Neuroscience of Learning 4 – What a week!

My notes during Mirela Ramacciotti’s brilliant Mind, Brain, and Education course

Hello, folks!

Hope you’re all doing well and getting ready to start another great semester. I can tell you that I am! I apologize for not writing anything earlier this week, but I think I have the perfect excuse. I’ve been teaching and learning about neuroscience, psychology, and education. Here’s what I did:

-Went to Fortaleza to talk about the Neuroscience behind Second Language Acquisition at the National Geographic Learning Conference side by side with Katherine Stannett, one of the authors of Impact.


-Went to São Paulo to take the Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) course given by Mirela Ramacciotti, my bright partner and head of the Braz-Tesol MBE SIG.


-Came back home to teach the Neuroscience and Learning course to nine teachers.



The purpose of this entry is to share some of the highlights and five more tips about neuroscience (psychology, and education are also included).

HIGHLIGHT #1: Mirela Ramacciotti is the best teacher I’ve ever had!

WOW! That’s how I would describe having class with the one and only Mirela Ramacciotti. The reason I say that is because of the way I felt after I left the course: inspired, with the sensation I had learned so much, even though I’m familiar with the topic, and longing for more after 8 hours of intense studying. Also, we (the other participants and I) couldn’t stop talking about it for a second.

Mirela not only talks about some key concepts of this young and exciting science, but she also walks the talk. She is funny, incredibly knowledgeable, affectionate, and delighting. We couldn’t take our eyes off of her! The way she moved in the classroom, sat by the door to tell us stories, came closer to establish eye contact and really listened to our comments and questions… well, I can only say everyone would learn much more if they had teachers like Mirela. Based on my experience, here are the two first tips:

  1. Showing and telling is better than just showing or just telling: Mirela walked the talk when she could’ve just talked. Use the principle of Dual Coding to make your lessons more memorable, that is, give practical examples and apply them in class instead of just telling the theory. Use both images and sound.

This video might help with the concept:

2. Don’t label your students, even when they have “learning difficulties/problems”. If there’s one thing neuroscience knows it’s that our brains are incredibly plastic and can change the wiring as they go. Mirela showed us the case of Nico and Brooke, two boys who underwent a hemispherectomy – THEY HAD HALF OF THEIR BRAINS REMOVED! But, despite some movement impairment, they have developed as normal kids (now grown-ups) with all their cognitive functions. Read their story here.

Don’t forget to attend one of Mirela’s lectures or courses if you happen to be in the area. Here’s her website with more information:

HIGHLIGHT #2: Most of us, teachers, have very little information about how our memories work!

If you are an engineer and want to build something, you must know how much weight the materials you are going to use can take, right? If you’re a baker and want to bake a cake, you must know how many ingredients you are going to use and how much of each you need, correct? If you’re a personal trainer and want to help someone get fit, you must know how much they can take in each training session, mustn’t you? Why isn’t the same principle applied to teaching/learning? I realize my analogies differ on many levels, but why do we teach much more than what our students can handle? Is it because there’s too much to cover or because we simply don’t know how learning occurs? Here are two more tips to think about that:

3. There’s a limit to the amount of information we can take in. Sweller et al. discussed that in 1988 and came up with the concept of Cognitive Load Theory. There are ways we, teachers, can reduce the load and help our students make the transition between working memory and long-term memory. Here’s a video to help you grasp the concept:

4. Our memory can be improved. Trying to recall things we did a long time ago, creating associations with bizarre images and solving puzzles are great ways to make our memory better. Watch this wonderful TED video with Joshua Foer:

HIGHLIGHT #3: Understanding how our brains work is a fascinating subject to basically everyone!

“What a fascinating talk!” – These were Katherine Stannett’s words to me after my presentation at the Nat Geo Learning Conference in Fortaleza. Back in Goiânia WONDERFUL, GREAT, AMAZING, INTERESTING, INCREDIBLE and other similar words were predominant in my attendees’ comments after my Neuroscience of Learning course. It is fascinating to learn about the brain indeed, but as Mirela mentioned in her amazing course, quoting an expert in neuroscience:

“How far have we gone into discovering how our brains work? If the distance were 1 meter, we’ve only covered 3cm so far”

However, the little we already know can make a huge difference in the way we teach. So here’s my last tip of the day:

5. Learn about how we learn: Don’t replicate ideas, ideologies, and methods in the classroom if they don’t make sense from an MBE perspective. Learn the basic concepts and share them with everybody. This is the only way we can make education even more lasting and powerful. Here are some online courses, websites, and texts you can try:

As I mentioned before, WHAT A WEEK! But it gave me more energy to carry on with my mission of spreading the word about this exciting new science. I can’t wait to deliver more talks, take more courses (hopefully with Mirela again) and teach more people. Why don’t you join me in this education revolution? I could really use your help!

Check out my other blog entries about neuroscience here, here, and here.

Don’t forget to leave your comments here! After all, with interaction, we can create more memorable moments and make learning even more effective!


Uncertain Future, Critical Thinking and an Endless Journey to Curiosity – A student’s perspective

My CEFR-B1 student Julia wrote this incredible entry!  Júlia is a 14-year-old Brazilian girl who loves books, movies, History, math, writing, art, and philosophy. She is also very interested in music and poetry. I’ve been trying to make her get more interested in astrophysics! She told me she liked it and I recommended Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series, Carl Sagan and, of course, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. 


My name is Júlia Mota, André’s student at CCBEU, and I’m going to talk about the future.
My teacher always shows us TED speeches, texts and different videos talking about people who changed their lifestyle, had an amazing idea, innovated or invented something. It’s made me think a lot about what am I going to do with my life, what I will be in the future. I’m always asking myself those questions, and that’s a normal thing for a teenager, because we have an existential crisis almost every day, though. I was being haunted by them all the time, and no one was collaborating, because in life you hear lots of people rushing you about those decisions that you have to make (detail: probably the most important decisions too) exceptionally when you’re going to high school. After thinking a lot, I made some conclusions.


As Kierkegaard, an existentialist philosopher once said:

“Life is a leap in the dark”

You never know what’s expecting you, but you have to jump on it. When we’re making important decisions in our lives, we have to take our time. The formula of success is patience, hard work, and faith. Patience because as my mother always told me: haste is the enemy of perfection. Hard work because you have to fight for your dreams, and never give up. And finally, faith. You have to believe in yourself because if you don’t, who will?

How many people said that they want to change the world? Lots. And how many people actually fought and changed it? Not many. It’s up to you to decide which one of them you’re going to be. I made my decision: I’m going to change the world. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, I can’t see the future. But I’m sure that I will! What about you?

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Albert Einstein

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.