On the Road with Gary in… Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Russia

Tools for Teachers, or ‘Fitting round pegs into square holes’

Well (to paraphrase a Bob Dylan song) I got ‘stuck inside of Moscow with the Paris blues again’ for five days last month due to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud and the crippled European air space situation. Ever seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray about a guy who wakes up to the same day, day after day after day…? Well, it was like that for me in Moscow: a big late breakfast in the hotel followed by a visit to either the airport or the Lufthansa office or to get my Russian visa extended followed by a late lunch/early dinner — and then a similar scenario the next day and the next…

Anyway, this came right at the end of almost back-to-back tours in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia and then Russia where I was doing entre autres a workshop entitled ‘Tools for Teachers’ about using materials to supplement courses such as More! for tween-agers and English in Mind for teenagers. Let’s see, in Bosnia I went (on long car journeys) from Banja Luka to Bijeljina to Tuzla to Mostar and back to Banja Luka and then on to Slavonski Brod and Osijek in the Slavonia region in the interior eastern end of Croatia. And in Russia I went from Moscow to Nizhni Novgorod (late evening planes) to Saratov (overnight trains) — and then back to Moscow (for an extra five days).

Gary answering teachers' questions in Russia

Gary answering teachers' questions in Russia

But let me explain the running title of the workshop and of this post. (Believe I might have already written about this in a previous post so apologies to any regular readers of this blog but, well, recycling/review is good, right?  And, hopefully, there are some new readers…). I was touring in Belgium a few years ago with Mario Rinvolucri who was working on Ways of Doing in the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series and Mario tried out an activity on me to activate my ‘metaphoric’ verbal-linguistic intelligence. It’s called ‘proverb reversal’: You take a proverb, reverse the words and think of a context. For example, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ becomes ‘Invention is the mother of necessity’ and the context could be, well, could you live without your mobile phone? If you take ‘Look before you leap’ and then reverse it, you get ‘Leap before you look’ as the parachute instructor told me when he saw I was scared before I jumped. (Some people think you should ‘leap before you look’ in love…of course then you might end up at Lover’s Leap.)

So the proverb ‘As difficult as fitting square pegs into round holes’ becomes ‘As difficult as fitting round pegs into square holes’. For teachers, the context would be trying to fit a class into a coursebook or any individual student into a class. To do that successfully you need ‘tools for teachers’, i.e. supplementary materials from publishers plus your own activities. Because you don’t, of course, teach just the coursebook; you teach the class! During the workshop, we tried out activities from various Cambridge ELT materials to supplement courses: titles in the secondary Cambridge Copy Collection, including Teen World; the Cambridge School Dictionary for those students interested in also knowing words in English for other school subjects and their future careers; and Cambridge Discovery Readers for extensive ‘pleasure’ reading for tween-agers and teenagers—as well as a couple of activities of my own that I used to use with French teenagers when I taught the ‘Teen Talk’ class at the former American Center here in Paris before I started working for Cambridge ELT.

My theme song for the ‘Tools for Teachers’ workshop was ‘Keep on Working’ by Peter Townshend of The Who from one of his solo albums about a man working in his garden — for which he needs various tools. Teachers also need (different) tools. In this case, published supplementary materials and activities of their own and friendly colleagues. Good luck fitting your students (the round pegs) into their coursebooks and classes (the square holes) and… keep on working!  

Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer

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