Prêt-à-porter lessons rock

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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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

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

Student Assessment – ESL – Alice* in Wonderland

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Lennon has already asked this question, but it seems that the end of the calendar year invites or begs an analysis of what’s happened all along the year.

Every year I enjoy giving my students and some of the supporting cast IMG_0976a little present – a Santa Claus chocolate bar, etc. This year, for instance, my wife and I decided to give a customized bottle of pure grape juice from the Mitto Terroir wine producing regions in southern Brazil. As you know, we don’t drink alcohol, so it would be a little hypocritical to be giving alcohol (which, by the way, does not prevent us from regifting the odd bottle of wine some well-intentioned Nimrod has given us). Why regiftingshould good wine go to waste, after all? Yes, I know…

But back to today’s topic: This morning’s first class was with Alice* in Wonderland. Hardworking senior manager at a leading law firm in São Paulo. Not such a hardworking student, though. Some 10 years ago, Alice* traveled to Chicago to study English for a few months – at that time she reached the intermediate level. 10 years later, she’s still intermediate. What’s happened?

After reaching the intermediate level, most language students reach a plateau, for some people it’s enough what they’ve already learned – but some are aware that they will soon forget what they’ve learned if they don’t continue to study, so they hire a teacher with a magic wand that makes them learn and grow. Not really!

So… Alice* walks in (15 minutes late – today she was early) and starts talking about the Finale of The Voice – USA edition – proud that she watched it in English with NO subtitles. Truth be said she didn’t understand more than 60% of the content but started telling me about the show, the winner, the songs, etc.

“Good practice”, I thought. Until, she’d have to pause and ask me in every sentence the English translation of words in Portuguese. “Teacher, how can you say AZARÃO, COMERCIAL, DESAPEGO, VINÍCULA, etc. After ducking the shower of vocabulary bullets, I told her, DARK HORSE, COMMERCIAL/AD, DETACHMENT, VINEYARD, – she repeated the word in the context. At the end of the class I’d ask her those words to see how much she remembered… the only one she remembered was black horse (sic). LOL.

Then, she talked about the cult on the Voice – and Matt “cheats” little children, yada, yada, yada.  Actually, she meant “coach”  and Matt “teaches” little children, but needs to work on the pronunciation.

Asked about her self-assessment, Alice* went on to say she didn’t give (sic) much progress but she will be much more compromised (sic) in 2050 (sic).

I told her she needs some structure in her course, every class must include a review fullcircleof what’s been previously taught – be it grammar, vocabulary, etc, and learning must be seen as a house under construction it needs – foundations – walls – roof – from the ground up.

Of course, Alice* nodded in agreement but argued that she very rarely cancels the class (which is true, the very few times she had to cancel was because of a hangover, ask no more) and she enjoys this open talk  free-style format.

But Alice concluded saying: “I have a good skills (sic)” – she meant to say excuse – (there goes pronunciation through the window again) – “I work too much”.

Next year, a new page in her learning journey will be opened, stay tuned for the next episodes.

Cheers,

Mo

*All students’ names have been changed to preserve teacher’s physical integrity

ESL Christmas Madness

November and December are traditionally grueling months. Work builds up, reports must be written, goals and targets reached, assessments prepared, Christmas shopping (usually if you are a woman), the roller coaster of activities keeps on mercilessly gaining speed, office parties, client parties, luncheons with friends, clients, ex-friends, and the list goes on. And I’m only talking about the students’ lives. Even Santa Claus drinks too much this time of year (and I’m not talking only about cider) – with all due respect, not sidetracking too much – a friend of ours drank a 750ml bottle of Pinot Noir in less than an hour, alone – and she said: “That’s nothing. I’m used to that. Hiccup”. But we did realize she was slurring  her speech a little and laughing a little louder. Enough said.

No wonder that at this time of year, students are tired, worn out even. Consequently, they can’t produce a better English level – even sometimes their thinkinscreaming-woman-with-headacheg process is slowed down. Take today’s only class for instance. Dear student R is a sweetheart but it’s still hard to imagine that after let’s say, 20 plus years taking English lessons – she still asks – ‘is raining today, teacher?” – I encourage her to repeat the question and notice what’s missing and good-humouredly say: “is raining’ or it’s raining’ require the same energy. Use the right one”. And R just says: “Ahhh teacher, I’m tired (or sick, or sleepy).”

During our lesson today correcting last week’s homework on the Chocolate Conundrum, a quite interesting story in the Guardian listing the problems farmers, processors and manufacturers are facing with falling production and growing demand for chocolate. The article mentioned an example in Indonesia, of course, R mispronounced it, I corrected her and expected to move on, but she got stuck in that nation (chuckles) – and tried to say it again and again while asking me to repeat the word. Until I blurted out: “Forget it! No point in spending energy in learning how to say “Indonesia”. How many times in your life are you going to say this word?” WOO-WOO-WOO (danger alarm) http://youtu.be/PowGPSdAxTI. ATTENTION. Don’t go down that lane. Take a deep breath, Mo.

The class ends with my dear student pronouncing “CEREAL” as “SURREAL” – but that’s ok. I’m sure she’ll be better rested come January.

Cheers,

Mo