Monday, May 28, 2012

Easy Peasy Lesson Plan: Imagine If Game

Imagine If

We made "Imagine If" cards last week, based on this game, where you vote on what you imagine someone would be if they were an invention/crime/cartoon character.  It has been a blast to play with our students!  If you don't have the game, don't worry -- it is very easy to re-create.

Grades: Primary - High School.  One group of my 8th graders was resistant when I explained the game, but after we started to play, they had so much fun.  I haven't tried it with high schoolers yet, but I believe that with modified cards some of my classes would be into it.

You need: Index cards and a pen.  That's it.

Our cards look like this:

Imagine if I was an animal that could fly.  Which flying animal would I be?

To make other cards, simply replace the italicized text with another prompt.

Some of the other cards we created were, "Imagine if I was a/an..."
in a movie
musical instrument

Here is how the game works:

One student (Student A) comes up in front of the class and reads the card aloud to the class.
Each student writes down their vote of what they think that student would be.
Student A votes too, but keeps the vote secret.
When everyone has voted, each student reads their vote, and Student A reveals their vote.
Any student that voted for the Student A's choice gets a point.
Student A gets as many votes as students who voted for his/her choice.

For example, if Student A voted for 'hawk' and 5 students in the class voted for 'hawk', each of the 5 students would receive 1 point, and Student A would receive 5 points.


This is a very fun and revealing game in how well students know one another, and how they perceive each other.

Talk time is high!  Students are reading the card, repeating the choices, and even facilitating the game in some cases!  To my amazement, some of my classes orchestrated the game themselves without direction from me.

I imagine that some students could even work together to create the cards.


Have fun and as always, let me know how this works for you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

tumble of

I was in a relationship with someone who had the courage to be so broken.  He was equal parts tight defense mechanism and baby-soft.  He fell apart regularly, a tumble of shudders and tears.  It was annoying, exhausting, and draining, at the time.  The way he shook, opening.  The shudders, the snot, the cries of a child -- the neediness drove me crazy.

It was terrifying, because it was (as everything in life is) a reflection of my self.  Of my pain.  There was a shock of light from the reflection, from what I saw in him that was of my self.  Mostly, there was my trembling hand holding the mirror as far away as possible.  I did not want to see that deep into myself.  I did not want to see the shards, or the chasms.

Well here I am.  A tumble of shudders and tears.  Needing.

I believe that cracks let the light in, and I am so splintered.

It came to me in yoga, through tears like a fist to the throat, that I am experiencing the same kind of regressive pain that he felt.  The darkness that swallowed him has its mouth over my trembling heart.

He gave me this profound gift, a gift I didn't know how to receive gratefully or gracefully, how to open.

But I am open now.  Ha ha ha.

Another circle closed.  Another mystery solved.  And more questions, tumbling.

What to do now, with this new punch of broken feeling?

I guess the usual tricks: breath, gentleness, gratitude.

Yes, gratitude.

Today I am thankful for all of my teachers, thankful for the gifts.

I am thinking of how many I have that I don't know about yet, how many are waiting to be opened.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Easy Peasy Lesson Plans: Personality Quiz

Hello dear readers.  I am starting a new feature.  Once a week I will write about an easy peasy lesson plan that has been successful for me, and that I hope will be successful for you as well.

Scouring the internet for lesson plan ideas is like bra/shoe/toaster shopping.  It can take a long time before you find something close to perfect, and even then adjustments must be made.  On that note, I hope this will be helpful for all of you ESL teachers out there!



Grades: 8-11, possibly some 7th graders

You will need: some English-Native Language dictionaries, personality quizzes and result pages (see the bottom of the post)

1. Brainstorm "Personality" on the board

- what is a personality? (translate to native language, what someone is like, personal characteristics, personality traits)

-CCQ (concept check question, meant to ensure understanding) personality using students in class (what is Roli's personality like?  do you think Fanni is shy?) and/or celebrities.

- where does our personality come from? (family [genes or influences], friends, life experiences, our surroundings, zodiac signs)

In some classes I asked each student to list a personality trait.

Another idea is to challenge the students to a competition -- students work in pairs and write as many personality traits as they can.

2. Take personality quiz
I went around as the kids filled out the surveys, offering help as needed.

3. Calculate your score

4. Read and discuss results
The students read their results, and translate words as necessary.

I talked to the kids about their results.  Did they agree?  Which parts were true of their personality? Which parts were untrue?  If they didn't agree, was there a different personality description that fit them better?

We also compared results, and I asked them what they thought of their classmates' results.

If you would like a more structured lesson (or to ensure your students actually understand their results and are not just agreeing without knowing what they are agreeing to), you could have the students translate their result (younger or less advanced students can translate the adjectives), and/or list what was true and not true for them.

It would also be fun to compare the results in the class on the board using a graph, and look for parallels.  I did this activity shortly after a lesson on Zodiac signs, and it could be interesting to compare zodiac signs to these personality results.

Every class has loved this lesson!  I have done this with 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th graders.  I think it appeals to adolescents especially as they are developmentally quite self-centered and focused on self-discovery.

Speaking levels were higher than usual!  And . . . finally, relevant vocabulary!

One more thing: make sure to stress that this is not an actual "test."  One of my students, upon calculating her score, changed all of her answers so that she would get the highest score.


1. When do you feel your best?

a. In the morning
b. During the afternoon and early evening
c. Late at night

2. You usually walk

a. Fairly fast, with long steps
b. Fairly fast, with short, quick steps
c. Less fast, head up, looking the world in the face
d. Less fast, head down
e. Very slowly

3. When talking to people you

a. Stand with your arms folded
b. Have your hands clasped
c. Have one or both your hands on your hips
d. Touch or push the person to whom you are talking
e. Play with your ear, touch your chin, or smooth your hair

4. When relaxing, you sit with

a. Your knees bent with your legs neatly side by side
b. Your legs crossed
c. Your legs stretched out or straight
d. One leg curled under you

5. When something really amuses you, you react with

a. A big, appreciative laugh
b. A laugh, but not a loud one
c. A quiet chuckle
d. A sheepish smile

6. When you go to a party or social gathering you

a. Make a loud entrance so everyone notices you
b. Make a quiet entrance, looking around for someone you know
c. Make the quietest entrance, trying to stay unnoticed

7. You're working very hard, concentrating hard, and you're interrupted. Do you..

a. Welcome the break
b. Feel extremely irritated
c. Vary between these two extremes

8. Which of the following colors do you like most?
a. Red or orange
b. Black
c. Yellow or light blue
d. Green
e. Dark blue or purple
f. White
g. Brown or gray

9. When you are in bed at night, in those last few moments before going to sleep, you lie

a. Stretched out on your back
b. Stretched out face down on your stomach
c. On your side, slightly curled
d. With your head on one arm
e. With your head under the covers

10. You often dream that you are

a. Falling
b. Fighting or struggling
c. Searching for something or somebody
d. Flying or floating
e. You usually have dreamless sleep
f. Your dreams are always pleasant

Add up your points using the table below:


Over 60 points: Others see you as someone they should "handle with care" You're seen as vain, self-centered, and who is extremely dominant. Others may admire you, wishing they could be more like you, but don't always trust you, hesitating to become too deeply involved with you.

51 to 60 points: Others see you as an exciting, highly volatile, rather impulsive personality; a natural leader, who's quick to make decisions, though not always the right ones. They see you as bold and adventuresome, someone who will try anything once; someone who takes chances and enjoys an adventure. They enjoy being in your company because of the excitement you radiate.

41 to 50 points: Others see you as fresh, lively, charming, amusing, practical, and always interesting; someone who's constantly in the center of attention, but sufficiently well-balanced not to let it go to their head. They also see you as kind, considerate, and understanding; someone who'll always cheer them up and help them out.

31 to 40 points: Others see you as sensible, cautious, careful and practical. They see you as clever, gifted, or talented, but modest...Not a person who makes friends too quickly or easily, but someone who's extremely loyal to friends you do make and who expect the same loyalty in return. Those who really get to know you realize it takes a lot to shake your trust in your friends, but equally that it takes you a long time to get over it if that trust is ever broken.

21 to 30 points: Your friends see you as painstaking and fussy. They see you as very cautious, extremely careful, a slow and steady plodder. It would really surprise them if you ever did something impulsively or on the spur of the moment, expecting you to examine everything carefully from every angle and then, usually decide against it. They think this reaction is caused partly by your careful nature.

Under 21 points: People think you are shy, nervous, and indecisive, someone who needs looking after, who always wants someone else to make the decisions and who doesn't want to get involved with anyone or anything. They see you as a worrier who always sees problems that don't exist. Some people think you're boring. Only those who know you well know that you aren't.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Truth about Teaching

After 45 minutes of agony with my 8th graders, I walk next door into Peter's classroom to return the English-Hungarian dictionary that I borrowed.

"Was everything okay?" he asks.

Usually I lie, or downplay, but today I don't even smile.  "No."

"I thought so."


It is my first day back to school after a week of sick leave.

Maybe this is why I have less patience than usual.

Or maybe, it was Norbi, who hoisted his chair, ready to throw it at Tamás.

It's a good thing I am paid to run intervention.

Some days, I teach.

Other days, I swear under my breath and fantasize about throwing them out the window.

I could lasso them, I think, bundle them all together.

But that would take the pleasure out of tossing them one by one...


My voice is hoarse, and not just from yelling at children.  I am recovering from a throat infection, from days of being so sick I didn't leave my bed.  After doctor visits in broken English and hungry hours (2 of them, while I was fasting for my labwork) of waiting to give my blood and urine, I was diagnosed with a UTI.

Have you ever had one?

Don't do it.

It feels like (and pardon the imagery, but there is really no other way to put this) a dagger shoved up there.

If you have to do it, keep a couple of things in mind.  Don't schedule it at the same time as your menstrual cycle.  And do yourself a favor -- get up early enough to take the bus to work.  Or walk.  Yeah, do that.  Whatever you do, don't ride your bike.

It feels like a lot of things, none of them good.


Earlier in the day, I saw Peter in the teacher's lounge.  "Have you given the students grades?" he asked me.

At most of my schools, I give the students monthly grades and this factors into their overall grades for English.  At this school, on my first day, Peter told me that I could give them grades if I wanted to, but that I didn't need to.  I didn't give them grades.  I have never given them grades.

Today, however, four weeks before school is out for the summer, I am asked to give them grades.

Can this be reason #3149 that my job is really hard?

That, and I was never given an official class roster for any of my classes.  Which means I don't know my student's full names.  Do you know how many Balazs' go to this school, only a couple of whom I teach?  Lots.  So how exactly am I supposed to give them grades?  Beats me, but apparently Peter is confident I'll figure it out.

Oh!  And can reason #3150 be that I teach a total of 198 (one-hundred and ninety-eight!!!!) students split between 4 (four!!!!) schools?



Quick!  I need summer!  And quite possibly shock therapy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Eötvös Graduation: If You Want To Sing Out

Kathryn and I were invited to perform at the "School Leaving Ceremony" (Graduation) at Eötvös last Saturday.  Pisti, my Hungarian friend/co-worker/tutor, asked if I would sing for the graduation ceremony.  Their first choice was Without You (that poppy gem by David Guetta and Usher), but shock of shocks, I declined that offer.  It's not really in my range...

After much debate, Kathryn and I decided to play a cover of Cat Steven's "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out."  

Wanna see the video?

There you go.

And here are some photos.

Congratulations, graduates.

My brother is graduating this weekend.  I wish I could be there, balloon phobia and all.  Stings like a bee.  Love you Steven.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Open Now: A New Song (with video!)

I wrote this song in the wintertime.  It is called (at the moment) Open Now.

This is a really rough recording, imperfect and raw.


Open Now

Will you look how it's all opened up since you stopped squeezin'
And grace moves through you on the path where sorrow's been heavy breathing
You say my eyes and heart were closed when I washed up here, when I washed up here

Well I'm all out of bravery, fresh out of strength
And what was once so strong and hard is cardboard in the rain
Labor pains I'm about to give birth to something
Call the doctor, call up to god, c'mon people get ready

Cause I am open now
Come out wherever you are
I am open now, now, now
Come out wherever you are

And grief it is a heavy thing
Don't know if I can hold it
And pain's been knocking persistently
but I've ignored it
And now it's called for back-up and it's knocking down my door
I'm un-hinged, wide open, feeling insecure

Cause I am open now,
come in whoever you are.
I am open now, now, now
come in whoever you are.

A Visit to Visegrad

So I took off for Visegrad yesterday.  The Danube, like many things in life, is strikingly beautiful when the sun hits it, and muddy upon further inspection.

I took a ferry across the river and into Visegrad, which is a charming town that winds with the river.

There is a castle at the top of the hill, but I only had ballet flats, thanks to rule # 2361 when travelling: don't be too prepared.  Normally, I am not much for rules, but I follow this one to a T.  No way were those puppies making it up the hill.

Look at this rusty green-capped building!

Pisti, whose qualifications include film afficianado, Hungarian literature teacher at the gimnazium, and my Hungarian tutor, took the same train as I did to Budapest.  Thank goodness (or really, just thank Pisti), because I didn't really know where I was going.  No big surprise there -- this is my usual state.

Dragon cloud about to chomp down on the moon!

I am tree, hear me roar!  Or at least, look at my scowl. 

Now that you've seen dragon cloud and grumpy tree, let's move onto the main event in my Visegrad stay: the jazz festival.

I saw a local flyer for a jazz festival, with a free show in the park, and I was stoked.  My usual self/universe-congratulatory dialogue started: "Wow, my life is so great!  This kind of thing is always happening to me!  A jazz festival on the day I am in Visegrad?  Shucks!"

I walked the path along the river, strolling past families splashing in the water and 2,000 too many couples sating their appetites for love (a.k.a sucking face; PDA is pandemic in Hungary) on picnic blankets, and that's when I heard it.

I would know it anywhere, and you would too.






You Can Leave Your Hat On

It totally makes sense that they played this song, this jazz classic, because hello! we're at a jazz festival.

Oh my god, Hungary, you make no sense!!


Let me set the scene for you.  I was too entranced (or maybe dumbfounded) to take pictures.

We are in a "park" which is really just a patch of green grass.  About 20 white plastic lawn chairs sit in front of the stage, and around 10 vendors are selling clothes, pottery, and sausages.

On stage, a guy who can only be described as "beefy" wears a black Harley Davidson t-shirt that hugs his mound of a belly, and a rock-star grimace.  He thrusts his white handkerchief in the air before using it to wipe his forehead just above his glasses.  He is trying to be Eddie Vedder, and it is not a success.  To back him up, we have Bandanna-Man, a guy with long sandy brown hair covered with a black bandanna.  He wears camouflage cargo shorts and his head rocks up and down as he stands in the power stance.  He could be 14 years old, playing air guitar in his living room, and I kind of wish he was.  Apparently, so does everyone else, because the applause is pitiful.

The drummer and bassist complete the band both musically and aesthetically.  The drummer has impressive 70s-style-hair: long sun-blonde curls (I smell a perm) and the bassist is clearly the most bad-ass of them all.  A shaved head, AC/DC shirt, and tattooed sleeves.  They cover classic rock songs with gusto.

Where am I again?  In Hungary, right?  At a jazz festival?

Suddenly I am not too sure.

But either way, I'm amused.

I was positively charmed by these hillside houses. 

I walked through the town to a local cemetery.  Two women tend gravestone flowers.  Teal plastic watering cans hang by their elbows, next to a hose.  Jo napot kivanok, a woman smiles to me.  I do the same.  I am looking at all of the names and the dates, overgrown flowers pushing their way to the sun.

What I am really thinking about is the Holocaust, about all of the names and dates we don't know.  I have been reading Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees, and I am queasy as I walk through the cemetery.

I wonder whose flowers she is tending.

I heard a story on NPR about a woman in Maine who goes to the cemetery to scrub grave stones, the shock green and black of lichen disguising the names.  She spends hours each day scrubbing.  At the time of the interview, she had cleaned over 1,000 gravestones.  I wonder who will kneel in front of her grave, scrubbing.