Question from a reader, life with the wolves

Got an email in the inbox yesterday and rather than writing out a list of things that my reader could do, I thought I'd first turn it over to you guys and get you to help me write her!

What do you think? Are you game - hope so!

Hi Karenne

Hope you're well. Good to read the responses to my fossilized errors question. Thanks!

I have another question regarding a "problem class." I hoped to get some more advice as I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation...

I have an all-male Business English class that just wants to chat about sport and their weekends etc. The company is paying for the ongoing/unlimited lessons and doesn't check up. "English class" seems to be just some time-out from work and an opportunity to chat with colleagues.

cosmosvdiablas by mikebaird flickr
I see the benefit in this - stress reduction and motivation to use English to talk about what is relevant to them. However, they seem to have no interest in actually improving.

Homework/ revision is never done, error correction/ new vocabulary work in any form doesn't become incorporated and "structured lessons" (eg. current affairs news lesson plans) are hijacked into irrelevant conversational tangents (about sport!) or met with minimal participation.

I try to work with their interests, but still feel like we are going nowhere. At Upper-Intermediate, they are able to communicate most ideas, regardless of impeding errors. If something is misunderstood, then they just clarify it in German. This is a long-term class that I have recently "taken over."

Do I just go with the "pack mentality" here and accept working within the boundaries that they have defined?

Any suggestions welcome!


To help S.F, simply click on the comments and let us know your thoughts (you can do this anonymously) or email me too!

Useful links related to this posting:
Fossilized errors
I hate the word homework
Where's the love y'all (brainstorming topics)


6 Responses to “Question from a reader, life with the wolves”

  • Illya Arnet says:
    April 22, 2009

    I am finding it easier and easier to bring everyday events into the classroom and facilitate a lot of learning along with language improvement and a good time.

    I'd say THE PLACE to go is:

    For business men you could certainly talk about the credit crunch. I've done this with students and have found youtube a great resource. If you type in 'credit crunch' you will find all sorts of materials on which to build, including this bit of fun:

    greetings from Switzerland

  • Jamie Keddie says:
    April 22, 2009

    Hello S.F.

    I had a class that was very similar to this one. And I remember feeling just like you do.

    Then one day, I asked an experienced teacher for advice and she said this:

    * Are they enjoying the class? (my answer - yes)
    * Do they speak English? (my answer - most of the time)

    Then she asked, "so what's the problem?"

    You see, sometimes English teachers want to change the natural way that human beings behave but as you have seen, this is not always possible and although I don't know the details, I would be very surprised if you (or anyone else) could change this class - especially when I consider that they are getting what they want.

    Sometimes, the best thing for a language teacher to change is his or her attitude. I don't mean that you have a bad attitude here! I just mean that if you accept things for the way they are, you will probably be much more relaxed and happy about the whole thing.

    That doen't mean that we should become complacent - keep trying new things - just don't expect any miracle changes.

    The last thing to remember is that although their English may not be improving, it is very possible that the classes are maintaining a level and sometimes this is as good as it gets. If you left them without a teacher for a year, I think you would probably notice the difference in their English (for the worse).

    So in summary, perhaps in situations like these, there is no problem at all (except the one in our heads).

    Sounds like you are doing the best you can (and your getting paid for it!)

    Hope that helps

  • Natasa says:
    April 23, 2009

    Hello S.F. This sounds like one of my classes! I teach adults and I often have this problem (especially if their company is paying).
    What you could do:
    - leave things as they are. True, they won't make much progress and you'll get more and more frustrated as time goes by. Still, this is a legitimate solution - after all the company is paying.
    - talk to them about what you expect from them. Don't be afraid to be strict with adults. Remember they are just big children. This could work because I believe they don't see you as an authority figure right now (and they should).
    - cheat them into learning (my favourite). Present an activity as good fun, but make it really challenging. Don't forget to praise them.

  • Miracel says:
    April 23, 2009

    Hi! I taught high school and my kids love games. What you can do is you can play around their interest. I had a game before, called Grammar Homerun. It's like playing a baseball game but what I ask them to do is whenever they make a correct sentence, them move to the next base. Having a healthy competition works for these guys. They also improve a lot at the same time they enjoy.

  • Marisa Constantinides says:
    April 23, 2009

    This group sounds like a delinquent group of civil servants, bored out of their skulls (and possibly very boring themselves!!! :-) )

    May be they are just too tired and need lots of gamelike activities at the end of a long and difficult day.

    The percentage of business focussed English language instruction on a so-called ESP class very often varies, and ESP trained teachers find themselves frustrated with classes of students who really don't want to hear about business any more when it is time to go to class.

    May be this is an issue to air openly with this class and to ask them what topics they would REALLY want to work on.

    I am sure a business angle can be sneaked into any topic!!!

    The comment about "what's your problem if they are speaking in English?" is right to a degree, but to progress they do need more vocabulary.

    I tweeted a couple of ideas to Karenne and will note them down here equally briefly (lack of time)

    1/ Why not exploit their interest in football and give them skills work with texts, DVD's, sports commentaries etc on this topic. A lot of topic related vocab, sure, but lots of other non-topic bound vocabulary will certainly appear

    2/ Do some case study work where they manage or problem solve different football clubs issues, their favourite ones, or other. May be create their own idealized football club and do advertising campaigns, hiring, board meetings deciding which famous football players to hire, etc.

    3/ Create their own SL football team with its own internal hierarchical structure, players, managers, admins, coahces, taking it in any direction the language suggests, or THEY suggest

    Hope this helps!!!

  • Unknown says:
    July 23, 2009

    I agree with the above. Exploit their interest in sports via some problem solving at boardroom level type exercises.

    Role plays based around the business of a sports club could provide some really interesting situations based around marketing, publicity, staff management, planning, problem solving, etc.

    I've had similar problems with business groups but I think once you throw off the shackles of your Market Leader, In-Company, or whatever coursebook you can really use your students common interests to good effect in the classroom.

    Actually I seem to remember there being quite an interesting case study in Market Leader Upper Intermediate about a sponsorship deal at a football club, might be a decent place to start.


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