Putting learners in the driving seat

I was really pleased to have taken part in this memorable TESOL SPAIN National Convention held in Elche.

I had never before spoken in a training event like this, and despite all the nerves and fears it turned out to be a truly wonderful experience. I had the chance to meet and listen to many ELT professionals I knew and followed online, and I was lucky to have met many like-minded teachers I hope to keep in touch with.

Thank you to all the TESOL Board members and organizers for giving me the opportunity to share some of my classroom experiences at the convention.

My talk was about student involvement: Putting Learners in the Driving Seat.

Some of the work I referred to in my talk is available in these blogposts:

Building Vocabulary: 1) The Post-it 2) Helping it Stick

Examples from quizlet:House and Furniture, Classroom language

Examples from padlet:Verb patterns.

Examples of collaborative work: My town, Shopping, Tips for language learning

Celebrating learning:

I always collect everything I do in class and post the pictures and summary in an animated video that I play on the last day, and share with them via email or on our LMS. In the past I would use google slideshows, but I’ve become very fond of using POWTOON, a very easy-to-use tool to create presentations and animated videos.

Digital tools for learner-centered classrooms.

Technology is usually referred to as a tool. I looked up the meaning of tool in Merriam Webster online dictionary and I found that it is defined as  a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task; something (such as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or professionals a book is the tool of a scholar, or the pencil the tool of a drawer.

It is not an end in itself, but serves a purpose and we use it for something.

I feel that the best digital tools that can be used in the classroom are the ones you don’t really notice. We are just using them, just as we use pencils or the notebooks in order to carry out more significant tasks that require our full attention and engagement.

I just recently spoke at the TESOL-SPAIN National Convention and the title of my talk was Putting Learners in the Driving Seat. It was about reflecting on how we can increase student involvement in the different stages of the classroom. And I mentioned some online tools have been very helpful.

I have had some memorable classroom experiences using digital tools for making the classroom more inclusive and learner-centered and I shortlisted the ones that have been most effective for me.


Flowers and languages

My Favourite Analogy

I love the gardening analogy, and I think it works really well with anything related to language learning.

Take the wild flower, for instance. It will grow almost on its own, independently. It will feed on natural resources and will grow to express a combination of what its environment has given and it has been able to develop. It won’t be easy. Some winters are hard to survive and natural habitats are often destructed due to human action, or climate change. But despite the threats, and provided there is no disaster ahead, a flower will bloom at the time of year it is supposed to, and will take part in the cycle of nature.

Now, a home-grown plant is a very different story. There are many kinds of indoor plants and flowers, and some can manage fine on their own, but only to some extent. Fresh flowers, for instance, are very delicate and the better you care, the longer you will enjoy them. It won’t grow to its full potential unless you are actively involved: look for the right place in the house, make sure you have the right tools. You’ll have to cut its stems from time to time, some plants will have to be trimmed and shaped.

Water it.

Observe it.

You might find this rather simplistic, but I obviously don’t intend to explain language learning with flowers. Instead, just point out the many aspects of it that remind me of all the care and time that learning a language involves. In fact it is another recurrent metaphor I use in my classroom whenever we talk about the myths of language learning and try to raise some awareness on how important it is to establish a routine when one’s language learning environment resembles the indoor flower’s: you are practising a minority language with very little exposure -theoretically. So, being an active learner and providing all the elements for successful skill development will be key.

I thought of creating a checklist to help students determine how close they were to having active language learning habits, which will have a very similar effect as watering and keeping close observation.

1. Do you find some time every day to do something in your target language? Read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video or revise some vocabulary and try to make up new sentences with them. Check how these words are pronounced and say them aloud.

2. Have you already found something enjoyable to do in English? Think of something that could eventually become a hobby -if it isn’t already. You like football? Go ahead and find some ESL lessons online about football. Finding enjoyment with English will make it easier for you to become more motivated.

3. Do you watch media in its original language? This article Why Scandinavians speak exceptional English points out the possible reasons of success with the English language

4. Do you attend English speaking lessons or, at least try to find the chance to interact? 

5. Have you established a language learning routine?

6. Do you try to explore new ways of learning?

7. Do you change the resources and materials in order to adapt to the different levels of language learning?

The good news is that, unlike flowers, if you go on watering and observing your foreign language development,

it will not wither and die. Instead, it will stay with you forever.


The street mural of the girl watering the tree is in Bialystok, Poland. The artist is Natalia Rak