There’s no Magic Formula but the Science of Learning can help

About 6 years ago I became obsessed with finding some sort of magic formula of what a successful lesson plan should look like. I got into neuroscience trying to find answers to how our brains learn and what we should be doing as teachers to make learning more effective. But do you know that feeling you have deep down that the answer is going to disappoint you?

Eager to learn more about the brain at the University of Bristol

That’s exactly what happened in the first week of January. I had just returned from Switzerland where I’d spent New Years’ Eve with my aunt and cousin eager to attend the first lesson of Cognitive Neuroscience and Classroom Practice at the University of Bristol. My excitement was twofold. Firstly, because this unit seemed to have been tailormade for me and, secondly because the tutor was my brilliant professor Paul Howard-Jones. 

Then it happened. 

Halfway through the lesson, he said that we were not going to learn the magic formula that I had been seeking. He said that maybe, to be quite fair, all neuroscience can do is confirm what we’ve been doing all along and give us new insights into a couple of new things. 

I sort of knew it. To be fair, I had always known it and finally started looking at the beauty of it all. We have been doing the right things after all. For the better part, anyway. As John Hattie puts it: 

Nearly everything we do has some positive impact on students

John Hattie, 2012

Indeed, we can say that teachers have been teaching for millennia and students have been learning (some better, some worse). Despite disagreeing with Hattie (stay tuned for my next post explaining why), the impact that realization had on me was liberating. It confirmed a long-held suspicion of mine and allowed me to focus on the things that could have a positive impact on our students but we are not doing as much as we could in the classroom. 

That was when it hit me! The objective of my dissertation at the University of Bristol became crystal clear. I decided to conduct a thematic analysis on what authors have contributed to the Science of Learning regarding effective classroom strategies and devise a scale based on it to help teachers reflect.

More than 150 strategies later, all condensed into 6 themes that now contain around 30 classroom strategies that should work better according to the Science of Learning (neuroscience, psychology, and pedagogy play a huge role here), allow me to share some of the things that we are not using as often as we could that may have an enormously positive effect on students.

  1. Pretesting

Researchers have found a positive correlation between pretesting – applying a test at the beginning of the lesson – and performance. A quick quiz about the content that will be discussed in that particular lesson is likely to raise students’ awareness and curiosity about the subject and keep them more engaged to find out what they got wrong and why they got some things right (Kornell et al. 2009; Little & Bjork, 2016). It is also an effective way to activate students’ prior knowledge and, consequently, facilitate the learning process (Brod et al. 2013; Shing & Brod, 2016)

How to do it?

Right at the beginning of the lesson, use Kahoot, handouts, or flashcards to ask students questions about the content they are about to learn. Do not get them to work in pairs or groups at this stage. Working individually will most likely guarantee that everyone tries their best to retrieve the information they need to get the right answers and will not have their thought process interrupted by someone else. 

  1. Retrieval practice

Repeated retrieval of memory items increases declarative memory consolidation and improves students’ long-term learning (Karpicke, 2012; Dunlosky et al., 2013). Wirebring et al. (2015) have also demonstrated that the act of constantly retrieving information will create different representations of it in the brain and, therefore, make its retrieval more easily prompted.

How to do it?

After presenting new content, give students a couple of minutes to practice and then ask everyone to retrieve that knowledge individually before moving on to the next topic. This could be as simple as asking students to write down what they can remember, have understood, or reflect on that for 30 seconds or a minute before sharing it with someone or engaging in another activity. 

  1. Spaced repetition

For declarative memory to be consolidated in the brain, sleep is required.  Newly learned information stored in the hippocampus temporarily is replayed in the brain during sleep to make more representations and long-lasting memories (Maquet et al. 2000). Revising content only once after that lesson or doing homework on the same day might be a waste of cognitive resources as it would be more beneficial, based on the notions of spacing effect and memory consolidation, to revisit it the next day after sleeping and in future sessions (Henderson, Weighall, Brown, & Gaskell, 2012; Seehagen, Konrad, Herbert, & Schneider, 2015).

How to do it?

Create a revision timetable. Categorize the topic you’re teaching into codes (Lesson 1 Topic 1 – L1T1) and plan your future lessons with quick pop quizzes to help students revise. Start applying the quizzes a day after the content was introduced, then increase the distance between the last revision session and the next one. Try something like this:

L1T1 quiz in L2, L4, L10, and L15

L2T1 quiz in L3, L5, L11, and L16

You can also use the color-coded tags technique that you can access here.

Remember to assign homework to be done at least the next day after the content was introduced. 

  1. Brain breaks

Even though there is no consensus about how long we can focus, it probably lies somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes (Stuart & Rutherford, 1978;  Davis, 1993; McKeachie, 2006), and if we get more information than what our working memory can handle, generally between 2 and 9 chunks, we normally experience cognitive overload (Miller, 1956; Sweller, 1988; and Cowan, 2001). So, just like hitting the gym to work out, we should ideally apply focused effort (lifting weights) and then take a break (rest) between series. This will allow our brains to shift from the focused mode of thinking into the diffuse mode, which will start the consolidation process and free our working memory for more information (Oakley, 2014).

How to do it?

Get a Pomodoro timer or use one online and set the mark to 15, 20, or 25 minutes. Tell your students everyone is going to be working hard during that period and when the timer goes off, they will have a quick break (it could be 1, 2, 3, 4, or even 5 minutes). During that break, allow students to do whatever they choose: they can listen to music, they can watch a quick video, they can play a game, they can stand up and stretch, they can sit with someone else and talk about anything. The idea is to have them relax a little so that they can keep their attention span high and facilitate memory consolidation. You can read more about it here.

  1. Attitudes and beliefs about learning

Everything mentioned before can be very useful and important strategies, however, it might not mean much if our students do not believe in their potential to learn and, even worse, if we do not believe in our students’ potential to learn. Research on 1) growth mindset (Dweck, 2008); 2) metacognition (Karpicke et al. 2009; Dunlosky et al. 2013); 3) brain plasticity (Blackwell et al. 2007; Myers et al. 2016; Paunesku et al. 2015); and 4) self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997; Schunk et al., 2008) suggest they are great allies in any educational setting. Respectively, we can summarize them as 1) the idea that our intelligence is not fixed and can be improved through effort and constructive feedback; 2) “thinking about thinking” or “learning how to learn”, that is, using study strategies based on the Science of Learning; 3) the idea that the brain is changed by experience and that it can always learn; and 4) the quality of people who can successfully set, maintain, and achieve goals and expected outcomes.

How to do it?

Do not just focus on content. Promote the idea that effort and dedication are key if they want to be successful learners and acknowledge that. Take time from your lesson to teach your students facts about the brain and how it changes structurally when we learn. Tell them that there are better or more effective study strategies and teach them (you can start with the list I’m providing here). Help them organize their studies and set goals. You can use some concepts of strategic planning or project management. 

Use these strategies and tell me how it went. After all, there’s no magic formula. We need to be critical about our practice and remember that science is still making important discoveries.

If you want to read about about the contributions of SoL and how it can be used in your English classroom, check out this article I co-authored with Hall Houston.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York:W. H. Freeman.

Blackwell, L. A., Trzesniewski, K. H. and Dweck, C. S. 2007. Theories of intelligence and achievement across the junior high school transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78: 246–263. 

Brod, G., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Shing, Y. L. (2013). The influence of prior knowledge on memory: a developmental cognitive neuroscience perspective. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 13. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00139

Cowan N. (2001) The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 24:87–185

Davis BG. (1993) Tools for Teaching. San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013).  Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques:  Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology.  Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58.

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London: Routledge.

Henderson, L. M., Weighall, A. R., Brown, H., & Gaskell, M. G. (2012). Consolidation of vocabulary is associated with sleep in children. Developmental Science, 15, 674–687

Karpicke, J. D. (2012). Retrieval-based learning: Active retrieval promotes meaningful learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(3), 157-163

Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger III, H. L. (2009). Metacognitive strategies in student learning: do students practise retrieval when they study on their own?. Memory, 17(4), 471-479.

Kornell, N., Hays, M. J., & Bjork, R. A. (2009). Unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance subsequent learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 989–998

Little JL, Bjork EL. (2016) Multiple-choice pretesting potentiates learning of related information. Memory & Cognition.

Maquet, P., Laureys, S., Peigneux, P., Fuchs, S., Petiau, C., Phillips, C., . . . Cleeremans, A. (2000). Experience-dependent changes in cerebral activation during human rem sleep. Nature Neuroscience, 3(8), 831-6.

McKeachie WJ. (2006) Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. Boston: Hougton-Mifflin

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review63 (2): 81–97

Myers, C. A., Wang, C., Black, J. M., Bugescu, N., & Hoeft, F. (2016). The matter of motivation: Striatal resting-state connectivity is dissociable between grit and growth mindset. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(10), 1521-1527.

Oakley BA. (2014). A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if you Flunked Algebra). New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin

Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological science, 26(6), 784-793.

Seehagen, S., Konrad, C., Herbert, J. S., & Schneider, S. (2015). Timely sleep facilitates declarative memory consolidation in infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, 1625–1629

Shing, Y., & Brod, G. (2016). Effects of prior knowledge on memory: Implications for education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 10(3), 153-161.

Schunk D. H., Pintrich P. R., Meece J. L. (2008). Motivation in Education: Theory, Research and Applications, 3rd Edn., Upper saddle River, NJ: Merrill-Prentice Hall 

Stuart J, Rutherford RJ. (1978) Medical Student Concentration during Lectures. Lancet 312: 514 –516

Sweller, J. (1988), Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learning. Cognitive Science, 12: 257–285

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2014). Making classrooms better: 50 practical applications of mind, brain, and education science. First Edition. New York: W.W Norton & Company.

Wirebring, L. K., Wiklund-Hörnqvist, C., Eriksson, J., Andersson, M., Jonsson, B., & Nyberg, L. (2015). Lesser neural pattern similarity across repeated tests is associated with better long-term memory retention. The Journal of Neuroscience, 35(26)

English ID 3, Unit 3: A Lesson Plan with Authentic Materials about traveling and cities

Hello, everyone!

Hope you’re having a great Monday so far. As I know nobody really likes Monday and some of you might be using Richmond’s English ID 3, here’s the link to a lesson I prepared for my teenage group. All the instructions are in the SPEAKER’S NOTES section below every slide.

Click here to access the slides.

Do you think we have some room to use authentic materials now and then or do you always stick to the book? Here’s the link to my blog post on the MAD principle – MAINTAIN – ALTER – DISCARD

The idea was to combine the instructions in the book with authentic materials. That’s why I chose to use “Where the Heck is Matt?” for this lesson.

Hope you can use it!

Here’s a video explanation of this lesson

You might also want to check out my planning for American English File 2nd Edition. Click here to check it out

PS: even if you’re not using English ID you can give it a try. I’ve included the vocabulary you’ll need to work with the students.

Food Vocabulary + THERE TO BE Lesson Plan for CEFR-A2


Hi there!

I hope you’re having fun with your students in this second week of classes. I’m having fun but I have to admit they are a little uninspired and pretty exhausted. Kids are working too hard these days, aren’t they? Swimming, Judo, computer science, horseback riding, robotics, languages, soccer, dance, courses and more courses. It never ends. It feels like parents want to have future secret agents or superheroes.

Kids need to be able to play and have fun. After all, that’s how they learn. With that in mind, I decided to share this lesson plan I believe worked well. Perhaps you can give it another twist and make it even better. The lesson was about food and a revision of THERE TO BE in the present simple tense. My students are 10-12 years old and they use Oxford’s GOT IT! 1 2nd edition but I’m certain you can adapt it to whatever book you’re using.

The highlights:

1) We talked to a friend from Israel on WhatsApp. She turned on her camera and showed what was in her fridge. My kids were shy at first but they really loved it.

2) I took my groceries with me to the classroom and they were excited to guess what was inside my bag.

3) The brain breaks were fun and helped them consolidate vocabulary.
Summarizing: It worked well and they were more engaged.

Next step: Tell them to do some research on what people eat in different countries.

Give it a try and let me know how it went. I’d love to get some feedback from y’all!

Here’s the link to Hungry Planet, the resource I used for this lesson:

Here’s the link to my lesson plan(I used :

André Hedlund – Planboard Lesson – Aug 7 2017 FRESHMAN

Don’t forget to check out my planning for American English File 2nd Edition here.

You might also like this lesson plan about telling the time for Young Learners

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 fun class for Young Learners about the power of friendship, time, and connections


Today was a great day! My blog has been visited by more than 1000 people from 85 different countries. I have plenty of reasons to celebrate just because of that. However, I’m even happier because of a wonderful lesson I had with my group of YLs. To inspire you, my dear teachers, I’d like to share what we did today.

First, you need to know that the lesson was about telling the time in English. My students are 9-10 years old, and I’m pretty sure most of them have had this lesson before. Normally, I’d start with a digital clock on the board and ask them to tell me what time it is. This time we did something completely different, and the outcome was incredible: engaged students, sparking eyes, joy, and lots of fun!

Step 1

I reminded them of the question “What time is it?” on the board. We drilled it a few times to get the pronunciation and intonation right.

Step 2

They completed the activity in their books with a digital watch showing different times. They worked in pairs, and I helped whenever they needed me.

Step 3 (That’s when things got more interesting for them)

About 1 hour before the lesson started, I had arranged with some international friends to answer my WhatsApp call (you can also use Facetime or Skype) during the lesson I would teach. Their mission? Answer my students’ very tricky question “What time is it?”
We managed to ask six different people from completely different time zones. Special thanks to Rachel Amen from Wyoming, USA, Marion Lange from Washington, DC, USA, Waldeir Eterno from Stuttgart, Germany, Lucía Sotomayor from Cusco, Peru, Clayton Crispim from Dublin, Ireland, and Afrah Farhan, from Diwaniya, Iraq. My students were so cute introducing themselves and asking about the time. Some of them were a little shy, but others were very excited! They also had to pay attention to the answers and write them down so that we could establish the time difference between those countries and Brazil.

Step 4


I explained the concept of time difference, and we built a World Time Zones Map (photo above) with card stock, cardboard, colored pens, toothpicks, hot glue, an old eraser, and paper plates. I told them to cut the hands of the clock accordingly (one shorter and thicker). They had a blast! As they were working on the clock, I asked many questions about my wonderful guests’ answers. I made sure to call each guest at a specific time I wanted to practice (2:05, 2:30, 2:45, 2:53, 3:00, and 3:15).

Step 5

When the World Time Zones Map was ready, they had to set the hands of the clocks (there were two) to the correct time in one of the places and in Brazil. I asked them the time difference to practice the term hours.

Step 6

Their homework was to select four more countries and write down their times when it is 8 pm, 8:30 pm, and 8:45 pm in Brazil.

Today my students learned not only about time but also about how the right connections, good friends, and some technology can bring the world together to collaborate on small or big issues. To my friends, it was a tiny part of their day. But to my students, it was a big deal to see that they’re global citizens and that they can have a simple conversation with people hours ahead or behind us in Brazil.

Why don’t you try it with your students?

You can find a similar lesson plan about connecting your students here

Check out my planning for American English File 2nd Edition 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:



The Perfect Lesson Plan (but not really) – A sample to help you plan your own lessons

Versão em português – LESSON PLAN SAMPLE 1_português

Is there such a thing as the perfect lesson plan? I challenge you to think about that. Have you ever delivered a lesson that felt like you rocked big time?

The way I see it, there are no perfect lesson plans. Some might feel perfect to you or some of your students – but not all of them (lessons and students). That doesn’t mean we can’t strive for “perfection” (or at least excellence) as a goal. Obviously, given the lack of time and resources as well as students’ varying degrees of motivation, interests, and needs, most of the time we need simply get the job done as effectively as we can. That’s exactly why I offer here a template that might be at least very good or better than that

I designed this lesson plan (click here to get it) about a generic topic that can be understood by everyone, and applied by science, biology, geography, methodology, physics, chemistry, and writing teachers. Basically, any teacher can profit from this template and adapt according to their students’ topics and needs. I must say it was fun – and a lot of hard work – trying to plan a lesson about the Scientific Method. Yes, that’s right! That’s what the lesson is about.

Even if science is something you have no interest in, you should take a look and see how each section of my lesson plan flows into the next. I’ve tried to use as much from neuroscience as I could, and I’m happy with the result. Can’t remember the tips I gave you about neuroscience? Check about my first and second posts about it!

In this lesson plan, you’ll find the three stages of the PPP framework, different patterns of interaction, active retrieval and revision, brain breaks, Task-based learning (pre-task, while-task, and post-task), and suggestions for homework. It is not my intention to go through these terms right now as I want you to analyze the lesson plan regardless if you’re an experienced or a novice teacher. In future posts, I’ll go back to this lesson plan and analyze each section individually, as well as get into detail about this terminology.

What I do want you to do is to answer these questions and give me some feedback. If you do so, become a follower of my blog, and share my lesson plan, I’ll offer to plan one of your lessons for free! How about that? I’ll select the 3 first followers who leave a comment here. Also, if you are an ESL/EFL teacher, check out my American English File extra activities post.


1) What grade (1-great, 2-good, 3-needs improvement) would you give my lesson plan?

2) What are some of the best parts of this lesson, and some of the parts you would change?

3) Can you see yourself adapting this lesson plan to use it with your students?

4) Is the lesson plan something your students might enjoy?

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

You might want to access my latest lesson plan published by National Geographic Learning’ website. Just click on the link below the picture