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

Teaching Unplugged 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.

The session was delivered by Lee Mackenzie, the DoS from IH Aveiro, and was based on the premise of using the teacher and the student as the source materials for the lesson. This approach focuses entirely on the student and his/her interests, and the teacher’s ability to activate students’ knowledge without following a specific course book or syllabus. The teacher follows the student’s pace and choice of topics and doesn’t impose a pre-determined structure. The aim is, therefore, to encourage conversational communication among the teacher and the students. All language used should be ‘real’ and have a communicative purpose. Consequently, grammar should arise naturally during the lesson and not be the purpose of the lesson.

This approach is based on the “Dogme 95 Manifesto”, a filmmaking movement that started in 1995 by the Danish directors. This movement upholds that the art of filmmaking should exclude the use of elaborate special effects or technology. This philosophy was later adopted by EFL experts turning it into a language teaching methodology. It became known as “Dogme EFL”.

Throughout the whole session, Lee Mackenzie demonstrated this methodology by eliciting opinions and points of view from all the teachers about different topics, most of which were chosen by the teachers.

We enjoyed this session a lot. It was interesting to learn about this methodology and how we can implement it in the classroom. From the students’ point of view, they feel in control of their learning and more motivated. From a teaching perspective, it cuts down on preparation time (which is great!) but it also keeps you alert as you never know what could happen in class. This approach will really keep you on your toes! Like many teachers who attended this session, we believe that it is easier to use Dogme EFL with higher level students and, particularly, in a one-to-one situation.

Furthermore, as teachers, we also face certain constraints that impede using this approach exclusively, one of them being the fact that our students buy expensive course books and expect (or their parents do) them to be used in the lessons, while the choice of topics for discussion is another. Choosing appropriate topics, both in terms of students’ interest, command of the language and age, requires thought and attention in order to avoid using “PARSNIP” themes in our classes.

To sum up, the session was useful to discover and exploit another teaching methodology which is much more than just an open conversation class. It involves a structure that allows students to become independent in their learning and promote their critical thinking.

Interested in knowing more about this topic? How about adding these articles and sites to your reading list?

Teaching Unplugged

The AMT Experience: B “log” entry 2


sums up the main focus of today’s conference talks, focusing not only on how students with SLD (Specific Learning Difficulties) adjust to the challenges of having learning differences by adopting strategies which facilitate coping with the demands of school, but also on the role teachers play in making the students’ voyage on “HMS Schooling” smoother by being mindful educators who are engaged in implementing good practices in our classrooms.  After all, isn’t reaching out to every student our objective as teachers?

Furthermore, harnessing the winds of change will result in a greater awareness of what high quality teaching can represent for 21st century students who need to globalize their learning experience so as to become fluent bilingual or multilingual speakers, who are the helm of their academic and professional development and appreciate the linguistic and cultural variety garnered from having both native as well as non-native language teachers.

Bearing in mind the split between the vocabulary students understand, and the words they use when communicating in English, the afternoon sessions covered the implications such a divide may have on students’ progress and put forward activities and techniques which aim to overcome this differentiation.

Moreover, planning flexible lessons which take into consideration the unexpected language which emerges during a lesson was highlighted as a means of maximizing the learners’ communication opportunities. On the other hand, by being active listeners to their students’ exchanges, teachers can optimize the emerging language to broaden their lessons so as to incorporate it in their teaching approach and promote greater interaction among students.

We all know teaching isn’t “all fun and games”, so set the record straight the distinction between fun and enjoyable classroom activities was addressed in the last session for today. Focusing on the positive effects learning through fun can have on students, such as building confidence and motivation, engaging students to be concentrated on the task on hand and being more constructive and cooperative, we looked at ways of converting potentially “boring” activities into fun tasks.

Finally, today’s “agenda” ended on a fun note, providing teachers the opportunity to mix and mingle, show off their ability to work as a team, and “cheat” in quizzes so as to win the much coveted trophy, and awe colleagues with their singing and dancing skills. As “time flies when you’re having fun “ the coach had long turned into a pumpkin when everyone turned in.

Signed off at 2.59.

Sign in tomorrow for b”log” entry 3.


CEFR Illustrative Descriptors – Proposed extended version

The Education Department from the Council of Europe is asking teachers to take part in a survey on a new extended version of the CEFR illustrative descriptors.

The CEFR was officially published in 2001 and has since become one of the most popular Council of Europe policy tools. The new version has been extended in two ways.

1.updating and filling gaps in the 2001scales
2.creating new scales for mediation (plus online interaction, reactions to literature, and exploitation of plurilingualand pluricultural repertoires).
Teachers are invited to give overall feedback, and even suggest or comment on the descriptors.
You can read more about the questionnaire here.
To take the English version of the survey, click here.
To take the French version of the survey, click here.