Moving with the Times: Twenty-First century skills by Ines Mazzini and Natália Coelho

The following post was written as a summary of the session with the same name which took place at IH Portugal's training day, led by Diana England from IH Torres Vedras.

A very interesting session with some practical ideas on how to incorporate 21st century skills, such as: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication, in the classroom. A reflection on our role as teachers, and how we can prepare students for the constant challenges that they will face as part of the workforce.

The session began with some brainstorming. It was agreed that the skills referred to are not exclusive of the 21st century, but rather, need to be adapted to it.

Diana focused on the 4 skills above, to which she referred to as the “4Cs”


She then went on to suggest ways in which we can promote these skills by doing different tasks.

The first example given focused on a reading task, but would certainly help to improve not only critical thinking, but also communication and collaboration, because of the interaction between students.

Using a text appropriate for the level taught, she created seven questions, which she handed out to us (working in pairs). Some examples of these questions were: “What is the purpose of education?”, “How are English language teachers letting their students down?” , etc.  The pairs’ first task was to discuss these questions and think about their answers. ( full text on last page ).  After this, we were given slips of paper with the actual answers, and we had to place them under the correct question. This second task was very simple, since we had already discussed them extensively.  The presenter suggested using this activity as an introduction, for example, for multiple-matching.

The activity can be very useful, by promoting communication and collaborative tasks between the students, but also because once they get to the actual reading task, they’ve already discussed and read the text, so any further activity is then much simpler. What I do think that should be taken into account is that not all texts might lend themselves to this kind of task. Questions must be created carefully and the students should be able to have an opinion or at least speculate about the answer. I tried a similar exercise with a CAE group, and it worked perfectly, because they really spoke and discussed the topic for a long time.

Another activity –this one especially to promote creativity- was related to speaking. Diana suggested that instead of the typical pictures shown to students (particularly for exam purposes, the typical “compare and contrast” pictures), students could be shown completely different pictures that would force them to speculate. For example, the picture used during the presentation was a surface with black and white squares, which could have been a chess board or a tiled floor (see below).  Diana also prompted us to keep talking by asking more specific questions about it (such as whether it was taken outdoors or indoors, how we knew, etc.).

This is a way to make students talk about something which is unknown to them, especially by prompting them to vary their speculation vocabulary, instead of just using “probably”, and I am sure that with the right picture, they might come up with excellent ideas.

Yet another very interesting activity was developed, focused on listening skills. It helped remind us of how we process information differently, and we listen in different ways.  Having divided us into three different groups, Diana read a fairly long text to us. We had to take notes according to her instructions: some of us making mind maps, others, taking traditional notes and the third group focusing on key words. We then had to get together and discuss them.

This could be a way to introduce some variety to listening tasks, while at the same time checking on whether students really understood what was being read.

For helping each other to improve when preparing, for example, for Pet for schools Speaking Part 2 by getting the students to work in groups of three, one of them playing the role of the interlocutor and ticking a checklist of all the assessment points that are required for each candidate, which will encourage peer assessment.

The last activity she tried was a very simple, but extremely visual one and fun, useful to practise grammar rules. In the example we worked with, she had cut up, enlarged and laminated the rules to make comparisons, according to the type of adjective, which she scattered on the floor. We were supposed to match the corresponding halves (for example “Adjective ending in y” with “ i + er”.  Simply changing a grammar table from a course book into a more student- centred and challenging activity by using cards with different colours and displaying them on the classroom floor for students to match the rules with examples (e.g. comparatives), made it much more interesting.

All through the exercises she gave us, Diana took a back seat, only intervening when she thought that some group was falling behind or not doing what they were supposed to. The websites she took the texts from were:,

On the whole, a very interesting session.

Continue reading Moving with the Times: Twenty-First century skills by Ines Mazzini and Natália Coelho

From Can’t to Can: Changing our Thinking about Exams by La-Salete Moreira

The following post was written as a summary of the session with the same name which took place at IH Portugal's training day, led by David Petrie.

This session was delivered by David Petrie and his purpose was to provide teachers with some tools that can help students overcome anxiety before taking the exam.

We started the session by establishing the difference between good and bad students and how anxiety can be a stressful element before exams. We also explored students’ motivations and what drives them to take language exams: intrinsic or extrinsic motivations? Parents? A future career?

David Petrie introduced “The Johari Window”, a tool of self-discovery and communication to build trust. In order to explain this tool, I took some information from the website

“The Johari Window is a communication model that is used to improve understanding between individuals. The word “Johari” is taken from the names of Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, who developed the model in 1955.

There are two key ideas behind the tool:

  • That you can build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself.
  • That, with the help of feedback from others, you can learn about yourself and come to terms with personal issues.

By explaining the idea of the Johari Window, you can help team members to understand the value of self-disclosure, and you can encourage them to give, and accept, constructive feedback.

Done sensitively, this can help people build better, more trusting relationships with one another, solve issues, and work more effectively as a team.”

Here’s an example of the model:

From this, we moved on to assessing students’ performance and how the use of ‘can do’ statements foster students’ engagement in learning a language and, later, sit for the exam. Focusing on what the student ‘can do’ provides a positive feedback and, thus, reduce any possible anxiety or negative feelings towards exams.

To conclude, there is no miracle answer to help students overcome anxiety when it comes to assessing or taking exams. As teachers, we need to be aware that some students might find it difficult to cope with evaluation and try to find the best way to help them overcome their fears and achieve their goals.

What’s behind the curtain: Use of English/Part I by Laura Monteiro and Eunice Pais

The following post was written as a summary of the session with the same name which took place at IH Portugal's training day, led by Carol Crombie from IH Viseu.

This session, as the title suggests, focused on identifying helpful materials to use in class for any given preparation exam. However, if well thought out and planned, some materials can be valuable in General English classes or Business English.

This post will provide an overview of some activities carried out by Carol: identifying which Cambridge exam different parts of use of English were taken from; multiple choice (cloze); completing expressions by watching a video; word formation and checking synonyms.

Identifying the exam

At the beginning of the session 19 pieces of paper were laid on the floor. Teachers were asked to identify which exam the pieces of paper were taken from. The options were: PET, FCE, CAE and CPE.

The activity raised the issue of awareness concerning the English we expect students to produce as much as the English we teach for the specific exam. Unfortunately, in the session I attended nobody could correctly identify all the extracts.

Here are some examples:

Part 2

For questions 1-6, read the text below and think if the word which best fits each space. Use only one word in each space. There is an example at the beginning (0). Write you answers IN CAPITAL LETTERS on the separate answer sheet.

Example: : 0 ____of___

Men and women are often considered to be completely at odds with each other, in terms (0)  ____their attitudes and behaviour. Not so when they are in love, new research has discovered. As far as their hormone levels are (1)____, when men and women are in love, they are more similar to each other (2)____  at any other time.

It has (3)____  been known that love can (4)____  havoc with hormone levels. For example the hormone cortisol, (5)____  is known for its calming effect on the body, dips dramatically when one person is attracted to (6)____ , putting the love-struck on a par with sufferers of obsessive compulsive disorder.

For questions 1-5, complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning to the first sentence, using the word given. Do not change the word given Here is an example:

0.   You must do exactly what the teacher tells you.


You must carry out the teacher’s  instructions exactly.

1.   So that Susan would be fit for the skiing, she went to the gym three times a week.


Susan went to the gym three times a week_______   fit for the skiing.

2.   It’s not worth inviting her to the party. She will never come.


There________   in inviting her to the party. She will never come.

3.   She had to finish her homework before she went out.


She had to stay in_______   her homework.

4.   Jo had not expected the film to be so good.


The film ____________  had expected.

5.   If Patrick does not arrange some more lessons, he will never pass his driving test.


Patrick will never pass his driving test_______   some more lessons.

For questions 26-29, read the text below and decide which answer (A, B, C or D) best fits each gap.

There is an example at the beginning (0).

0-     A hope   B-decide   C-want   D-expect

Answer: A

Whatever you (0) ……A…… for from a visit to San Francisco in the USA, you won’t be disappointed. The hills are just as steep as you imagined they would be, and the Golden Gate Bridge is just as spectacular. It’s no (26) ………… then that the city is among the world’s (27) ………… tourist destinations. (28) ………… many people live there, San Francisco (29)………… more like a small town than a city of more than 4 million people.

26  A guess 
      B excuse        C question            D surprise

27  A complete 
B top
            C proper
              D full

28  A Although  B Besides        C Unless
             D Despite

29  A shows 
     B fits               C seems
              D makes

Multiple Choice (cloze)

Following the first activity, each part of Use of English was explained with different activities that can help students to build vocabulary and develop language accuracy.

For the multiple choice (cloze) part of the exam, the following activity was conducted:

  • Teachers were separated into groups of four;
  • Four words were written on the board and each group picked one. The words were either similar in significance or structure, i.e., participles, gerunds, nouns;
  • Then, a sentence had to be created using the word chosen;
  • Points were given according sentence complexity.

Here is an example:

-telling : ‘ There is no telling how she will react.’

-saying: ‘ I was just saying the other day how expensive fish is.’

-talking: ‘ Susan was talking to John when Sue showed up.’

-writing: ‘She made a decent living from writing.’


  • Teachers can get students to understand that this part of the exam requires studying and preparation in parts of language such a: collocations, phrasal verbs and fixed expressions.
  • Teachers can motivate students by doing the activity at different stages of the course, increasing its difficulty, so that students obtain evidence of their own development.
  • Students can practise and perfect an array of expressions they hear in different media platforms.
  • This activity can be adapted for any level of English and be tailored for different types classes, including Business English and private classes.
  • This activity also brought the teachers attentions to what to teach for this part: collocations, phrasal verbs, phrases, expressions and linking words.

Gap filling – Video Activity

As a way of showing us that the Use of English involves a variety of activities, Carol introduced an activity which included a video called “Francis”.

However, there was a sequence of exercises to be done prior to its display in order to give it a context. Before we could watch it, we were given a worksheet with a range of expressions with some gaps to fill in.

_____________________ without

seeing ____________________

____________________ skies

reckless ____________________

____________________ path

break ____________________

drift ____________________

fall into a ____________________

____________________ stretched out

____________________ feverishly

on the verge of ____________________

heavy ____________________

tricked herself into ____________________

____________________ decisions

lower ____________________

frantic ____________________

The idea was to fill in with words/expressions that we found suitable, in order to practise collocations and understand that these can be part of any spoken or written text – a music, a video, a conversation… At the end of the task, Carol showed us the video mentioned above to compare the different examples of collocations.

Word Building

Moving on to another important part of the exam preparation – word formation – , a set of words were displayed in a large piece of paper and put on the floor. All words were taken from a listening exercise, which is a good way of showing to the students that resources can be exploited differently to prepare them for the exam.

pressure relation law high
warm resign advert person
weight instruct special basic
injury word style individual
improve habit help wide
vary medicine analysis life
advice laugh important appreciate
love complain establish health
visit persuade sale free

The activity worked as follows:

  • The group was divided into teams;
  • Each group was assigned with a colour;
  • Teachers had 30 seconds to choose four words from the piece of paper and then one person, from each group, had to go to the paper to circle the words selected;
  • Each group had four post-its, where they had to write three words formed from the main one;
  • As soon as they filled in the post-its, one teacher had to stick them on the board;
  • The first team won the game;
  • Fast-finishers choose another word.

Synonym Snap

The last activity aimed at finding synonyms for different words and expressions. Each group of three was given a set of word/expression cards. We then had to divide the set between the three and play synonym snap – each one had to flip the cards, one at a time, until we found a pair of synonyms. It is important to mention that the expressions were taken from sentence transformation exercises, specifically Advanced level.