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





(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?


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)


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?


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.


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.



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

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



As Focused as a Goldfish

My wife and I were talking about how hard it is to sometimes focus, to concentrate on a specific task.

I find it hard to dive into a book for more than 2 pages – especially if it’s on a Kindle. My wife can’t watch a TV program for more than 15 minutes without channel surfing.

Yesterday I came across a study sponsored by Microsoft stating that our attention span has shortened to 8 seconds from 12 seconds in a little more than a decade and that the typical goldfish can focus an average of 9 SECONDS. (You can read the whole study by clicking the following link:

The claim is that today’s digital technology with Twitter, emojis et al, make it very hard for us to concentrate.

Imagine when you are a teacher trying to grab the attention of kids or adults for 60 minutes. Many students of mine come to class with not one but 2 mobile phones – and during class those little evil creatures (the phones not the students) keep on vibrating, ringing, dinging, lightening up or doing whatever to get the attention of their owners (should I say servants?)- the students not the phones.

A hot trend nowadays is gamification – aiming to fight this ever-shrinking attention span – making workers or students to adhere to a series of games where they’ll be competing against each other, against time or against themselves. Ok, but is it feasible to be ever introducing new games?  Sooner or later they’ll get tired of that formula and then?

An article by the Medical Daily website presented 3 easy steps (easier said than done) for people to improve their physical and mental ability to concentrate:

1. Drink fluids – nothing more simple – but it’s unbelievable the number of people who don’t drink enough liquid to prevent mild dehydration. Coffee, tea (other than herbal) sodas and alcoholic beverages , even though liquid, cause more liquid loss.

2. Exercise – nothing like a walk around the block if nothing else, to clear up your mind. Yeah, you have a deadline but you’ll be better equipped with a better oxygenated brain.

3. Avoid electronic devices – adding insult to injury – set a timer for you not to touch or look into your smartphone, tablet of notebook (30 minutes of freedom during the day, for example, or switch them off for good at night).

The article ended with a simple question:

“So how many of you got through this article without checking your electronic devices”?

The funny thing is that I read this article with a student who really avoids even taking her cellphone out of her bag but, needless to say, even she failed in the test. During class her phone rang and she had to answer it.

In class the teacher will have to be creative in the activities provided and reduce the time allotted per activity. The challenge will be to keep every activity connected to the previous one so that learning will be continuing spiraling up and not in fits and starts. 8-seconds-attentionCheers and great concentration


Prêt-à-porter lessons rock


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 ( 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,


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) 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.