'My choices at the World Teachers’ day Web Conference 2019' by Minka Paraskevova

14th October 2019

I think that making the choice to spend five hours in front of the computer on that gloomy Saturday afternoon was one of the best decisions I have made lately.

Critical thinking has never been easy to teach. John Hughes refers to it as ‘high order thinking’. Statistically, teachers usually introduce activities that require basic, or low order thinking. For instance, the popular ‘fill in the gaps’ task. However, the ones that require the critical and creative abilities of our students are more challenging and often time consuming. Critical thinking in the taxonomy suggested by Hughes is the pathway to more qualitative creative thinking skills. You can see more details of his presentations at Gdansk and Budapest conferences at www.johnhugheselt.com.

Walton Burns’ session on Mystery games as a tool for developing learners critical thinking was insightful and aspiring. Apart from the fact that it gives students something to talk about, from my personal experience, mystery stories are the most liked and likable if stripped from their literary attire. Yes, that is right – the simple, straightforward crime stories are the best! Walton gives a pretty transparent explanation – a. some genre conventions are not easy to grasp; b. stories are full of literary features which could also bring more challenges to the readers; c. some mysteries have not been written to be solved – a true fact, indeed. So, what can we do to have such stories? – Design them ourselves. Walton Burns approach consists of three easy steps:

  • Think of a brief story (The Puzzle)
  • Prepare a list of clues (follow a plan that exclude all alternative routes);
  • Give clue by clue, not the whole list of clues, to the students and let them argue, discuss, have fun and solve the puzzle each time you add a new clue to the story.

Despite the fact that such games could be helpful towards pair/group discussion and development of speaking skills, the simplicity of the idea and its adaptability to specific class contexts is fascinating. Moreover, each game once designed could be recycled over and over again. It could also be used as a starting point for guiding students towards learners’ autonomy and setting the stage for more creative work. Why not ask students to design their own group mystery game and test the rest of the class? For more details about the author and his projects, you can browse www.waltonburns.com.

Vicky Saumell’s presentation on digital projects as a means to stir learners’ creativity in class revealed for me, personally, a whole new space for exploration. Again, certain topics presented in their usual format, such as seeking literary responses, teaching poetry and asking students to produce a poem themselves, and sometimes even making a journal entry could make students reluctant and passive in class. But if we present the same tasks into the format of a digital project, somehow, we come to terms with the digital perkiness of our students, or not? It is worth tipping a toe into this new world of creating sound books, a day in the life of a popular person journal entry, hidden digital poetry and much more. If the subject caught your attention, please visit www.vickysaumell.com  for a gallery of wonderful digital projects.

Dr Minka Paraskevova is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Prof Dr Assen Zlatarov University of Bourgas in Bulgaria. She is a long term TESOL teacher of English in her own country, the Czech Republic, Ireland, and the UK. In 2017 she completed a TESOL teacher trainer course at Oxford English in Barcelona, Spain. Later, in 2018, Dr Paraskevova joined the IB examiner team on the English and Literature Diploma course. Her doctoral interests lay in the fields of English, Drama and Performance and culture and communication. Her publications range from Scottish drama and culture in Germany, Bulgaria and India to English language learning for young learners (co-authored the Bulgarian adaptation of Super Minds by CUP), online teaching techniques in Humanizing Language Teaching journal, language identity and creative methodologies in tertiary education (a future publication with Cambridge Scholars Publishing). Dr Paraskevova is a member of the Bulgarian Society for the study of English (affiliate of ESSE), the Bulgarian English Teachers’ Association, an affiliate of IATEFL in Bulgaria, and IATEFL.

If you missed the British Council and IATEFL World Teachers’ Day 2019 web conference on 5 October, click here to watch recordings of all the talks from the day.