What’s Your Plan? My First Challenge


Tonight, after putting the kids to bed, as I was trying to catch up with the tweets and #ELTChat one tweet, from a teacher who I greatly enjoy sharing and chatting with (and who also has a Brazilian heart), caught my attention:


A tweet suggesting a new #ELTpics... that turns into a blog post 🙂


Guido was suggesting a new topic for #ELTpics (A great idea lead by @VictoriaB52. A set of photos, based on a weekly theme, taken by ELT teachers, trainers and writers from around the world. These are, in turn, available free to others in the field of ELT under a CC license. Anyone interested in joining in can tweet an image with the hashtag #eltpics). He thought we could share pictures of our lesson plans. I liked the idea, but we then talked about the objective of #ELTpics and we thought maybe it wouldn’t be adequate. But I had already been bitten by the curious bug, wanting to know how my PLN did their lesson plans – if they did it at all! So I decided to write a post about it, telling a bit of my lesson plan “history”. But more than showing what my plans are like and the rationale behind it, I want to know how other teachers do it (or if they do it at all) and why. So I decided maybe it was time for me to stop just joining challenges and setting one of my own. So here’s the challenge:


Do you write your lesson plans? If so, how do you do it, what is the format?

Why and how did you arrive at that format?


  If you feel like joining the challenge (and I really hope you do) you can blog about it – and I’ll add a link to your post here. If you don’t have a blog but you’d still like to join the challenge you can send me your lesson plan story through email and I’ll post it here. I think sharing our lesson plans will be a great way of finding new ways of doing it, maybe even finding one we would like to try doing, or ideas to adapt the way we do it now. After all, like so many other things in teaching, there’s no right or wrong – each person works best in their particular way.


So, here’s my lesson plan story: When I started teaching, about 17 years ago, I did it after taking a TTC (Teacher Training Course), in which we learned how to write a lesson plan, how we should do it. It was a very thorough and long format, that included the aim of the lesson, the procedures for each activity, the material needed for each of them, as well as the time they should take. It also contained the type of interaction of the activities (T-ST / ST-ST). I planned my lessons like that for a few years and it was really helpful in my development as a teacher because it made me reflect about what I did in class, the purpose of each activity, etc. But it took ages to write the plan for each class, for each group. So after a few years, and with a great number of different groups/levels each semester, I decided it was time to change and make things simpler. So I started writing just the procedures, followed by the time and material for each activity. After a while (in an attempt to take even less time, optimize things) there were some very slight changes and my plans looked like this (yes, I keep a lot of old lesson plans that I rarely look at and mostly just gather dust – this one is about 7 years old):





(By the way,  no jokes about the Pooh paper, please. I (like many other teachers I know) indulge in a little “cutesy” with my teaching materials once in a while. :-)) Up til this point I always wrote my plans on paper. At this point, in the school I work at, we started using Palms to do role call and other administrative procedures. To make my life easier (and save some trees) I began doing my plans digitally, typing them on a Word Processor (sample here:  Lesson Plan AE SL ) and just uploading to the Palm. I still kept the format though. This lasted about a year. I know what I’m about to say is completely eco-UNfriendly, but I love writing the plans, using pen and paper. Sitting in front of a screen and doing it just didn’t do it for me. So I went back to paper. The last evolution/development my lesson planning has gone through was making it even simpler. I now use index cards. Most times one is enough – front and back. I assign a color to each different group and I use little round stickers on the corner of the index card to signal the group that plan is for. I also write the class number inside the sticker. I take the card to class and after it I collect them all into a box, categorized by color/group. I no longer write the material needed. So now they look like this:


What my lesson plans look like these days...




 Why I do it like this now? Do I think being as thorough as I was in the beginning was a waste of time? Not at all!! It’s just that after so many years teaching there are some things that I don’t need to write down on paper anymore, that I just run through my mind. I’ve been using this format for the past 3 years, and still feels like the best one for me.


So, up to the challenge? What is your lesson plan story? I’d love to read about it!


Updates of Teachers joining in the challenge:

• Sandy Millin’s (@sandymillin) “Planning Evolution” post

• Ceri Jones explains (@cerirhiannon) the lesson plan from the day she had Flashes of Inspiration:  My Lesson Plan: A Walk-through for Ceci 

• Marisa Pavan (@Mtranslator) shows her Lesson Plan History

• Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) reflects on his Lesson Plan Transformation

• Jason Renshaw’s (@englishraven) analyzes lesson planning on Without Reflection, We May Be Planning to stand Still

• Anna Bring and her Lesson Planning in Evolution

• @EclipsingX ‘s colorful lesson planand her use of index cards for LP after reading this post 🙂





A Fun Lesson Reviewing Adjectives

What do you look for in a friend? In a romantic partner?


After I used the Valentine’s Day activities in my groups I decided it would be a good opportunity to have a follow-up lesson to review adjectives and descriptions. Since we had talked about Valentine’s Day, the people we loved, etc it would be easy to link that lesson to one where we talked about what attracted us in people – and what put us off. It worked really well with my students, so I thought I’d share it here:-). I know this lesson might not work with certain age groups or cultural backgrounds. but you can use just part of it, or adapt to your students. Feel free – and share!


When the class started I distributed some papers (half of a blank paper), markers and tape, and told the students to tape the paper to their backs. Then I put on some music and asked them to go around writing one adjective they thought described that person. Wait, wait! Don’t start thinking the students don’t know each other that well, this won’t work. This activity works whether they’ve just met or if they’ve been studying together for a while – different outcomes, but everything works. After they have all written on each other’s papers, before I let them take the papers down to see what their friends wrote about them I ask them to say one adjective they think describe themselves. If the students start complaining it’s hard to choose just one, tell them yes, it’s hard (“So is life!” I usually say playfully to my students), but it doesn’t mean they’re just that, but that that characteristic is a predominant one in their personality.


Then I tell them to take the paper off their backs and look at the words the other students used to describe them. Then, into trios I have them share their views on if they see themselves the same way others saw them, possible reasons for any differences, etc… Then a quick general accountability with the whole group, asking 2 or 3 students at random about it. I usually spend some time with them reflecting upon the image we have of ourselves and the one we project, etc…


After that, I ask them to share what is one characteristic that attracts them in people from the opposite sex. Since the previous activity will have gotten mostly personality adjectives (and to be honest everyone always answer this with a personality trait first, maybe to show they’re not superficial ;-)) it’s very likely that’s what you’ll get as answers. Let them talk, ask them to elaborate a bit if you have an angle (Funny? Why is that? What is a funny person to you? etc). In my group, that’s what happened, to what (after everyone had spoken) I joked by saying “Ok, I’m very proud all my students are such “evolved” people who don’t care about appearances, but let’s be a bit superficial here, because usually it’s something physical that first attracts you to someone. What catches your attention – as far as physical characteristics go? I got a lot of “the smile”, “the eyes”, “the height”… We did a little brainstorm on famous people they considered attractive, and on those they knew weren’t examples of physical beauty but still had something that made them attractive. Then I say they’ve probably talked about this (what they find attractive in people) many times before, and that today we’d take a different turn. Finally I give them the worksheet and take it from there.


My class (a fluent group of people between 20 and 40 years old men and women) had a great time with this lesson, laughing, making comments and asking each other questions related to the topic. This was on our 4th class, and only two of them knew each other before the term started – they’re brothers. so, I hope you enjoy it too. If you use it (and feel free to change it in any way you need to adapt to your groups) I’d love to hear how it went. We all know how receiving feedback is important 😉 Here’s the worksheet:

The Laws of UNattractiveness

Learning, Sharing and Tweetups = My Week in Fleetham Lodge

Fleetham Lodge - My home for a week in January


It all started in the end of a session during the 3rd VRT (Virtual Round Table) last October. Berni Wall (@rliberni) said she would do another ELT PD Week for overseas teachers in January, and invited applications. I had my attention grabbed right there and went to her website to check the details. A week in Yorkshire, with other ELT teachers discuss teaching? I can’t think of many better ways to spend part of my vacation. A few email exchanges later I was buying my tickets.


The idea was to tackle the most important topics related to English teaching during the days and discuss/watch films of the Brontës novels in the evening. Most of us arrived on January 2nd: me and Wellington Oliveira (wellingtonros) from Brazil, Dina Dobrou (@dobroudina) and Maria Zygourakis (@mariazygourakis) from Greece. I had been interacting with Berni through twitter for a while, she is a moderator at the wonderful #ELTChat and is also the head (and creator) of Gapfillers – a great website for English learners. She came pick us up at the Northallerton train station. I recognized her as soon as she pulled up – another great help from twitter and PLNs. that day we got to know each other a bit better, then a wonderful dinner and we watched the first Brontë film: “The Tenant of Winfell Hall”.


Berni lives (and teaches) at Fleetham Lodge, an incredibly beautiful place, with fireplaces everywhere (Thankfully – it’s was a very cold week!). I slept alone for the first day, for my roomate, the fantastic Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell) had some problems making it from the US to Yorkshire. On Monday we went to Haworth, the city where the Brontë sisters lived at and their father was perpetual curate of the church. What a wonderful day! A charming, old town, cobblestones, buildings and business that have been there since the Brontë sisters lived there… We visited their museum with their possessions, clothes, manuscripts…), the church, the cemetery, strolled around the streets, tried reaching the ruins they say inspired “Wuthering Heights” – it was too cold to walk all the way there. It was a perfect day. We even had lunch at the pub where Bramwell (the Brontë sisters’ brother) used to go to! Personally I was fascinated. I always am when I see things that bring closer, bring to reality things I’ve read about in books. I recommend anyone who has the opportunity to visit Haworth. After dinner we started watching “Wuthering Heights”. Shelly arrived late that first night. And she is everything she seems to be on twitter: sweet, smart and an insomniac like me (which translates into looong talks into early hours of the morning).


Maria, Wellington, Berni, Immy, Me and Dina walking on the moors.

On the first day of PD we discussed Listening, Vocabulary and Technology. We talked about our views on teaching the first two and using the third to promote learning, but mostly – and more importantly – we shared. We shared our opinions, shared approaches and activities that worked with us, shared doubts and insecurities… When we discussed technology it was a real treat having Shelly with us, who not only is a fantastic teacher but also is a pro at how to integrate technology into the classroom and use it for enhancing students’ learning experience. At night we watched the second part of “Wuthering Heights” after dinner that I had cooked (some Brazilian flavors: caipirinhas for cocktail, fish in coconut sauce and cashew nuts rice).


On Wednesday Shelly had to leave us. In the PD front we discussed grammar (shared views on form X function and lots and lots of activities). we took a break to participate in the #ELTChat. At night, since it was the 12th night, we had a special dinner of goose and did our version of the “mummers play” – which Berni’s husband (and fabulous cook) filmed and photographed. We had such fun!


The Mummers Play on the 12th night



On our third day we tackled blogging, error correction and speaking.  Our serious professional development session was interrupted by a heavy snowfall which made the 4 of us – not really used to snow in our home countries – go outside to enjoy the snow on the ground a bit.


On Friday we discussed reading and in the aftgernoon Berni took us to Northallerton to walk around the town and do some shopping. On Saturday we had a day off, so the four of us took of and spent the day in York. We visited the York Minster, walked around the beautiful streets, had fish&chips for lunch… another perfect, fun day. Then on Sunday it was time to say goodbye – how quickly a week goes by when you’re enjoying yourself and the people you’re with!


Tweet-up! Shelly, me and Berni


My final assessment of that PD week? Well, before I went a friend, who also works with ELT asked me what she (Berni) got out of it. After all she is opening her home, her family life to a group of “strangers’, housing and feeding them with no financial payback. So what does she get from it? I didn’t ask her that, but I can wonder. I think she – as a passionate, committed teacher – loves sharing, exchanging ideas, learning how things are done elsewhere. Kirkby Fleetham is somewhat isolated as far as ELT goes. Of course Berni goes to conferences, she reads, moderates ELTChat… But mostly she works on her own. So I think in a way, the PD Week opportunity she offers is a way for her to have a bit of a teacher’s staff room for a week, as well as connecting with teachers from different cultures and realities. She is a wonderful teacher and has lots to share, and I consider myself very lucky to having had the chance to experience that. It only served to prove even further what I feel about sharing and how much sharing is an essential part of a teacher’s life (you can read more about my views on sharing in this post I wrote about it). Besides, Berni and her family have a heart of gold. I learned a lot that week. Things that I’ll use in the classroom, with my students and in my life in genral. And I thank Berni for the opportunity. 🙂

Love is in… the ELT classroom!

Will you be my valentine?


I have to admit Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays… Call me a romantic if you want, but the fact is, despite Valentine’s Day not even existing in the Brazilian calendar, I love to celebrate it. See, the thing that makes it so appealing to me is that it is a day to celebrate love. Simple as that. Not necessarily romantic love… just love. Love for a parent, for a friend, for a child… And despite the (overly IMHO) commercial side of it I think it’s great to have a day to tell the people we love how we feel. I know we can do that every day, but having a day with that sole purpose reminds us to celebrate and acknowledge that love.


So I decided to share a couple of activities I’ve created and used in some of my groups around Valentine’s. I hope you enjoy them!

A warmer that’s silly and simple, but that I have used is just eliciting the word Valentine’s Day from the students, then writing it on the board and giving them 3 to 5 minutes to come up with as many words using the letters from the board as possible. They can only use a letter more than once if the letter appears more than once on the board, and words have to contain 3 letters or more. A nice competition will surely warm their hearts up!

Here are some activities (note: they were prepared for an advanced conversation group I have, and the students are quite fluent. So, depending on the level you teach, they may need some adjustments):


Valentines Activity 1 CNN Article

Valentines Activity 2 Reuters Article

Valentines Idioms with Heart

About Words & Their Power

Before I start this post I’d just like to apologize for not posting for a long time… But I was on vacation and away from internet access. it was good to unplug, but it’s even better to be back! 🙂



How do you choose your words?


Today I caught myself thinking about the power our words (or anybody else’s for that matter) have. Of course everyone must have considered the issue every once in a while, especially when we are on the receiving end of a more powerful set of them. Words have the power to fill hearts or break them; lift spirits or kill them. they can make you laugh, cry (even if when no one else is looking), learn or doubt yourself. I’d go as far as say that wars have started because of things that were said – or so it was claimed.


But I’m not going to get that philosophical or start talking about world peace here – though it is a worthy topic 🙂 Since the main (or only) focus of my dwellings on this blog is teaching, I’m going to focus on the power words have in the classroom, more specifically the power the words of a teacher can have. Do we have (or keep) in mind how powerful or meaningful our words can be when we direct them at our students when we say them? Oh, I’m sure many times we do. We even measure and carefully choose our words sometimes.


Not too long ago I wrote a guest post at Ken Wilson’s blog about Giving Meaningful Feedback to Students, about listening to them. And I believe what I’m going to say here relates to it. I think we’re not fully aware of what we say or the effect our words may have on students 100% of the time. Sometimes we go on automatic mode. When we are drilling (Yes – I DO drill – Shame on me? I don’t think so… He who does not drill may throw the first stone!) or checking students’ answers / opinions about something. And we don’t really stop to think about what (or how?) we talk to students. “Great!” “Perfect!” “Good job!” Do students take those words as real praise directed at them or just empty words indicating whether they’ve provided a proper correct answer or not? Does this change if we add a personalized comment? Something like “Great! I also like going to the beach on my holidays Julia!” or “Yes! And what was the last film you’ve watched Lucas?”.


I think it does – for the same reason I mentioned in my guest post for Ken. It shows students we listened to what they said. But then a question emerges: Is it humanly possible to do that, to give personalized feedback every time we give feedback to students – orally or other? It looks pretty on picture, I know. Yet, reality seems to be a little different.


Most teachers I know have way too many students (in each class and/or altogether) to make it feasible. Some of us (I include myself in this group!) have to do on-going, continuous evaluation, which means attributing a “grade” to students’ performance as they talk and produce in class, which makes it even harder to focus on content – rather than form – as we listen to students in class. Are we to blame? Is anyone? should we ditch form? I see that we are – at least I am – distancing myself from the focus on form slowly but surely. Would that be the answer? Is it that simple?



I wish I hadn't said that!!!

And that’s not all. Sometimes we’re are just on a bad day/moment. A specific moment always comes to mind when I think of that – one that had a happy ending for me, but could’ve had disastrous results. I had a 15-year-old student – a boy – who would mention the word “sex”every 10th word he said in class. The first few classes I (tried to) ignore it. I made a few remarks and light reprimands. “Come on, not the topic being we’re discussing…” or  “Please, you’re making other students a bit uncomfortable…” or even a direct ” Not appropriate.” But he kept on going. So you can imagine how tired of it I was after a couple of months. Then, one day as they were doing something I was sitting by each student and giving individual feedback, he started on his usual routine and I just blurted out, from across the classroom – as I was sitting beside one of his classmates: “Dear, people who actually have sex don’t talk about it.”


As expected, a big uproar followed, giggling… He looked absolutely taken by surprise – so was I to be honest – and shocked by my unexpected reply. He barely spoke for the rest of the lesson. And I regretted my words almost as soon as I had uttered them. What was I thinking?!?? How could I have talked to a student in that way? So, when class was over I went straight to my academic coordinator’s office and told her what had happened, saying we should not be surprised if we heard a complaint from the boy or his parents. No complaints came from it though – and he stopped his inappropriate behavior in class after that. He actually came after me and hugged me, said what a great teacher I was and how much he missed me whenever he saw me even in the semesters that followed, when he was no longer my student. However, the way things turned out do not – in my opinion – make what I did, what I said, right. I mean, it was right, but not fit for me, as his English teacher, to say.


I’ve had students change decisions (even one or two career path changes) after talking to me. I’ve had students quit studying English or really start taking it seriously. I’ve had ( a lot!) students who completely ignored what I said to them. As teachers, we have to remember many of our students think very highly of us and our opinions. we have to remember our words matter. And we should try to keep that in mind as often as possible. Whether in oral feedback, comments, written corrections/feedback or just an “innocent” conversation after class. what we say matters.


And I think (and hope) my words here were not just empty words thrown into the blogosphere. 🙂