Only ten???

Adam Simpson is the one to blame for this post. He started a twitter challenge: Ten People I Follow on Twitter and Why. People who follow me on twitter (@cecilialcoelho)/ regularly read my blog know I have very little willpower when it comes to declining challenges ( if you’re interested on previous challenges you can read The Day Nothing Became Everything – my guest post on Ceri Jones’ blog – or What Comes Out of Unsuspecting Students + Wandrous Board Challenge  not to mention all my responses to Karenne Sylvester’s Dogme Blog Challenge). And as Adam says in his own post, the intention here is to promote a bit of ELT appreciation.

I follow so many fantastic people that choosing only ten people was really hard. But Adam said ten was the number – and I abide by the rules. Each of the people I listed has a special reason for being in it, and I hope I am able to clearly express that on the justification. Some people here are recurrent from both Adam’s list and Dave Dodgson’s (another tweep who’s taken up the challenge), so bear with me 🙂 I guess this means they’re just so great they’re on many people’s top 10. So, with no further ado, here are my ten people (and why I follow them) in alphabetical order:

  • Ceri Jones (@cerirhiannon) : Ceri is a teacher in Cádiz, Spain. She is very committed to teaching and shares a lot of the great things she does in her classes on her blog Close Up  (lots of ideas there!). She’s also the one who gave me the final push to start my own blog after opening her own blog for a guest post so that I could tell the result of my taking up my first challenge . Add to that a person who I greatly identify with, who teaches me Welsh (ddiolch ‘ch cariad!), who I have wonderful fun (and serious) conversations with, who tweets during conferences she attends so we can follow from a distance and is always so supportive… One of my very favorite people twitter has brought into my life and who I’ll (hopefully) meet face to face at IATEFL next year, in Brighton.

  • David Dodgson (@DaveDodgson): No, this is not payback (because you added me to your list Dave). Dave is the most recent tweep in the list. He’s an Englishman in Ankara, Turkey, teaching English to 4th graders. But after a few twitter conversations and comments on each other’s and other people’s blogs  we discovered we had a lot in common – as far as values, practices and beliefs related to teaching and life. We did a joint response to a Dogme Blog Challenge, where we shared our voices – literally . This joint venture (where he taught me a new tool) not only turned out great but more importantly was great fun to do. He’s such a committed teacher he did research about Recife – where I live – prior to our conversation, so he could mention pubs we have here. Dave has great insights and ideas, is very participative in both the twitterverse and the blogosphere. And he has promised to come with his family to Brazil and share a Devassa (great beer) with Rick and I. Just for the record… I’ll take a blond one 😉

  • Henrick Oprea (@hoprea): Only after joining Twitter and following Rick (after being introduced to his fantastic blog Doing Some Thinking) I discovered we had recently been in the same ELT Conference last July in São Paulo (Braz-Tesol National Conference). On the cover of Braz-Tesol’s Newsletter’s last issue there’s a big photo taken on the final plenary – and we’re both there! How crazy is that? We live in the same country, are members of the same organization (Braz-Tesol), spent 4 days in the same school and only met each other through Twitter. Rick is an EFL teacher in Brasília, capital of Brazil. He has a lot of knowledge on ELT, its theories, practices… I’ve learned a lot by discussing teaching with Rick, participating in #ELTChats where he also took part, and sometimes just lurking on his discussions with other tweeps. He’s also fun, eager to share and a great guy all around. And we’ll get together some time to show Dave Dodgson around Brazil 😉

  • Jason Renshaw (@englishraven): Jason is a must follow to anyone involved in ELT who likes to reflect upon his/her own practices. Jason lives in Geelong, Australia and mostly teaches online, but has recently gone back to the classroom. He has the most fantastic, thought-provoking blog : English Raven, read by everyone on twitter (one of the first I ever felt comfortable with commenting on). He is sharp and absolutely open and honest. He’s always proposing challenges for us teachers, challenges that he not only creates but also takes up and sets the example. He’s extremely creative and is always questioning his own practices. He’s also one of the most efficient bloggers I know (a talent I greatly envy), devoted father to 2 beautiful kids. His tweets are great, and he was the biggest support for me to increase my participation on twitter, making me feel and see I had something to contribute with. And he (along with Ceri) motivated and pushed me to start blogging. His posts and challenges have made me reflect upon my teaching a lot, experiment with new things and develop.

  • Jeremy Harmer (@harmerj): I believe anybody who’s in ELT has come across Jeremy – be it by reading one of his books or by attending one of his fabulous workshops or talks. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy in this year’s Braz-Tesol Conference in São Paulo – the same I didn’t meet Rick at. And I discovered he’s not only a great ELT trainer, author and presenter. He’s a great person too, and a music lover. He was the one who “took my hand” and showed me the power of Twitter for teacher’s professional development, he told me what a PLN is and told me who to start following. So deep down, Jeremy is the one to blame for my being here 🙂 His tweets during the many conferences he attends are great, as well as his blog – which was recently home to one of the most interesting discussions about dogme, with over 200 comments.

  • Lindsay Clandfield (@lclandfield): Lindsay has one of the most interesting, fun and insightful blogs I subscribe to: Six Things. I have recently discovered (through his latest post) that it was a project and that he’ll soon stop posting in it, but considering that I’m new at the blogosphere I reckon there are still plenty of great posts in it I haven’t read yet. I think it will be a big loss to the blogosphere, but he has his reasons for ending the project. He is an ELT teacher and author (recently won the ESU Awards for his “Global” ). With his tweets I have learned, found great resources or just had a good laugh. 🙂

  • Luke Meddings (@LukeMeddings): Luke co-authored Teaching Unplugged (with Scott Thornbury – @thornburyscott), the first book to discuss Dogme and has recently started a new blog: The Unplugged Index. It’s already in my blog roll 🙂 Luke is active on twitter, always sharing good resources and he’s also really participative in the Dogme discussions. Moreover, Luke is a really cool guy, accessible, a great guy to add to anyone’s PLN. And a insomniac like me 😉

  • Shelly Terrell (@ShellTerrell): Shelly has got to be the most passionate, committed teacher I’ve ever come across. She tweets the best sources, tools, articles… She created “The 30 Goals Challenge” , works at Parentella, TheConsultantsE and has an inspiring blog: Teacher Reboot Camp. She’s also a moderator at #edchat and #eltchat, always willing to help, retweet, support any teacher or cause she can, and always involved in initiatives to improve education in the world. On a personal note, she a real sweetheart and has the cutest dog ever (Rosco)! I was lucky to Skype with Shelly for an #ELTChat podcast and it just proved to me that live (as live as we can get since she lives in Germany and I in Brazil) she’s just the same sunny person she is on twitter. A must follow for educators in general.

  • Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses): Sue is multitasking as well.  She lives and teaches in the UK. She also has a website filled with activities for teachers to use in their classes and a great blog: The PLN Staff Lounge (her latest post where she responded to Dogme Blog Challenges 1, 3, 4 & 5 at once is wonderful, I recommend it!). She’s always sharing great resources, tools and anything she finds worthy. I always enjoy her participation in the #ELTChat, and have learned a lot from her as well. And we’ve had some great convos over twitter as well. And she had the scariest, coolest twitter avatar during Halloween 😉

Thanks to Dave Dodgson for teaching me and helping me to finally put this word cloud here!

What about you? Feel like taking up Adam’s challenge? I’d love to discover more incredible people to follow!

Here are some other posts  from people who joined the (impossible) challenge of picking 10 people from an amazing PLN:

• Dave Dodgson’s Ten People I Follow and Why

• Mike Harrison’s Ten Twitterers to Tweet


Nothing More… Nothing Less…


Hi. My name is Cecilia, and I am a non-native English speaker.





I decided to start this post with this line because that is how I’ve felt for a long time about my “non-nativeness” : As if I were admitting to a flaw. When I studied English I was always ecstatic when my teacher happened to be a native speaker. As I began my career as an English teacher in Recife (Pernambuco, Brazil – where I was born and raised) I frequently felt less of a teacher when I compared myself to NESTs. I thought: “It’s their language, there’s no way I can beat that!”. So I worked hard at trying to achieve the mythical “native-like-fluency”. I listened to the radio, I sang songs, I repeated chunks of language to exhaustion, I watched TV in English (to pick up slang, reductions, intonation, etc)… And sometimes I thought I had gotten there, when a native speaker – usually not a teacher – would compliment on my English, say they’d never say I wasn’t a native. That made me proud. But then another native speaker would burst my bubble by saying tat I spoke English very well, but they could tell I was a foreigner. And that crushed me. Was it unattainable?



As the years passed and I became a more confident teacher, I started to realize I didn’t have to be a NEST to be a good teacher.  Being a Portuguese native-speaker didn’t make me a Portuguese teacher – I have never taught Portuguese nor have any plans of ever doing so – I don’t think I know it well enough for that. And thinking like that has never made me question my fluency as a Portuguese speaker. So why should I feel any different when it came to English? I finally came to the conclusion I shouldn’t. And that’s where I am today.



The Dogme Blog Challenge (week 6) focuses on the NEST – NNEST debate and how it relates to teaching in the dogme approach. When it comes to teaching unplugged, am I at a disadvantage because I am a NNEST? I don’t think so. I believe what matters here is not whether I was born (or raised) in an English speaking country, but rather my linguistic competence – and that is certainly not directly related to where I was born. I agree with Luke (Meddings) and Scott (Thornbury) when they say that due to frequent snap decisions commom in unplugged lessons ,choosing/changing paths within the lesson, it is sometimes difficult for a NNEST. However, it can be equally challenging to NESTs. Knowing how to speak a language, being a native speaker doesn’t automatically grant you knowledge of your language – really knowing it – enough to explain. I recall an episode in which a fellow teacher, a NEST, recently hired in the institution I worked (and just as recently a resident in Brazil), came up to me asking what the third conditional was. The topic (Grammar McNuggets, I know!) was listed in his group’s syllabus and he had no idea what it was. I gave him an example of a sentence using it and he still didn’t know it. I had to teach him. My intention in telling this passage is not one of saying my (then) co-worker didn’t have what it takes to be a teacher, or that he was not an educated speaker of his own language or even that he spoke his own language incorrectly. If you ask me pretty much any question about Portuguese grammar I won’t be able to answer it, because I don’t have the technical knowledge.  No. I wanted to illustrate my position regarding the issue raised by Karenne’s challenge. As far as language goes, being an effective teacher – whether in an unplugged setting or not – is not about being (or not) a NEST.



With that out of the way, let’s focus on the other questionings at hand. For the English learner, is it the same thing having a NEST or a NNEST as a teacher? Of course not. NESTs have broader, authentic and deeper understanding of cultural aspects of his homeland – an English speaking nation. And no one can stay oblivious to the role culture plays when learning a language. He most likely has a broader range of slang, unusual vocabulary (“teacher, how do you call the little ring on top of a soda can?”). He has one of the accents the student might find when he finds himself in an English speaking country. On the other hand, the NNEST was once an English learner himself, so he understands students’ difficulties better, he may be better at predicting which wrong linguistic assumptions the learner will make, and prepare for it – be ready when it happens. If the NNEST teaches in the country he was born in he also has a better grasp at the cultural aspects and peculiarities of the students. The same way a NEST can use the culture and curiosities from his country to motivate students to use the target language, the NNEST can also use his (and possibly the students’ ) own culture to create activities, discussions and projects to motivate students’ involvement, participation and learning . Knowledge of the home culture enables the teacher to better perceive “teaching moments”, the student emergent topics and interests. It enables the teacher to know how to use something the student mentioned that is greatly related to the country’s culture and make it into a lesson, or the means of teaching a communicative function, vocabulary…. take your pick!



Another question asked in this week’s challenge was  “Is language teaching about creating perfect models of expression?”. As far as I see, language teaching these days is about helping the learners find and create their own tools/strategies and develop skills to efficiently communicate. And communication is not about perfect models of expression. It’s about individual expression and having that expression be properly understood by the receiver. We’re past the notion that to be properly understood people have to have flawless prosody and native-like pronunciation / accent. When learning and especially using a language, the learner/speaker has to do it in a way he is understood – even if it is evident he/she is not a native speaker. The teacher has to pay attention and work in a way to detect and (hopefully) help students fix any deviations on the way the student uses the language that may hinder communication. With that under control we have a fluent English speaker – even if an imperfect one by some people’s standards. Not by mine. I take extreme pride when a student comes to me and tells me how he/she was able to travel to an English speaking country and walk around, order food, talk to people on the streets, in stores… with their heavy accent and sometimes L1 dependent vocabulary. 🙂



 So, is there such a thing as a more suitable kind of teacher in a language classroom – NEST or NNEST? In my opinion, the answer to this is a resounding “NO!” We each bring something different to the classroom – and that should be acknowledged. More than that, I believe that should be celebrated and used for the benefit of the learners. Ideally, learners would have the chance of having both kinds of teachers, cherishing the unique features each bring to class. I wish students would see this. I know many do, but I have to admit it stills hurts a little when I come across a student who, before even having a lesson with me (or any other NNEST teacher for that matter), says he/she is only interested in having a NEST teacher. 



Because in the end of the day, my name is Cecilia and I am a Non-Native English Teacher. Nothing more… but nothing less. What is wrong about that?


Here are some other bloggers/educators views on this issue:

NESTs vs NNESTs – What is the Big Difference? by Henrick Oprea

Are Native Speaker Models So Important? by Richard (@nutrich on Twitter)


Showing Our Voices In a Real Conversation (Dogme Blog Challenge #5)

“Providing space for the learner’s voice means accepting that learner’s beliefs, knowledge, experiences, concerns and desires are valid content in the language learning classroom.”

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



This week’s Dogme Blog Challenge (week 5) is about voices. What does it mean to have a voice? How can we provide space for the learner’s voice in the language classroom? Is the student’s voice different in L1 and L2? Is my voice (as a non-NEST) the same in English and in Portuguese? It is the perfect follow up to last week’s materials light challenge , to which there were some very interesting and thought provoking posts in response. While tweeting/talking about some of the posts and the reflections that emerged from them with Dave Dodgson (@DaveDodgson) we had the idea of doing a joint response for the next post. When Karenne (Sylvester) put up this challenge and we saw it was all about voices we just knew what we wanted to do… a conversation. Especially because there were some great posts from challenge 4 shaped as conversations (Willy Cardoso’s  “A Boring Pub Conversation“, followed by David Deubel’s whispered ” A Boring Library Conversation” – where I learned the KISS (Keep it Student Simple) – Neither of them boring at all, I can assure you!).



We considered many ways of doing it, but settled on using Wetoku and have a real conversation – or as real as possible when one of us is in Turkey and the other in Brazil. We thought it would be the perfect way to show our voices – metaphorically and literally speaking. And this is what came from it:


(Note: Extra credit to Dave who, as every great teacher, did his research and even found out about two pubs in Recife (where I live) – Downtown and Uisqueria da Praça – to suggest as places we could’ve had a pub conversation!)



Vodpod videos no longer available.



I hope our conversation was able to convey our thoughts on the issues raised by the challenge clearly. I had a lot of fun doing it, discussing an interesting issue, reflecting on the proposed questions… Despite our very different circumstances (Dave is a NEST working in Turkey, at a regular school, with 10-year-old students while I am a non-NEST teaching English in Brazil, at a language school and my students’ages range from 12 to 40) it’s fascinating to find out how similar our views (and many times our teaching practices) are. It serves to show me how teachers are teachers, it doesn’t matter where they are from or where they are. And the same can be said about the students!


 Thanks for a great idea and an even better conversation Dave. 🙂 It was great hearing your voice! 😉 And you can check Dave’s post in our joint venture here in his Reflections of a Teacher and Learner. I recommend it!



Here are the other posts in response to Dogme Blog Challenge #5:

  • Mike Harrison’s guest post on here, Objects in the Rear View Mirror
  • Paul Braddock’s Barefoot Teaching Challenge/Poll
  • Paul Braddock’s Response to challenge 5
  • David Warr It’s all about them 
  • Diarmuid Fogarty You only sing when you’re winning 
  • Candy von Ost What is talking for anymore? 
  • Leahn Stanhope Can you hear me?
  • David Warr’s Language Garden
  • Sabrina de Vita’s Unheard Voices
  • Willy Cardoso’s Voices

    Light Coke and Learning? – Dogme Challenge #4


    “Dogme is about teaching materials light”


    That was the quote for Karenne Sylvester’s Dogme Challenge #4. And I wondered how I could respond to that…


    A light drink... helps me with a (hopefully) light analogy



    So I decided to bring it to something that’s close to me… coke. My beverage of choice, the one I am addicted to is light (actually zero) coke. So, as I try to draw the analogy, what is light coke, how is it different from regular coke? Well, one of the reasons why people might drink light coke is because they may get the same taste without the calories. The calories from a can of coke are empty calories – they give you nothing but themselves, no nutrition whatsoever. So, with that in mind, could we say that going materials light is teaching the same content – trying to help the students reach the intended learning – without burying them in empty activities? What would these empty activities be? Empty of what? Of teaching capability? I don’t think so, after all I learned English through those pseudo-empty activities of drilling and fill-in-the-blanks grammar. They must work, because I dare say I’ve learned ;-). No… I think the word ‘d use here would not be empty but rather lacking – lacking relevance. Relevance to the students. Let me expand that thought…


    The world we live in today has changed greatly and in many ways. But regarding learning, the most meaningful of those changes has to do with information, the way it is produced and distributed. Information is available everywhere and it’s ever changing, dynamic. Access to it today is more democratic than we could’ve ever had imagined 20 years ago. And the ways it is presented are incredible: videos, interactive applications, podcasts, instant exchanges…. and the list grows longer (and more imaginative) each day – it’s hard to keep up! Our students of today use that information, access it, interact with it…learn from it. So can we (should we?) comform to our old ways? Taking to class materials that aim at interesting all kinds of students – the “one-size-fits-all“? What is interesting and relevant to a student may not have the same relevance to the one sitting beside him. With the advent of technology and the broadening of sources of information we have also become more diverse in a sense – with more to choose from it’s easier to do that.


    David Ausubel says that significant learning takes place when new information is acquired through by the learner’s deliberate effort to connect the new information with concepts or relevant propositions preexistent in his cognitive structure. (Ausubel et al., 1978). For Ausubel, the main issue in the learning process is for it to be meaningful, that what is intended to be learned by the student needs to make sense to him. And this happens when the new information is anchored in the relevant concepts the student already has in his cognitive structure. When we can’t connect what is being taught to something familiar to the student what takes place is the “rote learning” – or mechanical learning. In other words, the student has to relate to what we are teaching, to what we use to teach the language, or else we won’t really achieve true learning. Learning in which the student will not only repeat language structures that have been “fed” to him, but rather assimilate them and use them in the contexts he’ll find himself in.


    And how does all of this relate to teaching materials light? As I see it, materials light means not relying and basing our whole lesson on what has been done, on activities we have used, preexisting models. It means going to class with ears, eyes and mind open to see the students’ needs and interests. To use that as a mean of presenting and working with the target language. Am I saying we should forget all the activities we’ve developed, the coursebooks we’ve been using? Not at all! We can’t turn our backs to them. But we have to be willing to adapt and change them, to take what is there and shape it in a way as to come closer to the learners’ relevant concepts. If the world we live in today is marked by dynamism, so should our teaching.


    And on a final note… As with everything else, too much of anything is bad for you. Too much light coke will load your body with an excess of chemicals. Balance and good sense are always the key. 🙂


    Other Posts on dogme Challenge #4:

    Guest Post #1 – Luciana Podschun’s Response to the Wandrous IWB Challenge


    When I first entered the world of twitter and blogs I was very fortunate to find some wonderful people who were very supporting and motivated me to have my own blog and discover what a great tool for professional development it can be. The final “push” I got towards the final decision of starting my Box of Chocolates here came from Ceri Jones, who invited me to write a guest post on her Close Up, telling my experience with one of Jason Renshaw’s challenges (Trying Upside Down and Inside Out). I have Ceri (and Jason) to thank for that final push 🙂

    So I find it really interesting that the first guest post on my blog is also the result of another of Jason’s challenges. I’m pleased to have as my first guest writer Luciana Podschun, an English teacher from São Paulo, who decided to take up Jason’s Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge on one of her groups and wrote about her experience here. May it also be the final push Luciana needs to start her own blog!  Help me give her the final push people :-)! Thanks for sharing your experience with us Lu, and for being a wonderful first guest post writer!



     I am really pleased to write for the first time as a guest on the Box of Chocolate Blog.  I want to thank Cecilia for giving me this opportunity to write about an experience I had with my students.  I want to address the question if the “Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge” technique suggested by Jason is worth utilizing.


    Unfortunately the school where I currently work is not very progressive with its teaching methods.  Teachers must give classes following a strict methodology, step by step and without deviation.  We don’t feel like teachers and at times we feel like robots. Most of my students learn the steps or at least the procedures after each step of the lesson.  I’ve recently written on Ken Wilson’s blog that I am a teacher who likes to break the rules and yesterday I decided to do something different with my pre-intermediate students who range in age from 13 to 17 years old.  I knew I couldn’t spend more than 40 minutes on a new activity as I would fall behind the set schedule even further.  Anyway, I decided to go ahead and as soon as my students started arriving in the classroom we just greeted each other as normal and I didn’t say anything until the bell rang.  I then closed the door and said, “today will be slightly different”.  I then gave the marker to my student who arrived first, she is not shy, so I decided to start with her.  Her first reaction was just to stare at me; she didn’t know exactly what to do, so I told her to write anything she wanted on the board.  She asked me if it really could be anything she wanted, so I just nodded…..after hesitating a bit she wrote: 1)“Deliver us from Evil”, which is the name of a song by Bullet from my Valentine, a rock metal band.


    An up-close look at what the board looked like


    And then the following students wrote:

    2) I studied English yesterday

    3) Bob went to a party yesterday

    4) I will go school tomorrow

    5) I went to Pernambuco last year


    My sixth, seventh and eight students arrived while the activity was already taking place so I gave them the marker and asked them one by one to write something on the board.

    6) I will probably go to the country next year

    7) I love you teacher

    8 ) My name is Nicolas

    So, as everybody wrote I started to ask questions.  For example, with line 1, I asked my student who sang that song.  She said it is sung by Bullet from my Valentine.  As this metal rock band is not popular amongst my students we had many questions related to this band but also to music in general.  As they had not hear about this group, and neither had I, I am sure most of them went to look for more information about it after class.  After exploring the first subject we moved on to the second line.

    As you can see there is a mistake so I asked them to find it.  I then followed with many questions using the simple past as well as the simple past continuous (the last grammar topic they learned) Since the third and fifth subjects were also related to the past tense, I decided to discuss both sentences together third student wrote the name Bob, who is Bob?  He replied that this name was inspired by his dog’s name.  This answer made all my students laugh until they cried.  So in total we spent about 15 min in past tense subjects.

    When my fifth student wrote “Pernambuco”, I mentioned that I got a new twitter friend from Recife, PE who is also an English teacher. 🙂

    Subjects fourth and fifth were related to the future tense so we could explore more about what they will probably do on their holidays  as well as their next vacation…..many plans, many hopes.  These discussions lead to the 1st conditional that we will study during the next lesson.  Subject 7, “I love you teacher”, I wanted to know why.!!  The student said, “you’re the best teacher in the school, you’re out of this world”.  Needless to say I blushed, so I turned the subject to talk about the beloved person in each student’s family.  We also talked about the importance of love in the world. Subject 8, the student wrote his name, he said that this was the first thing that came to his mind as he was the last student that arrived in the classroom.



    My Conclusion:  Fantastic activity, it gave my students the chance to see their potential in developing a conversation and they concluded that English conversation is not the nightmare that some of them expected.  It also gave me the opportunity to establish more interaction with each student.

    They learned new words and most importantly they learned from each other.  When one of them wrote something wrong the other students would spot the mistake and even explained the error – this was great to see.  In my case, having a pre-intermediate group, the session also worked as a review of the tenses, specially past and future.  The students saw that they can go beyond the current boundaries if they want, they just need to be willing – as Cecilia mentioned on her post

    After spending more than 40 min, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time to finish the lesson but to my surprise I was able to do complete the set lesson for the day because my students were much more “alive” than ever.  They were motivated to carry on the previous lesson.  So, answering the question about the usefulness of this technique, it was not only worth doing but also rewarding for the students.  I think that every teacher who likes challenging their students should try this activity as well as other new things to keep the students motivated – yes, even if he or she is breaking the rules of their school.

    Luciana Podschun
    Follow me on twitter