I would like to introduce you to a group of 9 talented young ladies : )
Some Saturdays a month I teach them at our local college, the KBZ. They attend a seven-hour course in English (and other subjects, such as Finance, Correspondence in German, Computing and others), in order to be qualified PAs (Personal Assistants) in companies, to CEOs, chairpeople and directors. I truly admire them because apart from three days a week of courses, homework and studying, they also work, do a lot of activities, have families, personal lives, hobbies and even so, they are always full of energy! Our course starts at 07:35 am and finishes at 13:45 pm.
This course will go on for two years, and they will sit an exam. Their English exam includes a lot of parts, such as reading comprehension, translation (German into English and vice versa) and they will also be asked to make a presentation. Today, we prepared our first presentation! I chose a very broad, general, simple topic, as their first. I wanted to give them almost no directions apart from the topic, which was: Who is the ideal employee? They gave me so many ideas for other classes as well. I love when the students take ownership of the learning process! This is all theirs, and I would love to share their work with you all (having obtained permission first).
The only other thing apart from the topic that I did was provide them with materials, so they could present any way they liked.
I split them in pairs and a small group (unfortunately two were absent today and hope they feel better soon!) and gave them about 25-30 minutes to prepare for an 8-minute presentation. As they were preparing, I went around with a notepad writing down all the amazing language they were using, making small corrections and helping out if needed. I cannot even begin to describe their enthusiasm as they came up with ideas, what materials to use and who would say what. So in the end, we had three amazing and varied presentations. Let’s have a look in the order that they were presented:
These ladies took blank sheets of A4 paper and made a flow chart, which they attached to the wall with magnets. I loved how they followed their own way of presentation – via the use of questions. They tried to find the ideal employee by asking us questions, and made it clear that the answers would come from us – which I thought was a great way of approaching such a broad subject.
Here is their flowchart:
The Board Display
This group of three ladies chose the chalkboard to write down bullet points, which they then analysed (each one took a bullet point in order, explained why they had chosen it and also gave us examples!). I loved this way of presenting as well.
Here is their presentation:
The Poster Presentation
These two ladies used the poster paper. They brainstormed any words or phrases they could think of when taking the ideal employee into consideration, and wrote them in different colours, which made the points stand out. It was colourful and a great visual aid for their presentation! Then they stuck the poster to the wall with magnets and explained each point, which they also illustrated with examples.
I can’t wait to explore many more topics with them and other types of presentations as well. I am so grateful because they are so motivated and willing to learn, that is absolutely contagious for me too! I will be sharing more on the blog.
A little message for them – and for all my students:
Marjorie and I met two years ago, at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris. What impressed me about her was her enthusiasm about her work and her willingness to help out and run what was a great conference. She is extremely supportive to our teaching community and we are all very fortuntate to be connected with her. It is a huge honour to have her here on my blog. Enjoy our interview!
Vicky: Marjorie, thanks so much for this interview. It is an honour to have you on the blog!
Marjorie: It is an honour to be here!
Vicky: Let’s talk about your journey into education. It has been a really interesting one. Could you tell us more about it?
Marjorie: I actually studied music in Buffalo, New York and wanted to be an opera singer. While finishing my Master’s I took teaching qualifications as well and taught music in public schools for several years, before moving to New York City, where I continued with music by running a small opera company with a friend and working in advertising as my so-called ‘day job’. I then took a chance and moved to Europe to audition for the opera houses and, as I needed a job, I began teaching English in an adult education institution. Bit by bit, this became my new vocation and I continued my training in the field of ELT by taking numerous courses and going to conferences. Ideas I learned in those early days have proved to be the staples I still use in the classroom.
Vicky: What a great story! Can you tell us a few things about your teaching currently? Where do you teach and what levels are your students?
Marjorie: I now teach English at the language institute of the University of Graz. This institute offers language courses for all students at the university, meaning the students come from a variety of fields, and in some groups, from a variety of countries. This makes class discussions fascinating as students are experts in many different areas and can contribute new perspectives to the conversation. As a balance to university life I very much enjoy teaching adults and have corporate clients in our local bank. I have been teaching there as well some 25 years and work with people in different departments such as Human Resources or Project Management. The levels of the two groups are fairly similar, at the university I have students ranging from B1 to C1 as I teach both general English and a CAE preparation course and at the bank my students are mostly B1-B2.
Vicky: So university teaching, and Business English! Speaking of Business English, I first met you at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in 2012, in Paris. How did you become so involved with IATEFL? You are now the co-ordinator of BESIG.
Marjorie: I have been involved with teaching associations since the early 1990s when I first joined TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). I was quite active in the group and was Chair in the early 2000s. I attended my first IATEFL BESIG conference in Graz in 1995 and joined IATEFL at that conference. As IATEFL BESIG runs an annual conference every year, I found myself becoming a regular attendee and in 2008 joined the committee as one of the events organisers. I had organised events with TEA and this seemed like a great opportunity to get more involved with BESIG. In 2009 I was elected as one of the joint-coordinators and in 2011 as sole coordinator. Through the SIG-coordinators’ meetings I became more and more interested in the workings of IATEFL and when an opening became available on the Membership Committee I applied and began in that position in 2013. This has been a lot of fun as my job has been to organize the IATEFL webinar series which meant contacting people in the ELT field and setting up a program. What I am also proud of is that we have made the program quite diverse and at the end of last year, I officially applied for a Fair List Award for gender diversity in events in the UK. This was for the for the IATEFL webinar series. IATEFL BESIG had won one for our Pre-Conference Event in Glasgow in 2012. The other aspect of IATEFL I find so important is the chance to meet people around the world, like yourself, who are active and interested in setting up sharing communities of practice. In addition to supporting initiatives like the Fair List, I have also contributed to the lesson plan bank of the Disabled Access Friendly website, a non-profit organization which promotes awareness of those with disabilities through ELT.
Vicky: What especially have you been able to do as BESIG coordinator?
Marjorie: I am very glad that we have continued and expanded our online events. Carl Dowse, our last web coordinator, began the idea of our weekend workshops. These are online webinars run every month and are open to all. We then post the recordings for a week and afterwards they are moved into members’ area for them to view at any time. We have been able to reach a number of members around the world with this. And what is so fascinating is seeing how people connect in the chat box on the web conferencing platform and exchange ideas with each other. This helps as well to build a global community. We also began a scholarship for a ‘BESIG Facilitator’. This scholarship is set up to allow a BESIG member to travel to the annual IATEFL conference in the UK and the idea behind it is that the recipient will continue to work with BESIG when they get home. Our first award, for example, was to Mercedes Viola who has been a valuable member of the BESIG Online Team, was appointed to ElCom team of IATEFL last year and was just co-opted to be joint web coordinator with Claire Hart. Another idea to enable more teachers from other places to attend conferences was to offer highly reduced rates to teachers from specific areas to our annual conference rather than awarding full scholarships to only a few. This has been very successful and we were able to have a large number of teachers from former Yugoslavian countries at our conference in Dubrovnik, Czech and Slovak teachers in Stuttgart and now teachers from Hungary and Poland in Prague. We also worked together with the local teaching associations and they put people up in their homes as well. And the last initiative that we began in the last few years is our business English writing competition. This is open to all those who have not yet been published commercially. Winners then have their work published on the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online, and have the chance to win prizes. This extends our reach around the world and offers opportunities to budding writers of business English materials.
Vicky: What do you enjoy about being a SIG coordinator?
Marjorie: This has been (and continues to be) a very interesting experience. I discovered for myself how important it was to be able to delegate to the right people while trying to keep an overview of what is going on in the SIG. Another exciting aspect has been the creation of our ‘sub-committees’, the BOT which was started by Carl Dowse to help out with the online events and the BET, which was actually my idea. Although we have been holding annual conferences for over 25 years, we hadn’t published conferences selections recently and and it was thrilling to see the first BET publication, the Stuttgart Conference Selections in eBook format on both the BESIG and IATEFL websites. And the Prague Conference Selections will be coming out in a few months conference selections. But what is so interesting about getting these sub-committees together is that we have the chance as a SIG to involve more people in the running of the SIG and also develop talent. Committees often tend to consist of people who have been in ELT or IATEFL for quite some time whereas these sub-committees brought new people into the fold. They get an idea of how the SIG works and when it is time to find people for the committee we have some who have already been involved in helping out. The other part of the job that I like a lot is working with other SIG coordinators. It isn’t always easy coming in as a new coordinator as the job can be quite overwhelming and as I have been doing it now for a while it has been a pleasure to mentor some of the newer coordinators. There are so many little things that don’t need to be done from scratch and passing on the information can ease the transition from just being a committee member to actually being responsible for the SIG. In addition, it has been quite interesting working on a revision of the SIG handbook, looking at how the committees work and setting up guidelines for committee elections.
Vicky: You engage a lot and successfully in social media. How did you start using them, and how do you think they help educators?
Marjorie: I have to admit that I am a digital immigrant and have been learning how to use technology since I began teaching. But my first foray into active use of social media was when I finally took the plunge and got a smart phone. I was lucky in that two friends on holiday in Greece who were smart phone experts gave me lessons at the taverna every day at lunch so that by the end of the holiday I could use the apps on my phone. Through this I discovered the wonderful opportunities offered by groups like ELTChat which I take part in when my schedule allows. I also got on Twitter during that holiday and find it extremely useful for announcing events such as our upcoming PCE in Harrogate, our writing competition or the IATEFL BESIG conference I am organizing here in Graz. When I joined MemCom I began posting on Facebook pages to let people know about the webinars and in the meantime belong to a number of groups, mostly teaching organisations and associates of IATEFL. LinkedIn is another of the social media sites I belong to and I find that the conversation threads in the groups are very useful for professional development. But perhaps one of the most important parts of using social media is the chance to develop a PLN (personal learning network). Although I have been attending IATEFL conferences for a number of years, I have to say that last year in Liverpool was a truly new experience for me. I got to meet people from my PLN, went to their presentations and expanded my knowledge of what is going on the in the ELT world in a way I hadn’t been able to do before. And through social media and the PLN, we can stay in touch throughout the year.
Vicky: You write a lot of class materials. What kind and what level are your preferred ones to write?
Marjorie: I think at this point I have written for everything except for primary school although years ago I recorded a cassette with children’s songs in English. Here in Austria where I live, I wrote a series of books for lower secondary and am just finishing a series for upper secondary technical high schools. I have been writing for Cambridge University Press for almost ten years, starting with a book of photocopiable activities for business English. A few years ago I wrote two of the personal study books for the new Business Advantage Series, write regularly for the website, Professional English Online and just finished two projects for CD-ROMs to be used with coursebooks for the revised FCE and CAE exams. I have also written a book on banking for Pearson and revised a BEC Vantage book for Cengage-National Geographic. Last year at IATEFL I was thrilled to launch ‘Spotlight on Learning Styles’, my first methodology book published by Delta Publishing in the Teacher Development series. This had long been a dream of mine to do and working on it was an incredible experience.
Vicky: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline you would like to share with us?
Marjorie: There are several projects in the pipeline at the moment, although some are at very early stages. However, at the university I have just finished the second semester of a project with some sixty students on their learning styles by making use of learning styles questionnaires, self-reflection sheets and a final survey. I just brought the stack of papers home yesterday and am very curious about the data. This will be published as a chapter in a book put out by the university and I hope to be able to present on it at an upcoming conference. The other project which is going on at the moment is a module for ‘From Teacher 2 Writer’ on how to write activities for different learner types.
Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?
Marjorie: I would like to say that it is really wonderful to have the chance to be interviewed by someone I so admire in the field of ELT. Vicky, you were one of the winners of our ‘best first presentation’ award at the IATEFL BESIG conference in Paris and what I love about the field of ELT is the support we give to each other. This has been an important part of my reasons for becoming involved in an organisation like IATEFL. The very first webinar we organized was with Professor David Crystal and it was truly inspiring seeing that we were reaching people across the globe who would normally not have the opportunity to take part in such an event. This inclusive atmosphere and sense of community is essential to me and one of the main drivers for working within the IATEFL organization.
Vicky: Thank you so much for your kind words – they give me a lot of strength! And a huge thank you for this wonderful interview.
In Business (2005). Cambridge University Press
Business Advantage Intermediate Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press
Business Advantage Advanced Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press
On June 1st, the 1st BELTA Day took place. BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association, was formed in January 2013 by James Taylor, Mieke Kenis and Guido van Landeghem and since then many people have joined the board: Jurgen Basstanie, Ellen de Preter, Krishnan Coenen and myself as Editorial Officer of the blog. I was therefore honoured and moved to present at the 1st BELTA Day, which was an amazing experience. I saw fantastic sessions, learned a great deal and met amazing educators, from Belgium but also worldwide!
I am extremely happy to present you with an interview I have been thinking about for a very long time with one of the people I admire tremendously. Mike Griffin! I connected with Mike in December 2011 on Twitter initially – he stood out for being one of those educators who has great opinions and ideas on education. He also has an amazing sense of humour! I was so happy that he started his own blog, which contains super pieces of writing. Mike blogs at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections. Heeeeere’s Mike!
Vicky: First of all, a huge thank you for accepting to do this interview – as you know, you are one of my favourite people on Twitter and Facebook, so this is a huge honour for me!
Mike: The pleasure and honour is all mine! #Whoop! Thanks so much for having me. It has been such fun getting to know you on those channels.
Vicky: You teach in South Korea as a lot of us know, as you are one of the most well-known people in the PLN and offer lots to educators on a daily basis. However, can you tell us where and what kind of classes you have, for the people who meet you for the first time?
Mike: I live and work in Seoul. My “day job” is teaching in the graduate school of a university here. I guess it is easiest to say that I have two different jobs within that job. In the first, I teach Business English, Academic English, or Discussion-focused classes for grad students in the International Studies major. In the second I run weekly seminars in simultaneous interpretation for students doing an MA in interpretation and translation. Students come into class with a Korean speech that they read while others interpret simultaneously and I frantically listen to as many interpretations as I can. After that students give each other feedback on what they heard and then I do my best to answer questions and give feedback on what I heard. Everyone always wonders if my Korean ability is good enough for this. It’s not. I actually just listen to the English anyway.
Additionally, I have been (co-)teaching Curriculum Development on the New School MATESOL program for a few terms. I also work on a trainer/mentor training course for public school teachers. I feel pretty busy after writing that.
As for being well-known, that is news to me!
Vicky: Well, it’s the truth! Was teaching your first choice as a profession?
Mike: Not really. Kind of. I am not sure. I actually entered university as an Education major but switched to History shortly thereafter. I thought I might like to be a history teacher for a while but then the allure of living in other cultures was too much.
Vicky: How did you get to Korea in the first place and what do you like the most about living there? Was there anything that surprised you in your first few months there?
Mike: I decided in my final term during my undergrad I wanted to teach and travel. Korea jumped out at me for a few reasons. It was far away and seemed different. At that time (12+ years ago now) not a lot of people knew about Korea, especially as compared to Japan. I was interested in going to a place that was not so widely known. I was also interested in how Korea was changing so rapidly and had undergone such dramatic changes in the past 50 years. I was lucky enough to get in contact online with a Canadian guy that was leaving his job and I appreciated how honest he was about the good and not-so-good things about the position.
The most surprising thing for me in my first few months in South Korea is the thing that still surprises me the most. Buildings go up so quickly! It is amazing. You might go somewhere you haven’t been in a month and see 3-4 new buildings. Even after all this time it still surprises me.
Vicky: You are a huge proponent of Reflective Practice in Teaching and one of the founders of the first RPSIG (Reflective Practice Special Interest Group) in the world, based in Korea. How did you enter this area of interest? How did you start the SIG?
Mike: Wow, great question. I was lucky enough to see and get connected a bit with Dr. Thomas Farrell at a special day-long workshop in 2008. Reflection was also a big part of my MATESOL at the New School as well as my training to be a World Learning/SIT Teacher Trainer. I saw a lot of benefits when I started trying to see my teaching as it was and started talking and writing about it. I guess reflection and reflective practice appealed to me before I even know what they were or what they were called.
Vicky: You present a lot at conferences throughout the year and do a lot of workshops for teachers. What do you enjoy the most about them?
Mike:I absolutely love the sound of my own voice. Wait, no, that is not the right answer. For the past few years I have been averaging about 1 presentation a month, which is something I am looking forward to cutting back on in 2013. I truly enjoy presenting and giving workshops, though. I find it is great learning opportunity for me to discover my hidden beliefs on certain areas as well as to explore thoughts and ideas that I was not so familiar with. The other thing I enjoy is helping teachers see how their experiences and thoughts matter and how they can make their own decisions about their classes.
Vicky: What would you advise teachers who are a bit reluctant to present?
Mike:Just start by starting. Don’t worry about being perfect or blowing people’s minds. Audiences are generally very supportive (especially if you come off as a fellow explorer and not an expert telling people what they *should be doing). I think it can be pretty nerve-wracking at first but it gets easier. My other advice would be that you don’t need to start out with big huge presentations but can start with smaller sessions for your colleagues or friends or something along those lines. I’d also advise being patient and not taking it personally if and when rejections come.
Vicky: Let’s move on to your blog, which is one of my absolute favourites. If I have to choose the top 5, yours is definitely among them. How did you start it and what inspires you to write?
Mike: Thanks so much! It is always great to get positive feedback but even better to get positive feedback from someone that you respect (and someone that has an excellent blog themself!).
I love blogging. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it. I did dabble with student blogs and blogs that I ran for students back in the olde days of 2007 but I never thought about having my own blog. The constant nagging encouragement of my dear friend Josette LeBlanc (@josetteLB) who has an amazing blog over at tokenteach(http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/)wasthe main push for me to blog. I joined Twitter in 2011 just after the KOTESOL International Conference after Chuck Sandy encouraged the audience in his fantastic presentation to do so. From there after engaging with the community having a blog seemed like a natural next step. I think Twitter is fantastic but the tyranny of 140 characters can be a bit strong at times so it is nice to have a space to share some thoughts.
As for my inspiration to blog, there are a few ideas and rants that I just needed to get out of my system and blogging has been great for that. I have noticed how the simple fact of just having a blog changes my thought process. For example, something interesting or strange might occur in class but now that I have a blog I sometimes think about these events under the lens of “How would I write about this in the blog?” and I think it tends to give me more/different insights than I would have otherwise. I guess I didn’t really answer your question about what inspires me to write but it is partially things I need to get off my chest, lessons I have learned that I want to share, questions I am working through, funny (in my opinion at least) stories I want to share, or other people’s ideas I want to share.
Vicky: You are very active on social media and share a great deal with educators all around the world. Can you give us some insight into how you use each medium and what you see as a benefit? Which downsides are there?
Mike:“Very active on social” media is a very nice way to put it. Haha. I am on the computer a lot for work and Facebook and Twitter are enticing breaks. I mostly use Twitter for professional things (though I am not afraid to be silly and whimsical) and Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family and sharing random thoughts and links. In the past 6-10 months I have been adding more and more Twitter friends on Facebook and it has been interesting. I suppose “worlds colliding” could be a potential downside but I have been lucky enough (as far as I know) to not experience negative impact from merging my professional and personal digital selves. I think there are always risks inherent in any sort of communication but I have been very pleased with my social “networking for professional development experiment.” I guess I mostly share links and try to connect with people. I have been thrilled to discover amazing people who work in similar as well as drastically different contexts in Korea and around the world. Pooling knowledge and ideas with educators around the world has been an inspiring experience.
Vicky: Before our interview, I asked you which your favourite ELT book is and yours is Understanding Teaching Through Learning. Can you give us some details about it – why would you recommend it? By the way, I have already ordered it and thank you for that!
Mike:That is great news! That book was a great intro for me about many things related to teacher training and reflection. It is also a great source of ideas and material for running workshops. I think the authors did a great job of taking complicated ideas and making them accessible and engaging. Something I especially love about that book is how it offers something for teacher across all experience levels.
Vicky: Now let’s move on to Mike outside teaching. What do you enjoy doing when you have a spare moment?
Mike:I don’t have as many spare moments as I would like but traveling and reading are at the top of my list. Combining the two and reading on a beach in a new country is blissful for me.
Aside from my big interest in ELT am also interested in sports, movies, comedy, business, politics, and suddenly social networking.
Vicky: I asked you about your favourite movie before I interviewed you and it is The Big Lebowski – to be honest, I have never seen it, even though I have heard about it before. I had homework to do and learn more about it! Please tell us more about it and why you like it.
Mike: You have to see it! It’s hilarious. It is also one of those movies that gets better the more you see it. I don’t just recommend watching it once, I recommend watching it at least 5 times. Then things will make a bit more sense. I found it extremely witty and funny and I was especially impressed with the dialogue. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. I imagine when you (finally) see it you might recognize some of the lines because people have been saying them around you for years.
Vicky: Nerdy question coming up: have you ever taught with it?
Mike:That is a really #TESOLgeek –y question! It is also a great idea because I have never used it in class. Some of the dialogues would be great. I am imaging it now. I think you might be a bit out of your element if I start telling you what scenes would be good so I will wait for you to get back to me.
Vicky: Mike, a huge thank you for this interview, for your insight and your time. I really hope to meet you face to face soon!
Mike:Thank YOU. Thank you for having me. Thank you for all the support. Thanks for all the laughs and smiles. Thank you for all the sharing and community building that you do. And thank you for being you. Rock on!
(I am very much looking forward to meeting you face to face. I am willing to go on record that all the cake you can eat will be my treat!)
Vicky’s Notes: I would like to thank Mike very much for helping me find a title for his blog – wordplay on his blog title! And thank you – I never say no to cake!
This year has been a great year in learning for me, not only for my profession but for myself in general.
Once again, I have attended amazing conferences and workshops, where I have learnt a great deal and networked with amazing educators.
A very important thing I learned – pretty late, but better late than never! Facebook rocks for teachers! I absolutely love it. I had only been on Twitter for three years and my great friend James Taylor and Ania Musielak managed to get me to take the plunge – I really wonder why I hadn’t done it earlier. It is much more visual for me and I can learn a lot from various groups I have joined. It is truly a buzzing community of educators. Plus when I joined, I really felt like I opened a door to a house full of friends!
I am really trying to improve my German – both for myself and out of respect to this wonderful country. I am trying to learn it the way I can best, the way I learn other things as well – by looking and listening. Not through traditional methods and I completely refuse to follow them. For me they just don’t work, as I feel I am running into a wall. For that reason, I observe and try to speak with people and friends around me as much as possible. I also listen to lots of podcasts and that has improved it quite a lot.
I have started learning Turkish for the past three weeks, ever since I returned from lovely Istanbul. I have been learning on an online programme and will start lessons very soon! I love how it sounds. I would love to be able to communicate next time I go there again!
I have learned to make time for myself, for things I like – be it a simple thing that makes me feel good. It can be reading a book, having a nice cup of coffee or eating cake. If I feel okay, I am healthy and then I am feeling fine for my students as well!
Most importantly, after fifteen years of teaching, I have learned (and I am actually applying it much better than I thought) not to self-flagellate when something goes wrong, either in my teaching or in life in general. I see every mistake, every mishap as just one more thing ahead and that I will try no matter what to correct it or not repeat it.
I hope 2013 is full of health, happiness and even more learning for all of us! I wish everybody a Happy New Year!
Adam Simpson, aka @yearinthelifeofon Twitter, teaches English at Sabancı University, on the outskirts of beautiful Istanbul. He has a great blog called Teach Them English. He has recently invited all blogging educators to pick out twelve of their favourite posts for 2012 and share them.
I will choose three I like – for my three years of blogging : )
1. Using Advertising in the Business English Classroom I wrote this after a great class we had with one of my groups. My students made it into one of the best ever! They really took ownership of their learning and showed the whole class commercials they liked and made the best mini-presentations ever! Next year I will incorporate it with other groups as well, not only Business English ones.
2.Back to … the Future I have mentioned many times how much we loved The Loras English Academy, the school we had in Greece and how connected we were and still are with a lot of our students – we see them when we go back to Greece, we talk on Skype, via messages, I have connected to most of them via Facebook and Twitter…I wrote this post after I went to Greece in July and saw lots of our kids. How much they have grown, how many dreams they have…we love each and every one of you!
As I have mentioned before, this year I teach mainly adults in a number of contexts: some work in banks or various companies (software, packaging). Very often they have meetings to attend, where they are asked by their colleagues and managers to help resolve problems or conflicts. And they have to do it…in English! What I do with them (not something ground-breaking, a very simple idea) is that I try to think of potential problems they may have at work, such as:
1. What do you do if a colleague of yours is constantly late?
2. What happens if your boss asks you to work with your team at the weekend to finish off a project (and you are not that keen on working weekends)?
3. You have been working for months on installing a new computer program for the company / bank and they call you from the US in the middle of the night, asking you to resolve a glitch then and there! And other issues like that.
Of course, because I am learning their line of work from them (there are so many terms especially in IT and as I have recently learned, in packaging too!) I ask my students what kind of problem they would expect to face at some point. I make a list of all these and prepare role-plays and use them with them (some can be used with many groups!). This idea is also in the amazing book Five-Minute Business English Activities by Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton, under the title of Crisis! – the idea is to present the students with a crisis they need to solve. Most of the times I come into the room, putting on a dramatic face in order to set the crisis atmosphere and announce: People, we have a problem. I was fired! or Our new system is down! or something like that. It is unbelievable how they play into the drama and participate! Depending on the culture you are teaching in though, care must be taken not to scare the students or create unnecessary panic. For example, in some cultural contexts I cannot imagine the teacher going into the classroom dramatically yelling that there is a crisis. It would make the students uncomfortable. This activity has helped my students a lot, as they are pulled into it by the nature of it. They do not even realise when they start speaking and we get lots out of it. Sometimes we get lots of laughs too!
I am a bit late with this post, but have finally gotten round to posting my slides and the text (the updated version) from my workshop at IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium, which took place in Paris, on June 16th, in collaboration with TESOL France. I really enjoyed all the sessions I attended and will definitely be going to other BESIG events as well, as this was my first one and I loved it!
Here are the slides and some explanatory notes:
Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English
My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher, born in Toronto, Canada but of Greek descent. I have been living in Switzerland for two years and I absolutely love my work and life here.
What I like the most about my teaching here is that I have a lot of business people that I teach, be it in banks, companies, and so on. I find it very interesting to learn new terms and things about the business world – you see, I learn alongside them as well.
The idea I will present to you today was not planned in a lesson; it was a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, sure-let’s-use-this-and-see-what-happens decision.
I was reading the newspaper one day two years ago and saw the lines it was going to be a staycation. That last word totally hit me. I thought, great and I immediately looked it up to see if it was a recent addition to the dictionaries. It was, indeed, and I specifically found it on the online Macmillan Dictionary under the category buzzwords. I immediately thought of telling the bankers I teach the next morning. I still teach them and they love learning new things! So, I presented the word to them and they were absolutely thrilled! The discussion that ensued and the language that was produced were phenomenal. They were talking about vacations and staycations – amazingly low TTT (teacher talking time), with me just popping in occasionally to make corrections or contribute. Anything else I had planned for the rest of the lesson was not used, but it was one of the best lessons ever. …AND THEN….
“Can I bring you one of these every week?” I said. They loved the idea!
But, I did change a few things:
● I did not present the word in a here-you-are-this-is-the-word way, like I did the first time. What I did the second time and all the times after that was this (and I would like to try a few with you):
– daycation (simple): give me another word for holiday – lasting one day
– Googleheimer’s (complex) : Think of the most popular search engine. Do you know of an illness where people have trouble remembering? Have you ever thought of Googling something and until you have reached the search box on the Google homepage you have forgotten what it was? What is the name of this new illness of the 21st century?
– threequel (advanced) Do you like movies like the Matrix? First, they learn the word sequel – so what is the third one called, film number three?
What I do with these words is at the end of each month, I add them to a simple Word document – at the end of the month, they get the updated list with the definitions in English. I am thinking of having them contribute the definitions at the end of each month!
Some educators ask me (and they are right in a way), what do they need these words for? We don’t even know them and we are their teachers! How do they help our students?
Conclusions:– I don’t know some of them either. As a vocabulary fan I love learning new words!
– I don’t care if they don’t remember them afterwards (the interesting thing is that they remember a lot of them)
– It is what happens as they are trying to FIND the word of the week:
1. They learn words like sequel to a movie
2. and AFTER they have found it! The language production that goes on is unbelievable! I truly wish I could show you what is happening in our classes. They go on for ten minutes, half an hour, the whole lesson!
I help them with their vocabulary (I write a lot on the board) and their accuracy in grammar.
I am not here to tell you that I am a great teacher. I am here to tell you what my students, your students, OUR students can do with a simple thing! Just one or two words!
What we do with the Word of the Week:
– Conversation: most of my Business English students have lessons to enhance their speaking skills, so this helps them a lot – that is what they want and they find it interesting, so they start talking without even thinking twice
– They can write a short paragraph or story in pairs or small groups, using say 5 words of the week – you cannot imagine what they come up with!
– They actually FIND some of them in everyday life. A student of mine, from the group of bankers I mentioned at the beginning, called Werner, went to London on holiday and when he came back, he told me: “You won’t believe it! I was in London and I saw the word netiquette in a newspaper headline. I could explain it to my friends!” I see them everywhere as well. Lately, I have seen the word slacktivist numerous times, in newspapers, on TV, everywhere.
– They go back to their offices after their lessons and tell their colleagues who are not in our classes about the new words they learn.
They NEED to move with the times. Languages are living organisms, they breathe, they grow, they branch out. It is humanly impossible for them to remember all of those words/expressions, but even if they get 10 in the end, it is success. It also helps them decipher other words they find in the future. I have noticed that they do this now with many words. They are more independent now in deciphering the meaning of a word.
The point is that one single word can spark such a big conversation, can unlock the students and their potentials – they just start talking, and the language we get out of it is unbelievable!
This is our absolute favourite.
• Another activity we do is called difficult situations or Crisis! I have taken the idea form Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton’s book Five-Minute Business English Activities. I present them with potential problems in their work and have them discuss a course of action in twos or threes – when they have it ready and planned, then they discuss the way they would solve the problem and come up with potential solutions. Through this activity they learn how to use language to negotiate (as they might not always agree on a common course of action) and use expressions like I think, I believe that the best course of action would be… and of course practice their Conditionals (I have a great love for Conditionals and try to get them in there any way I can!) – If we did this, this would happen….If we had done this, this would not have happened… The only thing we should be cautious with in this activity is not to touch any sensitive issues that might stress them, or any topics we know they might have a problem with. It can be for instance something like this: informing my IT students that the new system they installed is having a few problems, so they have been told by their line manager that they have to work over the weekend to fix it and what they would do in this case. Sometimes I go out of the room and pretend to be a partner or colleague of theirs who comes into the room and shouts Crisis! This and this happened. So it kind of prepares the atmosphere and the ground, let´s say, for this activity. It also depends on the culture of the students. Perhaps their culture is not so expressive so actually coming into a classroom shouting Crisis! is not the best idea.
• If you have Business English students who make presentations, then you might find it useful for them to give you an actual presentation as part of the lesson. It can be something they have done for their work (but there you have to vouch for confidentiality – some teachers even sign an agreement of confidentiality that no information will leave the room) or a presentation on anything. Some of my bankers use vaious ideas to present – a few of them presented their countries, along with Powerpoint slides, or bike races – it can be even something as simple as that and the language you get out of it is absolutely amazing. What I do there is I sit with the rest of the students while one of them is presenting and keep notes, of great things they have said or of mistakes they have made. I then present the mistakes altogether if I know they will feel uncomfortable. It all depends on the learners.
• I also practice telephone conversations with them – but because our classroom does not connect via intercom with another, what we do is we turn our chairs and backs to one another and pretend we are phoning each other – turning our backs, so that the other person cannot see facial expressions and so cannot anticipate what the call is about.
There are literally hundreds of ideas to use when teaching Business English and I have shared only but a few – enjoy your lessons!
And those of us who were first-time speakers for BESIG were up for an award – I got third place! I was so happy to be presented the award by one of my favourite linguists, Professor David Crystal. Many thanks to Mike Hogan for the photos!
It is a great honour to introduce my new guest blogger, Phil Wade, a great educator and very prolific blogger. You can see all his posts and work on his blog, EFL Thoughts and Reflections.
Thank you so much, Phil!
I seem to be stuck in an endless circle with full courses in that the first few lessons/weeks involve getting to grips with the course and the students. Then it’s mid-term and there’s often some kind of test and just a few weeks later everyone is stressed about the final one and then…it’s the last class. Job done, time for a holiday and to think about next term.
I only really feel like I’ve got to grips half way or even towards the end of the course. There is the usual ‘trial and error’ phase or classes where I tried different approaches, some work some fail. I’ve always been one for adapting lessons to individual classes, I don’t believe in ‘one size fits all’, never have and, well, probably never will. Yes, I hear you say, it does mean more work and effort, stress too but that’s me and many of my PLN are the same. I know countless teachers who just ‘do the course’ with no differentiation at all and every year is the same. Not for me.
However, after teaching the same courses, age groups and with the same materials, in theory I can hit the ground running in the first week. Many years ago I had this situation and I had the courses down to an art form and was super slick, I even knew every page of the books. Yet, it was dull and pointless as I was just delivering something to people, not students. They could have been mannequins actually.
Now that I’ve finished another term I’m in the war room developing a new plan of attack for the next battle. Ideally, I need to think about what worked well and figure out why so I can emulate it but it also must allow space for adaptation.
The other things that I’m prepared for are all the ‘last minute surprises’ from the admin people. Next time the “you need to mark 50 reports in 3 days” won’t give me a heart attack like last time. I’m also aware that deadlines are not real deadlines and I’m prepared to say “I don’t have time”. This is how it seems to be done so I’ll just do as the locals.
As my students recently got their grades though there may yet be trouble in store. There is always at least one student who questions their grade and support from your boss varies from place to place. What I don’t like is when you get no guidelines or comments about your grades but then if someone complains suddenly you’ve done something wrong. This period is perhaps the calm before the storm and there may be one or they might not. Perhaps it’s a good time to go abroad for a long holiday. ‘Til next term I bid you adieu!