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Teaching Tips 163

Confucius says...
Positive expectations

quoteConfucius says...

Some ideas, materials & links about a few Days to focus lessons around this week:

26th - European Day of Languages

27th - International Tourism Day

29th - Scotland Yard Anniversary
29th - Confucius Day
30th - International Spelling Day

Most have a vague notion of who Confucius was so it would be interesting to use his biography as a focus in a reading. There's a short-ish biog at:
There are five paragraphs & a useful first task is to give out the paragraphs mixed up & students put the text into a logical order & discuss their reasons. Here's the text:

a. Confucius taught that it was not the satisfaction of the senses in the present moment that would bring true happiness, but well-planned actions and the helping of fellow man which mattered most. He argued that respect should be paid to the dead but focus should not be taken away from working towards a better future. In his life, he wanted to cultivate ideas that would spread throughout China. He talked of modesty, planning, respect, and moral behavior that would not benefit only a few, but the entire empire.

b. During his travels, he met many who became his disciples. While Confucianism isn't a religion, per se, these disciples did spread his wise words, and neo-Confucianism brought greater religious context to Confucius' teachings. Confucius came up with the premise of the modern Golden Rule. He said to a king that the greatest teaching of all is to: "Never impose on others what you would not on yourself." He promoted the balance of social classes, stating roles should be balanced, but respect for a superior should always be recognized. Additionally, he was a proponent of using music to bring people together, knowing kings and commoners alike could share in the joy it brought.

c. Known to the Chinese as Master Kong and to the rest of the world as Confucius, he created a philosophy based on virtue. In turn, he believed honesty, respect, sincerity, and common sense could not only join families, but also bring together the entire empire of China.

d. Not much is known about Confucius' early life, but it is believed he belonged to the middle class, and therefore would have been well educated. Being part of the middle class would have also meant he was cultured and looked upon for intellectual soundness. In his mid-20s, Confucius became a government official in the State of Lu and a minister, a lofty position for a young man. He attempted to talk to the king about certain policies that governed Lu, but after doing so for several years, nothing changed. In despair about the fate of the kingdom, Confucius resigned from his post and from the politics of the king. From then on, he believed someone shouldn't inherit power simply because of birth or lineage. On the contrary, a person should come into power based on his own merit and be representative of the people.

e. Confucius began traveling around northern China. He attempted to talk with kings and other rulers about their practices, hoping to right the wrongs and bring a broken land together once again. He knew that if brought the country together, China's cultural and financial greatness would expand.

Correct order: c, d, e, b, a

And then on to a comprehension task - the students could write their own questions to ask each other in pairs, followed by a discussion.

For texts about Confucius check out the following links:

Confucius quotes:

A few quotes - give to students to discuss meanings & which they like:
1. "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."
2. "It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get."
3. "To know your faults and be able to change is the greatest virtue."
4. "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."
5. "With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my crooked arm for a pillow - is not joy to be found therein? Riches and honors acquired through unrighteousness are to me as the floating clouds."
6. "Knowledge is recognizing what you know and what you don't."
7. "Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous."
8. "If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand."
9. "When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them."

Trailer for a new film about the life of Confucius:


It's International Spelling Day on the 30th, an area that is difficult for students, & everyone else, through no fault of their own. As teachers we have to help them make some sense of it by tackling it systematically.
The excellent book 'Teaching English Spelling: A Practical Guide' by Ruth Shemesh & Sheila Waller (CUP) is packed full of teaching ideas & plans, & does just that, tackling the area systematically.

A couple of quotes about spelling:

'I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.'
Mark Twain

'A man occupied with public or other important business cannot, and need not, attend to spelling.'
Napoleon Bonaparte

'The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen.'
G.B. Shaw, Pygmalion, Preface

'It is a damn poor mind indeed which can't think of at least two ways to spell any word.'
President Andrew Jackson

A couple of interesting spelling facts:

Cleveland, Ohio – the leader of the crew that surveyed the town's territory was Gen. Moses Cleaveland, and the region was named in his honor; reportedly the town's first newspaper could not fit the town's name in its masthead without removing the first "a" from the name.

Google – accidental misspelling of googol. According to Google's vice president, as quoted on a BBC The Money Programme documentary, January 2006, the founders – noted for their poor spelling – registered Google as a trademark and web address before someone pointed out that it was not correct.

Ovaltine, a popular bedtime drink in the UK, came about because someone misspelled the original name Ovomaltine on the trademark documentation.


A nice warmer or a springboard into a spelling focus:

..a rcent sudty funod taht it deosn't meattr waht odrer the lerttes of a wrod are in, the olny imopraotnt tihng is taht the fsirt and lsat lerttes are in
corrcet poistiosn. Unfaertuontely, taht's not the csae for evryhtieng in lfie...

Takes a sentence and misspells all the words, but the sentence should still be readable:

A few web links:

For a list of basic spelling rules:

100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English from Your

To show your students some public spelling mistakes:

A dictionary of misspelled words, names and places:

Online spell checker:

Spelling reform round up at Wikipedia:

Here are the last couple of Tips that coincided with Seplling Day.

How's your spelling? Are there certain words that you always have to stop & think about?

Take the test - which spelling is correct.


Clearly you need to spell correctly. Have you ever been corrected by your students with your board work? If you have any doubts, check the spelling out before the lesson. To coincide with International Spelling Day on 30th September, here's the Ghoti Tip:

Have a look at the following words. Which do you think could be English words:


You can easily guess but could your students? The sound- spelling relation is a complex one in English & although some rules may be manageable, there are a lot which are just too complicated to pass on. When our students meet a new written word they either use their existing knowledge of English to guess at the pronunciation or fall back on their native language convention for the particular letter combinations. The task
above, guessing which combinations could be possible & then discussing why & why not, is a useful one.

The idea of sound values is crucial to this. Some letters can have one sound value while others can have two or more. The letter 'd' has only one sound value as in 'daft', 'did', don't' etc. The letter 'g', with very few exceptions, has two sound values - the first as is 'g' followed by 'i', 'e' or 'y' has the sound of 'dj', as in 'imagine' & 'gent'. The second is the sound
'g' as in 'gun' & 'grey'. (The exceptions to the first include the words 'give', 'girl', 'anger', 'eager', 'gear', 'get')

The letter 'c' has two sound values. Look at the following words & work out the rule: ::


It is a very confusing area & one that the teacher needs to be aware of.

George Bernard Shaw gave one of the nonsense words above, 'ghoti', as an example of the ridiculous system behind English sound-spelling by reasoning that it could have the same pronunciation as the word 'fish'! He got this by taking the 'gh' from 'tough' for the 'f', the 'o' from the word 'women' for 'i' & then the 'ti' from the word 'nation' for the 'sh' sound. A nice example for your students.

The letter 'c' rule
It's the same as with 'g' - if it is followed by 'i', 'e', or 'y' then it takes the 's' sound, otherwise it takes the 'k' sound.

It is a very confusing area & one that the teacher needs to be aware of.

Answers to the spelling test:
(Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

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A useful way of getting younger learners to review vocabulary is to give them the alphabet & they storm ideas for each of the letters. They could be reviewing verbs, general nouns or a more specific area such as animals or parts of the house. Clearly they cannot be expected to complete every letter but be encouraged to do as much as possible. Extensions to the storming could be to mime each for partners to guess or write sentences with the words.

I came across a couple of similar ideas recently in the book 'Creating Conversation in Class' by Chris Sion (DELTA). These are more for the adult learners.
The first is titled 'Myself from A-Z' & asks students to supply something from their lives for each letter e.g. 'A is for ambulance because I am a voluntary ambulance driver. B is for baby because my wife is expecting a baby.'
A limit could be given to shorten the task, they could just give fifteen letters. They then present their ideas to others
Variations are to storm ideas for their friends, family, jobs & hobbies.
. A great way for them to get to know each other better.

The second activity is called 'Topics for A-Z'. Here students are asked to give random words for each letter & then with these words they choose five to ten of them to use as the subject of conversations that they then have. You could make these conversations more focussed by stipulating the general topic area such as work, sport or school.

Try them out & do get hold of 'Creating Conversation in Class' by Chris Sion (DELTA Publishing):

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SunnyPositive expectations

I was browsing through the book 'Accelerated Learning' by Colin Rose the other day & he gives some interesting stories. Among many is the story of the man who accidentally got locked in a refrigerator compartment & had to spend the night there. Although it was not switched on, he was found the next morning frozen to death. The explanation goes that he was expecting to freeze to death & so he literally did, regardless of the temperature.

Then he also mentions the placebos, fake pills, that are used in research & prescriptions. Quite a few experiments have shown that when a patient is given a placebo, being told that it will ease or solve a problem, it actually does because the patient expects it to.

And then there is the teacher who is told that one particular group is strong, while another weaker, when in fact there is little difference between them. The group labelled as strong is found to perform much better than the other group. This is down to the teacher's expectations & how she handles each group.

Have you taken over a 'difficult' group from another teacher to find that, yes, they are a difficult group to teach? What would have been the case if the previous teacher hadn't said anything? Maybe it would have been a challenge anyway, but then again maybe it might have been different. Before you hand over a difficult group next time, think carefully about how you are going to describe them.

Quite a lot of our adult beginners expect learning English to be a hard task. There's a good chance they have spent a good few years at school struggling with the grammar & they come along to continue much the same, so it's no wonder that the drop out rate for beginners if very high. It might simply be a question of the teacher selling it better from the start.

The same would apply when starting any course. Our learners bring their expectations with them & initially, in the first lesson or two, we have a chance to bend them towards a more positive stance. This is where first impressions really do count.

It's quite common for us to preview a heavy lesson with the cushioning comment ' It's a difficult area but let's see what we can do'. The students are going to expect the lesson to be difficult & it will be. An alternative would be to put a positive & light side to it & say 'Let's breeze through this & have some fun.' OK, some things are difficult but let's not make them doubly so from the beginning.

Expectations are just one variable in the equation, but one that is important & needs considering.

To buy 'Accelerated Learning' at To buy 'Accelerated Learning' at

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