Working with the teenage brain

If we remember Maslow’s Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs, we recall that the need to belong, the third level of the hierarchy, might help explain teenagers’ love of socializing. When teens confront English in school, they are often introduced to mere grammatical phrases that have nothing to do with their ‘real’ life.

In the context of teaching language, whether it be EFL or ESL, by providing students with a social context in which they can practice their new language skills, teachers can help students engage in their studies by working in social groups to determine grammar rules and practice the four language skills in collaborate groups while they are learning.

Larry Ferlazzo, who runs a blog in which he compiles great sites for EFL and ESL teachers, has compiled a great list and an article which I consider to be mandatory reading for  any teacher who works with adolescents. You can find it here.

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Differentiation for different learners

When we know our personal learning styles and have explored our multiple intelligences, we might come to the conclusion that we need to create lessons with several approaches to provide interest and variety in our classes.

For those of us who enjoy looking at photos, and remember that a photo is worth 1,000 words, here is a link to Ian James’ site where he shares a great lesson for questioning and answering based on photo-study, which addresses many multiple intelligences and learning styles.

Check it out.The Who What Where When and Why of Photos

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A great class to watch

We can determine the identifying characteristics that make each class unique. In the process, we have even found several different methodologies in classrooms and lessons that might look just like yours.

In her post comparing a TEFL class online with her own suggestions, Adriana, a past TKT candidate, has shared a GREAT class that I recommend watching because it uses many motivational techniques that work. It is a task-based class, so the learning focus is centered on the students, not on the teacher, and involves the students on many levels.

Check out Adriana’s blog at

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Don’t Motivate your Students

You are probably wondering what that means…and I really mean it, don’t motivate your students. If you motivate your students, you are still doing work for them that THEY should be doing. Motivating. Instead, engage your students. Involve your students. Let them have control of their learning. How?

Let them make decisions about their knowledge. Let them set their own goals. Stop trying to control them, let them control their learning processes.

I recently took a good hard look at the typical school classroom in most schools in the town where  I live. In every classroom, the seats are lined up to face the front facing the teacher, the center of attention.

Students sit and listen while professors drone on, and once in a while students get to speak during pair work. Students in Mexican universities are required to study English in order to graduate, so they come in thousands (five thousand students registered this past semester in our Language Department and at times, hundreds are turned away!). There are no discipline problems, this is university level studies and they take it seriously.

So, what does engaging your students mean? This is what I think

Asking them

  • to reflect,
  • to evaluate,
  • to stand back and observe what they are doing,
  • to learn not only from their product but also from their process. If we say that life is the journey you travel to get to your destination, and the fun is in how you get there, then why do we place so much emphasis on the product?

ASCD author and Annual Conference presenter Bob Sullo says that educators could be more successful with their teaching if they invited their students to be collaborators in their own learning in this video.

Point in case: A secondary level teacher once gave the final bimester exam at the beginning of the bimester…but disguised as a diagnostic exam. The students got their exams back on the day of their bimester exam. Their task was to correct all of the mistakes they had made previously, and based on their corrections, they got their exam grade…now isn’t that extraordinary? After the first time, the students caught on that what they were viewing was their study guide, which was given to them at the beginning of the marking period. The AHA moment was tangible as everyone learned what they were going to study at the beginning, and set new personal goals for themselves during the next bimester. Now that was engagement.

  • How would you place more emphasis on the process of learning?
  • Would you let your students design their own rubrics? Share expectations?
  • Give them a choice and so create ownership?
  • Go beyond the classroom walls?

What ideas do you have?

Original Toondo cartoon by author.

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Four Skills Great Ideas Post

I’d love to use this post as a forum for the great ideas you all have. From your experiences in the ESL/EFL (or French, Italian, German, or Japanese) teaching/learning world, recommend another blog, site or page where English teachers can go for extra support in the four skills. I’m sure that everyone has something to contribute.
I would like to recommend a visit to songs-to-teach-grammar this blog about songs to teach grammar where you can find lots of suggestions and other sites for finding and using songs to teach grammar.
Busy Prepositions from Schoolhouse Rock is one of my favorite videos to teach a difficult concept, prepositional phrases, from Schoolhouse Rock, 2007, found on Youtube. I find it useful to help students distinguish between phrases and clauses.

Here is a great link to a blog, all about making writing lessons meaningful for ESL/EFL students to give you some ideas to use in your classrooms.

To work on stress and intonation in speaking, here is Carolyn Graham’s Jazz Chants.<a href=”Teaching Jazz Chants“>Teaching Jazz Chants

Here are some techniques for teaching speaking in big classes BBC Teaching Speaking

Specific sites such as these provide specific aids for busy teachers who can inject fun and creativity into their classrooms while helping their students learn.


What to do with book reports

So, we get our students to read books. It helps their vocabulary and grammar. But then we ask them to do a book report.

If we ask them to review the plot, they are sure to be copying from online versions of Widipedia or Amazon reviews. There are tons of places where they can copy and paste information and finish their book report within five minutes, many times without even reading the book.

A list of student interactives can be found on this page With these graphic organizers, thought-provoking questions accompany each graphic organizer in each sub theme that students explore.
But what about if we set up their graphic organizers beforehand so they know what is expected of them? I’d like to share a wonderful lesson plan I came across while studying in the Electronic Village Online Courses offered by TESOL for free the first five weeks of every year. This particular course was called Classdigitools, a well-named thoroughly enjoyable course geared towards exploration of Internet tools to use in the classroom in the four skills areas.

Here are some samples I made:

Gone are the copy and paste days. Hello critical thinking and creative processes!


What to do now….?

Reaching the midpoint of any class is a milestone. It serves to look back and see what we have learned, and look forward to see how we can improve even more.

As was stated in the beginning of the course, TKT preparation involves learning new nomenclature for concepts you already know. In order to do your best on the exams, it is absolutely necessary to study the terminology. As we have witnessed through our class experiences, learning new vocabulary can be a daunting undertaking, especially if we try to learn the new words in lists. We have seen through experience that we need to associate the words in contexts. So, here are some suggestions for you to accomplish your goals:

  1. Access the sites listed in the TKT Support area. There are many different means of support here. I suggest you try each one from the tips to Yesy’s incredible hot potatoes quizzes. Yesy was a TKT candidate several years ago. Her method of studying was to create these online games; that way she was able to work with the words and their definitions in a clear manner. The best thing about her study method is that she created a valuable tool for everyone, since it is online!
  2. Write a reflection paragraph after each unit. Include as many words from the glossary seen in the unit in your paragraph. If you want some ideas, you may use the reflection questions at the end of each unit as a guide. Remember that using the words will help you to learn them faster. You may publish your reflections on your blog so everyone can enjoy what you are doing.
  3. Make sure you complete all exercises at the end of each unit: the Follow-ups, the Discovery activities and the Practice Activities.

Next week we will experience what online or distance learning might be like as we work on Unit 9. Please read the Unit before next week so you can apply the new vocabulary in class.

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Literature Circles

literature circles

Reading is a complex activity and we know that many of our learners are not accustomed to reading in their first language, let alone reading in the target language. When we create a collaborative communicative context for students to work on subskills in the target language, we begin to promote not only reading subskills, but we also promote collaboration, speaking skills, writing skills and listening skills.

It is difficult to work with any language skill without integratiang it. Working with just one skill causes language to be unnatural and out of context with the other language skills. Literacy circles gives students authentic reasons to communicate, provides a supportive learning environment and breaks down the tasks that students must do in order to practice and become proficient at reading skills.

Look at the Literature_Circles written by past students of the TKT course.
What is your opinion of Literature Circles? Can they help promote reading in L1 or L2 in your learning/teaching situation? For foreign language learners are they especially helpful? Why? Think about these questions as you investigate more about Literature Circles. I recommend this video about L.Circles. The class that is represented in the video is in middle school and the students were not aware that they were being filmed.
Investigate the links included in the PPT for more information or conduct your own search.

And now the big question: How would you use them in your classes?

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Standards in Teaching and Learning Language through the classification of can do statements..or functions!


What words most stand out in the sphere?
That’s right, information, capacity, communicate, and level. ALTE and CEFR unify criteria and standardizes the learning and teaching of languages for learners and teachers. If we are studying for a standardized exam, the TKT, that is recognized throughout the world, then so are our learners with the use of ALTE and CEFR.

So far, your posts have been very reflective and very astute.
Here is a chart for you to see the relationship between the two standards of language teaching in Europe.

From the British Council Examinations Services in Bogota,

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Inventing a game…

Source: Inventing a game…

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