What Comes Out of Unsuspecting Students + Wandrous Board Challenge

 Last week Jason Renshaw (aka English Raven) wrote about his experience on teaching a lesson (unplugged)  starting with a blank white board and putting the marker on the students’ hands, without giving them any directions, without saying anything. He then proceeded to have some speaking practice (free conversation) drawing from what his students had written on the board. He also seized many opportunities for teaching that came out of the conversation. He then proposed a new challenge (having a hard time keeping up with so many great challenges these days!) for teachers to do the same and share what happened in their classes. If you’re not familiar with the challenge and would like to learn more about ir, read his post here.



So I went in, put some music on and waited a bit for them to come in. Once the first few students took their seats I picked a marker and gave it to one of the boys, pointing towards the board and indicating I wanted him to write something. When he asked what was he supposed to do/write, I shrugged and gestured (or at least tried to) that it was up to him. At this moment I feared it wouldn’t be as easy as I could have thought. Never having done this and being very used to being directed and controlled in their classes everywhere, they just froze, like animals looking at the headlights of the car which is about to run over them. Didn’t like the metaphor? Well, that’s how the first student looked like, standing in front of the board, marker in hand, looking at me, pleading for instructions. He just stood there. After a little incentive from me (mimicking) and the others (shouting ideas of what he should do) he finally drew the smiley face and the speech bubble that read: “I’m beautiful”. I motioned for him to hand the marker to another student and they went on until all 6 had written something. That took about 15 minutes total. I have to admit that after the first one the others were faster at deciding what to write. The first step is usually the hardest – knowing that, the choice of that student for the first up was not random. He’s a very bright, outspoken member of the group, always volunteering his opinion. I wonder what would’ve happened had I given the marker to one of the others… They’d probably have surprised me, as they always do. 🙂

What the board looked like.... Yes, I like markers in different colors!


This is what they wrote, in the order they did it (I’m writing it here because I don’t know whether it will be readable on the photo”:

1- Smiley face with speech bubble “I’m beautiful”

 2 – I’ve just woke up.

 3 – Sport is the best! PST

4 – And there’s no song that I could sing, and there’s no combination of words that I could say. But I’ll still tell you one thing. We are better together. J.J.

5 – Party all the time!

6 – I need music in my life – all the time!


The first three sentences were written by boys (and the other three obviously by the girls). At this time, with everyone back on their seats (they got excited halfway through the activity, got up, stood by the board while others were writing, etc), I asked them to change the positioning of the chairs a bit and sit in a circle so that we could have less of a “teaching moment” setting. And I went on drawing conversation from what they had written. For #1 Igot them talking about the importance of beauty in a person’s life, their personal opinion and how society in general saw beauty. Some things that were mentioned in the conversation that followed were first impressions we make of people, attractiveness and good looks on job interviews and self-esteem. At one point one of the girls asked how she would say “Quem ama o feio bonito lhe parece”, to which I replied the most adequate saying I thought for that would be “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. I then took that opportunity to elicit from them sayings they knew in English, how most times you don’t literally translate the saying, etc… We wrote some of those on the board, they said some, asked about others.




Too tired to study?? Or of studying?

When we moved on to #2, another girl asked if the sentence wasn’t incorrect, if it shouldn’t be “woken”. I told her she was right and asked her to explain why, which she did. Issues approached for that sentence were sleeping after lunch and the benefits from it (increase of study capacity), the ratio between numbers of hours slept X productivity, sleep being a waste of time – my personal feeling on the topic, to which a student promptly informed me that less sleep would make me die sooner, and another let me know that little sleep increases the probability of heart problems. I guess I’m doomed then! While talking about this students asked how you’d say “abusado”, how some of them felt if the nap was too short. I taught them “cranky” and elicited other sleep related vocabulary. Everyone contributed with something (siesta, nap, numb, etc), and as they said something I asked them to write the words on the board.

 #3 is related to soccer – Sport is a big local soccer team here, and I don’t think I have to explain how most Brazilians are crazy about soccer, very passionate really. The PST acronym stands for “Pelo Sport Tudo”, or “We give everything for Sport”. So we talked about sports and how some people take rooting for their teams to extremes. Sentences #4, 5 and 6 are all related to music: the first is a verse from a Jack Johnson song (Better Together), the second is a song by the Black Eye Peas (who had had a concert here in Recife the night before – 2 of the students had gone to it) and the last is a student’s feelings. We discussed the importance of music in their lives, studying and concentrating while listening to music, kinds of music for different types of tasks, etc. When we got to the last of it, we only had 10 minutes to go, so I collected their homework and assigned some homework for next class (an oral comment about the activity through vocaroo sent to my email).


My assessment of the activity? It went well, it made students motivated and eager to talk. They learned new things (mostly vocabulary) that they felt the need for (emergent learning?) and they learned from each other as well as from me. They had a good time and said they’d like to do it again – which we probably will. The other 2 classes/groups where it worked were similar stories, different topics. On the one that it didn’t go well, I believe the problem was that the students just didn’t buy it. I really enjoyed taking up the challenge, learned a lot from the experience. One consideration I’d like to make regarding it is that the effectiveness of it depends on students being willing to do it and also on the teacher’s ability of seeing beyond the literal meaning of words written and coming up with interesting issues from anything – a true exercise for a teacher’s creativity and knowing your students (and therefore what they’d be interested in talking about).  So, that’s the result of my first attempt at the IWB unplugged. Do you think it was worth it? I do. 🙂

Scaffolding, Maps and Possible Routes

This post is my response to the Dogme Blog Challenge #3 (“The Scaffolding”) proposed by Karenne Sylvester. You can read my previous Dogme Challenge posts here (for #1) or here (for #2). Here’s the quote for this week’s challenge:


“The teacher’s primary function, apart from promoting the kind of classroom dynamic conducive to a dialogic and emergent pedagogy, is to optimize language learning affordances, by directing attention to features of the emergent language; learning can be mediated through talk, especially talk that is shaped and supported (i.e. scaffolded) by the teacher. “

~ Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

Which of these two is the teacher? Which is the student?

The term “scaffolding” was first used refering to learning by a cognitive psychologist, Jerome Bruner, in the 50’s. He used it to describe how children learn and develop language with the help of their parents. How parents naturally help children find the ways to communicate orally when they’re struggling with it. Scaffolding is a temporary arrangement – the scaffold is there only until the child is able to successfully communicate what he/she wanted on his/her own.

When we bring the concept to the classroom, scaffolding means that teachers should not “spoon-feed” their students, but rather give them just what is necessary for the student to reach the desired communication (by the student) effectively, on his/her own. The learner has to be in charge and responsible for his/her own learning – not only about what to learn (the emergent learning), or the how to do it, but for the learning process itself. We’re way past the time of  teachers as almighty possessors of all knowledge who kindly give the knowledge to their students. As I mentioned in a previous post, teaches these days are more of facilitators, guides in the learner’s path to assimilating a new language (or at least we should be).




When I think about the role of teachers today I see us as the ones who have a map in our hands, a map to get to effectively using English (in my case) to communicate. Of course the way there has many possible stops (functions), and a wide choice of roads to get to the same place. The teacher is the one who chooses what he believes is the best road for each student (or group of students). Some routes are more fun, some are faster than others; just as some students are in a hurry to get to their final destination and others prefer to take their time and enjoy the view.  The teacher then points the student in the right direction for the road, show the road, and may even give a few steps along the learner on the road chosen but ultimately lets him/her go on alone – after he sees the path. The teacher’s job then is to keep an eye (from a distance) on the learner, just to make sure he/she doesn’t get lost along the way, and to stay at an arm’s length for when the learner wants to go somewhere else.



Where is Present Perfectville again?


So, I think I understand scaffolding language learning. But how do I do it? There are many ways.

  • Doing an activity with a text that has the desired language in it and work with it in a way the student notices it, by asking questions that will direct the student there.
  • Doing some vocabulary work prior to an activity where the learners will most likely need that vocabulary to properly express themselves.  
  • Providing models of intended language before expecting students to do it (sometimes without actually teliing them that ).
  • Giving learners positive feedback at every new step they take (self-confidence is a must for real learning).


I could go on and on. And maybe I got it all wrong, and that’s not what scaffolding is about. And I would love to hear how you scaffold! 🙂


For more great posts on the Dogme Blog Challenge #3, you should read:

Mike Harrison’s “How do you scaffold?”

David Warr’s “For those who know…”

Nick Jaworski’s “Dogme in the mind of a Teacher”

Henrick Oprea’s “Scaffolding”

Sabrina de Vita’s “Dogme with Young Learners”

Nature Emerges…naturally. Does learning?

This post is my response to Karenne Sylvester’s second Dogme Blog Challenge: It’s Emergent?. The first challenge was about Co-construction of Learning, and you can read my response to it here.

Nature emerges... naturally. Does learning?


I’ve been struggling with writing this post for some days now. I know very little about Dogme, and there’s been so much discussion on the topic in the past few weeks! (If you haven’t seen it, a good – maybe intimidating – and informative start would be Jeremy Harmer’s latest post with the 190 comments – as I write this – that it ensued). So what could I possibly add to it?

The only thing I can offer are my musings. How I relate to all that I read about it, how I can relate my experience as a teacher – and a learner – to it. And as I do that I wonder… does my learning about dogme become emergent? What is emergent learning after all? Well, I think I know what learning is (let us hope, for the sake of my students ;-)), so I will focus on emergent. Many definitions for it can be found, and so I did (after a quick search on the web and dictionaries). But the ones that caught my attention were coming into view or notice” , coming into existence, esp. with political independence” – political independence…hmmm… interesting… – , arising casually or unexpectedlyand finally, the pièce de résistance: “Evolution”. When I put those definitions together with learning, what do I get?


Learning that was not planned for by the teacher; that begins in the student, because he wants to learn about something. The wanting is key here. Wanting brings motivation into the picture. And there is no denying at the role motivation plays in effective learning. Can I say that the political independence on the second definition refers to the student’s independence from the teacher? I believe I can. In this case, emergent learning arises from the student independently of the teacher’s agenda. What is the role of the teacher in this whole independence scenario? The one of a facilitator. The teacher then is the one who identifies/sees this emerging (possibility of) learning and uses it, guides the student into accomplishing that learning. Now, I really like this, because it resonates what I believe to be the role of a good teacher these days: a facilitator, one who knows the way to learning better, more ways to get there (to adjust to each student’s peculiarities). Definitely not one who possesses all knowledge and will “feed it” to the student. So, and please correct me if I’m wrong, emergent learning is taking into consideration the student’s needs and interests and transform them into teaching opportunities, so that learning becomes more meaningful – therefore more motivating and effective – for the learner. Using the learner’s own input to help them evolve in the use of the language being taught (and here is the evolution part!). Does that sound about right? I’m going to go along and say it does.


Having solved that riddle, another one pops up: does learning emerge naturally? I believe it does. If the desire for learning something is there and the student finds the appropriate tools for it, learning will come naturally. These tools may exist already but it  may also be crafted by the teacher and/or the student. Now, is dogme = emergent learning? From where I stand (several steps behind so many people I’ve read recently) it proposes a much more student emergent learning, where the teacher is driven by the student’s interests, not bound by pre-determined, one-size-fits-all syllabus. My question here is: how really feasible is this? I can see it easily enough in 1:1 lessons, in smaller homogeneous groups of people with same interests and objectives, for students who are motivated. But when you think about large classes, with student with a wide array of interests, ages, professions, etc… , teenage students who have no idea of why they are in your classroom (other than being put there by their parents)…Well, I’m not so sure.



 “If learners are supplied with optimal conditions for language use, and are motivated to take advantage of these opportunities, their inherent learning capacities will be activated, and language – rather than being acquired – will emerge.”




This is the quote Karenne posted as the core of this second challenge. When I teach, this is what I aim to do (as most of the teachers I know do too): provide optimal conditions for learning to take place, motivate students to do it, activate their inherent learning capabilities. Yes, I believe all humans have an inherent capacity to learn, but not all have that capacity for the specific learning of languages. The capacity is there for communicating, but verbal language (which is the one we refer to) is not the only means of communicating effectively, and I have come across some students who worked hard, tried different approaches, different languages and still couldn’t assimilate language enough to be effective communicators (they usually do poorly on their mother tongue as well). On the other hand I’ve had students who seem to smoothly sail through the learning of a new language. I remember one particular student who came to me in a rather fluent group. After talking to him in the end of the first class I found out it was the first time he was studying English (in a formal setting). that everything he knew he had picked up by playing RPG games online, listening to music and reading about games and his favorite bands online (hail to the internet!). Self-made. A perfect example of emergent learning? Probably. We have to admit learners like this are out there, but they’re hardly your average student – more like the exceptions, really.




Using the students’ input, interests and activating those inherent capabilities certainly make for more interactive, motivating and effective learning. Knowing which button to press for those inherent capabilities to become activated is the one million dollar question… But we try and experiment and discover one button at a time. And each button is a victory. I live for those small (?!?) victories.

Easy??? I don't think so.


Other posts on the Dogme Blog Challenge #2 you might enjoy reading:

Mike Harrison’s – Sometimes a Prop is Really the Best Thing

Sabrina’s – Fear of the Unknown!

Willy C. Cardoso – Dogme Challenge #2 – Emergence

A Teacher’s Reflection on Teacher’s Day (in Brazil)



Today (October 15th) is Teacher’s Day in Brazil. And in our school’s special celebration moment for the teachers we had a reflection on the importance a teacher can have in a student’s life. The impact we have sometimes. What the students take from us when they leave us. Part of my motivation for writing this also came from a recent post in Karenne Sylvester’s blog: Running Towards TEFL. She talks about how TEFL teachers are many times perceived by others, and the comments discuss that too. Here in Brazil, education is not a respected profession (with maybe the exception of Univesity professors). SO I decided to write a post and pay homage to meaningful teachers I’ve had.

When I think back I remember many wonderful, inspiring teachers. From school, from English classes, from sports I practiced. But there were two that left a deeper mark on me, a lasting influence. The first was my Portuguese/Literature teacher during high school – Myrtha Magalhães. The second was at the university, when I studied Graphic Design, Gustavo Bomfim – he taught us aesthetics. They both had something in common. They both challenged their students. They challenged us to think outside the box, to not conform to what was expected from us. They never accepted ready-made answers. They pushed us to question the status quo – and to take it only if it felt right to us, if we believed it to be right after we thoroughly examined it. They tried to make us thinkers, not just repeating what was give to us. And they made us do all of that with respect. Respect for others, for the others’ opinions. No absolute truths.


And I like to believe I do that. More importantly, I believe I bring that into my teaching – both when preparing lessons and teaching my students. I like to incentive my students to have their own opinions, to question what they see or hear, to look further. To accept different opinions. I try to teach tolearance. That is probably the most significant lesson I learned from them, what I took from them.

So thank you to all my teachers. And especially those two. To sir (and ma’am), with love.

I’d love to know what you learned from one of your teachers and brought into your teaching…

An Idea for a Fun Way to Get Students Correcting/Thinking of Their Own Mistakes

This weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in my first webinar: The 3rd Virtual Round Table Online Conference. It was an amazing experience, I had the pleasure of “running” into many friends from my PLN and loved the sessions I was able to attend.

During the Unconference we all decided on some topics of interest and then each went to a virtual conference room to discuss the theme we had chosen. In the room I went to we talked about error correction – ways we do it, when we do it, etc. We shared ideas, our experiences. There were some great ideas, and I chipped in with an activity I really enjoy doing and the students have the greatest time with it. But most importantly, I believe it to be one of the most effective ways of error correction, because the correction is made by the students; they correct sentences they’ve written. (By the way, for those of you who were in the room, I am sorry if I stumbled or did something wrong – I was extremely nervous about speaking there!)

The idea is not new and I know many of you have probably used it already, but I decided to post it with how I do it and maybe you can find some new twist to it for you to use, or at least it will serve as a reminder and you’ll do it with your students. It’s an auction of sentences. I first came across it many years ago, on a book I bought called “Cem Aulas Sem Tédio” (something like: 100 Classes with no Boredom) by Vanessa Menezes Amorim and Vivian Magalhães. I liked the idea and shaped it to my needs/ideas. And here is how I do it:

  • Split the students into pairs or trios and give each “group” the same amount of fake money.
  • Tell them we’re going to have an auction. Elicit what an auction is and explain what it is if necessary. Teach students some related vocabulary (lot, bid, highest bidder, item, auctioneer).
  • Tell them they’re going to be buying sentences. Some of them will be correct and some will not. An incorrect sentece can have just one mistake or more than one.  They have to say whether the sentence is correct or incorrect. If they correctly identify which type of sentence they’ve bought they get 1 point for it. If the sentence is incorrect they have a chance to correct it and get an extra point for it.
  • Tell, before you start the auction, how many sentences there will be, so they can plan their strategy.
  • Start the auction and write one sentece at a time on the board (or you can have it prepared for the IWB). Now, I really get into the role of the auctioneer – it’s quite embarrassing actually: speaking fast, asking for bids, telling them “The next item is from a special vintage edition. Look at the lines…look at the design on this sentence… a great addition to anyone’s sentence collection” and so on – but each to its own. Do it as you feel comfortable with.
  • After you’ve done the “going once, going twice and sold!” write the name of the buyers beside the sentence (I sometimes let them choose a name but many times I create a name by using the first syllable of each student in the group – so Maria, João and Patricia become “majopa” or “jomapa”. Well, you get the idea. They like that!). Collect the money and proceed.
  • Students do not say whether the sentence is correct or incorrect right after they buy it. First all the sentences must be sold, and then they are delivered ;-).
  • After all the sentences have been sold (and are all on the board with the names of the respective buyers beside it), The teacher goes back, reads sentence #1 and then asks its buyers whether it’s correct or incorrect. If it’s correct, fine, they get a point for it. If it’s incorrect then I say “please correct it”. The group has to correct all the mistakes of the sentence to get the extra point. If they can’t do it, any of the other groups can give it a shot at correcting for 1 point. I make the corrections they say on the board, using a different color of marker.
  • If a group doesn’t properly identify whether their sentence is correct or incorrect they don’t get the point. But if it’s incorrect anyone has the opportunity to correct it for 1 point.
  • In the end, the group with most points wins. If there’s a tie, the group with more money left wins – this should be tole in the beginning of the auction, when you explain the rules.


The sentences I use are sentences I collect from the students’ written work as I correct them,  or sentences they have spoken and I’ve written down during a speaking moment or a project presentation. I have a page set aside for this on each groups file. I usually select sentences that have commonly made mistakes, mistakes regarding vocabulary/functions we’ve studied recently, or examples of sentences that were very well written.  It’s funny to see the students’ reaction once they realize, after the first or second sentence, that these are their sentences. 🙂

Now, I am  always fascinated by how much my students get into it. Throughout the auction I can see them writing the sentences down, negotiating whether it’s correct or not, what might be wrong with the sentence. They actually look carefully at the sentences, colaboratively work at analyzing and (if needed) correcting the sentences. They even discuss sentences that were bought by other groups – in the odd chance the buyers may not be able to fully correct a sentence. This is pure student-centered error correction!

I hope you enjoyed my version of a well-know/used activity! And of course I’d love to hear what you think or how you do it! 🙂