Sunday, 20 December 2009

What's this?

I just had to share this short video of Jack's discovery of Christmas Town in A Nightmare Before Christmas. Considering other films by Tim Burton, such as Batman and Corpse Bride, I guess he prefers the dark and gloomy aesthetics of Halloween, but I would take shiny happy Christmas town over Halloween any day.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Teaching the Nobel Peace Prize

This week we spent our English lessons working on the Nobel Peace Prize. First we spent some time working on Obama's Nobel Lecture from last Thursday. You can watch the lecture here and read it here. The lecture is of course very complicated and the vocabulary is advanced to say the least. Despite this, however, my students appeared to watch and listen with concentration to the 25 minutes that my colleague had picked for this assignment. In addition, they answered questions about the lecture and I think they did quite well. Having learned about this years' Peace Prize the students worked in groups and prepared short presentations about previous Laureates. Here is a link to the lesson plan: Lesson Plan: The Nobel Peace Prize. The questions about Obama's lecture are made by one of my excellent colleagues at Sandvika upper secondary school. The picture is from flickr: Nobel

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Christmas is all around

My colleague Liv Kristin and I have made it a Christmas tradition to watch Love Actually with our English classes before Christmas. This year, it appears as though we are running out of English lessons, but I still have hope that there will be time to share this two hour dose of Christmas spirit with our students. In previous years, they've seemed to enjoy it as much as we do. If you are in the mood for more Christmas clips, visit Liv Kristin's blog.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Not teaching, but drowning... paper work. The pile of papers that need to be corrected and marked is now so enourmous that I feel there is no time for anything else. Still, sometimes you just have to take a (blogging) break. I haven't had much time to prepare lessons recently, but fortunately I have great colleagues that I cooperate with. One of them suggested we use the story "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan while working on the USA and immigration. The story is about a Chinese-American girl who is pressured by a mother who desperately wants her daughter to become a prodigy. It is an interesting story and my impression was that it also engaged our students. You can read and listen to the story here: Two Kinds by Amy Tan (there are also study questions on this page). For resources about culture and society (including the topic immigration) in the USA, see this page: NDLA - Culture and society in the USA The picture is taken from flickr: grownups

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

African Literature Week in Oslo

A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from our fabulous school librarian Ingrid. She told me about the upcoming African Literature Week here in Oslo. I was so excited to hear that Nigerian authoress Chimamanda N. Adichie would be visiting and I am really looking forward to hearing her talk tomorrow evening. Right now I am reading her latest book, The Thing Around Your Neck. It is a collection of stories, some from Nigeria and others about life for Nigerian immigrants in the USA. I am really enjoying the read and I have already found two or three stories that I think would be suitable for my English class. In fact, I hope to have a lesson with my class about Adichie and her country in the near future. I occasionally catch myself thinking and talking about Africa as if it was one country and this is a bad habit that I am trying to lose. Before I discovered this great authoress I did not even know that Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa (embarrassing). Now I am eager to learn more about this complex country and I hope Adichie's stories will have the same effect on at least some of my students. The image is of an Igbo (one of many peoples in Nigeria) mask and taken from flickr: "Mask"

Monday, 2 November 2009

An invitation for President Obama

Shortly after Obama announced that he himself would come to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, some of the teachers at Sandvika upper secondary decided to invite Obama to our school. It may be a shot in the dark, but we have too keep dreaming. Here you can read the invitation from our principal and the encouraging answer from the American Embassy in Oslo: Invitation to visit Sandvika High School in Norway Attached to the invitation was an etherpad document where our students have posted suggestions about how the President can spend the prize money. Photo from flickr: A vision for America

Politics in the USA

One of the competence aims in our curriculum plan is that our students in the first year of upper secondary are supposed to learn how to "discuss social conditions and values in various cultures in English-speaking countries". When we study the USA and American values we try to include at least the basics of American politics. This topic is in itself fairly complicated, obviously, but I think the text "Thirteen questions about American politics" (from the website presents the key facts and principles in a very student-friendly way (question 10 is outdated and left out in a later version, but apart from that the text is good). On this page you can listen to the text, do exercises and read a shorter version: Twelve questions about politics. Photo from flickr:

Sunday, 11 October 2009

"The danger of the single story"

I am quite simply in awe of Nigerian authoress Chimamanda Adichie after listening to her TED talk about "The danger of the single story". When I studied postcolonial literature I read (for example in Diana Brydon and Helen Tiffin's West Indian Literature and the Australian Comparison) about schoolchildren in British colonies whose only alternative was Anglo-centred and Anglo-dominated curricula. Adichie gives a personal account of this when she speaks about the consequences of the fact that the only literature available to her when growing up in Nigeria was American and British children's books. She goes on to remind us of our stereotypes and how they are reinforced by the constant repetition of the single story. This is really worth watching:

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Learning online

Today Sandvika vgs hosted a conference about learning with ICT and internet resources (see information in Norwegian here). I think it is essential for teachers to once in a while take a break from the classroom, meet other teachers and simply be inspired. Conferences, courses and seminars also make us reflect on the work we do and in an ideal world we return to our classrooms as better teachers. Will Richardson's talk about "Tools of the read/write web in schools" was one of the many interesting contributions. One of his main points was that the internet already is an important learning community for many children and teenagers. However, this learning happens outside of the classroom and kids choose themselves to find and use information about the things that they care about. A lot of the time kids don't even realize that they gain a lot of valuable and sometimes invaluable knowledge in the process. One of the main challenges for us teachers in the future will be to take part in and influence the learning community that already exists online. Right now children and teenagers are probably better at this than we are. Richardson used this video as an excellent example of how kids use the web to learn:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Linking words and phrases

My students have handed in their first papers and I have just started correcting them. Consequently my head is exploding with tips for my students about how they can improve their written language. This year like last year, a lot of my students have good vocabulary and grammar, but one thing that most of them need to work on is how to link the sentences and paragraphs of their texts together. If they could manage to use sentence connectors and linking words and phrases more effectively, their writing would become so much better. The always so useful Exploring English website has some exercises in English where students can practice using conjunctions and linking adverbials: conjunctions and linking adverbials, linking adverbials and sorting linking adverbials. Here are some more useful links on this topic: linking words and phrases and sentence connectors
Image from flickr:

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Reading strategies

Telling pupils to read a text is often an inadequate instruction if you would like them to really understand and learn about the content of the text. One of my colleagues found this eleven-point plan that can help pupils approach a text for the first time: Reading to understand a text and build your vocabulary. It can probably be used on most texts, but I think it is particularly useful when approaching somewhat complicated texts with a lot of information. Photo from flickr: "Day 79 - Focu+s"

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Literal videos

Some people had a brilliant idea and made these literal music videos where they replace the original song with a song about what is actually going on in the video. I think this Penny Lane one is hilarious. Perhaps the pupils could try this with a video of their choice...?

Video from youtube:

Sunday, 30 August 2009

New beginnings

Two weeks ago it was time to end a lovely summer holiday and get back to work at Sandvika upper secondary school. It feels great to be back, but the first weeks are always incredibly hectic. After two days (not enough!) of intense planning with colleagues it was time to greet the new first year pupils. Since they are new to me and new to each other we have to spend some time in the first lessons getting to know each other. At the same time, I think their motivation and eagerness to learn is at its peak right now and I have really tried to take advantage of that and get started with the serious stuff from day 1. One of the curriculum goals in English is that pupils are to be able to explain how English has developed from an Anglo-Saxon language into a world language. This is a fairly tall order for first year upper secondary school students, but my colleague LK has some good suggestions for resources on this topic on her blog. This page from the Norwegian publishing house Gyldendal also contains some good texts and activities: Global English (click "Timeline of English")

The fact that English has developed into a language spoken by hundreds of millions of people worldwide is perhaps enough to answer the question "Why learn English". Still, it is good if the pupils can say something about why English is important for them. During the first English lesson this year, I asked my pupils to discuss in groups why they learn English in Norwegian schools. Some are quick to reply "because we have to" (in other words "because we are forced to"), but after talking about it for a while they were able to come up with some good reasons as well as some good examples of how English can be useful to them in their future. In this listening exercise (see the bottom right corner of the page) textbook author Richard Burgess interviews students of English from various countries. I find these short interviews useful when pupils are to reflect upon their language learning and it is good for them to practice understanding English speakers with various accents. In addition, it serves as a good introduction to next week's topic, which will be English as a global language. Photo taken at Sandvika upper secondary school, Norway.

Friday, 26 June 2009

School's out least for the summer. There will be no more classes to teach or papers to mark for another seven weeks, and after two-three extremely busy months it feels well deserved to get a long break. At the same time I am looking forward to the new schoolyear that will start in August, and plans are already cooking in the back of my head. The weather here in Oslo is amazing, the water in the fjord is warming up and I plan to enjoy the outdoors as much as I can. I am also looking forward to catching up on my reading. My first plan is to finish reading Brady Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, which tells the sad but yet funny story of a young boy, "half-Apache and mostly orphaned". Next on my list are Siri Hustvedt's What I loved and Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, so nothing new. I am also planning to check out Vikas Swarup's Slumdog Millionaire to find out if it is suitable for reading in class the next schoolyear. If you should happen to stumble upon this blog in the next few weeks, I would like to wish you a lovely summer (especially if you are a teacher :-) Photo from Oslo, Norway and taken from flickr: De fire elementene

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Longing for summer

Today is the last Sunday I will spend marking papers (well, today I am marking my pupils' blogs from Norwegian class) this schoolyear. The weather outside is lovely and according to various mobile network operators I should be able to take my laptop and my work to the park due to the wonders of the wireless world. However, I have not yet encountered a laptop with a screen that can cope with sunlight, so for one more Sunday I am forced to remain indoors, and this poem by Jon Stallworthy is the closest I will get to parklife today. Enjoy:


Those daisies know too much!

Seeing that kiss, and now
touching what they touch
ought to have made them bow

their heads. You, pressing her thigh -
because you dared to look

your rival in the eye -

shall be pressed in a book.

Jon Stallworthy

Photo from flickr: Margaritas

Friday, 5 June 2009

Young man's plea for a healthy planet

At the international conference CC9 here in Norway powerful leaders gather this week to discuss solutions to the challenges of pollution and climate change. 13 year old Hermann Furberg impressed the powerful participants with this moving speech to the leaders of today from the young people who will have to handle the environmental challenges of tomorrow. It is really worth a look and a careful listen: The photo is from:

Saturday, 30 May 2009

The greatest love story of all time

This week in our English lessons we have worked on the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet" and we have also seen Baz Luhrman's film from 1996. Despite the fact that I love the play and know that it is the tragedy in it that makes it so beautiful, I always want the ending to surprise me so that Romeo and Juliet can live happily ever after. Perhaps a similar wish for a happy ending is what made Taylor Swift write the song "Love story". The song is full of a teenager's optimism (or is it?) and my pupils (the girls at least) seem to like it. In a shameless attempt at crowdpleasing I put together these questions about the classic balcony scene and Swift's popular song (some of the Shakespeare questions are stolen from the textbook Targets): Romeo and Juliet/ Love Story The picture is from flickr and shows the "Balcone de Giulietta" (Juliet's balcony) in Verona.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Poetry lessons

In tomorrow's English lessons (five lessons in a row) I will be talking to groups of pupils about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. While some pupils are talking to me about the novel, the others will have to work independently in the classroom, and my colleague LK and I have made this lesson plan for them to work on: Poetry lesson plan The plan includes study questions on poems by Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, Robert Frost and Leslie Marmon Silko as well as a task where the pupils are to follow a recipe in order to write their own poem. I have tried to find good readings of the poems (see lesson plan) on youtube, but I didn't really find anything I was very enthusiastic about. Instead, I'd like to share this reading of "A dream deferred" by Langston Hughes:

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Hooray for the 17th of May!

Anyone who has been to Norway on the seventeenth of May knows that we become a nation of enthusiastic patriots on this particular day. Journalist Chuck Haga of North Dakota's shares these "ten things you need to know if you aren’t Norwegian and find yourself invited to a Syttende Mai celebration":

1. Let’s get this out of the way first: Don’t sniff the air in your host’s kitchen and say with mock delight, “Ah, lutefisk!” They’ll know you’re faking.

Besides, lutefisk is for Christmas. The potential for disaster exists then, too, but it’s especially dangerous to work with lye-soaked cod in the warmer months.

Many recipes for lutefisk, handed down (not to say discarded) through generations, involve flattening the cod on a pine board, slathering it with butter, baking it on the board for 30 minutes, then tossing the fish and serving the board. (Yes, you’ve heard that joke before, usually involving duck or catfish. Where do you think it started?)

If you’re determined to make lutefisk part of your holiday tradition, you can find an honest-to-Odin recipe at (You have to wonder, though, about the reference there to “lutefisk from scratch.” Are there really boxes of pre-cooked lutefisk on shelves somewhere?)

2. Norwegian Independence Day.

Today isn’t that, though the day marks an important step toward independence and Syttende mai celebrations here and in Norway often resemble our Fourth of July.

May 17 is the anniversary of the day in 1814 when Norwegian patriots meeting at Eidsvoll produced a democratic constitution. Norway had been governed for almost 500 years as a province of Denmark, but the Danes were losers in the Napoleonic Wars, and the victorious powers handed control of Norway to the Swedish king. The Swedes, while taking control of foreign policy, graciously let the Norwegians keep their new constitution.

National feeling continued to swell in Norway, and the union ended peacefully in 1905. A prince of Denmark was invited to take the restored throne of independent Norway as Haakon VII. The reigning king, Harald V, is his grandson.

3. Swedes, Danes and Norwegians.

If this is a large party you’re invited to, there likely will be people of Swedish or Danish descent present. You may be tempted to say something like, “I can’t tell the difference.” Resist the temptation. As Hagar the Horrible once explained, after belting a French waiter who professed to see no difference, “Norwegians punch wise guys.”

4. Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans.

Not quite the same, either. There are more Socialists in Norway, for example, and they sometimes run the country. Norwegian-Americans tend to be more conservative, though earlier generations did champion the cooperative movement and join the Nonpartisan League. We also tend to be chubbier because we exercise less, though our Norwegian cousins apparently are catching up.

On Syttende Mai, Norwegian-Americans are prone to romanticizing the Norway of their ancestors, a rustic land, achingly beautiful but dirt poor. Norwegians sometimes resent this and point out that Norway today is a member of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and could buy Minnesota, especially at today’s valuation.

“Will there be lutefisk?” I once asked a friend in Oslo as Christmas approached. “No,” she said archly. “We have refrigerators now, and we thought you did, too.”

5. Language.

Visiting Norwegians: Don’t call child protection services if you hear one of our farmers talking about putting a coat of red paint on his barn. “Barn” may mean “child” over there, but here it’s something else. Same with your word for luck; you don’t want to wish your host a lot of “hell.”

6. Rosemaling.

It’s the beautiful and distinctive “flower painting” that adorns plates, wooden bowls and certain other surfaces in the old country but has found its way into unlikely places here, causing some visiting Norwegians great dismay. If you have rosemaled your dog’s water dish or the garbage cans, for example, hide them in the garage.

7. Food.

Yes, virtually all Norwegian-American food is white: boiled potatoes with cream sauce, cream porridge, rice pudding, potato dumplings, baked cod, lefse, flatbread. It’s why the better cooks put a jar of silvery pickled herring on the table. For color.

8. Ja vi elsker dette landet.

It’s the Norwegian national anthem, lyrics by Bjornstjerne Bjornson and first performed May 17, 1864, the 50th anniversary of the constitution (but not independence; see No. 1). You can learn the words, in Norwegian and English, at a Web site that also allows you to listen to Norwegian soprano Sissel Kyrkjebo sing the anthem accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Turn it up loud and be prepared to weep.

9. Emotion.

Except when Sissel Kyrkjebo sings “Ja vi elsker” or a Norwegian wins gold at the Winter Olympics, Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans tend not to display a lot of emotion. You may have heard of the Norwegian man who loved his wife so much … he almost told her. Anyway, don’t take it personally.

10. Bragging.

It’s another no-no. Again, we cite for authority a Hagar the Horrible comic. Hagar’s son is asking what he should say when people ask him about his ethnicity. “Tell them you’re a Scandinavian,” Hagar says. “And a Norwegian?” the boy asks. “Oh, no,” his father cautions. “That would be bragging.”

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to

I think I will have to share this with my pupils because I think it is interesting to learn how our culture looks from outside. Photo from flickr: Parade.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Stockholm Syndrome

, One of my pupils (Olve) posted this report from Jon Stewart's Daily Show on his blog. The American fear of turning into a "socialist state like Sweden" looks particularly amusing from a Scandinavian point of view, so I just had to share this too:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Race and voting patterns in the US

In this TED talk Nate Silver analyses voting patterns in the 2008 General Election and asks whether race affects votes. His conclusion is quite optimistic:

Friday, 1 May 2009

Thoughts on textbooks

On Larry Ferlazzo's recommendation (via blog, of course), I just read the article
A Textbook Example of What's Wrong with Education, which paints a grim picture of the industry behind textbooks in the US. I cannot say whether or not the publishing houses here in Norway work in similar ways. Either way, I think what the writer of the article, Tamim Ansary, says about the significance of textbooks is fairly universal: Textbooks are a core part of the curriculum, as crucial to the teacher as a blueprint is to a carpenter, so one might assume they are conceived, researched, written, and published as unique contributions to advancing knowledge. (Read the complete article here:
A Textbook Example of What's Wrong with Education)
During my first year as a teacher I was completely dependent on the textbook. In fact, I think about 99 percent of the material I used in class was taken from the book. The past two years, however, I have taught English without a textbook. I often rely on the websites of established publishing houses, like and, but I take texts and resources from a number of places and one single publishing house no longer dictates what I teach. Next schoolyear my class will have a textbook, but this is only going to be one of the many sources we use. For useful tips on how to work without a textbook, see: How to Toss the Text Personally, I think the secret behind finding good resources is cooperation between teachers. Share what you've got!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Social web + teens = stranger danger?

We often focus on the risks involved when teens roam free on the internet. Since there are a lot of people in cyber space with cruel intentions, we certainly have to take these risks seriously. At the same time, however, the digital world is also a world of learning, and according to this article from the New York Times, teenagers who socialise online most often do so with people their own age who they already know. Why not read the article with your English class and see what the teenagers themselves have to say about this? It might turn into an interesting discussion. Photo from flickr: Jump on the social media bandwagon.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Optimistic about social web

Facebook, msn, twitter and similar online services can be huge challenges in classrooms when they steal pupils' attention from whatever we would like them to focus on. I must admit that this occasionally (understatement) happens in my classroom when my class is supposed to work individually on some assignment I have given them. They each have their own laptop and they are all online, so the temptation to chat or play sometimes becomes too much. Despite this, I am not one of those who propose we ban social web in schools altogether, because while the internet sometimes steals time, it also gives us access to...well, the whole world, more or less. In stead of returning to an offline existence in class, I think we just need to give ourselves time to figure out how we can make web 2.0 work with us and for us, rather than against us. A number of excellent people are doing great work to get us there and I insist on staying optimistic. In these in so many ways challenging times it is (oh, this is going to be a cliché, forgive me!) absolutely necessary to focus on the possibilities rather than the limitations (I warned you!). Comments? Photo: Twitter pack

Monday, 20 April 2009

I think my brain is coming out of my ears...

My colleague Liv Kristin recently wrote a post about late nights spent marking papers and how this made her think of Frost's lines "and miles to go before I sleep". I can certainly relate to this and reading what she wrote made me think of a poem that often comes to my mind when I have too much to do and feel like there just isn't room for anything else inside my head, namely Luke Yates' "I think my brain is coming out of my ears". I first encountered this poem on the London tube in 2001 as a "Poets on the underground"-poster and I just had to take it with me, so I took a quick photo of it that has been on my fridge ever since. The poet was only 16 when he wrote this and in 2001 he was acknowledged by The Poetry Society as one of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year. In these busy end-of-the-schoolyear-days I felt it was worth sharing:


* Found a pink wet thing

like a prawn on my pillow this morning

felt it, smelt it, looked at it under the microscope

and I could see memories, rumours and dreams

scrawled in my handwriting over the surface.

I keep my bit of brain in a jar, feed it marmalade, call it Fred.

* Frightening to think what might be missing -

unexplained chunks of life.

(I can't find the remote). Tonight

I sleep, orifices stuffed

and my ears glued to the sides of my head.

Luke Yates

Monday, 13 April 2009

Getting started with a project

The easter break is almost over and one of the first things on our schedule in English is to get an individual project going. One of the goals in our curriculum plan is that pupils are supposed to "choose an interdisciplinary topic for in-depth studies within his or her own program area and present this." Quite a tall order, if you ask me. A majority of my pupils feel most comfortable when they are told more or less exactly what to du. This project, however, is supposed to be about a topic of their own choice and they can choose to work on just about anything. Since exams are coming up, I will advice them to choose a topic that somehow relates to the world of English, but that doesn't really narrow it down much. An important objective of this project is to avoid papers or presentations where the pupils simply present the contents of an article from Wikipedia or similar. Somehow the pupils should be inspired to investigate and think for themselves. Therefore, we ask our students to make a thesis question their starting point. In addition to inspiring independent thinking, we hope that this will help them towards a narrow focus since almost any topic can become too extensive when you really look into it. Here's a couple of pages that can help pupils get started with similar projects: How to work with projects and Writing texts (Photo: Ideas)

Monday, 30 March 2009

Fabulous Freebies

Going through my e-mail this morning I stumbled upon a notice about Itunes U. Judging from the amount of material there, I guess it must have been around for a while, but I believe it is new in the Norwegian version of Itunes. This addition to the store offers a great variety of educational podcasts and short films. FOR FREE! There is a large number of topics to choose from and after briefly browsing through it I am pretty sure this may just be a goldmine for me when searching for material on history, social science and literature. A lot of the lectures and other material here is from universities, which means some of it will prove too advanced for my students. However, I did find a number of useful items as well. For example, I found a lecture by Barbara Welke, "US History: 1865 to the present." The lecture only takes a tiny half hour, which seems short for such a huge topic. At the same time, I think it can give students a fairly good introduction to American history. You will also find a lot of material on American politics and there are podcasts of speeches held by Martin Luther King, Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson, among others. Explore and enjoy!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Britishness and multiculturalism

The topic in our English class this week will be British culture. Today, curry is as British as football, Agatha Christie and Queen Elizabeth II. Still, when Norwegians travel to London most of us spend more time on Oxford street than on Brick lane or Brixton market. In class we will take some time to reflect upon what we think of as typically British. Afterwards I will give a short presentation about immigration to Britain and finally the students will work in groups and make short presentations about Britain as a multicultural society. My colleague Liv Kristin made this lesson plan: What does it mean to be British? and my presentation is available on slideshare. In order to introduce our students to the topic we watched the film East is east last week. Take a look at what LK wrote about the film here.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The conflict in Northern Ireland

This week in my English class we are going to have a look at the conflict in Northern Ireland. Recent headlines from Ulster are a tragic reminder of The Troubles of the 70s and 80s. However, a vast majority of the population of Northern Ireland seem to agree that they have had enough and that a few extremists won't be able to undo the enourmous steps taken towards peace in the last ten-fifteen years. In our lesson U2's "Bloody Sunday" is going to lead up to a short lecture on the historical background of the conflict. Afterwards we will have a look at the current events and the reactions to these, and finally we are going to read Liam O' Flaherty's gripping short story "The Sniper" from the Irish Civil War. Have a look at my lesson plan here. You can also have a look at the slides I plan to use in my presentation below. The presentation is available on slideshare. There are a number of good films about various aspects of the conflict, for example:

Friday, 13 March 2009

Monsoon Wedding

Once again I go on about films, but the weekend is coming up, isn't it? I am among those who haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing the Indian film of the moment, Slumdog Millionaire, but I hope to get around to it very soon. With the new curriculum plans from 2006, the English subject here in Norway has widened its focus area and it now to a much greater degree than before includes studying the societies and cultures of non-western English-speaking countries, like for example India. One of the complex and interesting aspects of Indian culture that we have discussed in class is the tradition of arranged marriage. A number of films and texts view this issue from a western perspecitve and describe arranged marriages as oppressive. I personally have not been raised to question such accounts to a great degree. However, I do think it is interesting to show the pupils a different story, and Mira Nair's film Monsoon Wedding is perfect for this. It gives an account of the arranged wedding between two young people in modern India and it certainly sheds a different light on this tradition than what I and most of my pupils are used to. You can find study questions about the film here. The scene above gives you an impression of the wonderful atmosphere of the film.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I have just finished reading The Curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon and I absolutely loved it. My colleague Liv Kristin suggested we read this novel in our English classes (Norwegian upper secondary year 1, age 16) this year and I am really glad she did. The novel is fairly short (quite a few pages, but the pages are not dense with text) and the language is very simple. At the same time, the issues raised in the text are interesting and the novel can certainly teach us something about how we treat fellow human beings who are not exactly the way we are. In this respect, I hope the novel can be a challenge to our pupils. The advantage is that they are not discouraged by complicated sentences and difficult vocabulary. Instead, they can concentrate on the content. This gives us the opportunity to read the novel thoroughly and focus on the details. One interesting aspect of the book is the way everything and everyone is seen through the eyes of Christopher, who has Asberger's Syndrome. "He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings", as it says on the cover of the novel. Therefore, the reader has to constantly interpret Christopher's accounts of everything that happens in light of his unusual perspective on things. I have made this google document for pupils to fill in when they analyse the characters in the novel: CHARACTERS Curious incident... For the publisher's information on the novel go to: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time I also found these study questions online. Cover photo from the Randomhouse/Vintage website

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Taking "The Wire" into the English classroom

If you are an English teacher who, like me, have become addicted to HBO's TV series "The Wire" , you have probably, like me, at some point thought "I wish I could use this in the classroom". Our students are experienced TV viewers and so are we, but how can we take advantage of this in our English lessons? I recently attended an interesting and very useful lecture by Janne Stigen Drangsholt (University of Bergen, Norway) on this particular topic. Drangsholt presented "The Wire" as a television series that can be used successfully to teach students about certain aspects of American society. "The Wire" has by some been called the best television series of all time. It is set in Baltimore and at first glance it may seem like just another traditional cop show where the viewer in each episode is presented with a crime that is solved at the end of the very same episode. However, "The Wire" is completely different because the makers have attempted to create a TV drama that tells us the real story. No crimes (completely) solved, (almost) no villains caught, no happy endings. The main issues addressed in the series are corruption, drugs and more or less organised crime. In season four the focus is on the children/ teenagers of West Baltimore. Drugs and guns are parts of their everyday life, but in season four the viewers are also invited to join them in the classroom. Of course, the series is at its best if you can watch an entire season, but if you, the teacher, know the season well enough to introduce it to your students, it can be fruitful to simply look carefully at one episode. In her lecture, Drangsholt used episode 8 of season four, "The corner boys," as an example of such an episode that works on its own if properly introduced. She also suggested a couple of newspaper articles to use in class with the episode. I have made this detailed lesson plan based on the episode where I make use of the articles suggested by Drangsholt. The clip above is from an earlier episode in the same season. If you have any comments on my lesson plan or if you have experiences with using "The Wire" in the classroom, please let me know.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Gun control in the US

American gun culture and gun control in the US are always hot topics for the English classroom. BBC Learning has a useful case study on gun control and on the NY Times Learning website there is a lesson plan on the topic. I have made this lesson plan on gun control that combines the two online rescources. The suggested article from NY Times (PART II of my lesson plan) may prove difficult for some students, so one can for example use PART I of the lesson plan with the entire class and give PART II to those who need an extra challenge. Photo: Little Posh, Big Gun

Monday, 23 February 2009

The USA: Immigration, ethnicity and Crash

Right now in my English class we are working on immigration, race and ethnicity in the USA, a complex topic that can be dealt with in a number of ways. We have chosen to combine a quick glance at the history of immigration in the USA with a more thorough look at the current situation. These web pages on American immigration give a very good overview of which countries people have emigrated from throughout the history of the USA. The pages contain a timeline with maps that show from which countries immigrants into the USA have originated at what time. In addition, there are two maps that show the current situation; which countries the largest ancestry groups originate from (numbers from 2000) and where the largest groups of illegal immigrants are arriving from (numbers from 2005). The pages also contain text boxes that help explain the maps. For a closer look at the immigrant experience we have read the article "Best of friends, worlds apart", which tells the story of two Cuban friends, one black and one white, whose experience and understanding of race and ethnicity were completely altered as they were forced to adjust to American society. My excellent colleagues Liv Kristin and Kjetil at Sandvika upper secondary school made this lesson plan: RACE AND ETHNICITY IN THE USA (photo: "united")

Having worked with the above mentioned texts and timelines, a suitable and student-friendly way to round off the topic of immigration and ethnicity in the US is to watch Paul Haggis' Crash (2005), which seems to be a film that always succeeds in catching the students' attention. When the film received the Academy Award for best film in 2005, members of the Academy explained that they had voted for the film because they felt it so aptly described an important and difficult aspect of American society. The film takes us to LA and introduces us to the racial prejudices of most of the ethnic groups that make up the legal and illegal population of the city. Intertwining storylines and a large number of characters may present a challenge to students, but they never seem to lose interest, nor miss the message. However, it can be a good idea to have students look at Wikipedia's pages on Crash, which give a plot summary as well as an excellent overview of the many interesting characters. For study questions on Crash and a number of other quality films, see Manitowoc Public Library's Critic's Choice film series. Have a look at the trailer of the film:

P.S. After writing this I discovered that Larry Ferlazzo had published a link to a short article in the Sacramento Bee, "Characteristics of the foreign-born", that sums up the 2007 demographic data on foreign-born people in the nation, states and cities in the USA. These numbers are certainly an interesting next step after studying the maps and texts on American immigration (legal and illegal) and ancestry groups mentioned above.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Let's talk about ART

To use a cliché, I don't know a lot about art, but I know what I like. I am always looking for ways to make students talk more and share their opinions in the English class. Why not try to discuss art for a change? When I went to school, art simply served as illustrations in our textbooks. I still associate certain authors and titles of short stories, poems and novels with particular paintings. For example, my Norwegian textbook introduced me to J.M.W. Turner who I have loved ever since. The light is just incredible! I don't expect my students to jump for joy at Turner's light, but I would love it if they would take a look and share their opinion without worrying whether they understood the painting or not. If you too would like to have your students talk a little bit about art in the English lesson, maybe this TED talk can help them understand that it is okay to look at art in unconventional ways: Ursus Wehrli tidies up art. I am certainly going to try to incorporate art in my lessons more often. Illustration from flickr: Whaam

Writing About Film

Earlier in this blog I have pointed out that working with film takes time (like everyhing else), and that we don't always have time to be as thorough as we might want. However, when we ask our students to write about film on an upper secondary level it should be our aim to take our students beyond the boring plot summary. These are some of the elements students could look for when writing about film:
First of all, you should introduce the film with the title, the name of the director and the year of production. It might also be relevant to state the nationality of the film. Is the film based on a true story or is it perhaps based on a short story or a novel? How was the film received by its critics and audience when it was released? Try to briefly explain what you think is the theme of the film. In the following, you should give a plot summary, but remember to make it short. Save details for later. Explain the opening scene (exposition) of the film. Who do we meet and what do we learn? Say something about the chronology of the film. Is it chronological from beginning to end or not? Are there a lot of flashbacks? Are there parallel plot lines? Then go on to say something about the characters in the film. Are they stereotypes or complex individuals? How are they portrayed? With body language, make-up, costumes, props, music? Do the characters develop during the film and what are the relationships between the characters? What can you say about the setting of the film and is the setting very significant in this particular film? Does the film portray a certain social environment? What atmosphere(s) does the film convey?
Go on to say something about the techniques used to tell the story of the film. What type of shots dominate (close-ups, extreme close-ups, long shots etc.), what camera angles are used, how is the film cut and how have the filmmakers made use of lighting, colours, sound, music and special effects (if any)? When you comment on these techniques, try to say something about the effect they have. Also, if symbols are important in the film you should say something about this. You should end your analysis with a conclusion where you try to sum up the main theme and message of the film. End with your own assessment of the film and make sure you explain your opinions. Finally, I would like to share an excellent and famous example of the technique crosscut (or parallel cut) from The Godfather. Here the conflicting identities of Michael Corleone, mafia boss and family man, are contrasted in a disturbing way. The organ music from the church simply underlines the dark and sombre atmosphere that permeats the film trilogy. Illustration from flickr: Uncut

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Cooperative learning and short stories

As a teacher at Sandvika upper secondary school I have been given the opportunity to take part in a couple of very interesting (and fun!) seminars about cooperative learning. Research shows that we learn a lot more when we are active than when we are passive listeners (see the pyramid), and personally I just think teaching is more fun when I get to vary the methods as much as possible. In my English class we recently worked on the short story "Panache" by William Patrick Kinsella and my colleague Liv Kristin made an after-reading activity partly based on cooperative learning methods. In one part of the activity, students do a role play where they each are assigned the identity of one of the characters from the short story. Instead of just discussing the story the traditional way, they are to make up questions to ask the other characters/ group members. With this activity, the students were forced to reflect on the actions and choices made by the characters in the story. This activity gave really good results in my class and most of the students seemed to enjoy it. All students were active and they appeared to really reflect on the content of the story. Furthermore, everyone spoke English during this class. I still think making everyone speak English is one of the main challenges as well as one of the most important goals of an ESL lesson. I will certainly try this method again with other short stories. For a complete instruction to the activity, see here: Working on "Panache" by William Patrick Kinsella. See my colleagues blog here: The road not taken. The role play activity is of course just one of many cooperative learning activities and I promise to share more in the future. Read more about cooperative learning here: The Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota. Illustration: Learning pyramid and Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Content and Language Integrated Learning in a Storyline context

During my practice period in an 8th grade in Øraker secondary school, Oslo in 2002/2003 I was given the opportunity to take part in the planning and execution of an inter-disciplinary Storyline. The topic for the Storyline was the industrial revolution. Since I was training to teach English I was eager to make my subject an integrated part of the Storyline. I therefore took the opportunity to introduce Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Planning the Storyline, I chose to include English teaching material covering some of the history curriculum that the students were to read. This was all based on the notion of creating a meaningful context for language teaching and I saw potential in second language teaching focused on content in an inter-disciplinary setting. The teaching situation of the Storyline made it easier to introduce a method of teaching (CLIL) that the students were not used to. The students were not particularly prepared for learning history/social science in English before the classes took place, but the Storyline concept was one with a surprise element, and in the beginning of the three-week period we focused on preparing them for the challenge this would involve.
To a certain extent some of the same principles lie behind the two methods of CLIL and Storyline, especially that of creating a meaningful context for learning; reflecting real life in school. Storyline can be used in many subjects, or in subjects combined with each other like we did. One of the basic ideas behind the method is that students acquire knowledge in a meaningful context. This is also an important argument for teaching subjects such as history or science in English, since the students then ideally will be focused on learning the content while acquiring language through this learning process. Due to the students' skills in English, I think it would be easier to introduce CLIL in upper secondary schools. On this level it is probably easier for teachers to find material in English that is not too difficult for the students, especially if you find a lot of your material online.
Interested? Read my article here: Content and Language Integrated Learning in a Storyline Context.
Illustration: I am here for the Learning Revolution