The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight.

Below are my notes from the mini-workshop on How to write writing activities by Rachael Roberts, who has also written a book with the same title: 

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Rachael started by pointing out that writing activities are often left out or ‘done for homework’. In one-to-one context writing is also ‘weird’ because it’s silent. But increasingly more and more communication is done through writing, and so Rachael is passionate about teaching writing.

Sometimes when the learners are set a writing task, they aren’t given any support and so they have to ‘take a plunge’. In contrast, Rachael is going to focus on how to make the task manageable, i.e. scaffold the learners.

To break down the writing task, we need to think about the ‘ingredients’ of a piece of writing and

  • select which ingredients are key for the task;
  • decide in which order to approach them.

Key ingredients

Example: for a letter of application key ingredients would be the register and set phrases. If, on the other hand, you’re writing a report, it’s extremely important to think about the organization.

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Regarding lexis, there might be two ‘kinds’ of vocabulary that are key to the task:

  1. language to help organize the text and
  2. topic-related language.

For (1) the best thing to do is to have a model. Possible scaffolding: highlight the key expressions in the model and set the task for the learners to sort the expressions.

For (2), Rachael looks at samples of texts on the topic and puts them into a word cloud. This might reveal some vocabulary that isn’t obviously associated with the topic E.g. in this example you see that climate change is related to migration and crisis.

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Logical order

To help us explore the typical order of a writing lesson, Rachael invited us to order the following stages of writing an essay:

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Here is the ‘key’ – a layout of a writing lesson:

  • Tasks to activate schemata and, possibly, introduce some language
  • Read a model essay.
  • Start analyzing the essay: identify the thesis statement; identify the topic sentences;
  • Focus on grammar: identify the passive statements (focus on grammar after focus on meaning and context); practice passives (rewrite a set of sentences, using passives where appropriate);
  • Do the actual writing: the plan, a draft, check against a checklist and revise the draft.

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It seems that in this session Rachael has achieved the impossible and distilled the nuts and bolts of teaching writing to a fifteen minute workshop that included a practical element. An extremely useful, clear and concise framework to keep to hand.

As I mentioned above, this workshop was based on a module that Rachael wrote for ELT Teacher 2 Writer. It’s now also a chapter in a print book, which was great news for me, because I vastly prefer hard copies to ebooks – so I grabbed the book the moment it came out. I’ve just finished reading the chapter written by Rachael, and I really really enjoyed it.

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In the book, it’s a 38 page chapter (in other words, quite manageable for even a very busy teacher), and just like the workshop that Rachael gave, it’s an extremely clear, concise and hands-on take on creating writing activities. About a quarter of the module is devoted to an overview of activities and task types that might be used to help learners with the different ‘key ingredients’ of a writing task. Rachael also touches on the practical consideration of

  • how to choose which approach to teaching writing to use
  • how to analyze and write model texts
  • the ways writing for digital might be different from writing traditional activities, and more.

She mentions a lot of pitfalls to avoid, and also includes over a dozen practical tasks for the reader that really help process the ideas in the text. All in all, I can recommend this module not only to teachers who actually create writing materials, but also to anyone who teaches writing and wants to gain deeper understanding of how coursebook materials on writing work. 

The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight. Below are my notes from the first of those mini workshops. It was delivered by Evan Frendo and focused on one of the topics that he addressed in his book on writing corporate training materials: 

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Evan started his workshop by looking as some of the reason that might motivate a company / training department to commission in-house materials:

  • current materials are inadequate
  • company enters a new market / launches a product with specific language needs
  • a request from in-company language trainers
  • feedback on current materials from learners might trigger a request for company-specific materials
  • it can be as simple as a new HR manager
  • or you sell them the idea

Next he shared two examples of timelines for material writing projects that he’d done, the first one for a ‘traditional’ set of materials and the second one for an e-learning course (his e-learning courses are show-cased here):

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Next Evan asked us to imagine we are sitting down for an initial meeting with your potential client. What do you want on the agenda? Here are his points that he recommended discussing:

  • Objectives: what do they want out of the project? Often this is not done well and this is revealed half way through the project.
  • Approach: are you going to adhere to the approach they want or will you try and insist on your approach?
  • What human resources do you need? Who is the team on your and their side.
  • Timelines: milestones, etc.
  • Risk management. ‘What happens if’-type questions. Rarely done well – but up to a third of projects might not see the end due to force major factors like the change of company management, acquisitions, etc.
  • Communication with stakeholders: face to face? online? Evan recommends doing at least a couple of face to face meetings to build rapport and relationships – if things start to go wrong, it’s the relationship that was forged during those meeting that will help you to weather the storm.
  • What are the constraints? What happens when there are changes – and there are going to be changes?
  • Access to places and people: you do need a corpus. Unless this is put this down in writing, you’re unlikely to get this access.

I found this mini session very interesting and informative. I’m currently enjoying the security of writing materials for a company where I’m employed full time, and the reality of writing in this setting is obviously a lot less harsh than writing as a freelancer. So I can see how I might start taking some things for granted and so, when I venture ‘out there’, it will be all too easy for me to overlook some crucial things that need to be discussed. For instance, I would never expect up to a third of projects to never see completion. So for me Evan’s checklist of things that need to be discussed at the start of the project is simply invaluable, and so are the other tips he gave, e.g. how to actually land a project. But the real gem of the session for me was the two project timelines that Evan shared. I’ve never participated in creating an e-learning course, and it was very interesting to sneak a peek at a real project with its stages and the associated timelines.

Also, as Evan’s session was related to his book ‘How to write corporate training materials’, I just have to mention that I can’t recommend this book enough. In this book he offers a very clear framework for creating a company-specific course and liberally supports it with examples from his own experience and from research (I particularly enjoyed the case studies at the end of the book).  This title was an invaluable resource for my Delta Module 3. It’s also short, which means it’s an ideal starting point for someone who teaches general or exam English but is thinking of venturing into business English, so I’ve been recommending it to my friends who’re thinking of taking that step. 

I love mind mapping, so I couldn’t wait to hear what Ron has to share with us! Here are the notes from his workshop.

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The work is based on eight years on research into mind-mapping and how they influence second language learning. The focus is on B1-B2-C1 Business English classroom.

Ron Morrain maintains that, if we are to be great teachers, we need to (1) attempt to integrate the 4 Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, (2)  Task-based Language Teaching and (3) understand Project-based learning.

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Ron starts a lot of his classes immediately with a mind-map to win the learners over – in his experience, using them half-way won’t work. Here are some mindmaps that his learners do – notice two things:

  • They’re based around questions, e.g. What do I expect from this course? It’s crucial to find out the learners’ expectations and beliefs from the outset.
  • His mind maps have this ‘personal touch’ – they don’t have the feel that they were ‘produced in a Word document’. He draws them on A3 paper and laminates them.
  • All of his bubbles are always numbered (to guide the learners / see the structure and logic – see also examples below.

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In Ron’s school, they make no paper copies. In class, he passes his laminated copy around the class, the learners are responsible for getting a record – taking a picture, and then they navigate through the mind map using their own technology: tablets or smart phones, which makes it a ‘living object’ that they know where to find after the lesson. Also, it is the students who share the picture of the  their electronic management system and it is their pictures that Ron uses when he projects them. Basically, this is part of

Another example, at the beginning of the course: these are the speaking topics that we’ll be dealing it:
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Here are the writing topics:
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Ron mostly uses mind maps to guide the learners to produce a product (and the product will always be based on a skill) – below is an mind map that guides the learners to produce a 200 word restaurant review that’s going to be posted online.

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Again, notice how numbers highlight the structure of the review. The questions in the bubble prompt the learners to start researching on the internet (which takes care of input) – putting the learners in control of their learning. The learners must be result-oriented, and it is the them who choose what they’re going to read.

We moved on to discuss the ‘how’ of using the mind maps based on this mind map:

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First, how does the use of mind maps encourages the use of the 4Cs and a range of other questions.

E.g. to introduce Critical Thinking he introduces bubble #4: thinking critically about their area.

What happens afterwards? The learners’ product is assessed (and all teachers in Ron’s school are paid to become examiners so that they’re skilled as assessing learning).
When the mind map is used for speaking (e.g. CV mind-map below, where the learners present themselves for their partner): they have to listen pro-actively and take notes. When he asks them, ‘Did your partner make any mistakes’? they can’t answer ‘I don’t know’.

More examples – there are more business-oriented.

Product for the mind map below: a presentation, leading to writing (a 200 word essay). Again, notice how the questions prompt the learners to go out, do their research and take their learning in their hands.

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The company profile – the product here is not only a presentation but a Pecha Cucha. There are 10 bubbles, and they are only allowed 3 minutes to present their company. This is a great challenge for the learners and they love it.

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So, to round up, here are some of the reasons to use this approach.

Mind-mapping

  • reduces text-heavy materials
  • promotes storytelling as the people are going to be talking about themselves
  • promotes online learning
  • removes ‘talk and chalk’
  • incorporated different teaching approaches, e.g. TBL
  • a wonderful way to elicit target language in a natural way

One participant (Kirsten Waechter’s) take-away: I should learn to trust my learners more and ‘let go’.

You can find an example of a lesson plan that uses a mind map that Ron created for Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat.

And there’s a new title coming!

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I was blown away by this session. I am an avid mind-mapper already, but as they say, the devil is in the detail, and what I particularly liked was the look and feel of Ron’s maps – amazing! – and his ‘demand high’ attitude and determination to really push his learners to go and grab responsibility of their teaching. I find this to be one of the biggest challenges – and necessities – working in company, and it’s great to see a very consistent approach to driving learner autonomous work. And of course I loved the amazing mind maps that he created and shared. Can’t wait for the book to come out! 

Here are my notes from one more talk at the BESIG 2016 annual conference. Akos Gerold and Justine Arena were focusing on CBI, the type of job interview that they’ve been helping clients with.

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At the beginning the audience brainstormed some traditional interview questions:

  • Tell us about your weakness
  • If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Most of them have been around for a long time and the answers to them might not be that informative because they can be rehearsed and, what’s more important, it’s pretty easy to simply say what the interviewer wants to hear rather than the truth. Also, they do not measure how well the interviewee will do specific tasks. As an alternative, HRs have come up with CPI – competency-based interview.

What is CBI and what is the difference between CBI questions and traditional interviews?

CBI interview is about learning about the past to predict the future. Focusing on the situations that the applicant found themselves in that are similar to the situations in which they’re expected to perform. As they focus on situations and behavior that the applicants displayed, they’re also called situation interviews or behaviour interviews.

In contrast, in the ‘traditional’ interviews the aim is to form a general picture and the panel is trying to establish if the applicant meets a set of criteria.

Typical CBI questions:

Situation

  • Describe a specific situation when you..
  • Tell us about a time when you…
  • In the past, have you ever…

Action

  • What did you do?
  • how did you approach it? what was you role?

Outcome

  • What was the outcome?
  • What did you learn?
  • Have you applied what you learned?

Example

Competency: communicating with impact.
Achievement oriented question: Describe a situation in the past when you were able to persuade someone who was difficult to persuade to agree with you way of thinking on a substantive issue.
Adversity oriented question
Describe a situation in the past when you were not able to persuade someone who was difficult to persuade to agree with you way of thinking on a substantive issue.

How they are conducted:

Part 1: Traditional-type questions: tell me about yourself; why did you apply for this job – to build towards CBI questions and to put the applicants at ease.
Part 2: CBI questions – the same for each applicant, to be able to compare the answers across all applicants.

Preparation: questions

If you’re preparing a client – how do you know which questions they will be asked?

Job description >> isolate key tasks of the job and core values of the company >> turn them into open-ended CBI questions.

Example. Client: regional manger, apple customer experience
Primary responsibility: developing and maintaining a group
Some of the possible tasks and the corresponding CBI questions:

  • coaching them to overcome challenges and difficulties >> Tell us about a time when you coached a team to overcome challenges and difficulties?
  • dealing with interpersonal issues >> Describe a situation when you had to help a team deal with interpersonal issues?
  • building team atmosphere >> Have you ever built team atmosphere?
  • motivating team members >> Tell us about a situation when you had to motivate team members.

But note that we also need to balance achievement oriented and adversity oriented questions.

Preparation: answers

  • Come up with situations from your past that best exemplify your competences – you don’t want to think about that under the pressure during the interview.
  • Apply STAR motel (situation / task / action / result)
  • Even if the question sounds like a closed question, it’s a trick – they still expect an extended answer.

I found this a very useful session. The type of interview that Justine and Akos talked about resembles quite closely the soft-skill part of the interview that some of my learners need to pass, and it is very nice to have a very clear framework for preparing towards this type of interview. I think I’ll be referring both my colleagues and people who need to prepare for the interview to this write-up. 

BESIG Annual conference is kicking off tonight, and I’m very happy to be attending this year. It started off earlier today with two pre-conference sessions. The first one was on the Future of business English training. It was hosted by Mike Hogan and started with four experts talking for five minute each about a ‘hot’ issue related to the future of BE training. Below are my notes from that session. 
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In-company training

James Schofield

Key question: what differences do you see with the work of the in-company trainer from when you started teaching in Germany compared to now?

A couple of decades ago, companies in Germany used to offer luxurious English training for their employees, like 2 week intensive courses in a hotel. Now it’s largely a thing of the past, firstly because of the budget, but also because the level of people who come in the company is now generally a lot higher. So companies aren’t prepared to invest in pure language training any more.

Other factors that James didn’t touch on are skills, profile and activities that trainers need to have.

The skills trainers need
Cornelia Kreis-Meyer

What skills does the 21st century business English trainer need to be able to cope with the demands and needs of the business English learner?

Cornelia started with a list of current ‘buzz words’: work-life balance / industry 4.0 / cloud working / cloud teaching / augmented reality.

We’ll need to work totally independently / keep learning / speak several languages / work together with machines (i.e. mind-machine interaction) / play more of a facilitator role teaching the students how to find things and we’re going to need hard skills, soft skills, interpersonal skills and the digital skills to keep up with the ever-changing technology and use it in class every day. We might need to teach a robot to talk. Or teach your learners to talk to a robot.

Which English?
Chia Suan Chong

Given that English is now a global lingua franca and that people are using it to communicate with non-native as well as native speakers, which type of English we should be teaching?

Traditionally when we teach a language, we want the learners to achieve native speaker standard. To understand native speaker humour, use native speaker colloquialisms, and speak with a native speaker accent. But which native speaker – the Queen? Hugh Grant? Shouldn’t we be teaching the learners to communicate intelligibly when communicating in the international arena than obsessing about reaching the native speaker standard? Chia maintains we need to give the learners exposure to a range of accents (and not native speakers pretending to be foreign), be careful with teaching idioms, especially localized colloquialism, and above all focus on the complex nature of international communication, helping the learners acquire adaptation skills and accommodation skills that will help them to become successful communicators.

Business English materials
Valentina Dodge

Given the advances in educational (and translation) technology, how do you see BE professionals maintaining relevance and adding value to their corporate clients, with specific focus on business English teaching materials?

A trend towards greater specificity. We see most business training focused more on the business goals that need to be achieved by our clients. Syllabus isn’t predefined but emerges out of those goals.

Accessibility. What can the company offer us as trainers and how do we handle this? What company content can we access that can help drive our tailor-made course? How do we deal with permissions and the copyright?

Singularity / uniqueness. We can capture instances of how our students are communicating, like never before – including video and so on. We can reuse that to reformulate that language that they need, and the learners can use that to self-reflect.

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After this intro by four experts, the participants of the session discussed a range of business English training-related questions in small groups.

In the follow-up to the discussion the participants the following issues emerged, among others:

  • the skills we have had to learn in the past months, and they all seem to be technology related
  • the increasing need to encourage and ‘scaffold’ learner autonomy
  • the general feel that the need for pure language training is diminishing, partially because of new technology, and there was even speculation whether new translation technology might eventually put us all out of work.

I really enjoyed this session: the intro was thought-provoking and allowed me a glimpse into business English training reality that’s quite different from mine: working in company in Russia, I do not yet feel that the need for language training isn’t there – quite  the opposite, really. I also really enjoyed the interactive part of the session, as it was fascinating to get the chance to find out a bit more about business English training in a variety of countries and contexts, ranging from an in company training provider in Brazil to Swiss universities. 

temporal-distance-917364_960_720When faced with a difficult question, especially in a stressful situation like a job interview or a product presentation, some learners of English tend to fall silent and fail to let the other person know that they’re thinking.This might be especially problematic if the conversation takes place over the phone or Skype, i.e. when the person they’re talking to can’t see them and doesn’t know how to interpret their silence. Here’s a short lesson that I designed to help my learners deal with this problem.

Lesson Overview
Level: B1 – B2
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 30-45 minutes
Target expressions:
Target language.PNGMaterials: a Microsoft Word worksheet (you can download a .pdf file from Slideshare below):

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Very happy to win this month’s onestopenglish Lesson Share competition! I wanted to take part in this competition for ages, but only got the guts to send in a worksheet when I was doing the iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials (I wrote about the course back in June). The lesson is on work-related emailing, so if you teach this topic, you can check it out on their website.

Hey all,

I’m preparing a session on using technology in ELT and I wanted to ask my fellow English teachers what technology you use on a daily basis. The variety of tools and services out there is absolutely daunting, and I wonder which ones you find useful across a broad range of topics, levels, groups and learners, and which resources you often recommend to your learners.

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Here’s my current list of top tools:

  • A file sharing  service (I use dropbox) to share all kinds of files with the learners. I have a dedicated folder for every group and basically upload everything that we’ve used (audios, videos, presentations, the documents that were created in class and so on) to that folder for them to access at home or on the go (all documents are automatically synchronized and accessible from any device anywhere). The learners occasionally upload there their homework, e.g. audio recordings.
  • A way to share links and get in touch with the learners out of class. I teach in company, so I use instant messaging, since all my learners have Skype accounts. So I create a Skype chat for every group – it’s used to remind the learners of the homework, share useful links related to the topic of the lesson, and so on. The learners use it to ask occasional questions, post their writing homework there before class, so I can print it out and come to the next class with marked assignments. As an alternative with teens, I used social media (when I was teaching groups in which all learners had an account) – this did wonders to their motivation to do writing assignments. Not sure what I’d use with learners who don’t all have accounts on the same service.
  • Microsoft Excel to maintain a log of learners’ emerging language / language feedback and to generate revision cards.
  • Google image search to look for pictures. Occasionally, Windows Snipping tool to instantly copy those images. Microsoft Power Point to show those images in class.
  • Youtube videos. My own tool Hydra to look for youtube videos with target topics / grammar / lexis (unfortunately, it’s not working properlyl at the moment) and as a corpus of spoken English when questions about usage arise in class.
  • Online dictionaries, especially Oxford Learners’ Dictionaries to help write definitions for worksheets. A collocations dictionary to check my own writing and to show the learners how their word choices could be improved.
  • A laptop to have access to all of that in class.
  • My wordpress and twitter feeds and especially Teaching English – British Council web page to get new teaching ideas.

When I was teaching teens, I also used to use

(This is all that came to mind, but if I think of more, I’ll update the post.)

So, could you possibly share your favourite tools that you would recommend to teachers who are starting out?

A lot of posts on this blog are listening lessons and worksheets. In this post I wanted to share a story that is related to listening, but doesn’t involve teaching any decoding skills, or actually any language teaching at all.

A while ago I was teaching an A2 group of IT professionals. One of the learners had just joined a project with a British customer, and the customer was visiting the office, giving several hours’ worth of presentations every day. We’d done a couple of lessons on authentic listening with that group, but of course the task of following several hours of presentations every day would be exceptionally challenging at A2 level and I seriously doubted that the learner would cope.

At one point I met him in the corridor and asked how he was doing. He beamed and said, ‘Thanks! It worked!’ At first I was at a complete loss what he meant, but then I remembered that I’d met him a couple of days before and he’d complained that he was getting extremely tired in those meetings and couldn’t follow at all after about 30 minutes. This was only to be expected of course, but I thought of some finger fitness exercises that I had used in order to relax while I was preparing for my Delta exam, and so I showed them to my learner on the off chance that they would help.

And apparently they did help. Actually, it’s pretty obvious that for that learner the 2 minutes that he spent learning those exercises were a lot more useful than the two 90-minute lessons on authentic listening that he’d had, and I don’t quite know what to make of this fact. I’ve taught a few courses devoted exclusively to listening, and among all the decoding and meaning-building work it had never occurred to me to teach my learners anything of the sort, although I know that a lot of them have to listen in on long meetings and that they must get extremely tired. It’s almost like, no matter how principled the approach and how comprehensive the syllabus, there will always be a gaping hole in it which I might only notice by chance. Also, one of the reasons I avoid showing these finger fitness exercises to my learners is that I fear to be thought a complete freak. I guess at least this problem is now solved, as next time I teach a group, I could simply tell them this story and let them decide for themselves if they’d like to try out ‘the freaky finger yoga’ or not..

 

I’ve posted quite a few listening lessons on this blog, and up to now they were all worksheets meant to be used by a teacher in class. This time I’m sharing an online self-study lesson, for B1 level and higher, that allows learners to explore the features of connected speech and train listening decoding at their own pace. The lesson is based on a snippet from an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, an American journalist, at Toronto Public Library.

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The web tool that I used to build this lesson is still in a bit of experimental stage (e.g. unfortunately right now you can’t save or print out your answers, and there might be other minor snags). Still, I hope that it will be useful for learners who need to train themselves to understand fast authentic speech.

If you try the lesson, I’d be very grateful for your feedback.