Category Archives: Learning & Teaching Mosaics

Quote on Learning and Teaching (#4): The power of knowing rules

Here is another quote on learning and, certainly, to some extent, on teaching.

The following words are commonly attributed to Pablo Picasso:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”

How does this refer to learning languages? Directly!

Picasso’s words are probably the best summary of what I continuously say to my students: learn the rules first, don’t assume that people will understand you anyway, and once you’ve mastered the rules, you will feel confident in using and understanding the language. Because if you don’t know the rules you don’t know how the meaning of an utterance changes if you deviate from the standard way of saying it.

Without knowing the rules you won’t appreciate the play on words and on meaning; you won’t be able to play with the language yourself and won’t feel the joy and excitement of expressing yourself in all the subtlety in thought and meaning. Not knowing the rules of the language only leads to restraint, confusion and awkwardness.

So freedom comes only after you have laid a solid foundation of the well learnt rules.

In other words, if you know the rules you know how to break them and you clearly understand the consequences.

And here is a confirmation of this approach to learning from another renowned artist of the 20th century, Salvador Dali, who once said referring to numerous cubist experimentalists of his time:

“Begin by learning to draw and paint like the old masters. After that, you can do as you like; everyone will respect you.”

I believe the two revolutionary artists – Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali – knew so well the freedom and power the knowledge of the rules can give! You are only free when you know what you are doing.

I personally fully abide by this approach.

How about you?

#learning #quotesonlearning #learninglanguages #quote #pablopicasso #salvadordali #elt #learningstrategies #learnerautonomy


The element of surprise, or what makes the world go round and round, and round again. (Mosaics series, #2)


With this blog post I would like to share what activity I did with my 10-year old student.

But before that, I’d like to note that I do not claim to be any original or ground-breaking in what I do in my lessons. I’m perfectly aware that the lesson and activity ideas that come to my mind might be downright trite and age-old. All I want to do by writing about those ideas is to share my teaching experience and my observations of what worked out and what did not and why. I cherish the hope that these snippets of teaching practice will be of some value for other teachers who like to reflect on their own teaching and who are interested in what their colleagues are doing and what solutions they come up in various teaching and learning settings all over the world.

So here I go.

Today I’d like to share the way I adjusted a course book activity to my teaching purposes and to my learner’s needs.

What did we have?

A. We had a dialogue in the English World Level 3 course book for primary learners.

The course book tasks accompanying the dialogue were:

1. To talk about the picture (with that students are expected to activate the language they already know in order to describe things they see in the picture and get ready for listening and reading tasks);

2. To listen (here the students sort of check up their understanding of what they saw in the picture and are introduced to a model conversation in which they abundantly use the grammar structures they learnt before);

3. To listen and read (here students try to imitate the intonation and pronunciation patterns);

4. To listen and say (here students repeat after the speaker without looking at the text, again imitating the intonation and pronunciation);

5. To talk about the story (here students retell the dialogue paraphrasing the original text but also using the words and expressions from the text);

6. Finally, “Now you!” (which I understand as a call for acting out the dialogue).

That was the task we had.

B. But we also had the particular learner 🙂

A 10-year-old energetic, creative and restless girl. ❤️ She is also a very process-oriented person, loving acting and moving around. It’s not easy if yet possible to entice her to do the tasks she doesn’t want to do even with little prizes or badges. She is immune to gamification 🙂 So there was no any easy or elaborate way I could make her follow the tasks designed by the course book authors.

C. And we had the teacher’s intention to have the learner repeat the dialogue a number of times to internalize the ready-made speaking patterns.

So, the task to solve looked like that:

A (dialogue) + B (learner) + C (repetition) = ?

🧐 What would the solution (D) be like?

D. Well, taking into account that an element of surprise and fun makes people perform the same task numerous times, I decided I needed to do something creative with the dialogue at hand.

Let me have a little digression from the story thread here and quote an eloquent description of an element of surprise. In his book “Hooked”, Nir Eyal speaks about the difference of predictable and unpredictable (variable) rewards, which vividly shows what it feels like when there is an element of surprise in everyday tasks we habitually do:

“The unsurprising response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix – suppose a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it – and voilà, intrigue is created.”

Obviously, we’ve heard a lot that we, teachers, should do exactly the same thing: bring in an element of surprise into our lessons and classroom activities. So that’s what I did.

[Pic: My development of the course book dialogue]

1. I copied and printed out a page with the dialogue from the book.

2. Covered some words in the dialogue with squares of different colours:

💚 green colour for adjectives;

💙 blue of two shades for places (for the number of different places mentioned in the dialogue);

💛 yellow for objects;

❤️ and red for exclamations.

2. I cut several blank pieces of paper of the colours I assigned for the parts of the dialogue (see above);

3. Together with my learner we came up with different adjectives, places, objects and exclamations and wrote them down on the pieces of paper of the corresponding colour.

4. And then we took turns in reading out the dialogue pausing at coloured squares to pick up cards with words of the appropriate colour and insert them in the dialogue.

Every time each of us read the dialogue with randomly picked words, it was a different funny story. My girl laughed a lot and eagerly took her turns to read the dialogue again and again.

✅ My teaching purpose was achieved!

✅ My learner was happy to be doing what she enjoyed!

✅ The course book task was done!

Well, maybe not exactly the way it was meant by its authors. Well, maybe we were not practicing speaking as such but mostly reading instead, though I should say, the more we repeated the dialogue the less my student looked at the text.

It was also a good opportunity to introduce some new vocabulary and expressions. For example, for places this could be “a cave”, “a castle”, “a lighthouse”, “a bear’s den” or “a cosmodrome”. For adjectives, this could be “tedious”, “scary”, “sparkling” or any other of so many adjectives you might find appropriate to teach your student. For expressions, I chose to teach two new expressions “No way!” and “Not for toffee!” in addition to expressions from the course book.

As I said you can offer your students new words for them to choose from, but it would be good to let students to come up with their own words too. This way they will feel more strongly about the activity as they themselves made some little investment in it leading to the increased sense of learner autonomy.

So this is how I adjusted a course book activity to make it a bit more enjoyable and useful for my learner.

And I’m really happy to say that after long summer holidays, when I saw my student again, she asked me enthusiastically if we were going to do the same activity with other dialogues in her course book. For me, this was the best confirmation of my little teaching success. Could there be any better approval than this? 😊👍

#teaching #learning #learnerautonomy #learningstrategies #elt #efl #learningtolearn #learning2learn #teachingmethodology #languageteaching #languagelearning #primaryschool #younglearners #eltmosaics


Teach, learn, teach. (Mosaics series, #1)

What do most teachers unconsciously do?

I’m sure you do it too 😉

I do it too!:)

Whenever I read, listen or watch something, I almost always think how I can use “this material” in my lessons.

This habit sometimes puts a smile on my face and I think to myself: “Can’t I just read a book or watch a movie for mere pleasure and entertainment without necessarily connecting it to my job?”

This habit of keeping our eyes and minds open for teaching and learning opportunities undoubtedly makes us better teachers. And something is telling me that it’s our restless and creative nature that compels us to search for more, to do more and to give more to our students.

So here I go again picking up ideas from sources unrelated to teaching languages.

The other day, as I was reading a book on developing habit-forming products, I came across two interesting thoughts which had nothing to do with teaching but which, as I immediately thought, might be used in our teaching practice.

The first thought:

“The first place for the entrepreneur or designer to look for new opportunities is in the mirror. […] Instead of asking “what problem should I solve? ask “what problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?”

(Hooked by Nir Eyal)

The second thought:

“As you go about your day, ask yourself why you do or do not do certain things and how those tasks could be made easier or more rewarding.” (Hooked by Nir Eyal)

So here, entrepreneurs are advised to look at their own everyday experiences through the eyes of their customers to see what problems in their lives the entrepreneurs themselves want to be resolved.

What does this advice have to do with us, teachers? Everything!

We, too, need to look into the mirror for opportunities.

[Be a learner]

What would it be like if we were our own students? As we prepare another lesson to teach, why not to stop and think about it as if we were the students to attend and learn those lessons? Would we like the lessons? Would they be relavant and engaging to us? What value would we take from them?

And of course, as the time-tested advice has it: teachers should become learners from time to time; they should try to master a new skill or a new language (the latter option is of particular importance for language teachers, I think) to remind themselves what it is like to be a learner.

As we are learning something new, we start to reflect on our learning experience and see what problems we’d like to get resolved or made “easier or more rewarding” for us by our teachers or learning materials and how this could be done.

It’s refreshing, I think, to look at what we do in our classrooms and revise the things we do through the eyes and aspirations of our learners. Is what we do exactly what serves our students best? Do our classroom activities and tasks really meet the needs of our learners? Is that what they really need? Does it really help them to reach their learning goals? Is it truly effective and relevant? Is it fun, after all?:)

[Me learning French under a tree]

Now, as I’m learning French, I see clearly where I would need the help from a teacher; where I can get along on my own; how I want to be motivated; and what I need to keep me going.

I will write about these observations of mine in several posts later. But for now, I’m really curious about your experiences as a learning teacher:)


  • What was the latest skill you were mastering?
  • What insights did you get as a teacher from your learning experience?
  • How did you apply those insights in your teaching practice?

Please, do share your experiences because we all will learn from them!

Next post in this series is due on September, 23. Don’t miss it:)

#learning #learningtolearn #learning2learn #learningstratogies #languagelearning #teaching #teachingmethodology #languageteaching #elt


My new blogging series (Wow!)

I was woken up by the birdsong very early in the morning today. I live in a megapolis where the rarity of these sweet sounds make them so surprising and so precious. That’s why they slipped so easily through my dreams and straight into my consciousness, awaking it up with the thought, “Is it really the birdsong that I’m hearing?”. And it indeed was.

Instead of going back to sleep, I stood up and went onto my balcony to see what was going on in the world in this early hour only to get stunned by the ethereal beauty of an early warm September morning. (“Warm” is a crucial epithet here considering the latitude of my home megapolis 😊).

To lengthen the spell of the moment, I decided to make myself a cup of fragrant true black coffee in my Italian moka pot, which I long abandoned for my being too lazy to wash it after use. ☕️

And then, after having enjoyed this wonderful blend of refreshing morning breeze and balmy coffee, I felt I had the power “to do more and to be more”. 💪

So it was only natural to think of something creative. 🧚‍♀️

This is how I decided to start a new blogging series I had conceived of long time ago.

In my wardrobe I keep a big bag packed with bits and slips of paper with my random thoughts, ideas, tips, reflections and brief descriptions of my teaching experience. I’ve been filling it up, hoping that one day I will systematize these scribbles into a more academic-looking articles. But as the bag began to swell I can to realize how unrealistic my noble ambition was. In such circumstances, there were only to options left: either to recycle this huge heap of paper or to try and share it with others.

I chose the second option, coming up with a neat solution: I won’t be systematizing all those bits and pieces, I’ll just put them on my blog as they are, random, messy and spontaneous.

[The image source: Google]

The image of this blogging series came to me almost instantaneously: these random pieces of notes look very much like a stained-glass window: lots of peculiar patterns, lots of lovely colours and curious plots. However, using the English word “stained-glass” in the name of my blogging series turned out to be a bit problematic for two reasons: first, a compound noun looked awkward in the name; second, the word “stained” has also some negative connotations. And though I really liked the image of the stained-glass, and the play of coloured light it generates, I had to abandon this word.

After some reflection, came a replacement. The word that seem only natural and truly the most appropriate in the context of creating, writing and sharing. The word was “mosaic”.

[The image source: Google]

The word mosaic is thought to originate from the ancient Greek “mousa” which means a muse. Isn’t it beautiful to give a writing project a name with such an airy and inspiring meaning?

Besides, mosaics sometimes look like a stained-glass work: it only doesn’t let the light through. 😉

So here comes my new blogging series:

“My Mosaics of Learning and Teaching” or “My L&T mosaics”.

Under this title and hashtag (#myltmosaics) I will be posting some random thoughts and ideas on my general and language learning and teaching experience which together will hopefully make a lovely mosaic pattern. 💎

The very first blog post in this series will be out on 9 September 2018.

#learning #learningtolearn #learning2learn #learningstratogies #languagelearning #teaching #teachingmethodology #languageteaching#elt

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Posted by on September 5, 2018 in General, Learning & Teaching Mosaics