Using Portuguese As A Tool In Public High School Classes

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Hey there!

On my firt post this year I want to remember when I taught at public high schools in my hometown (Bebedouro/SP). It was not an easy thing to do and we all know why: crowded classes, students with different levels of English, indiscipline, you name it.

As you may predict, I had to use Portuguese a lot and even a “whiff” of trying to do something conversational would not be easily accepted, so I had to come up with some strategies.

On the first class of year I would do something to show them that they knew more English than they thought. These teens also came with a very low self-steem, regarding English learning.

Here’s what I did:

1. I asked students to take a sheet of paper and write down a list of all the words in English they remembered. I would give them an example using technology and they went along with it.

2. After that I would ask them to write one or two paragraphs (in Portuguese) using these words in English.

3. Next they would have to rewrite this paragraph and replace all English words for a Portuguese correspondent.

As in high school syllabuses the focus is on reading comprehension, that gave them a good jump start so they would not go crazy when they came across a text only in English. This activity was also meant to give them a confidence boost and it has worked pretty well.

You can have students do this in small groups or pairs and then exchange paragraphs for translation (expect some noise when this happens). After they did it all, ask them to think if they don’t know anything about English. The answers are going to surprise you!

I can not – for the life of me – remember who told me this technique or where I read it, so if you remember, please leave a message in the comments area.

If you’re teaching high school students in Brazil or if you want to use (or already is using) your mother language in your English class, I would like to recommend two books I have used and they bring several great activities:

  • Cem Aulas Sem Tédio – Vanessa Amorim, Vivian Magalhães
  • Using the Mother Tongue – Making the Most of the learner’s language – Sheelagh Deller, Mario Rinvolucri

Take care and see you next time!

Adir Ferreira

Adir Ferreira has been an English teacher for 22 years. He is also a teacher educator, blogger and professional singer. Adir is based in Bebedouro (SP); you can access his blog at and email him

1 Comment
  • Teresa Carvalho
    Teresa Carvalho
    Posted at 12:47h, 20 janeiro Responder

    Hi Adir,

    This is a great example of how Portuguese can be used to encourage students to think critically. I believe that one of the biggest obstacles to reading comprehension is learners’ poor writing skills; or, learners write poorly because they don’t read.

    This seems like a fun activity that encourages learners to think critically about their own writing and because they’re writing in Portuguese, they feel more comfortable thinking about it in terms of coherence and content. As you say, it gives them ‘a good jump start’ so that they don’t get overwhelmed when they have to read texts fully written in English. I’d add it also gives them a sense of achievement and they might realize they know more than they assume they know.

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ll definitely use it with my classes.

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