A site to share and exchange ideas about English – teaching or enjoying it.

Archive for March, 2011

What’s happening? 83, 102, -56, 67, 140!

Good question.

What’s happening?……………………………………………………………………………..140
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Possible answers: Technological revolution. Digital Immersion. Mass communication. Worldwide connection. Boundaries destruction. Instant learning. Word spreading. Multimidia exposure. … Global sharing!

I’m a baby at Twitter – my first tweet hatched about 8 months ago, when, freshly come out of ABCI Rio 2010, I knew I had to join it. Pretty naïve, I thought I’d just become a member to see how it worked, but this virtual tool hit the world like a tsunami and as such had an immense impact on those on its way. I was one of them.

My baptism at Twitter happened in a learning environment. I was at a congress, and everywhere my eyes went I saw fingers swiftly dancing over the keys of laptops, blackberries, iPhones or iTouchs or whatever gave you connectivity in an urge to share what was happening with the world outside that plenary room. Geeky! … Impressive! Mark Prensky classifies me as a ‘digital immigrant’, which I proudly admit to being, which explains why technology still stupefies me at times. I’m stubborn, so I’m learning. Like a good immigrant, I’m seeking advice, following examples, finding my way, stumbling here and there, building my identity at Twitter. Making connections. Learning at light speed, a zillion topics still undiscovered. Words like hashtag, retweet, DM, follow, unfollow are Twitter lingo I’ve acquired and feel pretty confident with. There’s still loads to sink in, so off I go.

Next question: ‘What for?’

I wobble away at first, not knowing exactly how to answer the head question. “Will people be really interested in what I am doing???” For fear of sounding silly, I am a spectator for a good length of time. Finally, I realize I don’t want to spend my 140 characters on social networking all by itself. Thirsty for knowledge of any kind, I decide to steer my Twitter account towards professional development. My PLN – Professional Learning Network. Now, there’s a breakthrough: I’d never have believed it a year ago one could gain so much from following other people. Well, not ‘other people’, but selected people and institutions, writers, lecturers, teachers from here, there, everywhere, company colleagues, people I’ve never seen but feel close to just because I like what they write about. People and institutions I freely decided to follow. They speak my language and connect with my aspirations, taking me from my comfy armchair in Brazil to a university in Japan or a primary school in the US, all within 140 characters.

A life in two lines. Maybe less.

After a couple of months of serious tweeting, I’ve thrown the towel and started advocating in favour of this marvelous tool which can take you to new paths of thinking – broader thinking, I mean. If you aren’t convinced yet, take these reasons to start tweeting:

– To broaden your thinking
– To get informed in any area you want
– To be constantly updated
– To get connected
– To become more tolerant
– To understand others
– To grow as a person
– To grow professionally
– To make friends (you may never see them, but they’ll be your friends anyway)
– To find old friends
– To learn things one line at a time
– To learn another language little by little (140 characters!)
– To learn to abbreviate (again, 140 characters!)
– To exchange ideas
– To change your ideas
– Ultimately, to learn, to grow, to share.

Five years. That’s how old Twitter turned on March 21st. For an infant, it’s a giant, like many other digital tools. Happy anniversary, Twitter. Keep growing. I’ll tag along.

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Is there room for jokes in the classroom?

Is there room for jokes in the classroom?

I answer this question with yet another one: “Why not?”

There’s always room for a good laugh, and if you can use humour to foster learning, well, what are you waiting for? I’ve used jokes in the classroom in a number of ways, with different objectives. Students responded positively all the times, because telling them or exposing them to jokes in the language they’re learning gives them a good dose of sense of achievement (besides a good laugh), thus encouraging them to move on with their studies. Students will feel motivated because they were able to understand a joke, and more often than not will pass it on either in English or try to translate it to their mother tongue.

Here are a few ideas to use jokes in the classroom:

1 – Select a few short jokes and print them in a large font. Cut them in sections (separate the lines), being careful to clip the parts of each joke together, but out of order. Give each group of students (ABC, ABC, ABC) one joke, which they have to put in order. After they’ve done it, have them read it , memorise it and practise telling it (check intonation, rhythm, pronunciation, etc). Now, arrange students in new groups (AAA, BBB, CCC), and each student will share his joke with the new group.

2 – Show students a short joke. In pairs or groups, have students modify the joke, changing main character, setting, etc. After everyone has finished (set a time limit!), students tell their new joke to the class and all students vote for the best one!

3 – Have students translate a famous/common joke from their mother tongue into English. Parrot jokes always do well here, but select one which will make sense in English and uses tricky verb tenses or adjective order, for example. This will make them think about grammar and rules and translating itself.

4 – This one is good for kids. If you’re teaching animals, select a few jokes about that. Tell them to students and divide them in groups. As a project, they pick one joke and film themselves telling it. This will involve rehearsing, hence, pronunciation practice, rhythm, intonation, acting out. On a chosen date, show all films (previously checked/edited) to class – they’ll have a ball watching themselves!

5 – Show students someone else telling a joke (on video or a recording). Carefully select one they will understand, and if necessary, teach vocabulary/expressions they’ll need before watching, to make sure the laugh comes. Afterwards, have a discussion on what makes it funny and why (or IF), how the comedian tells it in order to make it sound funny. This could be the lead in to a new unit in a book, or the topic of a conversation class: “What makes you laugh?”

Hope you have a good time!

The TTT dilemma – “to talk or not to talk?”



“Yes, I agree, and there was a time when I…” Shut up!

“Really?  Me too. Let me tell you what happened…” Sush! Don’t say another word!

“Sure I can tell you. Once I… “ Zip it!

Teachers talk. Isn’t talking part of their job?

Sure! Nevertheless, modern teachers face a Shakesperean dilemma: “To talk or not to talk?” and engage in mental debates with themselves during classes as for whether to talk or not and often end up breaking a sentence in the middle because they remembered they should keep their teacher talking time to a minimum.

Teachers sometimes talk too much, I admit, but if you’re in a classroom to learn and the person at the front knows more than you, a natural way to gather knowledge is they talk, you listen. However, when it comes to learning another language, ‘teacher talking’ per se may not be the safest bet.

Much has been said about TTT (teacher talking time) and STT (student talking time). I myself have been to innumerous lectures and seminars and workshops where this was a very hot topic and subject to controversial strong opinions.  

I believe TTT is needed and acceptable to a certain extent. Here are a few arguments:

  • Students need a model – you are their teacher and a reliable source, so YOU model THEY repeat and learn;
  • You have to explain what you’re teaching;
  • You have to interact with students, they’re not robots;
  • TTT is used when you correct exercises or students’ production;
  • Negotiations with students have to be talked through (discipline issues, classroom rules, etc.);
  • Instructions must be given, for learning purposes and others…

The list can go on, but I see the above as the main reasons, and even these can be minimised if you aim at increasing STT and carefully plan your lesson, as you will see below.

 TTT is NOT necessary or can be substituted by other means, OR, most importantly, you can transform it in STT! A few suggestions:

  • When giving instructions, you may use flashcards with simple instructions written on them instead of talking – when you finish ask them to report the instructions back to you to check understanding. Gestures are also a good alternative for groups, and after a few times students will know what you mean without a word coming out of your mouth. Another idea is make students guess the instructions after you give them a hint – STT increased here!
  • During homework checking, you may ask a good student to ‘play teacher’ and conduct the correction, you can ask students to compare their work in pairs before you check doubts, or you may invite students to check their answers on a written ‘answer sheet’ you write/project on the board. Again, you’ll only have to deal with doubts, thus reducing TTT and forcing students to ask questions, increasing STT and students’ autonomy;
  • Modelling – if you have a computer in your classroom, there are dictionaries online you can resort to for pronunciation models;
  • Error Correction – at the end a conversation activity, for example, you can write a list of ‘most common mistakes’ (which you’re noted down while the activity was happening) on the board and ask students themselves to correct them, in pairs, with your intervention here and there – STT going up again;
  • Explaining grammar topics – why not let students find out for themselves what it is you’re teaching?  You can ask them lead-in questions and conduct their ‘discovery’, hence making the learning more enjoyable and meaningful, using less TTT;
  • Repeating explanations/instructions – if a student asks you to repeat something, you can ask one or more people from the class to do it for you.

The list above comprises only a few ideas of how STT can be increased – if your aim is developing speaking skills. I strongly believe in the power of TTT, if used appropriately and in a good balance with STT, which should be the teacher’s focus. After all, pupils are there to learn the language.

I’m very aware of the attraction for the limelight we teachers feel in our stage when eager students look at us. Yet, a good professional should know when to yield the floor and let the audience take over. This moment is crucial, because although you may remain in the shadows, what will shine is the result of your coaching. So, let your students take the microphone and sing!

Hey, everyone, let’s play!

I hear the loud toll of the Cathedral bells. This means it’s six o’clock and we should run the final checklist for some last minute adjustments before the party begins. Is the Reception area free? Check! Are the secretaries ready to welcome students? Check! Classrooms properly arranged? Check! Are computers working? (…) I asked “Are computers working?” Where’s the Check?? Oh, no!

Well, this is it: the adrenalin of working with technology. You never, but NEVER know if it’s really going to work when you most need it. We’d had some changes done in the computers a few days before Friday, and although all the activities had been tested to exhaustion, nobody could see this coming. Five minutes to go – the hall is packed with kids jumping up and down. I dare to take a peek and they immediately spot me: ‘Can we go up? Is it going to start now? Is it time?’ I dodge the questions deftly with a smile here, a nudge there and the usual ‘in a minute!’ All appearances! I’m shaking inside, for fear everything we planned go down the drain.

“Hey, everyone! Let’s play.” One, two, three, four groups of smiling kids march up the wooden stairs towards the classrooms where fun awaits. A 10-minute delay is not too much after all and man wins over technology in the end – thank God! The activities we chose mix technology and good classroom management.

  • Room 1: Spot the differences – have you heard of http://www.differencegames.com ? They offer spot-the-difference games and a wide variety of other fun activities online, for free. We play them in teams, in pairs, whole group helping, you name it. Kids love it. While you play, you teach: if the ‘difference’ is a hat, teach “hat”. And off you go.
  • Room 2: Fetch the right object –two lines of students (2 teams) face the teacher. The first student from each line draws a piece of paper from a bag with the name of an object on it, which the teacher also shows to everyone. He must tell the student behind him what it is, he then tells the next and the next until the last student runs to the other end of the classroom and rummages through a box full of everything till he finds the object he’s looking for. He hurries to the teacher, handles him the object and ta-da! Point for the Blue Team! You may choose the objects you like – in our case, the theme was Back to School, so we picked classroom-related objects, such as pencil, eraser, ruler, the likes. The catch in this activity is make the box in which they have to search for the objects a mysterious one, letting most of its contents out of sight and making students put their entire arm inside it to grope for, say, a mouse pad amid plastic bags, sticky objects and other distractions.
  • Room 3: a variation of the good old Hot Potato – students standing in a circle are given numbers at random at different positions in the circle. Student number 1 receives an object which he must throw to (not at, mind you) student 2, then to 3, and so on, in order, up to the last one, who then in turn hands it back to the teacher. No big deal, right? Well then, the element of fun comes when you add unorthodox objects to this throwing – start with a ball, then when the ball is at student 3, give student 1 another object, such as a very small ball, then a very big one, a teddy bear, an enormous cushion, a roll of toilet paper, whatever you choose, as long as it’s harmless and soft. Students will have the time of their lives trying to catch objects of different sizes and shapes so as to make them go the full length of the circle. You teach them teamwork and names of different objects, besides action verbs such as catch and throw.
  • Room 4: Memory Game – the BBC is an interminable source of ideas and learning games, in their Cbeebies Games – visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/games and see for yourself. You can find activities for all kinds of learners, even those with special needs. We picked one which displays a coloured piano keyboard. Each time one key is pressed the correspondent colour is said out loud. Students are supposed to memorise the sequence in which they’re played and reproduce it. A new note/key/colour is added at every new round and children go bonkers, helping each other play the right sequence, repeating the colours aloud!

Considering each activity takes about 20 minutes, by the end of 1:20h you’ll have entertained a good sized group of kids aged 6 to 12 years old (64 in our case), who thought they were just having fun while playing games, but they learned/practiced/used their attention span and learned vocabulary in room 1; more vocabulary and motor coordination in Rooms 2 and 3; exercised colours, sounds, sequencing and concentration in Room 4. More importantly, we give them a sense of belonging to the school with activities like that, since they’re allowed to bring a friend who does not study English at the Cultura. They proudly show their friends who their teacher is, where they study, where they play games while waiting for their class, and many friends even get introduced to the secretaries. This student considers the school his territory, and by doing so takes control of the situation when they say ‘Here is where I learn English’.

After all four groups have spent some time in each of the 4 rooms, it’s time to call it a day and I start dismissing the sweaty-faced kids, giving them a farewell gift at the bottom of the stairs. As I handle them back to their parents saying “Thanks for coming. Did you have fun? “ I get a unanimous question in return: “When will we have another Cultura is Fun?” …  Need I say more?

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