and one which I need to think about. It is deep and spiritual. If I find the answer, I will keep you posted.

Macmillan Webinar
On that truly philosophical note, I will sign off for today. I will soon be attending my first Macmillan "Webinar" and so I will hopefully write feedback on my experience at a later date. Til then have a good day!

Having fun with Joey and Kelly in the garden earlier today.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Abruzzo Review - Day 28: 31DBBB

Janet's Top Ten Adjectives
Abruzzo is a region spoilt for descriptive adjectives but here are my favourite ones:
  • awesome
  • rugged
  • unspoilt
  • breathtaking
  • wild
  • spectacular
  • magical
  • delightful
  • picturesque
  • mysterious

The food is amongst the best and most delicious in the whole of Italy. Here are a few of the local products which I have tried. Recipes courtesy of "I Sapori di Abruzzo e Molise" by Carlo Natali.

Grilled "scamorza"
"Scamozza" of Abruzzo is a cheese famous for its softness and delicate taste. Grease it well with olive oil and cook over a charcoal fire. It is an excellent hors d'oeuvre served hot with salt and pepper.

Chicken, King Francesco's II Way
It is said that this descendant of the Borboni Monarchy especially liked this dish while out hunting in Abruzzo. Cut a chicken into pieces and fry it lightly in olive oil with chopped garlic, rosemary, 1 bay leaf, half a chilli, salt and pepper. While cooking, sprinkle it with white wine and add pieces of green olives, capers and pickles.

Janet's Top Abbruzzo WinesThe Abruzzo region is blessed with an abundance of vineyards which produce world-famous wines such as the following:

Trebbiano D'Abruzzo
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

I only buy the local wines produced in this area. I can honestly say that they are indeed fantastic value. It goes without saying that they are modestly and discreetly imbibed and enjoyed to the full!

Janet's Top 5 Cities to visit in Abruzzo

Castel del Monte - for its picturesque setting
Civitella del Tronto - for its medieval fortress
Santo Stefano di Sessanio - for its unique panoramic setting
Castelli - for its wonderful ceramics
Sulmona - for its confetti

You must not leave Abruzzo without visiting its magnificent national parks and seeing some of its natural wildlife in action.

To finish off my little Abruzzo review, here is a video from Abruzzo:Pure Italy.

Abruzzo: Pure Italy - The best free videos are right here

Day 28: 31DBBB Addendum
I have just spent a couple of hours on a wild, tempestuous, rainy, windswept Sunday putting this little "Abruzzo" Review together, using Wikipedia, the Internet and my own limited knowledge.
If you haven't been to Abruzzo before, then please don't let recent well-documented events put you off visiting this relatively unknown part of Italy. It will be well worth a visit, I can assure you.

Abruzzo Reference List
Have a look at these sites which mention Abruzzo:
In Italy Online
Sherman's Travel Magazine
Fiat 500 Tour
Irish Times

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Susan Boyle - two lesson plans

There is a story that comes out once in a while which touches the hearts of a nation or indeed the whole world and that story today has got to be of the singing sensation Susan Boyle. Just browsing through the internet I have found 2 excellent lesson plans regarding this amazing woman, who is a natural in front of the cameras. She has the voice of an angel and has the guts to follow her dream whatever the obstacles that may come her way. I admire her and hope sincerely that the media does not turn her into something totally different to what she is.

I like to focus on topical stories of interest with my general English classes and I find this modern-day fairy tale is particularly eye-catching and moving. It is perfect for exploitation and for debate. It is difficult not to have an opinion.

Day 26 - 31DBBB: Link to another blog
News Lesson One comes via the super Kalinago English Blog and News Lesson Two via the excellent The English Blog. Both contain fantastic ready-to-go lesson plans complete with vocabulary exercises, speaking practice and video exploitation. Perfect for the busy teacher! Thank you Karenne and Jeffrey for these wonderful resources.

Somewhere over the rainbow...

Sometimes dreams can come true! Photo of a double rainbow taken a few days ago from our not yet finished balcony.
Ps The dark area between the 2 rainbows is called "Alexander's Band".

Youtube video update on Thursday May 14th 2009: Susan Boyle's interview with Oprah Winfrey

Friday, 1 May 2009

Day 25: 31DBBB Challenge

Today's challenge is to ask my readers a question. I have read ProBlogger's excellent article and have been reflecting on the reasons for asking a question and tips suggested.

Analysis of why I got no answers to 2 questions
I have looked through my recent blog postings and have found a couple of questions that I have asked but no answers via readers' comments as yet. What am I doing wrong? Maybe the questions aren't relevant to the topic or they are simply not interesting enough? Something is definitely lacking and what is obviously missing is a reply or comment. Anyway, like the captain trying to steer his/her ship round in the choppy waters above in the Youtube video, I will try to sail deeper and incorporate some of the tips from today's challenge. Maybe second time lucky?

Is there more to life than Twitter? (26th April 2009)
New format: "Do you think that Twitter is a valuable tool? If so, how has it changed your life? Or do you think Twitter is over-rated, over-exposed and over-hyped? If so, what are your reasons?"

In my view, Twitter has certainly opened up exciting avenues for me such as being a guest blogger on Free Technology for Teachers and connecting with people I would not otherwise have the chance to meet in person. On the other hand, how can one possibly "connect" with hundreds of followers at a time? Surely it is better to connect with "real" people in real time??

Do you think it is a good idea for the summer G8 Summit to be held in Aquila? (25th April 2009)
Maybe the phrasing of the question is a bit bland and vague? Will the following generate a response?
Should the summer G8 Summit be held in Aquila, a city recently ravaged by a devastating earthquake? How do you think holding a summit in Aquila will help the victims of the earthquake?

I thought this task was going to be an easy one but have discovered in fact that it is the very opposite. Writing a question involves a lot of thought and needs to be relevant to the issue.
Also it needs to be in the right place at the right time.

Self analysis is an essential feature in life. Without it, one can go astray....