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new-years-resolutions

The New Year is finally here and getting old by the second. Preparing my first set of lessons for this coming week. The Idealistic Teacher (or dreamer) will make a resolution to prepare individual lessons customized to every single student. The Awful Teacher will teach whatever the textbook he has been told to use presents. The Realistic Teacher will create some lessons but will also take advantage of the abundance of material available online and adapt to his or her students’ needs. Ready-to-use lessons are a real blessing for every busy and tired teacher.

Take for example the lesson on New Year’s Resolutions from BreakingNewsEnglish.com (http://breakingnewsenglish.com/). The lessons always present excellent material for my classes. And they’re always free. Ok, sometimes students complain the audio recording is a little flat and monotonous but for this price… . As I said yesterday to another student – I was giving away some 200 CDs I’d had in my car which I don’t use any more thanks to bluetooth. (Spring cleaning fever in the middle of summer, go figure). And I told the students – feel free to get as many CDs as you wish. Then a student came up to me and asked – “but is it music or lessons? what sort of music? Will I like the songs?” I turned to him and replied: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. No CDs for you”. I instantly became a CD Nazi. Doh.

For this lesson on New Year’s Resolution I’d start with the picture above (a picture’s worth 1000 words) as a warmer:

Do you have any resolutions for the new year? Then I could share with the students a list of the top new year’s resolutions for 2015. What’s the point in making resolutions? From previous years students are 50/50 – yes / no to resolutions.

Even though the lesson contains 26 pages I usually only print pages 4 and 7 (let’s be environmentally aware) and I can give them the listening activity from Breaking News English as a dictation (I can use the British or American/Canadian recording) and also have students fill in the gaps.

Comprehension Questions or True & False are also great tools to make students speak. Of course when a sentence is false – they must explain why.

Synonym Match is a good vocabulary practice and the Phrase Match is great for matching sentences that make sentence even if they’re not the same as in the original text.

To wrap up I give students some answers about the text and have them ask me the question. It’s my favorite exercise – because questions are a big challenge to most students. They forget word order, auxiliaries, etc. I call this exercise “Yes, No, Maybe so”, I tell them “45%” for example and they have to come up with a question based on the text. Some samples of what they would ask:

How much per cent of people make a New Year’s Resolution? There we have a good opportunity to clarify the difference between HOW MUCH and HOW MANY, for instance.

What I think is missing in the Breaking News English activities is a grammar point, if necessary I can quickly develop some activity related to the text, be it verb tenses, prepositions, phrasal verbs, etc.

As a final activity, if time allows, I can ask them questions on the matter studied and their own opinion. There. Now the teacher has a well-rounded lesson plan that will last at least 60 to 90 minutes and which mostly took him the time just to read the article. (Of course, some teachers will go to class without even having done that. Don’t get me started).

How about me? Will I make New Year’s Resolutions?

Well… I’ll try to be less anxious or afraid of new challenges or opportunities. Secondly, I’ll try not to lose my temper when I have to correct my students for the 10th time within a 10-minute frame.

Cheers and Teach Well,

Mo

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New Year’s in Brazil

Brazilians usually use the French “Réveillon” to refer to our New Year’s Eve celebration. We also say “Festa de Ano Novo” (New Year’s Party) – but not as common as “Réveillon” – usually I hear it pronounced in the French way – /reveion/ but sometimes I hear the word pronounced with the Brazilian phonetics with the L /reveiLon/ this latter sound always tickles me.

To start off, by many Brazilians, I mean São Paulo city dwellers. Brazil is MG_3159-Praia-Grande-Outeirosuch a big and diversified country that even clichés are regional. As I was saying, many people living in São Paulo make plans to go to the beach for New Year’s celebrations. They may travel to Rio or Guarapari; the northern or southern coasts of São Paulo state – São Sebastião or Itanhaém, for example; Florianópolis (further south), but the destination of choice tends to be the seashore with or without seashells or jellyfish but most certainly with loads of people.

Unfortunately, summer – December through March in Brazil – tends to be the rainy season, and despite recent droughts, it usually pours this time of year, so flooding and mudslides are not unheard of. Sometimes roads can be blocked for hours (if you’re lucky) or days (if you’re still lucky)… meaning, you could be under all that mud, rocks and debris. Let’s not forget lightning strikes.  Just this week in just one fell swoop a thunderbolt killed 4 members of a single family seeking shelter under a parasol on the beach in Praia Grande. A sad tragedy indeed.

The first time I was introduced to the beach was when I was 9 or 10… never had seen the sea and rushed away from the waves. Of course, mom didn’t think of using any sunscreen lotion, the protection was the parasol. Got some blisters but survived. Never however liked very much being exposed to the sun – being fair skinned and all, but in my early 20s i started getting more sun tanned. I was already an English teacher teaching at different companies some 25 years ago and I had classes let’s say from 12 -2JDSCpm at company A and then the next class would be at 6pm in another part of town. I had 4 hours to kill. At that time, I lived in the western outskirts of São Paulo near Jaraguá peak – to get from and to my home would take me 90 minutes on average either way, so no point in going home. Had to “kill time” somewhere. There still are very few places you can safely stay free of charge for a few hours in São Paulo – Starbucks hadn’t arrived here yet. The only place I could think of was the campus of my university (USP) – off I’d go. I’d lie down on a bench surrounded by greenery and read or listen to music until the time was up for me to move to my next class. On rainy days I’d have to seek shelter in one of the campus’ libraries. Well… I said all that, because during those years, I developed a healthy sheen and my students would think I was either going quite often to the beach or was a member at some fancy club (nothing further from the truth).

But back to New Year’s in Brazil, since some 2 million people vacate the city, it is possible for you to breathe more freely and find a parking space. Of course, thousands come to São Paulo to visit family or run in the São Silvestre (St. Sylvester) Race. A tradition that takes place on New Year’s Eve. Originally it was held at midnight but TV interests pushed the race to late afternoon. Nowadays the race is held at 9a114805_ext_arquivom on December 31 and the new route has lost all its charm as a street race. Me thinks it’s lost much of its character and tradition, but what do those things matter compared to the money to be made by big media interests? Still many Brazilians enjoy participating in the race, many prepare all year round, young and old run together, many wearing costumes just for the fun and the opportunity to be seen on TV.

After the race, around 2 million (conservative figures) gather on Paulista Ave – formeReveillon paulistarly the business and financial heart of the city, now moving to districts further south) – for the Réveillon na Paulista – with concerts and fireworks at midnight.

Our personal New Year’s Celebration starts at around 7pm – when we go to the IMG_4445Christian Arab Open Community in Vila Mariana (http://comunidadearabe.org.br/) – the year starts not at midnight but at sunset – every family or person brings some fruit or Arab dishes and after a prayer and thanksgiving service we get together, eat and wish a Happy New Year to each other. It’s been our tradition for the past 15 years. We get home before 10pm and toast with a cold glass of white grape juice. Awesome by the way.

Salaam,

Mo

سنة جديدة سعيدة

Between the Old and the New

This time of the year usually leaves us with a taste of expectation. Christmas is gone and the New Year is not here yet. Classes are out. Many restaurants are closed. Beaches are crowded (we’re talking about December in Brazil, after all) and you find yourself wondering what to do. Prepare classes? Check. Prepare schedule? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. This morning the supermarket was empty, by the way, there were more members of the staff than actual shoppers. Believe you me. That’s not usual in the multiple anthills that form Streesão Paulo.

Last night we had a severe thunderstorm with strong winds – about 100km an hour.  Consequence:  more than 200 trees toppled in the city (a record) and more than 30 traffic lights down and out. Even Ibirapuera Park was closed today because of the after-storm cleanup.

This afternoon, my Student R emailed me checking if she could resume classes in the second week of January – I asked her if bie-57302_-_back_to_school_metallic_fringeMondays at 8am would be good for her and she said “Yes, that would be fine”. Now notice that her classes will be at her office. Previously she had classes at home and she managed to be late for classes and oversleep. Can you believe she’ll make it in time at her office? Let’s just hope this New Year’s Resolution will stick.

I whatsapped  my student A to confirm whether she’d resume classes Friday January 2nd or the following week. Her literal reply: “Nop (sic)! I’d like to schedule for next week – give me a brake (sic)!!!zzzzz” Sure, darling, with the English level you’ve got now you have all the time in the world.

Considering that all, but one, are upper intermediate or higher, usually for my first class in the new year I like to give them some article from the Economist or another newspaper about resolutions in order to explore vocabulary and encourage students to make their own resolutions regarding their language learning progress.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know most resolutions don’t stick but one can hope, right?

You see, I’ve created a folder for holidays in my computer with subfolders for the different holidays of the year.  Under the New Year heading I can find listening activities from Voice of America or BBC, such as the use of calendars, resolutions for the physical exercise challenged, New Year’s Celebrations around the world, crossword puzzles with New Year’s related vocabulary. As for grammar, I often lead my students to Future Tense practice – going to / will/ Present Continuous, etc. A good activity that can be used as a warmer to get students talking is this one:

Future Tense
There are many ways to talk about the future. Here are some patterns that you can use. Write two sentences after each pattern.

I’m going to ~
I’m going to visit my Grandmother on the weekend.
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________

I’ve decided to~
I’ve decided to buy a new computer.
I intend to~
I intend to move to Ireland.
I’m planning to ~
I’m planning on getting a part-time job.
I’m thinking of ~ ing.
I’m thinking of learning Japanese .
I might ~
I might go fishing.

future2

A cartoon is always a good icebreaker as well – the teacher may also erase the text and have students come up with their own captions. Then you may show them the original version.

You see… tons of things to do before the year comes to an end.

Cheers,

Mo

Christmas in Brazil

Saundz.com asked me to describe Christmas in Brazil. Where can I start? Brazil is such a vast and diverse country – clichés apart, we could say that different regions celebrate Christmas in their own way. What I can say is that Christmas in Brazil has always been brazil_map_christmas_tree_ornaments-rf43a682d77f340e2a9e1544683de46ab_x7s2y_8byvr_512the family holiday of the year. In the Brazilian North and Northeast regions I’m aware that some centuries-old traditions, with singers and religious processions looking for the baby Jesus on the streets of the village, etc. In Gramado, southern Brazil, there is a very beautiful Christmas production by the lake with classical soloists and choir.

But here in São Paulo, at least in our family everything is very simple.

Traditionally families get together on Christmas eve, those who are religious go to church for the midnight mass and, then eat supper with lots of turkey, couscous (a Brazilian interpretation can be ceiafound here – http://authenticbraziliancuisine.blogspot.com.br/2011/07/cuscuz-brazilian-interpretations-of.html), rice with vegetables or raisins, salpicão de frango (cold chicken salad – for a quick recipe see http://www.food.com/recipe/salpic-o-de-frango-brazilian-cold-chicken-salad-456992 ). My mother used to love to prepare ONLY for Christmas and New Year’s – what we called pickles  (pronounced

picpicleskreys),and consisting of boiled hot dogs, cucumber, carrots, turnips and some cauliflower buds – they’re tough to stick with a toothpick.

For dessert we can have coconut and pineapple cake, prune pudding, condensed milk pudding, and other attractions that won’t disappoint any sweet tooth.manjar-coco-calda-ameixa

Since I don’t drink any alcohol, my Christmas consists of fruit juice – watermelon and ginger is my latest favorite. Ok, ok, I confess: I might go crazy and have 2 glasses of Coke. melancia

Traditionally, my wife and I go first to my brother’s home where we usually plan to get there around sunset (around 7:30pm). A secret Santa would be ideal, but considering that we see each other twice in a good year, we’d better buy  a little something for everyone – my nephew and niece are grownups now but not very talkative but that’s ok. Sometimes if I try really hard I manage to hear my nephew and niece mumble something that can be construed as “Merry Christmas” or “Hare Krishna” – whatever might suit their mood. We sit down to eat and by 9.30pm we’re leaving to go to my mother-in-law’s home in another part of town, where there will be the grandchildren… now great-grandchildren – who will bring some innocence and joy to the evening. Take the children away, nothing stays. By the way, One thing I can’t understand – at my brother’s and mother-in-law’s the TV is always on during that time – generating some background noise and light – as if they were saying, I’m not that interested in what you’ve got to tell me so let’s watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in silence. Weird!

Around midnight or even before that (if I’m lucky), we wish them all merry Christmas and head home. This year it will be a little different because we have adopted Luther, a black cat, and he will most definitely be waiting for us to return home.

This year, my wife was able to see daddy again after 5 years they’ d grown apart because of alcohol (his not hers) and terrible character (again, his not hers). But God can soften our hearts and this year after his diagnosis of throat cancer, my wife was able to approach her dad again. Believe it or not, that man is no cat but he’s got at least 9 lives. After surviving prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and throat cancer – he’s survived this challenge again and as a present from her heart my Sweetheart took daddy to Rio de Janeiro by plane – first time he visited that city and got on an airplane. The amazing power that God’s love allows us to forgive blows my mind. (Update – unfortunately my wife’s dad, Paulo, passed away on Mother’s Day 2015, talk about irony, may his ashes rest in peace).

So it’s not a bad Christmas at all.

Looking forward to Christmas. (Who am I kidding?)

Ho ho ho,

Mo

Christmas in Rio

The whole world has been led to believe that Christmas is lots of snow, lights to provide warmth and hope, and a fat man dressed in red fur bringing good cheer to one and all.

Well, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, since theologians, historians, wise guys (I mean, wise men) and shepherds agree that based on historical data and Gospel descriptions with shepherds in the fields, the baby was born around the year 4 BCE and between June-September. Ok, by this we take Christ out of Christmas – and what do we have? No, Virginia, not just “mas” or “mass”. Funny girl. We have the winter solstice – where all the snow, lights and red fur fit like a glove. That’s of course for the Northern Hemisphere.

I’ve always been a supporter of Christmas in July for the Southern hemisphere when cooler temperatures can move us to wish to be “closer” to family and friends while not sweating like pigs in the shade.

We had the chance to go to Rio this week and have got great news for you: it’s still marvelous and beautiful. Even the Christmas decorations – specially at night – make the city more beautiful.

Christmas in Rio is full of contrasts – for a Carioca – it’s cheap – R$ 10 and a pair of shorts allow you to spend a whole day of fun. For tourists it is going to be a little pricier – just a night at Copacabana palace goes into the thousands of reais. But you can always try to rent a couch in the home of a community (favela) dweller for a few hundred bucks.

IMG_1042
Sugar Loaf – Pão de Açucar
IMG_1053
Historical Cable Car – 1912

Of course, some frustrations and throw-your-arms-up in-the-air moments appear: the Sugar Loaf cable car was running only half way up to Urca Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado – a tourist magnet – lacks basic infrastructure and newsflash: they don’t know how to deal with large numbers of tourists under a 110-degree Fahrenheit sun, not a pleasant experience. I loved the easy access areas for the disabled, pregnant women or the elderly – the lines for the van to take them up to Jesus had a wait of only 2.5 hours instead of the regular 5-6 hours for common mortals. A driver told us that there is a van service in Copacabana that takes tourists there nonstop and at lower fares but we learned about it only after we got there. Piece of advice: befriend a local Carioca online before your visit – but choose well: it’s got to be a street smart Carioca. If you get someone who can’t tell the difference between their left or right foot, you’re doomed. Bazeeenga!!

We hired a taxi driver to pick us up IMG_1045at the local Santos Dumont airport and stay with us for the rest of the day. We pre-arranged a daily fare and, of course, the driver at the last minute watsapped us saying she would be busy and referring us to another driver. Other drivers we’d contacted before had plainly stated they didn’t like driving tourists around, or didn’t know how to set a daily fee, or didn’t feel like driving on a hot day, or all of the above. (chuckles).

IMG_1125
The girl from Ipanema comes in all sizes and shapes

Food at the botecos (casual pubs) is inexpensive and home made – Galeto’s at Praça da Bandeira  is a very simple restaurant but food tastes like the one your mom (if she knows how to cook) would prepare for you.

The best part of the day is always the beach – people can and do spend their whole day under a giant parasol eating and drinking whatever the beach vendors have available – from prawns on a stick to Arab cuisine.

The feeling I had was that most of the foreign tourists were Latin American – don’t cry for me, Argentina – followed by Europeans. Of course, you’d expect that such a touristy global city wouldIMG_1080 have locals speaking English as their second mother tongue. Unfortunately, that’s not so. Many people may know some of the basic “sale” “bargain” “ripoff” English to get by, but I still feel that fluent people are found in larger numbers in São Paulo, which is not to say they’re counted in the millions, by the way.

What else can I say? Christmas in Rio? Hell yeah. Just don’t forget your sunscreen and your portable AC around your neck. Oh, and drink gallons of coconut water.    IMG_1114

Cheers and have yourself a merry Natal.

Mo

Candy Cane Pie?

In my “Americanoid” way I love listening to US radio stations – specially talk radio. Sometimes my students tease me saying I know more about the traffic, say, in Tallahassee than in São Paulo. But that’s me, warts and all. For some years now since the last time we visited the National Parks in Utah, our favorite radio station has been FM 100.3 http://fm100.com/- specially their Soft Sunday Sounds programs – this time of the year they focus on Christmas music but not only the same “it’s the most wonderful time of tcandy cane piehe year” songs.

Well, while listening this morning, a commercial announced a special sale of Candy Cane Pies! I thought: “well, that’s pushing the  envelope a little too far”. Googled it up and presto. Now I want to taste it. Lol. Even found some Uncle Phaedrus’ lost recipes. http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m121801.htm

Legend of the Candy Cane
Legend of the Candy Cane
English Sabbath School Class
IMG_3431 English Sabbath School Class
Mo showing the meaning of the candy cane
Mo showing the meaning of the candy cane

Yesterday was the last Saturday/Sabbath before Christmas so traditionally we give our students at Sabbath School a candy cane and tell them once again the Candy Cane Story. There are different versions online but this one is my favorite – since students can actively participate while they listen to the story.

I asked them to hold the candy cane and follow the story – “Look at the Candy Cane what do you see?

Stripes that are red like the blood shed for me.

White is for my Savior who is sinless and pure!

J is for Jesus, my Lord, that’s for sure.

Turn it around and a staff you will see. Jesus my shepherd was born for me!”

The students followed the gestures and also listened and repeated the story. In order to encourage them to be active, instead of giving them the text – I published the text on the class’ Facebook page (Believes Unasp) so those who really want to remember, practice and review the story will have to do their part. Well… actually I forgot to print the story… was busy printing the Christmas bulletin. But everything worked out fine.

Vocabulary this time of the year that many ESL students mispronounce: choir,IMG_1024 chorus – Another word they learn for the first time: carol.

One thing I miss about my Americanoid Christmases: Caroling – Hark! the Herald Angels Sing; Silent Night; The first Noel; and all the classics – Brazilians usually don’t carol much – even in church. Their hymnal may contain some 20 carols but they know 2 or 3 and that’s it. Ok, you have the Christmas concert – where the congregation sits mostly passively receiving the music but not celebrating it. When I’m spending Christmas in São Paulo there is a non-denominational English speaking church – Calvary International Church – and their Christmas program usually follows the small church style in the US – even if they have choir and soloists – the congregation sings a lot of the most loved Christmas carols and since it’s a multicultural church, members often tell a little about Christmas in their part of the world.

Our Sabbath School Christmas Bulletin
Our Sabbath School Christmas Bulletin

Talking about church, this afternoon we’ll be going to a special 60th Diamond Wedding Anniversary / Thanksgiving Ceremony in the neighborhood of Lapa, in the western part of São Paulo. The couple, Antonieta and Seu João opened their home to me and other youth some 40 years ago and never looked back. Seu João can’t walk much now, needs a wheelchair – but you still see the love – what else could you call it? – they have for each other. Some of the people in that church I haven’t seen in 20 years, just hope I’ll know how to reply to their love-loaded comments: “You’ve disappeared”. “You’ve put on weight!” “How come you’re not bald yet!”Have you already made your first million dollars?” “Are you still married to the same person?” Chuckles. Well, you get the gist, don’t you?

Now getting dressed for the slaughter.;-)

Cheers,

Mo

This is not a Christmas Market, honey!

Last night some of my students were out celebrating their company’s Christmas Party or as they like to say in Brazil Year-end Party /Festa de Fim de Ano. Of course, most companies announce these free booze and grinding events as part of team building and improving in-house relationships. I see them more as a way to let employees vent all their frustrations and anger on the dance floor. Way better than shooting everybody in their cubicles, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, with all the drinking, dancing, and karaoking, getting home at 2, 4 or 6 am would disable any warrior from having classes at 7:30 the next morning or any other time that day. Result? I’M FREE. Could stay in bed, read the e-paper (never thofeiraught I’d say that aloud) and go to the street market with my Sweetheart.

The concept of street markets in Brazil was imported from Europe, adapted to Brazilian needs and characteristics.  They usually run from Tuesday to Sunday on different streets across the city. They can be quite well organized and clean with fresh fruit and vegetables. Just avoid the fresh meat and fish stalls. The stench is awful. I love hearing the stall owners shouting the names of their produce, prices, offering discounts, making jokes and puns, etc. I’m pretty sure salespeople are pofeira-livre_500lyglots. Show any interest in their fruits or vegetables and they’ll say anything from English to Mandarin or Japanese, not unusual at some street markets in São Paulo. Some prices are lower than at supermarkets but today they tried to sell me 1 (yes, ONE) pomegranate for R$ 20 (about US$ 8). It’s final: cheap pomegranate juice only in Turkey – Here in Brazil only corn or sugarcane juice.

The point is that although some of the vendors may be wearing a Santa hat, Christmas is not ubiquitous and overbearing there, people are buying “food” – a basic staple –  and you can see the roots of capitalism taking place in its simplest form.

One thing I always encouraged my students to do when at a streeUVA-ITALIA-CG-FEIRA-DELIVERYt market – yes, even in Brazil – try to learn the names of the different fruits, vegetables, etc in English.

Tomate – Tomato

Alface – Lettuce 

Uva – Grape and so...

Simple? yes … effective? You bet! Of course,  I mentioned easy words they may already know – but they can expand the list with colors, smells, tastes in mind.

It’s not a Christmas market, but a great gift to your language learning adventure all year round.

Cheers,

Mo