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Teaching Tips 91

Happy holidays
Absurd materials
Questioning it

Christmas Resistance

The holiday season is almost on us so time for those Christmas lessons. We begin this week with a couple of different views of the holiday period which could make for an interesting focus for Xmas lessons. Both Buy Nothing Christmas & The Christmas Resistance sites rally against the rampant consumerism at this time of year. Later on in the Tip there are lots of more links to traditional Xmas stuff on the site & Xmas stuff at other sites.

Buy Nothing Christmas is going full-force these days.

To download the information kit & use to suit:

An article for lessons about Buy Nothing Christmas:

And some Stories at:

A couple of examples of the posters to download for discussion - get your students to design their own posters.

Buy Nothing Xmas

Buy Nothing Xmas

A similar kind of site is The Christmas Resistance Movement. There's some useful stuff at the site, including some cartoons.

Shop Troops cartoon
Anticopyright © 2000 by Nina Paley

There are five cartoons on the page - the above has been reduced in size & quality. Save each individually, right click 'Save Image as..' & then copy them off. (You could begin with Nina Paley's Buy Everything Day cartoon at ) Then hand out a cartoon each to students or groups with a task & then when all happy with the content, put them into groups of five, each in the group with a different cartoon & they explain their cartoons, without looking at each others'. Then they decide on the best, most imaginative etc...

A different type of Christmas protest is Santarchy. If you suddenly see a swarm of Santas approaching you....Here's a recent article:

Santacon Brings Santarchy To New York

Convention Began In San Francisco

New York Hundreds of Santas gathered in New York recently to act naughty and nice during a convention called Santacon.

A red sea of Santas paraded across the Brooklyn Bridge, hopped on the subway and stormed the steps of the Federal Building, where the Bill of Rights was signed.

Santacon features Santas of all shapes, sizes and skill levels. They chanted, caroled and caroused.

The tradition began 11 years ago in San Francisco. Since then, it has gone global, with Santacons planned in Boston, Atlanta and London.

There are four unofficial rules of Santacon: Don't mess with police, don't mess with kids, don't mess with store security and don't mess with Santa.

Most of the Santas stay in character. "I was born into this, I will always be doing this," one Santa said. "It's me, the reindeer and my colleagues."

Sometimes the Santas were nice -- and sometimes they were naughty.

"Santa needs at least one day off, and this is that day," another Santa said. "Santa needs a break. Santa needs a drink."

prankster event. A site that relates past Santarchy events is & they originally come from an organisation called 'The Cacophony Society' - as an aside, here's the intro from their site:

An introduction to Cacophonous Concepts

The Society is a loosely-structured network of individuals, banded together -- as our name suggests -- by a common love of cultural noise: belief systems, aesthetics, and ways of living striking a note of discord against prevailing harmonies. We gather several times a month in numerous cities around the world to celebrate and emulate aesthetic lumpiness and quixotic idiosyncracies wherever they can be found.

We assume you're already some sort of bona fide eccentric or you wouldn't be interested in Cacophony at all. Our tagline, "You may already be a member!" says a lot about how we operate. In a sense, we never create anything new at all. We never claim to come into a town and teach people how to be amusingly subversive. They're already doing it! We just raise the bogus flag, and see who will gather under the flagpole for further mischief.

Worth following up. For lessons the article would be a good starter before a discussion on action to highlight consumerism.

Christmas stuff on Developing

Xmas lesson plan:

Two pages of your activities:

Seasonal lesson ideas:

'The less than wond'rous gift' lesson plan

The History of Kwanzaa lesson plan:

New Year's Resolutions:

And stuff on other websites:
Quizzes about Xmas - go through the traditions & then send them online for the test.,16848,1669049,00.html
An article on the Guardian about the letters sent to Santa via the Royal Mail in the UK.

2005: The Top 10

The Royal Mail reads every letter it receives, and collates the requests. The things British children want most this year are:

1 Pens, pencils, crayons

2 Dolls, dolls' clothes and accessories

3 Video games

4 DVDs / CDs

5 Books

6 Mobile phones

7 Film merchandise

8 Clothes, shoes, slippers

9 Lego

10 For Santa to help others, including an end to wars and famine.

Loads of Xmas links.
Xmas recipes to try out with your students.
And now there's scientific proof that he's dead! Boo hoo!
So, time for my pilgrimage to Lapland.
And anyway the US military is following his route.
Lots of links from this page to younger learner materials.
Hitman2 Christmas game - blow the elves away.

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It's always useful to know where to look for authentic material on the internet. Ian Goulden, working in Russia, sent in the link to Totally Absurd Inventions at The site contains an amazing array of off the wall inventions, such as Dummy Chicken Farmer, Earless Eyewear, Light Bulb Changer, Anti-Eating Mouth Cage, Stud Spectacles, Portable Nuclear Shelter, each illustrated with the actual patent illustration.

Earthquake house
Earthquake house

Ian provides the following procedure to use with the illustrations:

Strange inventions for upper Intermediate or higher students
30-40 mins
My classes are all monolingual Russians, normally intermediate to advanced.

From the website copy some of the pictures from the archive of absurd patented inventions, one for each student or two for every 3 students - all different. Print them on A4 paper, they can be enlarged on the computer or photocopier - make one bigger copy of one of the simpler diagrams.

1. Lead in with eliciting the lexical set - invention, inventor, innovation, patent, protection etc...

2 Show students an example of a diagram of an invention - one of the simpler ones - printed big enough for all to see. Tell them that this has been patented and get them to guess what it might be.

3. Students speculate on what it might be for. At this stage, put some speculation phrases such as "it could be... " "maybe it's  " , or "it looks like a kind of..." on the board.

4. Divide the students into 2 groups. Each group has 2 pictures, different from the pictures in the other groups.Each group decides what their invention is for. Walk around the class, and drop hints ("What is this thing?...A propeller. What is it for?) so that the students are thinking in approximately the right direction. Of course, the explanation does not have to match the one described in the website exactly, it should just be in some way logical.

5. When the students are ready they try and 'sell' their idea to another group, who listen critically and ask difficult questions: "Why is this product really necessary?" etc.  Each group has 2 inventions they are trying to 'market' so they take it in turns to present their idea to the other group. Try to ensure all members of the group participate in this.

6. At the end ask each group which ideas they decided to buy, and which they were not impressed with.

Thanks to Ian.

Banana suitcase
A banana suitcase

A couple of extensions:
- Students could rank all of the inventions in order of uselessness, usefulness, creativity, simplicity... Put them up on the walls for all to wander round & discuss.
- They could try to find things in common between the inventions, a link between them.
- Invent a story around one or several of the inventions.
- Invent their own wacky inventions!
- Use as the basis of a guessing game.
- Discussion of past inventions - significant inventions & what would be life like today without the invention.
- Discuss future inventions - by the year X we will have invented...
- Work on the language of processes - describing how the inventions work.
- There is a lesson plan on the site on inventions:

These days, with internet access, there is little excuse for not finding authentic material. Although there is a time & a place for teacher-produced materials, authentic materials do provide interest & motivation. They provide real world information, real discourse, lots of comprehensible input & can be used with a variety of levels with a change of task. It is up to us to provide interesting lessons & a sure way of doing this is through the materials we choose to use, well worth the time we invest.

If you have any activities or lessons that worked really well then do send them in for all to use.

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Questioning it

This week's Tip is an extension of last week's about giving feedback on writing assignments. A more independent approach is for the students themselves to ask for feedback. As they write, or in their review afterwards, they can write questions at the side or at the end of their writing, that they would like you to answer. Such questions might be 'What tense do I use here?', 'How do I say this sentence better?', 'What's another word for ...' etc.

To get your students into this, give them a model of some writing with questions to answer, as if written by another student, & get them to write a reply to the questions as if they were the teacher. This approach to their writing helps them to become more critical of their own writing as well as more autonomous.

This idea can extend to the other skills. When involved in speaking activities encourage them to note down questions to ask after the task has finished. If they don't take notes, they are likely to forget the moment. They could ask their fellow participants first for clarification & you next if necessary.

With listening tasks, from a recording, ask them to take notes on questions they would like answering. This could be done at the same time as looking through the script after listening & reading at the same time. If done at the same time as the tasks you have set, it will be intrusive & mess up the task.

The same would apply to reading. Encourage them to bring in questions from outside class reading & ask the students to try & help each other out before stepping in yourself.

The more independent, reflective & questioning you can help your students to become, the better.

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