Thursday, December 12, 2013

What do You Think? Questions in the EFL Classroom

“What do you think?” For most students, there is no question more enervating than this one. In reality, Fernando is thinking about Natalia’s rear end, Leticia is thinking about red shoes, and Amelia is wondering if her hair should really be so pink. The teacher is referring to the North Pole, to a week in the desert, to a flight to outer space. “What do you think?” Think what?!

Teacher In Classroom

Let’s get more specific. Look at the paragraph on page 94. “Most people start a diet on the first day of the week.” So, asks the teacher, on what day did Mary probably start her weight-loss program? Monday, teacher. Great! Is that enough thinking for the day? How many minutes are left in this class, anyway…..
Is it hot or cold in the Amazon? Hot, teacher. Is Florida north of the equator; yes or no? Yes, teacher. What do you think about the architecture in Brasilia? Think what?

Questions that are too broad or too narrow are really a dead-end with regard to inducing extensive thinking or communicating. “Thinking” is usually best fueled by substance, in the form of reasoning, figuring out, relating to experience. For example, among the classes which are a requirement for people wanting to obtain a driver’s license, there is one session devoted to small-group discussion of contentious traffic situations  described by the teacher on printed handouts. In this case, “what do you think” sparks a heated exchange between persons who have experience these or similar situations, who know others who also have, whose speculations and opinions are percolating with reciprocal mental energy in the buildup of accelerating reactions among the participants. This is thinking.

Yes/No questions, queries which ask for a fact or statistic, all have their place in classroom work, in the daily constructs of communication. But they do not usually result in the extent or complexity of thought – hopefully, expression – which the teacher has in mind when he envisions students in the process of interested reaction to stimulation of thought. Some questions inspire furtive, repeated attention to the movement of the minute hand on the clock on the wall. On the other hand, effective thought-provoking strategies can open up fields of mental/verbal exploration that will result in looks of surprise and slight frustration when the bell rings. Already, teacher?   

Katy Cox

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Teacher - Only Human

The teacher is only human, after all. The repeated emphasis on students’ needs indirectly encourages forgetting about those of the teacher. Male or female, the human ego feeds on reward and recognition, and your teacher ego perks right up when a student loves to respond, laughs at your jokes, asks you for help as though you were the last life-saver on the boat. 

SAD_Hortons_Kids 114 You use your instructional energy generously and it doesn’t really take much to – in return – make you feel like a good looking genius. Therein lies the cyclical danger. The teacher’s well-known duty is to pay equal attention to all students -  to prevent the guilty recognition that the girl in the left-hand corner never says a thing because she is not spoken to; to avoid having to admit that most of your lesson moved energetically along with lots of participation but – come to think of it – not from the left-hand side of the room. Why can’t you remember the face of what’s-his-name who always sits by the door (and who eases smoothly out of that exit as soon as the bell rings)? Even the trouble-makers are more appealing, testing your patience and your class management skills; victories with these in-your-face challenges can make you feel especially self-congratulatory….while the “escape artists” shroud themselves in a cloak of invisibility as they look for a dropped pen, a misplaced paper, a book in a backpack, and successfully evade the teacher’s attention (which is inevitably on the eager beavers with their hands in the air…).

The skilled fugitive knows how to keep his head down; the wave of willing responses will satisfy the also needy elicitor… Every teacher should have a fool-proof system of checking production frequency among all 12 or 16 or 20 students – who spoke, how often, how much – and making sure they know who you are and that you care. In ensuring uniformity and truly collaborative direction in your work in the classroom, your heart-strings are not as consistent a guide as your intellect and your eyes.   

Katy Cox

Friday, December 06, 2013

Seeing your Students

Can “seeing” your students influence your relationship with them and their willingness to communicate? What does this question really mean? 

Let’s examine the following situation: You have created an eminently respectable lesson plan; it includes the requisite phases for pairwork, attention to textbook activities and grammar orientation, hands-on dynamics to practice the topic of the day, periodic white-board use, and appropriate technological inclusions. Your “flight check” for that last part resembles NASA pre-lift-off procedures as you punctiliously check CD tracks, PPT slides, computer connections, volume register…..all that is essential to take your lesson safely to its destination. 

Your concentration on your multiple responsibilities occupies your thoughts almost exclusively as you enter your classroom and attend to setting up what your students will experience for the next 150 minutes. Ah, yes…the students…. a gaggle of girls and a band of boys, all dragging roller bags and the paraphernalia of study and play…. assemble in noisy desks, a crowd with a collective identity. Who among them so you see and greet? Believe it or not, this could be a moment of potential significance – the fresh encounter, the time to reconnect and begin anew. 

TopkidsErika_LAS (1)There is one of two ways to envision this scenario: (a) The teacher is absorbed in class prep, back turned, the students gathering facelessly in their predictable arrangements, or (b) the teacher greets the students as they enter, acknowledging a new hairstyle, a happy face, a new pair of bizarrely bright orange running shoes…..If it can be managed, the time for the lesson and techno-check is when the classroom is empty, silent, awaiting the next round of action. The time for precious rejoining with your students is when they enter the environment you share; that is when you “see” them and rekindle the energy that fuels what you will experience together in those minutes that you hope will be memorable, that will make your students look forward to the days and weeks to come. 

Even with all your attention to your lesson plan, first and foremost, smile and look your students in the eye. This is the moment that could determine how far and how well your lesson will actually fly.     

Katy Cox

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

iPads in the Kids´ EFL Classroom - A Post by Two

I am currently on maternity leave, enjoying every little second of the gift I have received. This time has flown by, and has been a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of work. However, I sometimes use some of my “free” time to read about educational technology (a passion) and many times ideas bloom in my mind.

Last September I received an email announcing a contest for CTJ teachers, where we should think of innovative ways to teach using iPads. As I read the email, I knew I wanted to participate, not only because of the chance of winning a really nice prize, but also as a chance to put into practice new ideas. Since I have no books at home at this moment, I had the idea to plan a lesson for my kid’s class (so I could refer to his book to plan the lesson). I called dear colleague Carol Godoy (my kid’s teacher) and proposed her to pair up with me in this journey, so she would be the one to test the ideas with her students.

It all worked out really fine. The students were engaged, motivated and most importantly, learning in different and meaningful ways!

So, here’s what we’ve done:

Students were studying about animals and superlatives and then we used the app Tiny Tap where it is possible to create personalized games. It is indeed a chance to spot students difficulties with the content they have been exposed to while they are having fun. I created the slides on a PowerPoint slideshow and imported them into the app, where I recorded my voice and set up the tasks.

As a follow up, students were supposed to use their knowledge to create a collaborative poster using the app Popplet, a well-known educational tool. So, students paired up and wrote sentences using the superlatives and images to come up with a beautiful poster. The final product could also be printed and become part of the students’ portfolios to be sent to parents by the end of the semester.

This was a nice and rewarding experience. Looking forward to test more apps and contribute to students learning next semester! 

Tiny Tap and Popplet - slideshows

-------> Now read Carol's version of this tech journey! :)

My name is Carolina Godoy and I'm a teacher at CTJ. Last semester I had two TPK classes and Lilian's son, Gabriel, was one of my TPK students. For this reason, Lilian invited me to participate in this project, and I'm really glad I accepted her invitation. To take part in this project wasn't a last minute decision, but we certainly did not have a lot of time to plan its execution. As Lilian previously explained, the project required us to use iPads in the classroom, so it was necessary to book them in advance. Since other teachers were also engaged in the project, it wasn't easy to have the number of iPads we needed when we needed them. However, I'm glad to report that everything went really well. 

Lilian did all the planning, whereas I was responsible for putting her ideas into practice. She designed two activities for the children. The first one was a multiple-choice exercise that included interesting and motivating pictures and sounds. The second activity required the students to take a more active role in the learning process and was, therefore, a bit more challenging. 

The students responded very well to both activities and seemed extremely engaged and motivated. When I told them that we were going to use iPads in the classroom, they got really excited and literally couldn't wait to touch the screens with their little fingers.
I believe that the use of technology in this particular class enhanced their ability to learn and boosted their confidence as students in this new technological era. In addition, students at this age are used to following a routine in the classroom, and this project was a very creative and useful way for us to take a break from more ordinary activities.  
I would like to thank Lilian for this great opportunity. It was a pleasure to work with her and to be her son's teacher this semester. I really hope we can develop more projects like this in the near future and learn a lot from each other while having lots of fun.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pairwork Activities - If Students Aren´t Sharing, They are Not Pairing

What is a “pair”? The American Heritage dictionary begins its definition of this word by calling it “Two corresponding persons or items similar in form or function”. 

_1030187 15/12: Ceci & MarianoFor the purpose of language teaching or any other kind of teaching, for that matter, the “corresponding” aspect is of the greatest pertinence. A moment comes in a great many lesson plans when the teacher thinks, for example, “OK, we’ve gotten through inductively figuring out how the present perfect is different from the past tense. Check. We’ve engaged in a spate of mental gymnastics filling in blanks in a series of PPT sentences. Aha! Used a technological resource. Check. Looked at lines of prose and eliciting individually in a crisscross pattern among students sitting in a U-shape that facilitates eye contact and intelligible oral exchanges…. decided which sentences contain the present perfect tense and why that tense was used in those situations. Check. Now it must be time for pairwork. Right. So the students are given the assignment to work in pairs on exercise B on page 46 of their textbook. Right timing; ineffective strategy. If the students are naturally gregarious, they will do the exercise collaboratively, or at least verify whether their responses match. But, was there anything about the exercise which necessitated a joint exchange, mutual input, utterance and response? If the answer is “no”, then you don’t have pairwork; you have two individuals sitting side by side engaged in a similar task which can be carried out without the “correspondence” of two people who depend on each other’s contributions to achieve a requested result. 

The following are a few examples of textbook-type set-ups that result in genuine pairwork.
Two students have cue cards which indicate the direction a question & answer exchange might take:  Policeman vs person suspected of automobile theft.   
              P:    for the past three hours
              T:    shopping mall
              P:    own the car you are driving
             T:    two years                                     

Students receive A & B dialog cards to practice role-play situations which include the structure or vocabulary in focus and which can be sequentially shared whole-class; these varied dialogs can also be rotated from pair to pair in closely timed progression.

Two students exchange comments on the ways in which a city has changed in the past few years, the ways in which parental rules have been modified, the changes that have taken place in common domestic technology.
Students pair up to ask and answer questions which will result in the creation of an ID profile card which can then be shared with the rest of the group. Ex: Where have you lived, worked, studied, traveled – etc – in the last two years?

 Variations of these possibilities are as infinite as our general inclination to communicate, and can be found by way of multiple resources, including – most probably – the textbooks you are currently using. But awareness is key in your inclusion of pairwork in your lesson plan:  as regards your students, if they’re not sharing, they’re not pairing. 

Katy Cox

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Self-Reflective Piece on One of my EFL Classes with iPads

For the first time ever, I decided to try the book projects with iPads. Until that moment, doing book projects (Teens 6) always involved cardboard paper, colored pens and pencils, glue, ruler, magazines and all the other classroom material available for such a task. But what about classroom management? Would I be able to control my big group of restless teens? Could I trust them to handle the tablets for a specific purpose? Would they know how to get around the device and utilize the specific app proposed? In sum, there were many  questions and few answers.

Therefore, I had to get ready, and my first step was to undergo the iPad Training Session at Asa Norte. In our daily busy routine, it is hard to find the time to go through all the apps available for educational purposes, but I expected to have a better idea of the most used ones in the classroom. Of course, I am still far from mastering every single one of them, but I had the chance of browsing through and by the end of the section, select the most adequate app to offer students for the activity I had in mind. Since I wanted students to prepare posters, I asked them to use
Viz, but they had a second option which was Picollage.
 Students had been told of the date they were supposed to do the book report long in advance, so they had time to read their books and decide if they wanted to do the book project individually or in pairs. On the scheduled day, they were only supposed to bring the books they had read and nothing else.

With iPads in hand, I began the class by showing them the basic devices and the app that I wanted them to use. That was part of my organizational scheme. Students were warned of basic care needed and time available for the project, which was 50 minutes. Also, I wrote the questions I wanted them to answer in the project, which were:
1-What ´s the story about?
2-Who or what are the main characters?
3-How does the story end?
4-Would you recommend it to friends? Why? Why not?
Pictures and organization was up to them and they were free to use their creativity the way they wished. For my surprise and relief, they were acquainted with the app and did not have many doubts. And the ones who were not, had the help of more experienced peers. The student´s sense of collaboration and engagement was overwhelming. Then I was free to help with the English.

The result was superb, and I couldn’t have been happier. The following class, I projected their work in the classroom, and friends had the chance of judging and making comments on each other´s project. Finally, I could feel students were proud of the outcome, and I had the chance of proving iPads relevance for education.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Image Conference

The image Conference, Organized by the BRAZTESOL Brasilia team was a perfect combination of keynote presenters, great atmosphere and interesting, colorful, dynamic sessions. Workshops  were delivered in 45 minutes. I was not sure at first I would like my session to be so short, but I enjoyed the format as a participant because I got to see much more, and as a presenter because  Denise De Felice and I had to do our  best to be concise and efficient in our delivery. 

Here is a peek of some of what happened in the conference.

From Images to Deep Learning

 A Whole Brain Perspective

A new bridge between neuroscience and language teaching is being built, and teachers today can learn more and more about the learning brain. Images, videos, and games have always been explored in the language classroom in different, creative ways, but teachers  are now becoming aware of how tasks affect the brain biologically, how emotions trigger or hinder the learning cycle, and how knowing all that can help teachers design more engaging tasks. Many of the ideas here were inspired by the book The Art of Changing the Brain.

Play with the images to to create a story.

Listen to the story and check how different they are.

We asked participants to reflect on what Hamilton`s problem was by showing a series of "why" questions. It was very interesting to see the "why" technique in action. The audience starts to feel the power of brainstorming as one more "why" on the slide projects the impression that the group needs to keep collaborating, thinking to reach a high order conclusion.  

Here is what the audience said

He was asked to do what he couldn`t do.
He was not motivated enough
He was too passive
The kind of exposure he got was always the same
He never got a chance to actually be a more engaged student
because of the way he had been exposed to input, he became too passive
He never got the chance to actually be a more engaged student
because of the way he had been exposed to input, he became too passive.

Ham`s problem according to The Art of Changing the Brain.
"Ham`s mind was in the past, it depended on sources outside himself, and thus he had no power. He had no control over his own learning.
I am not saying that he didn’t need information or that he should abandon his television programs. Experience and information are necessary parts of learning. They are the raw materials for it. But by themselves they are not enough; they are about half of what it actually needed.
The structure of the brain tells us this. There is a part for receiving, remembering, and integrating information that comes from outside. And there is a second part for acting, modifying, creating, and controlling. If we are to learn in the way that transforms, we must use both of these parts of the brain. 
"Ham needs better communication between the back and the front of their cortex, between temporal cortex and prefrontal cortex. But since the prefrontal and temporal cortex are so distant from each other, you might wonder if the connections between them are strong. Maybe it isn’t so easy to keep balance. Maybe the front and back parts of our brains don’t talk to each other much.But, again, the actual physical structure of the brain gives us new insight. In fact, some of the most obvious wiring in the brain is designed exactly for this front/back connection.
You could confirm this yourself with the simplest of dissections of one of the cerebral hemispheres. If you were to gently slice open the top of one hemisphere from front to back and a few centimeters from the midline, you would see large tracks of fibers running along from back to front. And if you dissected carefully, you would find four major bundles of nerves that carry signals between front and back.We can also see this bridge in the learning cycle, as shown in the illustration below. It carries us over the line that separates the experience and reflection part of the cycle from the abstraction and active testing part. Data enters learners through concrete experience where it is organized and rearranged through reflection. But it is still just data until learners begin to work with it. When learners convert this data into ideas, plans, and actions, they experience the transformation I have described. Things are now under their control, and they are free of the tyranny of information. They have created and are free to continually test their own knowledge."

A concrete example

A Practical Example
Concrete experience
Abstract hypothesis
Reflective observation
Transformation line

Reflecting back

Compare the two tasks below and reflect on what happens in the learners` brain. Which task engages students` brain more deeply?

Task 1 - look at the images and create a story. Compare it to the actual story.

Task 2 - Listen to the story and put the illustrations in order.

Our point - there is nothing wrong with the tasks, They are just different. It all depends on the teacher`s objectives. Task one helps to engage more areas of the brain as compared to task 2, which may help to promote deeper learning.

Here are some posters we can ask students to make. Having students  manipulate language and images to create  posters engages the learning brain more deeply than just showing students a poster that someone else created.

What can you do with a chair?
What other purposes, other than teaching, can you use a chair for?

After delivering this workshop, our aim is to keep thinking about the learning cycle and tasks can engage the learning brain more deeply.

Thanks Denise De Felice for being my partner and inspiring change in me.
Thanks Cleide Nascimento for illustrating the story.
Thanks Katie Cox for lending us your storytelling expertise.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Song Activities for the EFL Classroom

Music is undeniably a great and effective tool for language learning. We can use songs to encourage language awareness in many different levels, from semantic aspects to grammar structures. It can also lighten up our classes and motivate our students to practice English in fun ways.

Our CTJ teachers Jorge Alexandre and Cleide Frazão presented a while ago in one of our seminars about different ways to use songs in the classroom. The presentation became a project and now teachers can retrieve ready-to-use musical resources in their classes with just one click!

Check the wonderful activities and artifacts that Cleide is constantly creating and sharing with our Educational Community.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

iPads in the Classroom - Unmissable mLearning Resources

iPadProject_ (39)
If you are starting with the use of iPads in the classroom and have no idea where to begin, there are lots of blogs and resources you can rely on to filter interesting apps and to find activities to suit your pedagogical needs.

I highly recommend some blog posts/resources for you to get started:

How to Take Control of Tablets in a Networked Classroom

Habits of an Effective iPad Teacher

I have iPads in the Classroom. Now What?

A compilation of iPad Resources

iPad Project Blog

Examples of Popplet as a Pedagogical Tool

Examples of the Use of the iPad at Casa Thomas Jefferson

Apps Review

There are tons of other sites that you can use to begin your iPadED journey. However, focusing on the small steps to achieve initial success will make you feel more confident to take more future risks and make transformative uses of mobile devices in your classes.

crossposted on 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nowadays, there are many tools to help a teacher justify his/her choices in class. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a useful tool that helps us reflect upon our classroom practices and learn any content area. The revised version is really speaking to a lot of educators who use it, and it seems to be useful because it links a variety of technologies  that address different levels of educational objectives. A wise start is to look at the activities I am already implementing and see what objectives they touch on. With that in mind, I can aim at the right direction and deepen my learning to higher brain processesMost of the tasks I have used in class so far fall into the bottom of the Taxonomy (remember and understand). Although these tasks  help students practice basic skills, there are other options I need to address to make sure I use the iPads to reach the higher levels of the Taxonomy.  I designed a chart to help me visualize all the apps I have available and how they can be used for each category. The following image might help me apply The revised Bloom`s Taxonomy in my practice because they give me some basic ideas on very broad objectives for each category.

Using AppsAt the bottom of Bloom`s Taxonomy


Apps that fit into the ‘remembering’ concept include those that improve a student’s ability to recall facts or words, list, retrieve, find, name, recognize, identify, locate, and define terms or concepts.


WordFoto is an easy and fun app for the language classroom. Students take pictures and write words and sentences that will appear all over the image. The app is light and students do not need more than 5 minutes to get the work done. The app only accepts up to 10 words.
Teachers are usually very creative and we all can surely find many fun ways to explore the pictures, but here are three ideas.
1 - Relay race - students make lines facing the board. The last student in line has an image and has to whisper the sentences to the student in front of him. Students keep whispering till first student in line hears it and writes the sentence down on the board. 
2. Put all the images on a presentation and have a silent dictation.
3. Show all the pictures and take them away. Play some music and let students write down all the sentences they can remember. Stop the music and check students` work. 


Flashcards are no longer tied to paper. Now with the help of flashcard makers we can give our students the chance of recalling vocabulary items easily. We can prepare the flashcards with the app and make sets, or we can import sets from a site called - Quizlet. We can ask students to take the quiz as warmers to games, writing or speaking tasks. 


We can use the camera native app for a number of activities, but I like the simplicity of memory games. I was teaching "going to", and there was a picture in the book that students had to describe all the about to actions people in the picture were doing. I asked students to pose for a picture to have a similar task and motivate them to practice the target structure and have fun. They love working with their own pictures! Screen Chomp is basically a doodling app with markers.

I was teaching adverbs of frequency and frequency words to talk about routine. To transition from sentence level to discourse level, I used an activity suggested on Cleide Nascimento`s blog - Draw My Attention to contextualize the topic, and asked students to reorder the activities according to their daily routines and narrate the slides. I `ll use their work as resource for follow up activities.


With Screen Chomp students can record audios or videos or upload a file, and then use the drawings tools to jolt down ideas, label, point out, etc. I have used it as a way to brainstorm ideas as a pre-writing activity.

Educreations is a useful tool that can be used in many different ways. I used it to practice vocabulary items in a simple way. I asked students to draw clothing items with the app and then used their work to practice the words.

Coming soon, moving up towards higher thinking skills 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Role Playing to Prompt Writing Tasks

App: IMovie
Number of iPads: one per group 
Level Teens 4

I have a very creative and hectic group of teens, who is into technology and loves playing games. My students engage really easily in tasks that have a digital component, but they tend to disconnect whenever they have to deal with more traditional ones. I decided to bring some of their creativity into play and asked them to roleplay the dialogues in unit 5. I gave each group an iPad and asked them to record themselves roleplaying the dialogues. I played the video with the sound off, and asked students to write the dialogues down as a graded exercise. In the following classes, they asked me to watch the videos again and again. I believe this repetition helped them internalize the structure because they have all done really well in this part of the oral test this morning.


By teacher Dani Lyra

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Appitivity - Young Learners and Educreations
The young learners we have in our classrooms nowadays are digital natives. It means that they were born during or after the general introduction of digital technology.  They are familiar with computers, mobile devices and internet from an early age.  I have been using the Ipads in my Kids group and they simply love it!
For the first activity I used Educreations. We were practicing vocabulary related to the beach, but the teacher can adapt and use this activity for any kind of vocabulary practice. 

Here is the activity:
  -  Take the Ipads beforehand and open the app (Educreations).
·         - Make it ready-to-use (click on “new project” and you’ll see a blank page).
·         - Make sure Educreations is logged in (branch’s account). So, it’s easier to access the students’ projects later and share or embed it on the web.
·         - After doing the activities you have prepared for the Circle Time (songs and chants) use the Ipads to review content. In this case: vocabulary.
·         - The children are already on the floor.
·         - Divide them into pairs and explain they are going to work together, taking turns.
·         - Open your Ipad (before giving the kids their devices) and show them how they have to proceed.
·         - Tell them you’re going to speak up a word and they´ll have to draw it. (model)
·         - After drawing they have to touch the REC button and say the sentence using the word. (model)
·         - They have to pause touching the REC button again. (model)
·         - On the bottom of the page, right side, they touch the arrow that goes to the next blank page. (model)
·         - Everybody waits for the second word.
·         - Use the same procedure for the rest of the words.
·         - After the last slide you have to save their projects. (Ask your aid for help)
·         - Save the project with the students’ names and the class. (e.g.: Maria and Julia – K02)
·         - Save it public.

·         - Teacher: “It’s a bucket.”
·         - Students: draw the bucket.
·         - Students record their voices saying: “It’s a bucket.”
·         - They pause.
·         - They go to the next slide.

Educreations puts the slides all together and makes a short video. They really enjoy watching their project and their classmates’ projects. Below you can see one example:

After class, the teacher can access the branch’s account and click on ‘Welcome, CTJ’. You’ll see all the projects saved. Click on the project you want to use and you’ll be able to share or embed it.

I have created a digital portfolio using the free pbworks WIKI - On the WIKI, I created a page for each student and embedded their projects there. In the end of the month, I sent the link to the parents. Another idea (from Carla Arena) is to create a page for each project and send the link through “Registro Escolar” to all parents at once. This is a screenshot from one of my student’s page: