Monday, November 30, 2015

PowerPoint Presentation for IELTS Task 1 Describing a Process Writing

(TESOL Worksheets--IELTS Writing Task 1)

Since I posted several sample IELTS essays last December, I've been continuing to get good use out of these in my IELTS classes.
This is a PowerPoint I designed to supplement three of the essays on describing a process.  I used this for a 2 hour lesson in which the first half of the lesson was examining the three sample essays, and the second half of the lesson was working through the textbook: IELTS Express Upper-Intermediate Second Edition (A).

As such, the second half of the PowerPoint presentation makes references to pages from the IELTS Express Upper-Intermediate Second Edition textbook, and can't really stand as an independent activity.  But I've decided to post the whole presentation as is, on the theory that anyone not using the same textbook can easily delete the slides that they don't need.

The Presentation can be found at Google Drive, Slides, Pub.

Anyone not teaching out of IELTS Express Upper-Intermediate Second Edition should delete the title slide (slide 1), and then everything after slide 32.

The three sample essays that are meant to be included with this lesson can be found here, here and here and are also embedded below.

I also designed a worksheet to help guide the students through their writing.  This is of interest only to someone using the IELTS Express Upper-Intermediate Second Edition, but it can be found on Google Drive, Docs, Pub.

One more note: the information on the PowerPoint about the frequency of Describing a Process questions on the IELTS test comes from an informal conversation with a colleague.  (He'd probably be horrified to know I had actually quoted him on it).  And so it should be taken with the appropriate amount of salt.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

How Much Do you Know About the Chinese Literary Canon?

You've all seen the article on Columbia students who are supposedly traumatized by having to read too many white authors, right?

It's been making the round on the web, under various sarcastic headlines, such as this one here:
Columbia Student in Anguish Because She Has to Read Books by White People

I suspect the conservative websites who are widely reporting this event are exaggerating and getting the details mucked up.  (Something that happens quite frequently, according to this article 4 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Free Speech and College).   But as someone who has no insight into this particular set of events, I'll just take the articles at face value for the sake of argument.

Assuming the conservative complaints about censorship on college campuses are valid, I should state clearly that I'm against censorship.  I'm not advocating removing Ovid or Shakespeare from the curriculum by any means.  But there's no denying that there is a serious imbalance in the school curriculum. As someone who's lived in Asia for the past 13 years or so, I can perhaps offer another perspective.

I've spent 8 years in Japan, 4 years in Cambodia, and am in my first year in Vietnam.  I've never lived in China, but I can attest how big an influence the Chinese literary classics have on all other countries in Asia.  Chinese classic novels like Journey to the West (W) or Romance of the Three Kingdoms (W) are widely read and studied in every other South East Asian country (as well as anywhere there is a Chinese diaspora, like Malaysia).  In Japan, they are the source of numerous comics, television shows, and animated cartoons.  In Vietnam and Cambodia, all the school children instantly recognize these books.  Whenever I need an example of a famous novel that my students will recognize, these are always my go-to examples anywhere in Asia.
And these are just two examples of a rich, ancient, literary history that China has (W).

Now, how much does your average American university student know about Chinese literature?  Nothing, right?
Imagine all of those college literature majors out there, who consider themselves well-read, and can't even name a single work of Chinese literature.

This was certainly me at 23.  I studied literature and history at college.  I thought I was quite well read.  But I didn't have a clue about any Chinese literature.
I still haven't read these books, to be perfectly honest.  But at least now I have the decency to be ashamed of this gap in my literary history.  And at least now I'm aware that they exist and have a certain amount of passive knowledge about them, in the same way I know about Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno, Don Quixote, and all the other books in the Western canon that everyone in the West knows about whether you've actually read them or not.

Now dig this--adding some Chinese books to the school curriculum would not be the equivalent of putting in obscure  folk tales from some tribe in Africa that nobody's ever heard of just to keep the hippies happy (to illustrate the popular conservative parody of multiculturalism in U.S. schools.)  This is the literary canon of half-the world!  And barely anyone in the U.S even knows it exists!!

You'd think we could find a little bit of room for this in the classroom.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Nostalgia Critic does Dragon's Lair

I have some childhood memories of this game, which I suspect are probably very similar to those of anyone of the same age.  So I'll write my memories up, and see if anyone can identify.

I was 5 years old when Dragon's Lair first came out.

Children don't have much control over their own mobility (especially in the American suburbs, where it is impossible to get anywhere without going on a car ride).  So I didn't get to the video game arcades as often as I would have liked.  But there was the occasional party at ShowBiz Pizza (back when there still was a Showbiz Pizza(W)).  And there also were occasional trips to Putt Putt Golf, which had an arcade (back when there still was a Putt Putt Golf).  Plus, for a while during the 1980s, many family restaurants used to have video games in the waiting lobby.

So, I would see this game around, and I do have childhood memories of it.

It's funny the way the mind of a child works.  A child doesn't have any sort of sense about what things are normal, and what things are abnormal.  A child just assumes that whatever they experience is the way the world has always been.
So I had no idea how revolutionary the graphics were on Dragon's Liar.  Nor did I fully appreciate that this wasn't so much a video game as a series of short little movies with a joystick.

It was only until years later, after Dragon's Liar had disappeared from the arcade, that the memory of this game began to confuse me.
In the early 90s, when video game graphics were still quite primitive, I began to have vague recollections of this memory from the mists of early childhood.  (Time passes slower when you're a child, so the 10 years or so between 1983 and 1993 seemed like an eternity of time had come and gone.)  But the memory just confused me.  Was I really remembering a video game that had graphics as good as a cartoon?  How was such a thing possible?  Did I just dream the whole thing up, or were these memories real?

It wasn't until the Internet and Wikipedia fully came into it's own (about another 10 years later) that I finally got closure on the Dragon's Liar issue.

Friday, November 27, 2015

From the AVClub
R.I.P. Setsuko Hara, Japanese screen legend

The article is very interesting if you read the whole thing.

As for me, I recently enjoyed Setsuko Hara's acting in Late Autumn.  Rest in Peace.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

In, At, On Prepositions of Time--Doraemon PowerPoint Game

(TESOL Worksheets--Prepositions)

So, once-again, here is a PowerPoint game in which I can take no credit for the template or the questions, but I just want to preserve my work of filling in the boxes.
One of my co-workers recently downloaded a number of these PowerPoint templates from the Internet. (Apparently they come mostly from English Teachers working in South Korea.) This one is credited to Kyle Ludeke.  And all the questions come from English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy (A).
There are several questions in which I think more than one answer is possible.  Although only one answer appears at the bottom of the screen, the teacher should use their discretion on a few of these to allow alternative answers.  
I've also allowed my American bias to change "at the weekend" to "on the weekend".
PowerPoint on Google: Drive, Slides, Pub

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Request Cards (For Eliciting Polite Ways to Say No)

(TESOL Worksheets--speaking)
Google: Drive, Docs, Pub

[These are conversation cards.  They are designed to supplement a lesson (from Lifestyles Elementary textbook in which students are taught how to say no to a request using indirect language.  They could also perhaps be adapted to a lesson in which the emphasis is on forming requests.  There are twelve cards in the set.  (Originally I was hoping to make 20, but I ran out of ideas and, as always, I was rushing to finish these cards before class.)
The students are given one card each, and walk around the classroom making requests.  The other students have to give indirect refusals.
Because this was an elementary class, I also designed a PowerPoint to supplement it (Drive, slides, Pub).  We went over all the requests ahead of time, so that there was no confusion about vocabulary.]

You are moving apartments next week.  You have a lot of heavy furniture, and you need to find someone to help you lift it.

You have just returned from vacation.  You have 2,000 photos from the holiday saved on your computer.  You want to show these photos to your friend and tell them all about your vacation.

You’re going to be going on vacation next week, and you need someone to watch your dog while you’re gone.
You’ve just written a long report for school.  Before you hand it in to your teacher, you want your friend to check it first and make sure there are no mistakes in it.

You don’t have enough money this week, and you won’t get paid until the end of the week.  Try to get your friend to loan you some money just until the end of the week.

You don’t have to go to work tomorrow, so it’s time to go out partying all night tonight.  Of course, it’s no fun to go out by yourself, so try to find someone to go with you.
You’ve just read the most amazing book ever.  You have to get everyone you know to read this book.  Tell them how wonderful it is, and insist that they read it.

You need a friend to drive you to the airport tonight.
You’ve got a lot of homework tonight, but you don’t want to do it.  Try to get one of your friends to do it for you.
You have started your own business selling baked goods.  Try to sell them to your friends.

You lost your phone somewhere in the building.  Get a friend to help you look for it.
You brought too much food for lunch today.  Try to give it away to somebody.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The other day I overheard a conversation in the staffroom in which a co-worker was telling several friends that a lot of people don't understand how Starship Troopers is really a satire.

Of course, I immediately thought of this article.

You already knew that Starship Troopers was a satire, because any time somebody mentions this movie, they follow it up with an explanation of how nobody understands that it's a satire with a glint in their eye that, if you zoom in, is actually the concept of irony dying in a house fire. This is a movie in which the heroes dress in actual Nazi SS uniforms and high school teachers explain "the failure of democracy." The movie uses satire the way an eight-year-old uses curses when her mother is at the grocery store. Everybody gets that this movie is a satire. Everybody.

Although to be fair, although I can be smug and pretentious about it now, I do admit to being very confused about this movie when it first came out.
I think my confusion was mainly due to the disconnect between the actual themes of the movie and the way it was marketed.   It wasn't marketed as a satire, it was marketed as just another shoot-em-up science fiction exploitation film.
See also my review of the book Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, and my thoughts on Paul Verhoeven's DVD commentary.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hello President Hillary

Because these blog archives are stored on-line permanently (and of course by "permanently", I mean "as long as it fits Google's business model to continue to host this blog for free"), I thought it might be fun to engage in a little game of prognostication, and then check back in a year's time to see how I did.

Although right now, dear reader, I imagine you're rolling your eyes and saying, "Oh, way to try to take credit for the obvious ones!  I suppose you're also going to predict that the snow will melt in spring."

That is what you're thinking, right?  This is pretty much a foregone conclusion, right?

I mean, we're going to have to put up with the media circus for another 11 months, but this is pretty much inevitable.

There's no way that the Democratic Party Establishment is ever going to let Bernie Sanders get the nomination, and so Hillary's nomination is inevitable.

And what in the world is happening over at the Republican Party?  They're self-destructing right before our eyes.
There's no way any of these guys could possibly win in a general election.

I mean, seriously, what is happening?  Has there ever been a point in history where one of the two major political parties has been in such disarray?  (I guess maybe if you go back to the dissolution of the Whig party, or something like that.  But certainly nothing within living memory, right?)  I can't imagine what future historians are going to write about this whole debacle in 50 years' time.

However, before I as a liberal get too smug about this whole thing, I need to concede three obvious points:
1). The fact that half of the political power in America has gone this crazy is nothing to feel smug about--it should be something that scares us.
2). Although the Republicans are paralyzed in their presidential election bid, they have been doing quite well in congressional and state elections.
3). This is as much about the failure of the Left as it is about the failure of the Right.  With the American Right disintegrating into craziness, the American Left should have been an attractive alternative to people.  But it's been failing to make any ground.

As for Hillary...
As someone who has been - critical of Hillary in the past, I of course have mixed feelings about her election.  But let's face could have been much, much, much worse.  As someone once said, there are two political parties in America, the sane business party, and the insane business party.  If we do have to be ruled by the business interests, we might as well have the sane party doing it.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky on Power and Ideology

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Past Continuous Cards for Conversation

(TESOL Worksheets--Past Continuous)
Google Drive Version Here , Google Docs Version HerePublished Version Here
[The cards are cut up and posted around the room.  Students are put in pairs, and instructed to walk around the room and talk about each of the cards.  When they finish talking about one card, they move to the next one.]

Think about a news event that you remember very vividly.  (For example, the death of a famous celebrity, a big political change, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, et cetera).
What were you doing when you first heard the news?

Have you ever broken a bone?
If so, what were you doing when you broke your bone?
If no, then think of any other injury (big or small) that you can remember.  What were you doing when it happened?

Think about the first time that you fell in love.
What were you doing when you first fell in love?

Think of some big news you received in your life.  For example, receiving the news that you got into a school you applied for.  Or receiving the news that you got the job you wanted.
What were you doing when you received the news?

Think of a time in the past when your parents scolded you.
What were you doing when your parents scolded you?

Think of a time when you were very surprised, shocked or startled.
What were you doing when you got surprised?

Think of a time when you saw something very beautiful or very amazing.
What were you doing when you saw the beautiful or amazing thing?

Think of a big noise that you heard recently.
What were you doing when you heard the big noise?

Think of the last time you remember feeling very happy.
What were you doing when you felt very happy?

Think of a time when you felt extremely bored.
What were you doing when you felt very bored?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Past Continuous Mingle Activity

(TESOL Worksheets--Past Continuous)
Google Drive Version Here , Google Docs Version Here--Published Version Here
[A mingle activity for past continuous.  Students are required to go around the room and interview 3 other students for each question.]

student 1
student 2
student 3
Think about the last time your phone rang.  What were you doing when your phone rang?

What were you doing when the teacher walked into the classroom today?  (If you came late, then what was the teacher doing when you walked into the classroom?)

What was happening in your house when you woke up this morning?  (Think about what the other people in your house were doing.)

What was happening in your house when you fell asleep last night?

When you left your house this morning, what was happening in your neighborhood?

When you came home yesterday, what were the other people in your house doing?  (What were your parents doing?  What were your brothers or sisters doing?)

What were you doing when the sun went down last night?

What were you doing when the sun came up this morning?  (Were you still sleeping, or were you doing something?)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tom Sawyer Detective by Mark Twain

(Book Reviews)

And so I come to the end of the Tom Sawyer series, after The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer Abroad .  

(Actually, if you're a real completist, according to Wikipedia, there are three more unfinished Tom Sawyer stories that were never published during Mark Twain's life, but were all published posthumously (W)--but I'm going to stop here, and just stick to the finished books in the series.)

I don't have a lot to say about this book, so this will hopefully be a pretty short review.

Like Tom Sawyer Abroad, this book is one of the lesser known sequels to The Adventure of Tom Sawyer.
Like Tom Sawyer Abroad, this book was written to get Mark Twain out of financial difficulty.

As with Tom Sawyer Abroad, this book is decidedly NOT a great work of literature.  And yet, it's short, it's easy to read, and it's got a few good chuckles in it along the way.  And so, I give it a recommendation, because it falls under the heading of "Well, you might as well read it if you're at all curious, because it's so quick and easy to read."

Judged purely on it’s plotline, I’d have to say this story is pretty bad. It relies on several incredible coincidences and contrivances.

It is also one of those murder-mystery stories in which the reader can guess what happened long before the characters figure it out, which makes it very boring for the reader.

What saves this book, then, are two factors. First of all, it’s very short. (Only about 60 pages in my edition). And a lot of faults can be forgiven in a story if the author keeps it mercifully short.

Secondly, there’s just enough glimpses of the old Mark Twain humor to redeem this story. For example, there's a wonderful little scene where Tom Sawyer uses reverse psychology to convince his Aunt Polly to send him and Huck Finn on a trip down to Aunt Sally.
There's another scene where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn try to make up excuses as to why they arrived home late, and just get keep getting caught in one lie after another, until their Aunt Sally just loses all patience with them and drops the subject.
And there's another scene where Tom Sawyer gets very upset when Huck Finn suggests a missing person might not have been murdered, and accuses Huck Finn of being selfish for suggesting such a thing.  (In Tom Sawyer's mind, a murder-mystery always means excitement, and for Huck Finn to suggest no murder has taken place is, to Tom, an act of unbelievable selfishness).

There's not quite as much humor in this book as there is in Mark Twain's better books.  (This obviously wasn't his A-game on display here.)  But there's enough little gems here to mostly redeem the story.

I've already written a lot about the character inconsistencies in my review of Tom Sawyer Abroad, so I won't go through all that again here.  I'll just note that the characters appear in slightly different forms in each story, and leave it at that.
In this story, Tom Sawyer is now somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes type character--a brilliant wunderkind who notices all sorts of little things that the ordinary townsfolk overlook, and is thus able to solve the mystery that baffles everyone else.

Other Notes
* As of this writing, the Wikipedia entry on this novel claims (W) it is a sequel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a prequel to Tom Sawyer Abroad.
This novel was actually published two years after Tom Sawyer Abroad, but someone at Wikipedia decided it was actually before the events of Tom Sawyer Abroad.
I'd be curious to know how they arrived at this.  It's possible, but it's not at all definite from reading the text.
Both Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective refer back to the events in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  (In Tom Sawyer Detective, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn go back to stay again with Aunt Polly and Uncle Silas in the town where the climatic events of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took place.)
However, Tom Sawyer Detective completely ignores all the events that took place in Tom Sawyer Abroad.

* The plot of this little story is completely ridiculous.  Among other incredible coincidences, it revolves around identical twins showing up and disappearing at very convenient times.
Mark Twain starts off the book by acknowledging the story is far-fetched, but claiming: "Strange as the incidents of this story are, they are not inventions, but facts—even to the public confession of the accused. I take them from an old-time Swedish criminal trial, change the actors, and transfer the scenes to America. I have added some details, but only a couple of them are important ones."
Some research on the Internet reveals this claim may be half true.  Mark Twain apparently plagiarized the plot of the story from a Danish novel, and this Danish novel was apparently loosely based on some sort of reported incident in the 17th Century.
So for anyone keeping score, I guess that's one sin removed from Mark Twain for inventing a ridiculous plot, and one score added for being a plagiarist.

*  So, this is not the only Mark Twain murder mystery that involves identical twins--Pudd'nhead Wilson also had identical twins as part of its story.
This blogger here claims that Tom Sawyer Detective therefore works great as in introduction to Pudd'nhead Wilson.  (Presumably to see how the story gradually evolved in Twain's mind).  Maybe.  Except I believe Pudd'nhead Wilson was published first.

* Aside from character inconsistencies, I think there's at least one plot inconsistency in these books.  In both Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are constantly thinking of get-rich-quick schemes.  In Tom Sawyer Abroad the boys flirt with the idea of starting a business selling genuine Sahara sand back in the United States.  In Tom Sawyer Detective there's a pair of stolen diamonds that the boys are trying to get the reward money for.
In both books, Mark Twain seems to have forgotten he already made these boys rich.  At the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck discover a cave full of gold, and all the money is invested on their behalf by Judge Thatcher.
...of course, I guess you could smooth over this apparent inconsistency by just arguing that the boys are insatiably greedy.

* The publisher's introduction in my volume (written by Stuart Hutchinson) does a good job of articulating how indulgent Mark Twain became towards his young hero by this last book.  He explains it much better than I could, so I'm just going to steal his analysis.

So much, too, for the Tom Sawyer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, who was already losing much of his authenticity in Tom Sawyer Abroad.  Like Twain himself he has always wanted to star on centre-stage, to the extent that Twain, in Chapter 19 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and as an act of self-criticism, makes us aware of "all the vicious vanity that was in him".  Also he originally counters Tom's fanciful sense of himself as an outcast by giving us a real outcast in the haunting and menacing presence of Injun Joe.  While Tom is the indulged hero of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he isn't given this role on a plate--unlike in Tom Sawer, Detective. "How did you manage that?" the judge asks in this later novel:
Tom says, kind of easy and comfortable, "Oh, just noticing the evidence and piecing this and that together, your Honour; just an ordinary little bit of detective work; anybody could 'a' done it." "Nothing of the kind!  Not two in a million could 'a' done it.  You are a very remarkable boy."
Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky: What is Special About Language?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Past Tense Speaking Topics 2

(TESOL Worksheets--Past Simple)
Google Drive Version Here , Google Docs Version Here--Published Here
Feedback on Powerpoint: drive, slides, pub
[I already have one set of speaking topics for the past tense, but I had to invent another one when the school curriculum required me to revisit the past simple tense with a group of students who had already done the first set of cards. I posted these cards around the room. The students were then told to walk around the room with a partner, and discuss the various topics on the cards using the past simple.]

Talk about the first time you went to the cinema:
How old were you?
What movie did you see?
Who did you go with?
How did you feel about that movie?
(If you can’t remember the first time you went to the cinema, then just talk about the earliest movie experience that you can remember.)

Talk about your first day of school:
What did you wear that day?
How did you get to school?
What was your teacher like?
What was your first impression of school?
What was your first impression of your classmates?

Talk about your first friend:
How did you meet?
Why did you become friends?
What did you do together?

Talk about your first crush: 
How old were you?
Who was it?
Did anything happen?  Did you do anything?

Talk about an embarrassing situation from your past:
What happened?
What did you do?

Talk about something you did in the past that you are really proud of:
What was the situation?
What did you do?
Why were you proud?

Talk about something adventurous that you did in the past:
What did you do?
What happened?
How did you feel?

Talk about a time in the past that you were really scared:
What made you scared?
What did you do?
What happened in the end?

What was the stupidest thing you ever did in your life?
What did you do?
Why did you do it?

Talk about the best meal you have ever eaten:
What was it?
Where was it?
Why was it so delicious?

Think of a time when you were really angry at someone:
Who were you angry at?  (Your parents?  Friends?  Teacher?  Classmates?)
Why were you so angry?
What did you do?

Think of a time when you were really grateful to someone:
Who were you grateful to?
Why were you so grateful?
What did you do to show your gratitude?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Past Simple Tense Mingle 2

(TESOL Worksheets--Past Simple)
Google Drive Version Here , Google Docs Version Here--Published Here
[I already have one past simple mingle activity, but I designed another one when the school curriculum required me to review the past simple to a group of students who had already done the first mingle.]

Talk to three students.  Ask them the following questions:

student 1
student 2
student 3
Where were you born?

Where did you grow up?

What subjects did you like at school?

Who was your first friend?

Where did you go on your first trip?

What elementary school did you study at?

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

Where did you go yesterday?

What job did you want to do when you were young?

What sports did you do in high school?