October 30, 2015

Interviewing Affective Educators: Jason R Levine

"Love yourself and your expression, you can't go wrong"

This last August I had the great pleasure of meeting Jason R. Levine, also known as Fluency MC, and working with him during one week in the Gallery Day Camp in Italy. During this week I was able to see Jason promoting learning through rap and I discovered that Jason and I are artisteachers in our own ways. I couldn't have let him go without interviewing him first. Here is our chat: 

Juan: I am really happy that we are working together here in Italy as I had heard a lot about you, but only being here makes me able to better understand your work. Have to tell you that I am your fan.

Jason: Likewise, I follow what you are doing as a teacher and as a teacher trainer around the world. It is interesting to see how my work and your work complement each other. It's really exciting. It's a great feeling to be here.

Juan: I will start our interview by asking the classic question: Who is Jason R Levine?  But don't go thinking that this interview will be an easy one!

Jason: It's funny, there are a lot of Jason Levines out there and I put my middle initial  R to differentiate myself. I do both content creation and also training. I have this persona Fluency MC that I use for the music and the videos.  For me Jason Levine is more the trainer, what is left of the academic side of me.  Fluency MC is the guy that is out there on the ground as well as into content creation and materials design.

Juan: I believe that I identify with you as I believe that I am also a mixture of an artist and a teacher. I can clearly see your very developed artistic side in your teaching. Please tell me how this integration has happened in your life.

Jason:  Glad you see it that way because it hasn't been that long that I have been doing what I do with music. I was a pretty traditional English teacher during the first part of my career. It wasn't really until nine, ten years ago that I really started bringing music and video into it. From the start I was into creating material, in this sense I might be an artist, but what you see me doing is pretty recent. During the first years I was pretty shy.

Juan: I can't imagine you being shy!

Jason: I have a video to prove it, but I am not at the point that I am ready to show that video to people yet! My students used to tease me and they have certainly helped me discover my talent. This is a beautiful thing about teaching, when both students and teacher support and encourage each other in the process.

Juan: What do you take into account when you write your raps?

Jason: I am a big corpus linguistics guy, a collocation guy, and definitely for me what sparks me and gets me going is the lexical side of what I am working with. So if I receive a unit with certain vocabulary, certain structures, I love what I can do with these. I am also very motivated when I see what frustrates teachers and students, such as boring or difficult grammar structures, things that even with a lot of studying and learning students usually do not make much progress with.

Jason: I enjoy thinking about the acquisition, the repetition, and the humour in the songs. It's definitely the linguistic side that moves me in the beginning, but then as I write the songs I often get into storytelling.

Juan: I can see you put a lot of humour in the pictures you choose as well as in the lyrics.

Jason: Humour absolutely! I think that every good artist in some level does something with humour.

Juan: I really like the secret messages that you put in your raps. How do you go about these?

Jason: Thank you. I'm always moved by social messages in art, whether about inequality or about the environment or other important issues. I believe that the subtle messages are the ones that strike you, if it's a comedian who sneaks it in a joke or a singer that inserts it in a song. I don't like it when the message is explicit and  hits you in the head as it is hard to reach people that way. I want people to discover it themselves. To tell you the truth, I don't always notice myself doing it. The other day a teacher pointed it out to me. I can say that I am really influenced by many singers and authors and I like to do it that way.

Jason: Stick, Stuck, Stuck is the first song that I wrote and it is still the most popular song. People point out that there is a message within it and when you listen to other songs the messages are definitely more out there.

Here you have the famous Stick, Stuck, Stuck by Fluency MC :

Juan: I follow your career and I see that you have been travelling a lot and you have been in contact with lots of students around the world. How do you make sense of all this? How has this experience touched you?

Jason: I've been thinking a lot about this lately. The other day I saw some pictures of when I was with students in Palestine and it seems it was such a long time ago. I'm sure you also have this experience of feeling time in a different way when you travel and you have lots of intense encounters. On the other hand, I feel it is strange sometimes as I have had these intense encounters but I haven't seen these people again and I'm not sure what they are doing. As fun and as interesting it is to travel, it can also be hard.

Jason with students in the Palestine!
Jason: What grounds me is the fact that we are all connected through social media, like one student from Palestine can write me tomorrow and say "Hey I watched your video and I remember when you were in Ramallah". I feel really lucky about it. In the past, without this new media, it would have been tougher. I feel lucky to be teaching at this time in history.

Juan: I heard you are coming to Brazil next year, tell us about it.

Jason: I have wanted to come to Brazil for a really long time. Mainly because many Brazilian encouraged me when I taught in New York and also because I have many loyal followers from Brazil. There is certainly a musical connection between American and Brazilian hip hop and I believe the idea of practicing with music appeals a lot to Brazilian teachers. People tell me all the time to come to Brazil so I've got to do it. And it is great to be connected to you and also to other teacher trainers who supported me.

Juan: You are going to have such an amazing time in Brazil, Jason. By the way, I know that you have created an innovative language learning program. Please tell us how the Weekly English Workout Program works and how you have come up with this idea.

Jason: Thank you for asking about the Weekly English Workout. I'm very excited about it as it's a new project.  It's a speaking practice program based on Video Workouts, live classes, and a private Facebook group. It provides intensive practice to enable you to use English in your everyday life. This practice, I believe, is the missing piece for most people. It's been a lot of fun and I'm excited about getting the program into schools around the world so that students can use it out of class to improve their English fluency.

Juan: What message would you leave people that have a talent and would like to fuse it with language teaching?

Jason: That is a wonderful question. Just get out there and do it.

Juan: Any message for the students?

Jason: Wherever I go, I meet one or two students that are really fluent, really excited about English. Some people would assume that they have lived in the country where the language is spoken, that they must have had these great lessons, or that they have the gift for learning another language. But nine times out of ten it is because they really got excited about English from media, they watch a lot of movies, they listen to a lot of music, they read a lot of comic books... The best use of time for teachers is to get their students excited to get out there and go for things that they really enjoy.

Juan: Thank you so much for this interview!  It's been great working with you here at the Gallery Day Camp.

Jason: That was fun!

Do you have a special talent you have incorporated in your classes?
Let me know and you can be the next teacher  interviewed here in the blog!

Sending you a big hug from Hokkaido in Japan,


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October 09, 2015

Follow my Playing to Learn column!

It's with great pleasure that I share some good news. I have a column of my own!
It is entitled "Playing to Learn" and it is published twice a month with Gallery Teachers and iTDi. My very first column will have 12 posts and there I invite you to explore practical ideas and playful activities that can make your classes memorable, engaging, and fun. More than that, my intention is to awaken and strengthen your playfulness and empower you to create and live play with your group. 

On galleryteachers.com  you will be able to learn with amazing ELT bloggers and writers such as Barbara Sakamoto, Shelly Terrell, Luke Meddings, Christina Rebuffet, Jason Levine, and Chuck Sandy among others. Topics range from culture to critical pedagogy to cooking and there's something for everyone. Each column post comes with a downloadable PDF full of ideas, activities, or a lesson plan that you can take into your classroom or use for your own development. 

Do pay me a visit and leave your comment giving me feedback on how you liked it and what you would like to talk about next. I write it for you. 

Hope you have enjoyed these news as much as I do. It's really exciting!

Send you all a big hug from Seoul, South Korea!


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September 03, 2015

My first webinar on Affective Language Learning!

"One of the most important areas we can develop 
as professionals is competence in accessing and sharing knowledge." 
Connie Malamed

I am here to share about something I am really proud of being part: iTDi. 
I love iTDi because it has made the cutting edge of ELT knowledge available to teachers around the world in a very democratic way through free and affordable online courses and webinars. 

One of iTDi's initiatives, together with Gallery Teachers, was the Summer Intensive for Teachers, an online free series of speakers sharing their views on issues that they are passionate about. And I was invited to be one of them!

Due to my travelling and course schedule the only day I could present was July, 31st which was even before the official opening on the next day. I hosted my very first webinar and guess what? I loved and it was great fun! 

Buddy and I were super kindly hosted by Chuck Sandy and Jason Levine with the great theme song that made all of us full of energy. I was a little bit lost at first, but with time I got more and more comfortable with this new webinar format. I would like to thank everybody who made the effort to attend it live. You guys rock! 

You are probably saying "Come on, Juan, where is the link?". Right here, without further delay.
It is very easy to watch my first webinar. Just click here and sign up for a free account with iTDi. Then just log in and find the Summer Intensive for Teachers. My webinar is the very first one.

Get yourself some coffee, tea, or lemonade and enjoy the course with Buddy the Frog and me.

It was a great experience and I look forward to hosting another webinar. I am then officially open to invitations!

Which part did you like the most?
Do you have any hints for my next webinars?

Sending you a big hug, 


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July 15, 2015

Learning English with Flying Hankerchieves

"Aesthetic matters are fundamental for the 
harmonious development of both society and the individual."
Friedrich Schiller

I simply love having hankerchieves in my classes because these flying and maleable colourful pieces of light fabric bring much more than joy, movement, and fantasy. Flying hankerchieves bring a sense of aesthetic and beauty to the process of language learning.

These small pieces of magic allow students to create language while playing, to move their bodies while learning, and to see them beautifully floating in the air.

That's probably why I have have given over 50 sets of these flying hankerchieves made by my mom Stella to fellow English teachers at congresses and school visits around the world.You can make your very own hankerchieves by cutting 15-cm squares of colourful and very light fabric. 

Here I share 12 creative ways through which flying hankerchiefs can promote affective language learning in your class:

Ready or not, here I come!

1. Counting numbers: children can count with hankerchieves in several different ways. One way is to have only one hankerchief being passed around, one variation is to give a hankerchief to a small number of children to be passed around, and finally a pair can share a hankerchief. Another possibility to prctising counting is to throw the hankerchief really high in the air and children count until it touches the floor.

2. Drawing numbers, letters, and words: you can model drawing numbers, letters and even words in the air which students should guess. One student can then be invited to do it to the classroom and finally students do it in pairs of small groups. It can also be done with ribbons that will maintain even longer the shape of the numbers and letters. Great fun!

3. Noticing colours: here I share some ways that you probably already know. The first one is hiding one in your hand and students have to guess which colour you have. Another is hiding them in the room to be found. Next you can play the subtracting game by getting one colour from the pile and getting them to notice which one you got. Last you can display the hankerchieves on the floor in a certain order, ask kids to close their eyes, and change the order, students have to tell you what has changed. All these can be played as a big group, small group, and then in pairs.

4. Touching body parts: here one throws a hankerchief in the air and students have to get them with the part of the body that is chosen. A variation is to say a student's name and a body part as a challenge. If the students completes the challenge, he or she says the name of the next student and a different body part.  Great fun!

5. Exchanging things they like: you get a hankerchief and you tell students you have something of that colour in your hand. One can say for instance that the white hankerchief is a cloud,  the red one a strawberry, and the blue one is the ocean. Have students say what things each colour is. Then each student can get a hankerchief and say what they have in their hands. In the last movement, students ask each other what they have and  if they would like to exchange them.More advanced students can give reasons why they accept or not the exchange.

6. Checking students' emotions: tell students you feel happy when you pick the yellow hankerchief. They can them tell you which colour means happy for them. After that learners can choose a flying hankerchief according to how they feel on a certain day or about a certain topic. They can choose for example the white one if they are really calm or the yellow one because the like the sunny day.

7. Creating things ( or even a scenario!) : call out some things that have one color like the sun or water and let students make them on the floor, after this call out things like trees or a watermelon that have two or more colours. When you notice your students are really good at it invite them to make a scenario with all the hankerchieves. If they choose making a beach for instance, they can use the blue ones as the ocean, the yellow ones as the beach, and the green as palm trees. Their creations are usually incredible!

8. Discovering things with the chosen colors: this is the opposite of the previous activity. Each learner chooses a hankerchief and the teacher calls two students. These students have then to say which thing has the colors of their hankerchieves. For example, black and blue could be a policeman's uniform or even a sunken ship. You can leave their creations on the floor. Call out all the students until they run out of hankerchieves.

9. Telling a story: here you can start a story by giving a specific meaning to one hankerchief. For the story to continue one student comes and ties his/her hankerchief to the first one. Example: Once there a flea (black one) that fell in the water (blue one) and then the day started to get really hot (yellow) and so on. Once all the hankerchieves are used students can retell or even rewrite the whole story.

10. Reading through them: a fun way to use the hankerchieves is to read through them. You can decide together with the class if colors have any special moods or ways to read. Hankerchieves can be changed after some time. Some possibilities are fast, slowly, prolifically, sleepy, angrily, in love, etc.

11. Listening to words: students can be given flashcards with words that will appear in a story or in a song. Whenever they listen to the word they have been assigned they throw their hankerchief to the air. It is a beautiful scene to see all of them flying in the air. Make sure you say every word many times to make children pay close attention. I usually say all the words in my last sentence.

12. Listening to similarities: students are given a hankerchief each. Then in pairs they face each other, one starts saying one sentence at a time about personal facts or opinion. Then if the other person has the same fact or the same opinion, this person throws the hnkerchief to the other and repeats the sentence that was said, and then continues the game by saying sentences until the other person repeats it and throws the hankerchief. Students go switching who is doing the talking until they have swapped hankerchiefs a certain number of times.

Bonus activity: have them dancing! 

 Here you can see me with  two wood crosses and eight hankerchieves. Tie one to each edge and you can have a bunch of birds flying or ghosts dancing.

Thanks to Pravita Indriati from Indonesia for the pictures of her students learning with the flying hankerchieves!

Which was your favourite activity?
Do you have any other idea on how to these beautiful flying hankerchieves?

Hope to meet you at a congress and to be able to give you personally a set of flying hankerchieves!

Sending you a big hug,


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July 10, 2015

Interviewing Affective Educators: Sosô Uribe Conti Ranzi

I am very happy to present you an interview with an educator, and an entrepreneur I deeply admire: Sosô Uribe Conti Ranzi, who happens to be my sister, my partner, and the General Director at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo, the school we both founded here in São Paulo, Brazil.

But how could I interview her if I know pretty much what she will answer? In order to make the interview more natural and revealing I decided to invite my dear friend Naoko Amano to interview Sosô. 

Naoko is the founder of Yellow Banana Kids English in Kishiwada, Japan. She was a fantastic host when I visited her school in 2013. Naoko is also part of the iTDi family and I am grateful to Barbara Sakamoto for having introduced us to each other. 

It is with great honor that I have connected these two lovely educators and here I present this interview: 

Naoko: Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of your school! I saw the great pictures of your special flea market. Could you please tell me more about your feelings about this anniversary?

Sosô: Oh Naoko! It’s a feeling that is really hard to put into words! It was a great pleasure to see kids speaking English spontaneously and confidently. Families were together and everybody was communicating and having fun in English!

Naoko:Yes! I was able to see that all the families are so happy to be there! That's wonderful, Sosô. What are some of your unforgettable memories of these twenty years?

Sosô: There are so many! It's rewarding to see that people that worked here left their mark and have made this school a better place. It's beautiful to know that students that studied here with us are starting their professional careers and that deep inside I  know that our English classes have contributed to their success! Another lovely memory was when we rented this house we are in right now! Moving to this new house was a big step for us, because we grew 4 times in size!

 Naoko: That's really inspiring, Sosô. I've heard about you a little bit from your brother Juan, whom I always meet in congresses here in Japan. But I'd like to know more about you. How did you start teaching English to children?

Sosô: Wow….that was a looong time ago…. I started my first class on May 10th 1996… 19 years ago. I was only 17 years old then! I started teaching a 2-year-old boy called Christian and I fell in love with teaching as I saw that I was much more able and creative that I thought I was. As a result, Christian learned much faster that I could imagine.

Naoko: Oh! That is a very interesting story. Can you recall any of the classes you had with him? 

Sosô: I used to spend the whole afternoon with him and we did everything together - we cooked, played outside, we made projects, played with his power rangers, watched movies, and sang songs. He liked hunting treasures and playing with his wild animals figures. I remember that once we made a huge cardboard boat and played there for hours!

Naoko: That must have been fun. But how did you go from teaching this very first student to opening the school with Juan? 

Sosô:  As I started teaching more and more students, Juan and I had a turning-point conversation in which we decided to open our own school. At the age of 17, I was reading Brazilian laws concerning hiring people.

Naoko: You were so young then. How many students are learning English at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo now?

Sosô: Currently there are 252 students from two to twelve learning English with us. We have 102 students having classes at their homes while 150 come to our school. 

Naoko: That is a lot! I am sure you have 252 students, parents, and teachers smiling. That’s wonderful!

Sosô: Thank you, Naoko. I love teaching and I also love managing the school!

Naoko:What do you currently do at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo?

Sosô: Today I am the General Director, which includes thinking about our growth, envisioning new challenges, checking the quality of our classes, and learning about families' satisfaction. 

Naoko: I saw in many pictures that you always have a puppet with you. How did you start using them to teach English? 

Sosô:  In 1996  Juan and I bought six hand puppets which later became our logo. We always had them with us and they called everybody’s attention. Today we have more than 80 puppets here at school. The educators who work with us learn how to use puppets in our initial course, but they are not supposed to use them every class. We are always watching many puppeteers, taking courses, and getting better and better at it. 

Naoko: Eighty puppets!? That's a lot! I saw your fantastic and heartwarming DVD in which you also use puppets. What made you film it? How did you film it?

Sosô: That was a dream-come-true project! In 2008 Juan filmed me telling "The Gingerbread Man" and we put it on YouTube. Many families watched it and told me that I had talent telling stories and that I should record a DVD. I let this dream rest for almost 4 years until I met the Cama family in October 2012. Together we decided to pursue this dream and we came up with different storytelling techniques to teach English to children through fairy tales. After 18 months, the DVD was finally released and now kids from all over Brazil can learn English with us!

The DVD was filmed in a cinema studio with professional microphones and movie cameras. I had my “actress” day starting the first story at 7 am and finishing with the tenth one at 9 pm. By then I was exhausted, but really happy!

Naoko: It sounds that must have been both exciting and hard work! What were some of the most difficult aspects while shooting the videos?

Sosô: I guess it was during the shooting of “The Three Little Pigs” when I had to make the second pig look down to the camera (I was behind a wall - and I couldn’t see where the camera was). Editing Hansel and Gretel was also a challenge as we had to make the narration match the scenes. :)

 Naoko: I love your warm voice and your friendly way of telling stories. I immediately felt drawn to your story. Is there anything in special you pay attention to when telling stories with puppets? 

Sosô: Oh Yes! Besides the story itself, I pay attention to the voices, movement of the puppet’s mouth and body, and  possible jokes or charades I will tell. While storytelling in the classroom, I make sure to take into account the comments of the students too! It’s really fun! You should definitely try it too!

Naoko: Wow, it seems to be very difficult and I certainly need some training myself, but I’m interested in it. On the DVD, your puppets are really alive and we felt as if we were in the story!!

Naoko: What are you doing in the picture you look like a ninja?

 Sosô: Just posing for the picture! We had to use this outfit, so our hands and heads wouldn’t appear in the video. 

Naoko:  I was also very excited to see you using kamishibai in your storytelling. It is a beautiful Japanese technique we rarely see here in Japan.  How do you like telling kamishibai stories?

Sosô: Kamishibai stories are really different and everybody loves them, as they do not exist here in Brazil. I always have a great time telling them!

Naoko: I am glad to hear that people love our tradition. Here in Japan, we usually tend to look for new techniques from overseas, but we definitely should reconsider our work in the light of our own Japanese tradition.

Naoko: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.  You have inspired me a lot.  I was able to feel your passion for teaching as well as your gentle and beautiful heart. I’d also like to thank Juan Uribe for giving me this wonderful chance. 

Sosô: Same here. It was really nice “talking” to you and telling you a little bit about the school, myself and the DVD! :) Come visit me here in São Paulo!

Naoko: You too here in Kishiwada! 

Wow! What a great interview! 
Thank you so much Naoko and Sosô.
I sincerely hope that your families can meet each other some time in the future. 

Would you like me to interview any educator you admire? 
Tell me and I will give my best as always! 

Sending everybody a kamishibai hug from São Paulo, 


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June 28, 2015

Puppeteering on IATEFL's Young Learners webmagazine

I am very happy to share that my article on puppeteering as a way of creating affective language learning experiences with primary learners was featured together with other very interesting ones in the digital issue of  IATEFL's Young Learners and Teens magazine. This issue was edited by the competent David Valente and also features my dear friend Kylie Malinowska, who was previously interviewed in the blog

Click here to read the whole magazine! Enjoy it!

Do you have interesting experiences to share with the world? 
Get in touch with IATEFL's Young Learners and Teens Special Interest Group and publish your voice!

Hugs from Brazil, 


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February 15, 2015

Let's all be travelers!

It is with great pleasure that I am part of the February issue on Teachers as Travelers of the iTDi blog! Check my contribution in which I reflect on the similarities and differences of being a tourist or a traveler in education and in life. Make sure you also read the articles written by my dear colleagues Anna Loseva and Chuck Sandy on how they have evolved personally and professionally being on the road. 

Never heard of iTDi? 
iTDi is a global online teacher development institute that is owned and staffed by dedicated teachers. iTDi provides Online courses to improve your classroom teaching or English language skills, written by some of the most respected authors in English language teaching. 
iTDi's mission is to provide quality professional development that is meaningful, accessible and affordable for all teachers. The iTDi community brings together teaching professionals working at every level -- newcomers and veterans, native and non-native teachers from a wide range of contexts, all sharing a common belief that being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to growing and learning.
Check iTDi's site and check out the offered courses and webinars!  

Send you a big traveling hug, 

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