Sunday, 21 October 2012

Guest Post: Being Yourself

I'm delighted to welcome back Ania Musielak to the blog. Ania is a passionate teacher and teacher trainer from Poland who I have been lucky to see speak at international conferences. She is well known for her energetic and dynamic presentations, often speaking about her passions of drama and literature. Here she argues that in our teaching we shouldn't chase the latest trends and that our lessons must reflect our personalities and strengths.

When I was 19 I started my driving course. All my friends already had driving licenses, some even had their own cars and they said that it’s impossible to function without that little piece of paper. So I did my best at the course, and whilst doing it had two minor accidents, broke my leg and went through a mild break down as I really didn’t like driving. It felt unnatural and forced and I really sucked at it! 

But finally I finished the course, passed the theoretical part and… failed the practical exam. And I was relieved as I realized that it is something I disliked very much so I decided to “give up”. My friends and family members were surprised, they tried to persuade me to give it another go and told me that “I ain’t a quitter” and I won’t survive without a driving license!

Well, I proved them wrong – I am 34, without a driving permit and functioning pretty well ☺ I turned my weakness into my advantage – I walk a lot so I do get plenty of exercise, I plan my day well as I know that I have to get everywhere on foot, I learned who my true supporters are whenever I really need a ride and, what is more, I am no threat to the other drivers!

What’s the point of that story? Well I decided that I want to do the things I am actually good at and that I enjoy. That is why some time ago I forgot about the pretty image I had in my head about me driving, wind in my hair, looking calm and classy ;-) And the thing is – I’m not saying to give up and not try to learn something new or push yourself – just don’t do something you are uncomfortable with.  It doesn’t mean you should never “leave” your comfort zone – it just means BE YOURSELF at what you do, and do it your own unique way.
Ania, as she used to see herself, behing the wheel.
There are lots of inspirational quotes and slogans out there like “Do what you love, love what you do” or “Do more of what makes you happy”. We read them and promise ourselves that we will take them seriously, but the sad truth is – we quickly fail to recall them. 

I think that if you do something you love you cannot fail. Do not force yourself to do the things that others like or things that are popular and trendy, just do what you are passionate about. The same is true about teaching. Passion is contagious. A lesson conducted with dedication and enthusiasm will be unforgettable but if you force yourself to do something you are not at ease with – students will feel that.

For example if you feel uncomfortable with drama – don’t use drama techniques in your lesson or pick the ones you feel will work for you. If you are not a fan of drilling – stick to those forms of revision you are familiar with. All your friends teach using iPads but you cannot bring yourself to do so? Use other forms of technology that you feel contented with. 

I have a lot of passions in my life but three stand out –literature, drama and music. And I use those interest and strengths of mine in teaching.

Passion 1 - Literature

I do my best to show my students that reading does not need to be dull and tedious. I use every piece of authentic texts I can – from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to novels and plays. I pick texts that I know well and try to animate the lessons by introducing fun and up-to-date activities.

Do your students like Twilight Saga or Harry Potter? Well, why not introduce the classic Romeo and Juliet and find differences and similarities between those stories?
Do your young pupils learn poems easily? Create your own version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or use poems as a springboard to create a collaborative class book.
Are you preparing your FCE students for the exam? Well, there are plenty of literary texts that are copious in idioms.
My theory is that if you show them that you love reading and that it can be challenging and rewarding, your students will follow suit and start reading on their own.

Passion 2 – Music

I listen to music almost all the time. And so do my students, especially the teenage ones. On English lessons we talk about our favourite bands, the bands we hate, types of music, we compare our playlists and study song lyrics. Sometimes my students “laugh” at my musical choices but they are tolerant and open minded because I do the same with the songs they pick.

Some time ago they were even willing to have a lesson on country music (one of my guilty pleasures, and I don’t mean Taylor Swift country, more like Johnny Cash) and we talked about its history, themes and artists. We looked at songs and tried to find different styles of music that deal with similar or totally different topics.

It was great as from country we moved on to blues, hip-hop and rock. Why? Because my students saw how passionate I was about the topic and how comfortable I felt having a lesson like that. If I had to talk about playing instruments or show them how it’s done - that would be a different story so I would leave it to the experts.

Passion 3 - Drama


I think that drama techniques and games are excellent for every type of lesson. They can be used for enhancing overall fluency, for practising writing, reading and listening. Lately, I have incorporated some of drama games to teach grammar as teaching sentence structure and language rules is one of my weaknesses. When I have to conduct a traditional grammar lesson I am stressed out and it always goes wrong. That is why I use drama games and my students engage in role plays that focus on specific grammatical aspects we are discussing. 

Sometimes we use miming activities to talk about various tenses. I feel comfortable teaching like that and my students learn much faster than by listening to my theoretical babble! Another thing that made me fall in love with drama is the fact that with drama you move a lot – and I am a very active person who cannot keep still. Drama is the perfect outlet for my bottled up energy and it helps with motivating my students. 

What more can I say – I really believe that by sticking to what feels right and natural to us our teaching will be memorable and what is more, effective. Just as the lyrics of the song say:

Being myself is something I do well.  Whatever you do, do it good.
Express Yourself by Labrinth

Ania Musielak lives and works in her hometown of Tarnowskie Góry, Poland after graduating from Silesian University as a Philosophy Doctor. She has worked as an English teacher, trainer and writer for 12 years, specialising in using drama and literature in teaching English.

Photo attribution:
Photo 2, Photo 3 and Photo 4 supplied by the author.

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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Shut Up!

Let's face it, one of the hardest things for us teachers to do sometimes is to shut up. We can feel the need to keep teaching all the time and somewhere deep in our subconscious  we have been led to believe that teaching means talking.

Maybe we don't realise what we are doing, or we find it hard to resist. We might be waiting for the training that makes us realise it's okay to be quiet for a while, or we might have a great story we want to share and half way through we realise we're really going on a bit too much here. 

Either way, it's surprisingly hard and many teachers, I believe, undervalue the importance of silence and quiet in the classroom. So to help you, I've made some posters which you can print and pin up in your office, teacher's room or on the back wall of your classroom* as a reminder that sometimes less is more...


And just to be provocative...

These posters were made with a poster generator to promote the new movie Shut Up and Play The Hits, documenting the farewell performance of the wonderful LCD Soundsystem, the best band of the last thirty years. You can make your own Shut Up posters here, but be warned it's not always classroom appropriate due to the language employed by other users of the site. 

If you think I missed anything, make your own poster and I'll add it to here.

Here's one from Vicky Loras:

And one from Phil Longwell:

*I should have used a different font for this.
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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Time to Think!

So summer is over. The leaves are turning brown and the nights are coming in. This can only mean one thing: it's time to start blogging again. After two months off, it's time to go back to the keyboard, dust off some of those Google docs that have been sitting in the ideas folder and get writing. And I can't wait, I've got so many things I want to share with you.

Firstly, I hope you like the new design of this blog. I decided it was time for a spring clean, so I've spruced it up with a new template and easier navigation. I'm not completely finished yet and there are still a few things I'd like to tidy up, but generally I'm pretty happy with it. If you have any suggestions or come across any problems with the layout and design, then please leave a comment below or contact me via one of those lovely new 'follow me' buttons I've added up in the top right hand corner.

I've also bought my own domain name, so you can now head over to or the snappy The old URL still works, so you don't need to update your favourites or bookmarks.

Secondly, I'm very pleased to announce my new blog, Think! The concept of the blog is to take interesting and stimulating ideas from the fields of science, psychology, sociology and the arts and look at how they can influence language teaching and learning. I hope you'll find it an interesting project, I'm very excited about it and can't wait for your reaction.

You can find it at

It won't affect this blog, I'll be writing both of them simultaneously, so be sure to continue to stop by. I truly appreciate every click, retweet, like, share and comment. And have a great autumn!
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