Musings About the Year Past – Wishes for the New One

Words from the year that's almost over...


As a new year approaches it is seems  inevitable to look back to what happened in 2010, acknowledge what we did right and hope for more fo those in 2011 and at the same time be humble to admit what we that didn’t really work the way we had planned it to – and hope for improvement in the coming year. So my last post of the year will be a reflective one.


2010 brought a lot of big changes to my life, on both personal and professional areas of my life.  Changes can be a very scary thing, but it usually means development. And I choose to look at the changes that I went through this year as that: an opportunity for development. In the first semester, the restructuring of the handbooks we use for the High Intermediate groups in ABA (the school I work at) was finally finished. As the leader of that project, along with a fantastic teacher and great friend, Roberta Ferraz, I was very pleased to see them being used in class and getting the positive feedback of the other teachers as they came to use them. Of course it’s not perfect, and we’re changing what doesn’t work as we see it. but overall it’s been a great change. Getting positive feedback on something you developed/put together is an amazingly rewarding feeling and it was a big plus in my year.


Taking part in the 12th Braz-Tesol Convention in São Paulo was a big highlight as well. Being there, meeting people, attending fantastic presentations / talks / plenaries, overcoming fears and presenting. What I saw there, what I heard and talked about, the people I met and connections I made gave a breath of fresh air, great motivation to venture new paths, trust myself more, go back to studying, experimenting, researching… I came back to Recife and started a new semester completely refreshed. It’s amazing what a good conference and sharing with people from other places, other cultures, other contexts can do to motivate you.


And then, in the second semester of 2010, when I came back from São Paulo I discovered what a PLN was and started building my own, connecting and sharing and learning from educators (and especially English teachers) from all over this diverse world we live in. And what a fantastic ride it’s been. Learning about new tools, participating in my first webinar, experimenting in my classes with things I learned from my PLN friends, reading so many amazing blogs, starting my own blog, being nominated for best new blog in the Edublog Awards (and being chosen the first runner-up among an incredible list of blogs), learning, sharing, learning, sharing… Then, having the fabulous opportunity of beginning the new year taking part in a Teacher Professional Workshop in England, offered by Berni Wall and having a chance to reflect upon my practice with teachers from all over the world (not to mention meeting two of my favorite PLN members: Berni and Shelly Terrell!!!). I had never, in my wildest dreams, thought the year could turn out so well. And in great part, I owe that to my PLN, so here’s my big THANK YOU to the incredible group of people I follow on Twitter.


So what to expect from the new years that is just around the corner? I can only hope. Hope I can continue sharing and developing with (and through) my PLN. Hope that I can experiment and find even better ways of teaching my students and help them learn English, to make it a tool for improvement and development in their own lives. Hope that I can make my way to IATEFL in Brighton in April and meeting a big part of my PLN there, learn lots from them and others who will be presenting there, continue reflecting, always knowing we never know enough, we can ALWAYS do better. I hope my children continue to grow the healthy, happy, healthy children they are now. That I will be able to continue and get more serious about my professional development, take part in courses I plan to, continue my education. But most of all, I hope 2011 brings peace. I hope it brings peace and understanding to the world. As I interact on twitter with people of the most diverse places, faiths, upbringings, beliefs it never ceases to amaze me that no matter where we come from, what we believe in, we connect, interact, progress together, learn from each other, respect each other. And it makes me wonder why we can’t have that not only on twitter and within our PLN, but also throughout the world, among governments and peoples. As cheesy as it sounds, that’s my wish for the new year. So I’ll finish this post with a poem by Francisco Gomes de Matos, a great peace linguist, who I am fortunate to know and work with, for he is the president of my school’s board. Always good to reflect about peace and tolerance in my opinion. And no more appropriate time for that than now, as we start a new year – fresh slate perhaps?

 After all, we all have a right to peace. And maybe, as educators, we can try and bring  a little peace and tolerance teaching to our classes. Teachers have great influence, we might as well use it to make the world a better place 🙂


THE RIGHT  TO PEACE :A Nonkilling  view

by  Francisco Gomes de Matos


When the Right to Peace is  stated
How does Humankind usually feel ?
Do human beings show they are elated
or do they expect  something real ?

The Right to Peace  two major dimensions cover:
One that is spiritualizing :

 Meditation, in which paths to  tranquility we may discover;

 another,that is  conciliatory: Mediation


The Right to Peace entails a very demanding obligation:
That to Dignity and Justice,

all Humankind should be committed

Of the Principle of Nonviolence,

 helping the propagation and educating

 so that forms of life-killing are not permitted


How can the Right to Peace be universally  achieved?
This also calls  for socioeconomic-political transformation

 In which the benefits of equality by all are received

 and people violating peace will have nonkilling preparation

The Right to Peace on Earth let´s firmly globalize

So that by conflicts and wars,

less and less people will be harmed

 As appliers of the Right to Peace,  let´s harmonize

 And one day,in a nonkilling future,all nations will be disarmed


Happy Holidays everyone. I’ll be traveling to the UK this week, meeting some of the fab members of my PLN (Yay!) before the new year comes and then on to Berni’s workshop, where I expect I’ll be able to get back to posting. Until then, I hope you enjoy the season!


I Propose a Vocabulary Bank – Another Challenge!

How do YOU teach / learn new words?


Emma Herrod has one of my favorite blogs to follow. She’s very objective, filled with great ideas for activities and insightful reflections on teaching.  A couple of weeks ago Emma proposed a challenge, a Vocabulary Blogging Challenge to be more exact. In short, she asked us to share some ways we approach vocabulary teaching in class, intending to compile a list of great ideas that everyone could use to spice up their vocabulary teaching. those who have read other posts on my blog – or know me on twitter – should remember my difficulty in declining a good challenge. So here I am!


Well, there are so many ways I teach vocabulary to my students! I don’t think I can even remember all of them. But two activities were a bit more successful recently and they’re the ones I’ll share for this challenge. The first one is something I do with all my High Intermediate groups and it had a curious and unexpected development this semester. It’s the Vocabulary Bank.


 The idea is that I give the group 30 words throughout the semester, 1 per class (there are 36 classes in a semester in my school), add to the poster and leave them there. The students have to use at least 10 different words from the list – their choice of which word, how to use it and when – before the semester is over. My intention is that students are forced to use new words authentically, that they develop the skills of knowing when to use vocabulary they are exposed to appropriately. I think we all agree that just presenting new vocabulary to students does very little for the actual acquisition of that vocabulary. The student needs to see the words in context, being used and they have to use it themselves, to really learn it.



They can use the words they choose in either speaking or writing. I ask them to underline or highlight the word when they do it in writing, to make sure their use of the word doesn’t go unnoticed by me when I correct the writing – and therefore don’t record it in the vocab bank use log. When they use it while speaking, if I miss it, either their classmates or themselves call my attention to it. Although I have to admit I can’t remember not noticing the use in class. And it’s always a big hit among them. At the High Intermediate track the students are quite fluent, with a considerable vocabulary already. So I choose less common words most times, from books or articles I read, from vocabulary lists made for those who are studying for language tests (such as TOEFL, IELTS, etc). Sometimes a student proposes a word he has come across and believe it fit for the bank. There’s no rule for the choice of the words that go into the bank, really. Sometimes it’s just because I saw it being used beautifully 🙂


How do I present these words? To tell you the truth, after I explain the “project” in the first day of class, and do it for a couple of classes after that, the students are the ones who ask for the new word as soon as they come into the classroom. (Who says students aren’t eager to learn??). But in those first classes – or when they don’t ask – I try to vary the way I present the words. Sometimes I am traditional and just add the word to the list, other I use it in a sentence I ask them – knowing only too well at least one of them will raise their hand and say “Teacher what does THAT mean?”, it varies. Then after they see the new word, I ask if any of them has ever heard it or know what it means. If they do, they give a definition for it and then I ask if anybody can use it in a sentence. If they’ve never heard it I try to elicit from them what function the word has (Is it a verb? An adjective? An adverb? Why do you think so?), if they think the word has a positive or negative connotation and why they think that way.

This semester's Vocabulary Bank Poster



The best thing about this ongoing project is to see the students using the words, adding them to their vocabulary, having fun while doing it, motivating each other to use, cheering each other when a friend uses one of the words. Or when a student comes to class and says he/she saw the word being used in a film, book or in the internet. And we even created a game with the vocab bank this semester – which was a fun class, with students fired up and using language (and the words!) to negotiate.



The second idea I’m sharing here can be used with many levels and groups. I play a little game as a warmer with my groups sometimes, to help students establish relationships between words that have the same root and to expand their vocabulary with words the students themselves have in their repertoire. The students sit in a circle and I start by writing one or more words on the center of the board. Then I hand the marker to one of the students and he/she has to go to the board and add a word that has the same root of one of the words, making a word web. For example, if the initial word is photo, students can come up with photographer, photograph, photographic, photogenic, etc). The first students hands the marker to the next one and it goes on until nobody can add another word to the webs on the board. It a simple, easy activity, and the teacher can choose the initial words according to what is being / has been taught in class.


On a final note, I’d just like to mention a vocabulary game that I keep at hand. I have a Boggle in my cabinet, in the classroom. And I use it in many ways:  as a filler for those final minutes of class when you have done everything you set out to; as a fun activity to unwind after a more boring class; when students ask for it (some of them become quite hooked on it, as you can see on the picture below :-)) or as a warmer, in the beginning of class. I usually have them sit in a circle around the boggle and when the time is up, the students take turns saying the words they came up with. They have to know the meaning of all the words they say, and sometimes I ask them to say what it means. Most times we do it as a competition, with students earning points for every word they come up with – only words with 3 or more letters (for the points we have a system that awards 1 point for a 3-letter word, 2 points for a 4-letter word, 3 for a 5-letter word and so on). It’s a great game to have at hand!

Me and my High Intermediate 4 students with their favorite word game!



As usual, I’d love to hear your ideas. How you teach vocabulary. And I can bet Emma would happily include any other ideas to her challenge! 🙂


A Thank You Note

This is, as the title says, a thank you note. This past week I was voted first runner-up for best new blog by EduBlogs. I am incredibly humbled by it – and greatly motivated as well. Being nominated had already been a great award for me, just by being listed among so many incredible blogs – some of which I discovered through the list of nominees. As Jason Renshaw said in his post, we are all winners, especially for the fantastic showing of ELT participation in the blogosphere.


So I this post is to thank my amazing PLN for everything I have learned from them, for the motivating discussions, the great links to articles and tools to use in class, for the thought-provoking blog posts, the fun convos, for being who they are. And for the vote of confidence. I hope I am able to  keep participating and posting to be deserving of this. And a thank you for everyone who voted on the Edublog Awards, not only the ones who kindly voted on this blog, but everybody. I think we should help support initiatives likes this, who incentives the use of the web for professional development and sharing, as well as spread the word about the wonderful educators we have around. There are few initiatives like that available.


A thank you to a multicultural PLN

Should I Just Let It Go?


This week during the second session of #ELTChat we discussed whether there were advantages to being a non-native-speaking teacher. It was a great discussion  as usual – lots of insights from all the participating teachers. During the chat the issue of pronunciation was brought up as expected. It had also come up at another #ELTChat, about what is fluency. Much was said about it on both chats, but it seems to be believed by many teachers that the aim of working with pronunciation should be on making the students’ speaking intelligible – not on making them a replica of a native speaker’s pronunciation (I’ll refrain from getting into the whole what is a native speaker’s pronunciation – we can have a whole post on that alone).



And that discussion triggered some reflection on my part (ok, maybe it was going around my mind already…), on how I approach pronunciation in my classes, what I expect from students and especially if I am letting my experience as a learner/speaker influence my teaching. That’s what this post is about.



photo by (cup)cake_eater - CC

Is it time I let go?


Let me explain better… I learned English here, in Recife (Brazil), through the audiolingual method. Most of the teachers I had were Brazilian, and I believe few of them had had an experience abroad. I think it’s relevant for me to mention this here because we are talking about life and language learning prior to the technology revolution we have gone through and now live in. Resources of authentic language were scarce, traveling was expensive and hard… Bottom line: in my opinion it wasn’t as easy at that time to become a fluent English speaker, with a so-called native-like pronunciation.


So, when I was taught the past, I learned the pronunciation of the -ED ending of regular verbs in the simple past with lots of drilling. And there were no different pronunciations of said -ED ending. You just pronounced the verb followed by an (equally thoroughly pronounced) -ED ending. When I went to live as an exchange student in northwestern Kansas (Yes, I spoke with a southern drawl… It – I hope – got lost after the many years of teaching and being exposed to more neutral pronunciation) that ending caused one of the biggest traumas I have of that time (the biggest involves my absolute inability to play basketball).


I had two advanced classes in my schedule:  Advanced Chemistry and Advanced Math. And let me just say that after the first day, when another student (an American one) asked me about my schedule, after hearing me mention those two classes, I spent the next 11 months being mocked about my AdvancED classes. I even have a message on my yearbook to prove it! If bullying was discussed at that time, I’m sure that was bullying. Of course I changed my pronunciation to the appropriate /t/ sound right away. No use… that ED haunted me for the duration of my year in Kansas. And I hated that! Who likes being mocked and get that kind of attention?


I share this story to justify my great care and attention to teaching, reviewing, drilling, endless practicing and correcting I do of that specific pronunciation bit with my students. For me it is essential that my students nail the three different pronunciations of that -ED ending. And I know I’m in part (Really? Am I being too kind with myself?) doing that because it’s something that left a mark in me. A scar maybe?


There’s no way we can leave our experiences as learners of a language behind us when we become teachers. Our experiences are what shape us, and there are wonderful things we can draw from them, strategies we developed that we can teach our students, the predicting of problems, the understanding of insecurities the students have… But we have to be careful not to let these experiences – especially the negative ones – take over our teaching, prevent us from being reasonable and rational about how to do things, how far to take things, how much to enforce something.


That’s the reflection I’ve made this week. Maybe it’s time I forgot that year of -ED bullying and started demanding a less perfect pronunciation of regular verbs in the past from my students. After all, they just need to be understood, right?


I’d love to hear your stories of how your experiences as a learner have shaped or interfered in your teaching! 🙂

Of Unexpected Wonderful Surprises – My EduBlog Nomination

I started blogging on September 25 – a little over 2 months ago. And I did so because as I was introduced to the wonderful world of the blogosphere I started posting comments on many of the fantastic blogs by teachers/educators I read. And sometimes those blog posts made me think and reflect and the comments started not being enough. And with the incentive of the great PLN I have, I decided to give it a shot. And it’s been the most rewarding experience. I have learned so much as I wrote the posts, as I read and replied to comments… It has put me in contact with even more great educators. It was an unexpected, wonderful surprise and addition to my life.



And this week I was honored to be nominated by some members of my PLN to the “Best new Blog – EduBlog Awards”. It was yet, another unexpected wonderful surprise that only motivated me even more to work harder at posting and sharing. So I’d like to thank those who thought of my blog, among so many fabulous blogs, for this. I’m very flattered you found me worthy. And take the opportunity to thank all the people who have visited and read my blog, whether you’ve left a comment or not.





And for those who haven’t voted yet, you can do so by clicking on the badge above… It will take you to the category I was nominated for :-))) There are some wonderful blogs, all well worth a visit and a read.

An ordinary wonderful day in the life of a TEFL teacher




Great things sometimes surprise us…


I haven’t had much time to tweet and especially blog – something I love doing, and like doing in a calm way, so that I can really reflect and write a post worthy of being read by so many wonderful people. But end of terms are like this, not only for me but for most people that might take the time to read this. Vacation is around the corner and I hope to make up from it. But today’s post is something I felt I had to write, if just to let it out. Because todays was an ordinary teaching day for me and in so many ways it surprised me. My teaching, my students made a day who started out on the wrong foot end in such a great note. So forgive me for a little hastiness, any typos or other things that might come out wrong. Today I write this post for me. To be thankful for my day, my students and the fantastic career I chose to pursue.




Mondays and Wednesdays are my busiest days. I start teaching early in the morning ( those who know of my sleeping patterns – or lack of sleep is more likely – will probably understand what an effort it is for me to teach bright and early. I am very much a night owl.) then work outside the classroom for the rest of the morning, rush home with son to eat lunch in 15 minutes and rush back to school for a full afternoon of back-to-back teaching. Then a hurried snack/supper and on to a private 1:1 student for another 2 hours. So I usually have a 14-hours shift on these days 🙂





... and bring us hope.

As I woke up today, I wasn’t expecting it to be a good day. I was a bit under the weather, worried about covering the content with my morning group (only 4 more classes and 3 chapters to go), thinking about paperwork that had to be dealt with urgently… I go into twitter after  I get everything ready in my classroom and am waiting for the students to arrive, and see Gavin Dudeney’s new post. I am not getting into details, but in short it’s about being bullied online, threatened by a person who you thought was your friend, who you’ve shared personal feelings and stories. And his account of the sickening (and terrifying) experience he’s going through scared me. Scared me because I realized I had a false (and potentially dangerous) sense of security on twitter. It scared me because it made me think back about the people I consider my friends on twitter – could any of them be a bully? It scared me because it alerted (?) me that sometimes not everyone is who they appear to be. It made me feel uneasy – I truly believe (still) I have met some fabulous people on Twitter, some of them I have become closer with, many have become dear friends, people I admire and learn from. Are we really living in a world where people are that mean to each other? Where you have to be wary of everyone, every word, every gesture and measure your own even among who you believe to be friends. A place where you can’t trust anyone? I had these feelings and thoughts all over my mind (and heart) as I got into class…




And then the first wonderful ordinary thing happened. Instead of the boring, tiring, hurried class I had thought I’d have (covering the content I am late at), my students gave me a great, fun, relaxing class. They (7 students ranging from 10 to 13 years old) started out by asking if we could have class sitting on the floor today. They had never asked for that, but I thought “Why not” – I like sitting on the floor. We did all I had planned out to do, they worked hard, it went smoothly, we laughed… some students were sprawled on the floor, some leaning on chairs or the wall. Everybody felt comfortable. It was light (despite being a “full-force” grammar-nuggets-with-no-sauce-to-make-it-easier-to-swallow class)… and it lifted my spirits a little.



 Then in the afternoon…


more great surprises, new (and somewhat risky) ideas, change of plans… everything worked perfectly. I had an amazing (an unplanned / unplugged) discussion with my students about formal testing (they’re currently going through the many tests to get into college -the feared “vestibular” ). What a great thing having my students so engaged, making such intelligent collocations on the issue… no regrets about the forgotten plan. Totally student emergent, lots of learning, lots of using the language… I learned a lot from them – and about them. The only sad aspect of this class is that it’ll make it even harder to say goodbye in 2 weeks 🙂 And my final class… well, we’re currently discussing tolerance. And my students’ final task of the day, from the handbook, was to create an acrostic poem about RESPECT. And  in only 10 minutes – they worked in pairs, here’s what they came up with:




“Respectful is everything you have to be to be sociable and accept other people in their own way. There are differences everywhere you go. If you’re not respectful you have to change that and start being tolerant.”

“Rational behavior that you expect from someone who doesn’t have prejudice, or envy you – can be someone tolerant.”




“Respect each other without only seeing the differences, but also paying attention to the similarities, because everybody lives in a society so it’s common to meet people with a different opinion or lifestyle.”








So here is the main reason for this post, what moved me to write it. it was a big coincidence that the topic we were working in class had to do with what was on my mind during the day. Or was it? What my young students wrote made me hopeful that maybe I am making a difference by bringing these discussion to class, by fostering reflection, making them think about the world we want to live in. Maybe these few students are going to be more tolerant, respect others. They made me feel that there’s more good and good people, good things in this world, in the younger generations. So I thank my students for ending my day in a very positive and cheerful note. For helping send the negative thoughts and feelings away, replacing them with positive ones. How lucky are we to be teachers and see this, eh? Some people could surely learn something from my students today… Here’s to that!