Monday, December 1, 2014

Past simple adventures: a fun pronunciation class

ESL teachers are used to be faced with many challenges on a daily basis, but the students sometimes need to be eased into a challenge to avoid them being scared of the new grammar topic. Usually, the first time they encounter the past simple tense is a bit daunting, for they feel insecure with the new rules they must oblige to. On top of the grammar rules, we must add the pronunciation ingredient to a fluent learner recipe, and that is when the content may feel overwhelming. The teacher knows it is not rocket science, but only pronunciation that needs to be tackled with meaningful content, activation of schemata and some good old practice, and one way to achieve these three goals is by playing games in classroom. To fulfill the objective of teaching ESL learners how to pronounce the past simple endings, one can go through the following steps in class and have fun while learning!

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The first activity to be done is a review on verbs in the past simple form, for the students have already been introduced to the topic and must practice it. To do that, you will play a memory game in which they must pair the verb in the base form with the verb in the past simple form. You can use this game to review some irregular verbs too, but remember that the regular verbs are the target at this moment. You may divide your class in groups depending on how many students you have and how much time you have on your hands. Each set of cards will be played by two teams, and the team that gets more pairs, wins. It is important to assess them during the game, ask them questions, drill the pronunciation and have them speak, not only read the cards. Once they have gone through the deck of cards, you can be sure they will remember the verbs they have studied.

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Secondly, they need to realize that there are indeed, three possible different ending sounds in past simple regular verbs (/t/,/d/,/ɪd/). It is usually much more meaningful to students realize a pattern by themselves than to simply tell them. Therefore, you should find real audio input with three verbs (that are not on the deck of cards) being pronounced in the past simple (e.g. wanted, helped, called). This is a good moment to expose them to different speakers other than you, their teacher; you can find this audio sample in the course book, on the internet or you can even ask colleagues to record. Once you play the track once or twice, if they have not realized the difference between the samples yet, you can tell them to listen to how they are pronounced. The idea is that you guide them through the realization of the differences. Use the board to build with them a chart with three columns (/t/,/d/,/ɪd/) and write the three verbs from the sample in the columns.

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The third activity needs to make them think about the different endings they have just learned. Therefore, you will play another audio sample with all the verbs in the set of cards. Have them only listen the first time, then make them repeat the verbs after the sample. Tell them that they will have a second chance at winning if they place the verbs they got in the memory game in the correct column of the chart you drew on the board. Go through the listening and drilling on more time before they start competing. Give them masking tape to stick only the cards with the past simple form on the correct place. You can choose a team leader at this point, or even draw a second chart if you have many students. Now the winner is the group that finishes the task first, so you might have to re-distribute the verbs they got in the memory game. Remember that the activity only ends once you have corrected their production as a group, for this is the time to really make the learning settle. Now that the charts have a bigger amount of examples, elicit from them the rule behind these three possible endings. Depending on their level and what you have already studied you can use the terms voiced and voiceless, or you can scrutinize every and each sound that comes before the past ending. To really achieve the goal of having them pronounce the endings correctly, you will need to do some more drilling at this point again.

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To wrap up the fun day of past simple adventures, it is nice for them to produce and practice the pronunciation topic they have just learned. You can tell them that you have planned games for them to have fun, now it is time for them to plan games to each other. For this task you will need IPads with the app TinyTap downloaded. Divide your class in pairs or trios and tell them that they must make a game in which they pronounce the regular verb in the past, and the player needs to choose between (and tap on) the  /t/, the /d/or the /ɪd/ ending. The app is easy to use, but it is important to get acquainted with it in advance so that you can help your students accomplish the challenge. Do not forget to help them with their speaking as well, for that is the target of the lesson. Once they have finished making their game, have them change IPads and play with each other´s games. At this point you can also change IPads with another teacher’s group. The point is to have them listen and produce the verbs within different activities.

Some students might be nervous about producing language for they fear they will make mistakes. What they do not realize is that teachers see these mistakes as teachable moments. In order to enjoy these moments without exposing students, teachers may use games in the classroom. Having a classroom environment that is fun, enjoyable, meaningful and interesting will get students motivated in every activity proposed by the teacher, even the scary pronunciation tasks. This essay detailed a lesson plan that has proven to be successful and, with the necessary changes, I believe it can be helpful to other teachers and ESL groups out there.

ESL Young learners: how to teach pronunciation skills?

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     English has spread around the globe as a Lingua Franca, that much is known. Still, only knowing how to write and read English does not seem to be enough anymore, for many people have had the need to be fluent speakers of this language. As a result, many parents have enrolled their children in English courses as early as they can in an attempt to provide them with an upper hand they will only enjoy when they are much older. As teachers, how do we deal with these young learners? Well, we must recognize that young learners might have an advantage when it comes to becoming almost native fluent English speakers; however, to achieve this goal, their characteristics must be considered in order to develop appropriate activities and develop pronunciation effectively.

     It is known that starting to study English at an early age (before seven years old) might be a big advantage in terms of acquiring native-like pronunciation. According to Rogerson-Revell (2011), many factors might influence the phonological acquisition of a foreign language, such as: exposure, attitude, motivation, aptitude, L1 interference and age. The author talks about the idea that after puberty native-like speech is impaired by neurological changes, but she also refutes that theory adding social and linguistic factors to why adults may not acquire native-like accents as easily as kids (Rogerson-Revell, 2011). The reasons might still be confusing, but fact is: children tend to learn a second language more easily than adults. As English teachers, we must not ignore the fact that adults can achieve fluency in speech and we are their facilitators in this task. We must, also, admit that it is easier to achieve such goal with kids, as long as we do not forget that, once again, we must facilitate the process. 

     Teachers must be aware of the characteristics that influence young learners’ language acquisition in order to ease them through the process of speaking accurately. Shin (2014) points out quite directly that we must always remember that, according to Piaget, children are active learners and thinkers. That means that a book-based and teacher-based approach will not let students live up to their potential. She also points out that, according to Vygostky, children learn through social interaction (Shin, 2014). Therefore, teachers must produce an environment that enables social interaction, not only between teachers and students, but also among students. Apart from these general rules to teaching kids, the author also scrutinizes some important aspects, such as: kids “acquire through hearing and experiencing lots of English, in much the same way they acquire L1; learn things through playing; they are not consciously trying to learn new words or phrases – for them it’s incidental; love playing with language sounds, imitating, and making funny noises; are not able to organize their learning; not able to read or write in L1, so it is important to recycle language through talk and play; and their grammar will develop gradually on its own when exposed to lots of English in context “. In summary, kids will not pick up English pronunciation consciously as adults do, so it is up to the teachers to expose them to English in different ways so that they can develop their phonological skills. To provide such exposure, teachers must be aware at all times of the characteristics of their young learners and apply them. 

     Once teachers have prepared themselves to the young learners they are teaching, it is time for them to apply this knowledge planning activities and classes accordingly. As Shin (2014) points out, in L2 learning environments, the language is more decontextualized, the use of L2 tends to be artificial, and learners may not be motivated. It is the role of teacher to overcome these natural obstacles of the L2 classroom providing a context with meaningful and communicative activities. Fransisca (2014) recalls that activities should be chosen according to the aims of the program as well as the developmental stage of the students, and the possibilities are many. Some useful activities are: role-playing, games (e.g. Chinese whisper), tongue twisters, songs, chants, storytelling and etc. We must remember that children learn by having fun (Shin, 2014) and it is the teacher’s job to provide fun, yet focused, activities to produce target language. Planning classes should not be overlooked by teachers, for it is the time to think about how the correct pronunciation can be acquired in a meaningful way. 

     No task comes to easy when we it comes to language acquisition, and teaching kids pronunciation is no exception: there are some difficulties, but none is impossible to be overcome. First of all, teacher must recognize that there are some phonemes and some qualities of connected speech that might be difficult for young learners to acquire (Fransisca, 214). Teachers cannot forget that kids are losing their baby teeth, using braces, and struggling with difficulties even when producing L1. It is the teacher’s job to understand young learner’s limitations and patiently help them develop skills and strategies to overcome them. Secondly, when planning, teachers must be aware that young learners have a limited attention span, so instead of having long activities, one must plan several varied activities that practice the pronunciation of the same target language. Thirdly, children need repetition to master speaking skills, but having the same activities might bore and disengage them. Finally, the teacher must always assess if and how are the students producing language, so that the lessons planned are being helpful to the group at hand. It is important to know the possible challenges of developing fluency in young learners so that such task will not be hindered. 

     For the kids that have the opportunity of studying English at an early age, the advantage must be acknowledged and used in their favor. Since they are not yet conscious of such advantage and of the significance of being fluent in English, it is one of the teacher’s tasks to engage them. To sum up, awareness is a key word for young learner’s teachers, for they must be aware of the characteristics of children, of their difficulties and of how they learn in order to teach them English pronunciation effectively.


Fransisca, E. (2014). Teaching Speaking To Young Learners. Retrieved from: on December, 1st, 2014.

Rogerson-Revell, P. (2011). English Phonology and Pronunciation Teaching. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Shin, J.K. (2014). Teaching English to Young Learners. Retrieved from: on December, 1st, 2014.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why fragments?

     According to the Cambridge dictionary, a fragment (
/ˈfræɡ·mənt) is a countable noun that means a small piece or part, especially one that is broken off of something. 

    According to Folse (2009), a fragment is an incomplete sentence. It is usually a phrase or a dependent clause not connected with the main one. 
      According to this blog and to the right of tweaking the language to my advantage, I will consider a fragment to be a point of view, a piece of an idea and thoughts on topics related to English teaching and learning. The essays found here are pieces of my bigger and more general understanding of what is and should be teaching English as a second language.

       I hope my fragments do not simply become a part that has broken off of something, as well as I hope they are not an incomplete parts of speech. What I truly hope is that my fragments are like building blocks. Although they should stand on themselves, the fun starts when you start connecting the pieces. What do I expect to build? I expect to provoke constructions and deconstructions based on reflections upon my (and many others') trade: teaching English as a second language.

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This blog is the final project of the Writing module in a Teacher Development Course at 
Casa Thomas Jefferson.


Cambridge Online Dictionary:

Folse, K. (2009). Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners: A Practical Handbook. University of Michigan Press

What are the advantages of being bilingual in today's society?

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            Western society has always walked a path towards globalization. From the urge to colonize other lands to the need of finding new markets, men and women have always adapted in order to prevail in such big world. The landmarks are clear: the Great navigations and the Industrial Revolution were times in history in which modern society shifted the paradigms. Lately we have been experiencing another shift: the Information revolution. And how are we supposed to adapt now? By learning a second language. What second language is more adaptative? English, for it has become a Lingua Franca. Simply put, to adapt to an ever changing world, learning English as a second language provides many advantages, both personally and professionally, to individuals.

            To begin with, one must acknowledge that contemporary culture is based in English, and (almost) everyone would like to access the cultural products of their time. There is an enormous amount of movies, series, books, articles, songs, etc bombarding us each and every day, and we  are bound to consume them. Apart from entertaining objectives, individuals also want to know about what is going on in the world. With the click of a button, one might access different information regarding politics, economics, religion, culture, among other topics. Reaching information is easy, but being able to access it will depend on how well you can understand what is being explained. Even though translations are fairly common nowadays, it is not the same to read or watch something in a language other than its original one. A lot gets lost in translation, and learning English will grant you full access to a lot of the information you wish to access, both in your spare time and work time.

            Learning English may also provide you with another advantage in terms of what you do in your leisure time: knowing English will make traveling much easier. Most people enjoy getting to know other cultures and places in the world, but it is quite difficult to learn the language of each country we wish to visit. Because English has become a língua franca, in most sights you travel to, you can communicate using it. So, once again, English integrates you to the world around you; it keeps you from being alienated.

            One last advantage to consider is related to professional goals: being bilingual might give you a jump start in your career. Unfortunately, in a capitalist society, not being alienated depends on how much information you can afford to have. In order to travel, to have internet connection, to have a TV, a smart phone, books, tablets, etc, one must work, earn money, and buy all of these gadgets and commodities. Therefore, we are constantly looking for better job positions and offers, which mean, basically, better payment. To succed in this race, people must show why they are better professionals, and one way to do that is by mastering another language. For that reason, English has become almost a requirement, not only an advantage anymore.

            To sum up, if you wish to insert yourself in todays society, being able to access all that it is offering us, you should learn a second language. Start with English, for it is the most spoken language in the world, it is a Lingua Franca and it is your front row ticket to watch the Information Revolution evolve. After all, Western Society has never walked back in the path it has created; we are always improving and enlarging our means of communication around the world.

Literacy and ESL young learners: how to plan activities?

    Teaching a second language to young learners may be scary to some new (even to some experienced) teachers, especially when your task is teaching those children how to read and write. Many parents have been enrolling their children in English courses before they can even read and write in their own native language. That means that they will learn how to read and write in English right after they have been introduced to the alphabetized world, which means we will be faced with many specific characteristics when teaching them. Being aware of these characteristics is very important in order to succeed. Therefore, this essay aims at giving tips on how to plan effective activities for young learners that are being introduced to reading and writing in English as a Second Language.

    When teaching kids, the first thing one must have in mind is on which of their motor and social development they are. Kids aged seven or eight are still in the concrete sensory stage of their development. That means that abstract ideas, explanations and thoughts are not accessible to your students. For example, if you are presenting them with new vocabulary, you can use realia, flashcards and pictures to activate their previous knowledge, while developing new knowledge in English. Moreover, when explaining activities to them, try not to do it only orally, but also find a way to model what you expect them to do. Besides giving concrete input to them, you should also be prepared to explain more than once.

   The reason why repetition is needed is another aspect of children's development that is important: their attention span is limited. Not only must we repeat explanations, directions, vocabulary and grammar chunks, but we must also plan accordingly. The activities in each class should be varied and short, for they cannot endure long activities. If you must do an activity that is longer, break it down into smaller pieces: give one direction, set a time limit, finish it, only then move on to the next step. Basically, be thorough when planning your classes, so you can scaffold your directions carefully and effectively.

    A third characteristic to keep in mind is: kids are not as mature as teens or adults when learning a new language; they will not start producing the language fluently as quickly as desired. The grammar taught must not be complex, instead, teach them in chunks. They will not understand exactly why the grammar is as it is, but they will grasp how and when to use it.  Since chunks are being taught, controlled exercises are the way to go, with many examples, images and previous knowledge being elicited. Repetition is too very important, but don't rely only on drilling, try teaching the same point in many different ways. In summary, be realistic when setting expectations, and surely you will meet them.

   Finally, the last and most important, in my opinion, aspect to be attentive to is that, although kids learn fast and almost effortlessly, they can be very self-conscious and anxious when it comes to learning a new language. We might not remember, but being in an environment where you don't understand most of what your teacher says is quite nerve-wracking, thus,  be patient. Not only plan and teach accordingly, but always provide a safe environment where your students feel like they can make mistakes, have doubts, and not understand. If their timing and limits are respected, they will able to learn and produce.

    The tips that this essay refers to are just some simple guidelines to be remembered when planning activities to ESL young learners starting to read and write in English. These guidelines may seem a lot to think about, but once you are teaching your students and you start perceiving how fast they develop and learn, it also feels effortless. Hopefully, this essay can make teachers more eager to and less scared of trying to teach ESL young learners. I do believe anyone is able to teach them and, like me, love doing it.

Technology: An ally in EFL classrooms

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    What is technology? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is the use of science to invent useful things or to solve problems. It seems to be a pretty obvious definition, but people do not usually think about how far we have come technologically-wise. A long time ago, books were the newest technology invented by humankind, a means to perpetuate knowledge. We may have far more complex technology nowadays, but the objective is still the same: create, develop and, finally, pass long knowledge. Very similarly, Education has also had these same objectives.  Undoubtedly, education and technology have historically walked alongside aiming evolution, and educators cannot help but accept that technology is much needed in classrooms throughout the world in order to conform Education to what students’ needs. For the educators teaching English as a second language, technology comes as an ally in the task of shifting the paradigm of Education from content-based and grammatical to developing skills beyond language acquirement.

            Using technology in classrooms will make English language learning meaningful. As known, language is better acquired when it has real use, when it is more than just adding value to a curriculum. Isabella Villas-Boas (2014), when talking about complexity theory, points out that language acquirement and development are two different objectives. Nowadays, we do not want our students to simply acquire language that will only be replicated inside the controlled environment of a classroom. We want our students to be able to develop language, which means that students should develop real language abilities in real time (Villas-Boas, 2014). And what does technology have to do with that? Simply put, the world individuals live in is a technological world. We do not only have access to technology, we depend on it; whether it is a computer, a smart phone, a kindle, or even the GPS in a car, we just cannot live without gadgets anymore. Most people are really well adapted to at least computers and smartphones, and it is hard to imagine life without them. Education is bound to embrace this new world we are living in. In order to reach out to our students, to develop language, we must use the (technological) world around us.

We do not want our students to just consume all the world has given them, we want them to be a part of it, transforming it. As Carla Arena (2014) points out, it is important that us teachers empower our students with agency, and technology can be of great use to this endeavor. Once again, we are not teaching language so that our students may just replicate the knowledge absorbed in classroom. We need our students to be able to make real use of what we are teaching them. We want them to be able to access information, to look for what they need, to use the necessary tools to develop and improve language. Moreover, we want them to produce not only language, but knowledge. Hopefully, they will be a part of the change in this world.

Some might say that bringing technology into a classroom is a difficult task, for not every teacher is a tech-literate. Although that might seem a big obstacle, one should remember the difference between language acquirement and development once again. In a language development paradigm, teaching language is not a one-directional path, but a bi-directional one (Villas-Boas, 2014). In this context, apart from us pouring knowledge into our students' head, or maybe even learning from them, knowledge will be produced alongside by both teachers and students. Of course some planning is required, but most importantly we must be open to technology and all that it has to teach us. After all, if we aim at empowering our students with agency, we must be agents ourselves. Recognizing our limits and stretching our boundaries is not such a hard task once you see the results. It may take some work, but learning new technological skills will improve your classes in many ways.

            Education and, therefore, English teaching have come a long way since traditional methods that only aim at teaching students how to pronounce, write and understand this language, for now it is understood that educating is about empowerment, agency and development of numerous skills and abilities. It is really important that teachers evolve their understanding of education, that we empower our students to participate in this globalized world revolutionized by information and technology. The word development is a key to this new era of language learning. As educators, we are mediators, and we must mediate students' agency and language learning in a meaningful way. It is clear that meaningfulness will not be reached if technology is not a part of our daily work. Moreover, creating an appropriate environment in the classroom, as suggested in this essay, will provide growth for both teachers and students together. We may be able to put a price in technology and its gadgets, but the possibilities created by them is priceless to education.

Arena, C (2014). O digital para uma pedagogia do empoderamento e ação.

Villas-Boas, I (2014). On language development and affordances.