Back to school

I can’t speak on behalf of every teacher out there, but I believe it’s safe to say September is a month we cherish.

September means new classes, meeting new learners, perhaps meeting new colleagues. It means new books (or old books), it means getting butterflies in our tummy when we walk into that room with that new group. September means going back to school.

So we here at IH Porto would like to wish all our teachers, staff and students a successful academic year.


Teaching adults vs Teaching children (part 1) by sandra luna

“They’re all students, aren’t they? So what’s the big deal? How come I can’t teach all of them the same way?”

Dear reader,

I’m sure the above questions will either make you frown or smile. Some will say “How can a teacher not see that adults and children are completely different?” while others will think “They’re not that different and anyway, they seem to like my lessons.”

I don’t really have an answer. However I can share my opinion with you. Yes, adults and kids are different and, yes, I do work with them in different ways. But how different and different how? Even because I’ve used things with adult groups you wouldn’t normally use and it worked.

There are, in my opinion, some key words to bear in mind and here they are:


Children don’t “have to” learn English. They’re not usually under pressure, their job or promotion does not depend on it. They learn for the sake of learning, because it’s either fun or parents are making them learn. Adults, on the other hand, often come to us with true horror stories. “I have to learn English in 4 months, or else…” “I need to take the IELTS in two weeks and score a band 7, or else…” “My boss/professor told me to look for an English course. He told me to do it, or else…”

So, clearly, they’re much more focused and eager to work, but on the other hand they’re much more concentrated on how you’re teaching them, on exactly why you’re doing this or that and this leads us to…


Children don’t usually think about how much they’re going to get out of a lesson. They’ll say they’ve enjoyed it or not but they won’t go away thinking “Well, can I use this tonight while I’m writing that email?” “Will I remember about that phrasal verb when I pick up the phone tomorrow?” And they sure have different expectations regarding your role in the class. Adults are more likely to be looking for a more traditional form of teaching with the teacher being “god knows it all” and expecting to be quiet, just listening, making their notes and being corrected right away whenever they make some mistake. Remember adults “need” it more than kids do, so topics have to be more than just interesting, they have to be relevant.

(to be continued)


September webinars

September is the month we go back to school. Not meaning to spoil anyone’s holidays, here is the link to MacMillan English “Back to school special” which is this month’s pick.

September 14th:

  • Classroom Routines for Young Learners – Mark Ormerod       09:00  &   14:00 (UK time)
  • Evaluating Online Information – Dorothy Zemach     10:00  & 15:00 (UK time)
  • Managing and Motivating Teens – Dave Spencer     11:00  & 16:00 (UK time)

Back to School Special


Ideas for teaching vocabulary (part 1) by sandra luna

Teaching vocabulary is much more than just giving students a list of words to learn by heart. We all know how important it is to learn new words, but how can we do it in a fun, yet effective way? The following ideas were presented at one of our Teacher Development sessions. Hope you find them as useful as I do.

  1. Vocabulary Bingo

This an easy activity which can be adapted to any age or level. During the session I focused on activities for higher level classes, such as B.2 and C.1 level, so this is my suggestion on how to adapt the traditional bingo game to higher levels. Create (and possibly laminate) a set of bingo cards with just the grid. Fill in with vocabulary (phrasal verbs, for example) you’ve been using in class. Hand out one or two cards per student. Then read out the definition of the words you’ve used to fill in the grid. If a student has the word whose description you’ve read, he can cross it out. The game ends when one student has filled in all his/her cards. Then you can start again.

  1. Vocabulary Notebooks

Yes, yes, this is a very old one. I know. However, being old does not mean being old-fashioned. At least, not in this case. I am a fan of vocabulary notebooks. I think they help learners get organized when they are young, or when they’re still at A.1 or A.2 level, but they’re also a valuable tool for higher level classes for things such as word formation. You can ask students to have and bring to class a small notebook divided into sections (sometimes I use alphabetical order, sometimes I use topic related division) and use it during class. With younger students you can have them decorate the vocabulary notebook thus making it more personalized. You can cut and glue animals, ask them to draw shapes. Your imagination is your limit. With older (or more advanced) groups you can create a collaborative task with Moodle, for example. Create a glossary and add it to your Moodle class. Then get one student per lesson to be in charge of writing down all the interesting/new/useful words that come up. That student will then have to update the Glossary on Moodle and all from the class words will be available to anyone from the class.

  1. Board Drawing (collaborative)

Teenagers tend to be rather competitive. With this game you’ll be able to understand what their weaknesses are. Also, you’ll be trying to get the different groups to work together instead of against each other.

Let’s imagine that you’ve been talking about food. On the board draw the food pyramid. Divide it into 6 sections and as a group try to name each section. They get each group to be in charge of a section and explain that you’re going to play a name. Read from a list of words. When a group hears a word from their section, they’ll have to write it on the board under the section they are responsible for. Other groups can help, and should there be a word nobody knows about, write it down on a piece of paper (or a specific place on the board allocated for this) and deal with it once all the words have been used.

I’ll come back soon with more ideas. In the meantime have lots of fun. Learning with laughter sure is a lot more effective.

Cooperative Learning by Sandra Simões

I´ve always found group work an interesting form to organize the classroom but it can be a bit messy and noisy, especially if the class is big or if students are noisy already! Sometimes some students do not work properly and take advantage on their classmates’ work and effort.  So, because of this, I decided to look for better ways to implement group work in a more productive way. I started to research and read about this subject and I realized then that I was looking for cooperative learning, not the traditional group work we use to do when we were students.

So, what is cooperative learning? In fact, it is group work, but it is organized in such way that student’s learning is improved. It obeys to an asset of principles and techniques that allow learners to work more effectively in order to achieve their goals and, therefore, success.

I believe we can say that cooperative learning is a methodology which transforms heterogeneity in a positive thing that facilitates learning. Contrasting traditional teaching, it gives voice to the student and silences the teacher. However, we must bear in mind that in this type of learning the teacher must have a strong action and awareness of his role. In traditional teaching, there is the concept of knowledge transmission in which the teacher is the depository of knowledge and, interactions that matter, are those that take place between teacher and student. What happens between students is considered parallel and often disturbing. Cooperative learning is based in teamwork and Kagan (1992) defines team as “Four individuals, giving and taking. By interacting four becomes more.” Johnson and Johnson (1990: 4) define it as:

“(…) working together to accomplish shared goals. Within cooperative activities individuals seek outcomes that are beneficial to themselves and beneficial to all other group members. Cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning.”

However, Johnson, Johnson and Holubec say : “Sitting students near each other and telling them that they are a group in and of itself does not produce cooperation or the higher achievement and other outcomes typically found in cooperative learning groups” (1990: 7-8). Let’s see the main differences between traditional group work and cooperative learning groups:

Cooperative Learning Groups                       Traditional Learning Groups

Positive interdependence No interdependence
Individual accountability No individual accountability
Heterogeneous membership Homogeneous membership
Shared leadership One appointed leader
Responsible for each other Responsible only for self
Task and maintenance emphasized Only task emphasized
Social skills directed taught Social skills assumed and ignored
Teacher observes and intervenes Teacher ignores groups
Group processing occurs No group processing

          These five elements above are essential to promote cooperation:

1) Positive interdependence, which consists in creating situations where students work together to maximize all learning, sharing resources and achieving success together. This element is central, because students must believe that each one is only successful if all are.

2) Individual accountability – the group shall assume responsibility for achieving their goals and each member will be responsible for doing their part to the common work. Students must have clear objectives and be able to assess progress concerning the goals and efforts of each element of the group.

3) Stimulating interaction, that is, the ability of students to influence each other  to get involved in learning from each other in such a way that will promote the learning of others and acquire a mutual personal commitment and with common goals.

4) Social skills should be taught so that there is real cooperation. Students must know to wait for their turn, share and compliment, ask for help, be patient, and so on.

5) Group assessment, which takes place when the members analyze to what extent they are achieving the goals and maintaining effective working relationships.

So, how can we organize our classroom in order to have cooperative learning working effectively for us, teachers, and for our students? Here are some strategies, ideas that can be used and adapted. We can use the same all the time, we can mixed them, or even use a different one each week. It depends on us and on our students. We can also start with homework correction in pairs and then go to the group work and use it  all class long.

  1. Roundtable

Present a category (such as a vocabulary area) have students take turns writing one word / phrase at a time.

  1. Write around

For creative writing or summarization, give a sentence starter (for example: If you give an elephant a cookie, he’s going to ask for…). Ask all students in each team to finish that sentence. Then, they pass their paper to the right, read the one they received, and add a sentence to that one. After a few rounds, four great stories or summaries emerge. Give students time to add a conclusion and/or edit their favorite one to share with the class.

  1. Numbered Heads Together

Ask students to number in their teams from one to four. Announce a question and a time limit. Students put their heads together to come up with an answer. Call a number and ask all students with that number to stand and answer the question.

  1. Team Jigsaw

Assign each student in a team one fourth of a page to read from any text or one fourth of a topic to investigate or memorize. Each student completes his or her assignment and then teaches the others or helps to put together a team product by contributing a piece of the puzzle.

  1. Tea Party

Students form two concentric circles or two lines facing each other. You ask a question (on any content) and students discuss the answer with the student facing them. After one minute, the outside circle or one line, moves to the right so that students have new partners. Then pose a second question for them to discuss. Continue with five or more questions. For a little variation, students can write questions on cards to review for a test through this “Tea Party” method.

There is so much more to say about cooperative learning but I hope these (few) ideas can fire up your curiosity and help you to enrich your classes.

Who’s afraid of the /bɪg bæd wʊlf/? by Joana Styliano

As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart. I have come to realise it gets a bit lonely in that department but still I rise and gladly keep on selling its relevance. Let me share my passion and the underlying reasons. In my opinion, the phonemic chart is the ultimate tool for learner autonomy and how teacher friendly is it in error correction?
Oh well, first things first. Whether you have or have not attended my sessions on pronunciation in previous years, it is quite obvious that if you are aware of the sounds, there is very little you cannot say either as a student or simply as an individual. Funnily enough, being a native speaker makes little difference here – I have come across my share of native teachers who felt tackling the chart was too daunting a task and in the end simply avoided fiddling with it.
The great Adrian Underhill has bestowed upon us a phonemic chart which consists of all the sounds used in the English language. The trick is to give it a go yourself, as a teacher, and then explore it in class. I do not mean spend a whole term on it or keep at it until your students master it like proper linguists. Instead, guide them so they feel it can be their ally rather than the funny things on the walls at school.

Once students have learnt the basics – i.e. each sound, including diphthongs, and the differences between long and short sounds for example (yes, that alone is already step in the right direction) – correcting their pronunciation mistakes becomes much more visible than ‘mere’ drilling, thus appealing to a wider range of students within the spectrum of learning styles.

That’s all very nice but how to go about it? Ideally it takes about one lesson to introduce the sounds and let students play with them – give them dictionaries or allow them to use online resources (most of them have the transcriptions but I am a fan of myself), and let them select words in pairs/groups for the rest of the class to guess. Don’t forget to include word stress since teaching them how to identify it will also make them more capable of noticing and correcting their own mistakes hence making them more autonomous learners.

When you are confident enough to take it to the next level, feel free to play games or literally to have fun with it – perhaps as a warmer or at the end of class. I use it with higher levels right at the start by introducing transcriptions of new words that students will then have to decipher and later on integrate into their work, either in writing or speaking – for example at FCE or CAE level. It is also interesting to use it to correct mistakes at lower levels (e.g. any Teens level), such as the usual ‘bear’ (/beər/ not /bɪər/), not to mention the use of phonics with (very) young learners.

The sky is the limit and there are endless resources to help you. I would like to suggest Mark Hancock’s work but do feel free to come and see me in case you are looking into this area.

I hope to have demystified /prəˌnʌnsɪˈeɪʃən/ so that you too find it as interesting and engaging! In the end it is pretty much like anything else: if you enjoy it, so will your students!