Christmas – as good a time as any to discuss ethics with children –

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Good versus Evil: For this Christmas season, I used this theme, complete with angels and devils, forces of good and evil, to teach my students affirmative and negative commands in English. Storyline: a blind beggar, fast asleep, unknowingly receives some gold coins from a generous passerby. A poor woman with many children at home and no money for Christmas presents comes by and sees the coins. While she deliberates, the angels say “Don’t do it! Don’t take the money! Don’t …” while the devils counter “Do it! Take the money! etc. ” Initially, she takes the money but she returns later, out of remorse, wakes up the beggar and confesses. He gives her half the money and wishes her a merry Christmas. My students and I discussed the ethics of this kind of situation, and the right moral choice to make. All in English!


Halloween: fortune-telling, vampires and witches, brain pudding and eating “land shrimp” –

Fortune telling – only 100 czech crowns (4 euros) per question!

I gave a lesson around Halloween time involving the future tense, with a complete Fortune Telling business – only four euros per question! Every child has a role (not fixed, rotated): a secretary for writing the questions, another for writing the various answers, a cashier, two fortune-tellers, a “cook” whose “soup” contains some of the answers, a “turtle-whisperer” whose turtle is named Nostradamus, a crystal-ball interpreter, two witches, and of course, some knowledge-hungry customers. Everyone contributes to the questions and answers. Roles are rotated to avoid monotony and to have fun while including all kinds of verbs, nouns, adjectives, geographical locations, famous people, facts and principles from various school subjects so the children remember what they learned in their lessons with their classroom teacher. All in English!



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Above:  Halloween is a great way for children to learn not to be afraid of the images associated with death.  Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a good example of this.  Next year I will introduce the Day of the Dead to my students; this year I focused on some of the more American stapes of Halloween: Count Dracula in his coffin, the Grim Reaper by his side, and their teacher as a witch ;), eating vanilla pudding from a brain mold and making “witch soup” in a cauldron.



In another Halloween lesson, I created a “Zombie Restaurant” complete with both real and imaginary dishes from around the world. The students had to look at a powerpoint presentation of various dishes and vote which ones were actually real.  Some of the real dishes included various stir-fried insects from Thailand, grasshoppers from Mexico, snails and frogs’ legs from France, fried bats from New Guinea. We discussed nutrition, personal tastes and the concept of an open mind.  We also talked about what hot-dogs and chicken nuggets from fast-food restaurants are really made of.  The point here was not to convert children into eating strange and foreign things for their own sake, but to not be quick to dismiss them or at least to understand the idea that what seems “gross” to us can be a delicacy to someone else… and that some of those strange foods are actually full of nutritional value and certainly healthier than the fat, salt and processing that goes into making a hot-dog!  Some aspects of the animal treatment behind the making fast food and processed food was also discussed.

At the end of the class, one child cleverly suggested that insects were “land shrimp” … and most of us will agree that shrimp are delicious!

Teaching kids geography and history with Napoleon, Wellington and Metternich

More late afternoon fun with a costumed history and geography lesson – this time with Napoleon Buonaparte, the Duke of Wellington and diplomat Klemens von Metternich. The kids can say where each key 19th century person is from, their job, why they were important and what happened to them (including the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s prison at Elba and Saint Helena’s, and the restructuring of Europe through Metternich’s diplomacy.)

Lots of geography – from Europe to the south Atlantic Ocean – covered here, while  real-life history can compete any story the boys can invent (and they can invent some great stories 🙂 ).

Why wait for Carnival? Getting into character – and into engaged learning

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 An English lesson about London, England and Great Britain – in costume and in character – makes kids so eager to participate that learning is effortless! 

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Note: the child in the video above, presenting London, knew very little English, and also very little about Tudor history and the current royal family until ten minutes before he did the presentation.  I am so proud of him! 

Carnival is not around the corner, but Halloween is only about five weeks away.  Why wait, though?  Since I have about 150 costumes (for both adults and children) in my collection, I like to use them whenever I can. As a foreign language teacher (who uses a strong communicative approach through drama and music), adding some festivity to any lesson is guaranteed to get children to learn their lesson, provided you let them know that the costumes are part of a lesson, rather than a free-for-all.

Last week we had a lesson about England and Great Britain, with a focus on London and some of England’s most famous monarchs.  We also included Scotland and the boys in the class were amused by the Scottish kilt, until I reminded them of the many kinds of traditional clothes. from around the world that include some kind of “skirt” worn by men.

Here are some photos of the teacher (Yours Truly) dressed as Queen Elizabeth the First, accompanied by a Queen’s Guard (yes, I know, the Palace Guards with the tall bearskin hats did not exist in Tudor times but from the Battle of Waterloo onwards – but the boy in that costume was able to explain to the class that he is in the service of the second Queen Elizabeth, the current monarch of Great Britain.)

Another child dressed as the formidable King Henry the Eighth.  He was loved pretending to be “my father”  :).

Included in this post is a video of a presentation of London, whose installation is made up of an amazing 3D map of the city (the children loved inserting the 3D representations of London’s historic and modern buildings into the spongy map base, and then adding the labels.)  There are also dolls representing King Henry the Eighth, Queen Elizabeth the First, her buddy William Shakespeare, Ada Lovelace, Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes. There is also a plastic doll of England’s current Queen Elizabeth the Second, solar-powered to wave her hand to the crowds :).  Of course, there are lots of colorful photos of the many famous London landmarks, and a pop-up book as well.  Between the 3D map, the photos, the pop-up book, the realia and the dolls, there are enough materials to give each student a useful role in presenting London.

The children are aware that these historic characters did not all live at the same time, and were able to put them onto a five-century-long timeline.

I am so proud of these kids.  Most of them have not been in Germany longer than two years.  Fluent in German already (and helping me to get fluent in German as well), they are now learning English, and having a lot of fun in the process! Not to mention they can help tourists find their way around London using an Underground map (from my realia collection), tell you plenty of things about Tudor history, and describe Britain’s current royal family.

This lesson promoted the following vocabulary and acquired skills:

  1.  the family
  2. clothes (of the past and the present)
  3. the present and the past tense
  4. correct placement of people and events in history
  5. political geography and culture
  6. public performance
  7. team-work and confidence building through fun!




Geography Yoga with children –

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Two lessons were taught here: geography and some yoga.  Kids love  colors and shapes.  They love tangible materials and they love putting things together.  And of course, they love to stretch and move and have seemingly care-free fun doing yoga by putting various body parts on various “parts of the world” , in an extra-education version of the American game “Twister”.

Making the colorful yoga-mat continents involved a painstaking cut-out project where I glued together long strips of translucent baking paper, attached it to a huge, 2 x 1.4 meter world map in the main hallway of my school, got help from a 6th grade class to trace all the land masses and islands from this map,  cut out the continents and then transferred the pattern paper continents on to yoga mats, finally cutting those out, to produce some beautiful, Montessori-code colored continents.  Using a blue sheet “ocean” background, the kids (featured in all the photos in this post) used the map to recreate a world continent map of their own.

The process involved talking about colors and especially shapes, and having the kids recreate the shapes using gestures and their bodies themselves.  Once they were able to conceptualize the shape and form of each continent, I asked them to place those continents on to the blue sheet.   I asked them to try to remember the position of each continent in relation to the others, and to space them as correctly as possible.  We then looked at the world map as an answer key to see how correctly they had “re-created the world.”

Only some minor corrections were necessary; the kids had done a great job of memorizing the shapes and the disposition of our world’s continents!  Africa and South America needed to be moved farther apart – yet by widening “the Atlantic Ocean”, I was able to throw in a quick lesson in plate tectonics.   They then had fun putting the Africa and South America pieces together and then taking them apart, like puzzle pieces, further internalizing the concept of plate tectonics.

Below is a photo of a plate tectonic lesson taught in English to 6-7 year olds in a Czech school.


(I can’t wait to do some lessons on paleontology and Earth history with them!  Especially since we all know how much kids are fascinated by dinosaurs.)

After our “yoga mat continent map” was finished, we identified some countries – especially big, “visually prominent” ones, first on the world map and then on the yoga-mat continent map with the blue sheet.

Then the kids looked at yoga positions on a brown yoga mat nearby, which I had reserved for that purpose.  They immediately started to copy the various positions on the mat.   There was little for me to do except to check that their backs were straight, that their yoga “shapes” were correct, and that they were breathing deeply and regularly.

Finally, we put it all together.  We made a game of “Geography Twister” using body parts – first in German, and then in English.  The kids had to put various body parts on various continents in specific areas on those continents (of course, vocabulary like “east / west / north, south” were used for this purpose as well.)

The results produced various yoga positions, reinforcement of their knowledge of world continents, countries and cardinal points, and lots of laughter.

There are thousands of ways to teach, learn,  and have fun in the process! As I saw on the day of this outdoor lesson, “Geography Yoga” is one of them.

The next lesson – with a foam puzzle floor map of the world – had the kids identifying the continents once again, but this time also the countries.  The map is made of foam and is a puzzle with over 250 pieces.  You know how kids love puzzles! They put it together joyfully and in the process, learned the name and position of many countries.  They were able to show me how they traveled across the Middle East to Germany.  We talked about time differences.  I asked applied questions about time and daily activities across the globe.  The kids were fascinated by the fact that my mother back in Los Angeles was just waking up, while we were finishing a late afternoon lesson… or that a Russian child in Moscow was having breakfast, while a Russian child in Vladivostock was going to bed!

This map is almost the same size as the hand-made Montessori color continent map we assembled and used today, but detailed with every country and the country flag.

More yoga and geography  is pictured below.   Kids sure love to move! They sure love colors!  They sure love to act on the following commands: “Put your left food on Australia and your right foot on Japan.  Put both your hands on north Brazil.  Keep a straight back.” The result, of course, is the yoga position “downward dog”.

I can’t wait to do this lesson again and the kids are looking forward to it as well!

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Can we go NOW??? Workshop auf Englisch und Theater in der Gymnasium Carl-von-Ossietzky, Bonn

Can we go NOW???

Workshop auf Englisch und Theater in der Gymnasium Carl-von-Ossietzky, Bonn

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Die 5c bekam vor kurzem in zwei Doppelstunden ihres Englischunterrichts Besuch von Evie Prentoulis. Evie ist in den USA und in England aufgewachsen und führt regelmäßig Workshops mit Kindern durch. Dabei legt sie Wert darauf, dass die Kinder viel über ihre beiden Heimatländer erfahren und vor allem Spaß haben.

Die Schülerinnen erlernten zum Beispiel zwei kleine Sketche und durften dabei in allerlei Verkleidungen schlüpfen. In einem der Sketche geht es um einen vollbesetzten Bus mit allerlei skurrilen Personen wie zum Beispiel einer Astronautin, einen Feuerwehrmann, ein Cowgirl oder einen Piloten. Alle diese Personen haben allerdings etwas vergessen und auf die ständige Frage des Busfahrers: “Can we go NOW?“ folgt stets ein “Stop! Wait! I forgot my fire extinguisher“ oder “Stop! Wait! I forgot my cowboy hat“ usw. Als der Busfahrer am Ende endlich losfahren kann, merkt er, dass er seinen Schlüssel verloren hat.

Die Kinder lernten aber auch die Geographie der USA und Londons anhand zweier 3D-Modelle besser kennen und erarbeiteten sich Informationen zu wichtigen Persönlichkeiten wie Abraham Lincoln, Eleanore Roosevelt und Sherlock Holmes. Aber auch die Freiheitsstatue, das Weiße Haus oder Big Ben wurden von einzelnen Schülerinnen und Schülern vorgestellt. Wer weiß zum Beispiel schon, dass allein der Zeigefinger der amerikanischen Freiheitsstatue 2,44 Meter lang ist?

Neben der landeskundlichen Erweiterung ihres Wissens spricht Evie natürlich nur Englisch, so dass alle Kinder die Gelegenheit bekamen, die englische Sprache als notwendiges Kommunikationsmittel zu erfahren und diese Möglichkeit auch begeistert nutzten.

Die Ergebnisse des Workshops konnten sich dann auch die Eltern der 5c auf ihrem Klassenfest anschauen, wo es zu einer kurzen Präsentation kam.


Fest der Kulturen, (Multicultural Festival), Bonn, May 2017

Volunteering as a children’s animator with the NGO Plan International – which helps girls world-wide to get a better education.  What a fun day it was at Bonn’s annual Fest der Kulturen –

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From unconscious to conscious “competents”: how adults can learn new languages as if they were children

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Kids are “unconscious competents”. Most learn languages quickly and easily, seemingly without trying. Let’s copy them so we adults can dispel the myth that only children can learn new languages. I learned six languages after the age of 18. I was still “unconscious” of what I was doing to be successful, and it took me years to figure out the rules of what I had done.

Now I am a “conscious competent” 😉 and that is to my benefit. It helps me to teach better – and also to learn. I am now using those “rules” and “strategies” to master Arabic sounds, and have fun pronouncing words in Arabic … (plus Farsi, Dari, Pashtun, three dialects of Kurdish, and improve my Turkish.)  Once the basics are mastered, Arabic will be my 9th language. I am not sharing this to boast – but to warmly encourage adults to try a new language, at ANY time in their life. Wish me luck with my upcoming workshops with refugee children in Bonn! I know in advance that the teacher-learner ratio will be 1:1 😉 and that the children will be the the most effective, kindest and most generous teachers, like my 6 – 12 year old “teachers” in Prague. Thanks to my Czech youngsters, I learned the difficult Czech language, and I am proud of myself. And I am grateful. This “two-way street” fuels my mission to serve others in learning languages – namely, to serve children.

Here are some suggestions for the mindset behind learning languages as an adult. They are oversimplified but are true nevertheless. They sure worked for me!

1. Study. But don’t just read and write at home and then stop until the next time you sit down. Think of the words you will use with people in the real world, away from your desk, who speak the target language. Think of the things you would say in your own language, that make you feel good and make you laugh.  Think back to things you have said to others – in your native language – that made them laugh.  Things you knew in advance would make them laugh, be fascinated or simply caught their attention. and so you’ve used them in more than one situation.  – and others too. Just two words here, three words there … plus words that are relevant to the context of a social group you are part of that has people who speak your target language.

2. Not part of such a group? When a child needs new playmates, the parents often find some organisation – like a Facebook group for parents – and at their discretion, make contacts and friends over time.  When you need “playdates” for practicing the language, don’t hesitate to do the same.  Find groups that involve activities and join them, and then go to activity-centred meetings.  Through a clear context, you will have plenty of “homework” – which would be preparation for talking about the activity and verbally participating in the activity. The first way to meet people is the organic way: ask your friends if they know anyone who speaks that language and find ways to meet that person or those people. Also Internations, or expat.(name of country). When I was living in Prague, helped me to find a lovely turkish woman who taught me Turkish, while I taught her English. I am in touch with her to this day and also with her friends.

Try in your city.  Now living in Bonn for a mere 5 months, I have made a host of friends on;  one of them is also a German-English tandem partner.  Thanks to him I was able to get my CV and some drama workshop proposals done in perfect German, while he simply seeks a refinement in his English.   Try a Facebook group too – especially one that has members who speak the target language. There is also (most people on there are very nice – do practice discretion though.) There are many more ways but I cannot list them here. My first French contact was my penpal, Albane, when I was 18 (there was no internet at the time – I met her through an exchange program in college. We’ve lost touch since then, but to this day, I am friends with her friends, 25 years later. Go figure!

3. Read children’s books in the target language. If you can, take notes on all new words you learned.

Read with a child, if you can – with both of you reading out loud together.  Sound out the words as the child sounds out the words. Depending on the child’s age or, more importantly, the child’s reading level, you will be varying degrees of teacher and student, with that child also taking on both roles.

Let the child be your teacher. Children make the best teachers! They do not over-explain things but only tell you what you need to know, no more, no less.

Be a teacher for that child.  Be both teachers and students, together, reading that book.  Discuss the book with the child.  Practice speaking the words by this discussion.  Use simple sentences to say what you think or to ask questions.  The child will either answer /ask questions using simple short statements or, if extraverted and chatty, longer statements.
Babysit kids who speak the language you wish to learn. Ask for free lessons from the parents of those kids in exchange for your free childcare. You get two lessons for the price of one ;).

4. Listen to kids and their families conversing together in the target language.
Spend time with children, converse with them and let them chat to you in their language. They are so precious when they do this, clueless to the fact that you are struggling to understand. If they are talking about their toys, make the most of it. The conversation is about concrete things. Let them be your teacher. Make them conscious that they are your teacher in this moment. Have them introduce colors, shapes, other adjectives to you, in talking about their toys. Repeat as much as you can. You empower the child and linguistically, you empower yourself too.

5. Pay attention to what your mouth is doing when you are practicing the words. What your tongue, teeth and lips are doing, and what your breath – voiced or unvoiced – is doing as it passes through your mouth. What the relationship is between those body parts in their varied combinations. Kids don’t think – they just do. Same for us, but if you pause and pay attention, you can reproduce it and improve it, until that sound is effortless. If you can imitate an animal or do a funny “accent”, you can learn to pronounce new words – and the sounds to each letter of those words – even sounds that don’t exist in your own language. You literally train your mouth to do it.

6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, make mistakes because not only do you make less of them over time – you also come across as having a sense of humour, openly vulnerable and human, and that makes you disarming, charming and likeable. People work all day and are tired and cynical. Your mistakes (and laughter at them) is a real breath of fresh air!

7. When people say “Oh, just tell me in English”, say “I don’t speak English” in their language. Learn this in advance so you can say it to them. It will require them to speak in their language with you. I did this in the Czech Republic when I first moved there. Also, be “unaware” (or indifferent) to any inner voice telling you that you are taking too long to make your point. Make your point in that language and don’t worry about “boring” anyone. In most cases, you are not, trust me. And if you are, who cares?
It took some cheek (which also helps to learn a language faster.) A little spirit is also youthful – another breath of fresh air! Be cheeky.

8. Celebrate the fact that your language is very simple. Imagine how much more direct you are because you don’t have a full arsenal of words at your disposal. Imagine how cute you sound – and how much people respect you and admire you for your bravery. It’s true. Plus, not knowing a language well makes you strain to understand – and THAT makes you a very good listener, which is very charismatic. It is another way to make people feel good. They like you for it and invite you out more. They find you open and disarming, not to mention gutsy. You make friends fast and strangers are happy to help you. By being a good listener (for language purposes amongst other things) you are very present, which is both wise AND child-like. We all know how “present” children are. You make people feel good to be around you and they want to do more for you. I’d say that not knowing a language well is anything but a handicap. It’s a PLUS. Be like a kid – and you will entertain others by being “natural” and funny. You will charm them (sometimes without them even knowing why) and you will make friends fast. And you will have all the support you want and need to get better at that language. Thrive on your mistakes; relish them!

Kids do all these things and that is why they seem to learn so quickly. Be playful in life and in your communication approaches and practice. It definitely pays off. Enjoy the process!