It’s in (y)our hands (or… is it?)

Well, where do I start? A lot happened between my previous post and now. It is Day 36 since the Russian invasion began in Ukraine. At the moment I am not ready to write about the war (yet). All I can say is that I am in Ukraine, in a relatively safe city in its western part. I know I am luckier than many of my colleagues and friends who had to leave their homes (often saying goodbye to their husbands, brothers or fathers), or stayed in their home cities being bombed for a month. My country is in pain, and all the Ukrainians are fighting for their independence and a better future. #PrayForUkraine.

In this context, blogging, sharing ELT ideas, or celebrating creativity do not seem timely or appropriate. At the same time, I am inspired by the Ukrainians who continue the fight for freedom and​ make voices heard. My friends, family members and colleagues in do it by sharing their stories, making pictures/collages, writing poems, organizing ELT events (check out this 8+hour Teacher’s Voice ELT Marathon session recording from the past weekend), teach lessons in the shelters, interpret sessions for doctors and nurses, volunteer, host families in their apartments, and do a hundred more big and small things. Colleagues abroad help the Ukrainians who left their homes by offering places to stay, dinner to share, language lessons to attend (English, or the language of the country they are in), connect with the language centers offering positions, collect and send humanitarian aid (and evidently, do a lot more than I can list here).

At times, I feel very small and helpless, unimportant and weak. In such moments I feel as if nothing, literally nothing is my control (is there anything in this life truly ‘in our hands’?) At other times, I think of ways I may apply my skills, professional background, and creativity in a constructive way. Maybe, what I share in this project will help someone with a classroom idea, an insight for a training session, an activity to chat about with a colleague on a break or even a someone in a family. Or maybe it will just offer an idea to think about.

A couple of years ago I was planning to create a set of Reflective Practice Activities so that teachers could use them with their students, with each other, and for themselves. I never found the time, discipline or motivation to sit down and get started, even though I have lots of notes and even sessions/presentations with practical examples. I hope to get that done some time in the future.

For now, I am starting a small personal project sharing activities you can easily do in class, or for yourself. All is needed is a piece of paper and your own hand to make an outline. Here is a sample template, to show the idea.

Sample Template. A-4/letter-size.

You can use an A-4 (letter size) piece of paper, as in the example above, or you can work with a smaller-size (A-5) notebook, as in the example we created with my 4-year-old nephew.

Zhenya and Erik #StandWithUkraine

You can even use a pocket-size (A-6) notebook, as you can see in the picture below. [Note: it is activity #13 in the list]

I know that many of my readers would easily get the idea for these activities by just looking at the template and the activity titles: many are self-explanatory and do not need an extra note to add. At the same time, knowing the creativity and reflective skill of my colleagues, in addition to the variety of the contexts they are living and working in, I can see a lot of potential for expanding each one and exploring the topics in more depth. They can be quick ice-breakers, or 30-minute speaking and writing activities, or possibly, last for the whole lesson.

Here is one (slightly modified) example shared earlier this year (and yes, it can be a slide, and you can use most of the activities if you teach remotely).

This new page on this blog offers the list of the ones I have brainstormed for now. I hope to be adding new posts and making each item an active link. There are 36 of them at the moment (yes, you guessed right, it is the number of days the war lasts here). Some were written before 24 February, and some were created during the time in a shelter, with air alarms on. Important note: these are not the activities meant to be used as a way to help students or colleagues process the trauma from the war, or to offer to the people who are now in the conflicting areas. Some can be adapted for that, but this needs to be done with lots of thought, care and awareness. It is a subject for a separate conversation.

I hope the list of activities war ends soon. And I know that if I fail to keep adding new ones, there will be more ideas from my readers, colleagues and friends. I hope to add posts on how to use the ideas in class, and why this Hand Metaphor/Analogy seems to be so appropriate for the context now. Or for education in general.

In 2022, it seems to me that the Reflective Practice skills, especially in the intercultural context(s) are vital, and the absence of them can lead to dangerous consequences.

Thank you for reading, stay tuned and #StandWithUkraine!

P.S. ‘Come Back Alive‘ is an NGO where I personally donate. They started their project in 2014 when Crimea was annexed and the first part of the war began. Here is their site and donating options:

In the future I will be adding links to the educational and cultural projects in or for Ukraine, for those of you who would like to contribute.

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
This entry was posted in It's in (Y)Our Hands and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to It’s in (y)our hands (or… is it?)

  1. Rachel Tsateri says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Zhenya. ❤ I remember the last activity- you tweeted it some time ago. It’s just brilliant and I will use it very soon for sure. It’s also great to read that you are safe. Please take good care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Svetlana Gavrilovic says:

    Dear Zhenya,
    I’m so happy that you’re fine! I would never have thought that ELT is capable of giving someone comfort in difficult times, but after reading your post I’ve realised it can. Let’s all hope, however, that the war ends soon and that it’s never mentioned again in any of your posts.
    I have to admit that so far I’ve used the hand activity only for the five important questions in writing stories and newspaper articles (Who? What? When? Where? How/Why?). You have great ideas in your list, and I particularly like using the hand as an exit ticket and as a self-assessment activity at the end of the lesson. As I’m currently teaching fourth-graders who are leaving school in May, what I’m planning to do is ask them to reflect on their four years of English in our school. This is going to be the last addition to the class portfolio we have been compiling over these last four years.
    Stay safe!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Svetlana
      Thank you very much for reading my blog, and leaving this kind and generous comment! Actually, the Questions activity you mentioned is new to me, and I have never tried it in a lesson. If possible, I would love to have its description, or even student examples? And that leads us to a point of a possible guest post, some time later this spring? 🙂

      The way you are describing the Exit Ticket activity is an excellent illustration to having creative and experienced readers. You have just taken it to another level: from being an ‘exit’ of an activity, or a single lesson (aka, ‘What did you learn today?’), it can be some solid reflection time for a term, or a year. Quite a project indeed! If you decide to share some outcomes and thoughts about that, I would be a grateful reader.

      (and if my list needs to keep growing, I will add your ideas to the list and acknowledge your authorship!)

      Thank you for keeping my desire to learn!


      • Svetlana Gavrilovic says:

        Dear Zhenya,
        This Questions activity is nothing much, really. I took a course in creative writing in 2015 with our ELT association, and in one of the tasks we were given the the picture of the hand with the five/six basic question words and were asked to design a lesson plan invoving creativity on the part of students so what I came up with was a lesson plan on writing a newspaper article. (I’ll be sending the material to your email address. I hope you find it useful).
        I’ll share with you my students’ work and my own material created for the end-of-year Exit ticket activity, somewhere by the end of May.
        I’d love to help with the guest post (thanks for the invitation) but I need you to tell me what exactly I’m supposed to do.

        Take care!


        • Zhenya says:

          Hi Svetlana
          Well, as for ‘nothing much’, I think we can say so about many activities and ideas we create or tweak in the lessons. When we share, it may be an ‘A-ha!’ for someone in search of ideas. I believe those small ideas are certainly worth sharing, and your email was gratefully received (and even responded to!) 🙂
          I like the plan to get back to the Exit Ticket idea in May. We can then talk/email each other about the ‘guest post’ idea.
          Thank you for keeping the conversation going!


  3. Wilma Luth says:

    Dear Zhenya,
    Thank you for this awesome post! (And for linking to my blog on the page of ideas! I really wish I could remember where I first learned about “Lists of Five.”)

    I love all of your examples and images. What a great idea to do activities like these with children. It’s a visual reminder of how personal the answers are/can be. And we all started counting on our fingers. For example, holding up the correct number of fingers when we were asked how old we were.

    I’ve copied the image from the slide into my journal and I’m going to use it for making decisions about writing projects to work on next. Just one question — why does the voice of “your critic” sound the most like my own voice??

    Take good care! #StandWithUkraine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Wilma
      Thank you for reading the post, going through the list, and the warmest comment ever. I have not thought about how we all start learning to count using our hand when we are small (what could be more natural, right?). And then I recalled that even as a grown up, when I do something challenging and/or repeating (e.g., interval laps in running, marking course assignments, etc.), I tend to ‘measure’ what’s left by counting fingers. Not literally though, so hopefully that is a part of being an adult.

      I would love to hear how you apply the decision-making idea for your writing projects. And… in response to your question ‘Why does the voice of “your critic” sound the most like my own voice?’, I actually added Activity 38: Critic’s Words. It will be an adaptation from what I heard at one of the coaching sessions attended, and I noticed that those Critic’s in our head have so much to say… Hopefully, more on that soon!

      Thank you for the ideas, and for our connection, here and beyond.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Activity 38: (Y)Our Critic’s Voice | Wednesday Seminars

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  6. Pingback: Activity 40: News Report | Wednesday Seminars

  7. Pingback: Activity 78: Picture(s) Not Taken | Wednesday Seminars

  8. Pingback: Odd One Out | Wednesday Seminars

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  10. Pingback: Guest Post: Dream City Activity | Wednesday Seminars

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