Animalism in the classroom

August 28, 2015 in Personal Statement by Lisa Pfau

Finished up a week of teaching about human nature and governance through the study of Animal Farm by George Orwell. Students wrote essays about justice, learned how to be citizens in the classroom, and discussed complex concepts of social relations in fiction and real-life. I’m very proud of all the growth everyone achieved as a group and individually through skill development and self-reflection. It’s been a pleasure teaching you all, despite the bumpy start. 🙂

Summer Writing Courses: August 2015

May 20, 2015 in Courses Offered, Study Tips, Writing Exercises, Writing Tips by Lisa Pfau

Creative Writing: Our Environment and Ourselves

August 10th to 14th from 10am to 3pm (Ages 10-12 years old)

CCEC Scaraborough Campus (1041 McNicoll Ave. 2F)


Taken by Lisa Pfau (August 2009 in Alberta)


This one week course will encourage students to connect with their creative selves, as well as, the magic and mystery in the world around them. It will also encourage them to think critically and compassionately about their environment. The primary focuses of this course it to develop writing skills from the basics (grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and punctuation) to idea generation and the art of telling a good story.

 Novel Study: Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat

*Students are required to get a copy of this book and have read the first three chapters before the start of class.


Introduction to the novel: Chapters 1-3 

Vocabulary Study

Chapters 3-6 of novel 

Vocabulary Quiz

Preparation for Nature Walk 

Vocabulary Quiz

Chapters 6-9 of the novel 

Vocabulary Quiz

Chapters 9-11 of the novel 

Vocabulary Quiz

Descriptive Writing Exercises 

Sentence Structure


Punctuation: period vs. comma


Divide students into groups for final activity – start brainstorming

Character Development Exercise 

Grammar: Tense (past, present, future)


Punctuation: semi-colon and colon


Group work time to develop characters for final project

Nature Walk and Writing Exercises Plot Development Exercises 

Grammar: Review different types of past and present tense


Punctuation: exclamation mark vs. question mark


Time to work on writing story for group presentation


Final spelling, grammar, and punctuation review test 

Time to practice for story presentation and skit


Students to present own nature story to class (Group Exercise)

To register email and request the summer writing courses with Lisa Pfau.



Essay Writing: Human Nature & Society 

August 24th to 28th from 10am to 3pm (Ages 12-14 years old)

CCEC Scaraborough Campus (1041 McNicoll Ave. 2F)

IMG_0933 - Copy

Taken by Lisa Pfau (July 2012 in Paris)

This one week course will encourage students to reflect on who we are as people and how our nature causes conflict or cooperation in our world. It encourages them to think critically about how they perceive the world around them and what is behind a lot of human behavior. The primary focuses of this course will be the exploration of various types of essay writing and mastering writing fundamentals.

Novel Study: Animal Farm by George Orwell

*Students are required to get a copy of this book and have read the first three chapters before the start of class.


Introduction to the novel: Chapters 1-3 

Vocabulary Study

Chapters 3-6 of novel 

Vocabulary Quiz

Preparation for Museum Trip 

Vocabulary Quiz

Chapters 6-8 of the novel 

Vocabulary Quiz

Chapters 8-10 of the novel 

Vocabulary Quiz

Descriptive Writing Exercises & Narrative Essay 

Sentence Structure


Punctuation: period, comma, and semi-colon


Give students time to brainstorm ideas for speech

Persuasive Essay 

Grammar: Tense (past, present, future)


Punctuation: over use of exclamation mark


Individual time to create an outline for speech

Museum Trip and Writing Exercises Satirical Essay 

Grammar: that, which, who, whom


Style: Rhetorical Question and Tone


Time to write rough copy of speech


Final spelling, grammar, and punctuation review test 

Time to practice for speech


Students to present a speech on either of the two topics: Is man fundamentally self-interested or cooperative? OR Which system is better: communism or capitalism?

To register email and request the summer writing courses with Lisa Pfau.

Character Development Exercise

May 19, 2015 in Inspiration, Writing Exercises, Writing Tips by Lisa Pfau

This is an exercise I use with my students to encourage them develop their observation and character development skills.


Go to a busy public place, such as a playground, park, coffee shop, neighborhood street, where you will see a lot of different people and those people will stay in that area for more than a few minutes.  The goal is find 1-2 people that you can watch for at least ten minutes and take notes on their personality traits and appearance.  You will then transform these real-life characters into fictional characters. Make sure to give these characters names and even a back story. Be creative.

1.       Davy·         3-4 years old·         Loves the colour blue because of the baseball team the Blue Jays – dressed in all blue – Blue Jays hat, Superman shirt, and blue sweatpants·         Only child, so accustom to being alone, but still craves interaction with other kids, yet socially awkward·         Fearless and determined. For such a small guy, he doesn’t seem afraid of all the big playground equipment. (ie. falls of the tilt-a-whirl unscathed)·         Bored easily – moves from one activity to the next·         Quick moving and allusive like a superhero·         Agile, like a chubby little monkey – scaling three tree stumps·         Blonde hair and blue eyes

·         2 feet tall

·         In his own world

·         Love climbing

·         Shy, but friendly

·         Silent – does not speak

2.       Emily·         6 years old, Chinese, pigtails, blue floral dress with black tights, navy hoodie, black running shoes, and pink bows in her hair.  Eclectic mix of all kinds of things·         Also loves climbing and jumping·         Enjoys teasing other kids and is very talkative, bright, and always smiling·         Brave, but attached to her mom.  She is always looking to make sure she is not too far away.


Choose a setting or describe the one that you are currently located at.  Make sure to use descriptive language that will elicit emotions and imagery.  Not just – “at the park…”  At this point, you can also introduce the two main characters.


Khurt Williams (StockSnap)

Setting: Bright and breezy, the park near the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre is a buzz with activity this sunny Saturday afternoon. The sounds of children skittering across the rubbery pavement, shouting on the merry-go-round, and thumping down the slide fill the air.


Write a brief character description for each character.

kid face

Alijica Colon (StockSnap)

Character Description: Davy, or Super Dave, as his parents call him, loves days likes this. He’s an only child and rarely has a chance to see other children.  On days like today, the parks is full of other kids of him to mingle with. Well, more like stare at and awkwardly try to tag along with in games. He is only 4 years old and has not quite mastered the art of conversation with his fellow youngsters. As much as he longs for a friend, he can’t seem to find the words to make one, so instead, he gleefully runs from one group of kids to the next, climbing up the slide, logs, and falling off the merry-go-round in the process. He’s a tough kid though. He doesn’t cry.  He just gets up and carries on with an otherworldly smile on his face.

Emily, a six year old Chinese tomboy, did not have any trouble making friends at the park. She talks excessively and teasing whomever she meets amongst the jungle gym. She seems to constantly be surrounded by a group of giggling girls. On the surface, independent, she always has her mother within sight….


Introduce a conflict between the two characters and have the plot revolve around how the two characters resolve the conflict.  At this point, the writer should be ready to put all this information into at least a two page story.

playground conflict

Alex Jones (StockSnap)

Conflict: Both kids play at the playground until late at night. Davy loses his dad and is scared of the dark. Emily also cannot find her mom.  How will they find their way home?


The Strangest Writing Contest Around: The Culture Surrounding “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night” – Writer’s Circle

May 11, 2015 in Personal Statement by Lisa Pfau

Thinking of spending your summer writing? Here’s an interesting writing contest to kick it off, as well as links to a few more:

A lovely student comment that gave me a Sunday smile

May 3, 2015 in Personal Statement by Lisa Pfau

“Moreover, I want to add that I am very lucky that I found you , since you are a person who can always help and give necessary advice, very kind and understanding. Thank you very much for all your lessons at last term! Hope that I will improve my writing skills enough for law school in future.”~Diana (UofT 1st year student)


It’s feedback like this that reminds me why I love teaching so much. It gives me such great joy to see my students learn and grow.

Incidentally, this student, for whom English is her second language, just received 86% on her final first-year Political Science essay and is now applying to be a Political Science specialist, a major that I’m particularly fond of since I majored in it for both my degrees. I feel incredibly proud and honored to have been part of her inspiration and growth process. 😁

Take a minute to mediate to improve your focus and test scores

February 17, 2015 in Study Tips by Lisa Pfau

As is the case with many intelligent creative people, I tend to have a very active mind. Sometimes my brain is so active, that I find it impossible to sit down and concentrate on one task for an extended period of time. This situation can have serious implications if you are trying to complete research, write an essay, or study for an exam.  One thing I’ve started to do recently to clam my active mind is 3 minutes of daily morning meditation.


Isn’t meditation just another way to avoid writing your essay? Not necessarily. A recent study at the University of California, Santa Barbara, researched the relationship between mindfulness meditation and test performance. They found that after a group of 48 undergraduate students completed a two-week intensive mindfulness training program, “their mind-wandering decreased and their working memory capacity improved”, which resulted in higher scores on the reading comprehension portion of the G.R.E.  The Telegraph also reports that high school students, particularly those struggling with grades, improved their test scores after integrating 20 minutes of transcendental meditation into their daily routines. Not only does meditation make you feel good, but it also improves your ability to retain and reproduce knowledge.

But, my life is so hectic; I don’t have time to meditate! Well, do you have time to breath?  Meditation does not require a special space, outfit, or training; essentially, it is merely giving one’s self a few moments to breath and focus on those breaths. Here are a few simple steps to get you started:


  1. Find a quiet place where you feel comfortable sitting still for a few minutes with your eyes closed.  This place might be your cubicle at work, the edge of your bed, a shady spot in the park, or even a bathroom cubicle. The key is that it is quiet and you feel safe and free of judgment there.


  1. Get into a relaxing position. Most meditation is done in a sitting position with legs crossed; however, you can also do it standing up or laying down. The key is to feel comfortable and to be able to focus on relaxing your mind and body. Below are a few commonly used meditation positions.

 meditation positions2015

  1. Focus on your breath. Breathing is probably the most important part of meditation and general mood control. When we are frightened or stressed, our breath tends to be short and shallow.  When we are calm, our breath tends to be deep and long. There a few things you can do to try to slow down your breath:
    1. You can do 7-11 breathing (breath in through your nose for 7 seconds and back out through your nose for 11 seconds; continue this until you have created a rhythm).
    2. As you breathe, pay attention to what your diaphragm (that hard muscle at the base of your abdomen that pushes air out of your lungs) is doing. When you breathe in, you should feel it extend and your chest cavity stretch out. When you breathe out, you should feel it relax and your chest cavity collapse a bit. The key is to make sure it is not your belly moving in and out; but instead, up and down. If you are still unsure how to do this, you can check out some online videos to give you a clearer sense of how the air moves in and out of your lungs, like the “Deep Breathing Exercise at Home” on YouTube.
    3. Once you have developed a rhythm, listen to your breaths and begin to count them. Countdown from 10 to 1, and then, start again. You will notice the more you concentrate on your breath, the less energy your mind will have to wander off to other things. 


  1. Visualize a quiet place or fond memory. I often meditate to the sound of water, so I imagine myself as a small pond animal, such as a frog, fish, or duck, swimming around in the pond in the water or basking in the sunlight.  Sometimes I can even feel the sunshine on my back. Imagining me outdoors in the fresh air puts my brain at ease. What gives you a sense of peace and joy?  Take your mind there.  If you aren’t sure where to start, you can find lots of great videos and sound tracks on the internet, such as “Meditation to Native American Music” by Johnnie Lawson on YouTube.


  1. Continue your breathing and visualizing for an extended period of time. You may want to start with 3 minutes and see if eventually with practice you can extend it to 20 minutes or even an hour. Be patient with yourself. It is not easy for anyone to sit still for any period of time, especially in our fast-paced society. Meditation takes training, the same as running a marathon or learning to drive. The key is to be in the moment focused on your breath. Calmness may not happen every time, but, in my experience, with continuous practice it certainly has helped me to start each day grounded and positive.

Next time you are stressed out, mixed up, and filled with self-doubt, take a moment to pause, breath, and reconnect with your inner guru.

Sample Student Essay: Grade 10 Student

February 2, 2015 in Student Submissions by Lisa Pfau

We want roommates not cellmates

Three steps to get rid of a problem roommate

By Adam Kelly (student, son, and basketball enthusiast)


Have you ever had an absolutely horrific roommate who you must get rid of, but by law you can’t. In this article, I will explain three different tactics: The silent treatment, the new friend, and the disgust tactic.


My first recommendation is the cold hard silent treatment. This strategy is when you throw up a wall and say nothing. There are varying degrees of this tactic. The extreme one takes a pretty cold person. For example, you can start off never making conversation and giving minimal answers. Then, you can decreases your answers and reduce communication to shrugs and grunts. Lastly, you can become a brick wall and if they say anything you just stare them down. This tactic can work on most people. However if the person is very desperate they could still resist. Another downfall is that you have to live with someone for a period of time without talking to them. It takes dedication and a concerted effort to pull this off. Even then, some people have backbones of iron and will not budge.


If being silent and giving death stares does not work, you can always try introducing a new friend. This tactic is when a friend of yours or a potential new roommate comes and lives on the couch for free. You make sure they are a big pest, eat all of the other person’s food, and in general get in their way. The right scenario must be set up in order for this tactic to work, but if you get a friend in you are almost guaranteed in getting rid of that pest. Some downfalls are that you have to live with the annoying friend. Moreover, in some agreements or circumstances you cannot legally have another person living there. You again will be tied up and have no choices. However, you might be able to just sneak a friend in and have them sit a around and do nothing for a few weeks. People really get on other people’s nerves and can make people move.


Lastly, is the most desperate strategy, which is the disgust tactic. This way of life is when you make you apartment absolutely disgusting and unbearable to live in. This strategy involves being extremely unorganized and leaving stuff everywhere. You can also leave plates and food out for days and not clean them. This situation may create some pretty bad smells though and attract rodents and insects. This tactic will definitely scare them away, but it will be harder for you to bear. This strategy, combined with the silent treatment, can be a deadly force. These factors will force them to get mad and act poorly towards you, giving you a reason to ask them to leave. They will most likely leave. Or, they will change their ways and start cleaning their share.


There are many people in the city and tons are looking for roommates. The key is picking the right ones that won’t murder you in your sleep.


Learning outside the classroom: Campus Writing Centres

January 9, 2015 in Writing Tips by Lisa Pfau


Many people believe that in order to succeed in university you need to born a good student and continuously get good grades from start to finish.  I’m not sure that formula is the key to success, however. Someone who is truly learning and growing will go through phases of ups and downs. I think one of the most important lessons I learned at university was how to access the right resource to solve the right problem.

University is a big adjustment from high school in terms of research and writing expectations.  Unless you have a really wonderful Professor who has the time to sit down and discuss assignment issues with you, you have a lot of learning to do on your own. Fortunately, universities are huge institutions with lots of educational resources outside the classroom, such as research tutorials in the library or extra funds for students with learning disabilities or stress management seminars.  One resource, which is often overlooked by students, is the Writing Centre.

Since so much of academic work depends on high quality writing skills, pretty much every university or college has its own Writing Centre. Writing Centres offer individual editing or counseling sessions to help you with your specific writing needs.  Bigger campuses often also offer courses or shorter workshops related to specific writing issues, such as: understanding the assignment question, developing a thesis, or even basic grammar and style issues. Sometimes you can even arrange for Writing Centre staff to come to your classroom to give specific guidance related to your course assignment by talking to your Professor. The best part is all of these consults and courses are usually included in your tuition fees, and as such, free! What’s happening at your campus Writing Centre this term?

Here are a few links to Writing Centre workshops at the three main universities in Toronto:

University of Toronto Writing Centre Workshops

York University Writing Centre Courses

Ryerson University Writing Centre Workshops 


**Keep your pencil to the paper!**

Don’t let the darkness fool you into thinking there’s no light

July 3, 2014 in Inspiration by Lisa Pfau

**Some Thursday afternoon inspiration.**


“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

When there is a problem that seems insurmountable, impossible, challenging as heck, don’t turn around and run. No matter what direction you run, the problem will always be there, lingering in the distance, preventing you from getting to where you want to go. All you’re doing is expending the energy you could be using to solve the problem to avoid it, making you even more exhausted next time you are faced with the same or a new problem.

So instead, save your energy and take one baby step forward, then another, and another…pretty soon you’ll look back and realize you’ve made it half-way out. At this point, you might slip and fall and slide back a bit. You might bruise your bum on a rock, making wallowing in the dark puddle of despair seem a whole lot easier than continuing the climb. But think about what you’ll lose. You’re almost there. You can see the light. Just a few more steps…

Your arms and legs are aching. You look back, ready to give up, when you realize you’re 3/4 of the way there. Take a rest. Breath a little. You can do this!

Before you know it, you’re out in the sunshine, basking in a new reality. You’re free from the pit. It wasn’t easy. No one said it would be, but you made it. There will be more holes. There will be more bumps. There may even be mountains blocking your way. But after making it out of there, you know you have what it takes to overcome those challenges. You are living your life, the life you wanted, and you’ll never be willing to give it up again for a little hole in the ground.

Don’t let the darkness convince you there is no way out. Follow the light and eventually you will be living it.



Another student success to celebrate!!

June 25, 2014 in Personal Statement by Lisa Pfau

” I just wanted to let you know that my thesis is accepted from the committee.  I really appreciate your help and time to finalize this work.  I am also going to start my PhD at York University in September 2014.   Have a wonderful day!” ~ Abdullah (Ryerson University, Masters of Engineering student)
I love it when I get emails like this in my inbox!!