Monday, 30 December 2013

Questions, Answers and Random Facts: My Response to the Challenge

Last month I was nominated by Rachael Roberts to take part in this blogging challenge.  As my poor blog has been neglected of late, I was delighted to accept the challenge, and get into the blogging habit once more.

The challenge requires me to:

  • Provide 11 random facts about myself.
  • Answer the 11 questions posed by Rachael.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers to take part in the challenge (I wasn’t allowed to pick Rachael, as she nominated me).
  • Think of 11 questions to ask my nominated bloggers.

So, here goes...

11 Random facts

When I was growing up (this was in the days before the internet) I used to think that I must be the only person in the word called Genevieve White.  However, on my first ever Google search of my name, I discovered that there are in fact, many Genevieve Whites out there.  The one who comes up first in all the searches is a New York based performance artist. Another namesake writes Biblical fiction.

I live in Shetland, where at midnight in midsummer you can read a paper outside without the help of torch or candle light. And if the newspaper doesn’t blow out of your hands and end up in the North Sea, all the better.

3 Before turning my hand to ELT writing I used to write one act plays. Most were miserablist dystopian fantasies set up in the near future and were performed to an audience of two (including my Mum) in a draughty local theatre. 

I like glamorous, retro coats. If you wear a nice coat and smart boots it really doesn’t matter if you are dressed like a scruff underneath. 

 Most of my coats are dry clean only and would not last a day in typical Shetland weather.  So sadly, they are mostly worn around the house.

I once read somewhere that Roma brides get married in blue to symbolise the fact that the ceiling of their future home will be the sky they sleep under. I liked this idea very much and also got married in blue hoping that it would set my husband and I up for a life time of wandering and freedom. This worked well… up to a point.

My longest ever hitch hiking adventure was from Aberdeen to Barcelona.

 I am a fresh air fiend – I get very grumpy if I am cooped up inside for long.

I feel very happy when I am in the garden with my hands covered in earth. I don’t have a lot of success with growing food, but I have produced some quite nice rhubarb.

“I can handle bars and cycle paths but I can’t handle cars and psychopaths.”

 I love a good party game. I love inventing new party games. I love parties too. (Sorry, I think that was three facts).

My 11 questions from Rachael
1 Why did you start blogging and how has differed from your expectations?
I didn’t have any expectations. It was just an experiment, really. I suppose I didn’t realise it would put me in touch with such a kind, supportive community, some of whom I have now met in person.
2 What’s your earliest childhood memory?
The scent from a lilac bush on a summer’s day.
3 Tell us about someone you admire, and say why.
My Mum. She looks like a puff of wind might blow her away, but she is as tough as hobnailed boots.
4 What was the last book you read and what did you think of it?
Philip Pulman’s retelling of Grimm Tales. I read them aloud to my children. Some of them were incredibly gory and disturbing but my kids laughed through the scariest bits. I thought the introduction was fascinating.
5 Do you prefer walking or running? Why?
People seem to find my running style very amusing (I have been compared to Phoebe in Friends if that explains anything). I can only think of a few situations where I might want to run and these usually involve packs of rabid dogs.
6 What was your first paid job?
Washing dishes in a pub when I was fourteen for £1.75 an hour.  Scoundrels.
7 What five famous people would you invite to a dinner party, and why?
I’m not interested in celebrities, so I would rather invite my family. However,  it would be nice to resurrect the Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel for the occasion. I would feed him moules et frites and some good red wine and he might reward us with a few songs.
8 What’s the first website you check/go on each day? Why?
The BBC weather site to see if our house will last another day.
9 What can you remember about the first class you ever taught?
The dreadful sick feeling as I realised that my boss was not just escorting me to my classroom, but planned to observe the lesson too. The massive relief when it was over.
10 Flowers or chocolates?
Could I be cheeky and ask for cheese and biscuits instead? 
11 How do you feel about reality TV shows?
 I don’t have a TV so mostly manage to avoid them. I did however spend a lonely night in a hotel room recently and decided to watch the X factor. It made me very glad I don’t have a TV – I thought it was awful.
My nominated bloggers












Questions for my nominated bloggers

1 When and where are you happiest?
2 What makes you want to cry?
3 Do you think Scottish independence is a good idea?
4 What is your unsung talent?
5 What is your all time favourite ELT activity?
6 Where do you write your blogs?
7 With which literary character do you identify most?
8 If you were an ELT teaching approach which would you be and why?
9 What would your last ever meal be?
10 Where do you think you’ll be ten years from now?
11 Who would play you in a film about your life?



Thursday, 25 April 2013

Perks of the Job

School Dinners, anyone?
What my work lacks in terms of financial reward and job security it makes up for in fun. This thought occurred to me this morning as I stirred green food colouring into noodles and ransacked my house for plastic arachnids.

These goodies are for the second part of our film, where our bewildered new pupil experiences the trauma of having to eat in the school canteen.  The pupils contributed red looking gore and thick tomato juice and ladled the concoction onto the plate you see pictured.The festering eggs were donated by my colleague, Jenny, who is working on this project with me. Or perhaps I should say Jenny's hens.

All lots of fun, but it does bring home how scary the whole experience of arriving in a new school in a different country must be.

We got through a lot of filming today! As well as the canteen scene we filmed our opening sequence in which the reluctant pupil is escorted to school by his mum.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Who needs zombie make up?


We have just over five more lessons allocated to our film project - so time is truly of the essence.  Filming starts tomorrow: we plan to film the first couple of scenes of the movie in under an hour!

As time and money are equally tight, today's lesson had to broach the subject of costumes.  The pupils were keen on full zombie regalia for the second part of the film and were beginning to envisage rather a big budget affair with make up and ghastly robes.

I showed the pupils this very short film clip I had taken of myself the night before. Using imovie the pupils had to render their fluffy and approachable English teacher in as terrifying a way as possible. I think they did quite a good job!

My aim was to show them that a little special effects wizardry can do away with the need for fancy costumes and make up. I'm not sure whether this aim sunk in or not- they were having far too much fun distorting my face.

As you can probably tell, I'm still getting to grips to working with a Mac! Hopefully my pupils will be able to help me out here...

Friday, 19 April 2013

From Concept to Storyboard

The last couple of sessions with my teenage film makers have been busy and productive.  At the beginning of Thursday morning's class I drew a mountain on the board as a simple visual representation of a story with a beginning (the bottom), a middle (the summit) and an end (the other side of the mountain.)

Starting at the beginning, we wrote up an outline for the film, guided by questions (from me) and discussion with each other.  The learners were keen to contribute their ideas, especially to the rather gory middle section (yes, I know - it is supposed to be a welcome to the school film for new EAL pupils, but please rest assured that it has a very happy ending!)

At the end of this session I showed the group one of my favourite short films, The Black Hole.  This was partly to reward the group for their hard work, but also to show them how a very short film can have a beautifully crafted plot, and how a perfectly thought out shot can reveal a character's inner life in a couple of seconds. I love the simplicity of this film's soundtrack too.

Today the pupils story boarded their ideas.  We used the free printable templates from which have enough space underneath to include information about camera angles and dialogue.

I also showed pupils this clip about camera techniques. After one viewing I asked pupils to tell me what terms they remembered and when they might use these different techniques in their own films. For example, they might use a close up of their main character's face to show his feelings of anxiety on the first day of starting a new school. Or they might use a point of view shot as the central character walks through the school.

By the end of the lesson pupils had story boarded the film's first section. We have six more sessions to complete this film, so I hope they do their homework over the weekend!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The right mix: a new film project with teenagers.

The right ingredients?
Today I started work on a new film project with three EAL pupils at my local high school. I felt quite nervous beforehand – it has been a while since I have undertaken group work with teenagers– whatever would I do if the project elicited nothing more than a gothic roll of the eyes and deathly silence?

In the end, I was most pleasantly surprised by the pupils’ enthusiasm!  The trick will be, I think, to keep the momentum going over the weeks that follow and produce something which does justice to the talents of the individuals in this group.

Unfortunately, one pupil was absent today,  but I was lucky enough to have two fantastic members of staff present who contributed a lot of ideas and enthusiasm to the process.

  •  I brought out a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, and started mixing an imaginary cake.  I added some flour to the bowl and passed it on to the pupil on my right who added butter.  We went round our little circle with each person adding whatever they thought was an important ingredient to our “cake.”  
  • It was easy to agree on the ingredients for a cake. I knew it might be harder to agree on what makes a great film! A quick circle of the mixing bowl elicited a few ideas: someone said “funny” and someone else said “good people."
  • It was at this point I brought out some suggestions:

Costs lots of £s to make!
Good music (soundtrack)
Brad Pitt
Handsome actors
Is in Polish
Makes you cry
About 1 and a half hours long
Beautiful scenery
Has animals in it
Nice costumes
Is in Hungarian
Makes you think
Has a happy ending
Is fast moving
Is in English
Is exciting

  • Pupils read the suggestions and ticked the ingredients that they thought made for a great film. Unsurprisingly people had different ideas, so this generated some interesting discussion.

  • I then showed the pupils extracts from three short films. Two of the films were made by  groups of adult ES(O)L learners. The third film was made by a local group of young film makers. I gave everyone in the group a small whiteboard and a marker pen. After each film they had to write down a number between 1 and 10 which reflected their opinion of the film they had seen. On the count of three they had to show each other their score and back this up with an opinion. This was interesting: it gave me an insight into what kind of film the pupils might like to make. Also, I could see that pupils were, in some cases, watching the films and thinking "I could do better than this!". 
  • Now came the tricky bit. Before the end of the lesson I wanted the pupils to agree on the kind of film they were going to make. I gave them a brief: I want them to make a film which can be shown to incoming EAL pupils who arrive new at the school. The film has to be welcoming and positive: apart from that they have creative freedom! Aware that our presence was becoming more of a hindrance than a help myself and the other staff members left the pupils in peace for five minutes to discuss their plans.
  • Did we return to a stony silence? Not at all. The pupils had already agreed on their idea and as I write this I am aware that I do not want to give too much away, for fear of taking the shine of the finished film. Suffice to say, the pupils had approached the brief from an angle I could never have predicted and I am very excited about the next few sessions!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Film Festival Website

The 2013 ES(O)L Film Festival is now live, and we hope you will pay us a visit over the coming months to  find out more about the project, watch films made by ESOL learners and read tips and advice on film making in the classroom.

From now on, all project information will be available at, while normal service will be resumed on this blog!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Film making: Technical Tips

Work on the ES(O)L Film Festival website is well under way. In the meantime, all festival information will be posted on this blog.

I am absolutely delighted that Elaine Williamson has agreed to lead the ES(O)L Film project with me.  Many of you will already know Elaine from the wonderful work she has done as co-coordinator of the IATEFL ES(O)L Sig.

Welcome aboard, Elaine!
In this post I will look at some technical tips on film making in the classroom. I should admit at this point, that I am a relative newbie to all things techie. If any tech geniuses happen to be reading, I would ask you not to chuckle at my naive advice, but rather to add some of your pearls of wisdom in the comments box below. Many thanks!

So, with that in mind, don’t feel that you lack the technical skills to work on movies with your learners.  Film making is not the expensive, time consuming past time it once was. Here are some tips to get you started…

Tip One: Start Small 

You don't  need to rush along to your nearest camera shop and splash out on the latest state of the art video equipment. It's possible to make great  films using your mobile phone (a number of film festivals are now devoted exclusively to mobile phone films!) This has exciting implications for film making in the classroom: more on that in a later post, as we are staying small and simple for now. 

Tip Two: Save Time

As busy ESOL teachers and learners we simply do not have the luxury of time which professional film makers enjoy. We therefore need to make sure that any time we spend on filming in our lessons is used as efficiently as possible. This is particularly important when you are filming on location: organisation and planning is everything. 

If you are working with a script make sure that your learners can confidently deliver their lines. Invest time before filming on looking at stress patterns and features of connected speech, so that the resulting dialogue does not put any strain on the listener. 

Tip Three: Get Help
Perhaps one of your learners has experience in film editing. If so, ask this learner to share his/her knowledge with the rest of the class. It can happen, however, that none of your learners are confident in film editing techniques and if you’re not either, then what?

Newcomers to film making and editing have some steep learning curves to contend with.  I know a teacher who once spent an evening in tears believing her computer had swallowed two hours worth of film. * It doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t we all have a computer geek/ frustrated film maker friend to hand? Friends such as these can often solve in a minute what might take you or I a week of evenings.  Time for a matey phone call…

Teachers with access to computer suites are particularly fortunate here. In our last film
( , we copied a folder of video clips to each computer and learners used Microsoft Word Movie Maker to edit and order the clips. The resulting film was a blend of learners’ ideas.
Tip Four: Editing

Free editing software is simple enough to use. I’m no computer whiz, but managed to figure out Moviemaker pretty much unassisted. If you work with Apple products, then iMovie is even better.  Enjoy yourself, and take it easy - September is a long way off yet!

*Luckily for me it hadn’t!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Watching and Learning...

Many thanks to all the people who responded so enthusiastically to news of the 2013 ES(O)L film festival. I'm absolutely delighted by the amount of interest generated by the project so far! Work will shortly begin on a dedicated  film festival website so you can easily access more information and read helpful  hints for film making with your learners. 

In the meantime, here are some suggestions for easing yourself and your learners into what will (I hope) prove to be a most enjoyable and rewarding experience.

 Explore the wide variety of short films online. 

You can learn so much about film making from watching films (this is  also a great excuse for taking a night off marking and putting your feet up.) As you watch each film, take notes under the following headings:
  • What kind of film is it?
  • Is there a soundtrack? 
  • Is there dialogue?  How much?
  • Which shorts do you find the most gripping/moving/effective? 
  • Why do you think this is? 
  • What are the ingredients of a great short film?

Select a few different films and show them to your learners. After each film, learners can discuss the questions above. Encourage your class to talk about the type of films they like too.

Listening to your learners express their likes and dislikes will inform your next steps, and give you all a better idea of the short film form.

Ones To Watch

The Black Hole, Dir Phil and Olly, UK, 2008

For a beautifully crafted short film, look no further than The Black Hole. This film was shot in under a day on borrowed equipment, and grips the viewer from start to finish. Simple, yet effective. The film has no dialogue, and so also lends itself very well to follow up writing and speaking activities.

Peter and Ben, Pinny Grylls, UK, 2007

Peter and Ben is a documentary film which focuses on the friendship between Peter (a reclusive man who lives in the Welsh mountains) and a sheep called Ben. If your learners are interested in filming a documentary this ten minute film proves that much can be said in little time.

Stallion Head, Dir Maddrim Medaia, UK, 2010

A homegrown example of what fun comedy can be to watch and to make. Maddrim Media's Stallion Head is packed with zany humour and...well, a lot of horsing around!

ESOL Fest, South London, 2011, Dir Adrian Cousins, UK, 2011

An inspirational film about ESOL learners protesting against cuts to English lessons for speakers of other languages.

Finally, you can see a wonderful example of a film produced by an English learner at Susana Ferrer Renovell made a series of four short films about the Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain. The series is called Fallas Voices and you can see all four of these insightful pieces at vimeo on the link above.

Food for thought? In my next post I will be examining some different approaches to starting a film project.  In the meantime, happy viewing!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

ES(O)L Film Festival 2013

The 2013 ES(O)L Film Festival Needs You!

This spring my learners and I are planning to start work on a new film project.  We would very much like other ES(O)L classes to join us!

Our plan is to start an international ES(O)L festival of short films which will be available online from September 2013. Learners will be able to watch and comment on each others' films.

I have written before on the benefits of film work with ES(O)L learners. Here's a quick recap:

  • Film projects provide a tangible end product which learners can enjoy sharing with their friends.
  • Film work in the classroom caters to a range of learner intelligences, abilities and personality types. 
  • It provides the learners and teachers with a record of language spoken, making it easier to pin point areas for improvement in language and features of pronunciation. 
  • Film making opens up numerous opportunities to involve the local community, and raises the profile of learners in a positive way. 
Finally, making films is lots of fun! Still not convinced?  Watch our last film here or better still, come to the IATEFL ES(O)L Special Interest Group pre-conference day on April the 8th, where I will be reflecting on my recent experiences of working on film projects with my class of ESOL learners, and providing some practical tips on film project work. Find more information about the PCE programme at:

Interested in taking part in the first international ES(O)L film festival?  Please get in touch by email. Alternatively, you can reach me on Twitter where I go by the name of  @ShetlandEsol.

Over the coming months I will document our current film project in Shetland, setting out some ideas for film project work and sharing links to useful websites and film maker blogs.

 photo credit: <a href="">Sean Molin Photography</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>