Tag Archives: ELT

Task-Based Learning for One-to-One BE Contexts. My Talk at the #BESIG Summer Symposium

Here’s the link to my talk in Paris at the IATEFL BESIG Summer symposium:




#ELT #reflective practice:Your body language shapes who you are and your teaching!

Teachers! Watch this. How to use power poses and body language can change your future and your students’ future.


#ELT #Coursebook Audio Files Defiled: How to Deal With Badly Acted Coursebook Dialogues.

Now, just as a preamble, I want to say that I like coursebooks, I use coursebook material in many of my lessons and I have the utmost respect for  coursebook authors who often come up with some great stuff.

That being said,  I have a question: Who recruits the actors for the audio files? I mean come on! Why are like 80% of  them played by people who, I’m sure are very nice, but who can’t act….at all.  The acting is often so bad that it often renders perfectly good material close to unusable. I mean, it’s so bad that before using an audio file in class I systematically have to check if it sounds somewhat believable. Most of the time it doesn’t.

We teachers shouldn’t have to do this. Can’t the big editors find decent actors? And if they’re looking for someone with a German accent, can’t they find an actual German? Why do they force English or American actors to put on a fake Japanese, French and Spanish accents? It just ends up sounding ridiculous. Listen to this clip below that I took from a popular coursebook from one of the biggest publishers in the industry (I put the images in as a representation of what I picture in my head as I listen to this dialogue).

Do you see what I’m saying? The first guy sounds like the butler from some bad sitcom, and the women sounds like a robot! I mean she literally sounds like she runs on electricity. How am I supposed to get my students to take that seriously?

Well, I’ve found the answer: I don’t ask them to take it seriously. I now openly make fun of the acting before playing clips like this. I say something like, “Ok guys, we’re now going to listen to a project planning meeting. Try to focus on the following points……..Now mind you, this dialogue is completely unrealistic. They plan out an entire merger in 2 minutes time and the acting is horrible. Try not to laugh and focus on the language that you could use in your jobs”.

It actually works! I’ve tested it about 50 times now. Once students know that you know that the dialogue is kind of ridilulous they can take it for what it is, a text that was made to display predefined language chunks. If you sit there and pretend that you’re genuinely interested in the dialogue, you generally genuinely lose their interest and probably a little of their respect. Just because our students are learning English doesn’t mean they’re dumb! Come on editors, find some decent actors!

#Teacher Training: Pedagogy Beyond #ELT….Continued

Last week I wrote a post describing the mission I was recently assigned: to design and teach (in French!) a 12-hour training course for in-house trainers in my company who will be training other staff in an area of expertise (network engineering, the new IPv6 protocol, fiber role out, to name a few).

In a series of posts, I’d like to share some of the content of this training course, which I named in French “Animer une formation”, or ‘animating a training course’. I personally think something like “how to teach adults” would have been a more appropriate title, but hey, in French, trainers don’t teach, they ‘animate’.

After thinking about the subject for a while and looking at what had been done on the subject in the past, I decided to cover were the following topics:

Beliefs and attitudes

–          Perceptions and beliefs about teaching

–          What is an appropriate role, as in-house trainers?


–          How to start a lesson

–          What basic principles should all training courses and trainers adhere to?

–          What are the basic principles of adult learning and pedagogy?

–          What are the basic pedagogical approaches that can be used in the classroom?

–          How to set clear objectives for your course and for each activity

–          How to give constructive feedback

–          How to create discussion and communication in the classroom

–          How to keep students energized and motivated

–          How to set up a successful group-work/pair-work activity

Teaching tricks and tips

–          How should a trainer move around/position him or herself  in the room?

–          What practical tips should every teacher know before going into a classroom.

–          What kind of materials should be used and how to write appropriate materials

The next thing I had to decide was how I was going to organize the course? What types of activities would I do? How would I break the material up?

I decided to do was split the course in three:

1) A couple of hours of discussion and teaching ‘theory’

2) A series of10-15 minute role plays where I ask the students to take the reins of the class and become trainers for a short time. Each role play followed by constructive feedback and tips.

3) A few hour wrap-up/feedback session at the end of the course.

I basically applied a ‘teach-do-teach’ structure that I use a lot in my English lessons. So far, it seems to be working!

I’ll be writing more shortly about each of the topics mentioned above, so stay tuned!

Two Truths and a Lie: Simple, Fun, and a Great Way to Work on Question Forms #Dogme, #ELT

I have both Norwegian and United States citizenship. I have run 2 marathons , both in 4 hours. I have lived and worked in 5 countries.

One of these sentences is not true. Which one do you think it is?

Does this game sound familiar? Many of you have probably played Two Truths and a Lie before, but how many have played it with your students?

Last week, after 5 consecutive lessons of working hard on BE topics with one group of students, I decided that everyone needed to have a little fun.  So, instead of opening the lesson with a speaking framework about their jobs or a video about the latest mobile phone, I decided that we should play Two Truths and a Lie. It worked like a charm and my students (full -grown adults!) didn’t want to stop playing.  After we finally finished the game and started to move on to the next exercise, my students kept talking about why it was such a fun game:

“It is so hard to know which sentence is a lie!”

“You can see who is a good liar and who isn’t.  Philippe, wow, you’re a good liar!”

“It’s a great way learn about our passions. I never knew that Alain collects antique pens.”

“I’m going to play it with my colleagues during our coffee break this afternoon!”

It was a real success and after we finished playing, using questions from the game, I was able to transition smoothly into a form-focus activity.  I wrote questions like “Alain, for how many time do you collect pens?”  and “In what country did you born?” on the board and got the Ss to correct them. Then I got students to do an exercise from Macmillan’s Business Grammar Builder on the placement of ‘verb + preposition’ combinations in questions.

So, how can you use this game in your lessons? Most readers are surely familiar with the game, but there are a lot of different ways to play it.  Here’s the procedure that I used:

  1. Explain the title of the game to the Ss and that it will be a fun way to learn more about each other.
  2. Give students 5 minutes to write down their 2 truths and 1 lie. The T should also write down 3 sentences.
  3.  The T puts his/her 3 sentences up on the board. The Ss then ask the T questions about the 3 sentences, trying to throw the teacher off and find out which one of them is lie.
  4.  The Ss cannot just guess, they have to ask as many questions as they can. If they think they know, they have to try to explain to the other students why they think one of the sentences is a lie.
  5. Once the Ss have decided which sentence they think is a lie, the T can reveal the answer.
  6. If the class is small enough (fewer than 6 students) you can continue working as a whole group and move on to the first student. If you’ve got a larger group, it’s best to split them up into groups of 3 or 4.
  7. The Ss repeat the question/answer process until the all students have revealed their lies. During the exchanges, the teacher should circulate and write down the questions students ask, listening carefully for recurrent mistakes.
  8. Based on the mistakes and language gaps heard during the exchanges, the T should then do a 15-30 min form-focus activity and possible assign homework to address the problem areas that came up.

So, that’s how you can adapt this game to the classroom. Now, which of my sentences do you think is a lie?

#Dogme: Covering Core Business English Using an ‘Unplugged’ Approach

One of the criticisms of heavily student-centered approaches such as dogme is that it is hard to ensure that ‘core language’ is covered. A lot of teachers think that if they don’t have a good Business English coursebook telling them what words to teach or if they don’t present students with a list of business vocabulary at the beginning of the course then they run the risk of not covering these key items at all.

Now, I am a firm believer that students should learn certain ‘core’ language (i.e. the most commonly used vocabulary, expression and grammar tenses). But I also believe that it is preferable to learn these words primarily through genuine communication and meaning-focused exchanges. There is no better way help students learn and be able to use core language items than by actually getting them to talk about their company, their jobs, their projects and their every day responsibilities.

Of course, I don’t have any long-term scientific research to support this claim, but I do have my experience. Below is  a list language items that were covered in a recent 20-hour BE course that I taught. The students were a B2-level. These items all emerged naturally in discussions, role-plays and other speaking activities. As the students communicated with each other and with me about topics that are important to them, I provided feedback, correction, and langauge support to help them get their message across. Students kept detailed notes of all of these items (and others) on their own, and at the end of the course, I provided the students with a final list of the most important language we covered in the course, or a sort of retrospective syllabus.

Below is the some of the language that came up:

Phrasal  verbs

  • To catch up on s.th
  • To break  s.th. down into segments, categories, etc.
  • To lay s.o. off
  • To branch out
  • To come up (i.e. “Something has come up”)
  • To bring forward (a meeting, an event)
  • To account for
  • To run out of s.th.
  • To run into a problem
  • To back s.o. up
  • To factor s.th. in
  • To fill s.o. in on s.th.
  • To find out

Vocabulary items

  • A trade fair
  • A venue
  • To hire s.o.
  • A former co-worker
  • To resume
  • To summarize
  • An accurate forecast
  • To miss a deadline
  • To meet a deadline
  • To lack s.th.
  • A policy
  • To go over budget
  • To stay within budget
  • To attend s.th. (an event, a meeting, etc).
  • To set s.th. (an agenda, a timeline, etc.)
  • To draft a proposal, an offer
  • To get out of university, engineering school, etc.
  • To keep track of s.th.
  • Early-September, mid-September, late-September.
  • To go out for dinner, lunch, coffee etc.
  • To have s.o. over for dinner, lunch, coffee, etc.
  • To prevent s.o. from doing something vs. to warn s.o. about doing s.th.
  • Attendees

Common mistakes corrected

  • “I succeeded my objectives” > I reached my objectives
  • “A global picture of our customers” > an overall picture
  • “Ernst and Young is the 1st consultancy group…” > Is the number one consultancy group in terms of…
  • “The good person” > the right person
  • “I’m not at all agree” > I don’t agree at all.
  • “Could you confirm me the date?” > Could you confirm the date?
  • “The juridic department” > the legal department

Verb tenses

  • Present simple and the present continuous
  • Present perfect simple, present perfect continuous
  • The future with: ‘will’, ‘going to’, present continuous, plan to, hope to, to be likely to, etc.
  • Transitive and intransitive verbs

Expressions, phrases and language chunks

  • We’re on the right track
  • Actually, no thanks.
  • So if I’ve understood you correctly, ….
  • So what you’re saying is…
  • What I mean is…
  • Good point.
  • I see you’re point, but…
  • I see what you’re saying…/ I see what you mean.
  • We’re (a bit, 2 days, 2 weeks) behind schedule
  • If my memory serves me well/ If I remember correctly …
  • Ok, change of plans, ….
  • We’re getting off track
  • Time is up.
  • I’m keeping an eye on the situation.
  • I have to get the go-ahead/the green light, from management
  • Do you want to grab a coffee?
  • Do you mind if I take this (call)?

Looking back at this list (and other lists) of language covered in my lessons I am reassured that the speaking activities in my classes are so much more than just conversational fluency practice. Rather, they are real communicative exchanges with Business professionals about their jobs that allow them to practice their speaking skills while at the same time covering important business vocabulary, expressions and grammar.

My Interview with Simon Greenall