Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back to the US and Back to High School...

The Russian government required us to fly back to US in order to get our new visas. What a long trip to just get four pieces of paper! Little did we realize when we got here yesterday that we had arrived just in time for a historical winter storm! We barely made it to my mom's town, but then the hill she lives on was blocked off by fallen trees, so our taxi took us in search of a hotel...

THERE WAS NO POWER **ANYWHERE**. Imagine Route 44 completely blacked-out! We went through three towns looking for a hotel before giving up... I kept thinking, "Where could we show up unannounced during a storm at 9 p.m. and get housing?" Oh, and it was impossible to drive up any kind of hill... The roads were treacherous and there was almost no visibility.

Then I thought of my high school! Sure enough, we pulled up in front, I rang the door bell, and within 15 minutes we were settled in one of the dorms :-) The nicest dorm parents gave us air mattress, pillows, blankets and made us feel so welcome. The campus is the only place with power (i.e., heat and internet!) for miles and miles...

These photos don't give an accurate picture of just how much snow there was during the night; it rained and much of it melted.

This morning the Head of School and Head of Admissions brought breakfast over; the campus is on lockdown because of falling trees and power lines.

Katya and Natalia are having such fun with the three dorm kids and students...

Chris is still snowed-in at JFK before he can go on to Denver... While figuring out where to go once the airport shut down, he met actor John Rhys-Miers and they headed out to dinner and the same hotel! Adventures, adventures...

My mom is on her way to get us here now that the roads are plowed. She's bringing towels so we can all take a shower before heading back to her house where we'll have no power... 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Bolshoi Theater's Historic Stage Reopening—Finally!

It feels as if the Bolshoi has been under renovation since we moved here in 2004... Well, the complete remodel began in 2006, but the scaffolding covering the beautiful facade has been such a sad sight for the past six years that it seems to have lasted much longer. We would have company visit from the US, take them to the Bolshoi, and they would pose forlornly in front of the construction!

This is the facade now, so bright and clean! I took this picture three weeks ago. I could see people going in and out, but the theater wasn't yet open to the public.

A friend of mine took this great picture yesterday! Isn't it clever? Thanks for letting me post it, Gayane!

I went to see Evgeniy Onegin at the original Bolshoi in 1991 and was literally left stunned by the beauty of both the theater and the production... I then took Katya to see Swan Lake for her 4th birthday. As we waited in the buffet area, she started to stretch and use the rails as a barre. I thought she was cute and smiled at her... Then she started to look concerned. "Mom, when do I change into my costume? Shouldn't I be down there by now? They'll be worried where I am!" She actually thought she was going to BE ON STAGE! So many tourists had fun snapping pictures of her as she got ready for her debut... (Don't have any digital versions of those photos available right now; ohhhh, how I wish I did!).

We then went to see Sleeping Beauty, I think,  with my mom on Christmas Even in 2004. We chose to leave Natalia home, and she wasn't very pleased... She blocked the door to to the hall and GLARED at us...

Meanwhile, we had a nice time!

Wonder what we'll go see this year!

One last picture; sorry I couldn't get it to be upright. It's Katya doing ballet in her snowsuit in front of the theater on Christmas 2004 after the performance.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Best English-Language Games

I know that the holidays are coming and people are starting to put together gift lists...

I'm often asked for recommendations about resources for teaching English to both native-speaker kids and foreign students (of all ages) of English alike. I figured I'd a post to try to get all this information in one convenient spot!

I am a HUGE proponent of teaching through games. Languages are meant to be communicative, and what better way to get students talking and listening than by putting them in an environment where the focus is on fun—and the task at hand—instead of on worrying about making a mistake? I find that even the most timid students perk up when we're playing a game; they're happy to be part of a team and are often very valuable contributors. Speaking games are the BEST way to build up one's active vocabulary. You're forced to use synonyms and to "problem solve" very quickly—skills that come in very handy when in a new situation and you're forced to use language in a new way!

I used to make all my own games when teaching French and Spanish full-time... I made my own versions of Taboo, Cranium/Cadoo and Headbanz so my students could further practice the material in any given unit... 

I didn't include Scrabble in the lists because it's a given... But it doesn't lend itself well to larger groups, and the pace at which you play it is rather slow. The games I have listed below easily work with more than four people. PLEASE NOTE: THE GAMES INCLUDED FOCUS ON LANGUAGE SKILLS. I purposely didn't include things such as Math Cubes, Twister (although with foreign language students, Twister is super for teaching the imperative tense, colors and body parts), Monopoly, etc. 

So what have I forgotten?? Please let me know any others I should try!!!

Favorite Games with Older Groups:
  • Cranium
  • Taboo
  • Origin
  • Blurt
  • Scattergories
  • Pictionary (..but not in the classroom setting with ESL students; learning isn't quick enough).

Favorite Family Games for Kids 8 and Older:
  • Scribblish
  • Bananagrams
  • Whoonu
  • Perfect Sense
  • Story Cubes
  • Scattergories
  • Blurt
  • Totally Gross
  • Taboo (VERY IMPORTANT: Remove any cards with inappropriate adult words first).
  • Headbanz (VERY IMPORTANT: Remove any cards with inappropriate adult words first).
  • Pictionary (Remove any cards with words kids won't understand).
  • American History: Way Back When in History
  • American Trivia
  • Boggle
  • Morphology (think Pictionary, but you have to sculpt words out of arts & crafts objects)
  • Clue
  • Hexagon
  • Upwords
  • Made for Trade (about Colonial America)
Favorite Family Games for Kids 6-8:
  • Don't Say It
  • Bananagrams
  • Cadoo
  • Headbanz
  • Story Cubes
  • Totally Gross 
  • American Trivia Jr.
  • Hexagon
  • Upwords
Favorite Games for Teaching English to More Advanced Students, Ages 14+:
  • Taboo (Review cards for appropriate level/content).
  • Perfect Sense
  • Headbanz (Review cards for appropriate level/content).
  • Whoonu
  • Bananagrams
  • Story Cubes
  • Scribblish
  • Scattergories
  • Origins (Review cards for appropriate level/content).
  • Blurt (Review cards for appropriate level/content).
  • Pictionary
  • Cranium ((Review cards for appropriate level/content).
Favorite Games for Younger Native-Speaker Kids and Less Advanced/Intermediate Students:
  • Headbanz
  • Bananagrams
  • Story Cubes
  • Don't Say It
  • Cadoo
  • Guess Who?

This is basically a game of "telephone," only through quick doodles and quirky captions... Lots of fun for all ages. My family loves it and so do my students.

This is my students' FAVORITE game. It is the best way to get them talking,  and quickly, while also increasing their vocabulary and teaching them about items from popular culture. Whenever they come up on a card they can't describe (because they don't know what it is), we "pass" and I then describe those cards for both teams to try to guess. I haven't played this with my kids yet, but I know they'll love it. Christmas is coming...

Don't Say It
My kids LOVED this when they were younger, and it's a huge hit with middle school students. Think "Taboo," but on an easier scale. Super for building vocabulary and fluency!

My all-time favorite party game... Huge hit with seniors a few years back, too.

EVERYONE loves Whoonu... My kids, and ALL of my students. Super way to learn about popular culture around the world while also learning about your classmates/fellow players... You can reinforce language skills by having players say why they prefer what they do...

Perfect Sense
My kids and my students (of ALL ages) LOVE this game. It's basically riddles (one for each sense) that help you guess what the secret word is. When playing with less advanced students, I act out the clues, too, or simplify them. LOTS of fun.

Story Cubes
SUPER game. Can use it with little kids, and you can also use it teach SAT vocabulary! Simply roll the cubes and put together a story (or sentences) inspired by the prompts on each cube. Can easily be played in ANY language. I keep it in my purse for when we go out to eat.

Ah, Bananagrams... Think Scrabble and crossword puzzles all rolled into one, but only MUCH more rapid and fun... Great for any age and any level. Gave it to K's classmates when they were in first grade to even practice spelling the most basic words... Super fun as a competitive game, too. You can actually run out of breath when racing to win! Big plus how compact it is. Other variations on this, too, in the shape of a pear or apple.

My kids and my students LOVE this one. Super for practice asking questions. Easy to make your own version, too, by writing vocabulary on blank cards and sticking them on a band on someone's head.

Haven't played this yet, but it looks SUPER. Getting it for Christmas. From what I read, very adaptable. Looks like a nice alternative to Taboo.

Fun for individuals competing or for teams. Great vocabulary-building game.

Cranium Cadoo
Ah, Cadoo... We spent HOURS playing this when the girls were ages 5-8... SOO much fun. Think Pictionary, sculpting, acting, riddles and trivia all rolled into one... My middle school students love it, too.

Christmas... We have an older version of the game that we LOVED playing with friends before we had kids... I use it with my most advanced students and you have fun while learning so, so much. Origins of expressions, superstitions, vocabulary...

Totally Gross
We have another game like this (Scabs and Guts) that girls and some students of mine LOVE. I picked this one for the list because kids also have to do mini science experiments. Lots of fun learning about the body while being, well, gross.

Guess Who Extra
My kids loved this game until they were nine... SUPER for teaching language to students of all ages, too. Practice asking questions and describing features.

American History: Way Back When in History
Not easy, but good for teaching American history while also having fun. Up to age 12. Wouldn't play with my students; by the time their vocabulary would be strong enough, I think they'd be bored...

American Trivia
Christmas this year.... I'll let you know what we think, but it looks really good for families.

American Trivia Jr.
Same as above, but easier for younger kids.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Simple Little Pleasures & Traditions...

It's funny what things can really make you happy when you're far away from "home." Sure, we're "at home" here, but there are little things from the US that mean so much more when you're able to have them on the other side of the world. Culturally-specific items are often impossible to get here, so you have to plan far in advance and bring them back with you in your suitcase.

Last August we were SO happy when Bath and Body Works ended up rolling out its Halloween line right before we packed up for the year! We were actually able to get some fun goodies... We already had a jack-o-lantern hand soap pump that we refill each year, but we got some other great little candle holders and mini hand sanitizers.

The Slatkin (Bath and Body Works) and Yankee Candles we have in seasonal scents also make me so happy... Creamy Pumpkin... Spiced Cider... LOVE the scents coming up for Christmas—but I use them sparingly, since each candle weighs over a pound.

Here are some scenes from our apartment, lit up at night... There are our new candle holders—a Frankenstein and a skull. We also bought a pumpkin and a black cat. The pumpkin broke in transit, but we're happy to have the other three.

This is what it looks like when the lights are on:

In our entryway we have a neat plastic lamp from IKEA that makes half the house orange-y. Neat. The little photo holders and bat scene frame were brought back two years ago...

We also have sheer white ghosts hanging in a few of our doorways...

And some decals on the bathroom window, along with the jack-o-lantern soap, the black cat candle holder, and an orange bathmat & hand towel.

There's nothing else really going on for us for Halloween this year, so the kids get into the decorations. We might have some people over and I brought back American candy.

We might, however, actually have to/get to fly to the US next weekend for the week because we're required to be on US soil to get our new visas... No news about whether or not we'll be given the necessary work documents by the government yet, though, so we're just waiting on pins and needles... Sure would be fun to actually get to go trick or treating in America!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Russian (well, Euro) Shoes...

While on facebook the other day, this sidebar ad caught my eye: "Shoes without heels...," and it gave their website, etc. The shoes looked SO cool... So colorful, and they seemed really comfortable... And they would be amazing with jeans... So I clicked on the site. They have them in a whole assortment of yummy color combinations! 

That style also comes with a heel... I've lived here long enough that I really like these, too... 

Now, I actually need a new pair of black boots, so I started to look through their catalogue... Found one pair, but wasn't too crazy about the style...

Oh, my! Kind of funny that a shop raving about "shoes without heels" actually specializes in some of the most bizarre shoes I've ever seen! As you look at the next styles, keep in mind that living here means seven months of winter weather, ice, lots of slush, and cobbled streets... Russian women amaze me.

 Wow... And then the regular heels???!
Can you imagine??

I think I'll stick with my American shoes... 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Getting Ready for Swan Lake—Sort of...

Natalia's after-school drama group is putting on Swan Lake in a few weeks. There's some dancing in it, and the kids are supposed to wear ballet slippers. Natalia is playing the prince's mother and she also needed a white leotard and fancy fan. I spent about four hours taking the metro and walking from place to place until I found a leotard thick and non-scratchy enough to meet Natalia's standards... 

Even though she needed simple white slippers, the shelves lined with satin toe shoes were veritable eye candy... Yum!

I used to think that by living in Moscow, my girls could benefit from classical ballet training... I imagined years of watching them dance, influenced by their early years of exposure. Well, um, not so much. Katya has NO interest in dance, and Natalia is only interested in her OWN dance moves which are much more wild and pop inspired... I think she would enjoy hip hop, but she likes the activities after school so much that she refuses to leave early to go do anything anywhere else.

Here's where I got Natalia's stuff: the Grishko factory store off of Tverskaya. I've seen Grishko products for sale in the US and vowed to do the Grishko factory tour outside of Moscow some time!