Reflective practice : Happy Teachers' Day!

This post is dedicated to all teachers and educators all over the world , mainly to my PLN (professional learning network) , teachers and educators who I honour , respect,learn from and care and share. A special mention to Malala Yousafazai, the  young brave girl who bravely fights for education and has just won the Nobel Peace Prize 2014

Image created by Roseli Serra 

October is the month when we celebrate Teacher’s Day: On 5th, The World Teacher’s Day and on 15th we celebrate Teacher’s Day in Brazil.
Regarding this celebration, I’d like to share some ideas with you based on what I’ve read, talked and shared with lots of teachers around the world.
No matter how long you are in the market, education is and will always be crucial for the human being character formation. Being a teacher and an educator is much more than just simply know the theories and techniques. It has a philosophical side, considering our responsibility upon our learners and what role(s) we play in our students’ lives.

Image by Ugur Dinçer -from eltpics 

It reminds me of Paulo Freire , a Brazilian educator, who said: 

“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
(Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change)

Image by @sandymillin -from eltpics

When I recently read it again, I started to think about how much we teachers have been able to do in order to make the difference and shape our students’ lives in some way.  After all,  the world has changed, it’s in permanent change and we and our students are part of this brave new world. I have changed. I'm older, more impatient, more critical, and sometimes I feel weak and tired to face students’ lack of interest and parents’ lack of care about their children.  Recently I've found myself complaining about a particular group of 10-11 year old students and I realised that for the first time in my life I have such a difficult group to deal with regarding everything: impoliteness, lack of interest and responsibility and very few parents concerned about their children behaviour and learning process. What’s important is the final result, the final grade: pass or fail, no matter if they have learned or not.  This conversation was like group therapy in the teacher’s room where other brilliant and experienced teachers were having the same kind of complaints.  We had the need to talk and share. A teacher was almost crying. She was so disappointed and feeling deeply sad. 

In Brazil we teachers are underpaid.  Yes, we are, even if you work in the richest  school which pays the best salary, still you are underpaid. It’s the Brazilian educational system and the society that not value teachers as they should be valued.  I've heard from lots of colleagues they are looking for another alternative to survive apart from teaching. And to tell you the truth, I've thought about it many times as well.

Image by @ceririannon -from eltpics

Being a very optimistic person you must be surprised I'm writing these words.  Well, I've never said teaching is a bed of roses or that it’s only darkness and pain. No! Not at all!

And yes, we have to study to teach, to teach and learn, go to conferences,  prepare lessons, correct workbooks and students’ compositions, deal with discipline, contact parents, prepare and correct tests, face endless meetings, find nice activities to engage students, write comments on report cards and an endless list of duties. Not to mention the fact that most of us around the world have to deal with low salaries to survive.

Image by Hana Tichá - from eltpics

Well, I have said too much already about how hard being a teacher is.  I want to talk about the joy of being a teacher, because the suffering of being a teacher is similar to suffering the pains of childbirth: The joy of giving birth to a child does not compare to the pain we suffered before, which it’s quickly forgotten. And then you'l have the hard and delightful job to raise your child with love and care. What a job! 

Being a teacher is indeed one of the most rewarding jobs ever. How can we forget students who hug you, bring you flowers, a bar of chocolate or simply smile sweetly? What about when you meet former students, and years later and they recognise you, come to you and say: ‘She was one of the best teachers I've had”.  Not to mention those very few students who became  teachers because of you? I have some who are now my colleagues working at the same school.  It’s priceless and I'm one of those cases. I became a teacher inspired by my second grade teacher (see the photo below) who passed away less than two years ago and who I had the pleasure to meet after 38 years.   How wonderful!

Image from Roseli Serra personal files

Teaching is a treat for the soul, isn't it? If it is not, we should not teach.  And if it is, then it is necessary that, ideally, our learners feel the same pleasure from our teaching. If not, perhaps we have failed our mission in some way, as the cook who intended to offer pleasure, but the food was too salty or burnt.  Perhaps it’s time to stop and reflect our mission as educators and teachers. Perhaps it's time for another change. 

But if you were born to be a teacher and if you love what to do, you will not give up. Like me, you’ll insist on teaching and educating people.

Someone once said:  “A master is born from the exuberance of happiness”. So when asked about their profession, teachers should be brave enough to say "I am a pastor of joy ..."
But, of course, only your students can attest the truth of this statement.
Last but not least: “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”  (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

Image by Hana Tichá - from eltpics

Enjoy your teaching! 
Happy teacher’s Day!  

How to Integrate Extensive and Active Reading to Creative Writing

It's been a while since I  have written a  blog post for my own blog. As a Brazilian, I spent half opf my winter holidays enjoying  the Football World Cup and the other half I was working for pleasure, form my home, writing posts and articles for teachers' sites and  newsletters and , the best of all, presenting and attending presentations online in online conferences such as RSCON2014,   TOBELTA and #ITDIMOOC . 
Amazing holidays , indeed,  when I learned a lot form educators , friends and colleagues from all over the world and who are part of the best PLN on Earth. What a pleasure to watch them , share ideas , learn, discover and having them watching me too. Great!

Having said that,  this blog post is the result of what I presented for TOBELTA  , with a few more ideas that time prevented me to present.

Although I am a very talkative person, reading and writing are my favourite skills because I am  very visual and emotional too. On the contrary, as a teacher and  a leaner, I've noticed that reading and writing  have been a burden for a lot students , mainly when learning a second language. In order to change this situation a bit and make my students have fun while reading a writing, I've tried my best to show enthusiasm ( one of the best skills for effective teaching) , create and learn activities from my PLN and colleagues to make my students make the most of their learning.

This post has to do with the use of literature in the EFL/ESL classroom  and I aim to show how reading literature is an excellent way for students to make progress in English.

       " The best way to improve your knowledge of a foreign language  is to go and live among its speakers. The next better way is to read extensively in it." 
 ( Nutell 1996)

Let's then define some basic concepts before we share ideas :

Reading : The activity of understanding written  words ; it's  perceiving  a written text in order to understand written words. 

Extensive reading : A way of language learning through reading : reading for pleasure.  

Active reading :  Refers to the assumption that reading is an active -meaning - building process

So is reading a passive skill? No!  After all, when you read you assimilate information , follow instructions, perceive meaning , make inference and bring a number of emotions to an action , don't you?

Literature:  According to Macmillan English Dictionary, literature consists of stories, poems and plays , especially those that are considered value as art and not just as entertainment.

                                             Photo from eltpics  by @mkofab

Why should we use literature in the language classroom?

There are four many reasons: 

1. Literature encourages interaction: Reading a book is like sharing your feelings with the author and characters. Sometimes it serves us as a mirror where we see some scenes of our lives, some of our dreams and experiences reflected there. Texts are often rich with multiple layers  of meaning which allow us , the readers, to make inferences and different interpretations. Furthermore, in the classroom, literary texts can be effectively mined for discussions and the sharing of feelings and opinions.

2. Literature expands language awareness: Literary texts are, perhaps, the best standard of written language (usually high standard) we are exposed to. they have sophisticated or non-standard examples of language which will certainly raise students' awareness of the norms of language use ( Widdiwson, 1995). So it enriches our students' vocabulary acquisition and , consequently, will improve their speaking and writing skills.

3. Literature is authentic material: Literature produces language to fulfil some aspects of the society.It often exposes us to exciting plots, interesting characters and authentic dialogues to learn a language in context.  It also allows students to examine values in literary texts and develop attitudes towards them. These values and attitudes relate to the world outside the classroom . which is of great benefit for the students' growth. Literature reflects different aspects of society in different cultures, and when those cultural doors are open, they have a deeper understanding of other countries, peoples, cultures and values.

4. Literature is motivating:  As an avid reader and cinema fan, I have similar feelings when I read a book or watch a film. You just get into a new world, meet new people, get involved , picture scenes in your mind and your imagination simply flows. Literary texts are of high status in most cultures and countries. So they help students to feel real sense of achievement when they understand and interpret any piece of  respectful literary text. In addition, literary texts are usually more interesting than those texts found on coursebooks.

In spite of all these benefits, the wrong approach to reading literature can make it a boring and frustrating endeavour. In order to change this scenario, let's reflect a little on extensive  reading , mainly on the use of readers in the EFL classroom and how I integrate them to creative writing

Why Readers ? 

So readers have graded language for : vocabulary, grammar complexity and number of words according to the students' level.

Why Extensive Graded Reading?

To make literature more accessible and enjoyable.
Because readers reach all levels of literate learners
Readers develop good reading habits  as they encourage learners to take responsibility for their learning process once they develop good reading habits.
Reading can be easily done anywhere (it's not necessarily  a classroom activity)
It incorporates a content- based approach to language learning and  a lot of other benefits.

Creative Writing 

"Creative writing is anything where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions  rather than simply convey information." ( Ali Hale) 

                                                                                                                                photo by Ali Hade  
Creative writing:
Involves fluency-based activities
Students can use their creative-thinking and language skills
It can also include discussions, simulations, communication games and/or also real life experiences 
It can be expressed in many forms such as acrostics, haiku, poems, storytelling from a narrative and once you start writing you discover new and different ways to express yourself and it will never stop. 

Creative writing combines handwriting and cognitive processes (mental behaviour) mainly associated with the memory integrating information from different sources and spontaneous thoughts and feelings. 

Writing has been reinvented 

No! Don't panic! Everything we have learned and taught about writing matters a lot! Nothing is irrelevant. All we have done is important and value. It is just done differently now. but the basic concepts are there , even if taught differently. However, notebooks, notecards and other types of writing are now electronic
Handwriting is not to be despised , but we should recognise the benefits of electronic apps and web tools for collaborative writing, for example , that makes it easier for  the students to work together than if it were to be done with pencil and paper. The picture below illustrates very clearly how writing has been reinvented:

A lesson plan 

This lesson plan is about one of my favourite books " Of Mice and Men" . I was  very lucky to have a very motivated  upper intermediate group of students who engaged this project and  worked beautifully on this moving and touching  novel. 

You can see the whole lesson plan  including the students' production below on slideshare:

A bag with six  ideas - More activities 

Important : These activities were experienced and worked for my groups  of students of different levels. Feel free to adapt them to your groups and make sure they'll fit your students's needs and learning styles.

Activity 1:

  1. The cover : Deliver different readers to groups  of  students and ask them to guess the story from the cover. Get some feedback from the students. 
  2. If you have a screen (IWB) for example, display each cover  with a very short summary of the plot. Don't forget to introduce the characters. 
  3. Presenting vocabulary in context : Provide each group of students with  sentences from the stories.  These sentences should contain difficult or unusual words. 
  4. SS could look up the meaning of words in their mobile devices  or in a regular dictionary 
  5. Set  a date for the students to read the book and present the class projects that (preferably) should contain some of the following items: 
  • Information about the author 
  • The historical context when the story was written  (cultural background )
  • A film on the book ( if there's one)
  • A song  that reminds the plot or the film  based on the book 
  • Their impression about the book. 
  • If they would recommend the book  to other people or not.  ( They should give reasons for their choices) 
  • A creative written summary about the book  such as  : Ghost stories and New Zealand  both written by teenage students . 
Activity 2

1. Each student chooses a book from the school library ( in my school , a monolingual language institute, books are organised by level from starters to advanced) 
2. They read the book and prepare a  presentation 
3. For each book there is a quiz for the other students to answer after the presentation so that it raises interest. 
4. Students who get more correct words  should be awarded with sweeties or any other treat. 

Activity 3

Using comic strips : My favourite is bitstrips. If the whole group is reading the same book , each group could choose a chapter that could be broken into chunks tp make a comic strip . Encourage students to be creative with the characters speeches. What they said or would say, etc. Provide students with the type of language they should use in the speech bubbles. 

Activity 4 : Using Animoto and 

These electronic tool is great for projects . After reading the book and working  on the language, students can create a video with Animoto using their drawings and/or photos, adding texts and  music.  The other students can write comments and ask questions. Animoto can  also be used to make book trailers , click here to check. 

Activity 5: Using  Voicethread 

Voicethread is a totally web -based application that allows you to have conversations and to make comments around images using any mix of text, a microphone , a webcam , a telephone or upload audio file.
See here an example of  students  narrating a story  based on a book they've read  after they have written the story with their own words. 

Activity 6 : An interview ( An activity adapted from Lindsay Clanfield  ) 

Another way to have students writing creatively about the books they've read is asking them to write questions and interview the characters of the book. Students role-play interviews with  the main characters ( on, two, three.. depending on the size of the group). Teachers assign the students the roles of the characters  and the rest of the class prepare questions   they would like to ask them. The students playing the role of  the characters must try to put themselves into the characters´shoes and give suitable answers. Time and support must be given by the teacher to both interviewees and interviewers in order to make this successful. Depending on the book and character to be interviewed,  you could imagine that the interviews are taking place in a police station, on a TV, in a famous hotel, in a big party full of famous people or simply in the character's house or wherever seems appropriate. It can  also be recorded. " With a little imagination it can be a lot of fun" (L. Clanfield)

Sources of inspiration


I have already mentioned the benefits of  integrating reading and creative writing. However I'd like to reinforce what other  benefits I've observed (and still do ) when my students engage in projects like those mentioned above:

Students feel real and quick sense of achivement
They interact better ( using Edmodo has helped me a lot to have my students interacting better )
The four skills are naturally integrated 
It's  a great opportunity to raise students´s curiosity and cultural awareness
reading and writing allow students to good range of vocabulary acquisition 
And most of all, they read and write for pleasure! 

All the book projects can be done electronically or not, and all the activities can be adapted accordingly.
 For the written projects to be presented, students can use web tools such the ones you have just read about and some others such as thinglinkglogstersmoreprezi, or any flipping book creator ( and many many more web tools or apps).  They can also use cardboards, role play scenes of the books and / or  create paper-based books.

A final reminder: It's crucial  that reading and writing projects have a clear purpose, It's worth being to meet students needs but also wants as they usually don´t have the best experiences with extensive reading at school ( at least in Brazil,  in most of the cases).  If possible, negotiate with them what to do, what to read , what to write and how to present. You won't regret at all !

Enjoy your teaching!

Reflective Practice 2 , Professional Development and Gratitude

This post is dedicated to my friend and  mentor Ana Maria Menezes whose work , strength and example of woman and educator have inspired me to keep on following my dreams and start my career as a blogger.

It's a year now since I've started blogging and it's been a long time since I've written a blog post.  Looking back I see my first blog post so naive , not  to mention it seems to be badly written and empty. I cannot help laughing at myself when I read it and I feel really happy I have improved . Well, there's still a long way to go!

                                         Image by  

A year later , I find myself so different whether as a teacher, a blogger or a person. New people in my life, new challenges, a lot of changes, some disappointments, gains , but especially  so much gratitude for who I am, for who I've become,  for what I do , and mainly for those around me who've supported me in many different ways.

After a year I've  been to many different conferences, presented online and ftf,  mentored teachers ,published articles,  travelled, studied, worked ,  struggled against things and people I should have already left behind and lately I have been celebrating life with  my family , friends and colleagues ( those who really have made the difference in my life) more than ever!

                                Image created by Roseli Serra
This is a special blog post;  not  only another post but a post written from the heart which reminds me of Luiz Otávio Barros' pleanary session which I attended at the 14th Braz- TESOL International Conference last week. He said " It was just from the heart". And it made a huge difference and touched all of us educators there.

So let's start with Reflective practice:

Why do we teach?

                               Image from ELTpics by @fionamau 

It's not necessary to be in the market for almost 30 years to have a clear idea of how demanding , time consuming and rewarding this profession is and how tough it can get sometimes.  Novice teachers easily and quickly have this idea as soon as they embrace this job. In spite of all the complaints, low salaries, extra working hours , teaching is a job usually embraced with the heart and soul.

As a teacher, I cannot imagine not reflecting as a regular part  of my teaching practice.
Most of us who are educators ,  probably wonder from time to time about why we do what we do, and whether efforts we make on behalf of our students have any lasting impact.

I've been thinking about what I'm actually accomplishing in the classroom. The standard view is teaching imparts knowledge , either knowing how (skills) or knowing that (information) .

In one hand, teaching is compared to priesthood: a lot of studying, dedication, extra working hours, investing a lot of money to go to conferences and  to develop ourselves as professionals. Teaching  also demands from us counselling and mentoring skills, the willing to learn more and an endless list of  work which demands from us creativity and passion

Oh the other hand,  teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs one can ever embrace. You connect with your students and learn form their stories. Teaching allows us to change the world  as our jobs influences hearts and minds and people indeed benefit from what we do. After all we teachers empower people and guide them to creativity and freedom.

One of the realities of teaching , of course, is that our students disappear from our lives quickly and usually permanently , of course,  giving us few opportunities to see how we have affected them. One of the rewards of good teaching , therefore, should be the knowledge that we have instilled , modes of thinking, created intellectual passions, promoted forms of tolerance and understanding, and, of course, increased knowledge.

What about our classroom practice? Perhaps it's of some help if we think about learning in terms of what we expect our students to remember for sixty minutes, sixty days or sixty years. Let's see:

  • The sixty-minute material  would generally be information that we would use to introduce students to an area of study or grab their interest in what we hope they will learn; 
  • The sixty-day material would be knowledge of content of the areas of study that we would expect our students to use in their assignments and tests. 
  •  Finally,  the sixty-year material would be the wisdom tat we hope our students would develop as a result of their work shape their lives.

Or, put another way here quoting Gary Gutting:

"  We should judge teaching not by the amount of knowledge it passes on, but by the enduring excitement it generates. Knowledge, when it comes, is a later arrival, flaring up, when the time is right, from the sparks good teachers have implanted in their students souls".  

What about Professional Development?  

                               Image created by Roseli Serra

Developing as professionals and keep on believing you are on the right track  has been a daily challenge we all have to face. It has to do with making choices, investing time and money and focusing on what really matters. It's like a magic trip we have to do in order to get real and consistent foundation as professionals involving theory , practice . reflections and acquiring experience. 

The initial teacher training courses such as CELTA and lately the more demanding ones as DELTA are indeed of great help and solid  foundations for out careers , but stopping studying and developing would be a huge mistake. 

I have probably mentioned before that I believe professional development is an ongoing  and endless process. After all,  we teachers will never stop being learners! 

Having said that, I have some reminders* ( yes,  "reminders" because there's nothing new in my words) for the teachers who are starting and for those who are on the way. 

*(Inspiried by JJ Wilson's ideas at the 14th Braz- TESOL International Conference) 
  • Plan your career - set goals and deadlines
  • Read deeply
  • Learn form great educators such as Paulo freire, Piaget and Vigotsky
  • Do action research
  • Write your own materials and articles 
  • Build up a PLN ( Professional Learning Network) and make the most of it. 
  • Collaborate; share. It's fantastic! 
  • Give workshops for colleagues and presentations in conferences (Yes, you can! )
  • Go to conferences, do courses and apply what you've learned from them . 
  • Mentor - It's a great way to develop professionally because it forces you to devise your practice. 
  • Observe and be observed. 
  • Reflect on your practice
  • Be brave
  • Be flexible 
  • Be grateful

Where does Gratitude take place ?

                                         Photo taken from 

Last but not least . I'd like to talk about gratitude regarding  my personal and professional life. Yes,  your personal life has all to do with your professional life ,   to the ways you face the bad and good moments, disappointments and happiness , failure and/or success. 

Gratitude means thankfulness. The psychologist Michael McCollough claims that " gratitude shifts your  focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present"

Needless to say I have all the reasons in my life to be grateful. From the past 18 months I have been introduced to a brave new world, I have built an amazing PLN. Thank to this PLN I discovered real friends and amazing colleagues and I have had the chance to do things I have never thought I could.  But most of all I have confirmed that "when we are giving and sharing people, the best things return to us"

I cannot help quoting  a thanking message I've read the other day:  

" This is a deeply personal and honest message to thank you for your unpretentious , instinctive, impulsive and warm reaction when I first showed you my blog. To thank you for your support and sharing me so many times. To thank you for introducing me to such a wonderfully intriguing community of educators. To thank you for making me smile so many times when I see your posts. From simple moments of your life to professionally excellent work I'm honoured to know you. Thank you. "

This is my gratitude message copied from a friend. It's to all of those who, in some or  many ways have been part of my life. Apart from my family, I'd like to thank  this amazing community of educators, friends and colleagues who have helped me built my PLN and from whom I have learned so much. Thank you for sharing , for caring , for the opportunity to talk to you online, to hug you face to face or  for simply being there. Thank you from the bottom of my heart 

I am just a passionate teacher and educator. I teach , I learn. It's not a bed of roses, but it's worth indeed! 

Enjoy your teaching! 

Thoughts of a teacher - My last 11 Blog Challenge

This is the 11 blog challenge for which I was tagged by my FB friends and bloggers Georgia Psarra, Yitzha Sawono Priscila Mateini Debora Tebovich  and Fabiana Casella

I'm truly happy to spend some time replying to some of their interesting questions. (Repeated questions will not be answered).  Thank you, my friends!

How it works:

1. I need to acknowledge the  nominating blogger
2. I share 11 random facts about yourself
3. I must answer the 11 questions the blogger who nominated me asked
4. I will list another 11 bloggers a
5. I must post 11 questions for the nominated bloggers I've chosen and let them know they've been tagged. 
6. I should not  nominate bloggers who nominated me.

New 11 facts about me:

1. I  can play the guitar and sing 
2. As I am 50 years old I wish I were a grandma already! 
3. I'd love to live in a huge house in cold weather, in a quiet neighbourhood,  near a very big and urban city. 
4. If I had this house, I'd have at least five dogs , different sizes and breeds 
5. I wish I could knit and embroider. 
6. I can cook very well. 
7. I am extremely demanding  about have in my house and things very organised.
8. Although I have presented in some international conferEnces before, I'll present for the first time at the IATEFL and I am very excited about it. 
9. I consider a lot of my PLN contacts to be close friends and I'd love to meet them ASAP to hug them and have a good time. 
10. I 'm very happy to be preparing my daughter's wedding with her. 
11. For the past 19 months I have discovered  I have some skills (as a professional ) I'd never imagined I had. 

Questions Georgia has asked me: 

1. What did you want to become when you were a child? 
OMG! ! LOL  ! A detective , a policewoman and a lawyer. Perhaps this is why my favourite TV series are CSI, Criminal Minds, Law and Order and similar !

2. Why have you become  a teacher? Because I was born to be a teacher and because my mother used to be a teacher . She inspired me! I loved watching her teaching private students in  our house when I was a child and also I used to study in the same school she taught. I loved seeing how much the students loved her and how many presents she got for the teachers' Day and for Xmas ( LOL) . Then when I entered the university to study Psychology, I started to teach a lot of private classes of English, Portuguese and Literature. After 5 five years being a psychologist and  already doing MA on PSychology, I was very unhappy and then I decided to give up , go back to the University and become a teacher. It's simply a passion!

3. Have you ever regretted  being a teacher? 
No! Never! I regret to have stayed away from the classroom for 6 years when I was the DOS of a language institute. Coming back to teaching is one of the best  decisions I've made in my life.

4. You avoid people who... complain a lot about everything and are not thankful for all the things they have around them, including their own lives!

5. Tell us about your biggest dream:
To see my adult children happy with the families they are about to start ,  to have a lot of grandchildren e be healthy enough to enjoy all this with my husband!

6. What's your favourite colour and why? To tell you the truth I don't have a favourite colour... Blue could be the one I like best because it's the colour of the sky and the sea, two things I'm never tired of  looking at.

7. Which city would you like to visit? OMG! A lot! At the moment I'm dreaming with any city in Greece, the country I'll definitely go for my next holiday abroad! I could start with Athens!

8. What's your favourite piece of clothing?
Dresses! Very girlish dresses!

9. Have you ever cheated on a test? From the bottom of my heart I don't remember cheating. I'm sincerely speaking. My home and school education , not to mention my religious values,  were very rigid.

10. Describe your desk:  Always organised, the computer is always on, there is a print,  a phone-fax,  and not  as much space as I wish to spread books, notebooks and teachers' stuff .

11. Who's your favourite character either in a book or a movie? What a hard question for an avid reader and cinema fan! Well, I still love Maria from the film " The Sound of Music" . She was brave and admirable! As for a book character... There are two women  from the same book:  Teresa and Sabrina from
" The unbearable light of the being". They are completely different but strong and fragile at the same time, each one in her own way.

Questions Priscila  has asked me: 

1. What's your favourite movie? 
It's such  a hard question for a cinema fan, OMG! However, I've elected Cinama Paradiso ,an Italian movie which I'm never tired of watching! 

2. What's / was the most challenging moment in your career?
When I had to run two branches of  an institution at the same time.  as the DOS.

3. Would you like to teach in another country? I'd love to! Perhaps  a country in Asia or Chile, Argentina, Italy , France or my dream, the UK!

4. What was the most memorable  moment in a conference that you had been? When I first met David Crystal in person, hugged him, had a conversation with him , took pictures with him and of him, and had him autographing one of his books for me.

5, What would you do if you had to teach in a public school in the countryside of your country?  
To be very sincere, I  don't  know. I'd have to receive a lot of training  beforehand.

6. What's your favourite band? THE BEATLES , forever!

7. Do you have a favourite song? OMG! I  can't say ! I love so many songs! One of my favourite is
 " João e Maria" sung by Chico Buarque and Nara leão.
8. How many languages do you speak? Just Portuguese and English

9. Did you have  a teacher who inspired you?  A lot of teachers inspired me! I still have many!

10. How many books dis you read in 2013? About 12 non-fiction books, apart from those regarding teaching and learning.

11. What's teaching from your point of view? It's like raising a child: You need a lot of  patience, dedication, time and wisdom , not to mention immense love for it!

Questions Yitzha has asked me:

1, Do you bring music to your classroom? In what ways? Always! To calm down my SS, to warm them up, to have fun, to teach  language and vocabulary and to generate speaking opportunities.

2. Writing or reading? Both!

3. Who could change your mind once you've decided something? My husband,  children or parents . But they'd have to convince me and it would be a very hard task! LOL

4. Music or movie? Definitely both! Preferably movies with very good music!

5. What was the weirdest food you've ever eaten and what was your reaction to it? It was otter meat. It was delicious! 

6. During school year who were you : a jock, a brain, a teacher pet, a rebel, or....  Apart from a jock, I think I was a little of the other ones. LOL!

7.  Do you prefer large or smaller groups? Why? Lager. I love the limit my school sets: 15 students. Its fantastic, it's exciting and SS interact better! 

8. What's your biggest obstacle in teaching? When parents don't help and spoil their children . 

9.  If you could hold a inner party of five . who would they be? But the guests  have to be one of the cartoon character, a world leader, one famous person (actor or singer ) and a member of your family.  Piece of cake! Here you are:  Batman ( I love his mysterious double life), Nelson Mandela ( If he was alive), Paul McCartney (of course! ) and my husband.

10. What's your favourite scent? The rain!

11. Please describe what you think of me in one word: Cheerful!

Questions Fabiana has asked me

1. What are three adjectives that describe you best? People say I'm mostly talkative, organised and cheerful

2. Who's someone you admire the most and why?  My dad because he had a very hard childhood,  he was very poor and was able to overcome all the difficulties in his life and raise a solid happy family and career.

3. Have you ever met a Hollywood Star ? Where? How? Yes, by chance in NY JFK Airport I could see George Clooney , not too close,  but it was him ( some people were kind of frenetic with his presence! )

4. The Beatle or the Rolling Stones? Definitely THE BEATLES!

5. Can you dance Tango? No, I can't! I'd love to be able to!

6. Do you think you are a connected educator? I think so! Do you think I am , Fabiana? LOL!  

7.  If you were offered to teach in a foreign country, which one would you choose? Italy! I love Italy!    

Questions Debbie has asked me:  

1. How often do you feel exposed to dilemmas  in education? How do you work them out?  What  deep questions! I'll answer this one as a blog post!  Can I, Debbie?

2. What plants and flowers do you have at home? Not many as a live in a flat . But I grow rosemary  and some small flowers such as roses and orchids.

3. Have you aver been stuck in an elevator? Yes, twice . It was one of the most terrible sensations I've ever felt in my whole life!

4. What's that lovely childhood memory that comes to you once in a while? OMG! Grandma cooking biscuits and I always around trying " to help"  I can feel the smell and the taste for real!

5. If English is not your mother tongue, do ever need to read subtitles when you watch movies in English? Not always, but sometimes I do.

6. What makes you laugh?  Family reunion , especially when the women cousins get together! It's simply fantastic!

7. If you could spend a year focusing on research, what would you research? Why? God!  Hard question! I think... ... perhaps I'd research on why some teachers are so resistant to PD and mentoring, (because I  believe teachers are forever learners).

8. How do you keep track of your digital files? Dropbox, Diigo, Pinterest and loads of backups on external HDs .

9. When was the last time you danced? Last Sunday (23rd Feb 2014) on a birthday party. SAMBA!

10. Who do you admire and why? A lot of people but I'd highlight my husband. He's the most friendly, patient,  sympathetic , lovely and understanding person I have ever met in my life.

11. Are you good at setting goals? Do you follow a certain process to set you goals? Yes, I am.  I plan, I  write lists, mind maps and follow routines very easily.  

Helping Upper-Intermediate Learners to Recognize Speech Acts and Use Discourse Markers

This is a copy of my article originally published in t ETAS Journal in December 2013, volume 31, issue number 1 , pp 48 - 50. This  article is posted here in my blog with permission of  ETAS  Journal ( English Teachers Association Switzerland ) 

As the ETAS Journal is the original source of this post,  I  am deeply thankful for the amazing opportunity to have this article published in such a respectful periodical with so many respectful colleagues. This indeed led me to improve my writing skills as well as reflect  more deeply on how to make my UI students to speak more naturally. Thank you very much!


                   Learning to speak a foreign language is much more complex than knowing its grammatical and semantic rules. It involves both command of certain skills and several different types of knowledge. Richards (2005, p. 204) states that learners must acquire the knowledge of how native speakers use the language in a context of structured interpersonal exchange, in which many factors interact.
                     Regarding oral communication, I believe learners need as much exposure as possible to the speaking skill to develop confidence. Through my experience I have noticed that it is a difficult area, especially for adult EFL learners. At the upper-intermediate level it is assumed that students have developed enough fluency and accuracy so as to communicate effectively. Usually at this level students are good at grammar, reading, and listening comprehension. In real life, however, it is difficult for them to communicate in L2 using the same natural speech they use in L1 because there are some ‘gaps’ in the teaching of the speaking skills which I intend to analyse later. Finally, of the four skills, speaking seems to be intuitively the most important.
                      According to Ur (2006, p. 120) people who know a language are referred to as ‘speakers’ of that language, as if speaking included all the kinds of knowing; and many, if not most, foreign language learners are primarily interested in learning to speak. This article will examine the factors affecting adult EFL oral communication, as well as components underlying mainly the use of discourse markers and speech acts. Analysis: According to Richards (2005, p. 204), it is difficult for EFL learners, especially adults, to speak the target language fluently and appropriately.
                    In order to provide effective guidance in developing competent English speakers, it is necessary to examine factors affecting adult learners’ oral communication. Owing to minimal exposure to the target language and contact with native speakers, adult EFL learners in general are relatively poor at spoken English, especially regarding fluency, control of idiomatic expressions, and understanding cultural pragmatics such as the use of speech acts, discourse markers and turn-taking, among others. Having said that, I assume EFL learners need explicit instructions in speaking, which, like any language skill, generally has to be learnt and practised. For Bygate (1987, p. 3), when speaking and listening abilities are focused on, we should put emphasis on teaching how to use language rather than knowing about language. He states that, in particular, learners need to develop skills in the management of interaction and also in the negotiation of meaning .
                   The management of interaction involves aspects such as knowing when and how to take the floor, when to introduce a topic or change the subject, how to invite someone else to speak, how to keep a conversation going, when and how to terminate the conversation and so on. In their mother tongue, students use these sub-skills and communicate with others unconsciously, whereas in their second language, they cannot always acquire these skills without practising. There is often a great deal of repetition and overlap between one speaker and another, and speakers frequently use fillers such as ‘well’, ‘oh’ and ‘uhuh’, making spoken language feel less conceptually dense than other types of languages, such as expository prose’. 
                    According to Richards & Plat (1997, p. 343) a speech act is an utterance that serves a function in communication. It might contain just one word, as in "Sorry!" to perform an apology, or several words or sentences: "I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. Speech acts include real-life interactions and require not only knowledge of the language but also appropriate use of that language within a given culture. Here are some examples of speech acts we use or hear every day:

Greeting ( saying, "Hi, John!', for instance )
Apologising ( "sorry for that")
Warning ( "Watch out, the ground floor is slippery!")

                  McCarty (2004: p. 9) defines a discourse marker as a word or phrase that marks a boundary in a discourse, typically as part of a dialogue. They are usually polyfunctional elements and can be understood in two ways: firstly, as elements which serve to unite utterances (in this sense they are equivalent to connectives) and secondly, as elements which serve a variety of conversational purposes. It’s agreed that effective speakers are those who have mastered discourse competence. It means turn-taking in conversations, opening and closing a conversation, keeping a conversation going and repairing trouble spots in conversation. Discourse markers and speech acts are closely related because there is a bond between them. What I mean is that when a speech act is used in a conversation to express agreement, refusal, or any other function, it usually involves discourse markers to reinforce what the speech acts mean, as well as to make the conversation more authentic.

Problems faced by learners
Speech acts are difficult to perform in a second language because learners may not know the idiomatic expressions or cultural norms in the second language or they may transfer their first language rules and conventions into the second language, assuming that such rules are universal. Something that works in English might not transfer in meaning when translated into the second language. For example, the following remark as uttered by a native English speaker could easily be misinterpreted by a native Chinese hearer:
Sarah: "I couldn't agree with you more."
Cheng: "Hmmm…."(Thinking: "She couldn't agree with me? I thought she liked my idea!")
            According to my research some EFL learners may unintentionally come across as abrupt or brusque in social interactions in English because of a lack of expertise with linguistic devices such as discourse markers.
            Being a teacher in monolingual groups of students, I have notices that they have few opportunities to practise sub-skills associated with the spoken language that are not naturally practised in the classroom. Students learn basic or non-authentic vocabulary  at the early stages. Consequently, at the upper intermediate stage they need more contact with how discourse markers are used when speaking and to be shown the importance of using them correctly and, with practice, as authentically as possible. 

Helping learners

Thornbury (2006, p. 41) states that there are things learners can’t easily do because they lack certain skills. On the other hand, there are things learners do not know how to do, such as what to say to signal a change of topic. I decided to use awareness-raising activities, since they allow the possibility of learners’ discovering, not to mention that this kind of activities involve attention, noticing and understanding.

As a lead-in I used a “find someone who” activity  which aims to introduce the topic of making invitations and suggestions, to expand conversation in the target language and raises students’ awareness of the target language while using students’ common sense as background to support it. 

                          Slide developed by Roseli Serra @SerraRoseli 

To raise learners’ awareness of features of spoken language I used an activity adapted from THORNBURY, Scott, How To Teach Speaking (2006, p. 51). It aims to make students able to recognise a number of speech acts, and raise their interest in particular features of the spoken language using the language point.

Asking learners to categorize speech acts is another way of raising awareness as to their meaning and use. In this activity students listen to some dialogues, match them to pictures and categorise a variety of speech acts relating to the macro-function of ‘getting people to do things’. (Adapted from CUNNINGHAN, Sarah, Cutting Edge Advanced (2006, p. 35)

As stated before, it is useful to encourage students to recognise that spoken language can be untidy and include elements like false starts and fillers.  This can be done by looking at transcripts of natural language. I have handed out the transcript of the above dialogues aiming to have students identifying the discourse markers and get them to notice and reflect about the language in use and focus on the spontaneous spoken language leading them to use those features in the next activities.

                          Slide developed by Roseli Serra @SerraRoseli                        

After showing the students a PowerPoint presentation containing some discourse markers from the text ( As in the image above) , and also some speech acts from the previous activities, I used an  activity proposed in CLAIRE, Antonia & WILSON, JJ, Language to Go Upper-Intermediate – students’ Book (2002, p. 87) as a role playing/simulation. It encourages thinking and creativity, lets students develop and practice new language and behavioural skills in a relatively nonthreatening setting, and can create the motivation and involvement necessary for learning to occur. At this stage of the lesson the students will be aware of discourse markers.  So it is time to give them opportunities to produce the target language.

As most spoken language is, by its very nature, spontaneous, some aspects seem very difficult to teach at first sight. On the other hand, some aspects are very teachable. We can demonstrate typical exchanges, such as those used for offers or requests. In doing so we can focus on interactive markers like right, okay, fine and so on.  According to Wills (2005, p. 198), all of these elements have an identifiable value which can, in principle, be made available to students.

I think this work is worthwhile because we can make students aware of the nature and characteristics of the spoken language. Furthermore, we can give them opportunities to analyse and to produce spontaneous language. Most important of all, we need to recognise the dynamic nature of spoken language. “Language is the way it is because of the purpose it fulfils”. (See Wills 2005, p. 198)

I also concluded that one thing is certain: if we are to illustrate grammar of spoken English, we need samples of genuine spoken interaction. However, I would like to say that this too create problems. As we know, spoken language can be untidy, full of false starts and instances of speakers talking over another. This can make it difficult to process.  Spontaneous spoken language is often delivered rapidly, unlike the carefully modulated language we hear in most language courses.  In the real world, the processing of spoken language often depends on shared knowledge and is consequently highly inexplicit.

           Having said that, I am sure it is difficult, but not impossible, to provide students with spontaneous language for classroom use. With teachers’ guidance, it is possible to devise techniques to make students produce spontaneous – authentic – language, even at an elementary level.  

With this in mind, the teacher must then set achievable goals that are applicable and suitable for the communication needs of the student. The student must also become part of the learning process, actively involved in their own learning. With the teacher acting as a 'speech coach', rather than as mere checker of students’ performance, the feedback given to the student can encourage learners to improve their spoken skills.  If these criteria are met, all students, within their learner-unique goals, can be expected to do well in learning how to speak English spontaneously. 

Enjoy your teaching! 

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