Using Authentic Material in the EFL classroom (Level Upper-Intermediate+)

As a long-standing reader of the Economist, I’ve encouraged my students to read this magazine (even though the publishers insist on calling it a newspaper). The quality of the text and the “high-brow” language have always been its benchmark. But the strengths of the Economist can also be its weaknesses.

When presented with a text the teacher will present the first description and the students will always feel the second:

In-depth texts = too long texts

Carefully chosen vocabulary = too difficult vocabulary

A sober text = very few pictures

But the challenge students face will be rewarded by being exposed to excellent writing          (and when using the app they can also listen to the news stories).

When using authentic material I always try to employ all 4 main skills

SPEAKING

READING

LISTENING

WRITING

(not necessarily in this order)

The possibilities to explore the text are huge but, please note that I won’t try to milk this cow until it’s bone dry. The activities are suggestions and I don’t see why keep on beating on a dead cow. Please forgive the pun (I’m not referring to the impeached President – heaven forbid).

So what did I do with this article?

1. SPEAKING:

Brazil has acquired some unique distinctions. For example, in Soccer? (students talk that it’s the only country to have won the football World Cup five times)

In natural resources? (students may talk about the country with the largest rainforest, etc)

And now, what is another distinction? (2 presidents impeached in 20 years)

2. READING:

a. Scanning for main ideas: What do you understand from the title and subtitle?

b.Read the first paragraph – what differences does the article present between Brazil’s 2 impeachments?

c. What lessons can be learned from the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff?

3. LISTENING

students may listen to the whole text or the first and last paragraphs, for example. Have students read a few sentences out loud. Check vocabulary and pronunciation.

4. WRITING –

it can be as simple as writing sentences using keywords previously highlighted in the text to writing an essay defining in their own words the pros and cons of the current political and economic scenarios in Brazil.

As regarding vocabulary I’ve chosen 7 words in the text to focus on meaning and use (trying to include their context and word collocation). Why seven, you may ask – because it’s the symbol of perfection (or more accurately, because those were the words I thought worth checking with students in this specific article – choose one). The teacher may decide to highlight fewer or more words (my suggestion no more than 10). Regarding vocabulary, some students lack the practice of reading for gist and consequently try to understand and look up every single word they don’t know or aren’t sure about. Limiting the number of words the teacher will encourage students to do their own word searches on their own and learn to read on a more dynamic and productive pace.

Please find below the text. Have fun and let me know if these ideas helped and other ideas you may have used.

Bello

THE IMPEACHMENT COUNTRY

Does the ousting of Dilma Rousseff weaken or strengthen Brazil’s democracy?

Sep 10th 2016 | From the print edition

AS WELL as its five football World Cup victories and the world’s largest rainforest, Brazil has just acquired another unique distinction. It is the only country to have impeached two presidents in just 24 years. In the first case, that of Fernando Collor, who resigned in 1992 on the brink of being condemned for corruption, impeacdilmahment commanded near-universal support, and could be read as a sign of democratic vigour. In the case of Dilma Rousseff, ousted by the Senate by 61 votes to 20 on August 31st, judgments are far more mixed. Even some who did not sympathise with Ms Rousseff think her ousting sullies democracy. They worry that Brazil has devalued impeachment, turning it into a means to dump an unpopular ruler—and, in this case, replace her with her unequally unpopular vice-president, Michel Temer.

Some of the arguments Ms Rousseff deployed in two days of evidence before the Senate were mere propaganda. No, her impeachment was not a coup, of any description. It took place over nine months, in strict accordance with the constitution and supervised by the supreme court, a majority of whose members were nominated by Ms Rousseff or Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor and the founding leader of her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

The offence Ms Rousseff was accused of—using credits from public banks to swell the budget without the permission of Congress—is a “crime of responsibility” under Brazil’s impeachment law of 1950. But there the difficulties start. Her defenders are right that this charge was a relatively minor, technical matter. The lawyers who filed the impeachment petition hit upon it because there is no evidence that Ms Rousseff was personally corrupt. That is not true of Eduardo Cunha, the former Speaker of the lower house of congress. He accepted the petition, she plausibly claims, as an act of vengeance because she refused to help him evade expulsion over corruption allegations. It is troubling, too, that many of those who voted to oust her are accused of misdeeds. And Mr Temer, a 75-year-old political insider, hardly embodies the regeneration his country’s rotten politics need.

Yet that is not enough to turn the moral tables in Ms Rousseff’s favour: many of the “coup-plotters” had been for a decade allies (and several were ministers) of the president and her predecessor. Their corruption, if proved, is venal and personal. More sinister is that of the PT, which organised a vast kickback scheme centred on Petrobras as part of a “hegemonic project that involved growing control of parliament, of the judges and…of the media”, as Fernando Gabeira, a left-leaning former congressman, wrote in O Globo, a newspaper. Ms Rousseff chaired Petrobras’s board (in 2003-10) and then ruled the country while this scheme flourished. Her claim to know nothing of it, nor that her campaign guru in the election in 2014 was paid with bribe money, smacks of negligence.

On its own, the Petrobras scandal didn’t doom her. When Mr Cunha launched the impeachment last December, most political analysts expected it to fail. The subsequent stampede against the president owed everything to her own incompetence and to public opinion, which was enraged, too, by her catastrophic mishandling of the economy. Above all, she failed to build alliances in Congress, which need not always involve back-scratching. The crisis of governability in Brasília intolerably prolonged the economic slump, undermining some of the social progress made under Lula. It would have been resolved less divisively by Ms Rousseff resigning or by a fresh election. But she refused to step down, and an early election is constitutionally difficult.

So Brazil is where it is. And it offers some lessons. One is that Ms Rousseff has paid the ultimate price for her fiscal irresponsibility (which went far wider than those disputed credits). That ought to be a salutary warning to Latin America’s more spendthrift politicians. Second, Brazilians want to hold their governments to account. Mr Temer will lose all legitimacy if he yields to pressure from his friends to rein in the Petrobras investigation or helps Mr Cunha avoid justice.

The third lesson is that in Brazil, with its strong parliamentary tradition, no president can govern against Congress. When Ms Rousseff brandishes her 54m votes in the presidential election of 2014 as a defence, she forgets that they were for Mr Temer too, and that the senators have an equally valid democratic mandate. Brazil has thus offered a tutorial in constitutional theory to the likes of Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s dictatorial president. The legacy of a divisive impeachment is not all bad.

From the print edition: The Americas

word-match
An easy exercise is a synonym word match activity either in class and for homework

 

 

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Study Abroad, Revisited

Last week my god-daughter messaged me on Facebook:

Hi, dad! How are you?
 I’m thinking about traveling next year to an English-speaking country to study English. 
So… I need to get ready.
Do you think it’s a good idea to travel through a travel agency such as CVC or exchange program?

I saw it would cost about  R$ 4000. Do you think it’s a good price?

 I was thinking about traveling to England, do you think it’s a good place?
Do you know of any site that might guide me in this search process?
Thank you!!!!
Kisses.
 
Evelyn
 My reply was as follows:
studyabroadbanner
Hello darling.
It’s always a great idea to travel abroad to study, but my suggestion for those who are upper-intermediate or advanced would be to take an open summer course in whatever subject they would like. Instead of just studying English you could study arts, history, photography, endless options in English.
Why? Language schools – as any other business – are focused on profit (nothing wrong with that) but they will be hard pressed to place students at different levels together. In addition to that, your class will most likely have other Brazilians which will be an additional temptation to speak Portuguese. If you’re lucky your classmates will all be Chinese or Korean, so at least, you’ll have to use English to communicate with them.
Another negative point about going abroad just to “study English” – you will be paying your costs in US dollars or Euros or Pounds for content that you could have in Brazil through an intensive immersion course.
Regarding the destination, England is lovely but you will have your costs in pounds (with a still more unfavorable exchange rate than the US $)  which is a disadvantage. Good options would be Canada, USA or even South Africa. Ireland would be a good option but again: too many Brazilians “studying” English in Dublin. Moreover, the Irish accent is lovely but peculiar to that country – so maybe not the best option for a first time abroad.
Again, make sure to get references from other students who’ve been to the school  where you’re considering to study. I know there are schools that have poorly trained teachers with a high turnover while other schools are barefaced scams, many times cancelling the classes (for any imaginable reason) when you get to your destination and of course, you may forget any hopes of a refund.
I’d recommend cities like Pittsburgh, Portland – Oregon or Maine) or San Diego in the US or Calgary, Edmonton in Canada. Also check the weather conditions for the time of year you’re planning to go.
A good site to start your study-abroad research is http://www.studyabroad.com
In Brazil, check with the Student Travel Bureau http://m.stb.com.br/home

May the Lord bless you and your plans and dreams.

Love you,

Dad

They can’t take that away from me – Proud to be a Teacher

In Most of the Western World – including developed and developing countries – the career of a teacher is considered worthy of respect, at least theoretically; because in practical terms, teachers are underpaid and overworked most of the time. If you work in the public or private school systems you are always the weakest link between the students and parents and the administrators.

If you are self-employed you must always be running after new clients and professional development. If you teach in companies then you must be subject to their rules and regulations and to the ebb and flow of the mood of human resources.

Mostly, I have been well treated at the companies where I have  taught, but now an International Bank  (let us call it ABC Bank for illustration purposes) with a new HR management at a new headquarters has declared war on all teachers providing services in their offices. Yes, you are just another service provider delivering the next lunch or package. Yes, the company is doing their employees “a favor” allowing them to have classes on the premises. Of course, you are not supposed to be circulating in the building among the different departments, so you should go just to the floor assigned to you and after meeting with your student to have access to a room. But that’s all understandable. What I can’t understand is the requirement that teachers shouldn’t use the toilet. And if absolutely necessary only when accompanied by the student, since the restrooms are locked away in areas to be accessed only by staff. Now… as a teacher to lack the permission to use the toilet when necessary feels like the last drop.

But…

… here’s my “5 cents worth” of advice:

  1. Dress properly – adjust your clothes to the work environment you’ll be teaching in (err in overdressing not underdressing).teacher 1
  2. Be punctual
  3. Set the limits – your students are not your best friends or family – be professional and empathetic.
  4. Prepare your lessons – you can’t go far with just “free conversation” lessons.
  5. Keep improving yourself both as a person and as a professional teacher.

There! No matter what be proud of your chosen career. I ain’t no Whitney Houston but I’ll sing it with her: “they can’t take away my DIGNITY. Because the greatest love of all…”  yeah, yeah, you got my gist.

So keep your head up high and shine on.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Chunking and Pausing

chunkingMany students focus their language learning on memorizing vocabulary. The  most committed ones usually write down the noun, or verb, or idiom mentioned by the teacher in class as if that would be the solution to all their problems. Well, even if that were true, those words would be soon forgotten behind other lists and pages in the student’s notebook never to be seen again. 

But there’s an approach that can be used in class and by students on their own. Fluency and vocabulary memory can be greatly improved by students using CHUNKING AND PAUSING – techniques for effective speaking:

Even intelligibility and clarity improves much more when students focus on volume, pace and chunking instead of only on pronunciation. 

  1. Collocations – strong tea 

                            – heavy traffic /heavy rain 

                             – the national soccer team

2. Idioms – to get cold  feet

Against all odds / 

 

3. Phrasal verbs

put up a great fight / 

put up with your boss

4. a whole sentence / clause

Thousands took to the streets –

 

The Teacher must help students to:

recognize chunks and 

practice their use

 

Pauses and chunks package information for the listener. Speakers divide speech into ‘chunks’, which may be single words or groups of words to communicate a thought or idea, or to focus on information the speaker thinks is important.

Without the use of pausing and chunking, it is  hard for listeners to follow your meaning and they may be overwhelmed with too much information.

Look at these examples. Try reading both of them out loud. Which one do you think a listener would understand better?

Contextualization: 

Sample 1

Does it really matter whether people speak with an accent as long as they can be easily understood many people now believe that in an increasingly globalized world we should accept variations in pronunciation that is accent. however there’s no point in speaking with an accent if people can’t understand you is there?

Sample 2

Does it really matter /

whether people speak with an accent /

as long as they can be easily understood?//

Many people now believe /

that in an increasingly globalized world /

we should accept variations in pronunciation /

that is / accent. //

However /

there’s no point in speaking with an accent /

if people can’t understand you /

is there?//

Speech chunks and pauses are marked with a slash / or // for a longer pause.

http://www.uts.edu.au/current-students/support/helps/self-help-resources/pronunciation/pausing-and-chunking

Source: University of Technology Sydney 

But chunking is only one rung on the language learning ladder. All that vocabulary must be firmly grounded on basic but solid grammar structure. vocabulary notebook

Cheers and good speaking,

Mo

The Marshmallow Challenge

Earlier this year at the National Conference for Teachers of English in San Jose, Costa Rica,  I could attend several workshops and plenary sessions regarding English learning in the 21st century.

The very first workshop was presented by Jair Felix with a hands-on approach:

The teachers’ challenge was to build the highest frame using uncooked spaghetti, string, tape and topping it with a marshmallow. Right from the start most teachers sat on the floor and started discussing ways and ideas on how to build the tallest structure. And the biggest challenge was resisting the urge to eat the marshmallow.marshmallow

The marshmallow challenge was inspired by a  TED talk by Peter Skillman. (You may watch the YouTube edition following this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p5sBzMtB3Q)

Teachers were then challenged on how they could help their students find inspiration.

What’s the problem? The marshmallow

What skills are important for this challenge?

Teamwork
Negotiating
Listening
Planning
Communication
Role taking
Patience
Collaboration

Some of the conclusions:

  • Children usually have the best performance in this task losing only to architects and engineers
  •  Their minds haven’t been screwed up by notions and the world.
  • High stakes negatively impact the result.
  • The art of prototyping – how to learn from mistakes?
  • Learning takes place when there’s critical analysis of the input. You’re not expected to be perfect as a student. There’s always room for failure.
  • Diversity in the classroom

Incentives + Skills = success ✔️
Incentives + Low skills # success ✖️

“Teaching is a contact sport because we’re always dealing with other people.”

screen-shot-2012-06-24-at-9-55-48-pm

Cheers,

Mo

 

Constructive Feedback

I have just asked this 21st Century Oracle also known as Google about a definition of feedback and here’s what I got:

“information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

synonyms: response, reaction, comments, criticism; More

reception, reviews
“we welcome feedback from the viewers”
 
I’m reading now the feedback from the latest TEFL conference in Costa Rica and  – phew – all of them were very positive. Not that there is anything wrong with negative feedback as long as it can be used to fix or change mistakes in my presentation.  But it does help boost one’s ego to hear good things about your work.
I tried to keep the feedback format very simple and objective. I handed the attendees a Post-it note and asked them to write at the beginning of the session what they expected to learn  from that workshop.  All questions were related to the theme of the workshop “Dogme and Technology – and how to use technology in class – only one attendee expected to learn how to use Linux and http whatever (which I’m clueless about since I’m just a language teacher 😉
After they’d finished the task I asked them to pass the note to the person sitting on their left (of course, the first time I tried it I forgot to give them clear instructions and there was some confusion = cause- effect). At the end of the presentation I asked them to write on the back of the note at least one thing they had learned during the workshop. If they hadn’t learned anything they could just write zilch, zero, nada.Feedback
All answers were very positive – and the best part is not that they all loved the presentation (which doesn’t hurt) but that they felt that they could use technology in their classrooms and not be afraid of using it (exactly the idea of the workshop).
Talk about constructive feedback!
Cheers,
Mo

Teachers Daring to Join the Change

I have just returned from four wonderful days in beautiful Costa Rica. The multitude of things one can do there is amazing – Costa Rica’s strikingly diverse terrain — lush forests, wildlife reserves, and tropical beaches — offers a little something for every traveler. Beach-lovers staying along the Pacific Coast can enjoy a palm-fringed coastline for sun and surf. Nature-seekers staying in the Northern Plains or along the Caribbean coast should pay a visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca before venturing inland to zip line above Monteverde’s Cloud Rainforest and hike Arenal Volcano. Whether you seek sun, nature or adventure, there’s much to discover in this paradise. IMG_9535

So which of the above took me there?  None. The reason that brought me to lovely Costa Rica was The National Conference for Teachers of English http://www.nctecostarica.or.cr/ – which gathered English teachers from all over the country and speakers from the US, Canada, Mexico and even from Brazil.

OK, I must confess I played truant one afternoon and went sightseeing at the Volcán Poás – up in the Costa Rican Alps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the crater though, since it is quite regularly covered in heavy fog, but I could most definitely smell it – sulfur and other intriguing aromas. IMG_9428

Who would have “thunk” that a Brazilian Teacher of English would be invited to participate in such an honorable event. Talk about breaking paradigms and stereotypes. “Native Speakers of English” never have and never will have exclusive rights to the teaching of their language, especially when it is to speakers of other languages.

I was invited via twitter by Jonathan Acuña, the program’s organizer, (may God bless technology)  and the theme – Dare to Join the Change – really challenged me to embrace the opportunity and say “Why not?”

First of all, I’d like to congratulate the organizers – I’ve had my share of TESOL conferences and some of them – dare I say it – were rather poorly organized and structured. NCTE Costa Rica did a wonderful job in getting together different speakers and workshops spread all around the “Centro Cultural Costarricence Norteamericano” – with every classroom having support personnel and dedicated staff. Loved it.

I had been warned of the Tico Time issue (which is not exclusive to Costa Rica, by all means), when things tend to follow their “own time” and tardiness is expected and sometimes even embraced. Not this time. Sessions started sharply on time – save some technological glitches. The plenaries also started punctually as scheduled.

The workshops tended to focus on English Learning in the 21st Century: diversity in the classroom, Fluent x Accurate spoken English, natural learning  and so much more. (Stay tuned for coming blogs on particular issues discussed in the conference).

My workshop was titled: “Dogme never fear, Technology is here” followed by the subtitle “How can media and dogme work together”  and was based on the premise that the simplicity in methodology and movement preached by Dogme in ELT can be enriched and empowered via the use of technology (including social media). The key is to reach a balance between effective language reception and production and unplugged learning. You may see my power point presentation following this link:  https://onedrive.live.com/embed?cid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07&resid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07%21835&authkey=ABRDhO-mHMCqr58&em=2

During the training session, the attendees were wonderful – all teachers highly Tech Monstercommitted to growth and improvement. One thing that was pretty common during the workshop was the fact that most teachers still resist to the use of social media. Technology can be really scary if you don’t know what to do with it. And less than 10% (at least in my workshop) were on LinkedIn. I urged them to create their own LinkedIn profile immediately because it is their professional digital card to their careers.IMG_9447

That’s just a brief insight of what happened on 3 days of intense and powerful collaboration. The conference was tuanis (“too nice” in Costa Rican slang).

My advice? Next time you hear about a teachers’ conference dare to join the change.

Never fear.

Cheers,

Mo