Sunday, 21 October 2012

Bologna's Chocolate Festival

With Bologna's Annual Chocolate Festival (Fiera del Cioccolato) just around the corner (from the 14-16 November), here are some photos from previous years to whet your appetite! From thick hot chocolate (in a solid chocolate espresso cup) to beautifully crafted sculptures made from chocolate, there's something for everyone! 

Solid Chocolate Padlocks and Keys

Chocolate Violins

Chocolate Moka Pots, Espresso Cups and Spoons! 

For Cheese Lovers: Emmental, Salami, 
Bread and a Grater in chocolate form! 

Chocolate Ravioli 

Walnuts Dipped in Chocolate & Praline

For the medics in the family: 
Chocolate pills, plasters, syringes and medicine bottles

An endless array of flavours: basil, lemon, chilli, cinnamon, and balsamic vinegar!

Chocolate Tools complete with chocolate powder for a rusty look!

Chocolate Mice (They remind me of the mice I used to 
eat as a child from the National Trust Shop!) 

Hope you liked this post. Feel free to leave comments!
Is your city famous for food festivals? 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Ideas for Teachers: Picture Dictation

This is a low preparation fun activity that works well with large classes, especially with young learners and teens. All your students need is a blank piece of paper. It’s a fun and effective way to revise prepositions (in, on, under etc) and vocabulary. It's also a great activity to use as a game at the end of a lesson if students are lacking motivation to do written exercises as is often the case. 

  • Explain to the students that they are going to do a picture dictation, that you are going to describe a picture to them and that all they have to do is simply listen and draw what you describe.
  • For elementary and pre-intermediate students, describe a simple and easy-to-draw picture to them and ask them to draw it.
  • When you are describing the picture it's best to describe one object at a time slowly and to repeat each description two or three times.
  •  Make sure you give students enough time to finish drawing one object before you move onto the next object and it is a good idea to walk around and look at the students' drawings as they are drawing them so that you can see how well they are understanding your descriptions and then you can give them advice or change your description to make it clearer for them.
  • You can increase the level of difficulty where needed.
  • Note: This activity isn't limited to children! This also works well with adults who enjoy games too. I teach several doctors and businessmen who always request this game if they've had a hard day and work and want to enjoy themselves during the English lesson. In these cases, I often choose more difficult pictures depending on their level. 
★  ★  
  • This activity works very well in pairs. One student describes a picture to a partner and their partner draws what they hear. This means the student practices speaking as well as listening and comprehension. Describing unfamiliar objects or situations using phrases like ‘it’s a long object with four legs’ (table) helps students to be able to make themselves understood in real life situations when they can’t remember a word.
  • They then swap roles and can compare the pictures they drew with the original which is usually very entertaining.
  • You can also give a student a picture from a textbook or a picture of a painting and ask them to describe it to a partner. Surreal paintings by Salvador Dali or comical paintings by Fernando Botero often work well as they are entertaining to draw and the student has to remember vocabulary out of it’s usually context. For example: Dali’s painting of a ship with butterfly sails. See previous post: Tips for Motivating Young Learners

  • Another good variation is to give students a list of objects and ask them to draw their own pictures with those objects in them.

  • For younger students, you can ask them to draw simple objects or give them blank colouring sheets and then do Colour Dictation. For example, colour the roof of the house green, colour the door of the house red, or get students to label different objects by writing the name of the object underneath it, such as house, bird etc

  • You can also get students to write a description of the picture afterwards or for homework. 
★  ★  

Here are some more links related to picture dictation which you may find useful

University of Virginia: Picture Dictation

If you have another other variations that you use with your students, I'd love to hear from you!

Which activities do you find particularly useful for revising prepositions? 

What are your fail safe activities for use when young learners are tired or lacking motivation? 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Beauty of Book Shelves (& Italian 'Arry Potterr)

I have a confession (and quite a geeky one at that). Being away from my huge wooden bookshelf in the UK is proving to be quite a wrench. There's something so comforting about having all your books in order and knowing that you can revisit them at any time. It's no surprise then that they are the first things I unpack when I move to a new house! Well, this week I began to pine for my bookcase after spending an hour meandering round an Italian bookshop in search of new listening materials for my students. I came across several English books that had been translated into Italian but the most striking one was the Harry Potter series. 

Here is a photo of the series as there are sold in Italy. The top row contains the first four Harry Potter books in paperback (the equivalent of the adult version in the UK) and the bottom row has the final books in hardback with the children's illustrations. 

It's amazing the difference a cover can make to your perception of a book and your expectations before you read.  For example, the UK version of The Half-Blood Prince gives you a brief snapshot of book's climax which keeps you guessing til the end while the Italian cover gives nothing away. Then of course, the third and fourth books just aren't the same with a flying hippogriff and a huge fire breathing dragon respectively. The Italian versions seem a little dull by comparison. 

Maybe it's just that I reject anything unfamiliar. I mean, the Potter series and their colour-blocked spines are so recognizable on my bookshelf back in the UK (not least because it occupies nearly a whole shelf!) that they might as well be classed as furniture. And so, to restore the equilibrium and return the world to normal, here is the UK version for you to make your own judgement. 

★  ★  

If you love Harry Potter, you might also like to read: 
A Who's Who of Funny Names in Italian Harry Potter

If you're a bit of a book worm, you might like this article about bookshelves and how we organise them. 

Wolf Whistles & Ciao Bella's: Thoughts on From My Sisters' Lips

Recently, I started reading 'From My Sister's Lips' by Na'ima B. Robert which a really lovely Italian lady lent to me. It sparked some ideas which I thought I'd share. In the first few chapters the protagonist speaks about her modest attire ending 'unwanted male attention' which put an 'end to seeking male approval for my looks or clothes.'  This got me thinking about how my daily life in Italy has changed since my Erasmus days in Italy. 

At that time I remember assessing my attractiveness each day by a tally of the number of 'Ciao Bella's' I received when I walked in the street. It wasn't that I was parading myself  or strutting but it's a normal occurrence for a woman to receive such remarks in Italy. Particularly if you're quite clearly foreign (pale skin and shorts in Spring are a dead giveaway!) Even if you'd just woken up and were scrambling to get to a lecture with scruffy hair and bags under the eyes, you'd still get at least one 'ciao bella' from an Italian man. It was a handy pick-me-up on bad hair days. 

On the other hand, I've received a grand total of one 'ciao bella!' in the last year! and that particular one was from a newspaper vendor who got a bit flustered by my presence and went into panic mode! This really shocked me at first and I thought urgh! It's clearly a sign that I must look so bad that not even a stereotypically sleazy man says ciao bella to me anymore! My self-confidence took quite a hit I have to admit. Much like turning on your Twitter after a day away from the computer only to find no one has mentioned you! Sad times indeed. 

But after a while, and as my confidence increased, I realized that this wasn't a bad thing. Not being verbally harassed in the street or on the train is actually a positive thing. It removed the stress of relying on male approval to feel good about myself and in the end it's given me a greater sense of self respect because I'm treated respectfully by everyone I meet in my daily life, both at work and in the city. I still get some stares (see previous post: 11 Basic Facial Expressions) but usually from Muslim men who are so distracted by a hijabi in Italy that they stop their conversation just to stare in wide-eyed surprise. 

★  ★  

Some of you may have already read this novel and if so 
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Please leave any thoughts or your experiences below

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Ummah Beware: It's The 'H' Word!

The 'H' word of the title is, of course, the ubiquitous word 'hijab.'  This may fill you with excitement and anticipation or you may be fed up to the teeth with such articles and be looking for the nearest exit! In any case, hopefully you'll bear with me!

Even as I write this, I'm aware that any attempt to separate the idea of a Muslim woman and hijab is somewhat undermined by the prominence of so many articles, youtube videos, and blogs (this one included), which constantly clump 'Muslim woman' and 'hijab' together in the same breath. The more we put the word hijab and woman in the same sentence, the more hijab is cemented in people's minds as the be and end all when it comes to being a woman in Islam.

It's a worrying linguistic trend because it runs the risk of excluding sisters who don't wear the headscarf (hijab). It creates the assumption (whether verbalized or not) that somehow a Muslim woman without a headscarf is incomplete. It bypasses the fact that hijab is first and foremost a spiritual principal of modesty (and general morality) which goes for men just as much as for women. 

In this situation, the physical material is secondary. Think of it more as an outward sign of an inward attempt to nurture those inward qualities over a whole lifetime. So naturally, a 100% cotton pashmina cannot be considered an accurate gauge of whether that inner quality is there or not just as a lack of a visible signifier doesn't mean that the principles of hijab are not deeply rooted in that woman's heart. 

In any society such reliance on visible markers can be damaging and the Muslim community (Ummah) is no exception. Ultimately it runs the risk of creating a community based on superficiality where individuals feels pressured to look the part and worry about little else.

The fact that the real qualities of hijab are shown by a person's actions are borne out but the vast array of amazing Muslim women, scarfies and non-scarfies, who I've encountered over the last year. They've taught me so much just by their influence and I can't thank them enough for being so welcoming, encouraging and supportive. 

★  ★  

I hope there was something in here that you found interesting. 
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.
I'd love to hear what you think!

Do we (Muslims and non-Muslims) focus too much on what Muslim women wear? 
Is it unavoidable?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Grammar Notes: First & Second Conditionals

If you read this post, you'll soon know the difference between first and second conditionals (or 'if conditionals'). 

So if I were you, I would continue reading and by the end you'll know precisely when and how to use them. 

The sentences above are two examples of conditional sentences. Native English speakers use them all the time without even thinking but we often get them confused. It is no surprise then, that students learning English have difficulties knowing when to use them. So I will explain both conditionals individually and then compare the two using real life scenarios. 

First Conditional 

We use first conditional for real situations in the present or the future. We use them to show the likely consequence of a future event or action. 

Example:  'If I have time, I will help you' 
> We can infer that there is a possibility that the person speaking may have free time and so will be able to help. 
★  ★  

Second Conditional 

We use Second Conditional for improbable situations or where the conditions for the hypothetical future event do not exist

Look at the example from the box above >  If I had time, I would help you' 
> Here, we can infer that the person speaking does not have time or that they have a busy day and so it is unlikely that they will be able to help. 
★  ★  

Here is another example: 'If I were you, I would change jobs'  
> In this example, I am not you and obviously it is impossible that I will become you and so we use Second Conditional

But why do we use 'were' in this example? The past simple of 'I am' is 'I was' not 'I were' so why is it here? 

Well, here is the explanation...

Although the verb following the 'IF' clause looks like Past Simple it is actually the Imperfect SubjunctiveNow don't panic or stop reading! Imperfect Subjunctive sounds very complicated but it isn't (I promise!) 

Thankfully, the imperfect subjunctive and past simple are exactly the same. Phew! 

BUT there is one important exception --> The verb 'TO BE' 
So in the Imperfect Subjunctive, the verb 'To Be' is 'WERE' for all persons. 

Example:  'If I were you, I would wear a coat' (and not 'If I was you') 

Extra Note for Italian Speakers: We often use 'if I were you' for giving advice (consiglio) and for Italian speakers this translates as 'se io fossi te' 

★  ★  

Example #1

Example: 'If I win the lottery, I will buy a car' (First Conditional)
> I have a ticket and the lottery is today. Therefore there is a possibility that I could win. 

Example: 'If I won the lottery, I would buy a car' (Second Conditional) 
> I do not have a lottery ticket. The ticket does not exist. So this is hypothetical and very unlikely. 

★  ★  
Example #2

The first example was given by in his useful series of youtube videos. In one video he compares the first and second conditionals using the example of a teacher speaking to a good student and then a bad student. 

Teacher speaking to a Good Student >  'If you study, you'll pass your exams' 

> Here, the teacher knows the student will study because they are hard-working and they always listen to the teacher. 

> So in this example, we use the First Conditional because the future event is likely (the student is going to study) and therefore the consequence is likely to happen (the student will pass the exams). 

★  ★  

Teacher Speaking to a Bad Student > 'If you studied, you would pass your exams.'

> Here the teacher knows the student won't study (because he is lazy) and therefore the future consequence (passing exams) is unlikely. 

> So, in this example we use the Second Conditional because the future event is unlikely and therefore the possible consequence (passing exams) has a low probability. 

★  ★  

I hope you found this post useful. If you have any questions or problems, 
please let me know and I'll do my best you help. 

I'd also like to thank @effibold for her advice on this topic : D 

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