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

At IATEFL Brighton 2011

I’m back from my thirty-day-blog-leave, IATEFL-packed with ideas and news.
First of all, let me share the thrill – it was a ground-breaking experience to take part in such an event. As a Roving Reporter for the British Council, my role in the conference was in a way to ‘bridge the gap’ between some of the speakers (for there were too many of them to try and report on a lot) and teachers around the world who could not physically go to IATEFL Brighton 2011 but read/watch it online. I felt really important! A celebrity, to some extent. Of course, I was the only one feeling that. But it felt good, and I tried to live up to people’s expectations going to as many sessions as possible and reporting fairly on that.
Before travelling, my head was a helter-skelter. Family, work, kids, tickets, bags, dogs! Everything needed to be seen to so I could travel relatively free from worry. All things solved, after a 12-hour flight over the Atlantic, London it is! The last time I’d been to London was some ten years ago, I guess, and one of the things I missed most was Digestive biscuits. So, as you may well imagine, my first action when free from Immigration Control and Baggage Claim was find a shop and bite away a few Digestives right there. Total bliss! After that, a stroll in Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon was an irresistible idea. Lovely cherry blossoms, green grass and playful kids crowded the park to celebrate the arrival of spring. Welcome to London!
Four days later, I’m towing my heavy suitcase to Paddington to board the 10:15h train to Brighton. The weather has been on and off, totally confusing the mind of the tourist – should I wear short or long sleeves? Take a coat? Wrap a scarf around my neck? All or none of the above? … Brighton was literally under the weather on Thursday. Heavy gray skies and an equally misty gray sea looked uninviting and cranky. I don’t care. I’m a Roving Reporter, and this is the place I’m supposed to be: The Brighton Centre. At four o’clock there’s a solemn meeting for the whole Brighton Online team and I feel as significant as a pea in a banquet sitting beside all those important people I’d seen online doing a marvelous job in previous years. My mouth was kept shut and it all went well. Butterflies roamed free in my stomach.
The big day comes – Friday, 15th April. The reception area is a cacophony of voices and languages – I was later informed there were over 100 nationalities and around 2.200 delegates. Wow! People queued up to collect badges, ask for information and get their conference program, which turned out to be a volume in itself, absolutely complete with biodata of presenters, session abstracts and maps of the venue.
Auditorium 2, plenary, first day. There was this austere sensation of formality, of academicism, of culture. I was on cloud nine sitting there right on the second row, ready to pen down as much as I could to later transform into a post for the IATEFL blog. From that moment on, session after session, I realized how big a deal EFL is around the world, and it also soothed me to see that what worries me in a classroom in Brazil may be the same source of discomfort for a teacher in India. Small world, connected by the English language. The topics of discussion unfolded: pragmatics, literalism, translation, grammar, lesson observation, music in the classroom, reading, dogme, technology in the classroom, pronunciation, memorization, the list went on endlessly and one just kept learning.
What changed in my life after my first IATEFL was that I understood the scope of the job we, teachers of English, do in the world. Yes, in the world, because the teaching that is done in Iceland may be repeated in Nepal and adapted by someone in Rio. We influence and inspire people to learn. We may encourage or discourage them. They either love English or don’t care about it, according to the sparkle in the teacher’s eyes. As simple as that, and before this conference it actually hadn’t dawned on me that we are so much the same regardless of the whereabouts of the classroom. Despite the distance, we are all headed in the same direction, leading and inspiring students to learn a language which opens doors to the whole world, puts down all barriers of communication and unites peoples of different races, colours, religions and opinions, but intent on achieving this one goal: communication.
It was beautiful. The best part was to find out the twenty five years of my life I’ve put into teaching were no waste. The competent, passionate people I saw and met in Brighton in a way renewed my vows in teaching and made me believe more in a better future, with people communicating better despite their backgrounds, and even more people wanting to communicate.
I went, I saw, I reported and now I reflect. Life always holds a good surprise for those who have their eyes open and their hearts ready – to learn and share. I’m sharing here and ready to learn more each day.

Visit http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2011/ for surprises galore!

LET THE MUSIC PLAY!

A song that makes you remember a special moment. The song you chose to be the soundtrack of your graduation ceremony. Your favourite band’s latest album. The song you heard on the radio in the morning and that keeps repeating itself annoyingly in your head until night. Songs are everywhere, for all tastes, all ages, all times, and all purposes.

After earphones, ‘singing’ became easier, since ‘listening’ and ‘understanding’ turned out to be realistically doable owing to the high quality of the plugs. Without the interference of the outside world, the melody of songs was more pleasant to the ears and the same happened to lyrics. One is able to distinguish subtle nuances in pronunciation, rhythm and even accent. The words of practically every song can be found on the Internet, thus singing became way easier and accessible. People like singing, and when it comes to EFL students, the use of songs in the classroom may give your students that positive vibe you seek or that sensation of progress students need to feel to keep moving forward.

If songs are that good, use them in your classroom for learning purposes! I’ll describe a few activities – or uses – for songs that I’ve done myself, yielding very positive results with students.

Before I start, let me remind you to always find a song that has some sort of connection with your students. Your top ten songs may be the ones they hate the most…

You can use songs…
– To introduce a topic
– To illustrate a topic
– To teach vocabulary or structure
– To teach pronunciation
– To practice rhythm
– To revise grammar
– To calm students down
– To rev up students
– As background music for another activity
– To set the time limit for an activity (when the music ends, so does your time!)
– To tell a story
– …You name it…

Now, a few activities:

#1 – PUT THE LYRICS IN ORDER

Type the words of a song in big letters and cut them in paragraphs. Scatter them on the floor, make students stand and read the random paragraphs. Give them 2 minutes to talk in pairs and discuss a possible order for the paragraphs, based on some reason. You play the song, and pairs try and find the correct order. You play a second time, and this time, as the song plays, one pair at time, students pick up the correct paragraph from the floor and place it on the board, or a table, till the end of the song and all the words are laid out. In case you notice there’s a mistake, ask them to fix it. If there isn’t, ask them to explain why they did it that way. Finish off by handing students a copy of the lyrics and play the song a third time, this time with everyone singing.
This activity works well for WRITING AWARENESS – students join paragraphs based on a flow of ideas, conjunctions, dependent prepositions, sentence structure.

#2 – CHANGE THE LYRICS

Pick a song students know and like, and that contains in the lyrics words or expressions you want to revise. Rewrite the song substituting a few of these key words for words that rhyme with the original ones but totally change the meaning of the song. Students love it if you include absurd or funny words or rhymes. Working in pairs, students read the handout you give them with the altered words and try and find the ‘mistakes’. After a short time (keep iit short!), play the song – twice at most – and let students correct the lyrics.
After you finish and have the right lyrics, point out the word you are revising and do your job with them. To finish, have everyone sing together.

#3 – LISTEN AND DO SOMETHING

This is one of my favourites. I use it for listening purposes, to sensitise students to pronunciation or recognition of words or sounds. Active children groups like it best.
Choose a simple song adequate to the level you’re teaching and select some 6 – 8 items (words, expressions, sounds) you want to focus on and write them on the board. Tell students they’ll have to do something when they HEAR the item in the song. For example, if your words are fruit: Maria, you stand up when you hear ‘apple’; Fernando, you clap your hands when you hear ‘orange’; Jane, you jump when you hear ‘grapes’, and so on. Rehearse once or twice with 2 or 3 items. Play the song and let students have fun. As you hear the item you picked, prompt students with facial expressions and encouraging gestures. You’ll all have a good time and practise!

Let the music play in your classroom – classes will be lighter and students will feel more enthusiastic about the new language. After all, they can sing their fave songs in the original lyrics and will probably show off to friends and family. A song can even become a project for a certain group and parents can be invited to a presentation at the end of the term. Total success!

Good question.

What’s happening?……………………………………………………………………………..140
______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________

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.

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!



“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!

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?

Pecha Kucha… Come again?

Have you heard of Pecha Kucha ? No, it’s not another Japanese delicacy or a new fashion trend. In Brazil, due to the success of hair-straightening techniques, one might even think it’s the latest concotion for slick hair. Sorry, none of the above is right.

 

Pecha Kucha (chit chat in Japanese) is a presentation methodology in which presenters explain their ideas supported by 20 PowerPoint slides, each shown for 20 seconds. In total, each daring speaker has 6 minutes 40 seconds to send his message to the public. Topics may range from personal collections or a professional project to the latest tendencies in design, someone’s travels or whatever pleases the speaker – the fun in the event is that there’s a wide variety of topics (usually from 8 to 14 a night) and presenters substitute one another on stage at a very fast pace. The audience can be seen holding their breath at times, such is the light-hearted tension in the air.

Although it was originally devised in Tokyo in 2003 as a way to let designers talk about their work, the idea spread like wildfire and nowadays Pecha Kucha Nights can be found in diverse cities all over the world. In our teaching/learning field, it’s becoming a regular feature of Seminars and EFL encounters.

My introduction to this peculiar presentation format was in ABCI Rio 2010, where I marvelled at the courage of those wonderful teachers who, before an audience of over 300 colleagues, put themselves to the test of being awarded a round of enthusiastic applause – or not. Watching a live performance has no comparison to the recorded videos we can find on the Internet. When you watch the speaker take the stage you can almost feel their hearbeat, you see them open their eyes wide in surprise as each new slide pops on the screen unexpectedly – “Oops, I still had something to say, but forget it, let’s move on”. They then rush through the next one and find out they had 3, 4, 5 seconds to spare at the end– seconds they’d never imagined could feel like hours when you have one hundred or so pairs of eyes glued on your face. And once again the audience holds their breath – what will the next slide be like?

Sunday, 17th April – Pecha Kucha Night at IATEFL 2011 – I won’t miss it for the world!

Find out more about Pecha Kucha at http://www.pecha-kucha.org

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