IH Bratislava – 10th annual conference

Back in February, International House Bratislava hosted its 10th annual conference. What follows is a summary of the sessions I attended, focussing on ideas I found most useful for my own practice. If you’re not interested in teaching, stop reading right here.

Johanna Stirling: Teaching Humans

Jo’s plenary was a very good reminder of the fact that students are like teachers: they procrastinate, want respect, (don’t) get things done, (don’t) cooperate … Sounds familiar? Keeping in mind that students come with ‘baggage’ – their own experiences, opinions and feelings – lessons should address that we deal with humans. How to do this?

Firstly, by building an element of choice into the lesson. Students choose their own vocab, the topic, the person to work with … They shoulder responsibility for their learning.

Secondly, by using gamification. This means incorporating elements of competition or rewards. There’s an option of competing against oneself by use of personal targets. Jo also pointed out that people might need a break from gamified education.

The third way to make a lesson suitable for humans is personalization. Finding individual links within the language helps students to get to grips with the language. One way of achieving this is by asking questions like: How are you going to remember this? Does this remind you of anything else? When will you be able to use it?

Jitka Urbanov√°: Can Speaking be taught?

In a nutshell, probably yes. When teaching speaking, it is essential to keep in mind what the aim of a speaking activity is. Are we focussing on accuracy or fluency? What are the social aspects of a situation? What is transferable from the students’ home language; what needs to be taught?

My favourite activity was this: give students the beginning of some sentences, set a time limit and let them finish each sentence in as many different ways as they manage within that time. It incorporates all three elements from Jo’s plenary!

Most importantly is, however, to give the students feedback at the end of an activity.

 Johanna Stirling: Words Words Words

The big question students and teachers face is how to get those hundreds of thousands of words into long term memory? (This is not asking about how to retrieve and use them afterwards.)

There are five important steps: make students want to know the word, make it visual, link known to unknown words, personalize & activate, and review & recycle. I’m not going to look at all of those, but at one activity which I loved. Here are the instructions:

Have students sit in a small group in a circle with their hands on their knees. Put new vocab on pieces of paper face up in the middle of the circle. Read out a sentence with the last word missing. Students grab the missing word. Correct – point, wrong – miss a turn. Watch out for long fingernails!

Jon de la Fuente: Old-fashioned Teacher

I really liked Jon’s comparison of teaching to a form of art: there are different ‘styles’ like grammar-translation or the Direct Method. However, as a teacher I can exercise my form of free will and cherry-pick from each method what suits my learners best without having to adhere to one style only.

I’m picking three examples of methods here which are sometimes seen as old-fashioned, but which I think can greatly enhance students’ learning. As so many things in teaching, it depends on the context.

The first is translation into students’ first language. Jon cited Scott Thornbury in support of this, and you can read about the pros and cons here.

A second old-fashioned activity is the use of dictionaries. I have to admit, I love dictionaries, especially since they come with audible pronunciation these days! Students have to learn how to deal with the information a good dictionary can provide them with. They also may need to acquire the skills to judge what makes a good dictionary.

Lastly, tell the students they are wrong! Boom. Obviously, this applies to their language errors (content is an entirely different kettle of fish). I have met teachers who were extremely reluctant to correct students’ errors, for different reasons. But as one of my students pointed out just today: ‘How can I learn if you don’t tell me where I’m wrong?’


A Collection of Critters

Our latest walk took us along lakes and canals, through fields and forest to the Danube. This time, we were accompanied by Tomas, whose experience in twitching and knowledge of all things natural was a great asset. We looked out and listened for the tiny and the great ones, and everything in between. The first Aesculapian snake of my life! Aesculapian snake

Lots of insects were out and about, e.g. dragonfliesdragonfly:

or a Painted Lady:painted lady

We spotted Military Orchids:military orchid

Of course, there were also plenty of birds. House Martins: house martin


Great Spotted Woodpecker (female):female great spotted woodpecker

We also heard Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Nightingales, Sedge Warblers and Golden Orioles and saw Common Kestrels, Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, Grey Herons and Egrets flying by.

On the Danube, there were Shovelers, Black Terns on migration, a Pygmy Cormorant and these Shelducks (with Black Headed Gulls in the background):common shelduck

A fabulous spot we’ll certainly visit again:on the Danube

From Rajka to Rusovce

Our walk today took us from Rajka, a small village on the Hungarian side of the border, to Rusovce, back to Slovakia. We mainly followed a canal parallel to the Danube, and spotted the most wonderful bits and bobs of wildlife. But first, we admired the church in Rajka, its statue of Christ with a Toothache and a Whovian Weeping Angel.weeping angel Along our way, many flowers were in bloom. I liked the poppies best. poppymute swan

Among the bigger birds we saw were Mute Swans keen on preening (not yoga) and several Grey Herons. On a slightly smaller scale, we sgrey heronaw different kinds of ducks.The Goldeneyes are aptly named (for update see comment section), the Red-crested Pochards almost.goldeneye male and femaleredcrested pochard

We also watched a Mallard with her chicks crossing the canal rather in a hurry. Lots of gulls in the skies!female mallard with ducklings

Although I’ve seen my share of gulls and terns, I still find it a bit tricky to distinguish between Black-headed Gull and Common Tern. At least, when they are not next to each other. blackheaded gulltern

The very small birds were amongst the loudest. The male Reed Warblers sang marvellous rhythmic pieces, and yes, they were well camouflaged in the reeds.reed warbler

Even smaller birds, male and female Stonechat, were busy collecting materials for nest building. male stonechat female stonechat

And the Starling kept himself busy with foraging.starling