Tag Archives: speaking

Getting to know you – a business English warmer or filler

Guess who!

This is a time of year when we find ourselves doing a lot of first lessons, either the first lesson ever with a new group or the first lesson after a long summer break. Facing this situation myself led me to come up with an activity which can take anywhere between 10 minutes and a hour and which is a great way of helping learners to get to know each other better, even if they´ve been together in the same English course for some time. It´s a very simple activity and it´s not a completely original idea of mine, but all the learners I´ve done this with have responded really well to it and it´s got them activating a lot of worthwhile language.

Learning aims:

  • Get learners talking
  • Get learners writing
  • Help learners get to know each other or get to know each other better
  • Enable you to do some correction and needs analysis work with learners based on their use of vocabulary and grammar
  • Stimulate discussion around the topics learners have written their sentences about

Ask the learners to take a piece of paper and write a short sentence about themselves on it. Tell them that after they´ve done this their pieces of paper will be mixed up together and the group will guess who wrote what. For this reason, it´s important that they don´t write something which could be true for all or several people in the group, e.g. I work at Company X, if they all work at Company X. They also shouldn´t write something about themselves which is already visible to everyone, e.g. I wear glasses or I have blue eyes.   It´s probably a good idea to give them some examples of what would be suitable things to write at this stage too. Here are some examples from one of my groups, reproduced with their permission:

Last week I went to the cinema and watched the film “Wer´s glaubt, wird selig” (a German film popular at the moment)

This sentence got the learners speculating about which one of them goes to the cinema on a regular basis and then led to the learner who wrote it explaining the plot of the film and talking about her reaction to it. We then moved on to discuss film preferences more generally.

I have never been in New York

This sentence led us into a discussion of who had travelled where and when the person who wrote it was revealed, he told us that he was, in fact, going to New York in December to do some Christmas shopping, which led to a discussion about whether you could actually save money by doing that and what sights the learner also wanted to see in New York. A point for discussion and correction here was: been in New York or been to New York?

My car has to be investigated at the end of October

This sentence got us into a discussion about cars, what type of car everyone had and what condition they are in. We also discussed whether investigated was the most appropriate word to use here and decided that it would be better to say: my car has to be serviced, instead.

When I was younger, I was a scout!

Some members of the group didn´t know the English word scout, so first of all we discussed what that meant and what being a scout involves. The learners then had a very animated discussion about how teenagers nowadays spend so much time online or playing video games and have forgotten how to have good honest fun and work in a team. Here we also discussed the punctuation the learner had used and talked about how this would be correct punctuation in German (the learner´s first language), not not in English.

Once the learners have each written their sentences, collect the papers in, mix them up and then read them aloud or let one of the group members read them aloud if you´re sure that they won´t be able to recognise each other´s handwriting, i.e. because they´ve just met for the first time in this lesson. The aim is then to guess who wrote what. Encourage the learners to ask each other questions to try to uncover who wrote what, without asking: did you write that? Once the person who wrote the sentence has been identified engage the learners in a discussion on the topic the sentence deals with, if they don´t automatically start having one anyway. If you feel comfortable, you could also write a short sentence about yourself and add it to those the learners have written, so they can also get to know you a little more. This can be a nice way to show your willingness to share information about yourself as you ask them to share information about themselves and, it seems, most learners are curious to know a little bit more about their teachers.



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WordPress as a resource for learning English

Here´s an idea for a filler or a warmer prior to a reading-based activity: it makes use of the popular blogging site WordPress that you already seem to have found your way to!

If you go to the homepage at http://www.wordpress.com, you will find previews of  selected WordPress blogs which consist of an image, a title and sometimes a sub-title.  The blogs featured encompass a wide range of subject matter from travel to the media, fashion, social issues and commentary on current affairs, so there is certain to be at least one or two posts that would be of interest to your participants. You can also find links to other posts on the same subject as that previewed.

I find that these previews provide an easily accessible entry point to the world of blogging in English. The learners aren´t immediately  confronted with long texts usually written for a native-speaker audience, but rather with compact, manageable “soundbites” of written English, which usually contain between two and fifteen words. Of course, reading one of these previews may pique a learner´s interest in the blog post and make them want to read it in full, which is great. Learners at a higher level, by which I mean B2 plus, will, naturally be better-equipped to deal with this material than those at lower levels. I would ask the learners to note down words, phrases or chunks of language which they find “interesting” (leaving them to decide for themselves what their definition of that word is) while they´re reading the blog posts and then share them with the rest of the group.

Returning to the previews themselves, how can we use them as a stimulus and aid to learning?

1. Prediction activities

– Guess the contents of the blog post based on the image, title and sub-title.

– Slowly reveal the three components to the learners: for example, first they see the image, then the title, then the sub-title and see if and how their predictions change. Alternatively, they have to predict what the next component will be, e.g. predict the title based on the image, predict the sub-title based on the title.

2. Matching activity

– Separate the images and text from the previews and then ask the learners to match images with texts. You could show the learners the original complete version first and then see how much they can remember or you can make the activity freer by asking them to match the images to the titles without having seen them beforehand. If you do it the second way ask them to justify their combinations by explaining the link(s) they see between them: it doesn´t really matter if their combinations aren´t not the same as the actual text/image combinations, but you could definitely show them the original afterwards.

3. Production activity

– The learners write a sentence which they think could be a possible first line of the blog post based on the preview. This gets the learners producing some language in response to the stimulus provided by the preview. Afterwards, they could compare their sentences with the real first lines of the blog posts.

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Linkedin in the classroom

Last week I finally got round to creating a profile for myself on www.linkedin.com. What spurred me into action was thr combination of an excellent workshop with Graham Stanley on using social networking for personal and professional development at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in Preston and the fact that around the same time I saw a job advertisement which stated that a link to the applicant´s Linkedin profile would be a suitable substitute for sending in a CV. For those who are not familiar with Linkedin, let me fill you in on some details…

Linkedin is a website which has over one hundred million users worldwide. Those users share information about their education, qualifications, certifications, previous and current employment with others in order to build “connections.”  You can connect with people that you might want to collaborate with on a project, who might want to offer you a job or who you might want to offer a job to, if you work in HR or are an employer yourself. You can also join a group on Linkedin which will enable you to connect with users who share an interest with you, belong to the same association, went to the same school, college, university or who work or have worked in the same company. According to the rules of Linkedin users may only connect with people that they know in real life, who are already connected with one of their connections or who are members of the same group.

So how can this site be an aid to learning? Linkedin seems to be a great resource for the Business English classroom because it provides easy access to a range of authentic information about people´s working lives. This kind of material is, of course, particularly relevant to English learners working in Human Resources departments, but could prove interesting  to anyone who wants to be able to talk about their job and their professional background in English and would be  particularly relevant for job-seekers who are in English training. This lesson plan, therefore, represents my proposal for how we could incorporate Linkedin into a lesson. The lesson involves using the website in the classroom, so internet access either on a company computer, laptop or a mobile device is needed.


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How to teach the present perfect without tears

When I told my colleague Jim I was writing about how to teach the present perfect, he compared teaching the present perfect to climbing up a hill backwards in flippers: time-consuming, frustrating and difficult. Looking back, the present perfect would have to win the prize for the grammar point over which the most metaphorical tears have been shed in my classroom- and not only by the participants!

The majority of the people I have presented the present perfect to have been German speakers, for whom it often proves extremely challenging. One of the greatest obstacles to understanding appears to be the fact that in German the combination of have with a verb form which signifies the past is used to convey finished time. The same issue can also arise with French speakers for the same reason. In Arabic too, a difference in grammatical assumptions may lead to confusion. Some Arabic speakers would find that it makes more sense to use their equivalent of the present simple to convey a situation which began in the past and continues into the present, for example.

The bottom line is that it can be tough to implement a linguistic concept in a foreign language when it doesn´t exist in your first language. Fortunately, the concept of the perfect does exist in Spanish, where it is also formed using the verb have, and in Portuguese, so, in theory at least, learners who speak these languages should have fewer difficulties with the English present perfect.

You´ll notice that I use the word concept, rather than tense, since I believe that seeing the present perfect in this light is a step towards making it easier to grasp for our learners.

In the lesson plan, I have focused on introducing learners to the present perfect for the first time (or perhaps, re-introducing them to it after a twenty year hiatus during which they have had no or very little contact with English).  My approach definitely pushes function to the forefront and focuses on strategies learners can employ in order to be able to use the present perfect effectively.

Download the lesson plan here. If you try this approach out in your classroom, please leave me a comment below because I´d love to hear how you got on with it.


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The missing link: Linking words

I have often found myself being asked by participants in upper-intermediate or advanced groups if we could cover how to use words like: however, although and nevertheless in future lessons. They had heard about these mysterious words, or maybe they had even read them in a text, but they didn´t know what to do with them and felt that they should. I´m not sure if learning something because you feel that you should is always a worthwhile thing to do, yet learning something new which will increase your range of expression can definitely make for a positive learning experience.

A member of one of my groups, who has been taking an English course in his company for over ten years- no one is exactly sure how long he´s been in training anymore- remarked with great surprise while completing this activity on linking words, that he had actually learnt something new. He hadn´t known that the word since could also be used to give a reason/ as a substitute for because and not only to link a point in the past to the present.

Challenging learners to see the English language in a new light or teaching them something they didn´t know when they thought they already knew it all, can feel like a breath of fresh air to them.

In terms of “usefulness”, linking words are more useful for learners who have frequent contact with native rather than non-native speakers of English. More specifically, they can help people who have to write reports, evaluations and other similar, extended texts in English or have to make presentations. In these situations, the use of linking words can increase the clarity of what they want to say and enable them to appear more sophisticated in their use of the English language, thus leaving a positive impression on their readership or audience.

For learners preparing for an exam, such as the Certificate in Advanced English (CAE), linking words are also a must and cannot be ignored.

I would suggest starting with a linking words quiz to establish what the participants know or don´t already know and then move on to a text-based activity where they can practise using the linking words themselves.

Click here to download the lesson plan.


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How to teach present simple v. present continuous without tears

Getting to grips with when to use the present simple and when to use the present continuous can be difficult for English learners- even for factory managers and marketing executives. Using the two tenses correctly can, moreover, prove particularly challenging  for speakers of languages where no differentiation between these forms exists, as is the case for the German-speaking participants I teach.

Over time, I´ve developed a strategy for teaching the two tenses and the differences between them which always seem to work. Here I´d like to share it with you. All you need is something to write on and some pens.

One of the keys to the success of this input and practice session is avoiding the use of the words present simplepresent continuous and any other “grammatical” language for as long as possible. Our participants are not CELTA trainees, they need to know how to use the language to talk about their work and their lives.

How to teach present simple versus present continuous without tears


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A Disabled-Access Friendly World: A Lesson for the Business English classroom

I´ve taken up Marisa Constantinides´ blog challenge to create lessons for the ELT classroom that are designed to promote a disabled-access friendly world.

Marisa Constantinides´ Blog Challenge

Disabled-access is a cause which normally gets far too little attention, despite the huge number of people who are effected by it. Any action which helps to raise awareness of it, can only be positive. It´s good to know that a group of English teachers in Greece have taken on the challenge of raising awareness of this issue and are doing brilliant work to promote the cause. You can join their Facebook group Greek “Disabled Access Friendly”.

Greek “Disabled-Access Friendly” Facebook Group

I decided to approach the blog challenge from the point of view of Business English and create a lesson plan which would be accessible and relevant for participants in in-company training. My lesson looks at the challenges to access that the disabled face as they travel to their workplace, invites the participants to compare the situation in their country with that in Greece and then culminates in a meeting role-play where the participants have to reach decisions on a future strategy for making their workplace more disabled-access friendly- not forgetting to consider the costs inherent in such developments and the time-frame over which they could be implemented.

This is a paperless lesson, so it´s also environmentally-friendly! All you need is a whiteboard or a flipchart, some marker pens and a projector connected up to a laptop or PC on which you can show the YouTube video clip.

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