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More Colors

and Snakes in
the Classroom
A Visual and Active Method of Teaching
Steve McCrea
Recommended: a visual approach to pronunciation Method -1-

Hello. I’m a five different careers) and flexible
teacher of networking skills?
English as a
second We know that there are many ways
language. I also of learning
teach teenagers Howard Gardner and Multiple
how to improve their score on the Intelligences
SAT, a college entrance exam. I
think about “How do we make math
and vocabulary come alive for these
students?” As teachers, we need to
make this stuff more appealing to
more students because we need
more engineers and consumers who
understand basic physical and
chemical laws.

Perhaps you have heard about these

topics: Perhaps you have heard that it is a
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell good idea to learn in a small school
(sometimes the first impression is (see Dennis Littky Education is
right and our intellectual analysis Everybody’s Business and the
overwhelms the intuition, leading us initiative by Bill and Melinda Gates
to negative situations) Foundation to subdivide large
A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink schools,
and Free Agent Nation. The ideas
are that we need more “right brain” The issues are about where students
thinking (which looks at the whole learn, how they learn and what they
situation) and less focus on should be learning. Who should
efficiency (to the exclusion of teach them? Dennis Littky says,
beautify). Since more people will be “Mentors.”
working for themselves, free agents
need training on how to come
together to work on projects (in the
Hollywood movie making process).
Projects will take place, not jobs.
People will deliver services and then
leave. Are we preparing our
students for the uncertain, fast-
changing workplace that demands
more than a solid resume and good
academic scores? Are we instilling
the discipline of self-teaching (most
people will have to train for at least Method -2-

The Breakthrough making of a rat memory – in this recommends case how a rat who's never been in
slightly older peers. this tank of water before learns
how to find a clear plastic platform
Now let’s put more information on just below the surface.
top of this long list of
recommendations: according to "He’ll swim around randomly,"
recent studies, we need to bring McGaugh explains. The rat cannot
more color, action and positive see the platform, since his eyes are
stress into the classroom. on the top of his head.

Did you hear about the adrenaline The rat will swim around the edge
experiment? What role does for a long time, until eventually he
ventures out and by chance bumps
excitement play in helping us
into the platform. The next day,
remember new information?
he'll find the platform a little bit

Here’s a quote from a 60 Minutes report

Adrenaline makes memories.
But another rat, who had learned
How can we use this where the platform was the day
information? prior, and then received a shot of
The story begins with some adrenaline immediately afterwards,
surprising discoveries about today swam instantly to the
memory. It turns out our memories platform.
are sort of like Jello – they take
time to solidify in our brains. And Adrenaline actually made this rat's
while they're setting, it's possible brain remember better, and
to make them stronger or weaker. McGaugh believes the same thing
It all depends on the stress happens in people. "Suppose I said
hormone adrenaline. to you, 'You know, I've watched
your programs a lot over the years,
The man who discovered this is and although it pains me to have
James McGaugh, a professor of to tell you this, I think you're one
neurobiology at the University of of worst people I've ever seen on …
California, Irvine. now don't take it, don't take it
personally,'" McGaugh says.
McGaugh studies memory in rats,
and he invited Stahl to watch the Method -3-

"So, my stress system would go substitute. The director of studies is
into overdrive, no question," Stahl often surprised at the amount of stuff
says. that I bring into a classroom. Here is
a typical list:
"Even with my telling you that it's
not true, there's nothing to keep Stuffed animals
you from blushing, from feeling Large picture books (dogs, places to
warm all over," McGaugh points visit, food, profiles of countries, atlas,
out. "That's the adrenaline. And I different types of atlases), comic books,
dare say that you're gonna DVDs and CDs showing students
remember my having said that expressing a variety of opinions
long after you've forgotten the Pronunciation CDs
other details of our discussion Video camera, tripod
here. I guarantee it." Small rewards (bouncing balls sold ten
for $2, pens with web site addresses,
particular and
Colored papers, colored pens, post-it
notes, rulers (yard stick) scissors,
newspapers, glue and tape to put
papers on the walls, wide tipped

Phew. And then the director of

studies wonders why I request a
color to leave this stuff so that I don’t
have to carry it back to my car at the
end of the day.
McGaugh says that’s why we
remember important and
emotional events in our lives
more than regular day-to-day

AH! Now I know how to

get someone to REALLY
learn grammar! We
need snakes, vampires
and ghosts in the This pamphlet is a draft,, a work in
progress, but it is urgently needed as
classroom. a manifesto for parents and students
who have learning differences. If
your kid needs more stimulation in
Suggested Materials class, here’s one way to build
I have collected these procedures support for the idea that schools
because I am sometimes asked to need a variety of ways of teaching
teach in a new school as a Method -4-

and some of those methods of evaluate both student and teacher.
teaching require more space for Stand up presentations are used so
storing materials that can be useful. that students who dislike writing can
use a larger vocabulary. (I tested
A more radical notion is “If a teacher this. I asked several boys to write a
does not employ things to help the page about their recent vacation.
visual learner and the student who Most didn’t cover half a page. But
needs higher stimulation, should that when I asked them to tell me about
teacher go through training?” What their vacation, I had a hard time
is the point of going to workshops stopping them. The presentations
about multiple ways of learning if the were sequential and well-organized
teacher does not change the method while many of the written
of delivery? If a teacher refuses to presentations jumped from topic to
bring a video camera into the topic without smooth transitions. If
classroom, is it possible to allow you teach young boys, consider
students to make videotapes of introducing video testing as an
segments of class? What are the alternative or supplement to the
rights of students who have an ability typical written essay.
for learning through later listening”?

I am not an attorney, so I will leave

these matters to better informed
analysts. As a teacher in the front
line, where I deliver lessons to
students, I have observed that the
focus is often on “Did the teacher
present the information clearly”
(show me your lesson plan) when in
reality, the focus should be on the
student. Did the teacher give each
student an opportunity to express or PRINCIPLES
perform his understanding of the I will conclude this presentation with
material? The teacher can lecture a list of principles that I’ve compiled
beautifully and even pass out a DVD to attempt to inform a (choose one)
to every student, but the visual and flustered, annoyed, perplexed
active method requires the teacher director of studies: “Why is this room
to listen to each student perform so messy? Why do you need this
their understanding of the process. stuff in here? Why can’t you teach
This is why at least every 9 weeks in without all these things?” In short, I
the Met Center, an innovative school could read the question in his eyes,
in Providence, Rhode Island, every “Why can’t you be like the other
student gives a formal presentation teachers?” (Yes, there are usually
that is video recorded. The student complaints from some students who
can analyze the performance, the claim that the materials make the
teacher can see what has been classroom look like a children’s play
omitted and the administrator can room.), Method -5-

The following principles are
presented in an effort to build an
army of colleagues. I want to be part
of the majority who use visual and
active techniques. I want to hand
out a brochure to parents that
persuades and wins over new
supporters of this method. If you
have additional points or suggestions
on how I can reformat this
presentation, let me know.

What would Cary say? A workshop for

Experienced ESOL Teachers
When I first taught English for speakers of other languages, I believed
that the purpose of my presence in the classroom was to speak a lot
(slowly) so that students would catch on to what I was saying and
build vocabulary the way a two-year-old picks up words by watching
dad clean the house.

Oops. After watching Cary Elcome and after taking the RSA CELTA
course, I learned what we all know -- the language learning takes
place inside the student, not in the classroom. Here are some tips that
I think Cary would tell you if he were here and if he weren't modest.

1. Share your techniques. Cary was generous to me and often

asked if I'd like to sit in and participate in a private lesson or in an
afternoon class so I could pick up tips from him and he could watch
me and pick up tips.

2. Video record your lessons at least twice a year and analyze your
method. Cary used to record the audio of his lessons and hand out the
cassette to students who wanted a dictation.

3. Call them anything except students. Participants, learners and

colleagues were his favorite terms. "A student is so clearly beneath a
teacher that some students never get over the humiliation."

4. Give them errors. Let the learners find the solution. He loves gap-
fills (fill in the blank) and he Method -6-

5. Develop incurable chronic laryngitis. TTT. I can't be said enough.
Keep Teacher Talking Time to the minimum.

6. Put a bunch of materials together. Cary used to give away scads

of photocopies. I think he knocked down two entire forests in
Washington State to supply his materials to his learners. And these are
HIS materials, all created using big and small fonts.

7. Go visual. He LOVES visual techniques. He puts a photo on every

worksheet. He brings in photos from his latest travel and asks
students to write questions to go with each photo.

8. Get the NY Times. Even with beginners. He believes that students

who are advanced have less opportunity to learn than beginners and
so all students should be exposed to real English found in newspapers,
free (New Times and City Link) as well as the major papers on the

9. Stay current with the learners. Find out about their music. Use
their lyrics in the classroom. Method -7-

10. Cross-pollinate. When possible, send a student from
your class into Cary's class. That student will be peppered
with questions by the class. Then Cary will send a student
from his class and they will pepper another student. Or take
half or your class and send them to Cary and he'll send half of
his class and send them to you. "It's great, he says, "That's
facilitating!" He believes in monitoring by walking around
with pen and paper and requiring pairs to make a written
record of some of the topics that they discussed.

11. Make use of the people in the room. Of course ask learners to
read the instructions in the book or to begin the day with "What's the
news in your country?" Cary looks up articles so that the busy learner
(who hasn't had time to find a juicy piece of news) can say something
interesting, perhaps about the growing and persistent market for
manatee meat in Venezuela.

12. Make use of the people in the school. He annoys

administrative staff by asking students to go out and get a stapler
(even though he has a stapler in the room).

13. Use the people in the community. Cary used to develop

relationships and ask students, "What's the name of the doorman?" or
receptionist or the bus driver.

14. Give away materials. Did we mention this? Do it again. "We

have no idea how much our teaching is done outside the classroom. If
we can write something about ourselves, maybe an autobiography of
two pages, the students who want to can read it and come back with
questions. If you went Venice, talk about it. The Italians will have
something to talk with you about during the break time."

15. Break time is learning time. Cary arrived early, stayed late, ate
meals with students, and met them at least once a week for an
evening of talk on Las Olas Blvd, and never spent break time in the
teacher's room. He was always interacting with students. "When they
are OUTSIDE the class, that's when the real mistakes emerge," he

16. Keep in touch. Cary was an early adopter of email but he was
slow to take on the role of technology guru. He had a laptop but didn't
know how to make web sites or make a network. He used it to write
lessons on his computer and he was an avid explorer of the Internet. Method -8-

He wasn't afraid to ask for directions. Unlike a typical guy, he would start by
saying he knew very little about something and send a lot of emails to get
information. In other words, he is the perfect mentor for people who are
afraid of some aspect of technology. He still gets frustrated with the lack of
communication between printer and CPU and he was my role model for
bringing technology into the classroom. He might not understand every
aspect of it, but he just knew that someone in the room or in the school
would help figure out how to use the darn thing.

I say some of this in the past tense because Cary is no longer with us. He's
in Asia. Sometimes he feels "gone" and when asked to give training to other
teachers, I just think, "What would Cary say?" and he's alive for me again.
We're having a hard time meshing our lives over Skype because he's out the
door at 8 am (7 pm the previous day for me) and when he is ready to talk at
5 pm, it's 4 am for me!

I've learned about right/left, male/female brain tendencies and the role of
adrenaline in the formation of memories -- all since I met Cary. However, his
basic training help me to daily deal with challenging situations -- not the new
bells, whistles, laptops and CDs. It's still nuts and bolts, in this ESOL
industry, and it's still people to people. Cary is a good mentor and hi advice
is timeless.

The point of this presentation is to encourage you to find your Cary or to

contact him yourself. Set up an email pen pal (email pal?) exchange of
correspondence. Ask your students to write to his students. He's currently in

Steve McCrea, Eternally grateful acolyte of the School of Elcome.

If I am pressed to state the visual and active method in a paragraph, I say the

I have learned my method from my

students. I do not hold important degrees,
like university professors. I am sure that
when I give my presentations, people with
master's degrees in ESOL will recognize the
methods and they will be able to explain
why the method works.

I can not explain much about the theory

behind the method, but I respond to my
students' needs.

1. For pronunciation, my students don't want to learn a special alphabet. Method -9-

(IPA), so let's teach "It Sounds Like." is an
organized method to use the phonic method by graphing the sound. It is
“visual listening.”

2. For tests, many students prefer to make a video. "I don't like to
write" or "I can't spell very well" -- so make an audio recording using a
digital camera. The camera does not need to point at the student.

3. Students learn most quickly when they are laughing and when they
are surprised. (See the October 31, 2004 article about novelty).

4. Students learn the things that they want to learn. If they are
interested...they will remember more. So why not let students choose their

5. Let's create projects and homework that are REAL, not just
paperwork. Let's make websites and blogs and write emails -- let's build
bridges. Let's make videos and send the news to other people. (Source:
Dennis Littky)

6. We know that some people learn by listening to audio recordings and

others learn by watching videos, so the teacher should have support from
administration to provide CDs and videos to students. (But if there is no
support, the teacher can recommend videos on the internet!) Method - 10 -

That is the central message. I offer a workshop because most teachers don't
believe these 6 points or they don't believe that they have the power in
themselves to use this system. Thank you for listening.

In a column called “Science Watch” (Sun Sentinel Oct 31, 2004), Sandra Blackeslee
(NY Times syndicate) reported that “anything that is novel grabs the
brain’s attention system by tapping directly into reward pathways
in the brain.” Marketing organizations are interested in this
technology. “Being able to see how the brain responds to novelty and
makes decisions is potentially a huge step forward for marketers,”
according to Tim McParlin, who works for Lieberman Research Worldwide in Los
Angeles (quoted in the article).
The photos that appear in this
document come from Suzy Lima’s
class in Curitiba, Brazil. She was
looking for a way to make her ESOL
class more vibrant, and I suggested
an activity that I use (based on the
insights presented by Dennis Littky
in The Big Picture) make it
persona.. Ask the students to
perform their understanding. I’m a
lazy author (I have difficulty matching
captions to photos), so I asked that
the photos include the caption, which
is why the students are holding
pieces of paper. Some captions are
in Portuguese to give the reader a
translation of the English and
This is a flat world, as Thomas
practice in another language. Go
Friedman says, and we need to have
ahead, learn something new and
more than scholastic success to
keep the brain active and young.
prepare for competing in a global
economy. See Dan Pink’s
Many thanks to the students of Suzy
arguments about design. In other
Lima. I encourage you, dear reader,
words, there are five doors for
to send an email message to
success (LASSIE): Languages, and ask
Academics, Social Skills, Inherited
your students to send letters to Suzy
opportunities and Experience. We
so she can find one of her 789
teachers can’t change what our
students to create pen pal
students inherit and we know that
achievement in school is not the only
door for success in many students’
lives (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and
other entrepreneurs dropped out of Method - 11 -

school to put their ideas to work). student to help them remember
Let’s encourage our students (and the moment – we hope that the
model the behavior, too) for learning student remembers the grammar
more languages, finding new or vocabulary and not the fact that
experiences, and developing social you introduced lifelike spiders into
skills. Students who have limited the classroom.
inherited opportunities or who do
poorly at traditional schools are
possibly the salvation of our
economy with their divergent thinking
and creative out-of-the-box
approaches to problems. Using a
Visual and Active method of
teaching with narratives for grading
and testing by exhibition (following
the model of the Met Center in
Providence, Rhode Island) we can
make our schools into places of
List of Web Sites (graphs
that show the stressed syllables)
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
In case you skipped the article and If you have other suggestions about
how to use stuffed animals (novelty)
you are reading the end of the
and snakes (an adrenaline rush),
article, here is the main issue: What please send them to me at
do these two news stories bring to or
the ESOL industry (and teachers in
general)? We can force the brain I’m on MSN and Skype
awake more often with bright SteveEnglishTeacher and I welcome your
colors and change of pace (have contact, questions and suggestion.
you stood on the furniture lately?)
and then you can scare the Method - 12 -