The musical hit series Glee aired between 2009 and 2015. I remember watching it and thinking to myself: “What a wonderful and necessary series!”. Like most of Ryan Murphy’s work, there’s a lot of representation in it. And the fact that it focuses on teenagers making through high school makes it even more special as this was the target audience of the show. Last vacation I had the chance to spend some days off with my family and had a lot of contact with my 14-year-old niece. When I...

It’s expected that experienced teachers’ classes will be more peaceful and freer of problems than novices’. But let’s be honest: no matter how long you’ve been working in ELT (English Language Teaching), there will always be difficulties, since we are dealing with people. That alone already means facing the unexpected on a daily basis, not to mention the extra unpredictability commonly seen among groups of teenagers. So yes, there are issues which will always be there. Above all: indiscipline. At times we have our classes observed, and we panic...

It goes without saying that teachers of teenagers often worry about how fun and dynamic classes must be so as to keep students engaged and motivated. So pervasive is this concern among professionals who teach youngsters that we sometimes tend to disregard the importance of taking into account the quieter and shyer students in our classes. Before suggesting how teachers can deal with shy students in the classroom, we would like to talk a little bit about shyness. Heitz, D. (2019) explains that ‘shyness is a feeling of fear...

One of the biggest concerns among teachers who work with teenagers is that they seem to be demotivated most of the time. It’s often said that teenage students don’t participate in classes so enthusiastically or don’t show interest in the activities. While that may be true, it will rarely happen to the whole group. Even so, we worry a lot with those who are not interacting so much; or at least not the way we expected them to. The first and foremost aspect to be considered is the fun...

Have you ever changed your lesson plan (or part of it) halfway through due to students’ lack of engagement? And have you ever regretted changing it because students asked you to do something different in class? If you answered yes for both questions, you face the same dilemma that we do; which is how much of the lesson plan it is fine to adapt in order to please our students’ imminent needs. Let’s face it: English isn’t generally taken so seriously by students (and their parents) as much as other...

Is it really possible to motivate students to learn English? The answer is YES! Some students have strong intrinsic motivation, they know what they want and work hard to reach it. However, most students learn English because they have to, they are learning English because of an external need and not because they want to. Although it is harder to keep motivated when the goal is not a personal choice, there are a few strategies we can use to help them feel more engaged and eventually the goal...

Curiously, I have posted a variation of this article on a blog I used to update, almost 10 years ago. Unfortunately the question is still up to date. In recent years, one of the main discussions in the educational business has been about finding the proper ways to face the growing need to move from print materials, and traditional pure face-to-face learning to a situation with more digital online content and self-instruction, self-paced learning, flipped classroom, etc. We currently live in a world where students have instant access to content...

You probably have heard of the term Glocalization, which translates the idea of thinking globally and acting locally. It seems obvious, and it doesn't seem something difficult to do. But yet we continue to find excuses not to do it. Especially here in Brazil, our culture is one where we expect changes to come from someone above us. We don't take responsibility for the things we can do to change the reality around us. We think that God is going to help us, that the new president is going to make...

When the subject is teaching teenagers, there is always a cloud hanging over teachers’ heads. This cloud has a name and it is quite a familiar one: behaviour. As a rule of thumb, when we have a couple of teenagers together in one room, there will eventually be distraction, standing up, talking (or yelling), paper airplanes flying around, among other “issues”. Having these things in mind, in this post I am willing to share five tips that have helped me a lot throughout my career as a teacher. Build...

So, February and March have arrived, and with it groups have been assigned to many teachers around Language Schools. Let me tell you about my groups! I am so happy with what I have got, specially because I have been studying hard to deal with young teenagers, and this semester seems like the perfect opportunity to apply what I have been learning around. There’s this one group in particular which I am over the moon with, and they are the main topic of my post today! I believe what...

Last month I mentioned some important aspects to bear in mind when a teacher or a school welcomes a visually impaired student in the classroom. Two of them are fundamental for a successful learning environment, especially for the blind: Firstly we must understand their level of impairment and then most importantly, we shall never underestimate the students' ability to learn and cope with limitations. In an attempt to answer some of the questions I received in a survey conducted last year I will focus today on the blind student...

The academic year is just around the corner and every now and then we tend to start the New Year facing some challenges and the kind. Being an educator is not an easy task, dealing with stressful situations such as routine, and, to add insult to injury, many of us will have to perform a juggling act, e.g. work in different schools, in order to make ends meet. Looking for perfection should be the main aim, right? It is important, however, to bear in mind that there is no...

As many teachers get ready to start a new professional year, I believe we tend to let anxiety take the best of us. According to the site “How Stuff Works”, teaching is the fourth most stressful job, since we “have to be well-prepared every day”, we take a lot of work home, and have to deal with both students and sometimes parents. It is a lot of work indeed, which may leave us questioning our career choice, or our hopes and dreams for the future. Since I truly believe...

On many different occasions I have discussed the belief that teaching seems to be about asking questions, not always providing answers. In this post we will focus on teaching situations where questions can be effective in helping learners achieve success in language learning and some ideas on how to take advantage of questions. Using images: Most of our modern materials - including international exams - involve images to provoke ideas, discussions or illustrate a text. Asking yes/ no questions may help teachers guide learners towards the pre-defined ideas...

When teaching private classes, one may inevitably have to teach adults. The method in which adults learn, called andragogy, is a lot less talked about when compared to pedagogy, the way children learn. Not surprisingly, the word pedagogy rings many bells whilst andragogy is an unknown term by many. Teachers focused on adult learning would undoubtedly yield better results by appropriating teaching techniques in line with andragogy. In this article I share and explore 4 principles that strike a chord with my experience as an ELT  professional and are...

Criticism hurts. Hence, it can be stressful, tense and sometimes traumatic. Still, it is such a natural part of life, including professional life, that knowing how to make the best out of it is an important skill for us to keep emotionally healthy. Below I list a few aspects to consider and that can prove useful in our field. Criticism or feedback? We are faced with criticism on a regular basis and no matter where it comes from, we have to learn if it is meant to be...

  "And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back." Robert Frost (1874-1963) It's the beginning of the semester and you are still getting to know your group of 10-year-olds. You have only just begun to set the ground rules for the group and you are still in doubt whether you should assign them homework or do the first homework assignments together in class so that they...

So, it’s your first class with a group of beginner 12-ish year-olds. You just leaf through the course book and teacher’s guide because all the class is about is the verb to be and adjectives. You know the drill: a couple pages filled with yes-no questions and perhaps a list of cities and countries that might require some work on pronunciation. Oh, and there may be a tic-tac-toe or perhaps a suggestion of musical chairs towards the end of the lesson. We’ve been there, we’ve done that. Right?...

This is the 3rd and final part of my two previous posts entitled "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". In a nutshell, while Part I describes how I managed to establish and sustain rapport with a group of teenagers - whom I hadn't taught for years on end - Part II is an account of how insightful a somewhat complicated situation turned out in the end. If you haven't read my previous posts (there's really no need for it, if you're pressed for time), here are some important details...

The new world we live in pushes us to unavoidable changes. The dynamism it brings to society forces us to rethink our concepts and how we position ourselves in light of the ever growing challenges we have to face. In this scenario, the school and, more specifically, the teacher is being redefined. But what should be the role of this new teacher? Knowledge is not a priviledge of a few anymore. The access to information is universal. You don't need to have an encyclopedia, or thousands of books, to...

Below is a follow-up to one my post entitled Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Part I",  which went online precisely on March 3, 2016. In it, I attempted to describe how terrified I was by the prospect of having to teach a group of kids exiting childhood and stepping into the much dreaded adolescence, at least in the eyes of a large number of teachers, parents, coordinators and educators of all sorts who are somewhat in charge of not letting things get out of hand. The account I am...

In this day and age getting a job, let alone a position which suits you best, has become a scarce commodity. More and more professionals are seeking jobs that meet their needs. However, not many are actually prepared to meet the market needs. This is a harsh reality and it has obviously hit our ELT world. I have sort of picked up the musical side of my family, my Dad was (still is in my heart a great accordion player) and music to me is what comes through your...

It might ‘cost you dear’! That is what we generally hear when people talk about investing time and money in learning a foreign language. By the same token, professional teachers are usually judged by how qualified they are in the teaching community and investing time and money on CPD seminars seems pretty much the way to go. On 18th March, I had the opportunity to meet up with brilliantly committed teaching professionals at Braz-Tesol Belo Horizonte Chapter on Teacher’s Development. BTW, well done you on your organisation. I delivered...

A lot can be found in ELT books about how to use a range of different tasks and activities in order to make lessons more engaging and the promise of making learning fun has certainly spawned generations of resource books. Yet, although words on our role of selecting and designing activities are ubiquitous, little is usually written about how to use TTT in order to make activities more relevant and effective. In this three-part series of posts, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about how different stages...

I was recently asked to give a workshop on interaction patterns  It seemed that the teachers at the school were not using a sufficient variety of them, and that this was affecting the effectiveness of the lessons. This is not an uncommon criticism. I have lost count of the number of times in feedback that I have had to ask why the teacher did not take the opportunity to change the interaction patterns. A common reply to my query more often than not is, 'I forgot'. It appears that in a large...

Hi Everyone! In this first posting of 2016, I want address group work. Ellis (2005) refers to Jacobs (1998), who compares the characteristics of group work with those of teacher-centered instruction.   Ten potential advantages of group activities in language instruction Advantages   Comment 1. The quantity of learner speech can increase In teacher-fronted classrooms, teachers typically speak 80% of the time; in group work more students talk for more of the time. 2. The variety of speech acts can increase In teacher-fronted classrooms, students are cast in a responsive role, but in group work they perform different...

“In the dyad ‘language and culture,’ language is not a bunch of arbitrary linguistic forms applied to a cultural reality that can be found outside of language, in the real world.” Without language and other symbolic systems, the habits, beliefs, institutions, and monuments that we call culture would be just observable realities, not cultural phenomena. To become culture, they have to have meaning. It’s the meaning that we give to foods, gardens and ways of life that constitute culture.”                  ...

Esta semana, surfando na internet, me deparei com um meme bastante bem humorado que me chamou a atenção, arrancando aquele sorriso típico de quem admite para si mesmo: ‘genial!’ Eis aqui o dito cujo: Não obstante o riso quase que inevitável, por de trás do bom humor (através de um símile que faz alusão ao estereótipo da fala de um caipira texano para dar a dimensão da dificuldade da vida), o meme também nos coloca diante de alguns questionamentos bem relevantes, especialmente para quem ensina línguas em um contexto de EFL/ELF,...

One of the most common topics that come up in conversation when teachers talk about areas of their practice that need improvement is timing. Taking into account the large number of  actions that we need to take in order for lessons to be  effective. That is perfectly understandable. The way I see it, however, timing per se isn’t really the cause, but the consequence of classroom contingencies and decisions by the teacher. Should we be addressing the symptom rather than the cause? Here are some of the common reasons...

“And 5… 5, 6, 7, 8!” More than 15 years after I had my first lessons, I decided to take up ballroom dancing again. My Better Half dutifully tagged along, but the difference was he was a true beginner. Three months later, we quit, feeling like complete and utter failures. We still want to learn how to dance, but probably not with those teachers. “Why did you quit?,” I hear you ask. Well, maybe it’s true that we teachers are the most difficult learners. Or maybe it’s just me....

Hi everyone!  Last month I discussed multilevel classrooms. This month I share some ideas to I have done in class.  Jigsaw Reading A very interesting and challenging way for students to deal with a reading passage! Preparation: Choose a reading passage. Pre-teach vocabulary and grammar. Cut the reading into 3-4 or more parts, depending on size. Make copies if you have more students than parts of text. In-Class: Distribute the parts of text among students. Each student reads their part silently to themselves. High-level students should receive the more challenging parts. Mid-level students should...

How come you can’t get your students to concentrate? That seems to be a rhetorical yet plausible question until it happens to you. I am not sure about you but I have certainly tasted this sensation in my teaching environment, and for the record, that is not a pleasant one. I have been around for a while and seen students losing track of my lessons due to various issues. The most common one is because of other ‘funny’ students’ attitudes in class, which may lead teachers to lose control. There...

Hi! As a teaching consultant in public and private schools, I often hear teachers complain about problems in multi-level classrooms. With 30-40 students in class, they dream of smaller and leveled classes – something difficult to implement given the spacing logistics of breaking a group in three and having three teachers instead of just one for a class hour… I remind them that math, geography, art and history teachers deal with the same problem. Yet, I’m not very convincing - these other teachers do not face the foreign language barrier…. This brings...

Recentemente, em minhas aulas na graduação e até com colegas na escola, discutíamos a estrutura escolar que muitas vezes precisamos enfrentar: turmas superlotadas, falta de infraestrutura mínima, salas de aulas precárias, falta de recursos (tecnológicos) etc. Na questão do ensino de língua inglesa, tivemos uma discussão bastante acalorada sobre dividir uma turma em níveis de conhecimento linguístico ou não. O assunto da discussão atual é delicado e tem dividido opiniões. Para tanto, vou expor minha opinião do porquê sou favorável à divisão de turmas por níveis. Até porque,...

ELT teachers are used to dealing with different students in the classroom. The literature on dealing with mixed-ability/mixed-level/mixed-age groups is not slim, with numerous articles on the matter having been published. Guaranteeing even participation of learners, however, is an constant challenge. Here are three ideas I try to bear in mind in the lessons I teach:   Make (more) room for pair work Especially after the Communicative Approach became ubiquitous, the image of students working in small groups has become more and more frequent in language lessons all over the...

Students taking a course in a foreign language very frequently bring with them a world of expectations and needs – in both personal and professional contexts – that they want to be met in the classroom. Those expectations and needs, however, can many times be beyond what can be achieved within a semester of studies. It is then many times up to the teacher to help learners align their expectations and help them become more aware of what they can achieve in the short and long run, and...

February has come and we are all back to school again. So let’s talk about homework? For some years I have observed that a certain number of teachers have had difficulties setting and correcting homework for several reasons, from time management to lack of interest on the part of the SS. I have then started to think about the theme "homework" and made myself the following questions: What is the quality of the homework that is being assigned? Is the homework valuable and meaningful to students? Does the homework...

Holidays are over, preparation has already taken place so now it’s time to get into teaching! When the year comes to an end we think back and realise our work was done and a rest is deserved. Soon we start longing for the new groups, the new materials, the planning… I believe students never realise the amount of work we face prior to the beginning of a new academic year. In good schools all must be planned beforehand in order to provide the best possible educational service. The learning process...

As we come to the end of the year, our classes are also about to finish. Hence, the time for us teachers to start planning the end of the semester has come. We end up getting so busy organizing reviews, writing tests, testing and assessing students, writing reports and/or report cards, providing students with feedback on their work we sometimes forget to “give students opportunities to reflect on what they have learnt and experienced in the lesson/term/year” (Emma Gore-Lloyd, 2014). I first heard about the different phases of a...

There have been a lot of pendulum swings in our profession since the early 90s, but the teaching of writing seems to be a bit of an exception. Compared to, for example, the sibling rivalry between PPP vs. task-based learning, the half-hearted nod of approval translation’s finally starting to get or, say, the recent comeback of formulaic language, the principles underlying the teaching of writing have remained relatively unscathed from ELT’s constant quest for the latest craze. We owe this, to a certain extent at least, to Ron White’s and...

'To Sir, with Love' was perhaps the most watched and the most loved movie in my teenage years. The East London high school teacher who gave up on the school textbooks to teach his rowdy, disruptive students about life, was every teenage kid's hero. I've just come across  the website below, which  offers a glimpse of some of the best inspirational teacher movies. Obviously, 'To Sir, with Love' tops the list. https://movies.about.com/od/toppicks/tp/Inspirational-Teachers.htm However, life is not that obvious. Neither are people. Students come in all shapes and sizes; as much...

I´m a mother of teens. As a mother, it is almost unavoidable to ask too many questions, and to my despair getting monosyllabic answers. The story goes more or less like this, "So how was school today?" "OK". And sometimes the most I can get is, "boring as always". Well, being a teacher, this questioning mindset simply doubles! By observing classes for the past few years, I came to realize that we teachers have this question system ingrained in us. Many times we consider that a pre-listening activity and post-listening...

Picture the scene: There I was, a shy 13-year-old boy, dressed in an itchy, ill-fitting school uniform in the middle of a German language class. Our teacher, Mrs. Dawson, a strict woman who ruled the classroom with an iron fist, is going round the class calling out people to read chunks of a text out loud, in German. Nothing could be more embarrassing for a nervous teenager in the throes of adolescence than having to read out a short passage (badly) in another language to a room full...

“The role of the teacher is to create conditions in which learning can take place.” (Scrivener, 2006)             After a month break we are back to school again.  A mix of feelings involves us teachers who wanted to rest a little more, but at the same time, were missing teaching and the school environment.  I bet most of you teachers went back to your schools for your training week with a “bag full of new ideas”, willing to learn and share and anxious to know your new groups. And when...

In my experience as an English teacher, I have observed other teachers’ lessons and been observed countless times. It is probably safe to say that the majority of teachers are much more concerned about what to do than about how to do it. However, the ‘hows' can be as important as the ‘whats' and ‘whys', and we teachers very often fail to realize that clear, concise instructions can mean the difference between a successful lesson or activity or an absolute flop. My own impression is that giving instructions is...

It’s now, the middle of a semester and we start having our minds set into finding different and new materials for our groups. In fact, sometimes it’s simply time to change. A friend normally says “the book is the slave, not the master”, but some teachers end up relying so much on the coursebook that choosing it is one of the most important features in “teaching”. Wether or not you are involved in the material selection project, there’s a lot to be thought when analysing materials to avoid judging the...

I don’t think I have ever taught or observed an advanced lesson that went seriously wrong. I mean cringe-worthy wrong. Which shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, advanced students have been in the game long enough and know enough English to ensure that most of our lessons run - at worst - relatively smoothly. Except perhaps for those all-too-familiar “How do you say X?” questions (X = a word YOU don't know), which they seem to pluck out of nowhere, at the worst possible moments. Yes, the ones that...

Error correction may be extremely strenuous for both learners and teachers if it is not dealt with caution. Some people tend to downgrade it whilst others find it a necessary condition for language acquisition on the grounds that grammatical and lexical competences can increase the rate at which learners develop. Corder (1967) found out that language learners produced errors that were both systematic and creative in nature. He mentions systematic errors (more evident in ESL/EFL learning) and nonsystematic errors (more evident in one’s native language). Attempts are caused by a genuine lack of knowledge. Learners...

We know that language teachers face a lot of difficulties in Brazilian regular schools. Based on my experience as a High School teacher, my intention here is to present some suggestions to overcome three common challenges teachers face in this context. 1) All levels in the same place Challenge: Classes in regular schools present a great difference in language level among students, so that the teacher is faced with the problem of challenging higher-level students without overwhelming lower-level students. How to deal with it: Instead of proposing exercises that can only...