Saturday, January 17, 2015

using music to teach ESL

This is hardly original with me, but I have a feeling every ESL instructor who tries it feels the same way I do -- amazed and thrilled at what great teaching tools popular songs can be.

In recent months I have used songs of various types for teaching pronunciation, parts of speech, vocabulary, grammar, and more.

Last week it was I've Never Been to Spain, by Three Dog Night, for practice with the present perfect tense and compound sentences.

On Thursday we listened to the song and discussed the use of the present perfect. Then  on Monday, we listened again and I gave a writing assignment: Write your own "I've never been to..., but I ..." sentence, and go on to explain a little bit about it. 

My example was, "I've never been to Denmark, but I like to play with Lego." I reminisced about my childhood Lego collection, the special chest of drawers my dad built to store it, and the endless hours I spent building castles and houses, people and cars. I  told about how sorry I was that my parents sold the Lego when they sold their house. My own sons and their love for Lego came next, followed by a lesson learned: don't sell the Lego!

Some of my students are very well educated and literate, so they wrote at length. Others wrote 3 or 4 sentences. But all the compositions were superb, each one unique. One student has never been to India, but she loves Indian food; while one of the men has never been to Italy but loves Italian food and told the story of taking his girlfriend -- now his wife -- to an Italian restaurant on their first date.

All in all, it was a highly successful set of lessons based on a song from my youth. 

Afterwards, however, I realized that I had missed a great opportunity: 
I've never been to Finland, but I ride my bike in winter!

Friday, January 16, 2015

back to work

I've had a bit of a rocky start this session. The first Monday, January 5th, I drove because I had 3 large bags of books and other stuff I wanted to bring with me. The load included some books I had  borrowed almost 3 years ago, so I thought it was time to bring them back! That day also happened to be really cold -- maybe -35C with windchill -0- but even so I was frustrated at being behind the wheel. It took me almost 90 minutes to drive the 30 km from home to downtown, a combined result of snowy, icy roads and the detour for the bridge construction on 102 Avenue. 

The next day I was happy to be back on the bike. However, it had snowed a fair bit and I wasn't sure about trail conditions, so I decided to try something new. I parked in Glenora and rode from there. I took Stony Plain Road and the bike trail that runs behind Original Joes, ending up on the contra-flow bike lane and 100 Avenue. It wasn't bad, but when I came back to the car after work, I noticed that there is an entrance to the trail system just up the street from the place I had parked. Just as I took that in I was hailed by a guy who came out of one of the houses; he asked whether I was lost. I replied in the negative, telling him that I had parked there and ridden downtown. "You're good!" was his response, and he then went on to tell me about the entrance to the trail system, adding that the city is good about clearing the trails. 

So, on Wednesday I parked there again and rode down down down into the River Valley. It was pretty scary -- riding in the dark on a new, very steep trail, with a deep ravine on my right and no guardrail (and on top of it all, I'd forgotten my phone), but I made it to the bottom safe and sound, and from there it was but a short ride to the Faraone Park trail crosswalk. In all it was a much shorter ride than my usual 8.6 km, but it was fun to try something new, and it's good to know that on really cold days I have that option. On Thursday I took my usual route and arrived at work cold but happy.

Well, then the next Monday, January 12th, I arrived at my parking spot only to discover that I'd forgotten my helmet. I briefly considered bare-headed riding, but it was -24 C and I was afraid I'd arrive at work with no ears. I didn't have a hat in the car. I was rather annoyed with myself, but decided to simply be thankful that I am allowed to park for free as long as it is only occasionally, and I drove. These two days of driving have made me more thankful than ever that I can ride my bike, and I stuck a spare helmet (along with a hat, extra gloves, and a scarf) in the car so that I will never find myself in that situation again!

The weather warmed up dramatically for the rest of the week, so I enjoyed 3 days of absolutely delightful bicycle commutes through MacKinnon Ravine and the River Valley. The trails are ploughed and smooth, and I even had a couple of dog-walkers whom I pass every morning tell me that they are impressed with me! There is also a friendly guy who walks along the Railtown Trail and gives me a big smile whenever he sees me. Little things like this contribute to a great start to the workday! 

This graphic, spotted on Twitter, says it all!

this grandma rides her bike in the winter

I recently read this article about winter cycling.

The whole article is interesting, but what really caught my attention was this quote from Tom Babin's book Frostbike, in regard to Oulu, Finland:
But what really opened my eyes was being at the grocery store and seeing a grandma come out with a bag of groceries and pop it into her basket and ride off into the snow. You never see that in Canada.
Well, I hate to contradict the expert, but... on a visit to the small prairie city of Spruce Grove on a Friday or Saturday during the winter you just might see a grandma come out of the grocery store with a bag of groceries -- or two or three -- and pop them into her panniers and ride off into the snow. That grandma would be me, doing my part to normalize the idea of winter biking.

the full-to-bursting panniers
True, at first glance you might not realize that I am a grandma. I don 't have grey permed hair and a bulging midsection. I don't wear aprons. I don't even have very many wrinkles. But I do have two little grand-daughters, so that makes me a granny. 

And I ride my bike in winter. 

I ride about 17 km each day for work, and on my days off I use my bike to do all my errands around town -- grocery shopping, library, you name it. 

If it's warm, like today, I add on some extra riding on the trails in the woods.
If it's minus 30-ish, like it was earlier this month, I bundle up and sometimes make my ride a little shorter. 
But I ride almost every day. 

Why do I ride in the winter? I don't do it with the goal of normalizing the idea of winter biking; I don't do it to save money on transportation; I don't do it to make other people feel lazy -- I do it because it's fun and I love it! 
It makes me feel strong and tough and fit and happy. What other reason could I need?

I am Canadian and I am a grandma who rides her bike in winter!

Friday, January 2, 2015

new year, new snow

About 10-12 cm, to be exact.

It snowed all night and then all morning, but by about 2:30 the sun was out and I decided to ride to Safeway for a few groceries. It was -17 with a bit of a wind, but I dressed warmly and was just fine.

The multi-use trail along McLeod had already been cleared, so it was smooth sailing most of the way, with just a few mounds of snow to test my bike-handling skills. I rode Miranda, my Chubby Bike. Not a Fat Bike, just an old GT mountain bike with plump tires. It handles well in fresh snow and on packed snow, and is usually not bad on ice.


One morning last month I slipped and fell twice on my way to work, so I took that as my cue to start riding Silver, my Trek 7.2 hybrid, with its studded tires. Since we didn't really get any new snow all through December, this bike was just the ticket, but now that there is a fresh layer, with more in the forecast, I will probably ride the mountain bike next week when I go back to work.

The aforementioned morning was the day I met another commuter as I crested the Ezio Faraone hill. I was right behind him, so I bade him good morning and we ended up chatting as we rode through the park and onto the Railtown Trail. One of my spills took place during this conversation, and of course he asked me whether I had studs on my tires. That gave me even more incentive to start using the studded-tire bike!