How's my job different from yours?

Teeth brushing
Sean Banville's excellent blog post questions the practice of teaching adverbs of frequency with things like how often do you brush your teeth or surf the 'net and for the most part I do agree with him that it's an oddity to combine this structure with questions of how often we do do our daily personal activities 
(can you imagine chatting someone up at a bar 
and asking him how often he combs his hair let
alone in a business situation)... 

And it is always presented this way in the coursebooks...
(see the thing is, as I've moaned about elsewhere,
lots of textbooks are just copycats of each other with 
little critical thinking into the "why" of an activity: basically PennyUr 
or Jill Hadfield suggested this way back when and voilá all textbooks now carry it

profJohn combs his hair

But rather than me just moaning on again, the problem, is strictly in the nature of using the question "How often:" it is unnatural and can feel like an invasion of privacy.   However our students still need to  learn how to use these accurately and naturally, so  it is a relevant and necessary lexis so I'll just tell you what I usually do with my adult learners to personalize this teaching practice.

Step 1
After reviewing the presentation in the book on adverbs of frequency (or letting it come up  in class) go through the phrases commonly used to express how often we do things and then go to the board with markers in hand (type into a wordle while online in the classroom/Powerpoint if offline) and elicit activities which most people do as part of their regular work responsibilities.

Circa Levenger
  • What's the first thing you always do when you walk into your office?
  • What's the second thing?
  • After you've checked your emails, is there anything you usually do?
  • Do you do this all the time? 
  • What else do you normally do?
  • What's something you maybe do once a week or so?
  • What don't you do very often - let's say rarely - but it's scheduled in your calendar?

Fill the board completely (e.g. check emails, answer the phone, make a cup of coffee, write reports, participate in department meetings, go out for drinks with colleagues.)

Step 2
Ask students individually, while you're still in front of the board/screen or circulating,  which ones they don't do regularly or not at all.

Ask why not.

Step 3
Ask students to then jot down notes (bullet points) on things they do every day/ week/ month/ year, and in particular, activities which they do that they think are DIFFERENT from their colleagues/classmates.

If they work for different companies, they can also prepare a list of things that their companies do to get new business/ promote their products - things which are probably different from what (they assume) other companies do.

Step 4
Put them in small groups and ask get them to share their work/company lives with each other (write blogs if you're working online) and explain that they should give each other reasons for what they do, how often  they do it and if relevant, how they feel about these activities.  

Once they have shared their own stories they should then ask their partners if any of the things they listed are things which their colleagues do do too.

The different adverbs will emerge naturally i.e. this model: 

I usually talk to my boss on Friday mornings to plan activities for the following week but sometimes we're both too busy.   I often have to go out to meet clients in Stuttgart in the afternoons but sometimes I wish I didn't have to as it really interrupts my day. 
I hardly ever go overseas to meet clients but last year I went to Africa and China.
Do any of you ever have to meet with clients too?

Encourage them to prompt each other for more details about what's said and ask one student in each group to act as a secretary.   Warn them ahead of time that one person will have to present what's been said by the rest of their group.

Step 5
Once they've all had a chance to tell each other about their days, bring them together as a class and elect a speaker from one of the groups to share the ways that his colleagues' work lives are the same and different from his own.

e.g. Tom and Mary always get to work around 7.30 because they have children so they want to go home early but I usually get in around 9.30; Jane and Alice sometimes have meetings with their bosses on Fridays and I normally have my meeting every Monday.   Tom and Mary never meet their boss and they feel angry about this as he hardly ever listens to them.   I have to write a report at the end of every month but no one else has to.  Jane usually goes to Switzerland and Austria three times a year.

Step 6
Ask the key speakers of each group to now compare what was been said against that group's report - basically responding on his own group's findings and adding (group members can help).

i.e.  No one in our group works at 7.30.   All of us, except for Bill, always arrive at work around 8am.   Rosie has to write reports every quarter but I prepare mine twice a year.  Michael always submits his yearly budget report in December.
No one ever goes overseas to meet with clients.

Step 7
Provide feedback on the structure, accurate use of the lexis, word order issues and alternative versions of what could have been communicated.


Why is this is a good activity?  It mirrors the sort of small-talk which ocurs when international members of the same company get together and have little in common to talk about except their company.

  • What to do if you're working with teenagers?  Brainstorm out-of-school social activities, weekends and home responsibilities.   
  • What to do if you're working with unemployed adults?  Brainstorm housecleaning tasks, child care responsibilities and social activities that have regular and irregular scheduling.   
  • What to do if you're working with refugees/people integrating into a new society?  Brainstorm their problems, current life situations vs their life as it used to be: ask them to compare each others' then and now.

If you're working online, you can do step 4  in the chat function as a whole class and then ask them to blog about what they noticed regarding other people's daily responsibilities and activities.

Caution: go through each step clearly and patiently and provide good models of what you want to hear being spoken by them  - don't stress about how often you hear the "adverbs of frequency," stress about how natural the sentences sound.

To print this activity out, hover over the box which reads bookmark below (above the retweet button), one of the options on the right is a little icon that looks like a printer, click on that.


I love hearing from you! Please add your thoughts if you enjoyed this piece and you feel like there's something you would like to question, add or say about it - don't worry about perfection or agreeing with me: it's always a pleasure to hear from you and getting to know your opinions.

Do you have another fun, conversational dogmeic approach lesson tip when teaching people how to talk about the real things they do regularly but don't feel silly talking about (repetition being the key to vocabulary acquisition and all, I'd love to add more feathers to my bow)...and feel free to drop a link if you've already blogged it.

9 Responses to “How's my job different from yours?”

  • Anonymous says:
    October 06, 2010

    I really like it and would use it with my adult students - if I still had any : )

    One thing I always miss on this grammar part when using a coursebook is the use of always with the continuous aspect. And at more advanced levels inversions like in Never had I seen...

    Following the same mindset of avoiding being too bookish, I would start from step 3. What do you think?

    (sometimes I used to say 'Warmers? There's no warm up in the business world you gotta be ready, start from what really matters, go straight to the point' - which was because my student were always late)

    Can I ask something? It's actually a bit picky of me, but I'm trying to get more familiar with the dogmeic background of the lesson plan so I will ask.

    You saying 'go through each step clearly and patiently and provide good models of what you want to hear being spoken by them'


    'The different adverbs will emerge naturally'

    doesn't sound much compatible to me, I mean, the 'what you want them to say' vs the 'emerge naturally'

    Maybe a discussion to another post like, the terminology of Dogme.

    Thanks, Willy.

  • Luciana Podschun says:
    October 06, 2010


    What a fantastic way to explain the adverbs of frequency!

    Sometimes, when it comes to explain "How often" and get the examples from the CB, sounds unnatural, I completely agree with you. You show us that we can use different ways to make use of the adverbs of frequency in a natural way.

    I've got a private couple and definitely I'll be using the ideas described in Step 1.

    As I also have a group of teenagers, when I start explaining adverbs I start by asking them to talk about their daily routines.
    So, I get answers such as:

    "I generally listen to music on Saturdays, my favorite kind of music is "samba"

    "We get together on Christmas and we always have roasted turkey for lunch".

    "I usually do my homework when I get home after school."

    Definitely your post is a must read!

    Luciana Podschun

  • Anonymous says:
    October 06, 2010

    Loved the idea (will definetely use it when opportunity arises)and completely agree with the more realistic and meaningful approach. It gives the student a clear, immediate use for the language.

    Isn't that what we aim for our lessons?

    Great post (as usual) Karenne! Thanks for sharing :-)

  • susie sullivan says:
    October 06, 2010

    My schtick is "often" to depersonalize,globalize,then re-centralize.

    "How often does it rain in the Sahara?" which, in most languages is, "Does it rain often in the Sahara?" "Hardly ever? Never?"

    The "how--often, far, long, hard" is not necessarily natural to other brain sets. Most require more close-ended questions, as in yes/no's OR direct "how many times per year?" Must say, I prefer the open English!

    How often does the sun set? How long does it take?

    But often do you watch it?

    You are THE BEST, Karenne. Please keep on rocking on!

    Your fan, always!

    Susie from New Jersey

    October 06, 2010

    Hi ya Willy,

    Super thoughts - re starting at step 3, absolutely and especially with higher levels and for those who have already had years of exposure to this language.

    This post was an attempt at dogmeing the coursebook :-) à la teaching unplugged book.

    And your question is great - it centers around what is a "model."

    Often dogme teaching is perceived to be "winging it raised to an art form" (see Meddings 2003)

    however it's not, dogme =

    1. conversation driven
    2. materials light
    3. focused on emergent language

    Normally...usually, books tend to assume that students are incapable of knowing what they do do regularly (i.e spoon-feeding them because they apparently have nothing to say about their own lives) so usually in this case, in a book, provides a written model or one of those silly slidey rule things from 0% - 100% (which is like SO DEBATABLE - a native speaker who is not a teacher would be appalled to see that there is such apparently "strong" differences in the percentages (e.g. usually + normally / frequently + often.

    This is then often followed by a series of written prompts or worse, gap-fills sometimes testing the verb knowledge and not the adverbs in context:

    Jacob always ______ his teeth
    Jenny ______ ______ deer

    or... with I
    always / brush / teeth
    usually / surf / internet
    rarely / hunt / deer

    However the students simply don't have the chance to personalize and own the words in a way which makes sense to them (and without it ever making "sense" how can they ever remember it?).

    Providing a good model doesn't mean providing a written text to copy and then write or speak -like in a drill - but instead like life it's something spoken, casually, the "idea" of what you want to hear back in response to a conversation but not what they should reproduce this "exactly." (god forbid)

    That's how conversations work in real-life work, one person says something and then the other person responds with his own opinion or tells how often he does the same thing or what his friend thinks about blah and blah...

    So, for example, if I were at an international teaching conference with you, then we would first chat about Twitter (right :-) and all its benefits and how amazing it has been for developing a good international community of practice but then probably we'd start talking about the problems of being in Social Media and you'd tell me something about how you're now managing your time because you felt addicted (example) and that nowadays you're usually online only between 11 and 12 but hey, wow, have you seen that Michael - it looks like he's always on Twitter, 24/7... and I'd respond by saying, Michael is seriously serious about Twitter but yeah, me too, in the summer I cut back considerably so now I'm usually there in the early mornings and evenings... because I have to teach and then maybe we'd talk about teaching and you'd now tell me how you usually teach on Tuesdays... etc, etc -

    the bounce.

    And the need for the adverbs would emerge in our conversation out to the need to use them... in the bounce and that's what we want our students to do, to use lexis (whatever lexis) because there really isn't any other way to say what needs to be said.

    Hope that helps! Don't hesitate to ask more if the above still not clear.

    And yes, tomorrow there will be another "on dogme" post :-)

    October 06, 2010

    Hey Luciana, thanks! I like your ideas with teens, it's so important for them especially to get the relevance to their own lives.

    Hi Cecilia, agreed: immediate real use.

    Hi ya Susie, that's a very interesting idea to depersonalize first by talking about something random like the Sahara and I've never tried out the idea of asking about standard things like how often the sun sets (every day) but then asking how often do you watch it - most CLEVER!

    Your fan, :)

  • Anonymous says:
    October 06, 2010

    Got it!

    I've been doing that but didn't have names to give it. Maybe because as far as I can remember I haven't written down a lesson plan for a long time, so the need to name steps didnt' emerge .

    Nonetheless, I tend to pay a lot of attention to how instructions are given to teachers, that's why I ask.

    Also, because I just started reading something titled 'The Persistence of Emergence' which is something I'm very interested in in the field of chaos/complexity theory and this word 'emergence' is constantly present in the dogme lingo.

    Here's a quote for you
    When things get together, there then arises something that was not there before, and that character is something that cannot be stated in terms of the elements which go to make up the combination. It remains to be seen in what sense we can now characterize that which has so emerged (Mead 1938)


  • Walton says:
    October 07, 2010

    This is good stuff. The linkage between daily activities and adverbs of frequency is so insidiously implanted in our brains that I actually came at it the other way recently. I'm teaching beginner school children and not using a textbook at all, but when I decided to teach them daily activity words (wake up, brush your teeth...) and was thinking about what to expand it with, adverbs of frequency came up in my mind immediately (after at + time). And even as Russian speakers, they wanted to use phrases like, "I take a shower three times a week" or "I brush my hair every day" rather than use "often" or frequently. Your lesson would produce far more authentic language than, "I usually walk the dog."

    Incidentally another issue in terms of going over things you do every in general that I ran into was that these kids all have the same schedule because they go to school together and live near the school. So they wake up at basically the same time and eat at the same time. So when it came time to compare schedules, there was no discussion. Not sure how to get around that roadblock.

    October 07, 2010

    Hi ya, Walton - it's a long time since I taught kids but used to!

    The way around your roadblock is to find out how their lives are different outside of school times - so some of them may have to go to sports, piano - some go home to mother - some do homework first, others play first - some will feed their fish/dogs - play on the internet... etc

    Hope that helps!


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