Happy Holidays!

Dear English Teachers


Just a little note to wish you all the very best for the holidays - see you next year!


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CNN student news
Personally, speaking
BESIG conference
Politics, power and the media
Toys for teachers
Company secrets

Using slideshare for teaching business English

comedianMy student Markus called in the early afternoon.

'I didn't have time to do my presentation' he gushed.

Markus is a part of a 3hr, once-a-month evening presentations course I run. Part of the requirements are to bring in their real presentations for "hands-on" practice, powerpoint slides - which we review, discuss and dissect for standard lexical chunks and language specific to Business English.

'Markus,' I said 'Go on over to Slideshare, find a presentation in your field, download that and bring it in. I need your English, not specifically your slides.'

He did.

The presentation he chose was from by Bach, Abraham, Fisher and Dupree of the Moore School of Business and was about Hydrogen Fuel Cells.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: hydrogen fuel)

As this topic is directly related to his industry and key responsibilities, he was able to follow the original authors' work and successfully add his own specialized knowledge and input.

What slideshare offers are presentations: on each slide there are only key words and/or images so the success of the exercise is entirely dependent on the student's ability to elaborate on the information and statistics.

In our case, a quick, less than 5 minute download led to a half hour presentation which we then could turn into a dynamic pedagogical exercise. As a group, we discussed his lack of 'signposting' (language indicators of where one is within a presentation), worked on his introduction and summary language, reviewed phrases they'd been taught previously from Business Builder, 7.2b and Macmillan's Presentations English, unit 1.

What was also interesting was the territorial aspect Markus to on to the work - he didn't agree with all of the statistics or the slant on each slide and didn't hesitate to let us know what he thought they should be or what Germany is doing in these ventures.

Try this type of exercise with your students -low prep on both your parts, maximum speaking practice on your student's - and, of course,

do let me know how it goes!

Useful links related to this posting:

More lesson tips using slideshare

Some links to sets for Business English and ESP (English for specific purposes) included below but not limited to:

Related textbooks/supplementary:

Business builder - Germany, UK, USA +world
Presentations in English - Germany, UK, USA +world

Authentic books related to teaching presentations:

Harvard School of Business - Germany, UK, USA+world
Beyond bullet points - Germany, UK, USA+world


Nothing more important than your family and friends

Teaching English to speakers of other languages usually means living far from home and we don't often get the chance to see our families at this time of year. Once you've been doing it for a while, traveling around the world, friendships become stretched across the continents (but thank g, for Facebook, right!).

Are you in this situation too?

Me, I always dread Christmas - it's the most prohibitively expensive time to go on home and most of the time I can't afford to do this. Too much competition from the tourists ;-).

However two years ago my sister and I plotted to return just before my Dad's 70th birthday.

We spent Christmas day together in London and then flew on over to Grenada on the 26th. We'd set it up with my uncle to go directly to his house from the airport and then hid there on the 27th. My mother was in on the secret as was my little brother.

It sure was murder looking out at the beautiful Grenadian sea, watching the sun slip into the ocean, realizing what both of us had been missing out on by living in Europe and knowing that we still had to stay hidden for yet another day.

Of course, Marty came on over to visit us - to give us a big hug, check that we'd really made it and to find out what we'd got him for Chrimbo. It was wonderful seeing him but we quickly sent him off with pleas not to give the game away.

Our greatest fear was that Dad would pop 'round to see our Uncle so our eyes were peeled out for his car all day.

On Dad's birthday we sneaked over just before breakfast, giggling the whole way, laden down with chocolates, sweets and gifts.

When we arrived, around 7.30am, we knocked forcibly on the door and heard my mother calling out "Now who could that be, bothering us at this hour?"

When she opened the door up wide we burst into the room singing "Happy Birthday, Daddy!" - my father just about had a heart attack!

His girls were home.


Do you have a great memory like this? Do your students? I'm pretty sure that you do and isn't it lovely to talk about these.

This month, registered users of the Kalinago English website can download a free set of conversation cards all about family and friendships.

Click here to get your students telling their stories - laugh and cry through their memories and impressions.

And for the teachers who teach with technology, looking around for a great pre-teaching/vocabulary review activity, what about using this video from the Boston Globe, on America's first-grandma:

If you're uncertain how to download video on to your laptop come here - if you're interested in getting a mini-computer, come here.

And, as it's coming up for Christmas, all teachers can also download a set of excellent Christmas conversation prompts.

Supportive materials related to Christmas

For more lesson tips and ideas about Christmas, check out these blogs and sites:


Toys for Teachers

toysAll I want for Christmas is...

some really great teaching equipment.

Have you been a good English language teacher this year? Have you been learning and growing, communicating, aiding, facilitating, coaching and generally imparting your knowledge of this wonderful language?

Good, you deserve a treat and so you can have a quick chat with Santa, I'm gonna tell you about the most important thing I bought this year.

As I've mentioned often, he's the number one love of my life.

Actually, I confess, when I hit the "create a new post" button I thought I'd begin this with a poem, an ode in fact, but realized that

The Little Blue Guy
I traveled from shore to shore
visiting each and every store
wasn't sure what to do
I needed to find you.

My back was killing me
my laptop, you see
weighs a ton!
teaching with technology's
so much fun.

Had a quick look

you're the size of a book
I fell in love:
you fit in my bag like a glove.

You're shiny and new

you're beautiful 'n blue
I immediately knew
what to do -
I bought you.

well, Puh! That's simply just too corny.

You'd probably prefer to just read the statistics, get the hard facts and data and get told how to go find your own.

Rightie, then.

The Little Blue Guy's real name is an Acer Aspire One.

He's one of a genre of netbooks currently on the market. Mine cost €399 a couple of months ago however shortly after purchasing, noticed that Amazon had him at €50 less. Hmmm... you live, you learn. I never reckoned that buying electronic equipment would be cheaper online but there you go. (Links below.)

In general, Netbooks range from €299 to €699.

At the lower end of the price range they are pre-installed with the operating system Linux. Unfortunately, despite what all the techie geeks say I'm going to tell you that if you're not a SuperTechie and don't have a SuperTechie spouse, in the house, then don't go there.

It's simply too time-consuming to figure out how to make the video functions work or utilize some of the great free downloads available. I know, I tried and ended up going back to the shop to get the Acer.

If you're a regular ELT (English language teacher) currently in the process of moving over to TwIT (Teaching with Technology) and you'd like to have your own little guy, you'd be better off going for a model with XP.

And don't worry, those abound. Here are two good, short videos, one's cute marketing propaganda and one's a review of four models .

The Acer shown by the guy in this video uses Linux, again: look for one with XP pre-installed. The main reasons, as you probably gleaned from my poem and the vid, for using netbooks to teach English in the classroom/ in-company are:

they are portable and practical
  • light (1.8kg - 3.1kg)
  • small (7" - 10")
and in many cases they
  • come with more memory than a normal laptop (120-160GB compared to 80GB of most models).* -be careful, some only have 8GB: not useful if you want to download and save videos.
  • are often more powerful than a normal laptop

Do note that these machines aren't meant to replace your laptop or your desktop computer at home. If you spend hours typing on one of these your fingers and wrists will end up hurting!

It's a mini computer, made specifically for infrequent and internet usage - perfect for taking into class, to training conferences if you're a teacher trainer, for showing videos, playing mp3s & podcasts, recording your students and sharing presentations you've made or grabbed from slideshare.

Some downsides you should also consider:
  • no DVD or CD slot
  • you will need to purchase or download free software separately.
  • the touchpads are small (best to get an extra mouse to go with and if you want to walk around the classroom while controlling what's going on the screen, get a 'presenter' mouse.)

Want Santa to come on down the chimney? Get the banker of your household (if you have one) to have a general browse around at what's available in your city. It's a good idea to compare prices - also come on over and take a look at my Amazon "toys for teachers" pages where I've presaved some good models



USA and rest of the world
p.s. if you want your operating system to be in English and your country allows importation of computer goods, best to go with a purchase from UK or US.

On The Little Blue Guy, I've put the following useful freeware:
Use OpenOffice.org
  • documents, presentation tools, pdf, spreadsheets: open office
NB: Most free software comes with options to set the language of preference.

To grab stuff from my stored resources:
Any questions?

Do you have observations or experiences you'd like to share with us about the model you chose and how it works? Don't hesitate to click on the green comments at the bottom and type in your message there.


p.s. Lindsay Clandfield's new blog is up and he's got a list of six more gift ideas for teachers, they're over here.

Sights & Sounds: BESIG conference 2008

A quick scan of my micro-sized office will reveal the remnants of a business English conference: brochures and catalogs on the floor, my ticket stubs tucked beneath the scanner, business cards propped up by a six-day old coffee cup -but drat, where's the American guy's card, what was his name again?

Is it in my purse? Hmmm...

Oh and of course, my ultra handy netbook is resting precariously on top of my filing tray - the mini computer looks like a cute toy even though it's actually more powerful than my laptop - he's (his full name is The Little Blue Guy and we're in love) just FULL of draft versions on the different sessions I attended at BESIG.

Ya, my work's cut out for me!

I'll be posting reports of these sessions up bit by bit, in between other lesson tips, ideas and reflections on teaching business and ESP English but in the meantime thought I'd quickly share some of the videos and photos I shot during the conference: made a little compilation which I hope you'll enjoy:

Creative Commons License
BESIG 2008- video by Karenne Sylvester is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. You have my full permission to download a copy or embed it into your own blog/website. To do so, go here. To learn more about creative commons, come here.

The BESIG organizers organized a very, very efficient event.

As soon as one entered the door, it was clear what to do, where to go and how. Coffee abounded, there was lots of space and most of the presenters were highly professional, prepared and interesting with much knowledge to pass on.

My feedback would include:

To the BESIG coordinators:

Timing - 40 minute sessions are too short.

Most of the presenters could not stay within the time frame, understandably. My personal recommendation would be to provide one hour sessions instead, asking trainers to present for 45 and leave 15mins room for questions and discussion.

Know your audience.

While the great majority of the sessions I attended were fantastic and I'll report on those, some weren't. Some were an utter waste of time.

The main problem seemed to lie in the fact that the trainer didn't know who he/she was presenting to.

Sometimes I felt like I was in someone's very tiny personal institute rather than at an important BE conference - sort of like being with a bunch of unqualified trainers who were being taught the first round of basics or being given information best saved for an in-company group meeting.

However, the reality is that in most sessions I was surrounded by at least one or two
  • Authors
  • Directors of Studies or Assistant Directors of Studies
  • Entrepreneurs and freelancers
  • Teacher-trainers

and in all the sessions:

seriously committed BE teachers.
It costs time, money and energy to make it to a conference - we're not on holiday, so

1) be prepared
2) involve your audience
3) finish your research before presenting it - we're not interested in what if
4) spend a little time with powerpoint* and get to know it, it can be your friend
*obviously it's not always necessary to use new media, when it's not used the presentation should still be commanding.
5) practice your presentation

Publishers' Panel:

This needs to be a double session (or at least 1.5hrs).

There was only time for 2, max 3 questions(?). The room was jam-packed: we had stuff to hear and stuff to discuss, we are your community: your purchasers, your reviewers, your critics - there wasn't enough time to do this in.

That said, great stuff the rest of you:

John Allison, aside from your fantastic materials, you're a clear and dynamic presenter and I am actually going to cave in and buy yet another Business English coursebook, if you're involved in The Business, I'll check it out. Emery, I may never ever fly again but I will pass on your details if I meet teachers who want to specialize in aviation English. Schofield, my students are currently reading/listening to your readers, enjoying them so far and I've asked them to write up the reviews themselves! We'll post the results up soon. Prof. Azennoud I really enjoyed learning about Morocco - it snows in Morocco!!!- and your developments there, thanks for coming to Germany to share.

Useful links related to the video:

New Business English teaching certificate
Skylight, CTLC-C
Training in Aviation English for teachers and learners

Macmillan Education
Aviation English Student's Book and DVD Pack
Business Upper-intermediate: Student's Book DVD ROM Pack

Langescheidt readers by James Schofield
Room Service (Summertown Readers)
Peril in Venice (Summertown Readers)
Summertown Readers: Ekaterina

Cambridge University Press, Cambridge English for...series
Cambridge English for Job-Hunting Student's Book with Audio CDs (2) with CD (Audio) (Cambridge English for)


Where does the buick stop?

enter the monks by ne www.flickr.com
The news are currently a-buzz with corporations lining up to hold out their begging bowls in the hope that something, anything will rescue them from the worsening financial crisis.

One of the most ridiculous of these is quite probably the BIG THREE, the CEOs of the giant US automakers (Chrysler, Ford and GM) who somehow did not have the vision to implement a change to smaller, high mileage, 'greener' vehicles and who now need a bailing out to the tune of $25bn.

I say 'vision' somewhat sarcastically.

The last few years have seen an outpouring of commercials advertising their so-called greenness which suggests that they did indeed recognize the trends in the market yet hesitated about doing anything about it other than launch propaganda machines.

Instead they dined like kings, sipped Cristal champagne, earned upwards of 40k A DAY and now, surprise, surprise, they must go to PapaUSA (i.e. the American taxpayers) for a little cash injection.

cristal by angelrravelor www.flikr.comHow long will it be before other global car-makers, except Toyota LOL, rock on up with the same plan?

It's not their fault? Pah!

But their errors, if left unsolved, will cost the world's employees in jobs, be the end(!?) of a stable global economy - opinions range and are as hot as they are indifferent - yet can you imagine what will happen when hundreds of thousands worldwide (millions if you count semi-related industries, especially in the US) lose their jobs?

Can you imagine the knock-on effects?

The US government and our governments will probably have no choice but to rescue the car-mega-corporations and their factory workers.

How very, very careless you have been Mr Mullaly, Mr Nardelli and Mr Wagoner (yes, even if you just recently took on your jobs). Shame on you.

hands mechanic by kerri2008 www.flickr.comDo you really expect the man on main street to pour yet more capital into your extravagant business models with narry a word on how you will effectively restructure and clean up your shops?

Lordy B, I can't help but muse on whether or not big OIL will need bailing out next!

Anyhoo, my rant's over...

Just stirring up the pot to show you how highly controversial and topical this subject matter is and how you can use it to make an exciting ESP lesson: be it with your financial students or those in the automotive industries.

As usual I'll just provide you with tips & some sources, so go on ahead, browse around and use what's useful then construct the lesson the way you'd usually do it...

Articles on the big 3
(3 levels given especially for your mixed ability groups-different articles to different students)
  • 'Simpler' English (int: B1-B2)
International Herald Tribune
  • A little harder (upper int: B2-C1)
LA times (full of good idioms)
US News:6 myths debunked
  • Tough going but really worth reading (upper int/adv: C1-C2)
Editorial, truth about cars

  • Your audio learners (radio)
4 interesting, short segments from the BBC


Note: Most of these vids are made up of various car ads and a report on the 'SEXYgreenCARshow'. You can not make this stuff up - if you teach ESP:automotive students you'll have a whale of a time with this video, the language is generally slow and clear.

The "Ripple Effect" video at the end is well, seriously scary - a nice finish to a lesson on this theme (it's fast though so have a finger ready for the pause button).

In 3 of my classes today, the craziest thing occurred while showing the GM never-seen-before ad - the men (one banking class, one insurance, one automotive) all talked back in English, involuntarily, to the projected screen and text/images.

Some just named the models as they whizzed by - all mentioned Opel, others 'hmphed' and made fun of the philosophy underlying the video. Most interesting -definitely a keeper.

To download the entire playlist or to simply choose which you'd like to use in your class(es), go here.

Karenne's lesson ideas
  • divide up and set the various articles as homework by sending on the links to your students (if you can't do this, get them to skim for gist in class).
If by the time you read this blog entry, decisions have already been made you might want to look for new articles. A pre-search link to googlenews is set here - as a general rule (in my experience) bloomberg and reuters tend to have shorter and easier business articles, iht is a good link for students because it has translate-a-word functionality, BBC and Guardian Weekly often have topical worksheets for language learners prepared; financial press and blogs tend to be harder - full of lower frequency words. As much as possible try to vary the "slant" if you want your students to really discuss!
  • review the vocabulary students had difficulties with, especially concentrating on chunks of text and idioms used in a business context.
  • show one or two of the videos as a pre-task, intro and/or to review vocabulary (not sure how to download video? go here) If unable to do this, send your students the playlist and let them choose what they'd like to watch.
  • discuss the articles for comprehension or simply get them to summarize their articles' slant or positions introduced - encourage students to agree, disagree and generally opine.
  • ask how this issue is being reported in their own media - should the automakers get bailed out? Why, why not? Are car makers in their own countries turning up with hat in hand?
  • Roleplays:
Big class - split up your students and ask them to play the role of Nardelli, Wagoner, Mullaly; other students play the role of the government (Pelosi, Obama, Bush, governmental economic advisers etc) and yet others play the role of the union bosses. The rest of your learners can play the man on the street: factory workers and normal joes (themselves).

Ask your students to design the focus of the roleplay themselves, getting them to spend some time thinking of what they will say - then hold the debate.
Small class - with 3 students or less, ask students to play the role of the President's economic advisers who will be interviewing the CEOs. Their task is to prepare hard-hitting questions (regarding future plans, how the bailout money would be spent and on what).

Advanced levels - with your higher students control (!) their language, encourage them to flex their grammatical muscles: to use the future continuous, perfects, passives and perhaps even use some 3rd conditional in natural context! ;-).

Another video, from Sabine- thanks, worked like a charm- but man, rough stuff!
Here are the lyrics.

Purchase conversation lessons:

SimplyConversations prompt cards plus SimplyQuests:

  • finance & investment
  • auto industry
€1.49 individuals
€4.99 institutes

More lesson-tips blog postings for teachers of ESP-Financial English:

If you've got a top tip related to this theme, don't hesitate to share - simply click on the green line that says Comments and add your opinions, lesson ideas or any relevant links to websites, blogs on the same topic - I don't mind!


Uncommonly creative

some rights reserved by trekkyandy www.flickr.comThe other day I was training a group of teachers on developing their learners' speaking skills and one of the participants asked me where I got my pictures from and whether this was all on the "up and up."

It suddenly dawned on me that actually a lot of EFL and ESL teachers, materials authors, newsletter, journal, blog and freebie ELT magazine writers don't actually know about creative commons.

So what is creative commons?

Creative Commons is a type of license that is added to a piece of work (photo, music, video and more) and rather than assign copyright to it the author gives permission for this item to be used by whomever, as long as they appropriately attribute it (put the name of the author).

The simplest way to cross-check against the different sources of creative commons material is here:


You can also do an advanced search from google, yahoo or directly in flickr, blip.tv, spinXpress.

How can you use it in class?

The sky's the limit.

Creative Commons logoI use it to create interesting worksheets, make the cover pages for my commercial worksheets, make games to divide up my training groups, use photos in my blog entries to make them look interesting ;-) LOL, have even used a piece of music as backdrop to my video, etc.

The bottom line is that you can have as much fun and be as creative as you like.

For free! Of course, it's always a nice idea to give back too and these days I walk about with a camera and have been uploading my own stuff into flickr and of course, my blog entries are CC'd too and institutions or teaching associations are welcome to use them in their magazines.

Can you do anything at all with the stuff you take?

Well, actually there are six different types of creative commons licenses so I generally do an advanced search and specify how I'm going to use something and then go from there.

I also try to make sure that I respect the originality of the work and its creator by letting him/her know when and how I've used something. They always like this ;-).

Anyway, this might seem like a lot to take in so here's a great video explaining it all here:

A longer, more in-depth, video and explanation behind the philosophy and concepts of creative commons can be found here.

For a general reference on the types of licenses, I've cut and paste from Wikipedia as follows:

Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd) This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution No Derivatives (by-nd) This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

Attribution Share Alike (by-sa) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Attribution (by) This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.


Teacher, Teacher, please fix my grammar

As I strolled into the Haus der Wirtschaft I was immediately struck by two things: the gorgeous setting amidst statues and art pieces and the sheer quantity of English language teachers milling around.

Lindsay Clandfield: materials writer, author of the Macmillan Straightforward series, web contributor for OneStopEnglish, columnist for the Guardian Weekly, highly commended for the Duke of Edinburgh award was in the Haus, and man, us teachers were looking forward to a great training session.

Oh and I've a confession to make! Around three years ago when Macmillan asked me if I wouldn't mind being observed teaching by Lindsay and his editor, I had zero idea of who he was and said yes with barely a blink. Nowadays, knowing all he's done in his life, for teachers and the world of ELT, I'd be way too intimidated to do that again. Ha! Ignorance is bliss, eh?

It was a gorgeous German Friday afternoon in November. Lindsay, on tour with Hueber and Macmillan, was here in Stuttgart doing a workshop on how to make great grammar explanations.

Time to polish up those old rags and tune up the tools, guys!

He started off his intro' by telling us that good grammar teachers:
  • explain things clearly
  • make explanations memorable
  • are economic
There are different schools of thought on achieving this:
  • teacher-centered teaching (lecturing)
  • student-centered training (coaching)
You often see these reflected in textbooks along with these learning methods:
  • inductive - students get given the examples then work out the rules themselves
  • deductive -students get given the rules then apply them to examples
Which is best?

Well that depends on you: your teaching style, your philosophy, your students' learning styles and their needs. Sometimes, when it comes down to teaching grammar, inductive student-centered training is simply not economic.

Sometimes one, or the other, leads to frustrations for the learner and obviously, the teacher. Change tact when and where necessary.

Lindsay then opened up his toolbox and brought out:

The hammer
  • don't start with grammar
  • prepare
  • be brief
  • break your explanation down into stages and stepsHammer
  • give tangible examples: sentences clearly related to your students' lives, the context of the classroom - something, anything that your students can understand and practice using
  • use humor and imagination
e.g. we use since to say /the day/ when it started

Diagrams and board work

adverbsoffrequencyLindsay headed over to the flip-chart and sketched a line which he then broke up with slashes at the bottom, top and middle then called out "What's this?"

With barely a pause we yelled out "adverbs of frequency."

Did you do it too? We're such ELT geeks, aren't we!

After that we pooled our different symbols, signs and the sketchings we often use with our students. Given the setting, it wasn't really that surprising to find out there were a number of artists present.

Analyzing text

Lindsay discussed the use of written texts (authentic or not) - that's when you find a news article, a speech or a passage from literature and get students to do the work, to find examples of a specific structure and:

  • underline
  • circle
  • speculate why the author may have used that particular wording (e.g. modals)
or encourage them to use a text to look out for:
  • phrasal verbs
  • gerunds and infinitives
  • collocations
or perhaps to ask them to:
  • find examples, circle then underline the word which is being referred to (e.g. the, it)
  • find examples and change them (e.g quantifiers or a tense: make a past, present)

Life stories

One of the highlights of the afternoon came when Lindsay told us all a very personal family story entitled:

How Clanfield became Clandfield
or how our family name was changed
Lindsay Clandfiel, storytelling

We were engrossed as the story of his great-great-great grandfather's arrogance lost his ancestors an inheritance and how a man's pride can lead to an alternative legacy.

If Papa Clanfield hadn't tossed a ball of rags into a lake, we might never have had the opportunity to see great-great-grandson Clandfield in action - he'd be sitting in a posh manor instead.
It was highly entertaining, we had a good giggle at his expense but it was also serious grammar teaching - the story he used reviews gradeable and non-gradeable adjectives.

Do you have a story?

I just bet you do - I've got a list of them: 3rd conditional spills the beans on a man I once loved and lost to monsoon rains and oh, what could have been if I hadn't slipped; past perfect tells the day I met an orangutan in the jungles of Borneo and the events that had happened before this chance meeting; can&can't will reveal the sordid details of how I conned my way into a job on a yacht despite not being able to sail at the time; futures will invite you into my daydreams of one day becoming a famous film scriptwriter. Ah...

What are your stories and how do you use them in your classrooms?

Generative situations

After that, Lindsay moved on over to the whiteboard, took out a black marker and began sketching again.

He called out "What's this?"

We looked, a man, a face? "A man" we cried tentatively.

"Where is he?"


"What's wrong?"

"He has a broken...." Lindsay drew the cast. "leg."

Then he drew another circle.

"Who's this?"

"A woman."

Lindsay laughed and filled in her hair and eyelashes.

"What's her name, what's their relationship?"

And so it continued, Lindsay eliciting, getting us to supply the setting for a story, until:

"The window's closed but the man is hot, what does he say?"

"Could you open the window please?"

"The man is thirsty, what does he say?"

"Would you mind pouring me a glass of water?"

This simple concept, the idea of eliciting requests and offers can be adapted and changed by teachers simply drawing out pictures while prompting for grammar:
  • a memorable holiday (practice adjectives, past simple)
  • a sales representative and customer (present simple, conditionals)
  • planning a long trip (futures, reason clauses)

Of course one thing to note is that when explaining grammar, it can take up vital communicative, speaking-in-the-classroom time, so think carefully about how often you want to use these methods and focus on the ones that encourage the most response.

At the beginning of this posting I mentioned that there are three important steps to being a great grammar teacher:
  • explain things clearly
  • make explanations memorable
  • be economic
We haven't really talked about the economic part yet.


Straight translation is, as Lindsay said and I agree, the most economic method of all.

I confess to not doing much of this myself - English only classroom rules and all of that - however I do allow it as part of a post-task activity (my word for homework).

Basically my thoughts are, if the students have a very low level of English it takes up an extraordinary amount of in-the-class learning time to explain something and with some aspects of grammar perhaps a quick overview in their own language might be more effective.

If a structure is totally new, it should be presented most thoroughly in the maximum of methods and styles to ensure saturation of knowledge. The entire toolbox should be used. Being amusing, being personal, making it relevant.

With higher level groups my philosophy is that it is also important to go backwards, tune the machine, fix those rusty screws and set students back on track, wrenching them away from bad habits - the more entertaining the more likely it is that it'll stick - your explanation will serve as a bridge to what was actually taught.

Of course when there's one student in a group, with one particular area of stubborn weakness, the most economic path in my opinion, is sending him a quick link to Grammar 330 with the instructions of practice-practice-practice.

What do you usually do?
How do you feel about this issue?

And finally, I'll leave you with huge BREAKING NEWS:

Lindsay will be launching his own blog next year:
it'll be reflections and thoughts
you and the countries he visits,
the teachers, the materials,
the road
sssh - mustn't tell you too much, yet!

Many, many thanks go to Hueber for bringing such a dynamic professional over to train us here in Stuttgart, for free: you rock!


I hate the words "Blended Learning"

I woke up this morning thinking about tags.

Aside from the fact that tags are things which hang off the collar of your shirt, tags  - in the world of the web - are used by people who create content (text on web-pages, blogs, media etc) and they are used to bring these like items together.  The tag system is at its finest form on delicious where they have even gone a step further and created bundles (a way of creating uber categories for your tags) but you can also find them on youtube, slideshare and just about any web 2.0 website.

Examples of tags include the blue labels at the top of this and all my posting - they're there so that if you want to find another blog entry which is similar then all you have to do is click on one of those and travel around.

But I'm getting distracted.

Back to my point, the reason for writing this post:: I really, really, really, hate the term blended learning.

It doesn't say anything to me - a blended what? A mix of... oh man, what does that mean exactly?  Are we talking about mixing skills or are we talking about mixing styles... I mean if I use a tape-recorder instead of my smartphone to listen to an audio recording then I'm now not blending?   Why is that device any different to any other device.... And how exactly do I tag that in my posts - using the keywords blended+learning? Nah, don't like it. I just can't do it anymore, I simply cannot get my fingers to type this phrase nor to make my mouth to move that way.  In fact I can't even get my head around it.

I even looked it up on wikipedia and then got a rather in-depth explanation that even they'd like to be cleaned up. The explanation brought me somewhat closer to its meaning, I guess, but sorry love the concept hate the brand, way too stuffy for my tastes.

So, you know what... from now on guys, I'm going to refer to the whole teaching with technology as  TwIT: http://kalinago.blogspot.com/search/label/TwIT

There's a little irony in there but ya kno', it says what it is.


Projecting projects

A good language institute will consistently make an effort to keep its teaching staff up to date on modern teaching practices and new methodologies and Tom Carlson, DOS of Linguarama Stuttgart, certainly excels at this.

Although his training style can sometimes be teacher-centered, I can honestly say that over the last four years he's provided me with many new ideas and overall been a great influence. I've learned so much from him and look forward to much more!

Anyway, this latest workshop was entitled Projects in the Classroom and in this blog posting, I'll review some aspects of Tom's transparencies, go through the quotes he presented for us to reflect on and at the end of the posting provide one of my own tried&tested project concepts.
Great theme, isn't it, and so vital for long-running courses. Have you ever tried doing a project with one of your business English groups?

It's such a smashing way to engage students and encourage collaborative learning.If you've done any project work in your adult EFL/ESL classes, don't hesitate to add your tips and tricks in the comments - even if they weren't BE oriented. We discovered, after careful searching, that there's really little out there, in print or on-line and yet there's a strong market for this type of work and age group.

If you're a materials author or a wannabe.... this is a niche! Just quote me and Tom in your acknowledgements, ok!?

Why do a project?
  • to encourage speaking in a natural and realistic setting
  • to focus the course in a motivating group activity that requires English
  • to counteract some of the "same old, same old."
  • to work on a specific lexical set over and over again
  • to provide an opportunity for feedback based on a series of classes

What projects are not:
  • task-based-learning activities
Linguarama teachers
The Framework
The project should include the following:
  • clear language learning aims
  • relevance to the business students are in, the field or market
  • a defined final result

Notes when planning:
  • when doing and for how long
  • where
  • resources that will be necessary
  • process the teacher will use to monitor language
  • process the students will use to record language

Why bother?
  • collaboration leads to confidence, is highly motivational and provides continuity.
  • projects give students ownership; students buy into working together not just as a learning activity.
  • provides realism and is highly communicative.
Potential pitfalls, problems:
  • unexpected or extended absences
  • if students don't 'buy in' right from the outset
  • students lose interest or feel the work's beyond their level
  • marginal results
a project class

But as Tom said:

Planning ahead is the best weapon you have for avoiding these problems so you still need to be ready to think on your feet!

Tom then handed out a few quotes from Project Work, Diana L. Fried-Both, OUP 2002, to all of us teachers - we had to think about what the quotes meant, what effects would be desirable in a language course and how our students would be affected.

We also had to think about problems which could occur when planning or implementing projects.

Project work draws together students of mixed ability and creates opportunities for individuals to contribute in ways which reflect their different talents, creativity, language goals and styles.
As colleagues we agreed in general with the quote and thought about how projects encourage team cohesion, how it feels natural to the students (reflects their lives, simulates their professional work) and gives the students an opportunity to learn something about themselves.

Of course, one area to watch out for is the possibility of having team members who are really very dominant!

Your role is perhaps the most vital in trying to maintain an overview and inspiring confidence so that your students feel they are learning by working towards their objectives.
As long as aims are formed and clarified by the group of students, we agreed with this statement.

LinguramaWe felt that clear strategies should also fall within the process of planning and that the teacher's role should include regular feedback to ensure that they themselves can see that they're learning.

To get a copy of a good, simple speaking skills feedback sheet - from my website, go here.

The irony is, the more passive you appear to be, the more successful the project is in terms of learner autonomy and independent learning.
Funny concept, the idea of passivity. It's a scary theory and it's even scarier in practice - 'til you're practiced anyway. ;-)

However we all agreed, if you do less - the students do more.

Student-led activities require teachers to step back.

The line has to be carefully defined, the borders firmly in place because passiveness in the classroom can also be perceived as laziness on the teacher's part and some students, depending on their cultural backgrounds, will strongly object if they aren't actually being controlled!

TeachersTransparency is clearly important.

On the other hand as Jim mentioned, when doing projects there's actually more opportunity to feedback to the Training Officers/HR managers regarding the students' English levels and abilities to deal in a team within another language setting.

It was a very good session - ta, Tom!

a PROJECT idea

-tried, tested, true.

Where-oh-where's my business angel?
by Karenne Sylvester

Objective: find funding for a new project
Duration: minimum 10 lessons x 1.5ue (works best with 15)

Students have to create a company (or use their own/one in their field). They are required to define a product or service, establish the objectives and mission of this work - it does not need to be something serious, they work out the financial viability of their concept, create a presentation for venture capitalists, present the presentation and win funding (or not).

Best with a large group so that you can make at least two competing groups but not essential (have also done this activity with a class of 4). Best results occur when you can find another BE EFL class within the company or institute who will be prepared to act as the venture capitalists. Working with another teacher is lots of fun and their class can research millionaires and take on their personalities (see Forbes 500 for list of global millionaires). Failing this, in the final lesson you can also act as if you are one.

Language resources:
Supportive photocopiable sheets from Business Communications Games, Business Builder, Business English frameworks to discuss: mission statements, company structure, corporate culture, company history, company image/designing a logo, sales figures, trends and graphs, employee morale.

TwIT (Teaching with Technology) resources:
  • Youtube playlist (here)
  • Slideshare presentations

In the first lesson, present the idea to the students. Explain what materials you have which can support the activity. Get them to decide what they would like to do, how they will create both company and product and what supportive materials they think would be a good idea to use in order to learn the necessary lexical steps (I usually give them the books and let them choose but you can bring in photocopies of relevant sheets and let them do a scan of them and decide). Get them to do a full project plan and curriculum timetable, ask them if they would like to establish roles and decide who's doing what.

In my experience, each time that I have done this project with BE adults, I have been wowed by the results and out-of-class effort the students have put in. One group created a new bicycle and then found pictures of future bicycle concepts and photo-shopped them to carry "their" own logo.

One group presented the most complex and detailed sales projections I've ever seen, one group invented a cup which connects to a computer to stay warm with revolving photos.. part of which apparently now exists...

Perhaps I'm just lucky, but even at one company I worked at, our sister class who had become the millionaires took the project very seriously indeed, reviewing the presentations with the utmost of sincerity, eventually granting "5million" to one of the teams!

Have you got a great idea?
Go on ahead and share too - click on COMMENTS - a box will open up and you can write out your project there. Or, if it's something you typed up you can e-mail it to me and I'll stick it somewhere with a link to it. If it's already on your blog or website, simply write the link for us all below.


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