Cecilia Nobre ELT Blog

An experiment: a new approach to teaching grammar

I have recently watched an inspiring interview on the NovELTies Vlog by Dirk Lagerwaard where he talked with Danny Norrington-Davies. I admit I had never heard Danny’s name before and I was ecstatic by his take on teaching grammar “from rules to reasons”. You should watch their interview here.

They talked about the use of coursebooks and how we can make students more engaged in the lessons. To my surprise, according to Danny, content or comprehension questions account for 86% of the questions found in coursebooks. He argues that these questions prompt students to give the same answers, the answers we teachers expect them to know. Are we accessing their comprehension and fostering their reasoning and critical thinking or are we merely testing them?

Instead of comprehension questions, he suggests that teachers use personal response tasks such as what would you do…? would you buy this…? would you go on this trip? and so on. This way, students will have a personal reaction to the text and therefore they will be more engaged. The second types of questions Danny suggested are evaluative questions, such as what do you think they should do…? and why do you think they did that…?. It was very insightful and Danny has a wonderful summary of past talks slides on his website. I particularly loved and used this one to create my lesson I’m sharing here.

So I taught the same lesson to 2 different groups of ESOL students at the University of Warwick ESOL Outreach classes. The first group is formed by beginner students, ranging from A1 and A2. Within 15 minutes I could notice the lesson was too challenging for them and  I wasn’t able to cover everything I wanted in 2 hours.  I could see them desperately checking the meaning of several words on their phones and that was a bit painful to me. Anyway, that was the whiteboard work.

Whiteboard 1

After that lesson, I thought to myself: I’m going to teach the same lesson to the upper group in the following week. Unsurprisingly, the lesson went more smoothly and I could cover everything within the 2 hours. This was the whiteboard work:

Whiteboard 2

So, from this little experiment, I could draw a few conclusions about this new approach to teaching grammar:

  • Not pre-teaching anything made the lesson a bit long. I’ll choose to pre-teach some lexical terms next time.
  • I loved the A-HA moment when inducing them to come up with reasons for grammar choices of the text.
  • Approaching grammar by discussing reasons is presumably much harder for beginner students. I’d love to learn how to make grammar more accessible to beginners when adopting this approach Danny suggested.
  • It felt great not to give the rules first.
  • My TTT was high and I wonder whether I can make it low while using this approach.
  • Students from both groups seemed really engaged with the news story.


If you want to try my lesson, here are the files:

Benjamin lesson notes

texts Benjamin – part 1 and 2

Benjamin – vocabulary cards


Intermediate lesson plan: Selfie mania

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 3.47.07 PM

I’ve planned this lesson for a very special group of learners I’m going to teach ( alongside my MA buddies) this term at the University of Warwick’s ESOL project. It’s based on a controversial BBC video about selfies.

You can find the lesson plan here.

The slide presentation here.

Worksheets here.


I’d appreciate any feedback! 🙂

How to boost your lessons with 20 online tools

How to boost your online lessons

After two years of teaching online, I am convinced that this was the best decision I have made in my 17-year career in ELT. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching face-to-face, but I also love the freedom and flexibility that online teaching offers.

Having said that, I have selected 18 tools that will boost your online lessons. Mind you, these tools are useful for face-to-face lessons as well.

1. Video Conference 

I gave up on Skype 2 years ago because Zoom won my heart. You need a reliable video conference platform. I also love the annotation tools that are at hand and the possibility of recording the lessons for post-observation and reflection. Oh, don’t forget to share your screen with your student to use it as your live board.



Using Zoom and Padlet

Resource I love: Zoom

 2. Screen-capture

Making video tutorials on how to use certain tools or even send a two-minute video giving homework directions can be really convenient. The idea is to share your screen and explain simultaneously what you expect your learner to do.

Resource I love: Zoom again and Screen-o-Matic

3. Curate your link in just one place (or in 2 places)

Some teachers have asked me how I find inspiration and save interesting several links. I can’t remember all the websites I’ve read by heart;  therefore, bookmarking your favourite links, articles and videos may come in handy. I’ve been doing that since 2008 and today I have collected over 10,000 links on Diigo. You can save the links under different keywords, which will then make it easier to find.

Resources I love: Diigo and Google Keep

4. Schedule your lessons online 

I still enjoy using paper diaries but I had to surrender to booking my lessons online and activate the notifications. It goes without saying that, if you have a Gmail account, it synchronises with your phone and you can also share your calendar with a nice reminder with your student (especially, say, it’s a makeup class which is not at their regular times).

Resources I love: Google Calendar

5. Make online presentations 

When planning your lesson, you can use an array of tools that will help you create ready-to-use templates in a few minutes. I have to admit I don’t have a favourite one for that matter so I try to vary the tools from time to time.

Resources I love: Emaze, Canva, Spark Adobe and Padlet

6. Organise your tools 

 Perhaps that’s not a new thing to you but I could not leave this wonderful resource behind. What is really helpful and important in teaching online is how and where to store your videos, reports, lesson recordings, students’ assignments etc. I use Google Drive for everything, from sharing my student’s homework to sending the video tutorials. It’s practical and effective.

Resources I love: Google Drive

7. Explore the power of student’s voice 

I find voice recording extremely valuable data to collect in order to assess my students’ speaking skills, which I feel is a rather overlooked task by educators. What you can do is to assign spoken homework via Vocaroo or Soundcloud and ask your students to send the recording back to you (via Google Drive). You can then assess their input by recording the feedback as well and sending it to them.

Resources I love: Vocaroo and Soundcloud

8. Make good use of other teachers’ lesson plans that are freely available online

Some teachers do an amazing job and are so generous to share their lesson plans online. Alternatively, you may look at big publishers’ websites for free lesson plans as well.

Resources I love: Rachael Robert’s blog, Blog de Cristina, Ricardo Barros’ blog,  OUP website and OneStopEnglish.

9. Interact with your students out of lesson times

It’s not because you teach online that there is no chance of building rapport with your students. By using these classroom management platforms, you can engage with your learners and create that togetherness environment.

Resources I love: Google Classroom and Flipgrid


How about you? Which tools would you add to this list?

Disal’s Webinar: Teaching 1:1 Online

So yesterday I delivered a webinar hosted by Livraria Disal on teaching 1:1 Online and it was great! There was a staggering number of 650 subscribers and once there were over 200 participants in the room. That blew my mind! I’d like to thank everyone who attended and wrote comments and questions.


You can read the presentation here ( all the links are clickable and you can watch a sample lesson)


  • If you’re interested in joining the course Teaching 1:1 Online, fill out the form here. The course will start in January 2018. It’s a 3-week course full of hands-on tips and support from me.