Best Practices, Workshops & Pds

Stories, stories, stories…

Teaching Beginning and endings

Teaching narrative and related techniques is a cornerstone of Qatar K-12 English Language Curriculum. Indeed, teachers of English constantly come across two main challenges: the first one is to find suitable material to cover all the required aspects described by the Qatar English Curriculum Standards Document  and that have not been addressed by the main teaching resources for different levels, and the second is to find appropriate listening and reading material needed to build exams aligned with the Evaluation Institute Documents.

From my personal teaching experience, I have learned to keep lists of different types of resources and material that I could eventually use when I need to. The problem, though, is that I have lost many of those lists due to many factors (personal, technological, etc…).

The following is a list of very useful links that can be safely used in Qatar K-12 English-language classes:

  1. Stories For Beginners
  2. Lit2Go
  3. World Stories
  4. ereadingworksheets
Best Practices

StoryBox Project (Part 1)


The idea of this innovtive project is the result of a chat I had with Dr Kevin Cordi who was accompanying a group of American students at the end of one-day visit to our school. Dr Kordi, who is teaching story-telling at Ohio University, talked to me about a project he started, in 1995, with a group of students. Though the idea seemed to be very simple, it gained international scale.

Meeting the school principal

1. The idea
As a part of teaching storytelling, Dr Kordi encouraged his students to think of an interesting story to tell. The young storytellers went through a whole process of brainstorming, editing, rehearsing and eventually telling their stories in front of a ‘real’ audience. Dr Kordi was supportive in that he guided them in developing the plot using strory elements, he highlighted the importance of cooperation and team work, and, most importantly, he provided them with professional assistance on how to use the right body language to captivate their audience. After being exposed to all those educational activities, students were ready for the show. Every team used a shoebox to put in their stories, as well as pictures, drawings or concrete things that relate to the story, such as sea shells. They decorated the outside of the boxes in accordance to a common theme that relates to all their stories.

Students decorating their storyboxes

The day of the show there was a ‘ritual’ that was followed by the audience: the ceremonial Hawaiian practice of blowing the conch shell. The audience, mainly made up of parents, teachers and friends, were split into small groups in order to listen to the different teams of students who were proudly standing around their boxes. When the conch shell is blown again, people have to swap places and listen to a different group of students telling different stories.

2. Going International

The stories were not buried in the shoeboxes but toured the world. The generous idea of spreading the word and exchanging storyboxes made this amazing project travel to many countries across Europe, South America and Asia. I consider myself to be fortunate enough to meet Dr Kordi and know the story.



Best Practices

Using Scrabble in class

I reckon I have always been reluctant to use games in my classes. You can understand that this reservation was the logical result of a mixture of fears and doubts about how much success such activities would generate. I teach mixed up classes where a big number of students who are still struggling to cope with language basics.
Mr Alan playing with a group to teach them the rules
Mr Alan playing with a group to teach them the rules

The inspiration came from Mr. Alan Papprill, a member of the school support team in 2009, who succeeded to have a set of five scrabble games for the English Department. We started to use them particularly in periods where attendance was relatively low, which was an opportunity to experience using the game with no much worries about class sizes. Indeed, I did not expect such an interest from the part of the students, especially low-achievers who were tempted to try the game and kept asking questions about its rules. It is true that I had to make efforts to explain how it should be played and clarify the way words should be organized on the board, but this could in no way be compared to the  joy to see them challenging each other and discussing the meaning or the existence of some words.

A group of students discussing the correctness of a word.
A group of students discussing the correctness of a word.
Recently, the SEC introduced extra-curricular activity classes. So, I said this is a golden opportunity to use scrabble again. Now I can say that my students of 12E3 are ‘addicted’ to the game. They are looking forward to the fourth period of every Tuesday to play Scrabble.
The class is split into small groups to play the game.
The class is split into small groups to play the game.
Everyone wants to win!
Everyone wants to win!
Best Practices

Find the topic sentences

dsc01020I have used this activity as a starter to one of the lesson I have taught recently. The idea started from a simple activity consisting in matching paragraphs with the right topic sentences. I liked the activity because I found that the paragraphs were different and challenging to the level of my students. In the same time I wanted to assign it in a different way: I have printed the paragraphs and the sentences in separate sheets of paper. I handed each student one of the papers and asked them to go around the class to find the “right match”.


The students enjoyed the activity and in the same time they moved physically, they read and tried to understand literary passages and used the language for discussion.

At the end I asked the students to stick their answers on the board.


Best Practices

‘Four-square technique’

I have attended a workshop titled ‘Four-square technique’ with some of my colleagues.The workshop was organized by two teachers. The first thing I noticed was the unexpected big number of the attendants, especially in a saturday morning. Fortunately, I managed to have a front seat so that I can follow well. I also decided that the uncomfortable chair would not weaken my will to get the best of the workshop.20130309_093428940466966
At first, when the speaker started to talk about what the workshop was going to be about, I felt a little frustrated; the idea of organizing and planning a piece of writing around a graphic organizer was not new to me. As we delved more into details, my attitude started to change. The session became more interesting as its focus shifted to practical activities rather than theoretical literature. The idea of the workshop revolved around using a piece of paper, fold it into four parts and have the students use the squares to organize ideas around the topic they are to write about. The speaker insisted that the succees of the technique depends so much on modelling, drilling and building-stamina writing topics. Hopefully learners will use this technique routinely whenever they are asked to write something. Examples of motivating topics would be “Why we love Jungle Zone”, or “Last week you went on a trip, what did you do?, what did you say?”. Indeed, when we started to experience the technique ourselves, I discovered that folding the paper, drawing the squares, numbering them and using them as a container to jot down ideas and organize them responds to the needs of a wide range of students with different learning styles. It is one of the rare activities, I think, that would get the interest of students notwithstanding their differences. After the workshop, and on the way home, I was figuring out ways to get the best of it, and put these ideas into practice.

wpid-20130309_093403.jpgIn fact, I started immediately. Since we were in the middle of the persuasive cluster this term, it was the most suitable and appropriate opportunity to use the four-square technique to organize a persuasive piece of writing. You can never imagine how positive the reaction of my students was. When I gave my students blank A4 papers and asked them to start folding them, I could see some astonished faces. That feeling of surprise quickly vanished and instead, there was a positive atmosphere that reigned in three grade 12 classes. I even did not expect one of these classes, which was a class with a majority of low achievers, to do well and come out with nicely-done and well organized worksheets.

As a variation, I asked all my students to use the four-square technique to organize their spaking-test presentations and include them in the PowerPoint presentations. Personally, I think that the results were very satisfactory, because most of the students were able to speak to the class (for the first time) following a well-organized structure and with a relatively remarkable confidence.


The PowerPoint presentation:
[slideshare id=28036640&sc=no]

Best Practices

Visit to the French Institute in Doha

During my visit to the French institute in Doha (I was attending a meeting held there), I noticed some papers hanging around the classroom walls. At once I said to myself: “This is a great idea that I have to apply next school year”. The idea is simple: the teacher has written down few statemelnts and questions that students may use frequently in class. Examles are “How to write the word…”, “Do you have a pen?” and “How to say…in French?”
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Of course, as you can guess, the students are studying French as a foreign language, and I think this is an excellent way to encourage them to use the right language to ask for something. Another advantage is that shy, or let’s say less confident ,learners,will not be hindered by the limitation of their linguistic capacities (especially as beginners) to speak to the class or address the teacher to ask for anything.
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Though I have attended a CiSELT module about ‘Classrom Language’, I did not have an idea about how to put what I have learned into practice. Simple as it looks, using such a technique would help both, the teacher and the learner, to be on the same wavelength, and speak the correct language with no frequent recourse to the mother tongue.
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I think that I will set up a list of utterances that I would evaluate as crucial to class interaction and write them using bigger font size and bigger papers. I think that after experimenting with the idea, I will come to an exhaustive list of useful classroom language that could be printed on rollups and placed inside the classroom at the beginning of each academic year.