"Why do you like suffering?" is the question I was repeatedly asked a couple of weeks ago when I asked one of my ICELT tutors to observe me yet again. The reason for such a comment is that I've just (successfully) finished my course and I should have broken free from lesson observations by now, right? Wrong! I love being observed as I see this whole process as really helpful for my professional growth.

In my post observation meeting we talked about things that had gone right and wrong as well as their "whys". Something that was really noticeable was the fact that I had four dominant students who would always answer and take control of the lesson. Although I knew that some learners didn't participate much because we had a "stranger" in our "nest", I was also aware that these four students always had this very same behaviour. This has always been a problem to me because 1) I don't know how to nicely ask students to "shut up" and give the others the opportunity to speak; 2) I'm afraid of doing so no matter how carefully I choose my words and 3) whose fault is it that the rest of the group doesn't speak other than mine? I wonder...

Having these questions and the conversation with my tutor in mind, I decided to make use of something I had come up with in the past and which proved to be of great assistance to deal with this issue. Here's what I did.

Procedures
01. I had a conversation with my group about the importance of participating more in class and showing them that one won't learn how to drive if they don't drive (I used a few personal examples of how I learned some things in my life);

02. In the following class, each student was given three beans. I explained that the objective was to get rid of these beans in order to get points for oral in class (at the institution I work for, students are graded on their participation in class).

03. We came to an agreement about the use of L1 in class as, in my opinion, this issue needs to be constantly addressed. If anybody unnecessarily used Portuguese, this person would get an extra bean;

04. I explained that if they participated, they would return one bean to me. As soon as they had finished using the other two ones, they would have to wait for other people to use theirs as well, thereby giving chance for everybody to speak;

05. If they still had any beans left in the end of the class, they would not score any points for oral in class in that specific lesson (and here a lot of people may disagree with me, but it really works in my classes due to the rapport I manage to build with my students. They usually see this as a way of encouragement rather than a threat);

06. I placed a table in the middle of the circle (I always have my students sitting in a horse-shoe format) so that they could "deposit" their beans as they participated throughout the lesson.

Implications
Having tried it for a number of times both in the past and now, I can assure you that this idea has worked miracles as very shy students now eagerly want to participate. At one time, when I was writing something on the board, I asked for a volunteer to answer a question and what I saw amazed me. In less than 2 seconds, I saw dozens of hands shooting up because everybody wanted to speak. Besides, the students who used to take control were now quieter because they used their beans in a blink of an eye. As soon as everybody had used theirs, however, the whole group could participate again.

Adaption
I've been doing it again with all my groups this semester. For my beginner group, students get rid of their beans by uttering sentences in English such as "How do you say... in English?" or "What page, teacher?". In the end of the first class, in which I tried this out, I asked them how they felt and everybody was really excited and they could see its importance. Now they're using a lot of English in class despite not having had a lot of exposure. Great, isn't it?


Anyway, let me know if you figure out different ways to use your beans!

As everybody knows, the World Cup, which will be held here in Brazil this year, is approaching and lots of discussion seems to be naturally emerging in our classrooms. It’s fascinating to see how people hold widely divergent views about this issue no matter their age or gender. Having this in mind, I decided to put together a lesson in which my students would have the chance to speak their minds and I would just sit down and listen to them.

Before I start, it’s important to say that this sequence of activities may be unrealistic depending on the amount of time you have per class. However, you can always adapt these files to suit your classes as well as possible. The level of your students should also be taken into account. Pre-intermediate and higher levels should be fine and... Here we go.
 

01. Divide students into A & B and ask them to sit back to back. One of the students should be looking at the board.


02. Student A looks at the board, reads the instructions and performs the task.


03. Students swap places and now B looks at the board, reads the instructions and performs the task.


04. After they have finished, elicit from the whole group what the connection between both photos might be. Write down students’ ideas. PS: These two photos, which were used in 02 and 03, were taken from the two videos that will be used in this lesson. It was funny to watch the reaction of my students when they watched these videos and saw where the images they had described came from.


05. Show this logo and explain to students that this is the connection. They might not understand at first, but they are likely to as the other activities go on.


06. In pairs, students talk about these four questions. Remind them to expand as much as possible, explaining why they have the opinions they have and so on. This is something I see most of my students struggling with because they usually go for whatever is simpler, so they end up giving very limited responses.


07. Collect feedback. Ask them if they mostly agreed or disagreed with their partners and why.


08. Ask your students to stand up. Explain that you’ll read some sentences and they have to move to the left or to the right according to their opinions. If they agree, for example, they go to the right. If they don’t, however, they go to the left. PS: I have a list with 10 sentences about sports which I use here. You may want to write sentences which are more realistic to your students. Some of my sentences were: “Football is the best sport ever”, “Doing sports keep your mind alert”, “Having the World Cup in Brazil is a very good idea”, etc.


09. Divide your students into two groups, A and B. If you have a very big one, you should have more groups in order to have everybody engaged, working and participating. You could have 3 groups A and 3 groups B, for instance. A will be responsible for the advantages of having the World Cup here in Brazil and Group B for the disadvantages.


10. Get feedback from all the groups.


11. Tell your students they are going to watch a video and they have to pay close attention to it in order to add more ideas to their lists.


12. Play the video. If you use the interactive white-board and ActivPrimary or ActivInspire along with it, download the file and click on the square to open the YouTube page. If you don’t, go to this page. Students watch the video and write more ideas. Depending on the level, you should allow some time for them to do this after the video finishes.


13. Feedback. Ask them if more ideas were added and what they are.


14. Carry out a discussion: “Do you agree with the video?”, “Is there anything which particularly drew your attention?”, “Would you like to add anything to it?”, etc.


15. Show this picture, the title “We Are One” and ask students what they think it means. I’m sure they will have a lot of different ideas and opinions. The more, the merrier. Ask them if they agree with the title or not and if they actually see the world as one or not.


16. Tell your students they are going to listen to a song, which is the official one for this World Cup. Before actually listening, hand out a copy of the song activity I’ve prepared for this lesson and ask them to do number 01. After they finish, ask them to compare it in pairs. As part 01 is very fast, tell your students not to worry because it will be repeated a lot of times. If you use the interactive white-board and ActivPrimary or ActivInspire along with it, download the file and click on the square to open the YouTube page. If you don’t, go to this page. When students listen to the song for the first time, make sure they don’t see the video. After they have listened to it twice, correct the activity and show the video clip after asking them to watch it critically.


17. Ask them what they thought about the video clip.


18. Show 06 comments, from real people, which have been taken from the YouTube page. Point out that these comments are both in English and in Portuguese and they do have some mistakes, but the idea here is to focus on the message rather than on accuracy. Allow some time for your students to read the comments and discuss them in pairs. After a while, carry out a discussion in open class. PS: I removed the original faces and names. 

Download the files:

That’s it. I really hope you and your students like it. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Sharing is always welcome.


Last week I had the great pleasure to attend the 14th Braz-Tesol International Conference, whose theme was “Emerging Identities in ELT”. We had four days of considerable input, insights and exchanges which aimed at making us reflect upon our own teaching practice as well as planning what we can do to develop professionally in the (near) future. It goes without saying that I came back home with a lot of information to digest, ideas I’d love to try and a great deal of thinking to do. Not only has going to conferences taught me a lot regarding methodology, but it has also helped me to become more flexible to evaluate what my peers have to say, even when I don’t seem to agree with them straight away. That’s the most beautiful part of this process, I must say. Besides, what really drew my attention this time was the fact that I’m not alone and you, who happen to be reading this post (hopefully), are not alone either.

Finding myself among hundreds of people made me realize I’m part of something bigger, much bigger than I’d imagined when I first started teaching. We’re not alone and it’s actually funny to see that we share the same joy when we deliver a successful lesson, the same questions and concerns when something goes awry in our classrooms and are incredibly proud when our students acknowledge the effort we make on a daily basis to give them the best we can. Embracing this world of teachers and conferences give you knowledge and food for thought, but it also recharges your batteries and, consequently, you go back home willing to be a better professional.


To sum up, if only I could give you a piece of advice it would be: Go to conferences and step out of your comfort zone. You probably already do what you do really well, but what about trying different things to see their outcome? What about being invited to reflect upon your own practice? I’m sure it’ll be an intriguing experience.

My special thanks to these people, who made this conference unforgettable and enriching. 



Teacher, do we have to memorize this whole list?” is the question I’m always asked when I teach simple past to my students. I believe it happens to all of us, teachers, regardless of the place we teach or how old our students are (although I do think teenage students are a bit more “tolerant”). Truth be told I don’t know exactly what the best answer would be, but I usually say that they’ll learn these verbs and their corresponding past forms by using the ones they need the most first and the others will come later on.

Bearing this in mind and trying to make this meaningful for students, I decided to play a different type of memory game as a means to revise and to consolidate what my students were exposed to in previous classes. Having done that and analyzed the results, I couldn’t help but wonder: are we making the most of memory games in our classrooms?

The first answer would be yes as memory games seem to be quite straight-forward, right? You play them, you find a match and then you get a point. I might be mistaken, but I think that sometimes we use them as a way of whiling away the time we have in our classes… or, yes, to revise, revisit or introduce new vocabulary or whatever we find suitable for our groups. However, how can we expand these games and make them more meaningful for our learners? Here’s something I did with my pre intermediate students and which was really successful.

01 – I asked my students to open their books and to turn to the page where they could find an endless list of irregular verbs (which seems to be the problem) and their corresponding past forms. In pairs, they had to talk together and tick the verbs they already knew by heart. They ticked verbs like go, see, eat, etc. It was really interesting to see how they negotiated in English and said: “You know this one but I don’t”.

02 – I asked them to select 10 of the verbs they didn’t know, but these verbs needed to be significant for them somehow. I gave an example: “I would choose teach x taught because I’m a teacher and this is a verb I use a lot”.

03 – After having gone through this stage, each pair of students was given a sheet of cardboard paper which they had to cut in order to have 20 smaller pieces. On these pieces they would have to write the verbs they had chosen before and their past form. For instance: on one piece I would have “teach” and on another piece “taught”.

04 – Students played the memory game the way it should be played, but with a different rule. For one to get a point, this student had to find a match and make a correct sentence using it in the past. For example: “I taught a very bad class last month” or “My mother taught me a very important lesson last weekend”. This step was really profitable because my learners were willing to play the game as well as putting a great deal of effort into making correct sentences to get a point.

05 – After they finished playing, I asked what was the most difficult and the easiest verb to come up with a sentence for and why. They explained and then I asked why they had chosen those verbs. What really caught my attention here was the fact they had different reasons for choosing some specific verbs and that had given them a purpose for learning / memorizing them.

In the following week, I asked if they remembered the verbs they used in the previous lesson and all of them were capable of saying not only the verbs but also their past forms. I now felt that my students were much more confident about using “their verbs” in the past.


That’s it. I really hope this post gave you some ideas on how to use memory games. 


If you had the chance to read my previous post, Her Morning Elegance, you’ve already realized how much I enjoy working with songs in my classes. A new semester started two weeks ago over here and I was trying to find an interesting song for my students, but this time, I thought, I wanted to do something different from those conventional “fill-in-the-blanks” or “circle the correct word as you hear” types of exercise.

As I’m always downloading music for many different reasons, I came across a song by Katy Perry which was released last week. Although I’m not a fan of hers, “Roar” had a peculiar “lyric video” and then I thought this could give me the chance to do what I had been willing to do, something different.

If you check this link, you’ll see that the song used “emoticons” to make believe that people were having a conversation via whatsapp (a very popular app for iPhones and Androis). As my students are always using their mobile phones in class, I decided to maintain these symbols as part of the activity as I believed it would generate a lot of eagerness to participate. Luckily, I was right. Why?

01 – They didn’t know it was a song. Their first reaction was to say: “Wow. Is it a whatsapp conversation, teacher?” and I just nodded my head and asked them to decipher the messages, which they did willingly. After they had finished, I played the song and their new reaction was “Oh my God. Is it a song?”. This happened because Roar had just been released and very few students knew about it.

02 – It used real-life communication (emoticons) and I allowed them to use their mobile phones to check what the symbols were. As I have many students and I had to photocopy the activity, its quality wasn’t very good and some symbols were difficult to read. It was really interesting to see everybody trying to find a meaning for each emoticon and using their mobile phones for the ones which were a bit confusing.

03 – After my students had finished listening to the song to check if their answers were correct or not, I played the video again and they saw the same symbols in the video. It was amazing to see how much fun they had trying to sing along. Being a visual learner, I must confess, helped me memorize the lyrics as I can clearly see the symbols moving in front of me whenever I listen to this song.

04 – As a wrap up, I asked them to use their mobile phones to send each other messages using emoticons. As some groups have been mine for a while, we already have groups in which all the students are participants. As a result, we started having really long conversations and sentences through symbols and we had a blast.

Here’s what I did.

01. Give students a copy of the activity (in my groups, each pair had a copy).
02. Tell them to decipher the messages. As some symbols are difficult to be read, encourage students to use their mobile phones to see what each icon represents. If they don’t have iPhones, Androids or whatsapp, ask them to work with someone who has.
03. Ask them if there were any symbols they couldn’t understand or were in doubt about (optional).
04. Play the song (no video) and ask them to correct their answers (I had to play the song twice as it’s really fast and there are many blanks to be completed).
05. Show the video.

That’s it. I really hope you and your students like this activity. I’d be more than happy to receive some feedback about the activity, the way you do it in class or how your students responded to it. 


I feel like driving one of those very expensive convertible cars, wearing sunglasses and listening to it [this song] at a nearly deafening volume. I forget my surroundings for a second and I focus on the beat, which makes me close my eyes and mentally go elsewhere” is my answer to an exercise Chad Fishwick proposes on his blogs when talking about songs in the classroom. In order to collect song activities from on-line users and turn them into a downloadable book, Chad asks teachers to open a word document and write a paragraph explaining why a certain song is good or meaningful to them. 

Much has already been said concerning the use of songs in the classroom and its advantages. I’ve had the chance to attend some workshops which dealt with this, let’s say, tool from more theoretical to more practical aspects. However, some other people believe that songs can be listened to at home and they waste precious class time, which I absolutely disagree with. But in a very short explanation, why should we make use of songs?

According to Harmer songs are a powerful stimulus for students’ engagement precisely because it speaks directly to our emotions while still allowing us to use our brains to analyse it and its effects if we so wish. A piece of music can change the atmosphere in a classroom or prepare students for a new activity. It can amuse and entertain, and it can make a satisfactory connection between the world of leisure and the world of learning in the classroom (2002:319). Besides, I’d personally add, based on my own experience as a teacher, that shy students tend to respond better and take a more active role in class when they have a song as a stimulus.

What songs do I use?
That seems to be the “big” question, doesn’t it? Especially if you don’t have the habit of listening to the radio or watching music channels such as MTV. Nevertheless, I do two things which help me a lot when I want to use songs in my classes.

01 – I constantly visit Billboard (a music award website) to see what’s “hot” at the moment. I select a few options and then I listen to them on YouTube to ensure the lyrics are understandable. I also pay attention to the language and its appropriacy (although I don’t think it’s a big deal, I do avoid bad words). Having gone through these stages, I start analyzing the song as a whole, in a more thorough way, to see what can be worked on.


02 – In some groups I ask students to collaborate and, as a matter of fact, this has proved to be the most efficient way. Every week or fortnight a different student is encouraged to bring in the name of two songs they would like to listen to and work on in class (of course I ask them to be reasonable). I listen to both options at home, choose one and then I prepare an activity. They do feel empowered when they get to choose the songs they want to listen to and it makes the whole thing more meaningful to them.

A song activity I’ve prepared
Despite the number of different activities we can do when dealing with songs (reading or listening comprehension, listen and discuss, song jumble, sing along, compose, match pictures, action movements, dictations, picture dictation, etc), I still prefer the fill-in-the-gap one in which students listen to a certain song and complete the lyrics with the missing words. Here’s an activity I’ve prepared for an upper-intermediate group I had in order to start the topic of sleep.

01 – I wrote “Her Morning Elegance” on the board and I got my students to ask me questions to find out what it was (this is something I do a lot in my groups, so they know what questions they should ask). They kept on asking me ‘is it a book?’, ‘is it a film?’, etc. until they found out it was a video-clip.

02 – Before watching the video-clip, in pairs and on a piece of paper, students made a list of fifteen things they thought they would see in the clip (here’s more or less what they got: coffee, bed, sun, sunlight, car, traffic, woman, girl, pyjamas, breakfast, etc).

03 – Students watched the video-clip and ticked the “things” they had written as they saw them on the clip (here I checked who the winners were and I played a lit bit with them).


04 – Students were given the lyrics of the song. It’s important to mention that I designed this activity in a way that students would have to work in pairs in the end to find out if their answers were correct. I had a worksheet for students A which was a little bit different from the one students B had (and here I could say how important I think information-gap is, but I’d rather not to as my post is already too long).


05 – Students listened to the song and, individually, filled in the blanks.


06 – They checked in pairs and I played the song again for them to get the words they hadn’t got the first time.

07 – After going through these stages, I told them that they would check their answers in pairs and they were paired up with students from the other group. For instance, Rebeca was A, so she would have to work with John, B, to check if her answers were correct.

08 – In pairs, students worked sitting back to back. They were not allowed to see each other’s sheet, but only speak. If they didn’t understand something, they had to ask for clarification and if they didn’t understand a word their colleague said, they would have to ask them to spell it.

09 – We had some discussion about the song, vocabulary and finally about sleep, then students opened their books and we worked on lexis related to the topic.


Participating…
01 – Do you know any nice or maybe different activity to work with songs?
02 – Is there anything you would change in the activity above?
03 – Any general comments?

HARMER, J. 2002. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Longman.



Many were the times which I considered having a blog to talk about methodology and share ideas at the same time. As soon as this thought crossed my mind, very honestly speaking, I automatically came up with tons of reasons not to. Besides, I thought, who would read my blog when they could be reading someone else’s posts about highly practical ideas to be used in the classroom, thought-provoking articles, action researches or a cheesy book just for the sake of killing time? Who?

Well, here I am and I have to thank the ICELT course I’ve been taking and which I’m about to finish (successfully, I hope). As an incredible feeling of emptiness is bound to take me over as soon as our last session is delivered, I decided to keep on studying and trying out new (or not so new) things because now I have an even greater hunger for knowledge. This hunger thing posed me a question: when it comes to professional development in ESL, who are better teachers than teachers themselves?

Ok. The first step’s already been taken and a blog created, but now what should I talk about? The debut of my blog should make me feel as if a mission’s been accomplished, right? However, what am I going to do to get to that point? Wasn’t writing about my teaching practice supposed to be easy? Well, it may be, but how innovative are my posts going to be? (… and here I should stop over-thinking before I quit).

Anyway, my first post will be called “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish” which is a sentence Steve Jobs used in an inspirational speech he gave for Stanford students in their graduation party. ‘It is genius’, I thought to myself while I was in class as a student, struggling to prepare myself to take the CPE (a Cambridge exam). When talking about achievements, an amazing teacher I had decided to make use of this video to prove a point. It goes without saying that some of my classmates actually cried and I was perplexed, astounded or any other adjective you may attempt to use to describe someone when words fail to come out of their mouths. That’s how I felt. That’s how I feel when I think of the meaning of this sentence and that’s exactly why it’s just become my 9th tattoo.

The meaning of the sentence and its why
After trying to compare what my idea for this sentence was to what other people thought, I came across a very good definition in one of these forums which are meant to talk about English and its translations, so here we go. Stay Hungry: Stay eager. Stay Foolish: Be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it what every person should do irrespective of their career, ambitions or aims for life?

Well, this whole hungry and foolish thing made me think of class observation. Quite a puzzling connection, isn’t it? Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about myself when I was observed for the very first time. I have the best director of studies ever, someone who encourages teachers to grow as professionals, to think for themselves and to find their ways. She came to observe me because it was my very first semester and both of us wanted to ensure I was doing things in accordance with the method the institution I work for had adopted. I was nervous. I couldn’t sleep and I went through all the stages of the lesson over and over again instead of sleeping the night before. ‘What if student A asks me this?’, I wondered and this thought filled me with dread as I have a tendency to panic every time too many “what ifs” come up. The day came and I was really scared at the beginning of the class as I thought I would be somehow judged or penalized if I did the wrong thing, but what’s the wrong thing exactly?

As time went by and I saw my students fully engaged in the lesson, I decided to let my class flow naturally without having to worry too much about what would come next. Despite the fact I was really nervous for having my boss observing me, I was also very careful for students not to think they had a robot in front of them, repeating words, giving instructions and asking them to do exercises. As Scrivener points out, I was trying to teach the learners, not the plan (2005: 109). I seized the moment and I actually had a lot of fun.

Class delivered. Aims achieved. Thoughts given to how the class had gone and now it was time for my feedback session with my boss. I started off by mentioning all the things I thought had gone “wrong” and why I thought so. I underestimated myself very much. It was only when my “trainer-boss-director of studies” started to speak that I realized my class had had various positive aspects as well. Needless to say that there were many things which could be readjusted, enhanced or changed, but there were also many other things which were great and which really effective. From that moment on I decided to pay closer attention to my weaknesses and like this my passion for class observation was born along with yet another new question: why are teachers so afraid of being observed?

Class Observation
After that day, class observation started playing a very important role in my not-so-long career as a teacher. My boss, to whom I owe basically everything I know nowadays, always gave me books to read and questions to reflect upon. Besides, I’ve always had other marvelous trainers around who were very supportive and caring. I actually invited them to come to observe my classes as well (some great ones, some crappy ones) and I was at ease with observations in no time.

According to Richards, one of the reasons why teachers are reluctant to take part in observation is due to the fact that it’s usually associated with evaluation (1996: 12). However, once we open our hearts and allow someone to come and share our classrooms with us, fruitful experiences are likely to emerge. If we don’t feel confident enough to have our coordinator observing us, we should invite one of our peers to come and share whatever that is that we feel like sharing. It may be something we believe we do really well, something we do but we are unsure about or it may be just for the sake of asking for ideas to work with a specific group, skill or student. As Ur states, informal discussions with a colleague with whom you feel at ease can contribute a lot to your own development, as well as boosting morale. (1996: 318). No matter how reflective a teacher may be, he or she will just overlook some things as there’s a hell of a lot going on at the same time within a class. Being able to analyze and understand what you do and how you do things is superb, but sometimes we do need the extra help from someone who was not so involved in the class.

To sum up, this exchange of information and knowledge is of paramount importance for teachers for professional development to take place. In my personal experience class observation has been one of the greatest and most enriching tools I’ve ever used to become better. Although our teaching practice evolves as time goes by, we should never settle as teaching is always changing and we should be able to keep up with its rhythm. In other words, we should stay hungry, stay foolish.

Watch here Steve Job's Speech.


SCRINEVER, J. 2005. Learning Teaching. Macmillan Publishers Limited.
UR, P. 1996. A course in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press. 
RICHARDS, JACK and LOCKHART, C. 1996. Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms. Cambridge University Press.