Tag Archives: brazil

Letters to the Magician

Lots of language teachers have second jobs. Many English teachers work in more than one school. I’ve even met English teachers who were also tourist guides, translators or musicians. Now I can add illusionists to that list.

I met Téo Elfo in São Paulo earlier this year, when he attended an OTA training course for English teachers. During the breaks I noticed that he always had a pack of cards in his hand and I duly asked him about it. He told me that as well as being an English teacher he was a keen illusionist, and that he always carried cards, balls or some other magician’s props in his pockets. At the end of the session he showed the group one of his tricks – something to do with magically appearing and disappearing red balls – and impressed us all. I remember thinking how much his young students must appreciate the fact that their English teacher was a magician. What a brilliant way to motivate students.

Not long ago Téo posted a terrific video of an illusion online. The trick involves the eyebrow-raising juxtaposition of Fruit Loops and dental floss  and as soon as I saw it  I knew it would be just the kind of thing that my own students would appreciate. Earlier today I showed a group of eleventh grade elementary students the video – and they loved it.

Students after watching the trick

Letters to the Magician

I then asked them to write down their reactions to the video in order to send them to the illusionist himself. The students were clearly motivated by the fact that the person they were writing to was a ‘real person’ known to the teacher. I told them that if we were lucky, we might even get a response – perhaps in the shape of another magic trick from our Brazilian maestro. I collected the responses together and sent them to Téo.

Letters to the Magician


Moments later – abracadabra! – I had a response. Téo was really pleased and promised to send a reply to the students. Even better, he’s going to dedicate a video trick to the group.

Magic words 🙂

It was great to be able to use this video with an elementary group. It’s short, there’s no talking, it’s very easy to follow and yet there is a wealth of things to discuss and describe. With this group, we reacted to the impact of the trick; equally we could have described the sequence of actions, using the present simple, linking adverbs and prepositions of place.

Here is another idea for using the video in class (intermediate level):

Before showing the video

– Pre-teach the words Fruit Loops and dental floss.

– Ask: how would fruit loops and dental floss usually be used together? (Eat the fruit loops, then floss.)

– Can you think of any other (creative) ways to use them? (as fishing bait, pendulum, decoration, etc.)


After watching the video

– How (on earth!) did he do it?

– Write sentences using must have, can’t have and might have

– Write to the magician 🙂


What do you think about using tricks in the English lesson? Have you got any good ideas?

OTA Brazil

I’m lucky enough to be in Brazil again, working with teachers as a trainer on the three-day Oxford Teacher’s Academy courses being held in São Paulo, Curitiba and Salvador. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to work with enthusiastic and committed teachers – and also to sample the culture, cuisine and climate of this extraordinary country.

The OTA is an intensive course – and an intense experience, for the teachers and trainer alike. Working together with the same group of people for three days means you get to know one another much better than on a one-day seminar, while the length of the course enables a depth of reflection and discussion that is not always possible on shorter courses. The nine sessions on this course range in content from skills-based topics such as teaching speaking skills, listening skills and pronunciation, to more methodological questions such as using graded readers and dealing with mixed groups. It also offers teachers a chance for reflection on their own practice with sessions on classroom  dynamics and emotional intelligence.

In São Paulo there were two groups, which meant that Mary Meyer and I shared the trainers’ role. It was a pleasure to work with such excellent professionals. There is always an enjoyable unexpected dimension, here it was the rivalry between supporters and haters of Corinthians, who were playing in the final of the Copa Libertadores during the course. It was also great to discover that we had an illusionist in one of the groups, and to enjoy hos tricks. What a performance!

São Paulo

I was on my own in Curitiba, as there was only one group, but the experience was equally rewarding, as the group was very experienced and committed. I was particularly well looked after by Fernando Tardiolli and Thais Pedreira, and had lots of laughs – and the world’s finest hot chocolate – in their company. It was also a pleasure to talk to experienced teachers between sessions informally, to learn from their insights and experience, and to share views about teaching. I will remember those conversations for a long time, and will benefit from them a lot, and draw strength from them, too. Thank you.


What a shock to the system to travel from chilly, rainy Curitiba to balmy Salvador! It is only my second day in the city, but already it’s made a fantastic impression – not only the teachers and the climate, but also the outstanding cuisine.

More to follow…

Tea and talk

One of the extra-curricular events we have at school is a regular ‘tea afternoon’ when interesting guests are invited to give a little or talk or presentation after school on a topic of general interest. The students (from 9.b and 11.f on this occasion) create a ‘tea house’ in one of the classrooms and people come to listen to the speaker and have a nice cup of tea. It’s great. Recent speakers have included the Hungarian TV reporter Al Ghaoui Hesna talking about her reporting from the Middle East, and two of our own teachers, Dóra Tarnai and Keith Lambert who were involved in Fulbright exchanges between our school in Hungary and one in Connecticut. I guess it’s getting harder to find interesting guests, because the most recent tea afternoon featured me talking about my trip to Brazil in the summer.


It was a great trip down memory lane for me, remembering the fun times I had in Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Recife earlier in the year. I talked about the cities, the climate, the delicious food and drink, the customs, the lifestyle, the language – and whatever else popped into my head. Showing some of the photographs taken by me (and also some taken by my colleague Nina Lauder) really brought back the memories.

Before the talk I made a little video message and sent it to some of the people I know in Brazil, asking them to teach us a few words in Brazilian Portuguese. Many thanks to Kelly Françoso, a teacher I met in Oxford in the summer, who sent me a video message containing a mini-language lesson – it was great to be able to show it during the talk. (I can really recommend the mailvu.com site for those thinking about sending video messages. I also used it last year, when I asked students to send me their video applications for a job as a polar bear lookout – long story.)





All in all, it was a fun afternoon. For the students it was a good chance to practise their English (I was too lazy to do it in Hungarian) and to hear a bit about this fantastic country and its people. As for me, it was a  reminder of the great times I had, and the wonderful people I was lucky enough to meet.


My youngest daughter was there to listen, too 🙂










OTA Brazil

I had a fantastic time in Brazil in July, working with Nina Lauder and Mary Meyer on OTA courses in Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Recife. It was my first visit to South America and I was knocked out by the kindness and friendliness of the people there – the teachers, the OUP staff and my fellow trainers were all great to work with. And Brazilian food is the best I have ever tasted 🙂