Why Twitter lists are a good idea

ducksEarlier this week I was beginning to feel the Twitter burn-out as despite the obvious value in being a part of a global learning community, the site is so distracting and time-consuming - often there are just way too many excellent tips, links and amazing articles to read and as I now teach 30 contact hours a week, some of which are in blended learning classes, write ELT materials, a blog, run a blogger's group, yadda yaddda...

I came to the conclusion that twitter should only be looked at at specific times of the day and not be on all the time and it's defintely not on my phone.

The problem is that I'm followed by about 1500 people and follow around 1000 in return so filtering through the noise became a surprising issue: the stream looks very, very different from when you are following 100 - 300.

Along with the wonderful teachers I've met online, in the last 8 months or so, my stream includes random networkers, motivational speakers, the "pushing my products" people, the narcissists of whom there are so many, even in education (they call it passion) - so the question of how to effectively concentrate on those I respect without spending a whole bunch of time unfollowing people popped up.

I set up groups on Tweetdeck (probably like most of you) which was handy however kept missing the tweets by those who post outside of my timeline.

I'm about quality, not quantity, so how to work it while sticking to my Dunbar?

I found the solution!

Although most of what I've read regarding Twitter lists in the past few days has been negative, the social media experts decrying them and wondering whether or not some people will end up feeling left out if they're not listed, I think they missed the point.

The lists aren't about who follows you.

They're about who you follow.

They're an easy way of cutting through the noise to focus on specific groups of people within your niche community so you can develop better relationships with them.

My take on the PLN (Personal Learning Network), is that it is about creating valuable, personal, long lasting professional friendships not about adding long lists of random readers, numbers/followers/group-members etc, etc but instead focusing on people you expect to meet at conferences, trainers whose presentations you hope to attend, authors whose books you've read or want to read, educators whose websites and blogs you visit regularly; people you want to learn from and collaborate with, teachers to share and bounce off ideas with.

Creating Twitter Lists isn't easy!

To effectively, efficiently create your own list, I'd recommend doing what I did :

I searched my own twitter id (leaving off the @sign to see the full conversation) and also checked backtweet (good for website owners and bloggers) for those I communicate with most frequently, who chat with me back, who ReTweet my work and put these names into a spreadsheet.

I also looked at who I haven't talked to very often but whom I really wish I did.

Then decided what categories they fell into and from that created my lists:
One thing I truly like about the lists is that they aren't static in the way the tweepl lists were - so I can continue to add/subtract to these as the months and years go by.

Another feature is that you can follow the lists of other teachers - handy when someone you know comes up with a category you hadn't thought of and want to monitor also.

rubber duckI've even made a smaller, private group of "faves" so now, signing off this post and glancing at the tweets from my friends, spanning throughout the entire week, I'm newly invigorated by the potentiality of Twitter to develop as a language professional.

What have your experiences with lists been like, did you find a simple way to create your own? Do you have a tip to share?

Are you worried, like the social-media-experts, about being left off a list?

Have you hit the Twitter-burn-out and came up with a plan too?

Let me know your thoughts.


Useful links related to this posting:
ELT Guide to Twitter
The Business of Twitter

Who's your googlegänger?

Is anyone wandering about the planet with your name?

What do they do? Where do they live?

Do they have a better job, make more money than you do? Have they written a book, do they lead a football team, are politicians or doctors?

Are they busy creating a digital footprint more weighty than your own?

A great conversation activity for EFL students, especially after a Getting to Know You lesson, is to ask your students to research the 'net for others walking around with the same or a similar name (perhaps an anglicized version) and to report back to the class on what they've discovered.

Good sites to check include Google obviously, however Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing and Geneology sites can also produce interesting results.

Once in class, encourage them to share their findings in pairs, along with notes and photographs if they found these, and switch groups as often as time allows.

However, after the second switch, they should leave their paperwork behind and simply discuss their googlegänger freely.

At the end of the session do group feedback, asking participants to tell you about the most interesting thing they found out about another colleague's name-double and discuss some of the authentic words and expressions which came up as a result of their forays into the internet.

Post-task activity
Students write an email to their googlegängers introducing themselves and commenting on what they learned - what they both have in common or don't and they don't need to send these, but can if they want to.

p.s. My googlegänger is an artist in Trinidad - one day I'm going to buy some of her paintings! Do you know who yours is?

That rush, that knowledge high

Spenserian vowels that elope with ease,
and float along like birds o'er summer seas

who read for me the sonnet swelling loudly,
up to its climax
and then dying proudly?


Have you ever paid attention to what you feel like when you've just mastered something new?

The high that goes with I did it myself?

That flush of knowledge which you can't wait to share with everyone else?

Have you ever seen that jolt... that micro-second pause followed by a quick flash in your student's eyes when she suddenly realizes, a-ha, she's got "it"?

Nay, not just that but has successfully applied the new language in an altogether different context?

The joy of acquisition?

Before you rush off... thinking whoa, Karenne is just totally off the page today, and I begin to agree with you... tell me what it looks like, that glorious rush in learning.

And tell me what happens after that.


Interesting links

Powerpointing Me -EFL Tech Tip #13

The other day when I was reading Nick Jaworski's blog postings on using the Teacher as the Narrative in EFL classes, I left a comment behind regarding one of my used-a-gazillion-times-first-lessons...

The Getting to Know You, Getting to Know Me game

I've no idea where I originally picked up the bones of this before techitizing it for my own purposes, so 'xcuse me if I don't reference the source - however, if you know, let us all know below.


  • Create an atmosphere of sharing right from the get-go.
  • Find out your students' communicative abilities and weaknesses: particularly when making small talk /asking and answering questions.

  • Approx 2 - 4 hours, depending which option you choose below. However you'll be able to use it an infinite number of times in an infinite number of (first day) lessons for an infinite number of years.


Who are you?
Jot down quick notes on words that describe you and your life.
  • country of birth
  • countries lived in
  • marital status
  • family & siblings
  • current job
  • previous jobs
  • a job you dreamed of having
  • degree(s)/ other studies
  • hobbies and interests
  • group/ associations you belong to
  • places you've been on holiday
  • your age (number)
  • how long you've been teaching (number)
  • your house number
  • fave food /drink
  • fave music /musicians
  • fave book(s)
  • something unusual about you
  • anything else you feel like sharing

Procedure Option 1 (no tech, photocopier optional)
  • Dig out photos that match the above list, clip pics out of a magazine
  • Type the numbers using a large font and print
  • Photocopy the pics to A4 if you'd like them to be uniformed in appearance
  • Stick on to colored card and laminate

Option 2 (low tech)
  • Open up a PowerPoint document
  • Insert personal pictures from your computer
  • Search www.flickr.com or google images (cc-licensed*) for the images/maps you don't have yourself - import these into your ppt.
  • Type the numbers in a large font.

Procedure Option 3
(medium tech - quickest)
  • Go to Wordle.net
  • Enter the words you brainstormed
  • Print several copies of your wordle & laminate (or capture as a jpeg / insert into a ppt slide)

Procedure Option 4
(will take >4hrs)
  • PhotoPeach your life. Use with intermediate learners+ re fast imagery.
  • Same as option 2
  • Save all slides as jpegs
  • Upload into Photopeach
  • Select music: something related to your own culture or fave band works best.

PhotoPeachingMe on PhotoPeach

NB. It doesn't matter what order you present your images in.

In class

After briefly introducing yourself to your new students and getting their names, ask if they know anything about you and if they'd like to.
Optional: depending on your students' levels you may like to review question structures (wh-q/auxiliary and modals/conditionals/present-perfect) prior to doing this exercise, but not necessary.

Tell your students you're going to show some pictures and you'd like them to guess what the images have to do with your life by asking you questions.

Show the first picture / beam the first slide / show the first 30secs of movie.

Once you've elicited the correct answer, elicit the best question form which would produce that answer.

A rough example:
Picture: A boy and girl which look like me
Teacher: What does this have to do with me?
Students: "Brothers and sister?"
Teacher: How can you make that into a good question?
Students: "Do you have brother and sister?"
Teacher: Brothers and sisters are called siblings, you can also ask "Are they your brother and sister?"
Students: "Do you have (any) siblings?"
Teacher: Yes, I do. I have 2 brothers and a sister. My little brother wasn't born yet - in this picture - he's only 19. Do you have any questions about them?
Students: "Where they live?"
Teacher: Where do they live

Show the rest of the pictures or slides and continue getting students to ask about your life.

If you chose the movie option, show the whole film and then get students to ask questions about your life based on the images they've seen.

If you chose the Wordle option, get students to work in groups to figure out what the words might have to do with your life before getting them to ask the questions.

Their turn

Get students to jot down 5- 10 questions they'd like to ask each other. Circulate and correct their structures and vocabulary.

Form pairs or small groups and encourage them to ask each other about each others lives.

After around 15 minutes, switch members of groups and now ask them to tell their new partners about the lives of those they were talking to, as well as themselves. Depending on the size of your class, you can repeat this step as often as you like.

Post task

Students can create their own powerpoint presentations, wordles or movies based on what they're able to learn from the internet and/or other sources regarding one or more of the following:

  • politicians /local or international
  • sports figures
  • entertainers: singers, movie stars, tv personalities
  • their googlegänger
  • anyone else

Ask students to bring what they learned to the next class in order to present it - share and discuss what they learned - again encouraging them to ask each other to ask questions & prompting for extended answers.

Useful links related to this posting:

Getting to know you, video with lyrics (can be used pre-task)
Getting to know you introduction games
Getting to know you - conversation prompt cards (available free to registered members of my website).

Do you have any questions or a creative tip for first lessons that you'd like to share with us?


Note: you can print these lesson tips as a pdf by clicking on the title of the post, scrolling down and then clicking on the green "print as pdf" button.

Reasons I don't like most textbooks (4)

one size fits all

One size fits all?

  • The reason you can not make the perfect textbook is because our students aren't perfect: they do not fit into boxes or packages.
  • Our students differ in their ages, occupations, wants and needs and we pay attention to that.

If you are a publisher or textbook author stumbling across this blog... I have more to say:

If you please, why do you write:

This course is the ideal choice for anyone who needs to make
presentations in English.

When, actually, what you mean is:

This course has been designed for young adults, probably between the ages of 18 and 23, studying Business. It will help them learn, in our seven-step approach, to develop an authentic style and apply these skills later on in their future working lives.

You make me look like a fool when I walk in to my managers and CEOs with your amateurish guide... you make me waste my and their hard-earned cash when you tell me that it's for anyone who needs to make presentations and you send me combing the internet for real advice.

Please... in future, please make sure the back of your books carry an appropriate and adequate description of its intended audience.

Also, while you're here - what are you doing to the CEFR: you know, that standardized guide which was supposed to erase all the confusion you created in what is a false beginner, what is elementary vs. what is pre-intermediate and intermediate knowledge of English?

Any chance you could all have a little sit down together and hash out an agreement so that the one size fits all could actually apply here?



Useful links related to this posting:
Reasons (1)
Reasons (2)
Reasons (3)

How to be an amazing teacher

It is not rocket science... in fact, it's not science at all.

You want the key?

Inspire your students.

It's not what you know.

It's about what they're going to get the chance to know.

It's not whether or not you've got down pat the back, the front, sideways and the inside out of the subject you have to teach.

It's not whether or not you have adequately learned the right methodology to pass on your knowledge, nor is it most especially, whether or not you can describe the exact brain processes regarding the acquisition of knowledge.

Interesting, makes for great debate in the staff room or on blogs, but sincerely, what a waste of time.

Do you motivate your learners?

Do they ache to know what you know?

Do they come to class and at the start the lesson say "Miss, I thought about what you said yesterday, and I don't agree with you."

Do they raise their hands and say "Mr John, I believe that it can't work that way because..."

Do they challenge you to think about what you're sharing with them?

Do they say "Sir, I told my friend, Sue, all about what you said about blah and blah and we really agree: we looked it up on youtube last night and we watched a video from Harvard - we found out that..."

Do they talk about what they learned with each other?

Do they explore?

Do they take on an ownership of your words, your thoughts, your ideas, your learning and push these into new directions? Like the way you did with your own favorite teacher when you were a student?

Are you exciting a passion for learning in your students?

Do that and you'll be the most amazing teacher in their lives.


p.s. This was tweeted today by Mary Thumball and I just had to add it:
A teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but leads you to the threshold of your mind -Kahlil Gibran

Sheila Vine on Valentina Dodge

The female in ELT who has had the most influence on me during the last four or five years is Valentina Dodge. Valentina is to online EFL what chocolate is to life: essential.

Valentina is a teacher, teacher trainer, blogger and online moderator working at the University of Naples and has very recently been appointed Teaching Community Coordinator of the English 360 for Cambridge University Press.

Vale and I first ‘met’ back in June 2005 when we were both learning to be e-moderators on the same online course and we hit it off straight away.

It was a great course with a lot of wonderful students but Valentina, or Vale as she prefers to be called, immediately impressed. In fact, scared was my first reaction, because she was such a powerful, knowledgeable and dynamic participant in all the various exercises and tasks we had to perform.

I thought she must be a plant, put there to encourage the rest of us. But no, as I soon found out she was simply exhibiting one of her best virtues: her passion for online learning and teaching.

After the online courses, we started to work together, virtually, on eChatBoX which was an online resource for real-time moderators, which we made available on the internet.

This project and the talk we gave about it to the IATEFL conference in Harrogate in April 2006 was developed completely virtually - Valentina lives in Italy and I’m based in Germany so we did not meet face-to-face until the day before we gave our prize winning presentation on the project.

My first conference speech: we got through it with tremendous mutual support, giggling with enthusiasm for the topic.

We went on to teach together, online, in our separate countries and were a great virtual team.

Vale is always totally up to the minute on the latest online gadgets and tools and her enthusiasm has continued to drag me along and encourage my faltering steps.

We also spoke together on Blended Books in Aberdeen 2007 and worked on a chapter for the book Communities of Practice: Creating Learning Environments for Educators edited by Chris Kimble, Paul Hildreth and Isabelle Bourdon ISBN 1593118678 or ISBN 159311866X. Our chapter is called Gender and Moderation: The Style’s the Thing!

We also wrote various articles for online magazines e.g. Cornered-The Experiences of Freelance Business English Teachers in Europe for Humanising Language Teaching. In addition we co-wrote CD-ROMs for the Flying High series for Macmillan

Valentina has spoken at many events and the excellence of her work has been recognized by many. She inspires with, not only her enthusiasm, but also her genuine desire to help her students and colleagues.

When you are working and/or studying with her it is completely clear that she in not “in it for the money” like far too many people I have had contact with in this field.

She works extremely hard, always goes the extra mile and this is often only appreciated when you realize how much she actually has on her plate at any one time. She is like the duck floating serenely on the water but paddling like heck underneath to keep up and is a perfect example “if you want something doing ask a busy person”.

Because at the same time as all these online and face-to-face teaching activities she has found the time to bring up two teenage children.

So Valentina, on behalf of all the students, colleagues, conference delegates and teachers who have met and worked with you: you give such a lot to us all, you are an inspiring example of the best in ELT .

Sheila Vine teaches International Business Studies at University of Paderborn and is an online moderator at Cambridge Assessment. She is a freelance author of various EFL Books and CD Roms and writes a blog about books she's read or used in classes.

Useful links related to this posting:

Reasons I don't like most textbooks (3)

You have to be in ELT to get this...

ELT Publishers
  • Whenever I go to a conference book stand or book fair I'm not looking for the almost exact replica of the book I want to replace. I am looking for something better.
  • It is not possible to recreate Headway. It is not possible to sell as many copies as the Soars did in their heyday.
  • There is no such thing as brand loyalty when it comes to textbooks. Most TEFL teachers have no idea who publishes what or by whom they're written and we don't care.
  • Originality goes a really long way. Like all the way to over here.

Useful links related to this posting:
Reasons I don't like most textbooks 1
Reasons I don't like most textbooks 2


NOTE: Due to the fact that I have linked Clandfield's latest book. I would like to state for public record that not only do I not work for Macmillan, nor have I ever, my relationship to Clandfield is: he observed me teaching once, took my four page feedback on his Straightforward book with good humour and I've attended one of his workshops.

The Globality of English

In response to Elizabeth's call for a summary of the English Language Learners statistics in her comments of my Reasons I mostly don't like textboooks2... coupled with my guilt about the back-log of unfinished posts awaiting me and... my seemingly outlandish cry that TEFL teachers are behind-the-scenes of globalization, it's probably about time I wrap up the presentation I attended back in July with David Graddol.

Who is David Graddol?

David Graddol is a British linguist most commonly known for his works English Next, 2006 and the Future of English 1997. He is the Managing Director of the English Company (UK) Ltd, and provides consulting and publishing services on issues related to global English.

Graddol has worked on language projects in the Middle East, India, China and Latin America, is joint editor of the journal English Today, a member of the editorial boards of Language Planning and Language Problems and the Journal of Visual Communication and has worked for 25 years in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies at the UK Open University.

Who is speaking English?

Estimates of second language speakers vary greatly: from 470 million to over a billion depending on how literacy or mastery is defined and measured. Linguistics professor, David Crystal, calculates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.

However he also says that it's not so much about how many speak any particular language but who speaks it: the economic power of that language.

74% of all English spoken is between non-English speakers and non-English speakers.

Native speakers to speakers of other countries 12% and only 4% of the English spoken today occurs between English native speakers and other English native speakers.

We can blame China

Well, actually we can blame China looking at the examples of the Netherlands and Singapore, however, once China took the decision to make sure that English language learning should be a basic skill to be learned from year 3 on, the rest of the non-English-speaking world quickly followed suit.


Knowledge of English is seen as a passport to employment, a gateway to wealth.

world population by arenamontanusPreviously, when students started learning English at age 12-14, they would probably get around 4-5 years of English study: nowhere near enough to enter academic study in this language.

By ensuring, instead, that students start learning from early childhood they will have that many more years to reach university level requirements, master English and thus become more employable citizens.

20% of the world's children are in India, 14% are in China.

The entire language world order is changing as is the age structure of the populations speaking them. While the age demographic of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India & China) and other developing countries have been increasing, the developed countries are slowing down and aging instead.

Given global food statistics, on the other hand, immigration into the developed nations will probably increase - and they'll all need to speak the global language.


Some factors influencing English as a language:

  • input of new words from other languages
  • the web2.0 vocabulary
  • pressure to move up the value train
  • the educational "arms" race
  • knowledge based economies
  • the globe reduced to a village: a networked, connected society

English will soon not be seen as a "foreign" language, thus the knowledge of it may ebb as an economic advantage - it'll simply be a required skill.

The economic world order is changing.

Companies, no matter where their HQs are based are using English as their official corporate language. It's no longer about "foreigners" communicating with English speaking nations. It's about a world speaking to its fellow global citizens.

gdpThe EU may be today's largest world economy (the US second) but with Europe's rapidly aging population this is probably not sustainable.

Who will take its place?

Global trends in employment include:

  • agricultural and service jobs falling away
  • more competition for the same jobs
  • more outsourcing in the areas of Research and Development
  • intercultural competence more and more necessary
  • multilingualism important

The need to demonstrate creativity, innovation and critical thinking are also increasingly becoming obligatory.

A major paradigm shift is occurring in general education to meet these requirements.
Specifically, focusing on:
  • learner autonomy
  • learning by doing
  • using technology in classrooms to achieve the above

Which raises critical and ethical questions regarding the those who can and the those who can't of tomorrow.

What is ELT doing to meet this?

Within the practice of learning and teaching English, we see these trends:
  • in 2010, we'll reach the global peak of 'learners,' the bulk in classes will become 'users'
  • 30% of US students will be in ESL classes by 2010 (US census)
  • increased younger learners in the developing nations
  • increased mature learners (Europe)
  • three quarters of all travel occuring between non-English speaking countries.
  • age of student travel for English learning changing: demand for work placement
  • requirement for real speaking practice
  • requirement of exposure to global accents
  • requirement of computer knowledge

The spread of English also raises vital cultural concerns: are national identities under threat?

So... going back to Elizabeth and others and my reasons for not liking most textbooks(2): cultural incompatibility... this video may perhaps go a little way into explaining why I think it's an important issue to pay attention to (it's a wonderful talk - very worth watching):

What do you think?

Should we really have a single story?


Sandy McManus on Melanie Butler

I can't really say that there is a glass ceiling in ELT- much more of a 'Pink Ceiling', especially if you work for the British Council!

I would say that more than half of my bosses in the field of education have been women, so I can't claim any evidence for the deliberate belittling of women and their achievements in the ELT workplace. If I think back to my working life in both the UK and abroad, I'm quite happy to state that EFL appears to dish out the crappy DoS and Academic Leader jobs quite evenly between the sexes.

However I'd like to nominate Melanie Butler as my candidate for the "She in ELT" pages.

Her name is, I know, not even half as well-known as many of those that have appeared in this series but I have a very solid reason or three for nominating her.

Melanie Butler is the editor and owner of the EL Gazette, a much under-rated and under-valued monthly trade journal for the EFL/ELT sector. She took over the reins of the EL Gazette in the days when EFL was but a mere cottage industry, back in 1987, and has probably regretted it ever since.

It's no understatement to say that the EL Gazette has faced major financial headaches to keep afloat in recent years, and continues to do so, and Melanie has done incredible work to keep the journal alive.

There is no comparison to the EL Gazette in existence and its absence would be I believe, a great loss for the TEFLtrade. It really should have a much higher profile and be read by a far wider audience of EFL teachers and managers.

Moreover, Melanie and her team of intrepid journalists have carried out a good number of major investigative pieces and dealt admirably with the usual libel threats that accompany perceptive and accurate stories of this type.

For that alone I think she deserves the thanks and admiration of the entire EFL/ELT sector.

However, in truth, there was just one main reason I interviewed this crusading journalist back in June for The TEFL Tradesman: I knew that Melanie and I stand on the same side of the fence when it comes to

(a) revealing the shysters in the EFL business, and
(b) wanting to improve the lot of the average 'downtrodden Tefler.'

In short, those are the two principal reasons I feel that she deserves this special mention from me. Actually, she has also paid me for the odd bit of freelance reporting, so that's a third motive, I guess!

Melanie has been very vocal in exposing the illegal and immoral practices that permeate the shoddy and dangerous UK summer school scene even to the extent of having advertisers threaten to with-hold future advertising - it takes a really brave person to risk alienating your source of income!

Moreover, her sharp comments about the British Council and their 'stupid' decision to ignore teachers' terms and conditions from their accreditation scheme were extremely accurate.

"About time too", I would say, as it is farcical to maintain the illusion that UK EFL schools can guarantee quality when they oblige teachers to be in the classroom for up to 45 hours a week in some cases.

The whole British Council Accreditation Scheme has become a milch-cow, in my opinion, as they work in collaboration with the country's only EFL employers' federation, English UK.

The whole scam needs exposing, I believe, and Melanie Butler is the person to do that (well, one of them - guess who the other one is!?).

For her unwavering devotion and dedication to EFL, she deserves more than just a mention, instead- a medal!

Sandy McManus is the nom-de-plume of someone in the TEFL industry currently at large somewhere near an oil well by the Caspian. Or Libya. Or not...

He writes the TEFL Tradesman blog and is also the blogger behind the TEFL blacklist.

Why aren't you using technology in your classes?

A cyber-mate of mine is doing some research into teachers' attitudes to using technology...

questionmark by marco bellucci
so I was wondering if you wouldn't mind leaving me your thoughts on the main reasons that you're not using laptops, smartphones, data projectors, powerpoint or any of those web 2.0 tools I mention on this blog at times - so that I can pass this info on to him..?

In fact, if you could forward this posting on as an email to your colleagues or print it out and ask them to write a comment below then I'd be doubly grateful.

Your help with this, very much appreciated!


p.s. ways to contact me other than leaving a comment below:

Reasons I don't like most text books (2)

  • cultural incompatibility

If we were to do a demographic poll of all textbooks written for the TEFL industry in the last 25 years, then we would probably find out that an outstanding majority have been written by:

1. people who look like Mr Bean and who share gender
2. people from within Mr Bean's age group
3. people who actually think that Rowan Atkinson is funny

And yet, were we to do a demographic poll on all the learners of English we would discover...


see also: reasons I don't like most textbooks (1)
reasons I don't like most textbooks(3)

Jeremy Day on Vicki Hollett's Opportunities & Objectives

The ‘she in ELT’ who has had the biggest impact on me – Vicki Hollett.

I’ve never met Vicki face to face, so I’m afraid this piece will be more technical than personal. As you’ll see, I’m a bit obsessive about two of Vicki’s books: Business Objectives (BObjs) and Business Opportunities (BOpps).

Forgive me if I go on a bit about them …

Over the years I’ve met a handful of fellow BOpps and BObjs obsessives – people who rave about them at length. But most teachers remember them simply as “Yeah – great books”, but without the passion.

I think those teachers just didn’t get it.

It took me a long time to get it, too. In my first year or so of using the books, I saw them as nice, straightforward ways of getting students to talk about interesting business topics in English. The functional language syllabus was excellent – that was easy to spot straight away – with just the right amount of phrases for meetings, presentations, socialising, etc.

The section on telephoning in BOpps was the best of any I’ve used, with its lovely role-play map. The section on business writing at the end of unit 4 contained a rich bank of essential writing phrases, all contextualised and presented over a super-efficient three pages. What’s more, the topics were ideal for the students I was teaching in various factories (but perhaps more than they would be for, say, marketing types or bankers). So I liked them a lot, but I was still missing something …

I spotted it one day when I was pondering a minor mystery in unit 4.

There was a nice little role-play activity on p39 about managing the environment. Students played the roles of directors of a manufacturing company who had to weigh up the suitability of a range of proposals for making the company greener. The proposals ranged from “Tell our suppliers to provide less packaging with their products” to “Install a large fan on the hillside to blow away pollution” (great idea, by the way).

business opportunities oup vicki hollettIt was a nice role-play, but at the bottom of the page was a strange little activity: “Now compare your decisions with your colleagues from other groups. Find out which proposals they decided to implement and why”. What’s the point of that, I thought?

Did you spot it? What language were they using to make their decisions?

“I’ll do that if you like”; “I’ll leave that to you”; “Shall I do that or will you?”. And what language should they be using to compare answers with other groups? Aha … it’s will vs going to. Making decisions vs talking about decisions. So actually the follow-up was the key to the whole activity. (Or would have been, if only my students had been aware of the language they were expected to use – mine just used will all the time until I worked out what was going on.).

It kind of made sense.

There’d been a presentation on will and going to earlier in the unit, back on p35. But why wait til p39 for the practice? I decided to take a closer look at the nice reading/speaking activity on pages 36 and 37. Exercise 1 was a harmless little quiz on cultural differences in international meetings, with some good vocabulary. Exercise 2 was a compare-with-your partners speaking, and exercise 3 was a here’s-what-the-expert-says reading. At least, that’s how I’d treated it, but a closer look at exercise 1 showed me it was will again:

“You’re putting forward a proposal that several people at the meeting disagree with. How will you handle the situation?

a. I’ll stick to my guns;
b. I’ll drop the proposal;
c. I’ll do something else”.

And exercise 2 was going to! (“What are you going to do with the working papers?”)

I then looked ahead to the writing activities on pages 41 to 43. As I said above, these were a brilliantly concise everything-you-really-need-to-know guide to standard phrases for business writing. Surely Vicki wouldn’t also squeeze in practice of will and going to? But she did!

In exercise 1 we had to read the letters and discuss with a partner which ones are urgent and how to deal with them. In exercise 2 we had to explain our decisions to a new partner. Exercise 1: will. Exercise 2: going to.


And that’s the point.

The whole unit was practising will and going to. But it did it in such an interesting way that it was actually very difficult to see past the topic or the work on other skills to see the practice exercises concealed beneath. And it’s the same in every unit of both books. They’re full of grammar practice exercises which look like something else!

(There’s an obvious concern here: if the grammar practice was so well hidden that teachers didn’t spot it, it meant that most users of the books missed out on their greatest strength. This was something I asked Vicki about when I interviewed her at the Virtual Round Table here.)

Anyway, unit 6 of BOpps is the best unit of any book I’ve ever used for practising the difference between 1st and 2nd conditionals.

On page 60 we have a fantastic role-play about dealing with shrinkage (losses through theft). Students discuss a list of suggestions using great functional language they’ve been taught throughout the unit (“We’d better …”; “No, that’s simply not feasible”).

The intro to the exercise gives some examples of things to say: “Proposal 1 is a good idea. If we position tills at the exits, it’ll make it more difficult to steal. I don’t like proposal 2. The staff would object if we issued uniforms with no pockets”. Did you spot it that time? (OK, I primed you to make it easier).

1st conditionals for proposals we like; 2nd conditionals for ones we don’t like. How elegant is that!

Now, you may disagree with me on this, but I think intermediate and upper intermediate business students need a lot of work on grammar accuracy.

Many of them already have the fluency, especially the ones who use English every day at work. They come to English lessons to tidy things up. But most business English books (including the most popular ones today) barely touch on grammar, or if they deal with it, it’s not systematic. There’s never enough practice.

Now, if I want to give my business students reading texts from the business press, I can get them from the business press – I don’t need that from my course book. What I need from a course book is the stuff that I can’t create myself in 5 minutes before the lesson.

That’s what BOpps and BObjs provided.

I’ve taught plenty of advanced-level students, high-powered business leaders who can talk with wonderful fluency but who are desperate to fix their grammar problems. And I used to put them all on BOpps – even though it was supposed to be only upper int. And it worked.

(I say used to because I’m no longer a manager – a fact which has nothing to do with my choice of course books, I hasten to add).

business objectives oup vicki hollettI haven’t said much yet about Vicki’s other classic, BObjs, although that too did some pretty cool things.

For example, in the unit on Business Travel there’s an exercise called Future Possibilities where students have to match sentence halves. We end up with sentences like “If you haven’t met before, how will you recognize him at the airport?”, “If you have to be there by ten, you’d better hurry up” and “If she wasn’t on that flight, she’ll be on the next one”. In other words, conditional sentences about the future which break free of the traditional rules and formulas of first conditionals.

In fact, out of 12 sentences, only 1 fits the classic IF + PRESENT SIMPLE formula taught by all other books since the beginning of time. Only 1! And this is for A2/B1 students, many of whom will never have learnt about conditionals before.

So Vicki tells them, right from the start, “don’t worry about formulas – there’s nothing scary about conditionals. Just use normal tenses!” I wish all course books at this level were as brave as that, but unfortunately I’ve never seen this approach in any other book.

As a course-book editor, I’m obsessed with two things: aims and flow.

Each unit has to have an underlying structure – a series of sections linked together naturally in a logical order so as to provide the right amount of context, language input and practice at just the right time to really achieve the unit aims. Each section and sub-section can itself be analysed in the same terms, so a perfect unit is like a wonderfully intricate mechanical device – cogs within cogs, all perfectly aligned.

The units in BObjs and BOpps were (almost) all like that.

Let me take you step-by-step through unit 10 of BObj, which is about Progress Updates, to show you what I mean. We start with a personalisation task (“Who services the equipment and machinery in your company? And who fixes it when it breaks down?”) to lead in to the topic of the first section: a situational dialogue between two managers at an office equipment repair company.

The first focus is on the content – comparing call-outs in October with those in September, but then we get to the language focus, present perfect, with examples of the structure pulled out of the dialogue. Contextualised presentation.

On the next 2-page spread, we have a new context – a profit and loss account, for a couple of very controlled practice exercises of present perfect, one spoken (explaining what has happened to the figures) and one written (completing the chairman’s report).

Finally there’s a personalised practice activity, talking about your own company or department.

Most course books would leave it there – or they wouldn’t even bother to provide this much practice of present perfect. But Vicki keeps going.

The next page focuses on another new topic, staff changes, with some vocab work (e.g. sack, recruit) to take us off in a new direction, but then we come back to more written and spoken controlled practice of present perfect using this new context and language.

Then we get another freer-practice personalisation activity: “Have you taken on any new staff recently?”. Another topic: targets, with contrastive practice including an information exchange to focus on the difference between past simple (“How many units did they sell last year?”) and present perfect (“How many have they sold this year? They haven’t achieved their target”).

Do you think our students have mastered present perfect yet, after six pages and four contexts? Again, most course books would assume so, but of course as teachers we all know that A2/B1 students really take a long time to master present perfect.

So the more practice the better, as long as you can keep the topics interesting and the activities varied and personalised.

So on the next spread we have a cycle of activities (personalisation – controlled practice – freer practice – role-play) on present perfect with yet. And on the final spread, we listen to the business news (guess which tenses we’ll hear) and do yet another information exchange, this time on share performance, and yet again using present perfect.

So the whole unit practises different uses of present perfect (contrasted with other tenses).

But it’s never boring or repetitive because it’s also excellent fluency work, vocab work, listening … and it’s all personalised and contextualised.

Anyway, I did warn you that I’m a bit obsessive. I guess what I’m trying to say is: through these books, Vicki taught me a huge amount about how to teach business English, how to write courses and how to edit other people’s books.

If you’re serious about teaching grammar, business English or ESP, if you write courses or books or would like to in the future, if you care about aims and flow, I suggest you get hold of copies of these two old classics and learn from the master.

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Vicki Hollett is the author of textbooks like Tech Talk, Business Objectives, Business Opportunities, Quick Work, Meeting Objectives, In at the Deep End and the soon to be Lifestyle. Vicki’s special interests are business English, sociolinguistics and pragmatics.

British by birth, she’s currently based in the US where she’s writing more courses, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and Learning to speak ‘merican: http://www.vickihollett.com.

She'll also be giving the Plenary at BESIG in Poznan, Poland, November 20th 2009.

Jeremy Day is Series Editor of
Cambridge English for ESP a series of short courses.

He has written two teacher’s books on legal English (International Legal English and Introduction to International Legal English), both for Cambridge University Press, as well as major ESP courses for the British Council and International House. He also has several more books in the pipeline. He teaches general, business and legal English at the British Council in Warsaw, Poland, and is passionate about grammar. His new blog, Specific English, is aimed at teachers of ESP.

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Special thank you for the photos to the folks at Linguarama: Colin, Claire & Howard!

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