Blog Archives

English Teacher vs Educator

My students from 5th grade have suggested me working in class with Pink Floyd’s song: “Another Brick in the Wall”. I was surprised by the demand as 10-year-old students are not supposed to like those songs. And without even noticing, as I was preparing the song worksheet, they made me reflect a lot about my role as an English teacher.

As regards their English level of proficiency, they are elementary students (A1). Of course they will find the song very challenging, but that didn’t worry me. They are very motivated to listen to the song and I’m sure they will manage with the help of the you tube video and some guiding questions.

While I was writing them, I realised that  I cannot use this song in class without having a thorough discussion about its meaning. What is education? What type of education do we want? Are there right or wrong answers?  What is the importance of  having our own ideas? Most probably my students won’t be able to discuss these issues fully in English. Nevertheless, I believe that even if they speak Spanish, the debate will be worth it. After all, I’m not teaching just English, I am trying to be an educator.

And this brought me to my perpetual professional dilemma one more time… The issue that faces me with cyclical professional crisis. What am I doing there in those crowded classrooms? Teaching English? I don’t want to do that, I don’t believe in that. English is just a language, a tool. Very necessary and important. Yes, of course. It  has opened me lots of doors.  It has put me in contact with lots of very interesting people. It has let me access books in the authors’ mother tongue and has surrounded me with poetry and hundreds of magical stories. However, we shouldn’t forget it is a TOOL, just like Spanish is.

I’m not saying that I don’t want to teach English anymore. No, I love what I do. What I don’t want is  to teach JUST English. English is not the object of study in my classes. It is the MEANS to access a bunch of knowledge. It is the tool that will allow me and my students to access lots of information, to get to know new cultures, different ways of thinking, different points of views; that will allow us to reflect on important issues, defend our opinions and why not, also get to know each other more. That’s what education is all about after all: developing CRITICAL THINKING and SOCIAL SKILLS.

It sounds pretty simple, though, how difficult it is to teach that! To teach our students to think by themselves, to defy our (the teacher’s) points of view. It is very difficult to get them used to the idea that sometimes there are no right or wrong answers. And of course, sometimes it is even difficult for us , the teachers, to give them more freedom to think and take control of the class. It is easier not to do so. We should overcome the resistance to change. Students should be in control of our classrooms:  rethinking and reinventing knowledge; learning collaborately with the teachers as facilitators, not as THE ONES WHO POSSES THE KNOWLEDGE.

Well, that’s all for now folks. What do you think about all these incoherent ramblings of mine?

Lesson Plan: “A reflection on Haiti Crisis”

It’s been a long time since my last post because I’ve been away on holidays. But now I’m back in Buenos Aires and about to start a new-working-year. Trying to find a topic to talk about in my in-company classes, Haiti crisis came to my mind. It is  an issue that is currently everywhere. For that reason, I have prepared a lesson plan to reflect about the gap that exists between developing and third world countries and how this affects their ability to react when a crisis, a natural disaster, etc strikes them. I have based my lesson plan on an article from the New York Times called “Earth Science Meets Social Science” and a video called “Haiti’s Legacy of Environmental Disaster”. Here you will find the lesson plan: Feeling Vulnerable Lesson Plan.

I hope you find it useful and feel free to leave any comments, suggestions, criticisms or whatever you feel like it.

¿La escuela mata la creatividad? (Parte 2)

El post anterior dio mucho que hablar. Tuvimos muchas preguntas y pocas respuestas. Sabemos que la creatividad es un elemento primordial para motivar a nuestros alumnos y sacar lo mejor de ellos. Pero la gran pregunta es ¿cómo hacemos para ser más creativos? Una vez más,  Sir Ken Robinson me dio varias respuestas en este post de TED talks: TED and Reddit asked Sir Ken Robinson anything — and he answered . Es bastante largo y está en inglés pero es muy recomendable.

En unas pocas palabras él considera que lo más importante qué podemos hacer para favorecer la creatividad es empezar ya mismo desde el lugar donde nos encontremos. No esperar a que los cambios se produzcan desde arriba. Tres factores a tener en cuenta son:

  • Estimular la imaginación
  • Plantear problemas con respuestas abiertas
  • Fomentar el trabajo en grupo

Espero que les haya servido el link. Cualquier idea, pensamiento o reflexión no duden en compartirlo…

¿La escuela mata la creatividad?

Necesitaba escribir este post en castellano. Creo que cuando uno toca un tema en el cual los sentimientos se interponen, uno necesita hablar en su propio idioma. Este tema me esta dando vueltas en la cabeza hace bastante tiempo. Hoy, viendo este video de Ken Robinson me dieron ganas de ponerme a escribir.

La verdad es que  tengo muchas  preguntas al respecto y pocas respuestas. Por no decir casi ninguna. Y van las preguntas…  ¿ El sistema educativo, la forma en que enseñamos en las escuelas, los programas que nos bajan desde el ministerio, etc. , etc, etc favorecen a la educacion de nuestros alumnos? ¿Nuestras escuelas no estan plagadas de situaciones en las que los profesores son los que poseen el saber y lo bajan a los alumnos de forma vertical? ¿No es hoy cuestion de sentido común que hay varios tipos de inteligencia? ¿No deberíamos favorecer el desarrollo de todas ellas y no solo el de las “socialmente prestigiosas”? ¿ No debería la escuela favorecer el desarrollo de inquietudes por parte de los alumnos y ayudarlos en la búsqueda de esas respuestas? ¿ No deberíamos los docentes aprender a decir con humildad “no se, pero juntos podemos encontrar la respuesta”? ¿ No deberíamos empezar a salir del aula cada vez más y favorecer la experiencia directa con el conocimiento?  ¿La escuela no debería ser el lugar donde se les presenten a los alumnos todos los caminos posibles para que ellos encuentren su vocación? ¿ Pero si hay materias que no se dictan en las escuelas secundarias (especialmente las relacionadas con las artes), como sabrán nuestros alumnos que esas también son opciones válidas? ¿ Por qué si hay muchas escuelas en las que los docentes de forma aislada estan tratando de buscar formas alternativas y mas efectivas de enseñar, desde arriba no se hace nada para que estas experiencias sean intercambiadas y se aproveche este nuevo conocimiento adquirido para cambiar nuestro sistema educativo que esta tan deteriorado? Y la última pregunta que da título a este post: ¿la escuela mata la creatividad?.

Mi única respuesta, mi humilde opinión. Yo creo que no es la escuela la que mata la creatividad. Lo que mata la creatividad es la construcción de escuela que nos metieron en la cabeza. La escuela donde hay que estar bien sentados y en silencio. La escuela donde el que se mueve mucho o no presta atención es el que se PORTA MAL. La escuela que no permite creer que quiza ese chico tenga otra forma de aprender. La escuela que considera que donde hay mucho barullo no hay aprendizaje. Esa es la escuela que no favorece la creatividad, que nos ata, que no nos deja pensar libremente, que no favorece la diversidad de opiniones, la diversidad de formas de llegar al aprendizaje, que no favorece la diversidad de nada. Esa no es la escuela en la que yo quiero estar. Espero que desde nuestros pequeños granitos de arena logremos construir una escuela donde haya diversidad y creatividad por doquier. Y yo me quedo pensando, y ustedes que piensan?

Si quieren seguir leyendo, en la segunda parte de este post aparecen algunas respuestas.

BBC World News Podcast for Children.

imagesHi! It’s been a long time since my last post. I’m sorry but I’ve been quite busy. I’ll try to update more often from now on. At the moment I’m teaching online because schools are close here in Argentina due to the swine flue. For that reason, I will have more time to spend in front of the computer.

Well, let’s go to the important thing.  The bbc has created a great and extremely accurate podcast about breaking news. It is a great tool we can use for practising listening with our kids, teens and why not, with our adult students too. It consists of a 4 minute weekday news bulletin for 7-14 year olds.  The accompanying scripts are available on the BBC World Class website. Hope you find it useful.  See you soon.

Lesson Plan: World Financial Crisis

If you haven’t heard recently about the financial crisis, you are definitely not living in the Earth planet. Every newspaper, magazine, television programme and the like is dealing with this issue. Everybody seems to be an expert in economy nowadays, or at least they would like to be. As our classes do take place in this planet, why not take this popular topic to the classroom? There are plenty of articles, videos and recordings about it somewhere there on the net. There are even lesson plans! For example, if you have students from higher levels a good option would be this ready-made lesson plan from In Company website.

However, it is very difficult to find an article suitable for lower levels. After surfing the net for a long time, I have finally discovered one written by CBBC Newsround and prepared with it a lesson plan: cash_crisis. It deals with the current world financial crisis using very simple language making it accesible for language learners. It is also a good revision of verbs related to money.

Hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to leave as a comment if you happen to use the lesson plan or if you have more ideas to deal with the topic.

Lesson Plan: 9/11

Today is another anniversary of 9/11. When such schocking things take place, we tend to remember them as if it was yesterday. For that reason, you may start the lesson by asking your students “what were you doing on 9/11 2001 (when the twin towers fell)?”
There is a very good explanatory video available in Brain Pop for free during September. You will also find a quiz your students can do after watching the video.

You may also watch the trailer of the movies United 93 or World Trade Center and have a class debate on films based on true events.

Here you have some questions you might want to use during the discussion:
1) Have you seen United 93 or World Trade Union?
2) If not, do you want to see them? Why (not)?
3)If so, what did you think of them? How well do they evoke the horror of the events of that day?
4)Do you think it is right to ake a film about such events?

If you want, you can share your point of view on this issue in the comment section. Feel free to add any other idea to make this lesson plan more appealing for our students.

Lesson Plan: Press Censorship

The 3rd May is “World Press Freedom Day” so why not take the opportunity to discuss this important issue with our students? A great film we can use to bring about this topic is “All the president’s men”. Here you will see the trailer of the movie.

You may decide to watch the whole film with your students or concentrate on the scene in which Carl Berstein confronts the public relations executive and secures information about Mr. Dahlberg (at about one hour into the film). Before watching the film, you can discuss the meaning of free press and explain to them that they are going to watch a scene from a film about the of role the press. Students will need to have information about the Watergate case. If you find it necessary, provide them with some background information (e.g from Wikipedia)

Divide them into 4 groups and ask each group to view the film from one of the following perspectives: the investigative reporters, the editors, the people being investigated, and US Citizens. They should collect information for a debate about:

1) The techniques used by investigative reporters. What type of questions do they ask? What ethical standards do they follow?

2) What risks are involved in running a controversial story such as this? What ethical standards do editors follow?

3) How people being investigated respond to the press? How are they feeling? Are they honest?

After watching the film, give them some time in groups to organise their ideas for the debate. Then, make a whole class debate. To sum up the discussion, you might pose the following questions: What values seem to conflict with freedom of press? What can we do to ensure free press? What limits, if any, do you think we as a society should place on the press?

If you don’t have acces to a VCR or DVD player and you still want to deal with this topic, there are several lesson plans on the net. The ones I liked the most are the following two:

1) An article on press censorship in the bbc learning englich central website.

2) An article or listening activity at Breaking News English ESL Lesson Plans.

Hope you find it useful. If you have any other idea, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Lesson Plan: Earth Day!

Have you ever wondered how much “nature” your lifestyle requires? Why not take this opportunity (Earth Day, which is on 22nd March) to reflect upon what we are doing to our planet? You can start the class with a short warm up activity. This Ecological Footprint Quiz estimates how much productive land and water you need to support what you use and what you discard. Beware, you may be surprise at the results!

A good film that fits perfectly with this topic is Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. Here you will find a list of questions that you can use to discuss with your students after watching the movie. You can finish the class by watching this video, which I have found in video jug, in order to promote some action. What can they do to help solving this problem?

Finally, if you want to revise making predictions (using goign to and will) you can find out whether they are pessimistic or optimistic about the future of our planet. Ask them to make some predictions. They can talk about the climate, the anvironment, energy, health, transport, agriculture and many others.

Hope you find it useful and don’t forget to share your ideas or experience with us.

Playing With Current News

Are you bored of dicussing current news with your students always in the same way? Finding a piece of news in a newspaper, True or False, questions, vocabulary work and personal reactions to the text seem to be the only way available. However, there is more to it than just that. Having a look at Larry Ferlazzo’s blog I have found another online jewel for teaching English. It is a game called Play the News, with which you will be able to have some fun with your students while working on the well-known “current affairs topic”.

Play the News is an interactive game based on current news. You are given some background information and you can watch some videos in order to get informed for the game. Then, you are asked to choose a role to voice your opinion on the subject. Finally, you are given the possibility of predicting what is going to happen in the real world. To be able to play you have to register for free.

I believe it will become a great tool in most of my Business Classes and in some General English classes too. What do you think about it? What are the possibilities that this game has to offer? As always, please if you use it, share your experience with us.