Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working (Mom) Wednesday: Love Songs in English Class Part 2

I wanted to summarize each song and activity from our class. Enjoy!

Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)
The group who presented this song chose to have a class discussion. First, we tried to define what Lady Gaga is talking about. What is a bad romance, according to this song? How would we personally define a bad romance? Do we have any "bad romances" in our own lives? This lead to a discussion about whether we like "angel boys" or "bad boys". It was a fun and lively discussion.

I Say a Little Prayer for You (Dionne Warwick)
This group also wanted to make us discuss the song, but first they asked us to choose our favorite lines from the song. I chose the line "...For me there is no one but you". The group asked us to imagine who the singer is talking about. Most people agreed that she is talking about a boy she likes but is not going out with yet. Then, a student asked about the line "...Forever, and ever, you'll stay in my heart and I will love you". She wondered why this line was in future tense, and I suddenly realized the singer might be talking about her unborn baby. Pregnant women spend a lot of time "praying" and imagining what their baby will be like, and I posed this idea to the class. Many people, after hearing my explanation, seemed to agree with me. It was truly enlightening how different interpretations can be depending on the listener.

Keep Holding On (Avril Lavigne)
This song, as sung in Glee, was supposed to be about friendship, but since my students don't know the whole story about Glee, they decided that it must be about two people whose relationship is on the rocks, but who are trying to encourage each other to keep it together. There wasn't much to discuss about this song, but the group played both versions and asked us to vote on which version we preferred. Most students voted for the Glee version because they liked the background vocals. They asked us if there is anything in our own lives that we "have to keep holding onto". This was a tough question as most students couldn't quite understand this phrase, and in fact, I think the presenters misinterpreted it. It means "Don't give up...keep going, fight fight fight." But, they took it to mean a material item that you would want to keep. That was a bit confusing too.

Gives You Hell (All American Rejects)
By far the best group presentation was for this song. They opted to play the original version, which is sung by a man, and asked us to imagine who he is "talking to" in this song and what kind of relationship he has with this person. We all agreed that he is sending bad wishes to his ex-girlfriend who he actually still has feelings for. They asked us why the melody is so upbeat while the lyrics is so depressing, and then made us discuss in pairs. After that, they went around and asked EACH pair to comment on their thoughts. Most people seemed to think that he is trying to get over the ex-girlfriend and is cheering himself on. He is a singer and hopes she will hear his song on the radio someday and realize that it is about her. They also translated the chorus into Japanese so we could really understand what the singer was getting at. A lot of students reacted with "Oh, I get it!" when they heard that. Finally, they asked us if we have any similar experiences in our own lives.

My Life Would Suck Without You (Kelly Clarkson)
This group did not do very well for some reason. They started out by asking us what the song is about, and then asking us to talk about anyone in our lives who could be portrayed in this song. These were tough questions, I guess or perhaps the mood of the classroom was off that day. No one was willing to give a straight answer. The group then tried to explain what the phrase "to suck" means and then gave examples, such as, "Your life would suck without your parents," etc. I think the class had a hard time trying to come up with examples, and I really feel that the group could have taken a different route in explaining the story of the song. In fact, they didn't explain the story at all, and just showing the music video would have helped with that. Or rather than ask such a basic question, they probably could have started small...or done a different activity altogether!

Alone (Heart)
After listening to the Glee version of this song, the group showed us 3 posters they made to help explain the story of the song. In Poster #1, a girl monkey is sitting alone on a bed using her cell phone to call someone. In Poster #2, the girl monkey is just sitting there waiting. In Poster #3, the girl monkey is daydreaming about her great memories with her boyfriend. Then, they asked us to choose our favorite lines and discuss them in our groups. After that, we had to tell the class about one of our lines and explain why. I told the class that we liked the line "How do I get you alone?" and that we had discussed the difference between being completely alone and being alone with the person you love. Then, we were asked to think of a new title for our song. My group came up with "You Don't Know" and "No Answer." Another group came up with "True of Heart" and "I Want Your Love." Then, we had to vote our favorite new title. "I Want Your Love" got the most votes. Finally, they asked us if this song depicts a healthy relationship or not. Some students replied that it might be a healthy relationship but they they are going through a rough time right now. Other students said it was just a typical relationship, and many girls have evenings just like this...sitting home alone waiting for the phone to ring.

I think that if I do this exercise again next year, I will make one more rule. No group can do the same activity. So, if one group chooses to have us make pairs and discuss the theme of the song, other groups will need to choose different activities from the list. Since the first group was so successful with their discussion questions, all groups took this "easy route".

In sum, I loved doing this exercise with the class and for my students, it worked beautifully. However, my initial requirement of having each group present for only the first 15 minutes of the class period was inaccurate. It turned out that some groups needed more time, especially when the discussions were going so well! This meant that I didn't always have time to teach my own materials, and we had to extend the unit by a couple of weeks. No big deal because the materials I made are very flexible, and I could have skipped a few of my activities if necessary. Discussing various themes that came out of the songs also lead me to skip around my own handout packet a bit. On the day when we did the song Gives You Hell and we talked about break ups and ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends, it was a great opportunity to go through the vocabulary list of words related to break ups: separated, divorced, remarried, etc. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Working (Mom) Wednesday: Love Songs in English Class

Many teachers want to fit music into their lesson plans, and I have experimented with several methods. I finally hit on something that really seems to be working for both me and the students.

Every fall, in my Everyday English class, we do a unit called Love & Relationships. In the first part of the unit, we talk about the various types of relationships between people and how to express that. Some examples are, "They are getting married." or "They are boyfriend and girlfriend." or "She is his boss." Later, we get into discussions about giving advice to a lady who has to choose between three guys who all have plenty of both good and bad qualities. (We usually advise her to stay single.) On another day, we discuss gender roles, like who usually fixes things in your house, who usually washes dishes and so on. This kind of discussion usually gets the kids realizing that they should do more to help their parents at home. We also talk about relationships, in terms of, who usually asks who out, who usually pays, etc. There is never any right or wrong answer, but it gives the students a chance to discuss their opinions as well as their own experiences.

To make the unit even more fun, I like to add another dimension to it: Love songs!

It's so easy to find love songs to use for class, and I have tried a variety of methods. Over the years, I have switched between teacher-centered and student-centered methods for incorporating music into the unit.

1. Teacher-centered - I found the love songs, made the worksheets to go with them, played them for the class and had them do the activities on the handouts. Activities included fill-in-the-blanks, put chorus lines in order, opinion-sharing about the themes, etc.

2. Student-centered - The students are put into groups and given the task to find a love song and make an activity to go with it. They are given 10 minutes at the beginning of class to present the song and activity to the class. We did this once a week for the duration of the unit until each group had a chance to present.

3. Teacher-centered - I gathered the love songs, pulling ffrom different genres and made an entire packet. The packet included the lyrics for each song, the background about each musician along with their photos, the activities for each song, and at the back, a matching exercise using the some of the idioms and meanings pulled from each song. For some songs, I showed the music video. For other songs, we just listened to the song.

4. Student-centered - Using the soundtracks from Glee, Season 1, I chose about 15 love/friendship songs and made a mix CD for each of the groups. Groups were given the CD and told to pass it amongst their group members until everyone had copied it to their iPod (or whatever they happen to use these days as a listening device). Groups were also asked to choose one song and to prepare a worksheet for their "song presentation." The "song presentation" would basically be a mini-lesson for the class, and their worksheets had to include the lyrics and the background about the artist and/or song. Groups also had a plan an activity, choosing from a list of ideas which I provided. I had one rule: No fill-in-the-blanks activities! I feel this type of activity is overdone and I wanted them to try some other types of activities.

I found that  with teacher-centered, they did not always like the songs that I picked out, and the idiom-matching activity was too difficult, and for many students, idioms are akin to algebra ... not all that useful. With totally student-centered, I didn't like the songs that students chose. There were a lot of Disney theme songs and over-played movie soundtrack hits. (Can we hear the Titanic theme song one more time?) I thought the songs were too simple as the students are already so familiar with them and their Japanese versions, plus the activities that students created for the class were lame.

This year, I think I've hit on a formula that works, a perfect mix of teacher-control and student-centeredness. #4 option above explains in more detail, but let me explain why I think it works so well. First, the students are given a gift - it's cheap and easy for me to burn a few CDs for them, and it exposes them to something new. Glee, though extremely popular in the USA, is only shown on Cable TV FOX here in Japan, so many are not able to see it. I showed them the pilot episode just before summer vacation, and of course, they couldn't understand all of it, but they got the picture.

Even though it appeared that the students had a wide range of songs to choose from, I essentially had control because I chose this range. The CD provided them with the Glee versions of the songs, but students were free to use the original versions for their song presentations. You Tube lets us show music videos in many cases and we could play the original songs if students could not bring in the original artists' CDs.

Though students had a wide range of activities to choose from, the first group who presented just happened to choose "Discuss the theme of the song as it applies to your life" as their activity. This worked so well that most groups from then on chose the exact same activity. I would say that some groups were very good at executing a class discussion, but other groups froze, and let me be frank, some songs were much more difficult than others to discuss.

In the next post, I will share what we gleaned from each song and activity chosen by the 6 groups in the class.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Working (Mom) Wednesdays: Engrish Lesson

Lots of correcting of summer homework assignments means that we get to savor some awesome English mistakes! These are from our 9th graders. Keep in mind, this is only their 3rd year of studying English.

I was the first baby in my family.
I blow saxophone.
I god last child.
I want to live 30 years old.
We were good fight friends.
I would like to enjoy unknown future.
Moreover, because the sea is dirty, the fish cannot fish though I often fish in Ichihara's sea.
Because it was a good fish pole, the fishing pole was good.
But, I suffered no fatal injury in accident.
I'll be normal adult.
If I could go 5 years into the future, I hope I'll be a genius.
The movement of my intestines stopped and it had to be hospitalized.
Because I want to help a lot of embarrassed people.
A junior high student pricked a kitchen knife with a friend.
Sometimes I feel shy when I talk to my friends because I don't speak.
The thing I hate doing the most in the world is murder.
When I am angry, I see smoking people.
Sometimes I feel shy when I make a boob.
The story's hero is died boy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

August Lay Outs

Click on the lay outs to see them up close and personal. For this month's lay outs, I decided to do all the Nikko trip ones on Photoshop in order to save time. I was inspired to do the other two using real paper and embellishments, partly because I wanted to use some memorabilia. All three of the digital kits that I used were from August's Digi Files on the Daily Digi.

Family Trip to Nikko: Template from Janet Phillips at Sweet Shoppe Designs, scanned in the wrapping paper from a souvenir box and enlarged it for the background, used Beauty Within (Valorie Wibbens Designs) digital kit for the paper and embellishments.
I recommend trying new things every month. Last month, I practiced doing my own drop shadows to make the embellies look more realistic. I think I am getting better at it each time! This month, I decided to try making my own background paper using the wrapping from a souvenir box of cakes. This is a painting of the big golden temple in Nikko, and I just scanned it and masked it into the background. I had a digital kit that seemed to go well with this background paper, so I used as much as I could from the kit. I discovered that you can mask papers and embellishments over letters, so I masked in a black smudgy overlay, also from the kit, and it gives the title a really mysterious feeling.

Nature in Nikko: Used template from Janet Phillips of Sweet Shoppe Designs, used Bug Catcher digital kit from Chelle's Creations for all paper and embellishments, used Torn Frame from Windsong kit created by LivE Designs kit for the center photo's frame.

This lay out deserved brighter colors as the nature theme was so prevalent on our trip. I love the challenge of layering embellishments on top of each other and then trying to get the shadows just right. By the way, this church down on the bottom left is eerily similar to a church in my hometown and I think it was designed by the same architect. I am still looking into this. It might be the common design for Episcopalian churches.

10 Things We Learned: Used template from Janet Phillips at Sweet Shoppe Designs, all papers and embellishments come from the Amy Wolff's summer digital kit. The alphabet letters from from Studio Flergs (

After a trip, I always do a variation on this theme. 10 Happenings. 10 Things We Learned. 10 Memorable Moments. 10 Things I Would Rather Forget. Anyway, it always adds humor to the trip and is a good way to wrap up the lay out series.
Dates w/ Mama: journaling spot from Ali Edwards, picture frames from Jessica Sprague.
Now, for the traditional paper lay outs. My challenge for this month was to do something different...a lay out design that I would normally never use, for example. Notice that the photos don't look very clear. It's because I printed the photos onto canvas paper. Canvas paper works really for portraits of people. The close-ups of Luka and of me and Ailin look pretty good. But, detail shots and far-away shots are barely detectable. I was disappointed in this, but it's all part of the process! I'll know for next time.

Lady's Day is every Wednesday at our theater, and I challenged myself to see one movie a week during the summer break. I wanted to use memorabilia this time and had a great idea to use the tickets for a banner. Banners are the new thing in scrapbooking and everyone's making them. There is a ribbon strung across the page and the tickets are glued to it. The tickets, as well as some of the other papers are inked with orange and brown inks. On the bottom right corner, I used a calling card of a tea shop I went to in July (Lipton Tea) and scratched it up with sandpaper before inking it. Then I sketched lines on it to list the movies' English titles. Ailin was standing next to me when I was stamping the yellowish paper, and she grabbed the stamp and stamped right onto the middle of the paper. Oh well! I used it anyway. The flower is made of green leaves that I glued together and then just glued a small circle on top of it. Oh, and here again, the photo of me was printed onto canvas paper, but this time it turned out okay because all you really need to see is me, looking serene, in my movie disguise.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Working Mom Wednesdays: The One Flaw

Today, I am very busy WORKING. Correcting papers and journals in time for grades due next week and also judging a speech contest, so I'll just share this wonderful little 3-minute movie for the all the women and girls out there. If you like it, pass this link on to others (or Facebook it!), so they can see it too.

The One Flaw in Women

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monthly Round-up: August

Wow, end of August already. This means we are back in school teaching classes, and I am getting used to the old 9 to 5 routine again. Luka got sick last weekend so we had to deal with that, but he seems okay now.

Chiba-city's Fireworks Display (enjoyed from the veranda of my MIL's home)
Dates with Mama - a new tradition I started this summer
A trip to Nikko

  • Has entered into a blue phase, where she colors everything in various shades of blue. 
  • Started learning how to write the alphabet and numbers.
  • Acts out stories that I read aloud to her, especially when I ask her what's going to happen next.
  • Has become obsessed with Shrek, and all things Shrek.
  • Has shown an ever-developing imagination, pretending to have a baby and take care of it (named it Passy), or holding birthday/Xmas party events complete with cake, dinner, presents and coffee.
  • Went to the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" with her mom and dad.
  • Went to an indoor pool with her mom.
  • Going through a blue phase in her drawings. 
  • Walks like crazy now, all over the house, getting into everything.
  • Gives lectures about various things while pointing...of course, we don't know what he's saying.
  • Loves bananas.
  • Can finally sit through a story.
Movies I Saw in the Theater
How to Train Your Dragon
Karate Kid

Movies I Saw on DVD
Date Night
The Rebound

Books I read
Still working through A Divided Heart by Rachel Power
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, want to finish it before I see the movie in a few weeks.

Best Discoveries
  • Still getting the hang of it, but Twitter is finally starting to get interesting for me.
  • That summer homework for high school students sucks! Worse yet is the fact that I have to check it all! Next year will be different. I am already making plans to assign as little as possible.
  • That traveling with two small children is STILL not that much fun.
  • That my husband is still really moody, and I just can't predict what he is going to do next.
  • That I get to watch one more season of the Office before I am officially caught up!
  • Leonardo DiCaprio really is a great actor, and I have seen and loved most of his movies. I didn't realize it until I saw Inception. He is only getting better with age!

Friday, September 3, 2010

TGIF: It's only the 2nd Day of School.

First, big announcement here. I was accepted to the grad school program I applied for, and I'll be studying for a Masters in TESOL from January 2011. I am really excited about this as I feel it's a step in the right direction, regarding both my career itself AND my determination to continue working while being a mom. It's hard to explain how my desire to get a Masters is tied so closely to my issues of work and family, but it is (even though my husband doesn't buy this for a second).

Anyway, for those who don't know, TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I get asked this frequently by people who, surprisingly, don't teach ESL, so why would they know, right?

This is my TGIF post, so I'll post about all the things I am thankful for this week.

I am glad that I could:

  • take Tuesday off to get ONE MORE day to myself before classes begin for the fall.
  • set up a wi-fi unit in my house so we can use the iPhone and our iPod Touch throughout our house (with the help of a computer expert who happens to be a co-worker...Thanks, Chris!).
  • get my camera fixed easily because the Canon Headquarters is very nearby.
  • take advantage of the exchange rates ... the trip to the USA in December is taken care of now.

I feel grateful that:

  • I work with people who are easy to talk with and we can bounce ideas off each other anytime we feel like it.
  • my mom finally emailed me back.
  • people are starting to compliment me on my weight loss. To be honest, I have only lost ONE kilo (about 2.2 pounds) since starting Weight Watchers, so I am sure that the difference is very very tiny, but it gives me a bit more motivation to keep going.
  • Journey songs are making a comeback (and this is because of Glee).

I think it's so cool that:

  • Ailin loves to listen to Glee soundtrack music and she sometimes requests to watch a recorded episode or two.
  • Luka likes to pretend to cook. He is feeding my his "creations" as we speak.
I am sure there is more, but I'm drawing a blank now. I have a whole list of errands to run and need to do those in order to clear my mind. Besides, Journey is playing in the background and I can't concentrate.