Teaching English in Russia

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When I was planning my trip to Russia, I knew immediately that I wanted to teach English in some way or another.

A treasure was mine to give, that is English.

Regardless of me and my background, I could correct and share.

Touching young lives through language is very rewarding.

Touching young lives through language is very rewarding. Click To Tweet

The decision was a no brainer.

Read about my journey through my difficulties and successes.

I taught English to high school students twice a week after school hours for the entire Fall semester of 2018.

I stayed in the heartwarming town Svetlograd.

My experience was wonderful.

I loved the kids and the town.

Each session was a delight.

I was humbled and privileged to be apart of their lives for one semester.

Difficulties

The difficulties I faced were those universally felt in Russia and the world at large.

Firstly, the teachers spoke too much in Russian.

The students feel they know English, but they really understand the immediate translation into Russian.

The students feel they know English, but they really understand the immediate translation into Russian. Click To Tweet

When I came, most could not follow my speech or reply back to questions.

They giggled and looked to the nearest translator — another student or Google Translate.

Even for the younger children everything is related back to Russian. This is very counterproductive.

Secondly, as is true everywhere, the students did not have enough time.

I would ask them to write something or prepare for a small quiz, but very few were ready.

They had all the desire in the world, but time was not enough.

Lastly, the number one difficulty I faced was that the students could not feel the language.

I would sternly ask them to stand up, but they would remain seated.

Dramatic displays of happiness or anger did not make sense to them, aside from my facial expressions.

In Svetlograd, I was living with relations. If she said in Russian, “The tea is very hot!” or “Come here, Masha!”

I reacted because I felt the words.

I wanted my students to also feel the words.

One day we pretended to be a train.

We all lined up.

I was the leader and said, “We are going straight… Now we are turning left… Then we cross the book… Right again…”

As I did the action, everyone followed in a snake motion. Then the next person behind me would reenact the whole thing.

This proved very effective and helped awaken them to how English felt inside the body itself.

Successes

Successes from my point of view were innumerable because I was so pleased to be with them.

Here I will note just three.

First, I had the chance to visit several English classes.

At the beginning of the year, I was invited to visit many English classes of every age.

I would tell them about myself and then take questions.

Of course, most of the questions were about life in America and everyone always asks, “Which do you like better? America or Russia?”

That said, I loved the questions from the youngest of students, such as, “Are there kittens in America too?”

So many tried to ask me in English, even employing Google Translate occasionally.

I was thrilled to hear everyone trying.

These interviews in the classroom were one of my favorite parts of my trip on the whole.

Secondly, music was the best form of communication.

When grammar explanations became overwhelming, music proved the best way to communicate with my young students.

We listened to songs and then went over the lyrics.

My favorite was when they said they understand it all, then I asked one question….well, that popped that balloon.

We chose only songs they loved so it really helped them to open up and start working to understand better.

Games helped the Russian students relax and it helped them to talk more in English. Click To Tweet

Thirdly, by far the most success…and laughter…I had came from games!

I got into the rut where I did all the talking.

Then the potato arrived, well the potato in the form of a plush pumpkin.

We all remember the game «hot potato», growing up.

Well, I played with my students.

I did it in different ways with the students.

We started off nice and slow, passing the “potato” to one another and saying in turn, “1…2…3..”

Then the number would change and then next student would have to say the next number, “23…24…87…88…”

Lastly, we tried some math, “1+1=2, 35+2=37.”

When they loosened up, I would let them use both English and Russian numbers to help the English ones feel more real.

There was always the one student that gave me: “563(Russian)-8(English)=?” It was a laugh.

After numbers we focused on names of food and animals in the same game pattern.

This helped the students relax and it helped them to talk.

Hot potato along with other games were a huge success.

We truly had fun.

I am so grateful to have met these students and to have had this opportunity to teach English in Russia.

At the end of the day, English is a living language that should be enlivened for the student.

I hope my students will love English more now and will use it from the heart and not just out of necessity.

At the end of the day, English is a living language that should be enlivened for the student. Click To Tweet

Writing a Description of the Scene for Middle Schoolers

Putting your thoughts down on paper is like catching a firefly at night.

Putting your thoughts down on paper is like catching a firefly at night. Click To Tweet

You can see it clearly, but when you reach for it…well…it does not turn out as you would have predicted.

All the more true for Middle Schoolers who are just beginning to articulate themselves fully in writing.

Here I want to explain a method to help young students write descriptions.

The secret is to use your eyes instead of your hands.

Don’t want to read the article? Watch my youtube video instead 👇🏻

First and foremost, I provide a picture of a scene.

At a young age, visualizing everything in your mind distracts from trying to write. You ask for a lot of juggling.

I like to use scenes from Disney films because they are very recognizable and the student already knows the story.

Secondly, I break down what I want to know.

Over the course of several lessons, I would devote a lesson to each of these:

Actions

The literal actions that take place in the scene.

Standing, running, holding, laughing, looking, etc.

The people themselves and their appearance
  • Woman or man?
  • Young girl or teenage boy?
  • What color is her hair?
  • What type of shirt is he wearing?
  • How big are her eyes?
Connecting everything
  • Does her red hair connect with his red hair?
  • Could they be related?
  • Why is she looking at this?
  • Does her expression explain how she feels about the painting?

Thirdly, I will ask them to make a list for each category.

I am very serious about making a list.

I do not want them to attempt to write a paragraph too soon.

When we read young people’s writing, too often it resembles: “she looks sad. she is in a dress. It is sunny. she…. it….”

This is because our brains naturally wants to just process the information.

Young students (and many adults) cannot articulate themselves at the same moment they are digesting the information. Thus, I separate the steps.

Lastly, we write the paragraph!

Since everything is processed and organized, the student writes with more confidence.

Everything has come from the student.

I have not fed them the lines.

Moreover, they have arrived to it in a way that does not overload or pressure them.

The result, the paragraph itself.

We may then talk about combining smaller pieces of information or about the order of ideas.

The main outcome is that we have something to work with.

We can keep our discussion firmly rooted in writing instead of juggling mental images and overwhelming number of ideas.

Here is an example.

description writing.005
Actions
  • An older woman stands at the door.
  • She is holding a key.
  • The young woman gasps.
  • She holds a scroll.
  • She turns around.
  • The women are looking at each other.
Appearance
  • The older woman is the stepmother. (It is not wrong to add plot points taken from the film itself because the picture is just there to help stimulate the student.)
  • She has dark hair, probably grey.
  • Her whole appearance is cast in shadow.
  • She is wearing a dark magenta dress.
  • The magenta dress is very long. It goes up to the neck and down to the wrist and ankles.
  • The other woman is younger.
  • She is Cinderella.
  • She is very pretty.
  • Her hair is strawberry blonde and short.
  • Cinderella is wearing a dress, blue and brown, and an apron, white.
  • Her eyes are very large and blue.
  • He mouth is opened very wide.
  • The room itself is hardly seen.
  • There is a door, table, and mirror.
  • The mirror is large, but slightly broken.
Connection
  • Cinderella has big eyes and an open mouth because she sees her stepmother at the door.
  • Her big eyes and opened mouth show that she is shocked.
  • The step mother is holding a key because she wants to lock the door.
  • The scroll invites Cinderella to the Ball.
Summary paragraph

Cinderella is a beautiful young girl with blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. She is holding an invitation to the Ball. Her stepmother clutches the key ready to lock her into a room. Cinderella gasps at the sight of her stepmother because she is shocked.

No, this inevitably would not be what an 11 year old would write.

I wrote it to demonstrate the concept.

However, I have seen that with this exercise the student writes more than usual.

He feels more comfortable.

He does not feel as overwhelmed or pressured.

I have seen that with this exercise the student writes more than usual. He feels more comfortable. He does not feel as overwhelmed or pressured. Click To Tweet

With clear steps and a fixed image, the student is freer to write.

And so, I, as the teacher, can focus my time on productive comments about that writing.

3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts of Studying

Studying is overwhelming enough, but bad habits make it worse.

Studying is overwhelming enough, but bad habits make it worse. Click To Tweet

The list below focuses on reducing the feelings of being overwhelmed and increasing the manageability of your schedule and information.

Check out the Youtube video that goes with this for more details.

Do

1. Make monthly-weekly-daily Goals

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Tasks — like writing a term paper, preparing for a large exam, or learning a large concept — cannot be accomplished in one day.

Split it into small pieces and then move those tasks into a convenient time within a month, week, and day.

Split it into small pieces and then move those tasks into a convenient time within a month, week, and day. Click To Tweet

For example:

Month of January – Write a 20 page paper on the First Chinese Emperor

Weekly goals – Collect all the research • finish the first draft • finalize the paper

Daily goals – Research for 45 minutes • write the introduction • proof edit the conclusion

2. Do a little everyday

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Collect your notes or grab your book.

Marathons are more efficient than sprints.

Reread your study guide once a day.

Just read it, nothing fancy.

Or take another 10 page dent out of that book.

5-10 minutes is all.

You will be better off to study or read a little rather than a lot at one time because you will not become burnt out or overwhelmed.

Also, your mind will be open to new perspectives and soft to remembering new nuances if you reread your material regularly.

3. Write and rewrite and rewrite again

Each time you rewrite something, you will simplify it and make it more memorable.

This is particularly true with study notes.

Rewrite them after a period of time and not just all in one day.

Check the video at the bottom, which goes with this post, for more details.

Don’ts

1. Don’t list non-accomplishable tasks

Only write todo items that are achievable and measurable.

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2. Don’t use a highlighter in a textbook

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Highlighting words is a passive action.

In order to digest what you read, you need to write your own comments and not just highlight the original.

Capturing impressions and observations in your own words promotes remembering and understanding the information.

3. Don’t keep your space messy

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All of yours things randomly distributed will only clutter up your mind.

A tidy space keeps your mind tidy.

In the morning and evening review your todo list and tidy your space for optimal productivity.

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Bonus tip in my Youtube video! Watch ’til the end!

Remember What You Read: A Technique to Learn How to Digest the Important Points of Any Reading

Reading comprehension is not automatic.

Helping students with this vital skill can only help them multifold in the future with writing and more difficult readings.

Once the student considers the information within a text to be meaningless, have them create a story connecting those facts!

Once the student considers the information within a text to be meaningless, have them create a story connecting those facts! Click To Tweet
Check out the video now

In late elementary and early middle school, students learn the skill of comprehending what they have read.

They are starting to ask themselves, “What are the main points? Which are the supporting facts versus the actual arguments?”

Reading is the gateway to writing.

Reading is the gateway to writing. Click To Tweet

While they compose their essays, they will ask themselves the same questions.

Learning reading comprehension is an important step in any child’s education.

Not every student can read well.

Some students struggle to connect the details and myriad of facts they encounter.

What do you do?

Memorizing Cards

I am mesmerized by people with an excellent memory.

One can demonstrate this asset through the memorizing of decks of cards.

I cannot do this and never will, but it got me thinking.

Cards themselves are basically meaningless pieces of information. If you can find a way to remember them, then you can carry that over onto other situations.

I gave my students random cards from a deck.

I asked them to remember those cards for 30 seconds.

They did so easily when I did not talk, but the second round I talked during those entire 30 seconds and they were unsuccessful.

Afterwards, I showed them how to make the random cards into a story.

Then, students were able to remember the cards for any length of time within the lesson.

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Here is an example:

  • Jack = The jack
  • Loves = The heart suit
  • To ace = Ace
  • Irish = The clubs suit
  • 5 = 5
  • Higher = the spades suit (it looks like an up arrow)

Honing the skill

After this, I want to hone the skill of story telling, with that story lasting only a sentence or two.

I give my students random facts and ask them to connect them into a story.

We must concentrate on this, because a story that does not connect properly will be harder to remember.

If I say, “A man runs down the street and sees a boy,” now I must remember him running and seeing the boy, which is more work.

I can tweak the story somewhat…. “A man runs and almost trips over a boy sitting in the street.”

Now I have a bond between the man and the boy.

You cannot have the man tripping without the boy in the street.

Many times I will give the students random pieces of information in order for them to practice making meaningful connections.

Many times I will give the students random pieces of information in order for them to practice making meaningful connections. Click To Tweet
in video slides.005

Here is an example:

I make the story and also reinforce items: an old man with an old and a $12 ring for a 12 year-old granddaughter.

Applying the skill

Lastly, we need to apply this to an actual reading assignment.

I will ask the students to read the passage to themselves and then ask me about any words they do not know.

Then we will go over it together to make sure they understand the words and passage 100%.

Now we employ the story-telling technique in order to keep track of important items.

  • the main argument
  • something in parallel or conflicting
  • one example.
in video slides.007

Here is an example:

A mother goes shopping with her teenage, ninja son. He says, “Mom, all my friends are wearing black! I want this shirt.” She responds, “We are just regular farmers. You should dress normally. I like this shirt more.”

Though inauthentic it captures the main points in a funny and unexpected way. (text original source here)

Stories are more potent and useful when they are weird, funny, and unexpected.

The goal of the story is to digest and install the information without making your mind work even harder to remember even more.

As you move through a reading, you can employ this technique as you go.

Instead of trying to remember what happened two paragraphs up, just review the story going on in your mind.

They are learning a skill with this, not merely a method.

They are connecting facts over and over.

With time, the inventive and strange stories slip away and what remains is the ability to keep track of and connect information within a reading.


Everyone will have different stories and they may see them as a movie in their mind or just more text.

This is adaptable to all kinds of learners because it is completely individualized.

Making the short story serves as a vehicle to remember and digest what the student has read.

Try it today!

Making the short story serves as a vehicle to remember and digest what the student has read. Click To Tweet