Category: Classroom Tales

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

Facing the 21st Century Education

by Erick Mariano Izaguirre

“Why do I need to study this? What for do I need to know this? How is this going to help me in the future?” Do these questions sound familiar to you? If you are a teacher, you must have heard these questions dozens of times. Decontextualized new content usually leads students to this uncomfortable query.

Director and writer Spencer Cathcart, known for The Lie We Live (2015) claims: “We discover the world through a textbook. For years we sit and regurgitate what we’re told. Tested and graded like subjects in a lab. Raised not to make a difference in this world, raised to be no different. Smart enough to do our job but not to question why we do it.” His words seem to make much more sense now that the concept of “21st-century skills” is catching on.

Nowadays an increasing number of business people, politicians, and educators are sold to the idea that the new generations of students need the provision of “21st-century skills” to be able to succeed in our fast-evolving reality. Today we are experiencing such an incredible amount of changes that what students learn at schools is obsolete in a couple of years.  The reason why teaching students competencies instead of content has become much more urgent now than any time before.

An article published by The Glossary of Education Reform in the year 2014 suggests that “21st-century skills can be applied in all academic subject areas, and in all educational, career, and civic settings throughout a student’s life.” It is of high relevance to highlight that some of the most common characteristics considered as 21st-century skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving, have been neglected for many years in our educational systems. Some claim this has been the result of deficient assessment tools since we have been immersed in evaluation methods that force students to learn the necessary content to pass an exam, thus leaving aside the sole purpose of education, learning for life.

In addition to critical thinking and problem solving, there is an extensive list of characteristics that companies around the world and the planet itself demand from every single citizen. Civic, ethical, and social justice literacy as well as, global awareness, multicultural literacy, humanitarianism, ecosystems understanding, and environmental and conservation literacy are just some of the skills we have not been able to master yet due to their lack of economic productivity. It is well-known that education systems will respond to the needs of those who fund them, especially now that education is a private and very lucrative business. However, understanding the extent of the situation is just the beginning. Now the big challenge is to come up with a way to tackle the problem we face in our educational systems.

Those who concern the most about this education crisis seem to be, as mentioned before, governments and large enterprises. But why has this become an issue in these times specifically? If education has always responded to the economic needs and productivity, and students have been trained to do their future jobs well, then we should wonder: Are they simply being taught how to earn a living, or how to live as well? It is evident that the economic needs grew much faster than our awareness on topics such as social justice, global issues, and humanitarianism.

Finland, for example, pursuits to become the first country in the world to get rid of all school subjects. The Finnish education system is considered one of the best in the world. It is common to always appear in the top ten rating. According to an article published by Bright side in November 2016, “Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format.” The purpose of this is to empower students in making decisions about what phenomenon they want to learn more in detail about depending on their future professional interests. The suggested changes also contemplate the end of the old-fashioned way of teaching in which students just sit behind school desks waiting to be asked a question by the teacher and answering based on the content of a particular textbook or material.  All this will surely provide society with a new generation of professionals who do not only know how to do the jobs they are hired for, but also can be active participants and decision makers in a world of ever accelerated transformations.

Once we become aware of the whole picture of how the economic, political, and educational system is intertwined and understand that the 21st century and the planet need more active participants rather than just followers, we will also be able to change the way we teach and learn. The actions we take after this will hopefully contribute to not having more students wondering what for they have to learn something.


Abbot, S., editor. “21st Century Skills Definition.” The Glossary of Education Reform, 25 Aug. 2016,

The Lie We Live:  Information Clearing House – ICH.”  The Lie We Live:  Information Clearing House – ICH, Information Clearing House, 3 Mar. 2016,

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish FactoidsEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

Words beyond Rote Learning

By Yara Torrez

Without words, there is no communication. One of the primary objectives of a language learner is and should be to increase their vocabulary, but how? The teacher plays a vital role in this matter. There is a wide array of activities instructors can carry out to teach new words.

In our classes, often we listen to our students deliver effective presentations and use vocabulary they never use when they are participating in class discussions, or worse, words not even us, teachers, make use. On one occasion, one of my students used too many sophisticated words, so I decided to take notes to ask him about their meanings after the presentation. As expected, the student did not know what they meant. That only confirmed that the student had memorized all the information without really knowing what it was all about or what he was saying. Unfortunately, memorization is what most language learners’ turn to when they lack the vocabulary to talk about certain topics. This strategy is called rote learning.

According to the dictionary. Cambridge, rote learning is “learning something to be able to repeat it from memory, rather than to understand it.” Through rote learning there is no assimilation of the new information, for the learner does not make connections between what they already know and the new information; therefore, their learning is not meaningful. The students only parrot back instead of using their words.

It is worth mentioning that words are the key element of a language .and that they carry the message a speaker wants to convey. So, how can teachers help language students increase their lexicon and enable them to express their thoughts and ideas spontaneously? It might not seem easy. However, there are many practical tasks instructors can assign in and outside the classroom such as watching news and videos in English with close captions, listening to songs in English and analyzing the lyrics, recycling by using the newly acquired words in different contexts, and the like. Another surefire activity is reading. It has been proven that “reading increases [one’s] vocabulary more than talking or direct teaching” (“8 Benefits of Reading”). When we read we are somehow forced to look at the words that are new or strange to us, and either we try to guess their meaning from context, or we look them up in a dictionary. Also, reading gives us the chance to see the use of words in different contexts. The trick lies in the fact that certain words are likely to crop up again and again either in the same or other texts, so that makes our brain learn the new words and we start incorporating them in our lexicon unconsciously.

Nonetheless, reading might seem daunting to use in class because most students believe it is dull and passive. However, if instructors try to vary the way the students read, it might be the opposite -fun and active. Something important to bear in mind when we carry out activities in the classroom is the sequence they should follow to be efficient and produce the results we expect. Most in-class assignments should have at least three stages: pre, while, and post activities all of which play vital roles.  When assigning reading, for instance, the pre-reading activities prepare the learners by “activating relevant schemata and motivating them to read“(“Reading Activities”). There are countless ways to introduce the skill of reading like making predictions through pictures, showing short videos, or using the title of the reading itself, having the students say what they know or would like to know about the topic. Also, introducing words they will encounter in the reading, asking them to do research about the topic to discuss it with their classmates, presenting an interesting passage from the reading and promoting discussion, etc.

The second stage is the while, which is the essential task. Like the pre-reading activities, there are varied forms of engaging the students in the reading. A collaborative function is the literature circle, which involves getting the learners to work together in small groups. Each student in each cluster is assigned a role. They all should read the text thoroughly but should perform different tasks. The reading can be homework, or it can classwork depending on how long the article is since different resources can be used such as whole books, only one or some chapters in a book, readings from the textbook, newspaper articles, online readings, magazine articles, etc.

Another reading activity that can turn out to be fun is jigsaw reading. In here, the article is divided in sections; that is, the students receive different parts of the reading. They should work in small groups, and each team receives one part of the reading.  All reading sections should be enumerated. After they read their parts, students form new groups with members from different groups. They should retell the part they read following the correct order of the story. A variation of jigsaw reading is to make a puzzle with the reading. This is usually done with short articles because the reading should be printed out and cut into different shapes. Similarly, the learners work in small groups. Each member of the group receives different comprehension questions. So, to answer their questions, they should solve the puzzle. In other words, they must put all the parts together to read the complete text. The last suggested reading activity is reading and running. It is a contest that involves movement. The students work in pairs (A and B). Each pair receives two different sets of comprehension questions, words to which they should find synonyms or definitions to which they should find the concept. The reading is printed out and stuck outside the classroom. One of the students remains sitting while the other runs to find the answers to their questions or words. The students take turns to complete their respective task. The winner is the pair of students that finishes first. Altogether, these activities help to make reading more entertaining and dynamic.

As stated before, reading as any other classroom activity should have a follow-up. Again, many implemented post-reading tasks help the student make use of the vocabulary learned. Some examples are plays, debates, class discussions, role plays, oral presentations, creative writing, etc.

To sum up, reading is an activity that can be exploited to help language learners increase their vocabulary and consequently achieve fluency. Ideally, by carrying out activities like the ones mentioned above, the students might develop the reading habit and become independent learners.

Works Cited

“8 Benefits of Reading (or Ways Reading Makes You Better at Life).” LifeDev. 17 Dec. 2014. Accessed 12, Oct. 2016.

“Examples of pre-reading activities.” 31 Jan. 2013. Accessed 12 Oct. 2016.

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust Read

E-Papers: Teachers’ Treasure Trove

By James Cordonero

 When it comes to using realia in an English class, there is no other resource more updated, readily available, and abundant than online news. Nevertheless, teaching a news-based lesson is not just a matter of attaching a link to Edmodo and sending an article for students to read or merely asking them to google it and parrot it in the next class session.

To begin with, well thought-out news lessons should have a clear goal and be structured in such a way that they allow for the implementation and development of several stages such as warm up, pre-reading activities, reading the article per se,  listening to the article whenever a recording is available, vocabulary building and post-reading exercises as well as homework. It is worth mentioning that when using news lessons, instructors ought to implement a segregated-skill approach to developing a particular language skill (speaking, writing, reading, listening), yet all of the four skills should be practiced whenever possible.

Additionally, EFL instructors should also consider the following criteria (Andrew) when selecting a particular article:

  • Appropriateness:To what extent is the topic appropriate? Is it suitable for the class level and age group? Could it be upsetting to some of the students?
  • Interest:Will the students be interested in this topic?
  • Length:Is it too long? Articles that are particularly long should be avoided. Reading news articles is demanding and if they are too long, students might feel discouraged. It will also take time away from students’ talking time.
  • Language and structure:Is there a semantic field (e.g., education, environment, etc) instructors can use to enlarge learners’ lexicon? Are there any target structures related to the contents being covered in the class?
  • Generative Potential:In what other ways can the article be exploited? That is, are there any other activities to follow the article? Articles that lend themselves to discussions, debates, or role-plays are desirable.  Students should able to further practice the language after the reading and/or listening.

Teachers should not only bear in mind such prerequisites but also try, depending on the subject or type of class being taught, to focus on one of the language skills. For instance, one alternative way to using online news stories for developing writing skills is to pair up students, show them a headline and ask them to write as many questions as they can, just as if they were journalists tasked with writing the article corresponding to the headline. Then, they are to answer their own questions and organize their responses into a short article layout provided by the teacher. Afterwards, learners can compare their written versions with the original article.

In addition to being representative examples of clear and concise writing, newspaper articles showcase different types of writing models: informative, persuasive, expository, etc. This plethora of writing samples is certainly a teachers’ treasure to which they can resort to enrich their lessons and bring a large dose of reality into their classrooms.

Regardless of the skill instructors choose to emphasize, an effective news lesson should surpass the boundaries of the article and provide students with the chance to use the new vocabulary and/or knowledge meaningfully and in a variety of real-life contexts.



Andrew, J. (2008). ‘How to Effectively Use News Articles in the EFL Classroom’, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 12. Web

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish FactoidsEnglish Language Training

Fostering Creativity in the EFL Classroom

Albert Einstein said that creativity is intelligence having fun, thus the essential meaning of creativity entails the concept of producing something new, innovative, unique, and original, as much as it is related to flexibility, adaptability, and versatility. Creativity has been defined as an ability to generate new things (Gomez, 2016), and bringing imagination and ideas to reality, through perceptions, connections and skills (Naiman, 2016). Mr. Martinez del Rio, the editor from “Tiempo de Estrategia”, states that “to be creative, you have to be wild, complex, let out your intuition, forget logic and think that there is not only one answer to every problem but many” (Gomez, 2016).

However, what is the role of creativity in the EFL classroom? Well, the development of the 21st century has brought us, teachers, new concepts, ideas, resources, tools, and sets to promote the learning process, all of which are intended to significantly improve the learning experience. Such development brings along new demands and expectations for students as well which include the acquisition, generation, cultivation, and refinement, in some cases, of specific skills that will positively prepare them for a prosperous and competitive future. Among a few of these skills, we can mention communication, teamwork and collaboration, creativity, investigation, creative and critical thinking, digital citizenship, and technology knowledge.

As educators, it is our responsibility to promote these skills among our students as we teach English, and it is not that challenging since learning another language requires practicing and exercising communicative and social skills. Combining teamwork, analysis and critical thinking, creativity and innovation, sharing ideas and solving problems could only result in the best opportunity for our language learners to succeed at both, language and professional development.

Once the relevance of creativity is realized, there are some stereotypes to work on. Many think that creativity is just an ability a few gifted people have, that is only required for the arts or it is a trait of your personality. Catherine Courage states that “creativity is a birthright, available to all, but used by few” (TEDxtalks, 2012). Moreover, creativity is only a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened. By setting the right environment and starting training from the classrooms, we can direct our students to endless ways to comply a task or design a project.

“A student who can read an expository text and turn it into an engaging, listener-friendly podcast can surely identify the author’s ideas, key details, and supporting information. And in putting the information together in her own way, in creating something unique and sharing it with the world, she has learned something new, grown as a person, and possibly inspired others. In which case, your English class has all the bases covered…” Amanda Ronan, 2015


Amanda Ronan. “5 Ways to Keep Creativity Alive in English Class.” Edudemic. Edudemic, 22 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

Gómez, Katyana. “Esta Habilidad Te Ayudará a Ser Más Productivo (Parte 1).” Dinero En Excelsior, 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

@mikepa75. “A Student’s Path to Succeed in the 21st Century – Inspire EduTech -Educational Technology. Blended Learning. Education Development Rural Schools.” Inspire EduTech Educational Technology Blended Learning Education Development Rural Schools. Inspire Edu Tech, 28 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

Naiman, Linda. “What Is Creativity? | Creativity at Work.” Creativity at Work. Linda Naiman Blog, 27 May 2016. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

TEDxTalks. “Igniting Creativity to Transform Corporate Culture: Catherine Courage at TEDxKyoto 2012.” YouTube. YouTube, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Classroom TalesEntertainment

Three Korean Girls

by Sherri

There were these three Korean girls. They walked into my college preparation classroom and I noticed them immediately. They were a great wall of frowns, a unified front, a testament to cohesiveness that for some strange reason reminded me of a cross-cultural game of Red Rover. They stared straight ahead, shoulders evenly spaced, and in a manner reminiscent of an unusually dour group of synchronized swimmers.

I began teaching in my usual style: all smiles and involvement. I shared how important it is that we become a family, and I shared how it was my goal to teach them that college was like a separate nation, with its own customs and traditions. I told them I would be their tour guide as we explored the boundaries of this new, undiscovered country. I was in fine teaching form, getting students to participate, asking them to elaborate on their own fears and understanding of college, and attempting to open them up to a new world.

But the three Korean students approached me shortly after class, single file.

“We don’t need,” spoke the shortest. “We only need TOEFL.” The others nodded in assent. They were referring to the college entrance test, the TOEFL, given to non-native English speakers. This was a typical complaint, that my class wasn’t preparing students for their most immediate need.

“Oh?” I said, “Well, I will be teaching you a lot of TOEFL techniques that will definitely help you.”

They didn’t budge. “Only TOEFL.”

For the next few weeks I insisted how my class would indeed help them for the test and beyond, but these three women (whom I grew to love, by the way), would sit in the back, arms often crossed, and refused to participate. A short time later, they began bringing TOEFL books to class, and they would quietly study. A time after that, they sat outside my classroom and studied their books during class time. I did my best to befriend them, but they were adamant. The test is what mattered. All other considerations were secondary. Their logic was simple and overpowering.

That isn’t to say they were mean spirited. They even invited me over to their apartment once. Up the steps, past dozens of American apartments, I walked into a door and was immediately struck by the smell of kimchi and the sounds of k-pop. I was in Little Korea. I asked them if they were going to the American party downstairs. I asked them if they had met any American friends. No, only TOEFL was the reply. I believe they shared this as an attempt to brag about their focus. I nodded.

I learned that they had each studied anywhere from 10 to 12 hours daily, pouring themselves into their books like ascetics would the Dead Sea Scrolls. They had put in the work. I was so impressed with them. I still am.

About a month later they came to me with triumph in their eyes. They were holding sheets of paper. Their TOEFL scores. They announced to me that they had understood all along what path would lead them to victory.

“Teacher,” said one, “We were right. And you were wrong.”

Such directness from certain cultures used to offend me, but it doesn’t anymore. And anyway, in their celebratory mood, I didn’t argue the point. You can’t argue with smiles. I congratulated them and told them good luck. They all left for the university shortly thereafter.

What happened after is something I’ll always remember. One of the students described it like this:

I went to the university class the first day. The teacher began talking and like you, really, with all the Americans talking back. I couldn’t understand the teacher and I couldn’t understand anything. When I did understand, I couldn’t share my understanding. Five page papers? How could I? What could I do? I went home and I cried. This place is not for me. It is a place I do not know.

My heart broke for them when they told me. They had attained a level of linguistic competence that was well suited for tests, but not suited for the American classroom. All three of them dropped out of school within weeks. They arrived at my tiny school shortly after.

Three Korean girls came to my office, heads slightly bowed. Several of them began speaking at once, telling me their stories.

“Teacher,” one smiled wryly, perhaps recognizing the symmetry of her remark, and said, “We were wrong, and you were right.”

Questions to Think About
1. Why do you think the Korean girls don’t listen to their teacher?
2. What do the Korean girls think a good teacher should do?
3. What does the teacher think the students should do?
4. How should we manage grade-grubbing in our classrooms?
5. How can we make English learning more meaningful and discourage rote learning?

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and Technology

Pearson English Interactive

by Alfieri Avilan
Academic Consultant Central America & the 

The new learning era has turned into a great dilemma that has taken a whole decade to begin to understand, its depth has not been measured yet, it seems as if we are struggling to cope with all the changes and challenges that such wave has brought within.

Educators, researchers, linguistics, scientists, technicians, all have come together to propose plausible solutions to these new challenges, yet the main matter, learners´ necessities, still evades many.

In Pearson for more than one hundred and fifty years, we have preserved three values that drive our behavior, thoughts and actions. One of these values, the imagination of harnessing new technologies in what we do, not with the sole purpose of producing great educational goods, but thinking of and for the future as well as placing the learner in the center of the teaching-learning process has made us understand and measure this new learning era.

It is because in Pearson we understand the new challenges that one of our great online solutions meets in great deal the needs of a new set of learners. The sort, who lacks time to attend regular lessons, is friendly to technology, seeks motivating content and finds it hard to pursue and stay on goal. Pearson English Interactive matches not only these needs; it also faces one of the most important aspects on the inclusion of technology in the classroom, what it represents for teachers and students.

For teachers it means having a remote assistant who can support with extra content, immediate grading, close measurement of students’ progress, also with extra hours, a hundred per level, helps you stay in communication with your groups, and other useful help.

Marking becomes easier; paperwork drops dramatically; personalization of instruction gets as real as it can be.

For students, PEI represents the way they learn, a digital environment where they spend most of their productive time. One may fall for the quick thought that everything digital is good for our learners, it cannot be a more incorrect concept; the key to this successful educational online solution, PEI, resides in its interactivity; it enables the learners to have a large amount of participation. This would resemble a live classroom, except for the fact that a good amount of students does not get that much interaction in real lessons.

Seemingly, Pearson English Interactive being an online solution overlooks the practice of four skills, nothing further form the truth. It allows learners to work and master all four skills and pronunciation, covering the standards for real communication.

It sees English as what it is nowadays, lingua franca, exposing learners to real forms in which people talk around the globe, a critical concept in learning a foreign language, this provides with the authenticity that is necessary in the classroom regardless of the setting, so that the learners understand how the real language is used in the real world.

One other factor that makes PEI so effective is its flexibility, learners can access their courses anytime anywhere, and this allows them to schedule their own pace. Teachers and learners are never apart; they are in contact through an effective, flexible, user friendly, motivating learning management system.

Enabling teachers and learners alike to join the new era of education has become one of the pillars for creating Pearson English Interactive. Blended learning is the future, the way to support, improve and enhance classroom activity, a way to ensure that learners reach their ultimate outcome, communication in the 21st century.

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom Tales

Teaching Tales – Humor in the Classroom

By Thomas Fleming, Mount Aloysius College

What makes something sound or look humorous? Is it Semantics? Is it Cultural? Does it have to do with Pragmatics? Why can we detect/enjoy humor and other animals don’t? Look at the story below and send us your comments.

First Grade Drawing – A first grade girl handed in the drawing below for her homework assignment. The teacher graded it and the child took it home. She returned to school the next day with the following note:
Dear Ms. Davis, I want to be perfectly clear on my child’s homework illustration. It is NOT of me on a dance pole on a stage in a strip joint surrounded by male customers with money. I work at Home Depot and had commented to my daughter how much money we made in the recent snowstorm. This drawing is of me selling a shovel. Sincerely, Mrs. Harrington

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