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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Happy World Teacher's Day

I don't remember when it was that I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I remember the teacher who made me want to become an English language teacher, though. I remember the teachers who, somehow, shaped me into the teacher I am today. Charlie and Mr Pywell were undoubtebly the most important in my life. Charlie made me passionate about owls and Mr Pywell always wore such beautiful ties... Unless you've ever heard him speak, you won't understand why the ties were important in his teaching, but I'm not going to talk about that. It's been 20 years now. Charlie more than that. "Oh captain, my captain" and Mona Lisa also played their part and I mustn't forget about all those Dangerous Minds that I so often meet every day now.

Why have I become a teacher? I have no idea. I just know that teaching is more in me than anything else. It runs in my veins. It comes so natural that I wouldn't know how to do anything else. And that's scary. To know that something is so powerful in my life, that I wouldn't know how not to be it.

It makes me what I am. And I am what I am: an imperfect being in search of answers, whose questions I'm still trying to ask.


Friday, 3 October 2014

The "Unteachable" - part 2

A while ago I wrote a post about difficult students. I have to confess that when I did so, I had one particular class in mind. Almost 8 months have gone by and they are now one of my favourite classes. How did the change come about? Did a miracle happen? Did they all of a sudden become interested? Well, a few months in the lives of teenagers do mean a lot, and they have grown a lot too. What changed then? I'm not really sure, I don't have a magic key or a magic wand that makes it all right... I try again and again until it gets easier. They are used to the rules by now, they know how far they can push me and I know how to recognize the signs that they're getting restless. So I decided to change (again), too. I hardly ever have them sitting down in class. I make the lesson more student centred, I bring in lots of games and lots of stickers. Yes, stickers and chocolates work pretty well, you know? And before some of you start yelling and screaming about it, let me tell you the difference between a bribe and a reward and why rewards should be encouraged in learning. 

A reward is given after the task you've told them to do has been done. A bribe is something you give to them, in hopes they'll do what you want. End of story? They'll work to get what they want, they won't work to make you happy. (They might eventually, but that's a whole different story for a whole different post).

If you're a teacher you've most likely heard about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you haven't, it's time you do a little research, especially if you're working with challenging teens. The basics is that intrinsic motivation happens when the learner does something and his reward comes from the activity itself, just by doing it, it's fun. Like when you have children playing a game in class. The fact that it's a game is enough to make them interested in what you're about to do. Extrinsic motivation happens most frequently with adults and teenagers. They take an English course because they want to move abroad, or they've got their eyes on a promotion that requires them to be more fluent in English. 

I know a lot of  people don't believe in games for adults, and this comes from a cultural background where adults who play aren't seem as serious or professional, but that's also not true, is it? And here's another topic I'll need to write a post about soon :D! But moving back to my teens. I've noticed, over time, that teens need a mix of things. So, they need the game (intrinsic), but they also need the reward (extrinsic). I've also realized that they have to sit in their chairs for seven hours, and have teachers expecting them to be as fresh and well behaved at 2pm as they were at 9am. We all know it's not possible, we are all tired after a couple of hours aren't we? But recently I had to walk in their shoes, meaning I had to spend a whole week attending classes from 9am - 5.30pm, and I was exhausted and restless by the end of the day. Does this mean we have to turn a blind eye on bad behaviour? No, it just means we have to come up with strategies and activities that will keep them busy throughout the class. For example, lets say you have a worksheet on "places in a city" that you want to do. Could you cut the exercises from the photocopy, post them on the walls and have teams/pairs walking around the class to solve them? Maybe then you could get the students to check with other groups if they got the same answers. Can you see how lively an exercise becomes? I've started taking pictures of what goes on in my classes and I share them with my classes on Facebook. I have a closed group for each class. Later I can post the file containing all exercises. I'm saving on paper, too, of course... Kids like to watch themselves, and when I told them we were building a portfolio, they got really excited about it. It works pretty well with some classes, and not so well with others. However, I tried it with all, and the more challenging were actually the ones who enjoyed it most. I didn't just think "Oh no, this can't possibly work with this class." and moved on. You see, I don't believe in miracles, but I do have a lot of faith in people and on how often they can prove me wrong.

Teaching Material Review 2

And I've been surfing so many good sites lately that it's hard to choose which ones to talk about.


This is a great website for teachers trying to find different ways of presenting vocabulary. Here you'll find sets of flashcards which can be printed, worksheets, online exercises and more. A lot more, you can even build your own flashcards. Try different combinations: English word and its translation, English word and its picture, English word and definition, word and collocations, word building, etc. You can create your set, send the link to your students and then they can practice at home.

Tiny TEFL Teacher
Has lots of resources for both teachers and students, I particularly like the Powerpoint games that can be used in class, even if you don't have an internet connection.

For younger children but with lots f practice for younger students. Attractive layout.

Cambridge English
Resources for teachers, focusing on exam classes.

Tools for Educators
Again, you can chose one of the many topics you'd like to work with and there are lots of resources to be explored. I really like the Dice Makers and the Printable Board Games sections.

English for Taxi Drivers

I often teach groups of taxi drivers. Unfortunately, English is just one (a 15 hour one) subjects in the course they need to attend to get their license. I usually only have 15 hours with them, which is not enough. So here are a few things specifically for them. Hope it helps.

Taking a taxi - language presentation
Taxi Ride - listening exercise
Travelling by taxi - language presentation
Mobile App - this is NOT free, but looks very interesting, let me have some feedback on it, please
English for Taxi Drivers - in English as of page 6

If you're a teacher take a look at these suggestions.
Strategies for teaching English to Taxi drivers


Friday, 19 September 2014

Prepositions of Place & Movement - Games

And here are some games on prepositions that are fun and educational. Here you'll find pictures illustrating the prepositions. Leave a comment and share what it was like using these games, either by yourself or if you are a teacher, how it went when you used them in class.

Game 1
Game 2
Game 3 (but there are more links after you finish the first one)
Game 4 (for young learners)
Game 5 (you can play against a friend)

Prepositions of Place & Movement

Prepositions are an important part in any language and they are often confused. It's not that students don't know the importance of prepositions, it's just that often different prepositions translate into the same preposition in their own language.

Prepositions of Place and Movement are quite useful when you need to give directions or to indicate where something is. In, at and on are often confusing, at least for Portuguese students, and the fact that they are used both as place and time prepositions doesn't help. But I'll write more about these three some time soon.

In the meantime here are some images illustrating the use of place & movement prepositions. Then you'll find some exercises to help you. As usual, if you have any questions just leave a comment and I'll do my best to help.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Welcome to the dark side...

When I was a teenager there was hardly any talk at all about sex at home. Even though my mum had taught me the basics this meant that sex was something you only had after you got married. I remember friends telling me their parents reasons why (as girls) we should wait until we got married to "do" it. Here are some of my favourite:
1. because that's what the bible said 
2. you could get pregnant and decent girls didn't get pregnant without getting married 
3. boys would lose interest in you if you slept around, you'd be nothing but a used ragdoll for them to play with and you'd never find a guy who'd want to marry you
4. it would be shameful to your family 
5. you could get ill. 

Now number 5 was not the most publicized one, let me tell you. It seemed all the adults had set their minds on us not having sex, which was a dirty, awfull thing women had to subject themselves to. Sounds familiar?

I'm not going to talk about my particular experience with sex or how I felt/feel about the ideas described above - sorry to disapoint you. What I'm interested in is in telling you about what sex and drugs mean to your children, our teenagers today.

You see. I remember reading Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (Os Filhos da Droga) and thinking how was it possible that this girl did all those things? I was 13 at the time and like some people my age I soon found out drugs and sex weren't as out of this world as parents/adults had led us to believe. I think we'll all agree that there were different groups of teenagers and that some groups were more open-minded and willing to experiment than others. I met people and had great friends who acted like characters taken out of books such as the one I have just mentioned. When I was 16 and started a new school I felt like Dorothy, way, way away from Kansas... 

So like most people my age reading this, I thought I knew it all. No kid of mine was going to be smarter than me. I'd been to clubs too. I'd partied too. Maybe experimented with drugs... Guess what? "You know nothing John Snow." is what best describes what I, and most probably you, know about what it's like being a teenager these days. The drugs are different and easier to find. Sex is everywhere from films, to cartoons, to TV adds and let us not forget about our blessed internet with all the chatrooms and chat roulette and blogs and social nets like Facebook. If you're still wondering what chat roulette is, oh boy, you really need to learn a lot...

All this talk for what? To tell you you need to watch out for your kid? But you know that already, don't you? And I bet you're not one of those parents who believes all they do in their bedroom with their friends is study. Right? And that when they go online it's to watch music videos on youtube. Seriously? Have you taken a look at those videos? Listened to the lyrics? No, I mean, seriously listened and paid attention? I really do miss the time when music was supposed to convey something, when lyrics made sense and women were not displayed as meat at the butcher's... But that's another topic for another day. 

Welcome to the dark side... This is what I felt watching a book presentation by a couple of students some weeks ago. The girls had chosen to talk about two books by the same author. I confess I'd never heard about him - Francisco Salgueiro- but the topic caught my attention and soon the girls were leading me into  world of teens that I didn't know much about.  These two books are about 2 teenagers and their secret lives. They're both good kids from good families. They go to good schools and have the right friends. Their parents trust them because their grades are good and they've never been in trouble and they think their kids can't fool them because there's nothing they'll do their parents haven't done. Well, that's where they're dead wrong....

Here are the book trailers.

O Fim da Inocência 

O Fim da Inocência II