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)


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
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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. 🙂

Dogme Blog Challenge #1 – Interactivity and Co-construction – My Take on It


This post is part of a challenge proposed by Karenne Sylvester on her blog . She proposed that every Thursday, for 10 weeks we blog in response to questions she’ll put up, in an attempt to take a deeper look at Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings’  Teaching Unplugged approach. The question posted for this first challenge was:

Materials-mediated teaching is the ‘scenic’ route to learning, 

but the direct route 

is located in the interactivity between teachers and learners, and between the learners themselves.

Learning is a social and dialogic process, 

where knowledge is co-constructed 
rather than transmitted or imported 

from teacher/coursebook to learner.

What does that mean to you?


I’d like to start this post by saying that I am still learning about dogme and unplugged teaching, I am still trying to grasp the concept. All I know for certain now is that it interests me, it’s sparked something within my teaching beliefs and practices. I have ordered the book and hopefully it will be here by the end of this month (it had a 60-day estimated delivery). So what you’ll read here are much more thoughts and questionings, perceptions and feelings I have from the little I know about it. I hadn’t even heard of it until I joined twitter and started reading my PLN’s blogs. so here it goes:

A “Scenic Route” can be defined as “a road or path designed to take one past a pleasant view or nice scenery; the long way round, a deliberately slow path” (definition by


When relating that to teaching I am bothered a bit. First by the deliberately on it – are Coursebooks deliberately slow? I don’t think so. Learning takes time, it takes exposing the student to a new thing repeatedly, provide him with opportunities to experiment and use the language he’s been presented to. The other thing that bothers me is the pleasant view reference. Do we, as teachers, see the coursebooks we use as pleasant? Coursebooks, their effectiveness, how we should use them, whether they’re evil or not has been the topic of numerous discussions (it was an #ELTChat topic), blog posts, tweets etc… I haven’t made up my mind yet.  Right now I think they’re not all bad – but basing your teaching solely on one handicaps you, restricts you. Because they’re pretty much a “one-size-fits-all” thing – and I don’t know about you but I am yet to come across a group of students who learn the same way, have the same level or motivation or share the exact same interests. Diversity is the word.


And when we restrict our teaching, we smother creativity, spontaneity. We miss opportunities of meaningful teaching given by our students when they demonstrate interest for something that is not on the coursebook’s agenda that day. The school where I teach adopts coursebooks (as all schools I know do) and teachers are expected to cover it thoroughly. We don’t necessarily follow the order proposed by the book – we have established benchmarks and paths that we see as more adequate to our students, changing the order and adding extra material where we found necessary. And teachers have flexibility to add / create activities to the classes they teach, as they see fit. And so the teachers have been doing – so I have been doing, ever since I started teaching, almost 17 years ago.


My first “face-to-face” encounter with unplugged teaching came as a response to a challenge (A challenge to teachers: Trying upside down and inside out) proposed by Jason Renshaw on his blog. (Note: As you may have noticed by now I have a problem declining challenges 😉 – Go figure!). I taught a whole class without planning – and then wrote a guest post on it in Ceri Jone’s blog. Suffice  to say it was one of the best, most successful (and greatly enjoyed by the students) lessons I’ve ever taught. So that just added to my interest and curiosity to learn more about it. There was a lot of interaction, mostly student/student, a lot of students learning from each other. But that was not all. There was also teacher/student interaction, and there was no interaction (individual work). So in a way, my (so I think) perfect example of unplugged teaching disagrees with the quote posted for today’s challenge. There was learning that came from no interaction, individually constructed, by the student.


As a student, I’ve always been able to draw learning and knowledge from books alone. I do know that not all students do that, but there are those who do. And here is that word again: diversity. If we have student diversity, why not teaching diversity? why do we have to completely deny one thing in order to adopt another one? What tells us we can’t do both: coursebooks and unplugged lessons? Enough about that…



On a final (and more personal, free thinking interpretation) note, I’d like to make an analogy as to learning being a “social and dialogic process where knowledge is co-constructed. I love cooking. And I am able to follow the instructions on a recipe and produce something good to eat. But I’ve always prefered learning a recipe by watching someone do it, having someone who knows the recipe and has done it before prepare it together with me. When I learn a new recipe by doing it together I can ask questions, I see how it’s done from up-close, I smell it, I put my hands in it… I owe it. And I learn it. By doing. Co-constructing a dish.


Co-constructing learning, be it with another student, be it with your teacher is much more effective, faster and so much more enjoyable. Coursebook or unplugged, this is always true. Don’t you think?


And if you’re ever in São Paulo I highly recommend paying a visit to “L´Entrecôte de Ma Tante” where you can have some of that chocolate mousse ;-)!