Monthly Archives: November 2012

TESOL France Colloquium Reflections: getting in touch with my inner redneck

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the 31st Annual TESOL France Colloquium in Paris, where I met some amazing educators, attended some excellent talks and took away many things to think about. I had a nice train trip back to Dijon, which gave me some time to stare out the window at the rolling rural landscapes and reflect on my teaching, my motivation and my career. And as I can’t bring myself to put the wealth of ideas that were shared with me aside, I would like to share them with you and reflect on what they mean to me and they may affect my teaching.


The second-to-last talk I went to during the conference was by David O’Hanlon, a Paris-based teacher originally from Australia. Although he now finds himself teaching in Parisian Grandes Ecoles, his experiences include teaching in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. His seminar was called ‘Getting in Touch with your Inner Redneck – Narrative to Advantage in the Classroom’. David suggested that teachers should be proud of their origins and their culture, and the worldview that they have as a product of this culture. This is something to be celebrated and exploited in order to make the classroom experience the most authentic it can be.

Not every class needs to end in a role-play.

The discussion questioned the one-size-fits-all nature of the traditional teacher-training philosophies, where lessons tend to follow a set pattern and students are asked to take on a certain role or viewpoint for the purpose of creating a debate. David O’Hanlon argues that this is not necessarily desirable for two key reasons:

  1. On commonly raised ‘controversial’ debate topics, the class will often have homogenous views and the student representing the ‘unpopular’ view will lack arguments and will be resigned to losing the debate from the beginning.
  2. If we had a more authentic topic, or if students were debating as a group with a teacher who was presenting genuine arguments, students would be readier to participate and give detailed and real responses.

I agree that people will always argue more effectively if they are convinced of the argument themselves and that in the context of language learning, the opportunity to speak should be maximized. Another advantage of this is the relationship that can be created with a teacher when talking about real and engaging topics from our own viewpoints.

And so this idea of having an ‘inner redneck’ is not to imply that every English language teacher is uneducated, bigoted and with farming roots. I think New Zealanders and Australians in particular (even though most of us are city folk) tend to identify with our rural countrymen, especially when we are abroad. We take pleasure in the simple things and David O’Hanlon stresses that we shouldn’t be ashamed of this, but rather take pride in it.

Perhaps the best example of inner-redneck denial is Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime-minister. Contrasting the thick and unashamedly Australian accent of the present PM Julia Gillard, Rudd was always very polished. He was scholarly, spoke fluent Mandarin and touted progressive policies like digital education and official apologies to the Aboriginal people. The image he tried to convey though (be it intentionally or not) of sophistication, intelligence and forward-thinking, I think left Australians thinking that he wasn’t ‘comfortable in his skin’. I wonder if this is a special down-under phenomenon from our colonial past, when British was better and our inferiority-complex had people imitating accents and traditions, (see Heavenly Creatures 1994). A leadership style like that of New Zealand’s John Key (who loves rugby and barbecues, and occasionally offends minority groups) can create a warmer rapport.

In the interests of connecting with students, making them comfortable and trying not to alienate them, it could be helpful to be true to ourselves. We don’t hear any accents like mine on any of the sound recordings that we use in class (except one ‘Australian’ on the Business Result Upper-Intermediate DVD), but I’ll try not to talk any differently than I normally would just to imitate the CD. While I don’t agree with doing things ‘just so they’ll like me’, I hope that being true to myself and my values will help students to do the same.

Lesson plan: Shouldn’t have + Expressing regret with New Zealand Lotto


This is a little ad that came to my mind recently when I was working with a student. I thought it would be a great base to work from to practise expressing regret. This works best with intermediate+ students.


1. Watch the video

2. Write on the board ‘I shouldn’t have come’

3. Concept check

  • Are we talking about the past, present or future? (past)
  • Did he come to France? (Yes)
  • How does he feel about the situation? (Regretful)
  • Why? (Because he spent a lot of money and the woman he came to see wasn’t as he imagined)

4. Take the grammar apart: should/shouldn’t + present perfect
 and ask learners for examples using same model

5. Give learners a copy of this BBC worksheet that can be found here

6. Pair up learners and have them show each other their sheets. Each student will guess which question each answer in the circle corresponds to.

7. Monitor to make sure all the grammar looks good and to listen for any good answers

8. Elicit any interesting answers open-class to finish the exercise.


Thanks to New Zealand lotto for the video and Paul Kaye from the British Council for the worksheet and grammar support!

Check out this mini-interview I did for Blogs de Bourgogne

Blogs de Bourgogne ... et des environs

Nous continuons notre découverte des blogs de Bourgogne en nous donnant une touche internationale avec Kirstin !

Peux-tu te présenter ?

Hello everyone, je m’appelle Kirstin et je suis une néo-zélandaise qui habite à Dijon avec mon beau mari pommardois. J’ai la chance de travailler dans la formation des adultes comme formatrice en anglais, donc j’ai l’occasion de rencontrer des gens intéressants tous les jours qui travaillent dans des domaines divers. Je m’intéresse à l’éducation en ligne en particulier – je trouve que l’internet est un média exceptionnel pour apprendre les langues et suivre des formations dans d’autres disciplines.

Je suis de plusieurs formations en ligne en ce moment, avec du travail individuel et en groupe. J’anime aussi des English afternoon teas toutes les deux semaines à Dijon, donc je vous invite à venir speak English et vous présenter!

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My skype trial lesson: a student’s perspective

I saw an advertisement for a free trial lesson in Chinese by Skype and I just couldn’t help myself. I booked it straight away for Sunday morning and then completely forgot about it. I woke up to my ipad ringing and introduced myself to my new teacher. The conversation went a little something like this:

S: Good morning Kirstin. My name’s Sally.

K: Nice to meet you Sally. Is that your real name, or do you have a Chinese name?

S: Yes I do, but it’s too complicated.

I was a little surprised that they would have this system of replacing Chinese names with western ones, when people are signing up for their lessons to have some authentic Chinese contact. I thought it would make business sense to use the teachers authentic name. If I started calling myself Camille I think it would make students suspicious of my English expertise!

Anyway, ‘Sally’ went on to tell me how beautiful I was (in spite of the fact that I was straight out of bed and had pillow-creases on my face). Throughout the class, she always told me that I was doing a great job and that I was a natural. Whether all of this is Chinese culture or the dynamic of any trial lesson I cannot say. But coming from New Zealand’s  ‘everyone-wins’  school system, this teaching style really resonated with me. But am I the exception? I know that many of the French students I teach would have taken this praise as mockery.

Pedagogically the class was sound; we covered basic introductions and talked about my job and family. I listened and repeated, then we did some rolepalys and ‘Sally’ gave me some feedback on my pronunciation. Sally is completely bilingual and so a large part of the class was in English. It would have been interesting to see a CELTA-style introductory lesson exclusively in Chinese, but perhaps that would be more complicated by Skype than face to face?

For the moment I won’t be continuing my online Chinese lessons: the time difference makes the timing a little complicated and I can’t guarantee that I’ll be up early every Sunday morning. I do, however, encourage you to take a free trial lesson and share your impressions. You can find the information here.