Sharing to multiply: the unbeatable old formula of life, and just about anything, including Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

CPD.pngI’m a science addict. Everything, really. You know what’s one of my favorite books? The Illustrated Version of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. His eloquence and simplicity make such a dense topic flow so easily inside our brains that it is a delight to discover the depths of the universe as one of the most brilliant minds unravels it. Charles Darwin is another idol of mine, and I absolutely love the theory of evolution and the scientific method. And if there’s one thing I learned from science and my irreverent high school Biology teacher is that life will find a way. Or, as said by one of Jurassic Park’s characters: “Life will out”

Do you know how life “outs”? By sharing, and, obviously, multiplying. See, a cell’s life expectancy is really very short, and it spends most of its lifetime preparing to multiply. It first duplicates its genetic material, shares it with what’s about to become a new, however identical, cell, and it finally multiplies itself.

I’m discussing Biology here because the analogy seemed to fit this week. I will be sharing my knowledge and that of my peers at two exciting events. The first will take place in Belo Horizonte, MG, and I’ll lecture about the Neuroscience of Bilingualism for National Geographic. My highly-skilled peer Claire Venables will also be there discussing Professional Development. The second will be the Braz-Tesol Conference in Goiânia, from which I borrow the title of this entry: Sharing to Multiply. I will talk about how sharing made me realize my life’s purpose and attending this conference is certainly a type of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

The purpose of this writing piece is exactly that: to share. And in sharing, to discuss CPD. In order to do so, I’d like to introduce the epitome of sharing nowadays: a hashtag. How about #isharetomultiply? The idea is to share something you produced, are proud of, have heard about or anything worth sharing. What I’m sharing with you is my precious   Chapter II of my still unborn book about education. At the end of the chapter’s intro, there’s a list of some wonderful online courses you can do for free or for very little money. I cannot forget to mention that this epiphany came to me because of my recently completed British Council Teaching for Success: Learning and Learners course. The intense sharing with FutureLearners and educators was simply phenomenal and the sense of accomplishment throughout this four-week, objective and extremely useful course was wonderful.future.png


“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”.

Mark Twain

The vital role of professional development

One of these days, quite unpretentiously I must say, while browsing through my LinkedIn profile, I came across a quote by a man named Peter Baeklund who’s been working as a Professional Trainer and Coach, owns a leadership company and consults for a number of executives and businesses in Denmark. It goes like this:

“CFO asks CEO: What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?

CEO: What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Credits to one of my former colleague Hulgo Freitas, whom I follow on LinkedIn and always posts interesting quotes and tips. I naturally had to repost it and try to get this out to as many people as I could. I suppose what drove me to do that was a sense that in many situations it is exactly what happens. Companies, schools, and universities will, especially in my country (at least that’s the feeling), prioritize saving money rather than developing their staff. It is a widespread notion that spending money that is not for paying the salary or benefits is not worth spending (we’ll talk about the exceptions too). Was it always like this? Has anything changed over the years?

To illustrate what has changed, allow me to share one experience I had. I remember when I was an undergrad International Relations student in São Paulo and my university brought in an expert who coached young entrepreneurs for a workshop. He showed us two intriguing charts with the following patterns:


After asking a group of give or take 20 students and getting nothing but silence for an answer, he told us the first chart represented a worker’s life in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (perhaps even the 70’s). A person would get a job and work for the same company for basically the rest of their lives, starting from below in production (let’s use a factory as an example), moving up one degree in the ladder and taking over the mentor position, then supervisor, manager of the department moving up little by little toward, who knows, even presidency. It was a steady line to the top. This was surely my father’s case, who started out as a junior electrical engineer and ended up as chief of his section and international liaison reporting back to Sweden at Asea Brown Bovery (ABB). He worked at the same company for over 40 years. He was the guy they looked for when they couldn’t solve something. He was what we call an “expert”. A few people could do his job. I’m taking a bold guess here and assuming your dad or even granddad followed similar paths (and, depending on the year you were born, maybe you too).

What about the second chart with many ups and downs? Well, that represents my generation. The babies of the baby boomers. Generation Y or Millennials, if you may. Born in the late 70’s or 80’s – some authors will even consider the 90’s – into a world of technology and abundance, at the peak of capitalism and the blossom of hundreds of new fields. According to the “expert” lecturing in my university, these workers have a totally different profile. They work a couple of years (sometimes even less than a year) here and then move to another company there, always seeking satisfaction, personal and professional growth. Now, the funny fact about my generation’s erratic movement to the top is that satisfaction doesn’t always mean more money or a higher position. It’s OK for this worker to start at the bottom in a different company as long as it fulfills a certain need and offers a perspective of learning (and growth). And, since technology and professional development are widely available, a “multipotentialite” (a person with many interests and great adaptability skills, according to career coach Emilie Wapnik) is preferred on many occasions.

What I intend to discuss in this chapter is how the fast-moving world has been demanding professionals with expertise in the area they are working and, simultaneously, workers with skills that can add value to the company – a differential. Being both an “expert” and a “multipotentialite” seems to be a reality anyone in the job market has faced, faces or will face. And to make matters worse, we have to achieve those on our own many times as companies may be reluctant to offer professional development opportunities. That is exactly why my focus here will be on how teachers/educators can keep investing in their own careers without relying solely on their school’s, university’s or any other institution’s initiatives. I will offer tips and discuss ways in which we can improve through online courses, conferences, conventions and symposia, lectures and workshops and, the best part, most of which we can do free of charge. I will share with you my journey in 2016 and what I learned from the professionals I met with and interviewed. At the end of this chapter, you will have precious pointers and a list of courses and other professional development activities you can embark on. Also, since it never hurts to ask, I will teach you how to be more persuasive with your boss and get him/her to help you develop since being static doesn’t really benefit anyone.

END of the intro.

Let’s start with my online course list:

As for the conferences, symposia, and other events, I have only two tips for now. Become a member of your local Tesol committee, and check out this website:

Sorry about the long post, but sharing has these things. How about sharing a little? Use the space below and don’t forget the hashtag: #isharetomultiply

Life is all about sharing. And, in my opinion, we’re not sharing enough.

How can we work with differentiation in the classroom? My Jimmy Fallon challenge

So yesterday I had a revision lesson about VERB TO BE in the simple present tense, among other things. I wanted my students to be able to write a letter about themselves stating their names, nationality, age, and something else about their lives. The problem was: my students have varying degrees of skills with the language, and some of them need special attention to be able to complete the task. I have a student with dyslexia and others who are on the average.  One student, though, is very comfortable with the language, which brings me back to high school when I was sitting beside Bruno Tadeu Costa, my old classmate, in a math class.

Bruno and I had the best grades in math. You’re probably asking yourself: How can an English teacher have the best grades in math? Well, somehow I did. But the worst part was that we didn’t feel challenged enough. We would often solve the equations faster than the whole class and get bored. Once, Bruno actually solved an equation on the board because our high school teacher was struggling to find the answer. Seriously, that actually happened! And our teacher simply said that he was not prepared for that particular equation. Unfortunately, that is the only memory I have of that teacher – and also the fact that he had extremely long fingers! We used to talk about them in class.
We had another who was great, though. Nevertheless, we were not challenged enough. I remember Bruno and I used to sit in the front and one day we were trying to create a formula for logarithms after having finished a list of equations faster than anyone else in the class. Our teacher noticed we had finished and approached us whispering: “I wish I could give you something extra. You two are excellent students”.

But she never did…

What if those teachers had read about differentiation? What IS differentiation after all?

According to The Glossary of Education Reform:

Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. Differentiation is commonly used in “heterogeneous grouping”—an educational strategy in which students of different abilities, learning needs, and levels of academic achievement are grouped together. In heterogeneously grouped classrooms, for example, teachers vary instructional strategies and use more flexibly designed lessons to engage student interests and address distinct learning needs—all of which may vary from student to student. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations

I read about differentiation and tried to apply its principle in my last lesson. As a matter of fact, I’ve been trying to do it for a while now. It’s all about challenge and how you offer different levels of it according to your students’ learning needs. It taps deep into motivation as well. The greatest challenge, I confess, is to create different levels of challenge for the same content. Here’s what we did:

1. I assigned the role of official translator and writer to the student who had more familiarity with the language. I also asked her to be my assistant and help the others with their activities.
2. I graded the list of exercises in a way that there were less challenging activities, moderate activities, and more challenging activities. That meant that the students could move through the exercises according to their needs.
3. I sat with my dyslexic student to make sure things were going well. I tried to assist as much as possible.
4. I asked my official translator to write a letter to Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. That made her feel very special and it gave her purpose since she finished her list before everyone else with little difficulty.

See what I did? I set an example and linked it to a real-life purpose. Instead of just asking them to write a letter about themselves to me, I asked them to write it to Jimmy Fallon. I’m pretty sure that makes the activity far more special. Now, my other students will do the same at home to practice. They’ll have to write a letter to Jimmy Fallon. They got excited when I showed them a video of Jimmy reading his Kids Letters.

Want to know more about differentiation in the classroom? Check out Richard Rogers’ blog’s wonderful tips – where I first saw the definition I mentioned above:

Ironically, Richard Rogers is a high school science and, guess what,  MATH teacher! And you know what’s even funnier? My friend Bruno is a math professor at a university. Lack of challenge never stopped him from following the career, luckily, and he’s a great professor. However, if we’re not too careful, it might stop one of our students.

Special thanks to my only British Council Teaching for Success: Learning and Learners course. We’re talking about differentiation this week, and I got the idea for this post from you!

By the way, I’ve already sent the letter to Jimmy Fallon’s staff. Want to help my students’ letter get to Jimmy Fallon or at least be shared all over the world? Save the photo above and share it on your social media with the hashtags:

#pleasereadourletter #ccbeugoiania #edcrocks

Do you have a great story about differentiation? Share it here!

If you don’t, why don’t you check out my other post about Young Learners:

Or my two posts about how to use neuroscience to improve your teaching:

Success! A lesson plan on how to get there + reported speech. CEFR B1-B2

EDIT 2020: I wrote this blog post in 2017 before JK Rowling’s controversial views on trans people. I must say I’m disappointed and that I send my love to all of those who are offended by her statements. However, I must ask? Would you stop using this lesson plan or include a discussion on transphobia? I’d love to hear your opinions.

To celebrate more than 1000 visitors and almost 2000 views from 90 countries, as well as my blog’s anniversary (1 month already), I’d like to share this lesson about success.

You can also access my whole planning for American English File 2nd Edition here.

Please, share it with as many people as you want, and give me some feedback if you like the lesson (or not). It took me a lot of time to prepare it for you. Also, I’m planning on delivering a webinar in June. Stay tuned for more news about it! I’ll start advertising soon.

Access the slides here

LESSON PLAN 1 – B1 (reported speech/lead-in lesson to new reporting verbs)
Intended Learning Outcome: By the end of the class students should be able to report what other people told them about success.

SLIDE 1: Ss discuss in pairs the question: What leads to success? Allow no more than 3 minutes for discussion.

SLIDE 2: Instruct Ss to write 3 ingredients for success (individually). Have Ss share their recipe with a peer (get them to stand up, walk around, and find someone who has a similar recipe so that they can sit together).

SLIDE 3: Follow instructions on the slide. 

SLIDE 4: Follow instructions on the slide. 

SLIDE 5: Brain break

SLIDE 6: Allow Ss to discuss if age is an important factor for success. Use the headlines as drivers for the discussion.

SLIDE 7: Use Lesson_Success_Celebrity in the Dropbox folder. Cut each celebrity’s slip and give it to a different student. Have them sit together in groups of 4 and tell each other about the celebrities. They cannot read straight from the paper, they must report what they have read. Open up to the whole group and ask them to present about each celebrity shortly. At this point, it is a good idea to repeat what your Ss say using the reported speech without explaining the structure.

SLIDE 8: Begin with the question: “Do you agree that leaders are successful people?” If they do not agree, ask for reasons. Use the vocabulary in the slide to have them discuss the qualities of a leader. Allow some minutes of discussion, and ask a member of each group to report what the group discussed. This is a great moment to spot if they can use reported speech correctly or not. Try to remember the sentences they used.

SLIDE 9: Brain break

SLIDE 10: JK Rowling guessing game. Tell Ss they will have to guess the name of a successful person. The slide has effects to help you present one sentence at a time. If they still don’t know who she is, play the song file attached in the slide or give additional tips. Ask follow-up questions if you like: Has anyone ever read Harry Potter? etc…

SLIDE 11: Play the video and use the JK Rowling Activity you can find in the Dropbox folder.

SLIDE 12: Brain break

SLIDES 13 and 14: Have a short whole-group discussion about some facts concerning JK Rowling. Use SLIDE 14 as a lead-in activity to SLIDE 15 

SLIDE 15: Notice the grammar. 

SLIDES 16-19: Have students work in trios and try to transform the sentences into reported speech. Correct at the end of each slide and explain if necessary.

SLIDE 20: Brain break

SLIDE 21: Check understanding by revising the structure. Correct at the end.

SLIDES 22 and 23: More practice

SLIDES 24 and 25: Grammar rules. Elicit, notice and explain.

SLIDE 26: Get Ss together in groups. One S looks at the board and the others don’t. The S selects one quote and reads it in the reported speech form. The other three Ss try to write it down in the active speech form. Do the same with the other Ss.

SLIDE 27: Brain break

SLIDES 28 and 29: Follow the instructions. For homework, Ss will have to challenge themselves a little. I included some reporting verbs we didn’t use in this lesson (promised, explained, admitted, suggested, etc). Let them try and make mistakes or do a little digging on the internet. You can start the next lesson with those verbs

That’s it, folks! I hope you enjoy this lesson plan and give me some feedback soon.

Reflect on your teaching with this plan. Use the quotes to answer the question:

Am I a successful teacher? What makes me successful? 

You’re welcome to share your thoughts here.

A little controversy doesn’t hurt – A video lesson plan about PARSNIPS (hot topics)

Link to the video:

Whenever you have to talk about sex, religion, politics or drugs, how do you feel? Are you comfortable discussing these hot topics or can you feel the cold sweat coming down already? If I had to guess, I’d say basically everyone has reservations when it comes to controversial issues. I certainly do. Don’t get me wrong. I love a great conversation and debating my point of view with other people, I’m just a little worried about the impacts my opinions may have on my relationships (personal, professional, and academic). Now, ask yourself the following: what if our students want to talk about PARSNIPS – politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, pork – or their books presents a controversial topic? Let’s analyze this, shall we?

Most of us teach our students how to write a For and Against Essay at some point in their course. What strikes me as a little odd is that my students have trouble making the case for something they don’t agree with or making the case against something they do. Do you face the same problem? Their biggest difficulty: Looking at something from a different perspective. What really provokes students and offers very different perspectives is a PARSNIP. Nothing better than a controversial topic to make students ponder about many points of view.

Last week, in order to help my students exercise their critical thinking and create this mindset that will help them become better For and Against Essay writers, I planned a lesson with statistics about Brazil. I showed them how much money is lost due to corruption every year (both in the public and private sectors). I also showed numbers about education and scientific research. Naturally, I used official sources and I tried to balance, as much as I could, the cases for and against privatizing everything (as most students in my classroom wished) and the same about letting the government take care of things. As homework, I assigned an essay about any topic of their choice, as long as it was controversial and that they showed me statistics from official sources. I’m excited about the weeks to come when they hand in the essays.

Last year, I did something similar with my CEFR B2 group. I’m talking about a group of 18 teenagers (15-17 years old) who gave me a hard time throughout the year. I wrote down some topics and sorted them out. My students had to briefly present their opinions on a post-it (anonymously), then put the post-its on the wall next to the debate stations we had created. Each station (a wall in the classroom) had one topic written on a sheet of paper. The topics were Abortion, Legalization of Marijuana, Gay Marriage and Affirmative Action in Brazilian Universities (“cotas”). After the post-its were on the wall, students could walk around the classroom and check their classmates’ opinions without knowing who had written them (I wanted students to feel safer when they shared their opinions). Under each debate station, there were desks arranged in groups so that the students could select what topic to discuss first. They had to discuss as many topics as possible with as many classmates as possible.

As a result, what I saw was blossom. Students who were shy defended their point of view and were not intimidated to engage in the debate. They realized that everyone was doing it and there was a respectful atmosphere that allowed them to have a go. All the steps led to this outcome. I saw a civilized discussion of teenagers who deserved to be set as an example to many grownups who can’t even respect each other’s opinion in a family reunion, happy hour or a political debate. It was indeed a beacon of hope for better days to come when people will listen and talk to one another exercising their sense of tolerance.

But those were not the only positive aspects:

1) My TTT nearly vanished. Students never stopped talking.
2) Classmates had the chance to interact with different groups more than ever.
3) The choice (even limited) of selecting which topic to engage first gave the students a sense of autonomy.
4) Critical thinking happened at its finest. Every student actively listened to their peers and tried to respectfully present their opinion. They were forced to take into consideration their classmates’ perspective.

Watch the video and let me know what you think! Have you discussed PARSNIPS in your classroom? Would you like to try, if you haven’t? Share your experience here.

PS: For more on PARSNIPS, check out this link: