IELTS: Sisyphus as metaphor

10th May 2022

Last week I held an IELTS Speaking Test. Only one student hit 7.5 although, in fairness, I was probably on the generous side in awarding the student such an admirable score.

Or, to be precise, learn from their mistakes.

I can break them down into three main areas:

coherence

vocabulary

complex sentences

Kicking off with coherence; it doesn’t matter how fluent you are, unless you answer the question, you will loose marks.

The test allows us to assess your understanding of both question and task. An example: one question was

What is the most popular activity in your country ?

ASIDE: I’ve told students until I’m blue in the face, never repeat, “In (my) country,” but since when do teenage students ever actually listen ?

The question asks for ONE activity; several students talked about two or three. This is not answering the question.

Anyone who’s studied at University will know how imperative it is to follow instructions.

COMIC RELIEF: One student, from a previous test, replied that the most common activity, “In my country,” was brushing teeth, and that foreigners do this every day, but Vietnamese only do this once or twice a week. Said student had to continue for two minutes. Needless to say, there were no flying colours.

More disturbing was the lack of IELTS vocabulary. You have been told time and again what that means, and I can’t keep hitting my head against a brick wall.

And so to work … get out your notebooks (those that actually bother bringing notebooks to class), look up previous lessons and write down:

TEN L-FWs

FIVE less common idioms

FIVE everyday expressions

TEN phrasal verbs

TEN basic collocations

I have taught you these ad infinitum. If you are struggling with this exercise, you will probably only get a 5 for the Lexical Recourses section.

Lastly, the old chestnut, complex sentences.

I had nine students, each with about ten minutes of speaking time. How many complex sentences do you think I heard ?

Yes, Steve …
That’s right … ZERO

EXERCISES: Use at least two L-FWs, one idiom and other IELTS elements

(and if you think it’s funny to ask what I mean, after all this time, by ‘IELTS elements’, just get up and leave the class).

Speak for one minute about:

one of your cousins // your favourite gift // sports // your best memory from childhood // best films // problems in your city // typical local food.

Part Two: Critical Thinking

“Oh, teacher, I’m tired and feel lazy.”

Work in teams. Watch the following short clip about the ancient Greek king, Sisyphus:

Characters from Greek and Roman mythology permeate western culture, and references and allusions are ubiquitous.

You may watch the video again, writing down new words. There is a lot of background (in which you may encounter a character from ‘The Avengers’ movies), but the main feature starts around the 4:00 mark.

Your task is to relate this story to modern life. Choose a person you know, or something from your own experience. You may even project your thoughts about the future, once you have left education and joined the workforce.

To assist you, some pertinent L-FWs and idioms:

futile (adj) futility (noun) / absurd / pointless / meaningless / contemptable / repetitive / a metaphor

a total waste of time / flogging a dead horse

sick to the back teeth / day in, day out

cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

talking until (pronoun) blue in the face / the grind

putting an old head on young shoulders

Look up the meanings yourself. Your teacher won’t be with you to give you the answers in life. Think for yourself.

Athene, Goddess of wisdom

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

IELTS: a heart of gold (and other expressions)

18th April 2022

Apart from idioms, phrasal verbs and low-frequency words (LFW), IELTS students need a collection of expressions and collocations to spice up their English.

With that in mind, here are some notes from the previous lesson, along with revision exercises and a splattering of vibrant vocabulary.

As for speaking tests, I listened to eight students last week and only heard one complex sentence. Now, it wasn’t one of my classes; my students know exactly what I will do if they don’t speak in IELTS-style sentences:

I just jammed around with two key words: ‘heart’ & ‘gold’.

Exercise 1: define these expressions & idioms

HEART

a heart of gold

a heart to heart

hand on heart

heart-felt greetings

heartbreaking

a heart of stone

GOLD

King Midas
The bard of Stratford

a heart of gold (yes, again, it’s called practice)

as good as gold

the golden touch

golden handshake

silence is golden (especially when one works in Vietnam)

Exercise 2: use these expressions & idioms in an IELTS style, employing complex sentence(s).

EXAMPLE: My mother, who works incredibly long shifts at the hospital, has a heart of gold. Even when she is exhausted, she always finds time for me.

Now … your turn. Tell me about your:

younger sister // older brother // uncle // best friend // neighbour

New vocabulary

facetious // uncharacteristically // overheads // euphemism // lingua franca // prima donna

shaking in my boots // going to powder my nose // going to see a man about a dog // footloose and fancy free

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

Animals: idioms, phrases and interesting facts A – D

3rd April 2022

Albatross:

An albatross around your neck

Meaning: A burden or something unpleasant that stays with you

“He wrote that tweet when he was angry, and everybody saw it. It’s like an albatross around his neck now.”

The phrase comes from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, where a sailor shoots an albatross, a symbol of good luck, and is forced to wear the dead bird around his neck.

Ants:

To have ants in your pants

Meaning: Always moving around, not sitting still

“Keep still ! Do you have ants in your pants ?”

In Greek, ants are myrmex. The soldiers who followed the hero Achilles were referred to as Myrmidons. One origin myth is that ants survived a plague, and the god Zeus turned these into people. Even today, ants have been found to be extremely resistant to nuclear radiation.

Achilles addresses his myrmidons

Bears:

Bear with me

Meaning: Please wait a very short time

“Let me check for you. Bear with me a minute.”

In some Native American cultures, the bear is a symbol of a teacher

Birds

Birds of a feather flock together

Meaning: People tend to stay with or befriend people with similar interests or habits

“The naughty students all sit together. Birds of a feather !”

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Meaning: It is better to have something definite than something better but uncertain

“Should I buy these now or wait until next week when they may be cheaper ?” “Buy now. A bird in the hand.”

The European bird Robin Redbreast actually has an orange chest, but the word ‘orange’ didn’t exist in English until the 16th Century, by which time the bird was already known as ‘redbreast’.

Cats:

To let the cat out of the bag

Meaning: to tell a secret

“John told me. He let the cat out of the bag.”

No room to swing a cat

Meaning: Very limited space. However, the ‘cat’ here is a whip used by the navy, a cat o’ nine tails.

Cats were sacred to the Egyptian god Bast (or Bastet), so killing one was extremely unlucky. Cats helped kill rodents, who would eat the grain, and were therefore treated with the highest respect.

Chicken

Don’t be chicken

Meaning: Do not be afraid

“Come on, let’s watch this horror film. Don’t be a chicken !”

Chicken Little

Meaning: A person who is alarmist, who always predicts that bad things will happen

“Jane says we should cancel the picnic because it may rain, but she’s such a Chicken Little.”

Chickens, who originate from southeast Asia, have remarkable memories. They have been found to identify over 100 other chickens just by their faces.

Dog

The tail wagging the dog

Meaning: The person or people in control are actually being forced to do something they don’t want.

“Your students tell you what they are going to do ? That’s the tail wagging the dog.”

1997 film which takes its title from an expression

Donkey

Talking the hind legs off a donkey

Meaning: Someone who can talk and talk, extremely loquacious

“He could talk the hind legs off a donkey.”

Donkeys are mentioned over 140 times in the NIV of The Bible. They are seen as symbols of peace and servitude. An ass is a wild donkey. A donkey is the ‘star’ of Robert Bresson’s 1966 film ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’.

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

Greek Myths: The hubris of Oedipus

16th September 2021

Oedipus | Story, Summary, & Facts | Britannica
Oedipus and the Sphinx. Representation on a cup circa 470 BCE, now in the Vatican Museum, Rome.

Oedipus, along with Sisyphus, Achilles and Odysseus, is a figure from Greek myth who is part of our modern psyche. His story, whose key points are widely known, belongs to our collective cultural history; he lends his name to a psychological complex. In philosophy, Oedipus can be discussed as a case of free will versus determinism.

Oedipus was certainly no hero in the Theseus or Perseus mold. An argument could be made that he was no hero at all, but a tragic figure. However, he was strong enough to overcome four royal guards single-handedly, and intelligent enough to solve the riddle of the Sphinx, thereby freeing the people of Thebes.

A warrior (like Achilles), an strategist (like Odysseus), a character doomed for unimaginable punishment (like Sisyphus) ? We see what a complex character Oedipus is, and why he still holds our interest and awe.

The Complex Case of Romanian Folklore in Pasolini's Oedipus Rex | The Attic
Oedipus Rex by Pier Paolo Pasolini 1967

So, the key points, what the ‘average person’ knows about Oedipus:

He killed his father and slept with his mother

He solved the Riddle of the Sphinx

Some background is necessary. Some clarification is absolutely necessary.

Firstly, he unwittingly killed his father (King Laius; I shall elucidate later). Secondly, as a reward for freeing Thebes from the curse of the Sphinx, Oedipus was given Queen Jocasta, Laius’ widow, to wed. The patricide and insest were commited freely. Or were they ? Oedipus had been told that he would kill his father and marry his mother, which is exactly what happened, despite his determination to prove the prophecy false.

Therefore, it is my contention that Oedipus was punished for having the hubris to believe that he could defy fate. Yet, the question remains: why was Oedipus fated for such a punishment ? For that, we have to go back a generation and learn about his father, King Laius of Thebes.

Oedipus: Map of Thebes and Corinth

Laius was from the House of Thebes and, as a young man, left his home town and stayed in Elis with King Pelops, a grandson of Zeus and son of Tantalus (but that is another story). Laius was a guest, and became tutor to Pelops’ son Chrysippus. Laius committed the unpardonable sins of abducting and raping the boy. For this he was cursed. Should he ever have a son, that child would murder him, then marry the widow. Despite Laius forcing himself to decline the pleasure of his wife, nature, to employ a phrase, took its course. A son was born, a son that Laius demanded be left alone on a mountain, his feet pinned together.

Salvator Rosa Beach Towel featuring the painting The Abandoned Oedipus by Salvator Rosa
Oedipus abandoned, a print on a beach towel. A perfect illustration of how the myth permeates our culture.

The shepherd charged with this duty gave the baby to a friend from Corinth, where the baby was adopted by the childless King Polybus and Queen Meriope. The child was named Oedipus, meaning swollen foot (and from which we get the medical term oedema, swelling in the feet and ankles) [1]. Oedipus loved and was loved by his parents, and all was well in Corinth. Until, that is, a drunken man told Oedipus the truth, that he was not the natural child. Polybus and Meriope denied this, but Oedipus (in perhaps his first mistake, not believing his parents) travelled to the Oracle at Delphi to learn the truth. His origin was confirmed, and his fate, to kill his father and marry his mother, was proclaimed.

Delphi, home of the famous oracle

In an attempt to avoid this prophecy, Oedipus travelled instead to Thebes. On this journey, he met a carriage coming towards him. Either the driver grazed him, struck him, or demanded that he yield and give way. This infuriated Oedipus, and a fight ensued. In the carriage was an old man; King Laius. The King and all his guards, all but one of the retinue, were slain by Oedipus for their disrespectful treatment of a king’s son.

The Murder of Laius by Oedipus by Joseph Blanc 1867

Whether he was brave to refuse this slight, or flawed by an uncontrollable albeit understandable anger, Oedipus had unwittingly fulfilled the first part of the prophecy.

Continuing on to Thebes, Oedipus encountered the Sphinx and solved the riddle (which I’m sure you are all familiar with). Defeated, the Sphinx killed herself and, as mentioned earlier, Oedipus was given the widowed Queen Jocasta. The had four children and all was well. For a time. A plague decimated Thebes, and it would not abate until the murderer of Laius was found and punished. Eventually, it was revealed that Oedipus was the killer. Jocasta hanged herself, Oedipus blinded himself and went into self-imposed exile, wandering the countryside and dying just outside Athens.

Oedipus Rex Fimonoi Athens
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Performed by the Fimonoi Theatre Group in Athens, Greece

The Greek myths, unlike theological texts such as the Talmud, Bible and Koran, are incredibly flexible and varied, altering from city to city, as well as over time. Just how much people believed or accepted them will never be known, but many people would have been aware of the more famous myths.

Many myths that involve retribution, such as are found in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphosis’ are read as cautionary tales. Someone, a mortal, displayed a weakness that was so offensive they were punished. Some punishments were extremely harsh, but the reason could be clearly discerned. But how to understand Oedipus ? What, in fact was his digression ?

His fate was stated before he had done anything wrong. Maybe he didn’t accept his parent’s explanation, but that seems more contrary to Confucianism and filial piety. Greek myths are full of family in-fighting. He refused to yield to the carriage of King Laius and that pride led to fighting and murder, yet that could be attributed to self defense. Oedipus’ only fault seems to have been simply existing. Laius angered the gods. Why punish the son ?

I have read that some contemporary Greeks apparently thought the same, and began questioning the veracity of gods, myths and society. Such a harsh punishment for a young man who had rid a city of a curse made little if any sense. The psychological trauma would be unimaginable, which may explain the need to self mutilate, physical pain to numb the mental anguish.

To conclude, I am left to assert that Oedipus’ only crime was to try to defeat fate, to have the hubris to feel that a mere mortal, a king’s son notwithstanding, had the power to change the will of the gods. He honoured his father and mother but at the expense of the Immortals. Oedipus refused to accept his fate, for that he was doomed.

What else could Oedipus have done ? Should he have ignored the prophecy, or resign himself to the outcome ? The debate continues.

Stravinsky rehearsing his Oedipus Rex opera, first performed in 1927
Product - Wheelers for Schools

[1] Some scholars question this etymolgy.

Sources

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Oedipus-Greek-mythology

https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/862997/pages/the-story-of-oedipus?module_item_id=4891933

https://www2.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/tragedy/index.php?page=thebes

https://www.softschools.com/examples/literary_terms/hamartia_examples/257/

Public Speaking for Young learners: Theseus and the Minotaur

17th August 2020

Today, we shall learn the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. This story is over 3 000 old, and comes from the country of Greece. Here is the flag of Greece:

Image result for greek flag

Greece is in Europe. It is a very hot country, and has many stories from history. The capital city is Athens.

Map of Europe with Facts, Statistics and History
REMARKABLE RUINS - Parthenon, Greece
Athens, the capital of Greece

Have you ever seen something like this before ?

Image result for greek minotaur

This is the Minotaur, half man, half bull. He was extremely strong, extremely angry and very, very scary. He lived near Greece, on the island of Crete:

Heraklion, Crete, Greece | Greece map, Greece, Crete

The Minotaur lived underground in a big maze called the labyrinth. Every year, the King of Athens had to send 14 children for the Minotaur to eat. This is a labyrinth, a huge maze. It is very easy to get lost inside a labyrinth.

Image result for labyrinth

The king had a son called Theseus. He was a hero. He decided to go and kill the Minotaur.

Image result for Theseus

The King of Crete had a daughter called Ariadne. When she saw Theseus, she decided to help him. She gave Theseus a big ball of string. He tied it to the door of the labyrinth, then used it so he wouldn’t get lost:

Ariadne and Theseus at the entrance to the labyrinth by Angelika ...

Theseus found the Minotaur.

Image result for Theseus with ariadne's string

They had a long fight because both Theseus and the Minotaur were very strong. Finally, Theseus won and killed the Minotaur.

Theseus – Wikipedia tiếng Việt

Then he returned to Athens with Ariadne. The people were so happy, and Theseus became a hero in Greece.

Now watch the lego film of the story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-zWkDElTyc

Remember:

Speak a little slower than normal.

Look at your audience.

Make your voice interesting.

Use great adjectives.

Act out the exciting parts of the story

Public Speaking Classes for Children in San Diego |

GOOD LUCK !

Teenagers: Architecture and mythology

13th March 2020

Image result for architecture and mythology

Contents

Art – giving opinions

Collocations

Expressions

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, ……….

Collocations

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.

ART

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.

Expressions:

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
Image result for basquet artist
Jean-Michel Basquet 1980s
Image result for ancient egyptian art
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:

Image result for ancient egyptian human form

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:

Image result for orion constellation

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

Young Learners, Level 5: Welcome to Athens.

3rd October for 6th October 2019. E Up U6 L1.

An Introduction to Greece: location, history, lifestyle.

Image result for greek flag
The flag of Greece
Image result for mediterranean map

I shall also bring a globe to the class, as this is more visceral than internet images. The students, in small groups (or else the globe will be destroyed) have to find Greece. Now, to review recent vocabulary, what do the students think of these lifestyles ?

First, the food: Does it look healthy ? What other adjectives can the students add ?

Image result for greek food

Some typical Greek food: olives, cheese,vegetables, fish, meat and bread. Also, we have some sweet food:

Image result for greek food

Next, lifestyles – what about these photos:

Image result for jogging up the acropolis
Image result for greek man smoking

How about this Greek dance ? Maybe some of the more active students would like to try !

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_kele6tedo

Image result for greek dancing

Now, Greek history and myth. On the island of Crete, there lived the Minotaur, half-man, half-bull. He lived underground in a big maze called the labyrinth. Every year, the King of Athens had to send 14 children for the Minotaur to eat.

Image result for greek minotaur

The king had a son called Theseus. He was a hero. He decided to go and kill the Minotaur.

Image result for Theseus

The King of Crete had a daughter called Ariadne. When she saw Theseus, she decided to help him. She gave Theseus a big ball of string. He tied it to the door of the labyrinth, then used it so he wouldn’t get lost (it would be a good idea to get some string and tie it to the door handle, or at least act out the motion).

Image result for labyrinth
Image result for Theseus with ariadne's string

Theseus found the Minotaur and killed him. Then he sailed back to Athens with Ariadne (I’m being economical with the legend here; the students are aged ten and eleven).

The students will be learning about the Parthenon in the next lessons, so this is a way of introducing them to Greece and its history. I’ll board words such as ‘bull’, ‘labyrinth’, ‘sailed’, ‘hero’ and ‘decided’. Then, after the students have written them down, they can watch this Lego version and tell me what is happening- start at 0:23.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-zWkDElTyc

Many children will know superheroes such as Spiderman, Iron Man etc. How does Theseus compare ? Whom do they like best ?

Then, onto the lesson. Today it’s about measurements, so although its important, it will not be as exciting as Theseus and the Minotaur.

The class is rather large, (twenty-one students) the room is rather small, which limits the scope for kinetic activities. Remember, these are still young children, some of whom will not really want to be in class on a weekend, so anything to vary the lesson and maintain their interest is worth trying.

I often put the class into small groups and then hand out a board and marker. The teams race to be first to write a sentence or key words from the lesson.

Another activity is to put two sets of flash cards on the floor and choose two students. They have to walk or hop from card to card, saying the phrase on the card. To make it more challenging, they have to hop with both hands on their heads (or some such variation). Quickly, two more students

Finally, to make the lesson more inter-active, one student per team can ask another student from another team to say what is on a flash-card and the answer has to be within five seconds. Points should be awarded to encourage the competition.

And what better way to end the lesson than with the theme from the film ‘Zorba the Greek’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkXmPAStp8Y