Monthly Archives: August, 2013

In the Nature

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The Czech people quite enjoy being “in the nature” and when a friend invited me to drift down a river I had no choice but to say Ano!  On a sunny Saturday morning I took the bus to Beroun, a small city 30 minutes from Prague.  We then headed to our starting point and campground at Camp Kobylka on the Berounka River about 100 kms from Prague.

At 10am on a Saturday in  August the campground was packed with families and groups.  Beer was flowing freely already.  After a quick setup we picked up our rental canoes.  At 100Kc per person per day it is quite an economical rental.  The canoes were not exactly what I was expecting, being more like a cross between a canoe and a kayak.

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The fact we needed a waterproof barrel for our things made me hopeful there might be some excitement!

We offered some vodka to the river and the remaining vodka to each other to get the trip underway.

Our destination was a pub and campground 13 kms downstream where we would be shuttled back to Kobylka.  After a few minutes of trying desperately to get the boats to travel in a straight line we settled into a rhythm and headed downstream.

It was very beautiful.

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And very busy, we were never out of sight or earshot of groups of other canoes and rafts.  Water etiquette dictates calling out “Ahoooooooooj” as you encounter others on the river and we were kept pretty busy.

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Lunch was at a riverside pub, one of many we encountered.  I was learning that, when it comes to canoeing, getting into the nature also involved quite a bit of civilized food and plenty of beer.


There were a few small rapids and weirs along the way, but nothing our robust canoes couldn’t handle.  Most of the time the water was no more than a meter deep and often much shallower.   Despite taking our time and stopping to raft together with others we were down the river in five hours or so.  Safe and only slightly wet.

After another round of beer we shuttled back to our camp, had a nice outside meal at the pub and watched the sunset.  I will be back, hopefully for a longer trip and with larger rapids.  And maybe slightly less beer.

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After writing ESL lesson plans all day it is hard to get motivated to write a blog post, so I went looking for inspiration where I often find it:  Then I realized that while I use Ted all the time with my students I have never mentioned it here!  Inspiration found.

While many people are familiar with Ted most of my students have never heard of it.  Ted itself uses “Ideas Worth Spreading” as a catchphrase but I use “Passionate people talking about things they care about” with my students.


  • It’s real.  So many of the ESL texts use artificial situations and boring topics (I often think of “See Spot run!  Run Spot, run!“).
  • Variety.  There are talks on anything you can imagine and I can always find something my students will like.
  • Bite-sized.  With talks between three and twenty minutes it is perfect for lessons.
  • Subtitles.  All talks have English titles available and many have Czech as well.  I ask students to try without subtitles first.


  • Video based lessons.  If you aren’t familiar you can use sites like Dirpy to download the videos.  I use Dirpy because it lets me edit the length of the video to remove the introduction.
  • Homework:  Ted is a great way for students to get a little English into their day.  Rather than me choosing a video I often ask students to pick something of interest to them.

My Top Five:

My stroke of insight“.  A brain scientist suffers a stroke.  A passionate talk with good measured speech and understandable vocabulary.  It’s too long for a lesson but I frequently use this as a first homework assignment with a new student.

Let my dataset change your mindset“.  Hans Rosling makes statistics exciting!  As many of my students are business professionals they enjoy this and find it informative.  There are other Hans Rosling talks that are short enough for lessons.

Try something new for 30 days“.  As the title says, get out of your rut.  This is my go-to lesson if I am substituting an upper intermediate or advanced class.  It’s fun and there are lots of good activities around trying new things.

Smash fear, learn anything“.  A systematic approach to learning new things.  At sixteen minutes it is too long for most lessons but it can be edited down.

John Francis walks the earth“.  A man who takes a vow of silence and refuses to ride in vehicles.  I have a soft spot for this one as it was the first Ted talk I ever watched.  Funny and moving.

With new talks being added daily you are bound to find something that interests you, and a lesson based on something interesting is always easier to write and easier to teach with enthusiasm.