Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thank you Astro!

2 days ago, my school received the Kampus Astro set. The set comprises a flat-screen TV and an ASTRO decoder with PVR (personal video recording) features. There are about a dozen channels to choose from, notably The Discovery Channel, Discovery Science, Animal Planet, National Geographic, History & Disney.

I was so psyched to try it out! I hardly do any listening activity in class. It's such a hassle to bring your own radio from home. I think I only did it once this year and even then the listening activity couldn't be carried out because the power socket in the particular classroom was faulty. If I downloaded something from the internet, then I had to carry my laptop, speakers and extension wire as well. I didn't mind it so much before, but after 2 sets of speakers were damaged from all the carrying to and fro, I do mind... hahaha

So, having neglected listening activities for a long time, I was really excited to utilise Kampus Astro. A teacher has recorded the show, "Don't Tell My Mother That I am in Iran". A few of us teachers watched it yesterday and enjoyed it. I decided to show it to my students later so I drafted some questions while I was viewing the programme.

The show runs for an hour. But since you can fast forward the ad breaks, you can watch the whole show in around 45 minutes. So (theoretically), in a double-period lesson, you can watch the whole show and still have time for other tasks. You can get your students to copy the questions first, provide them with some background info on the show, hold discussions after viewing, or elicit their feedback on the lesson.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to do any of the tasks. My double-period was spilt into 2 with recess time in the middle. So 10 minutes was wasted waiting for them to arrive at the Multimedia Room and another 10 wasted waiting for them to come back from recess.

I guess the lesson could only work if the show was interesting enough and this one is. The host managed to showcase fascinating things about the country which challenge the commonly-held view of many. You really have to see it for yourself! The show features a mullah and his rapper son, an American basketball player who plays in the local league, women taxi drivers, a Tilawah competition, Iranian Jews, and paintings by Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock.

The show also got the students to ask about the Islamic Revolution in Iran, why Iran is in conflict with Israel, what are mullahs and synagogues, etc.

When time is up, the students requested to see more.

That's nice, isn't it? Hopefully, that's an indication that they had enjoyed the lesson :)

So I'll end this post with my heartfelt thanks to ASTRO.

Errr, is it possible for us to have another set?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

22 Days to Ramadan

Ramadan is fast approaching. So, why am I not feeling the "vibe"?

I haven't fasted for a while and thought today would be a good day for a "warm-up" fast. A trial run before the actual fasting period.

As always, when you haven't done something for some time, the first step is always the most difficult. I kept thinking, "Does it have to be today?" "Will I survive the whole day?" "You know, teaching can be exhausting, am I sure about this?"

Nobody has ever died of fasting, so I wasn't sure what I was worried about. hahaha

Alhamdulillah, I made it to the end but the day was full of temptations. Time seemed to be passing sooo slowly. I kept referring to my watch, thinking "When will this class end?!"

Then, Wee Na offered her Tat Nenas. My favourite Raya cookies! I declined with a heavy heart. Then Kak Paridah offered her Kuih Sepit. They looked delicious too... (Why do they have to bring the Raya cookies today??!!)

Right about then, my stomach started to growl. The funniest thing was I was seriously contemplating whether or not to break fast. It was a puasa sunat after all. But common sense prevailed. I stuck to it and completed my first fast in this month of Sya'ban.

The whole ordeal reminded me of a tazkirah I heard a few years back. The topic was "Ramadan Warriors". The speaker talked about how people get over-ambitious in Ramadan. There's nothing with that of course. Without a doubt, we SHOULD strive to make the best out of the holy month. We should set targets with regards to Terawikh prayers, Quran recitation, Sedeqah, Iktikaf, etc.

But what's wrong with these "Ramadan Warriors" is that they want to completely change their habit/practice overnight. This is of course impossible. An example was given: High-performance athletes will spend around 30 minutes doing warm-ups alone before they delve into their actual training.

Likewise, if we want to make the most out of Ramadan, we should start way before the 1st day of the month. That way, we can get used to waking up early for sahur, fighting the lethargy while working, reciting at least 1 juzu' a day, waking up for qiamullail, etc.

If we don't start now, then we'll waste precious time getting adjusted in Ramadan itself (which is such a waste).

It's also good to keep a Ramadan journal like this one which I found in school. I have no idea who it belongs to. A bunch of them were lying around in the office last year.

The journal is meant for school-going children but I really like it because it's so cute and practical. There's a page for each day of the month. There's a checklist of 13 items that should be completed daily:

1) I am fasting
2) I prayed Fajr
3) I prayed Zohor
4) I finished my schoolwork
5) I read the Quran
6) I prayed Tarawikh
7) I gave charity
8) I prayed Asar
9) I did not gossip
10) I prayed Maghrib
11) I smiled
12) I helped someone
13) I prayed Isya'

There's also a section where you can reflect on the good and bad things you have done on that day:

"Alhamdulillah, I had good day because ____________________. But I shouldn't have ____________________. O Allah, forgive me.

And each day, there's a reminder at the bottom of the page in the form of a Quranic verse or a hadith.

I'm not sure who the publisher is but this address was printed at the back: Muslim Professionals Forum.

I guess it's time to set our Ramadan resolutions for this year and start planning how we are going to achieve those lofty targets!

"Whoever fast during Ramadan with purity of belief and with expectation of a reward (from Allah SWT) will have his previous sins forgiven" [Bukhari, Hadith 37]

Monday, July 05, 2010

Creative Group Writing

My students seem to be allergic to writing. Whenever I set a writing task, very few would actually hand in their work. I tried to encourage them to write by writing a sample essay on the board. But, in the end, most would only copy the sample essay without even attempting to write their own piece.

I tried this activity (from TeachingEnglish) recently and was surprised by how well it worked. I managed to get EVERYONE to write something and that feat alone is amazing. Admittedly, this activity will work better with higher-proficiency students. But weaker students can be coaxed into writing something as well. They will be reluctant at first but once they start, they will enjoy it :)

Basically, these are the steps:
1) Give a blank A4 paper to each student.
2) Get them to fold the paper into 6 sections.
3) They should write their name on the top right corner of the paper.
4) Explain that they are going to write a story entitled: An Alien Encounter/My Unforgettable Holiday/Meeting Someone Famous.
5) In the first section, they should write a story based on the question given (Q1: When did you see the alien and where were you?).
6) Write a sample answer. Remind them not to write a one-liner (i.e. I saw an alien at my backyard yesterday). Rather, they should bear in mind that they are writing a story. So, they should make the opening paragraph as interesting as possible (i.e. I slept early last night even though I had a lot of homework to do. I set my alarm to 3am hoping that I would wake up feeling refreshed in order to complete all the work piled on my desk. Around 2.30am, I heard a strange buzzing sound like the vuvuzela...)
7) After the students have written the first paragraph, get them to fold the paper and pass it to the person sitting next to them. That person will continue the story based on Question #2 (Who were you with?), without reading what was previously written.
8) This step will be repeated until all 6 paragraphs are completed. The last person will return the paper to its original owner (the one whose name is written in the top right corner of the paper).
9) The students read how their story had turned out.

You can measure the activity's success by how excited the students are when the stories are completed. They will be sharing the stories eagerly with their friends. They will be like, "Hey, read mine, it's funny!" or "Have you read Farah's? It's really nice".

So, in the end, you will have conducted writing AND reading activities.

Below is one of the stories written by my students.


One fateful night, the clouds covering the snow-white moon, distant howls from the horizon piercing the silent night, I was busy finishing E.T. The Movie. I thought to myself, how wonderful it would be if Earth isn't the only planet inhabited by creatures. With my imagination running wild, I stared at the black starless night, when suddenly I saw a glimmer of light shining from the dark clouds, like a star breaking into a million pieces...

I decided to step outside to see what had landed in my backyard. My first thought was that; if it was a high school prank, I WANTED TO SUE! Anyhow, as I stepped onto the soft green grass, I saw a little pink figure standing in front of me. It had large blue fangs. It wore sweat pants and a tank top. This alien really did not have a sense of fashion... just like my neighbour.

The alien told me to get something to eat for him. It didn't speak in English, but I could understand him. So then I got him some cereal with milk, but he didn't want any. So I went back in the house and got him some ham. He ate it like he never ate anything before. It was such a shocking and at the same time cool moment!

I was shocked with the things that he asked me to do, but anyhow I did it with an honest heart. In a way, I pretty much thought I was dreaming talking to an alien.

His spaceship looked like a Frisbee with stickers full of werewolf logos, symbols and so on. And "love Bella" stickers. What a weird-in-love guy or a shirtless werewolf guy.

I looked for something hard to grab and assault the alien. I grabbed a nearby plank of wood and ran towards the alien. It took one of its guns and shot me, knocking me out cold. When I woke up, I looked around and found out I was on the alien's planet, locked up in a cage.


The word count for the above essay is 340 (which is quite commendable). Weaker students will of course write less but that's okay. I'm satisfied if I managed to get them to write anything at all.

Afterwards, you can set a "real" writing task for them. And you will find them more receptive to the idea. More students will hand in their work and they'll write more too! One student even wrote a 1000-word essay!

Just give them a fun task and you'll be surprised with their creative and imaginative stories.

The task that I gave them:

End your story with:

"And that's how I ended up sitting on top of a tree in my backyard at 1 o'clock in the morning, singing Happy Birthday to You"