Saturday, 14 September 2019

Pre-conference event - FAAPI 2019, Salta, Argentina

Plenary session at FAAPI's Annual Conference in Salta

I'm delighted and honoured to be giving a plenary session sponsored by Pearson at the FAAPI Annual Conference 2019 in Salta, Argentina.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Young Poets' Society - Part III

Altered poems. 

In this activity learners create a poem from an existing one. 
Take a poem with a simple structure, e.g.

This Is Just to Say – Williams Carlos Williams

 I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Create a skeleton and write questions for students to use as a guide. encourage them to be as creative as they wish. 

I have eaten
What? ____________that were inPlace? ____________ and whichyou were probablyDoing? _______________When? for ____________ Forgive meWhat like? they were ____________
What like? so  ____________What like? and so __________

Favourite object

The aim of this activity is to show students the way poets give 'things' the qualities of animals or people and to help students use this idea for themselves. 

 Bring to the class a gift or small object that is special to you.
Show your students the small object you have brought. Ask them to guess why it is important to you. They can ask you questions with yes/no answers, such as: is it …? Have you …? Did you … ?

Ask the students to think about an object or gift which is very important to them. They should think about their object, but not tell anybody what it is. It can be a present from someone special, a toy from childhood, a souvenir from a special place

Ask students to imagine they are the special object. Then ask them to finish each of the sentences below:
I see _______________________________
I hear _______________________________
I remember __________________________
I know _____________________________

Use the examples below if the students need any suggestions.

I see:
a dark-haired/fair-haired boy/girl
a bedroom/sitting room
the inside of a cupboard/wardrobe/fridge/box/school desk

I hear:
people talking /laughing  / music playing / a baby crying  / cars hooting

I remember:  (name of person) talking to me / telling me stories / stroking me / washing me / wearing me / writing with me  / when I was given to ___ (name of student)

I know what he/she thinks / feels  / / likes / dislikes

Ask the students to read their poem to a partner. The partner must try and finish the last sentence: I am ___ (a pillow)

Here is an example for the students to read and guess:

Found poetry / blackout poetry

A “found poem” is created by collecting interesting text from the world around us and then using those words to make a poem.

a. Collect Words to Use Later: students keep an index card and collect words from magazine or book covers, flyers, books they have read, song lyrics or films. They try to use all of the words on your card to write a poem. They can choose to mix up the order of the words on the card. They can add as many new words as they need so that the poem feels finished.

b. Students find an old book and select a page of text. They write a poem using only the specific lexicon on that page. Some poets choose to mark out words with a marker, leaving behind words that form an unexpected poem. This exercise is particularly useful when discussing language, as so many of or students call upon the same vocabulary over and over again. Borrowing language pushes writers outside of their own self-imposed limitations.

The Young Poets' Society - Part II

Book spine poetry

It’s a kind of
poetry that you don’t really write from scratch – instead,
you “find” it by arranging book titles to make a poem.
This type of poem can be serious or funny, just like in
regular poetry.

Imagine that you’re sitting at a table with all of these books in front of you:
Green Eggs and Ham
Goodnight Moon
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Oh, The Places You’ll Go
Where the Wild Things Are
Good Night, Gorilla
Stone Soup

To make a book spine poem, you would start by moving these books around into stacks with the spines together so that the titles are like the lines of a poem. You would keep moving the book titles around into different stacks until you find the “lines” that go best together to make a poem.
If you don’t have the actual books, you may write the names on slips of paper or you may ask students to write the names of favourite books and exchange them with other students to make the poems.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Oh, The Places You’ll Go
Where the Wild Things Are

In this story, if you let the pigeon drive the bus, you might end up going a lot of unexpected places.

Here is a different kind of story:

Green Eggs and Ham
Stone Soup
The Very Hungry Caterpillar

In this story, the caterpillar is hungry because the only food to eat is stuff that doesn’t taste very good.

Another way that you can use book titles to make a poem is to create an imaginary conversation, as in this very short example:

Good Night, Gorilla
Goodnight Moon

Free Verse
This is a common form of modern poetry that is just what it says it is - poetry that is written without proper rules about form, rhyme, rhythm, meter, etc. The greatest American writer of free verse is probably Walt Whitman. In free verse the writer makes his/her own rules. The writer decides how the poem should look, feel, and sound. It can be a great way to "get things off your chest" and have your students express what they feel.
A very simple free verse can be as follows:

If you want to use this form of poetry with older more mature students with higher levels of English, you may wish to ask them to
·        write a paragraph entitled "Who Am I?"
·        go back and break the paragraph into lines
·        revise the lines until they look, feel, and sound right
·        complete a self-portrait to reflect the "real" you

Alternatively, you can ask your students to choose one idea (beliefs, animals, customs, clothing, environment, feelings) and write a paragraph a on this topic. Then, have them break the paragraph into lines or stanzas if they want to express more than one idea. They can also compile poems that deal with the same topic to form one large poem or put some music to them and record them. 

Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Young Poets' Society - Part I

Poetry can be used to exploit various aspects of the English language in the foreign and second language classroom. It can be harder to write than prose, it is also true that it is a most personal kind of writing and it needs sensitive treatment, especially with older students. Poetry is subject to interpretation and is as subjective as it can be objective. But some simple forms can be just as easy and fun to write. Besides it will give the students the opportunity to explore language, organise ideas, manipulate structure and vocabulary and give free rein to their imagination and feelings.

Something that frequently comes to people’s minds when I talk about poetry, although they never say it aloud!, is “Poetry? What for? They don’t read poetry in their own languages and you want them to read it in English? It’s far too difficult for kids anyway.”

Poetry doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be just as simple as you make it. When you read a poem, you don’t have to read every word separately and think of the hidden meaning. Also, poetry isn’t just William Wordsworth or John Keats. If you find yourself baffled by poetry of the past, read contemporary poetry. 

Teachers also lament, "I would love to do more poetry with students, but there's so much to teach in my curriculum!" So, what I try to encourage is for teachers to consider using poetry within the curriculum, as an integral part of the lesson, rather than as an add-on. Poetry has a place in our curriculum. It can be taught as part of reading, writing, and language lessons and it fits easily into classroom themes, projects, and celebrations. It can add additional value to our studies. We can have poem of the week activities to strengthen language lessons.

But what’s the benefit of including poetry in our lessons?

The reasons for using poetry are similar to those for using songs and many activities that you do with songs can be adapted to poetry.

Any authentic material exposes students to some ‘real English’ and can be very motivating for your students, provided they are supported throughout the task. The other great thing about poems is for students to have the opportunity to see the language work creatively and freely.

Poems can be used in many different ways and the more you use them the more uses you’ll find for them.

1. Activate prior knowledge
Students are most receptive to new learning when they can connect it to what they already know. Poetry provides a quick and fun way to do this.

2. Establish a theme
Teaching with a theme and its accompanying guiding questions isn't new to most of us, and the majority of teachers maintain a ready repertoire of methods to establish themes for units. The perfect poem, however, can lead to a wonderful writing reflection or discussion that allows students to construct the theme and essential questions for themselves.

3. Explore language
Many times we struggle to teach students grammar in way that is motivational or memorable. How many of us can recall learning our parts of speech and verb forms in deadly dull exercise books? While drill and example books might have a place in instruction, I'd recommend some verse to liven up the process of language learning.

4. Focus on facts
Creating poetry is a wonderful way for students to share information they learned through class or independent study. What's fantastic about poetry is that it can bring life to otherwise dry and lifeless facts!

5. Ignite curiosity
Much has been said in educational texts about inquiry learning. From my own experiences, however, I find that students are naturally inquisitive, and there's not much more we need to do but focus their natural curiosity. Poetry can do this!

6. Provide pleasure
Okay, so you may think I cheated on this one. After all, I'm supposed to be giving you purposes for using poetry. But if we can't convince our students that one of reading's purest functions is pleasure, then I don't think we've really done our job.


Poetry for kids rhyming dictionary

Searching for equality in ELT

This is the blog post I wrote for EVE (EQUAL VOICES IN ELT) 

There are two issues that have preoccupied me during my professional life.

The first is, does it really matter if the person giving a plenary or a keynote at an international ELT conference is a man or a woman?

Your reply will most likely be: No, it doesn’t matter, as long as the speaker is a professional. However, for many years, I wondered whether there were no female Big Names in ELT precisely because the vast majority of plenary and keynote speakers were, and in many events still are, men. Women are under-represented at the top of the tree even though ours is a profession where most practitioners are women.  I don’t mean to say that conference organisers actively discriminate against female speakers. Maybe they just don’t think about it, and I do see that as a problem, because there are many women on the organising boards of these conferences. 

The second issue is a passport-related one.

I arrived in Spain 16 years ago, and soon afterwards I started offering my services as a teacher of English.  Although I had considerable experience teaching a range of levels and ages, was in possession of a post-graduate degree from a British university, had served as a Cambridge Oral Examiner in my home country, Argentina, and was already a published ELT author, I found I lacked the most important qualification: I wasn’t a Native Speaker. ‘You have a fantastic CV but you’re not ‘a native’  was the mantra I kept hearing. And I wasn’t the only one!

However, I have also discovered that native English teachers could also be discriminated against. Some employers demand specific accents: British as opposed to American or Scottish or Irish, not to mention African native speakers of English.

In due time, I joined TESOL-SPAIN and I must say I have been very lucky to find a group of like-minded fellow members and Board members, male and female, native and non-native, who actively work to eradicate discrimination in all its forms.

For many years, even when gender balance was not an issue in ELT, TESOL-SPAIN Annual Conference Coordinators tried hard to ensure equal representation in the line-up of their plenary speakers.

In recent years, we have extended our efforts to ensure that this balance is also present in our line-up of keynote and general speakers for our Annual conventions as well as in our regional events. 

In 2018 and 2019, we received EVE: Equal Voices in ELT awards for our Madrid and Oviedo Annual convention line-ups, for which we are deeply grateful.

As for the NEST/NNEST issue, TESOL-SPAIN is particularly worried about the situation in Spain, where it is common for non-native English speaking teachers to be discriminated against, in favour of native English speaking teachers, regardless of  their respective qualifications, even for positions in official government  organisations.

Back in 2014, the Board issued the following  position statement against discrimination:
In compliance with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, TESOL-SPAIN stands in opposition to discrimination against teachers on the basis of their national, ethnic or linguistic background, religion, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, in terms of hiring, promotion, recruitment for jobs, or employment conditions.

With respect to the common, long-standing notion, unsupported by research, that a certain ethnicity, accent, or national background gives a person an advantage as a teacher of English, TESOL-SPAIN firmly believes that all teachers should be evaluated and valued solely on the basis of their teaching competence, teaching experience, formal education and linguistic expertise. Therefore, TESOL-SPAIN does not condone job announcements that list "native English," "native command of English," "native-like fluency," "standard accented English," or similar, as required or desirable qualities.

There’s still a lot to do to achieve equality in the workplace at all levels, but we feel that if teachers' associations, researchers and teachers all work together , we can make the change and set an example to other sectors. We are educators, and we can fight against discrimination at all levels through education.  

Annie Altamirano, MA ELT & Applied Linguistics
Teacher, teacher trainer and author,
former President of TESOL-SPAIN, current Vice-president of TESOL-SPAIN.

If you want to know more about TESOL-SPAIN, visit

If you want to know more about EVE, visit


Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Lifting poetry off the page

Reading original poetry in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom, while also emphasizing writing, speaking and listening skills. Students who don’t like writing may like poetry as it can become a gateway to other forms of writing. Students can learn how to use grammar in their own writing by studying how poets do—and do not—follow traditional writing rules in their work. Poetry can teach writing and grammar conventions by showing what happens when poets strip them away or pervert them for effect.
Poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text but it can also give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions.
I would like poetry to become a choice that enriches the time spent in the classroom for teachers and students, letting poetry be poetry working with it, in all its forms, in ways that foster memorable and informed encounters and create satisfying experiences that can potentially live creatively in future activities. If a poem is to become more than the object of critical attention, it has to be lifted off the page through voicing the text either out loud or on the inner ear. Therefore, there is great potential for it to be used to build empathy and bridge gaps of understanding between people who come from differing backgrounds making it a vehicle for messages of social justice.
I will now present four activities on the topic of being displaced based on a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, which can be used with adolescent and adult students.
Originally by Carol Ann Duffy 

Resultado de imagen de carol ann duffyDame Carol Ann Duffy, Britain's Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2019, is the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly gay or bisexual poet to hold the position.
In her autobiographical poem, ‘Originally’, Duffy considers and explores the sense of isolation and confusion she felt as a child when her family moved from Scotland to England. She describes both the literal details of the journey as well as the deeper, metaphorical journey that she and her family experienced as a result of this decision.
The initial catalyst for the poem, the memories of the move and her gradual assimilation into her new home, provokes a more philosophical meditation on the subject of childhood itself. Perhaps the most significant line in the poem comes at the start of stanza two when she asserts that All childhood is an emigration, revealing clearly the universal truth that the process of growing up is always synonymous with change.

Think – pair – share: What is ‘home’?
Write the word HOME in big fonts on the board. What associations can you make with that word? Create a mind map with ideas. Then share with a friend and then with the class. How similar or different are your perceptions of HOME?
Write the name of the poem ORIGINALLY and ask students what the relation might be with the word HOME.

Show the poem or give a copy to the groups. As a class, explore the language. Then offer questions to consider:
What does Duffy mean by ‘our own country’?
Where do you come from originally?
Have you ever had to move to another country / city / region / neighbourhood? How did you feel?
If you haven’t, how do you think you would feel? What would you miss most?
How does your mind create images of that past place? 
How does it differ from the actual reality of that original first experience?

The memory telescope
Ask students to pick a moment from the discussion of memories, think about it really carefully and see what details they can add – where, when, what, how, who, why. They keep homing in closer and closer on the event, as if they had a memory telescope, trying to think about what they could see, hear, smell and feel. Did anyone say anything? What, and how was it said, and to whom? They tell these details to a partner and jot them down making an informal list.  
They use the moment they have chosen in the previous activities to create a still image. Then they add sticky notes to each person – what are they saying, what are they thinking, how do they feel?
They create the moment before; then the moment after; now run them together in a slow-motion action replay of the event. They take photos of each stage of their memory using comic strip software to produce a comic strip of their memory on the computer.
‘I’ poem
Students use the informal list they have written to create an “I” poem. Its rules are as follows:
I am (two special characteristics you have)
I wonder (something you are actually curious about)
I hear (an imaginary sound)
I see (an imaginary sight)
I want (an actual desire)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)
I pretend (something you actually pretend to do)
I feel (a feeling about something imaginary)
I touch (an imaginary touch)
I worry (something that really bothers you)
I cry (something that makes you very sad)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)
I understand (something you know is true)
I say (something you believe in)
I dream (something you actually dream about)
I try (something you really make an effort about)
I hope (something you actually hope for)
 I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

Whether a particular poem translates the human ephemeral phenomenological experience in general into words, or translates the experience of one group of people to another, one thing is for certain: poetry isn’t going away anytime soon. Like society itself, it is likely that the role of poetry will be forever-changing, adapting itself to the needs of society as poets see fit, and as the human experience necessitates.
I will close with an excerpt from What the Living Do by Marie Howe:
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the
    winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and
    more and then more of it.
 But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself
   in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a
   cherishing so deep
 for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that
   I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe.

Originally, by Carol Ann Duffy, in New Selected Poems 1984-2004 (Picador, 2004). Originally published in The Other Country (Anvil, 1990).