German diary: some exciting findings!

Following Sandy’s  suggestion I started using Menrise as well. It is basically similar to Duolingo in many ways, especially because it uses a translation approach to learning.

I reckon that using Duolingo and Menrise to learn vocabulary won’t hurt and it has been proven useful. I started recognizing more words I encounter, but not as quick as I wished for. The translation approach doesn’t bug me at all but I don’t believe  that one learns to communicate without using the language in real and meaningful interactions. So far, the apps serve to help me notice aspects of grammar and learn vocabulary. I’m not able though to use them productively except for some formulaic language like Sehr gut! Das it gut! or sentences like Ich bin glücklich. Ich heiße Rose. Few of them comes to mind but not without giving some thought.


One of the things I like doing is reading or listening to audiobooks. I think stories are powerful to aid language learning and I’d love to be able to read stories in German like I do in English. By learning vocabulary with the apps above and reading children’s story, I believe that grammar will fall into place.

Today, I discovered two wonderful authors. Philipp Winterberg writes children’s book, bilingual editions of English-German and André Klein wrote a great series of books called Learn German through storytelling. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks like a wonderful approach.

Wow! I wish this kind of material was available in English for my learners. Is there any out there? I better delve into storytelling. My skills in that area is still a bit timid.

By Philipp Winterberg



Here is the link to the book Café in Berlin.

I found this post really useful: How to get the German-English dictionary in your Kindle app.

I <3 internet! This is amazing channel! There are videos with English and German subtitles – Bilingual edition.

And this is how I found this channel! ;) :)

I <3 <3 <3 how close we can get to authors and follow their publications through Twitter, Facebook and their websites.

Same focus, different approach


Learners’ reflection notes from 9A

With a group of 3 or more students interaction in a mixed level class seems to be easier to balance. But when you have one or two students things can really become something else. 1-2-1 with a teen can be challenging if he/she does not like talking much. And two students in different levels even more challenging because I can’t really pair them up for speaking tasks. The number of students or the interests of the learners can change the dynamics from one group to another. In the first week I focus mostly on getting to know their level, what they are capable of doing and their interests and ideas about learning and English. So, like I shared on my last post, setting the goals means to make clear from the beginning that we are here to learn and improve their ability to communicate in English by respecting their levels and thinking of their needs. That said, in order for that to happen choice comes in different packages depending on level and number of learners in a class.

Group? 1-2-1 class (9E)

There is only one student. I’d been his teacher before. Actually I’ve been his teacher in the morning or afternoon since he enrolled for the English classes. When I first started working with him though, he was in 6th grade, now he is in 9th grade. He is then, in his fourth year of learning English. He was never the talkative type in English, he prefers written to spoken tasks. He also like doing grammar and vocabulary exercises. He likes video games, The Walking Dead series and Guns n’ Roses. He said he is not into reading, but likes comics and reading about video games.

There was no point in doing the ice-break activity, and as we know each other so no point talking also talking about the role of L1 and L2, etc. He loves being the only one in class by the way but not a fan of talking. However, he never really refused doing anything, but when comes to speaking no many words come out of his mouth. I remember when he first started in 6th grade that he would get very anxious because he couldn’t understand everything he heard. He prefered to read than listen. When I would push him a bit, he would shout a bit angrily in Portuguese “I don’t understand anything.” and go back to his shell. Now, he politely asks to repeat and check vocabulary when he needs too. Because of that, I was honestly surprised when he asked me about the Walking Dead series and started a conversation on something even if it was a short one. As he feels more comfortable with written activities, we worked on the school textbook. It starts with grammar work on past continuous and simple past. After doing the exercises and checking it together, I asked him to point out what kind of mistakes he made. We agreed on what he needs more practice with and moved to a videoclip of Nico & Viz which has a lovely storyline. My first idea was to work with the other videoclip “Am I wrong?” but I know his musical taste all too well and he really does not appreciate this kind of music. So I skipped it.

  • He watched the video with no sound. Focus on the storyline.
  • then, he shared his impressions and what he thought the story was about. He watched it again.
  • He got important aspects of the story: how much the man missed his family, he thought of his family, he was building a machine but he could not pin down what kind of machine it was.

9D Profile

L1 was born and raised in England until he was 5 if I recall corretly. He’s been in our school since he was in 6th grade too. I was in fact his first teacher and although he could talk to me in English at all times, he was always a sweetheart to his classmates. So patient and willing to wait for others to respond in whole-group moments. His mom is my colleague and one of my best friends. He does most of his things in English (games, books, music, videos, etc.) at home He uses Portuguese for social interaction and school work. As far as language knowledge goes, he can communicate like a native in English, but he is in the Project and the Language school because his mom wants him to be able to keep practicing his English. My job is to check what areas he needs improvement and work on them.

L2 is in his second year of study here. He does do anything really in English apart from the coursebook work. He is a sportist. That explains a lot. He plays handball for the city and loves soccer. He never hears songs in English, nor does he watches movies or TV series. Reading? Only school stuff.

I haven’t met L3 yet. He just enrolled and will be joining us next week. I heard though that he loves English and is a hardworking student. He is also L1’s cousin. I can’t wait for next week’s class.

In both classes, we talked about movies, sports, games, music, Tv series and books. Doing this gives me a pretty good idea of what topics they really enjoy and which ones they are not much interested on.

After finding out more about L2 and catch up with L1, I played the videoclip “Am I wrong?”, only the sound, no image. I asked them to 1) rate the song. L1 gave it 3 stars and L2, 2 stars. Then they 2) listened again and took notes of words they were able to identify in the song. They did this 2x. 3) L1 noticed that their accent was different and he had trouble understanding what they were singing. He reported that at times, it sounded like another language, not English. 3) I dictated some lines of the song focusing on the sense groups. When we finished, we discussed the verses and I asked them to 4) rate the lyrics. This time L2 gave 4 and L1, 3 again. They are both not very much into music. L2 likes a new genre popular among people nowadays but it is in Portuguese and L1 said to be listening to a DJ and liking instrumental music. I’d like to offer L2 more contact with English songs and see if that raises his interest in doing something in English outside the class. Clearly they are not really a fan of this melody, but L2 liked the content of the lyrics while it didn’t matter to L1.


Group A Profile

L1 is in his 4th year of studying. He had been my student in the afternoon in 2013 and 2014. He is talkative, not always in English but with a little push he makes the effort to keep up in English. He likes reading, video games and music but hates doing any sort of grammar exercises. He also prefers talking to written activities.

L2 is in his third year of English. He is participative and likes speaking activities in English. He also said that likes looking at the lyrics of songs.

L3 and L4 are in their second year of English. None of them talked much.

Group A is formed by boys right now, but a girl, a former student of mine said she is going to start next week which might change the dynamics of the group. For the first meeting, they did not say much about themselves. The ice break activity did not work as 3 said not to have their cellphones with them and or unable to remember any song or accept my offer to hand them a device to search online.

Because of that we moved to the song “Am I wrong?” by Nico and Viz.

  • Rating the song (1): They all gave 4 stars to it! It seems the boys enjoys this kind of music.
  • Listening (2x) and making notes (2): Although listening more than once gives them a chance to get more familiar with the song, it does not necessarily improves comprehension. They did have a few more words than had written before.
  • Dictated 6 verses from the song focusing on sense groups (3): After dictating each sense, we worked on the pronunciation of each sense group with the right intonation.
  • Recited the group of verses in a way that asks a question and invites reflection (4): It is actually the first time I remember reciting it like I was reciting a poem with much emotion and gesture to express the sentiment that these verses expresses.  AS I did, I also translated the group sense without letting them think of the translation but the message that it I wrong
  • The listened to the song again (5).

We had about 5 or 6 minutes left so I gave them pieces of paper to reflect on how each step (1-5) was useful in L1. Here are their responses and mine:

(1) Mine: Find out their musical taste and get familiar with the song.

(1) Theirs: cool; to learn better; for us to rate the song; learn the song.

(2) Mine: Get familiar with the song and check how much they can understand of it.

(2) Theirs: learn more English; for us to understand the words; because listening one time we do not understand. That’s why it is important to listen two times; listen and find the words.

(3) Mine: work on pronunciation and fluency.

(3) Theirs: Learn the right pronunciation and the meaning of the words; practice listening and the repeatition of the phrases to improve our pronunciation; very interesting; learned the right pronunciation of the words.

(4) Mine: notice how things are said on a daily basis, we just don’t say words, we say them with meaning and emotion. Introducing them to Poems through music.

(4) Theirs: cool, learned that music also has poetry; it facilitates comprehending meaning; learned how to say things using the right intonation which is like in a poem.

(5) Mine: show them that now they can comprehend much more of the song.

(5) Theirs: listening just once, we don’t really understand it well; to check if we could understand the song; cool; identify the most meaningful part of the song.

I just collected their notes and shared with them mine as we were running out of time.

There is one last class to meet tomorrow! Then it is time to work on the syllabus taking into consideration what the school curriculum is and the students interests are for each class for at least the next two bimesters :)

Breaking the Ice, Setting Goals


Photo taken from ELTPics by Dimitris Primalis

I met the first two of the 6 groups of 9th graders that I’ll have this year. I knew 4 of the learners from last year class and 2 are new to me in Group B and in Group F all 3 were new to me.

Group B profile:

L1 in his fifth semester of studying in our school. I have the opportunity to be his first teacher in the first two semesters in the afternoon. The students who enroll in the our language course in the afternoon have extra hours of English learning opportunities in the morning in groups according to the age, not their level. In the afternoon, we follow a coursebook and learners are arranged according to their linguistic knowledge. He loves music and perfoming magic tricks. I used to give him a space in our class to perform for us. The girls used to love it.

L2 is in her fifth semester too. She is really into English. She loves music, films and anything that is in English. Not a book reader though. She can carry out conversations with us in English but does not make the effort to communicate with her classmates in English. She is talkative and can distract others. But once she is working on English, she is really participative.

L3 is in her third semester. She loves listening to music and reading lyrics. She tries to practice English outside the classroom with a course mate and they often study music together. I had known her from seeing her around, but we never talked. So we met each other really yesterday.

L4 is in her third semester too. I met her last semester when she was in 8th grade group. She doesn’t really do anything in English outside the class and is not very interested in it, but even though she feels this way she is not willing to give up yet! This is what matters to me. I was very happy to see her here this year!

L5 is in her second semester, but her receptive English knowledge is really good for her level. In fact, she studies songs and watches TV shows outside the classroom which really shows by the way she is able to follow the class in English. But she is still shy to speak. Let’s give her time!

For L6 is his first semester. He likes video game and music. But he just listens to it and play video game in Portuguese  if changing language is available. He already told me that he is there because his mom wants to. But he is nice and is a friend of L1. L1 was assigned to support him then, and L2 also volunteered for that.

A mixed level group really needs this kind of supportive environment that only can come from students. If we can set a community of learning spirit from the beginning things tend to go smoothly. What a great group to meet right in the beginning of the week!

Group F

L1 in her fifth semester of study. Listens to music in English and reported that she can understand it, but when she doesn’t she studies the lyrics. She watches movies in English with subtitles in Portuguese. She is participative and collaborates really nicely.

L2 has never taken an English course before. He really likes English and learned it through video games. He listens to music (noticed that he likes the classics like the Beatles for example) and watches movies/TV series with the audio and the subtitles in English. He was the only one to use English in class today. Not afraid to take risk! Learn from every opportunity given to him and is talkative. He was placed in book 3.

L3 hasn’t taken a placement test yet, but also has never attend an English school. He is quieter than L2 but seems to understand spoken English without much problem. He also watches movies, plays games and listen to English music.


I like starting with a conversation. It’s important for me to set things straight with learners and watch/listen to how they react to it. Some of the things are related to:

  • Use of L1 and L2 in class: when should be ok to use L1 and why, the higher the level less need to use L1. L1 X L2 debate occurs everywhere and even students have their own ideas about it. It’s a mixed level group and surely I’ll use English as much as possible and that is why the strategy of inviting another learner to support total beginners is helpful, beginners still feel the pressure of having to speak like others in the higher levels. I have tried different ways to tackle this issue and the best thing so far is to have an honest conversation about what it is like to be in a group like this and what the expectations are. I also write on the board the instructions of the activity or I dictate it for extra practice with the language. This helps beginners to increase their knowledge of the language as they listen/read/write. I also model the activity afterwards to make sure that everyone understand what to do and again beginners have another opportunity to hear what to do and see it in action.
  • Sharing the floor with them. From class one, I want them to know they have a say on how the things go and I briefly tell them about the notebook and how we will be using it in our classes. The notebook is not just for language work but also for talking about learning.


  • Suggest at least one song that contains in the title a word that starts with the first letter of your name (the word can be in the beginning, middle or end of the title).
  • On the board I wrote all the titles and who sings it.
  • Listen to about 30′ of each song and rate it ( from 1 to 5 stars)
  • On the board, we calculated the average rate for each song.

I came up with this ice breaker simply because I wanted to find out what their music tastes are. It’s always more fun by doing something that seems more natural. By natural I mean that it’s common to have rating system all over the internet. We rate apps, movies on stream services like Netflix, websites, books, etc. Rating has something to do also with preferences and it’s subjective but also values the person’s opinion about something. It goes without saying, that through it I’m also introducing to them the idea of group by looking at each other’s tastes, perceptions and thoughts as different yet important in their own right.

What did they say about this activity so far?


  • Learned more songs
  • Learned about what others like to listen to
  • Learned to assess our own musical taste
  • Learned to like new songs


  • During the activity, we learned new things (L2 said 4 comma 5 instead of point for 4.5%; L1 mentioned how to talk about math operations in English while we were calculating the average rate)
  • Used English when searching for the songs (thinking of a word and searching for songs that contained that word)


Use English as much as possible.

Be participative and collaborative

Be reflective


Photo taken from ELTPics by @ij64

With the 9th graders, I don’t use coursebooks, but in the afternoon I do . And as classes in the afternoon is beginning only next week, I don’t know yet whether I’ll have the same student in the Project (that is how we call it in the morning) and in the language course in the afternoon. That sometimes happen. :)