Thursday, October 31, 2019

Finished: Syllabus Design by David Nunan...a review coming at some point. (Life is a bit hectic at the moment, so we'll see...)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Words Ending in -el Crossword Puzzle

(TESOL Worksheets-- Spelling)
Google Drive Folder HERE
Crossword Puzzle: Drive (made using
Crossword Puzzle Answers: Drive
Slideshow (for pre-teaching): slides, pub
(In my classes I used this with English World 5, Unit 8 p.89, Spelling: words ending in el)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

My Two Cents on the Martin Scorsese/ Francis Ford Coppola Controversy

For anyone who hasn't been keeping up, see these links:
From The Guardian: Martin Scorsese says Marvel movies are 'not cinema'
And Francis Ford Coppola: Scorsese was being kind – Marvel movies are despicable

A brief history of Cinema:
The 1930s
Image result for tarzan the ape man

Image result for flash gordon serial

The 1940s
Image result for house of frankenstein

Image result for captain marvel serial

The 1950s
Image result for the beginning of the end movie

Image result for tarantula movie

The 1960s

Image result for batman adam west movie

Image result for 1960s that darn cat

Image result for superman 1970s movie

Image result for battle for the planet of the apes 1970s movie


Image result for tron movie

Image result for the last starfighter movie


Image result for dick tracy 1990

Image result for spawn movie poster

...and many, many, many more examples, which you could probably think of yourself just as well as I could.

Which is, of course, not to say that Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies are at any way on the same level as Taxi Driver or The Godfather.  They're not, and no one should argue that they are.  You're improving your mind by watching The Godfather.  Marvel Movies are, on the other hand, simply a pleasant waste of time and nothing more.

But the obvious point is that we've always had mindless low-brow trashy movies.  Arguably if you look at the history of cinema, this is the medium's default form, and the more intellectual films of Scorsese and Coppola are the exception.

The way to evaluate the Marvel movies is not to compare them to The Godfather.  The way to evaluate them is to compare them against other movies in their genre.  And for my money, movies like Captain America: Civil War, Thor Ragnarok, and Infinity War are looking pretty good compared to the usual super-hero movies.

(Note: I'm rehashing arguments I've made once before in a previous post HERE).
Started: Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers by Kathleen Graves

Friday, October 18, 2019

Bone by Jeff Smith (A Partial Review)

(Graded Reader)

I used these comics in my ESL classroom (as part of my Story Time project), so I'm including this in my Graded Reader Book Reviews list.  But this isn't actually a graded reader.  This is an authentic comic book designed for American children that I used in the ESL classroom.

Background Information / Why I Used This Book
I never read this as a kid.  It was slightly after my time.
According to Wikipedia, Bone was serialized in comic book form from 1991 to 2004, but it didn't really gain true fame until it was collected in collected bound volumes by Scholastic Inc., at which point it apparently became a staple for elementary school libraries and young adult bookstores.

I don't remember when I first heard about Bone, but I began to notice it popping up here and there. I think I had a couple comic book geek friends back home who spoke fondly of it. I had one co-worker in Cambodia who I remember used to use excerpts from the comic in his young learner lessons.  I also remember Whisky Prajer's 2014 review, which definitely piqued my interest.  To quote from part of it:
Those of us who retrieved the Bone books off our kids’ bedroom floors were astonished to see the sensibilities of Carl Barks and Walt Kelly merging seamlessly within a Lord Of The Rings epic cycle.
So I was definitely interested in Bone, but I was hesitant to use it in the classroom for a long time.
The series is long.  It's one continuous story, which ran for 55 issues in the original comic book format (and 9 volumes in the collected bound editions).  I knew that if I started it, I would never finish it.
When I use comic books in the ESL classroom, I break them down into small bite-size bits--usually about only 50 panels per lesson.  It usually takes me several lessons to get through just one single issue of a comic, so I would never be able to do all 55 issues.
But after a while, I started to run out of good ideas for comic books to do with my Young Learner class.  And I began spending progressively longer and longer searching through the Internet trying to find appropriate material.  As I wrote in my review of Marvel Classic Comics #9 "Dracula" :
My students had been really engaged, and I hated to lose that engagement by introducing a less-exciting story.
So I spent a long time (longer than I like to admit) going through all the classic comics I could find on the Internet (both old issues of Marvel Classics and Classics Illustrated.)
Eventually, I decided I actually wanted to find a never-ending story--something that would engage my students week after week, and I would never have to worry about it running out and having to find something new.
So I went with Bone.  It lasted me for one year.  Over the course of 74 lessons, we got through the first 28 issues of the comic (out of a total 55).  And then the class finished, and we had to finish there.

...and as of this writing, I've not actually read the remaining 27 issues.  Because of spoilers on Wikipedia, I know in general where the story is going, but I haven't read the issues myself yet.  I may read them someday if I ever get my hands on the physical paper copies, but I weary of reading too much stuff off of the Internet, so I stopped reading the comics when I ran out of a reason to prepare them for the classroom.*
So this is really only a review of the first 28 issues.  Consider this a partial review.

The Review
You perhaps noticed that in the quote above, Whisky Prajer describes Bone as Carl Barks + Walt Kelly + Lord of the Rings.

As bizarre as that combination sounds, this is actually a fairly accurate description.

According to Wikipedia, Jeff Smith is open about citing all 3 of these as his influences.

A major influence on Smith was Scrooge McDuck creator Carl Barks. Alluding to Barks' influence on Bone, Smith commented, "I always wanted Uncle Scrooge to go on a longer adventure. I thought, 'Man, if you could just get a comic book of that quality, the length of say, War and Peace, or The Odyssey or something, that would be something I would love to read, and even as a kid I looked everywhere for that book, that Uncle Scrooge story that was 1,100 pages long."[17] Another influence on Bone, and Smith's biggest influence in writing comics in general, however, is Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo.[17][19][20]
The story starts out on the cartoonish side. The Bone cousins are on a journey across a desert.  Although there's not an exact 1-to-1 correspondence with any of Carl Barks' creations, the three Bone cousins are very much archetypal cartoon characters that could easily show up in a Disney comic book.  Phoney Bone is the greedy and scheming one.  Smiley Bone is the dumb and goofy one.  The main P.O.V. character, Fone Bone, is mostly the straight man who is constantly getting annoyed at the antics of the other two, but he is also himself comic relief, as he is always nervous and a bumbler.

The three Bone cousins then make their way into a magical valley, where they encounter all kinds of talking animal characters, many of whom speak in regional dialects that are very reminiscent of Walt Kelly's talking animals.  And if the comparison to Walt Kelly wasn't obvious enough, there is a family of possums who befriend Bone.

Stealing again from Whisky:
...but amid all the cartoonish antics of Fone Bone and his two cousins, another plot element is slowly introduced.  Gradually, very gradually, the Bone cousins discover that not all is as it seems in this valley, and that there is actually a looming confrontation approaching between the forces of good and the forces of evil.  And that's (obviously) where the Tolkien influence comes in.

The slow transition from cartoon slapstick to epic story is the genius of Bone.  As Whisky puts it:
The first six volumes of Bone still astonish, with their artful juxtaposition of slapstick and yearning, menace and subversion of expectations**
But having so far praised this comic so much, I now come to my criticisms:
Namely, that there is so much padding in this story.
Probably a result of the story originally being serialized in monthly comic book form, the major story beats are carefully rationed out.  Several issues will go by with nothing much happening, all building up to a major event.  But then, just when you think, "alright, now things are finally starting to happen," the story drops back again to a slow build-up.
Also, another result of monthly serialization is that each issue is full of exposition in which the characters have long conversations that rehash the plot for the benefit of any new-comer.***

The Results in the Classroom
So, good news, my students loved this story.

They always looked forward to reading it together every class, and they usually complained that we didn't read enough each time.
At least one student got so into the story that he tracked the comic down online and read ahead to the end.  So he at least got loads of language input out of this story.  Which is always the goal of these story reading projects.
And a couple of my students were able to find some of the bound volumes in bookstores in Vietnam, and bought them to read at home.  (This makes up for some of my guilt about stealing the comic from online sources.  I'm now indirectly responsible for putting some money into Jeff Smith's publisher.)

The students loved the talking animals and the crazy slapstick parts of the story.  However the initial enthusiasm for the story did wane a little bit once we got into the more exposition heavy parts of the story.  The students began to get frustrated that quite often, nothing of substance would happen in the story for some lessons.
Fortunately they never gave up on it completely, however.  They understood that if they stuck out the boring parts, a climatic slapstick or action scene would be coming again sooner or later.
If the class hadn't come to an end, I would have continued on with the story indefinitely.

Linguistically, much of the idiomatic and colloquial language was over their heads.  But they were usually able to pick out enough to follow the plot of the story.  As much as possible I let the visuals of the comic carry the story.  Every once and a while the students would have a question about some of the language, and we got into some interesting discussions about some of the phrases the characters were using.  But for the most part, language wasn't a big problem.  (These students were roughly A2 on the Common European Framework).

Other notes:
So, wouldn't you know it, just as I'm finishing up writing this post, I see that just yesterday Netflix announced they're making a series based on Bone.   (How's that for timing?):
Netflix is turning the classic comic book 'Bone' into a series
(Wait a minute: "Classic" comic book?  This thing didn't even finish up its initial run until I was in my 20s.  Is it a classic already? Am I getting that old?)

* My source for the comics is here:  I didn't have any problems with it, but I'm not entirely sure its safe.  Use at your own risk
**In the very next sentence, Whisky goes on to caution that: "The final three [volumes], however, settle into an apocalyptic rut—entertaining enough, but no real surprises."  I'll have to take his word for it at this point since I never made it to the end.
*** It sounds like from Wikipedia that some of this fat may have gotten trimmed down for the collected editions, but I was using the original comic books as my source.  (Although as I type this, it occurs to me that perhaps I should have edited them down a bit myself.  But for better or worse, I kept them mostly**** unedited.)
****I say mostly unedited, because there were a couple scenes of Fone Bone leering at one of the female characters: once when she was disrobing, and again later once when she was bathing.  I don't normally like editing stuff out, but this was obviously inappropriate for the classroom.  And what's more, I realized it could be seamlessly cut out without losing anything of substance to the story.  So I just omitted those panels.

Addendum: Rose by Jeff Smith
While my class was still working its way through Bone, I found out via Wikipedia that there was a prequel series to Bone called Rose.

I debated with myself for some time whether the knowledge of the backstory to Bone would enrich the story, or take away from it.
But at a certain point in the story, the Bone narrative itself got bogged down in a lot of exposition and backstory.  And at that point I thought maybe it might help to liven things up a little bit by slowly introducing the prequel series.
I got two lessons out of Rose, before I decided it was one of my less inspired ideas.  Keeping track of all the characters in Bone was confusing enough for my students, without also trying to do the prequel story simultaneously.  So we dropped it.

Link of the Day
Nathan J. Robinson interviews Noam Chomsky

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

My daily commute:

The Kenh Te Bridge connecting District 4 and District 7 in Ho Chi Minh City may span less than 800 meters, but it is dubbed the southern metropolis’ longest bridge, given the amount of time commuters have to spend crossing the structure.
This has been my daily commute since September.
Previously I had lived right in the city center, which was a nice easy commute to work.  But now that we've had the baby, I wanted to move out of the city center in an effort to get the baby away from all the traffic in the middle of the city.
Numerous people warned me that the commute from District 7 would be rough, but my mind was made up.  "I don't care.  I'll put up with the traffic jams.  The most important thing is that the baby is healthy."

...and I still stand by that decision.  But the morning commute still depresses me every day, and makes me re-evaluate my life choices.
Today in: Hey! I know that Guy!
From the CBC: A tale of two tenants: B.C. renters feeling affordability squeeze as parties campaign on housing
Musician and local health worker Peter La Grand is among grappling with the swelling costs of living in Metro Vancouver. He and his wife are both working professionals, with three kids.
After renting in Vancouver for years, the family recently was accepted into a co-op — a victory he describes as like "winning the lottery."
But times are still tough.
"We sold our car a few months ago to try to make things simpler, so our costs are really food and rent. And even then … I give the image that the water is right here (below our heads). And we keep treading water, but we're not saving."
La Grand says he plans to vote, and hopes representatives make a push toward building more social and co-op housing.
I collaborated with Peter on some of the Calvin College liberals projects back in the day.  See HERE and HERE for some re-counting.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

ESL English Language Learning--Listening and Reading--Audiobooks--Stories
A friend and co-worker sent me the link to this website.  He says that he uses it for his students, and even enjoys some of the audiobooks on here for his own benefit.

I've had a look around the site, and it definitely looks like something which would be beneficial to give to intermediate or advanced students for independent study.

My own materials are here:

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

The Fascism Issue--Revisited

It will be interesting to see how things develop the next few days.  But there have been a lot of worrying signs.
In addition to all the shocking news coming out about how Trump has been breaking the law (which is pretty shocking in and of itself), there's been the disturbing news about how Trump has been reacting to the investigation.

Donald Trump's tweet alleging a coup:
As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the....
....People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!

....If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress

And his comments suggesting that the Whistle Blower should be executed:
“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now,”

This is not how someone talks who wants to respect the democratic process.  
But, as with everything else that has happened the past 3 years, the worrying thing is not just the fact that Donald Trump has said this.  The worrying thing is that this has not been universally condemned by people across the political spectrum. Donald Trump is still supported by the Republican Senate.  He still has the support of a large percentage of Republican voters.  

How did we get to this point?  If a significant portion of the population can't recognize this as dangerously unstable language, then our democracy is no longer functioning.  

So, then, what are we evolving towards?
That, ultimately, remains to be seen.  But there was another piece of news today which may give some indication of a possible direction.  From the BBC:
According to an excerpt, the president privately suggested to aides that soldiers shoot migrants in the legs, but he was told it would be illegal.
Previously, Mr Trump had made a public statement suggesting soldiers shoot migrants who throw rocks.
Mr Trump suggested other extreme measures, according to the book.
"Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh," reads the extract.
So we have a President who is not only showing dictatorial tenancies, but who also wants to shoot migrants.
This is no time to mince words, so I'll just say it: This is fascist.

...and yes, I know this word has gotten over-used a lot.  And yes, I know we're all sick of people using the word "fascist" on their blog posts to describe their political opponents.

But this combination of a desire to destroy the democratic process mixed with this desire for increasing violence... what would you call this if not fascist?
I'm not saying we're a fascist society yet.  But what I am saying is that we have a fascist president. 

Now again, the problem is not only Trump himself.  In theory, there are checks and balances in the United States constitution to prevent someone like this from becoming a dictator.  But those checks and balances require the political will to act. And at this point in time, it will require the Republicans to put their country ahead of their own political party.

All the current predictions are that the Republican Senate will never vote to impeach Trump.  I guess we'll see.  Maybe things will change.  But it's shocking to me we've even gotten to this point.  How could it not be obvious to everyone at this point that Donald Trump needs to go?


I just don't understand how things could possibly have gotten to this point.
I guess I've been living abroad for so long, maybe I never realized how much America was changing while I was away.
I don't recognize America anymore.  This isn't the country I grew up in.  I don't understand how this could be happening now.


Back on November 16, 2016, I wrote a blog post entitled: Obligatory Post Election Blog Post: Part 7--The Fascism Issue.  I concluded by saying
Donald Trump's campaign may definitely have courted elements of Fascism, but (to repeat what I said earlier) I believe the institutions of American government are stable enough to withstand this.  There are enough checks and balances in the American system to prevent any one group from getting too powerful.  And as long as a lot of people still oppose Donald Trump (and a lot of people still do) then we won't be seeing a rapid conversion to a Fascist state anytime soon.
I may have to take back those words.


With Donald Trump, the eternal question has always been: Are we supposed to take him seriously, or not?
After all, he's not a traditional politician.  He's an Internet Troll who got elected as President.  He delights in saying deliberately provocative things just to get a reaction from people, and he doesn't intend to follow through on most of what he says.  Half of what he says today will be forgotten by tomorrow anyway.
And it's working for him.  He's worn us all down to the point that we've become used to it.  His  supporters now expect it as part of his game.  And the rest of us are not really shocked anymore when he says outrageous things.

That's the only explanation I can think of for why everyone hasn't turned on him yet.  Maybe no one is worried about this threats of civil war, because no one ever took him seriously?

But these comments would be unacceptable if anyone else said them.  And Donald Trump shouldn't be getting away with them either.