Skip to main content

Personal log: Star Date 21.2.10

Just got back from Washington and New York and I have to say it was pretty amazing all round. In "DC" we stayed at the stunningly civilised Willard hotel ("where the presidents stay"), just close by the White House. Elspeth did her conference thing for a couple of days, whilst I did some sight-seeing and there was plenty to do. Washington was still under the snow and was pretty beautiful for it.

First day proper we did an open top bus ride, along with Elspeth's Australian colleague Betty. That was a lot of fun, if a tad chilly. We stopped off in Georgetown with its hill-top cathedral and rather bohemian streets - quite European. Elsp and I went to a jazz club one night to listen to Heidi Martin. Nice.

I walked a lot: Capitol Hill, Union Station, the Air and Space Museum. Betty, Elspeth and "did" the Washington monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. It's all rather grand, slightly austere, pristine and full of America's short, but proud history. I enjoyed walking the streets. It's pretty low rise and feels sophisticated, multicultural and surprsingly small. Washington only has a population of 550 000 - about the same as Leeds.

New York City is another matter. Where do you start? Our hotel room was on the 37th floor of the Millenium Plaza hotel, next to the UN building. Unbelieveble views south to the Empire State and Brooklyn Bridge, most spectacular at night. Anyway, in brief, we took in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Times square, Grand Union Station, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Greenwich Village, Wall Street, Ground Zero, Maceys, Zabar's (an astonishing deli  and cookware shop), late night drink at the top of the art-deco Beekman Tower, the "Top of the Rock" (Rockefeller Centre). We saw two movies (as we aren't into shows) - go and see Precious; it is a quite breathtakingly good movie, hard to watch at times.

Our flight home was interesting because KLM had a three hour delay to Amsterdam so they re-routed us via Paris and Newcastle. It was touch and go whether we would make it back to work tomorrow. Air France was nice - they served champagne as an aperitif before the night meal. It doesn't take much to impress me.

Oh, and we took the train from Washington to NY. Isn't it interesting how railways lines always reveal poverty. I was struck by the large number of tiny, quite run-down, terraced, flat-roofed houses, set amongst scruffy industrial zones - Baltimore looked particularly ugly from the train.

But it's true what they say. The service in the US is nearly always very good. Our accents went down well enough, especially with the gay waiter in the Mexican restaurant.


Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

Using sentence builder frames for GCSE speaking and writing preparation

Some teachers have cottoned on to the fact that sentence builders (aka substitution tables) are a very useful tool for helping students prepare for their GCSE speaking and writing tests. My own hunch is that would help for students of all levels of proficiency, but may be particularly helpful for those likely to get lower grades, say between 3-6. Much depends, of course, on how complex you make the table.

To remind you, here is a typical sentence builder, as found on the frenchteacher site. The topic is talking about where you live. A word of warning - formatting blogs in Blogger is a nightmare when you start with Word documents, so apologies for any issues. It might have taken me another 30 minutes just to sort out the html code underlying the original document.

"Ask and move" task

This is a lesson plan using an idea from our book Breaking the Sound Barrier (Conti and Smith, 2019). It's a task-based lesson adapted from an idea from Paul Nation and Jonathan Newton. It is aimed at Y10-11 pupils aiming at Higher Tier GCSE, but is easily adaptable to other levels and languages, including A-level. This has been posted as a resource on

This type of lesson plan excites me more than many, because if it runs well, you get a classroom of busy communication when you can step back, monitor and occasionally intervene as students get on with listening, speaking and writing.

Filling the gaps

All teachers at some time make use of gap-fill activities. There are very good reasons for doing so, whether the focus is on careful listening with a transcript, grammatical awareness, vocabulary retrieval or general comprehension. I particularly liked them for scaffolding listening with classes, combining comprehension with phonics and grammar. A gap-fill really gets students listening intensively and supports the process of listening. If you are keen on the idea of Listening as Modelling (as described in our listening book) you may prefer this type of task to general comprehension exercises which can end up promoting guesswork.

You can use gap-full in all kinds of ways and with different aims in mind. As a little exercise I thought I’d make a list if all the types of gap-fill I could think of.  These are all with LISTENING in mind, more than reading. These could help you focus on the precise aim of the gap-fill or just provide you with some variations to make it more interesting for…