Teenagers: Architecture and mythology

13th March 2020

Image result for architecture and mythology


Art – giving opinions



Egyptian pyramids

Greek mythology

Music (naturally !)

Hello everyone, I welcome you to my blog page, and may I take this opportunity to thank ALL OF YOU who have visited my site. Having nearly 100 visits for a teaching blog is extremely gratifying.

Now, without further ado, let’s jump straight in, “Time waits for no man.”

Image result for time waits for no man quote
A famous quote from the English writer Geoffrey Chaucer

First off the bat, a little plug for my friend ‘Pete’ who has an online radio show on Mixcloud. If you’re interested, you can listen here: https://www.mixcloud.com/flatwoundssounds/

Show 4, 29th August 2019

The playlist is a mix of Jazz, Blues, Soul, R ‘n’ B & Rock ‘n’ Roll. However, in terms of an English lesson, listen to his narrative between songs. Although Pete lives in Birmingham now (central England), his accent betrays his Kent, (south-England) origins. Listen to how his voice deviates from Standard English.

A Propos (speaking about) of music, my last lesson featured two songs, one Nubian, the other a 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll number:

Nubia is a region that encompasses south Egypt and north Sudan
One of my online students has chosen the English moniker ‘Ivy’; consequently, this song is for her.

Now, time to get down to work. I introduced the class to some expressions; therefore we need to revise and practice:

between you and me // let’s get it over and done with // my hands are tied // off the cuff

I would like to let you go home early but …..

……… I think students have too much homework

Jazz musicians are famous for their spontaneity; they often play ………..

Oh, man ! We have to clear up after the party. Oh, well, ……….


collect / raise / undertake / boycott

Charities run campaigns to ……….. money

I’m going to ……….. shops that treat their staff poorly

Scientists need to ……. further research into the Corona Virus

There is little recycling, if any, in Vietnam. We need to ……… awareness of the importance to the planet.


Giving opinions – remember, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer; the exercise is to help you express what YOU feel when you see these works of art.


It’s not my cup of tea // it doesn’t appeal to me // I just don’t get // I see no artistic value // I have no time for it.

OR … positive:

It’s very uplifting // the picture speaks to me // I’m drawn to the image // it is ineffable (unable to be expressed in words) // it transcends language.

Image result for constable haywain
John Constable 1821
Image result for wyndham lewis as a tyro
Wyndham Lewis 1921
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Jean-Michel Basquet 1980s
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Ancient Egyptian art

NOW – a curious point … how can a civilisation that can construct these:

Image result for pyramid of giza

only represent the human form like this:

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How perfect are the Pyramids ?

“The builders of the Great Pyramid of Khufu aligned the great monument to the cardinal points with an accuracy of better than four minutes of arc, or one-fifteenth of one degree,” Glen Dash, an engineer who studies the Giza pyramids, wrote in a paper published recently in The Journal of Ancient Egyptian Architecture … ” https://www.livescience.com/61799-great-pyramid-near-perfect-alignment.html

Now, take a look at his ariel view, showing the layout:

Image result for aerial view of pyramids

At this juncture, let’s take a little diversion, from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece.

The night sky has 88 constellations, many named after characters or creatures from Greek mythology. I’d like to focus on one, the giant hunter Orion. This is his constellation, and is one of the more easier groups to see, especially at this time of year:

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These random stars (which may in fact be many millions of light years apart) were seen by the Greeks thus:

Image result for orion constellation

You see the hunter with his bow and arrow, but I wish to draw your attention to the three stars arranged diagonally in the centre, the ‘belt’ of the hunter. Compare those with the arrangement of the Egyptian pyramids:

Image result for orion constellation and pyramids
Image result for orion constellation and pyramids

How would you account for this ? Coincidence or conspiracy ?

Let’s leave the last word to our National Poet, William Shakespeare, with this famous quote from Hamlet:

Image result for there are more things in heaven and earth

Teen Team Project: Tourism in HCM.

20th January 2019

This three-hour lesson was totally devoted to planning, preparing and presenting a project about tourism.

Thailand is very close and there, tourism accounts for 9.4% of their economy, a figure which is expected to rise to 12.8 % by 2028 (source: World Travel & Tourism Council).


This affords the teacher an opportunity to add other elements to the lesson; in addition to new vocabulary and collocations, we have, in the first two paragraphs, examples of alliteration and quoting sources to make a report more official; an opinion supported by facts.

Alliteration is a poetic devise, using words that begin with the same letter. Source quoting – stating where information is found – is a vital aspect of academic writing, so to learn it before university will be very beneficial. However, it is important to use books, newspapers or websites that are official and respected, as opposed to Wiki sites or blogs.

Tonight, I would focus on presentation skills, vocabulary used in travel promotion, and fixed expressions. The later is a great addition to the students’ repertoire, allowing them to sound more like a native-speaker. We use fixed expressions all the time. So, without further ado, into the notes.

Firstly, as a warmer, we talked about HCM / Sai Gon; what does it have to offer the tourist ?

“Trash, garbage,”

Thank you, Sir, but I don’t think you’re getting the point of the exercise. Walking around the room, various answers were put forth: history, mystery, great food, cheap (dirt cheap as we would say in the UK), interesting buildings, friendly people.

Conversely, what were the problems or issues that were keeping tourists away ? Traffic was an immediate response, pollution, petty crime, scams. Perhaps the biggest problem is simply lack of knowledge. When most westerners hear about Vietnam, they think about war, boat people, refugees … the unspeakably horrific photo of Kim Phuc, running away from a burning village. So what could be done to encourage tourism ? That was the project.

I wanted to illustrate the difference between a scam and petty crime. The latter includes bag-snatching and pickpocketing, the former is tricking people out of money, for example fake taxis, over-charging, giving people incorrect change etc. We then watched a short video, highlighting some issues, as well as listening to English being spoken by some young Vietnamese. A good way to learn is to check for mistakes. What grammar or pronunciations errors can you find here?


At one stage, the presenter is walking past a group of tourists, some of whom wave to the camera and make various gestures. This allowed me to introduce a neologism, a new word or phrase that has evolved out of modern technology: photo-bombing. Here is a famous example of the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch with the rock group U2:

Now was a chance for some new vocabulary, words and phrases associated with holidays and travel.

breathtaking / stunning/ sensational / incredible / remarkable/ exclusive / inspiring / spectacular /

once in a lifetime experience/ never to be forgotten / unbeatable prices

book now to avoid disappointment/ best decision you’ll ever make

Structure: To begin with / furthermore … additionally / the fact is … / therefore

As an Example, I showed a short file about London:



Buckingham Palace Tower Bridge

British Museum Wembley Stadium

Shops, parks, theatres, restaurants

London – one of the world’s GREAT cities

A holiday of a lifetime ! Book early !

Mr Paul Tours – visit our website mrpaultours@ukonline.co.vn for more information.

From this, I made a short presentation:

Now is the perfect time to visit London, England’s glorious capital. The weather is perfect for walking, so you can enjoy the lush parks, world-famous museums and incredible, unbelievable shops. There is something for everyone … and more ! Like sports ? Go to one of the many Premier League football games. Love shopping ? Everything is here – shop till you drop ! Adore culture – soak up hundreds of years of history.

Flights from TSN airport daily. Seven-day all-inclusive package tour starting from only 50m VND ! All transfers and transport included. Air-conditioned mini bus with Vietnamese-speaking guide.

So what makes a good presentation ?

Volume – not too loud, but not too soft.

Intonation – sound enthusiastic, but again, not overly so. If you sound bored, the listeners will be.

Pace – not too fast, or too slow

Eye contact – look at the audience, engage with them but don’t stare at anyone.

Walk around – this can be energising, but too much will be distracting.

Stick to the point. Avoid repetition or deviating from the subject.

Keep slides simple and basic; too much text and the audience will be too busy reading to listen to you (I got that tip from a former student, a marketing executive).

Gestures, and body language. Look professional and people will take you seriously. Open hand signs indicate honesty. Cross-armed seems hostile.

And then it was time for the teacher to pipe down (stop talking) and let the students work. Most classes have mixed abilities, confidence levels, introverts and extroverts. I wanted each of the four groups to have at least one confident student, so I asked some of the students quietly, explaining my rationale, and they agreed (one deferred, but promised to move next class … right, Ms Uyen ?)

I gave them a set time, after which they had to present. Then came the issue of who would go first; here’s where a pack of playing cards comes in handy. I picked an Ace, 2, 3 & 4 and let the students choose. You can’t argue with the cards !

The work was very impressive, some groups quoted their source material, others had very gifted public speakers. We’ll build on this in the next lesson, when they can practise using fixed expressions and travel adjectives (and the accompanying intonation).

A special thanks must go to my TA, the wonderful Ms Vy, who assisted and co-taught with me. I’ll be writing about my experience with TAs at various schools … but that is for another day.

Teenage Class: The Truth is Out There.

Saturday 12th January 2019

The theme of the lesson is ‘trust and truth,’ and is split between reading and listening in the first half, followed by a speaking section in the second.

It’s also my first time with this class as their permanent teacher, so getting off to a good start is paramount. This means having fun and creating a conducive learning atmosphere but also stating class rules and stating the consequences for breaking said dictums.

I’ll start with a STB game. Students will probably be arriving up to fifteen minutes late, so they won’t miss any new work, while those who manage to arrive on time aren’t left waiting around. The game can be used to review recently-learnt vocabulary (in the last lesson I see they encountered such phrases as ‘off the beaten path’, ‘culture shock’ & ‘left to your own devices.’

We can then talk about different cultures. I’ll show a little of this YouTube clip (it has English subtitles which is great for my students, and the speaker is from USA so he has a different accent to mine).


Following this, I’ll show my Friends (men) sheet (I’ll put the link below). This will lead into the lesson, the theme of trust and trustworthiness. I’ll introduce the students to my ‘friends’ (yes, they are just five random photos from Google) and ask them which ones they would trust and why. They will also meet ‘Simon’ who will feature in the second part of the lesson.


We’ll then move onto the Truth or False game. Here, I board three things I have done, or achieved. Two are false but one is true. The students have to ask me questions to determine the correct answer. Tomorrow the three will be:

I worked for Apple in Sweden

I have riden an elephant in Thailand

I have fluent Vietnamese, but I speak with a Huế accent

I speak a little Swedish so that could convince them that the first is true. However, my knowledge of all things tech is pitiful, so they could easily see through that. Similarly, by asking me a basic question in Vietnamese, they will, within microseconds detect the fib. The answer, therefore is:

The students can then copy the activity in small groups, while I monitor that students are speaking English (which is the whole point of any speaking activity). I will them introduce them to the phrase ‘call my bluff‘, for example, if I claim to be fluent in Vietnamese but I can’t understand anything they say … they have called my bluff. This will segue into the next game, ‘Call My Bluff.’

For this game, I prepare some A4 sheets with a number of words on with three definitions. One team will read out the word and different people will read out a definition. The opposing side has to guess the correct meaning (and new words can be recycled next lesson in a warm up exercise). For example we have:

obnoxious 1) (adjective) a very unpleasant person 2) (noun) a gas that becomes liquid at 50 degrees C. 3) (noun) a small village without a church.

mindset 1) (noun) a tool designed by scientists to analyse personality 2) (noun) a system of rules to allow students to memorise lots of information 3) (noun) a set of attitudes held by someone or a group of people.

Other words can include demeanour, troglodyte (everyone loves that word), superfluous, salient, volatile, anomaly

After this, it will be time for book work, up to break. After the interval, it’ll be more speaking. I’ll show them the picture of Simon again and say he’s coming to HCM City next week and wants some advice: where to stay, what to do, where to shop, what to eat, how to get around, what to do at night etc. The students have to plan a day for him including breakfast, going to a tourist attraction, shopping, using local transport and a night time activity.

I will give them some information about Simon, for example, he loves trying local food, is interested in history, wants to buy typical souvenirs and enjoys a beer or two at night. However, he is on a limited budget which will affect where he stays, where he goes to eat and how he travels around the city.

Activities like this help students to think critically in a second language and leads into the main exercise in the text book.

In the last twenty to thirty minutes, we need to wind down and do more activities or games after the reading and book activities. In keeping with the theme of truth, I can show some slides and ask are they true or false, eliciting as much information as possible. They include:

Loch Ness Monster
Spring-heeled Jack from Victorian England.
Elvis once flew in his private jet to a different state just to get this peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Fairies at the bottom of a garden. Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, believed in this photo.

Another end game will be with collocations – showing a list of words and asking them which ones collocate, for example an email – you can send it / open it / redirect it / delete it etc. Or maybe just a simple general knowledge quiz or hangman or a B2B.

New Teen Class: Once bitten … twice bitten ?

Saturday 12th January

I vowed NEVER to teach teens again after my last experience(s) at this centre: I covered one class at a different centre and, apart from two or three students, it was a total nightmare, while my own class was a wonderful teen-spirit bitches brew of arrogance, attitude confrontation and contempt.

However, in the spirit of ‘Keep calm and carry on’ or getting back on the horse that has just thrown (and kicked) you, I agreed to a new teenage class. I have already met this class; I substituted one night for them and I was dreading it. However, they were delightful, only one ‘difficult’ student and that person piped down after the first period. One of the students even came up to me afterwards and apologised for her class’s behaviour and disrespect … so sweet.

With the ‘Friends’ exercise (pictures of five men and students have to guess their personality and occupation), the subtext is ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ This could be adapted or paraphrased as ‘don’t judge a class by its (text) book.’ At my old centre, I reviewed a book before my first lesson with a small class. The subject was 3-D printing, quite complicated … and then I met the class. Of the seven ‘students’, one was special needs (and that student was a darling, a pleasure to meet), two were quiet, one almost to the point of a personality disorder, and the remainder simply tried to out-do each other in stupidity and disruption to the class. I used to start each lesson with the imputation that having pen and paper to hand could be beneficial. They would learn new words and would remember them much easier if they wrote them down. At the end of one lesson, I checked. One student had produced this after two hours:

Notes … or note … taken by a former student from a two-hour lesson. One word: ‘hut.’

I desperately hope this class is better. There are eighteen students, ranging from twelve years old to fifteen years old. That three-year gap can be a chasm at this age.

Their book is quite high level and features many TED talks, which can be difficult to follow for English-learners due to the speed of delivery and range of vocabulary.

These classes are three-hour long, so I need to find many games, activities and opportunities for inter-action, as a balance to the book work which may be rather dry for some students.

I have two young classes in the morning, then this evening class. It makes the day very long, but at least I only have one class Sunday morning, and Tet Holiday is coming soon. On the way home, I may well stop off the Grabbike to pick up some beer. Will it be to celebrate a great lesson or to drown my sorrows ? Either way … beer will be consumed (and Manchester United take on Tottenham, their first real challenge under the new manager).

The lesson plan with activities will follow.

A week is a long time in politics … and evidently also in teaching.

Last week I was so impressed by my teenage class. This week, I want to quit, or do anything to find a replacement teacher.

Obviously, I won’t be naming and shaming, but the general pattern should be familiar to teaching of these wonderfully polite, respectful and hard-working students (yes, an example of irony).

The lessons are three hours (which is far too long, in my opinion). The teacher has a set book and must teach the assigned pages, but there is still time for activities, games, warm-ups, anything to break the boredom of sitting and ploughing through seemingly endless, seemingly pointless text.

This class has twenty students, most are willing to participate, but some are committed to seeing out the entire three-hour lesson without saying a word and some will speak… but not in English, just Vietnamese, and theirs is not the most euphonic of tongues. I find it akin to a dozen drunken cats having a fight in a karaoke bar … only worse.

As it was Christmas, I had more activities planned, and wanted to reduce the book work, to focus more on producing English speaking. The first game was a B2B – I’d prepared a number of slides and one student had to sit with her back to the board and ask questions while the other students offer clues; they are not allowed to sat exactly what they see. For example, if they see a cat playing piano, the could say, “An animal like a dog, a pet making music, but not a guitar.

Well, one of the smart-asses just began saying exactly what she saw. It was clear the game was dead in the water, so I moved onto book work.

One exercise was putting life stages in order; same student just shouted out the first thing on the list. Once someone starts destroying the plan, others join in, the pack mentality, the need to express their rebellion. The misnomer that Vietnamese respect teachers is greatly over-stated. As mentioned in other posts, they relish the chance to express their pathetic teenage angst. They will refuse to work, talk over the teacher and break every class rule as a challenge … and there is nothing they want more than to argue with the teacher.

Ultimately, it’s their parent’s money they’re wasting, but, as an old-hand informed me, they know they’ll get some (basically worthless) certificate that says they attended a class – after all, this is a business and got to keep the customer satisfied.

As expected, the rot spread. One student, not graced with fair of face, began eating in class, ostentatiously masticating while trying to out-stare me. Other students just stared at me when I tried to elicit a basic answer.

It was really a case of running down the clock

I’ve taught teenagers at several schools. It a mixed class, naturally, but I feel no hesitation using words like ‘obnoxious’, ‘disrespectful,’ and ‘futile.’

Let’s see if i can do some horse-trading – agree to another class IF I can drop this one. I no longer care about helping this motley collection. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

As a Christmas coda, or miracle if you will, I have subsequently been informed that I will not have to ‘teach’ this mob again – tiding of comfort and joy.

Teenage Class Level 3

Sunday 16th December

I really wasn’t looking forward to this: teaching teenagers, on a hot, weekend afternoon can be a nightmare, and the class size had mushroomed from 13 to 20 students. If it was like the Sunday class at another office, or one’s I’d endured at other centres, I’d have to reconsider my future with this company, or even in this profession.

Instead, they turned out be little darlings; motivated, responsive, polite and reasonably quiet. To paraphrase Eagles, teaching teens, “Can be Heaven, can be Hell!”

The early-comers were treated to the ‘Don’t say, “I’m fine,”‘ patter (see a previous post under teaching notes), and they actually warned each other to comply so students, even late-comers, answered with, “I’m good / great / OK.”

I told them I’d introduce them to a new idiom each week. We kicked off with:

hold your horses – meaning be patient, wait, don’t start yet.

First game was just a warm-up; what did they know about London ? This was in the form of a quiz, two teams shouting out the answers to such questions as the British currency, traditional British food, the Queen’s eldest son (Charles, not William), the name of the famous clock in London, what did 007 mean ? etc.

This centre really tries to promote students speaking (in English) as much as possible, so the first group work was plan a day for a friend of mine in HCM City – what would the friend need ?

We elicited a place to stay, food to eat, things to buy, places to visit, nightlife and how to get around.

This lead into showing a video of top attractions in London, for interest but also to boost vocabulary and expose the students to different accents.

The link is here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0r0VTos_wU&t=20s

I asked the students to listen out for all the adjectives and to notice how they are used, as well as the pronunciation and intonation. For example, we had, “beautiful Queen’s House,” “dazzling Crown Jewels,” “amazing city views,” etc. There was also a lot of new vocabulary and expressions (to keep something at bay). I then asked then to choose which attractions appealed to them (which ones they were interested in, wanted to visit). Finally, we learnt about the Prime Meridian 0 degrees that passes through London.

After the book work, we did activities guessing the personalities and occupations of five of my friends (see next post for photos). The students look at five of my friends and have to deduce (give me an idea) of what my friends are like – inside, not physically. Then they must guess what jobs they do.

I also encouraged forming long sentences using opinion expressions (in my opinion / I feel that / I think / for me … etc)

A great start to the session … let’s hope it continues … watch this space !

Terrible Teens – Bad Day at Black Rock

2nd December 

I’ve taught at some of the biggest private centres, and smaller modest schools, at university and public schools. I’ve taught pre-Kindergarten classes, pre-teens, late-teens, business people, professionals, children from modest background, children from privileged backgrounds, gifted students and those with clear learning disabilities. 

I’m happy to take on any challenge and attempt a Pygmalion-style transformation. I’m happy to turn screaming, crying nippers (young children) into model students who can speak the Queen’s English at the drop of a hat (that one takes a bit of time). But I’m not happy when I see I have a teen class … and this was one of the worst.

On the plus side, I was just substituting, so this was a one-off. I wouldn’t have to see any of these students again (they no doubt feel the same about me, but this is MY blog, so I don’t care what THEY feel).

This was similar to other horrendous teen classes; the students don’t want to be there, don’t want to learn and don’t want anyone else to learn. What they do want is to shout, scream, sleep, fight, eat, sleep (again) and show how rebellious and disrespectful they can be, the pack-mentality just reinforcing this behaviour. And there’s always someone who shouts out, “Boring !”.

Actually, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been; one teacher at this centre told me he was once sworn at by a student. That teacher refused to continue the class and walked out.

What I noticed here was a total lack of interest from half the students, while the others were demonstrating how they wouldn’t listen to any instruction e.g. to keep eating when they were told not to, to continue talking, fighting, sleeping on their desks. And it was a large class. It resembled a public school class more than a private centre of high-repute.

I’ve been told that students are terrified of both their Vietnamese teachers, and of their parents. Physical punishment is still used at school and in the home. Being bad at school will not only bring a beating but also bring shame and disgrace. When students have a foreign teacher, it’s a chance to ‘fight back’. Teachers represent authority, and here’s a chance to be a ‘normal’ teen, to be arrogant, rude and obnoxious. Some of them take that chance.

Some methods for dealing with the terrible teens include what I term the ‘Full Metal Jacket’. This involves punishing the whole class for one person’s actions. For example, if student A says, “Boring,” again, you all get extra homework. Hopefully this peer pressure works.

A more productive way is to negotiate with them. If they do the assigned work, they can play games or do activities of their choice. 

Sometimes a teacher just has to pick their battles. No way can I outshout even one student (the Viet, bless their hearts, are not the quietest people on the planet), let alone twenty-five. Ultimately, we are here to help but if they refuse help there is no point wasting time or energy. Instead, identify the students who do want to learn, gather them together and teach them. Do not let the trouble-makers spoil it for the real students.

To end on a high note, this class is an anomaly. Other teachers have commented on how bad it is, how unteachable the students are. I’ve recently taught two other classes of teens and they have been darlings … but that is for another post.