Posts Tagged ‘speaking’

 

 

Here’s a quick activity that might be great for the festive season. It comes from a lecture by Matt Abrahams, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who teaches strategic communication.

In this activity, the learners work in pairs. They give each other imaginary boxes with gifts. They don’t say what’s in the box. The person who got the gift ‘opens’ the box, looks inside and says what they see. They should say the first thing that comes to mind. Then the gift giver should improvise to explain why they thought the gift receiver needed this gift.

This is the video extract in which Matt Abrahams explains the activity: (26:00 till 29:00)

You could get your learners to watch the video or, if you’re pressed for time or if your learners would find a three minute authentic extract difficult to follow, explain the activity yourself.

I’ve also written an editable worksheet to go with the activity and a Slideshare pdf document if you don’t have Microsoft Word:

 

This blog has been quiet for a while, because life really got in the way.

I spent the bulk of spring finishing my Delta Module 3 assignment (the mammoth of a text had over 200 pages of appendices by the time I sent it off to Cambridge), and then three weeks ago I had a wonderful baby daughter, who’s been amusing and occupying me ever since.

This post is a bit of a diary entry, actually. Normally I don’t create any materials when I’m not teaching, but this post will be an exception. Right now I’m doing an iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far (and a nice change from the stress and toll of Delta), and I thought I’d make a note of some of the things that I’ve learnt on the course and post some of my assignments here.

My biggest takeaway from the first life session was the idea to bring together the materials writing principles that I adhere to and use this list as a checklist to proofread the worksheets that I create. When I started writing down the principles, they were an incoherent mess, but after a while some logic emerged:

Autenticity
Materials should

  • have clear aims that are authentic (real-world outcomes that the learners desire to achieve);
  • focus on language points/sub-skills that are key to achieving the aims (as opposed to ‘shoe-horning’ pre-chosen language points with no regard for discourse). To achieve that, they should be informed by insight into language in authentic use, e.g. be researched through a corpus or use authentic texts, and insight into performance of competent speakers);
  • stimulate genuine communication/authentic use of language, empowering the learners to get across the meanings they want to get across and, more generally, achieve the outcomes they want to achieve.

Methodology
Materials should

  • be informed by insight into language acquisition;
  • cater for the learners’ learning needs (e.g. stimulate and sustain interest, stimulate motivation e.g. by providing the learners with the opportunity to notice the gap between their performance and target performance; be cognitively engaging; elicit emotional response; be aesthetically pleasing; build the learners’ confidence; promote learner autonomy);
  • provide the learners with sufficient support through a well-designed sequence of tasks, e.g. focusing on Meaning/Form/Pronunciation of language or targeting specific sub-skills (this also means that they should not be overloaded: LESS is MORE);
  • provide opportunities for feedback.

The assignment for the first week was to create a worksheet based on a very short authentic text. I chose this 40-second video:

Lesson Overview
Level: B1

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-fjYeUHGLw (from Google Developers Youtube channel);
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 60-75 minutes 
Lesson aim: the learners will improve their ability to understand a British accent and get practice talking about what they love about their job and/or hobby.

The course has a thriving Google Plus community where course participants share their material writing assignments, leave feedback and share tips, and for me this has been a great opportunity to hear suggestions how to improve the listening worksheets that I have been creating – something that has never really happened with materials posted on this blog – and I found the feedback from the course participants and Katherine immensely valuable.

Here’s the summary of the feedback that I got so far:

  • For key elements of the lesson, don’t rely on the Teacher’s notes and the teacher. Most of my lesson plans have an element of decoding work, but up to now I never actually wrote any information about the features of connected speech in the worksheet explicitly, leaving it for the teacher to cover. This is bound to be confusing for the learners, so in this worksheet I summarized the key points in an information box.
  • Teacher’s notes: first, explore teacher’s books and look for good instructions to steal. Second, choose a style of presentation and stick to it, e.g. how will the Keys be highlighted? Will I use bullet points or paragraphs of text to present longer procedures? Third, use simpler language both in the teacher’s notes and in the instructions (one way to do that is to run them through a vocabulary profiler, aiming for A2 vocabulary).

So, here’s the resulting worksheet. I would be thrilled to hear any other tips how it could be improved. Any thoughts?

 

Ever since I read the great Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field, the book on developing listening skills, I became quite passionate about the need to consistently help learners cope with high frequency grammar structures in authentic speech, incorporating authentic listening work into grammar work. In the previous lesson on this blog the focus was on the way modals are pronounced.

In this new video-based lesson based on an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio, the learners practice their speaking, grammar for story-telling and again practice listening decoding, focusing on target grammar.

More specifically, the learners

  • [listening: gist] listen to scary stories that happened to Leonardo Dicaprio;
  • [grammar] explore the ways Present Perfect, Past Simple and Continuous are used in stories (Present Perfect typically comes at the beginning of the story to describe or ask about general life experience; Past Simple is used to describe a sequence of events; Past Continuous, for background information);
  • [listening: decoding skills] notice the way these tenses sound in authentic speech (some sounds get dropped from the verbs and linkers, which might make this grammar problematic for listeners);
  • [speaking] tell each other stories about the scariest/funniest/saddest things that have happened to them;
  • [spoken grammar, optional] explore using Present Simple/Continuous in stories to achieve a dramatic effect and using ‘He goes’ to report what someone said.

Videos used in the lesson:

Story 1 (Tasks 1 – 8)

Story 2 (Optional task 10)

Level: Intermediate/Upper-Intermediate (B1/B2)

Time: 90-120 minutes

Materials:

  • an editable Microsoft Word worksheet (docx). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download the .pdf file from Slideshare:
  • [for listening decoding work] A power point presentation (zip) where the words problematic for listeners are isolated, so that the learners can really hear what sounds are dropped. To play the audios, unpack the archive.

 

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One of the questions that my learners (who are IT people) are very likely to be asked during interviews and promotion reviews is ‘Tell us about your favourite technology’. But, whatever their profession, Business English learners need to learn to speak fluently and persuasively when presenting the advantages of products, tools and options.

Here’s a ‘geeky’ lesson plan in which the learners

  • watch a video of a developer talking about the features of his favourite browser (activities: gist listening, listening decoding skills)
  • analyze linkers used for listing ideas
  • briefly revise modal verbs (could, (don’t) have to)
  • talk about their favourite tools, apps and technologies

It worked very well with my learners, who spent more than fifteen minutes discussing the relative merits of file managers and development environments. For learners who are less geeky, I included a range of other websites and apps to talk about, e.g. social networks, messengers and and to-do list apps.

Level: Intermediate (B1)

Time: 90 minutes

Materials: an editable Microsoft Word worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you could download the .pdf file from Slideshare:

feedback-796135_1280

In this post I’m sharing a video-based lesson on Performance reviews that I taught today. It’s based on a fragment from a QA session by career analyst Dan Pink, who you might have heard of, as his TED talk on The puzzle of motivation features among top 10 most watched TED talks.

Levels: B1+ up to B2

Length: 90 minutes

Activities: the s/s watch an authentic video on alternatives to traditional performance reviews, develop their listening skills by focusing on features of connected speech, learn vocabulary from the video and finish the lesson with a discussion

Materials: an editable worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf from Slideshare:


Features of connected speech

In one of the listening activities in this lesson the learners transcribe several sentences from  the video. Here are some common English words and expressions that my students found problematic, due to the fact that they sound quite different from their dictionary form.

Overview:

  1. Elision of /ʊ/ from the diphthong //  (e.g. ‘out’ and ‘how’ sound more like ‘ut’ and ‘har’)
  2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’ (you are /ju ɑː/ -> /jə /)
  3. Elision of ‘t’ and ‘d’ the end of words (either disappear e.g. don’t_ask, or get replaced with a glottal stop, as the air isn’t released, e.g. it)
  4. Frequent chunks: at_the/at the end of the month; and_then
  5. r_vowel linking (e.g. more_among)

Board

1. Elision of /ʊ/ from /aʊ/

set out /ˈaʊt/ your goals

set out /ˈaʊt/

set them out /ˈaʊt/

of how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re doing

how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re

maybe think about /ə.baʊt/ this

2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’

you are /ju ɑː/ >> /jə /

of how you’re /jə / doing

are you /ə ju/ > /(ə)jə/

where are you /weər(ə)/ making progress

are you making

where are you /weər(ə)/ falling behind

3. Elision of /d/ /t/ (or replacement with glottal stop)

and_meet monthly

and say

Elision of /t/ in negative forms: question that we don’t ask

don’t ask

that

Elision of /t/ in negative forms: I didn’t quite make those

but I’ll have it with a peer

have it with

4. Frequent chunks (at_the, and_then, etc)

At_the beginning of a/the month

and_then at_the end_of_a month

and_then

5 r_vowel

more_among /mɔː.ˈmʌŋ /

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ / will have it with two peers

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ /


More about teaching listening on this blog:

My presentation at IATEFL 2015 (my top teaching tips for teaching listening decoding skills) / A post with screen shots explaining how to use interactive transcripts on youtube and Aegisub to teach decoding skills / Listening lessons (American and Australian accents)

Here’s another simple activity for practicing small talk. The students watch a video in which a communication coach recommends asking more concrete questions that invite people to tell stories and then go on to do just that – tell short simple stories.

Levels: B1+-B2 Time: 45-60 mins Procedure:

  1. Brainstorm 6 places where you students might make small talk in the next several weeks (e.g. ”in the office kitchen’, ‘over lunch’, ‘on a business trip’, ‘when someone visits their office’, ‘at the beginning of a skype meeting’, etc).
  2. For each location brainstorm 2-3 ‘small talk’ questions that they might ask.
  3. [Listening] Tell the students that they’re going to watch a 2 minute video with communication advice. Play the first sentence and check the meaning of ‘Curiosity’. Then play the rest of the video: the s/s watch for gist, share what they caught in pairs and what they’re still not sure about. Elicit questions from the s/s about the bits they didn’t understand (e.g. ‘What did he say about the bus?’). Play the video again, stopping after every 20-30 seconds for the students to summarize the points (it’s better to use the interactive transcript on youtube for this activity; if you don’t know how to do this, you’ll find instructions in this post – scroll till you see screenshots of youtube).
  4. Get the students to transcribe the three questions that the speaker gave to exemplify his point: 32:05 What do you think about San Francisco these days? (this question is too abstract) 32:14 What’s your morning like? What’s your morning routine? 32:39 How did you get to this party tonight?
  5. Get the students to reformulate some of the questions that they brainstormed during Stage 2 (or add some more).
  6. Finally, in new pairs, the students roleplay conversations (a pair rolls a dice to determine which of the six locations to pick, role-plays a three-minute conversation, then one of the students in each pair stands up and moves to another student).

For a quick related filler, in a later lesson, it might be useful to revisit the natural responses to ‘How are you?’ (a question that doesn’t imply any news sharing) and the alternatives that actually do invite the listener to share (e.g. ‘What have you been up to lately?’):

  1. Write ‘How are you?’ on the board. Elicit and board (1) alternative ways to greet and (2) possible responses. Next, ask what questions could be asked to invite the person you’re talking to to share news.
  2. Play the video. The s/s note down an alternative to ‘How are you?’, two responses that people give and the two questions used to elicit longer responses. (Replay them using the interactive transcript on youtube if needed).
    0:34 Jarek, how are you doing today?
    0:36 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Doing good. How are you?
    0:37 JJ BEHRENS: Pretty good.
    0:37 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: So you’ve been quite busy lately. I haven’t seen you around. What have you been up to, JJ?
    0:42 JJ BEHRENS: Well, I was talking to my wife. And she says, you’re not a real developer. You just play one on TV. And so I figured I should do something about that. And so I started releasing the backlog of Open Source projects that I have.
    0:55 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Cool. So tell me more. What have you released lately?
    0:57 JJ BEHRENS: So I released three projects….
  3. The s/s mingle and chat, sharing their news and practicing the new alternatives and responses to ‘How are you?’ and the question ‘What have you been up to?’

This post is different from what I normally do, because it’s a variation of a lesson that has already been posted to this blog.

A couple of months ago I posted a lesson on Keeping a conversation going. The lesson was part of a short course for IT professionals on entertaining a customer and it worked really well helping the learners to come up with ideas while making small talk and raised their awareness of strategies for active listening (body language, backchanneling, reformulation and so on). One problem was that the video used in the lesson was very technical, so it wasn’t really suitable for learners outside the world of IT. It was also very short and featured only a very limited range of examples. As a result, my students were still struggling with the pronunciation of backchannels by the end of the lesson, ‘overpronouncing’ them. This week I needed to teach that topic again, so I adapted the worksheet, using a video that can be interesting for non-IT people, and is packed to the brim with examples for the learners to analyze.

I’m very sorry for the overlap, but it seems like I still find spoken language, and ‘active listenership’ in particular, too much of a teaching challenge to let it go. This feature of language has always been challenging for my students, and at the moment I don’t have on my shelf any resource books on speaking based on authentic listening extracts, or at least recordings that don’t scream ‘recording studio’. For instance, there’s the fantastic Handbook of Spoken Grammar, but the audios there don’t sound that natural. (I’m sure there must be some great resource packs, and I know there have been some great coursebooks like Touchstone, but I’m limited to BE coursebooks, so I would be very grateful for pointers to resource books or materials that can be used stand-alone).

Just two years ago, when I was doing my Delta Module 2, I was craving to at least get some transcripts of authentic, unscripted interaction, and so I was buying up books that contained transcripts of authentic interviews (Exploring Spoken English, one amazing book where those transcripts are also painstakingly analyzed, can be bought second hand for a penny – and amazon also allows one to flip through its pages).  Now, just two years later, there’s no need to buy up books to get transcripts: hundreds of hours of transcribed interviews are available on Youtube, mostly on Google channels. So for now I’m creating my own materials, for what they’re worth.


Levels: B1/B2
Length: 90 minutes
Materials/equipment:

  • an editable Worksheet
  • a projector or a laptop to show the video
  • a deck of cards (if you don’t have cards, print them out and cut them up from the last page of the worksheet)

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download the .pdf from Slideshare:

The video:

The extracts for the speech analysis task (Task 6):

Extract 1 (11:23-11:46). Small ‘I’m listening’ words:

BRIAN GRADY: And you know, we don’t try to be pushy, but, you know, we want to expose and make things easier for people to do. [Sure, sure] Made With Android is about finding people outside of Google, doing things that nobody expected them to do with a phone. [Right] And.. so we found out that there’s a lot of people– there’s a community out there. People that, because of the extensibility of the Android operating system, [Sure. Sure.] are able to make incredible…

Extract 2 (11:46 – 11:50). Echoing.

applications that do crazy things, like

LAURENCE MORONEY: Like flying a weather balloon.

BRIAN GRADY: Flying a weather balloon, or opening

Extract  3 (11:48 – 12:01). Small ‘I’m listening’ words, echoing, reformulating and building on what the speaker said

BRIAN GRADY: Flying a weather balloon, or opening your apartment door when you’re at the top of the stairs and your bags are full of groceries. [Yeah!] I don’t know how you do that. Your hands are full of– but anyway. There’s things like that.

LAURENCE MORONEY: The things that people will think of that we can’t think of, right?

Extract 4 (12:38 – 13:07) Small ‘I’m listening’ words, reformulating and building on what the speaker said

BRIAN GRADY: Yes. We want non-commercial applications that are about fun, [OK] or hobby lifestyle kind of stuff, [Right] new connecting new things that people hadn’t connected. We want it to be an open source project. [Right] And we want to be able to, not only entertain people and inspire people with the video, but also provide them with the code, [OK] the applications, and maybe they’ll go out and do something else with it.

LAURENCE MORONEY: So somebody can pick this and run with it for themselves. [Yeah] Like I could actually go and get a weather balloon myself, now, and start doing what these folks do.

Extract 5 (13:07 – 13:17). Small ‘I’m listening’ words, echoing key words, short emotional comment (It’s cool), laughter.

BRIAN GRADY: You go to casadeballoon dot club, [OK] which is this group’s website.

LAURENCE MORONEY: I love the ‘dot club.’

BRIAN GRADY: Dot club. [It’s cool] I like the ‘casadeballon’. [laughter] But anyway,

Extract 6 (13:46 – 13:50) Emphatic agreement.

LAURENCE MORONEY:  I guess, the more exotic the locale, the better?

BRIAN GRADY: Absolutely.

Extract 7 (13:56 – 13:59) Echoing, emphatic agreement.

LAURENCE MORONEY: OK. I’m more a Tahiti guy myself.
BRIAN GRADY: Tahiti?
LAURENCE MORONEY: Yeah, …
BRIAN GRADY: Well, I hear

Acknowledgement. The role play for Task 2 was suggested by my colleague Anastasiya Chernetskaya – thank you Anastasiya, it’s simply ideal here!

I’m enjoying a Saturday lie-in with Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice by Ivor Timmis, a great new book which arrived in my mail just yesterday. It made me think of a quick exercise that can be used as a follow-up to any reading or listening activity. 2015-07-18 17.52.12It’s really simple, but since it takes a bit of technology to create it quickly, I thought I’d write a quick post.

The book overviews the insights into language achieved by corpus linguistics and discusses their implications for the ELT classroom. I’m currently reading the chapter called Corpus research and grammar, and one of the main topics of the chapter is to what extent the frequency of a linguistic feature should influence the amount of time devoted to teaching that feature. The author gives a number of very interesting examples of frequent features that tend to be underrepresented, over-represented or misrepresented in coursebooks (examples include ‘though’, which is often used in speaking to signal soft disagreement, and conditionals, which more often than not do not fall under ‘the zero, first, second and third’ two-part conditional structures, which most coursebooks almost exclusively focus on).

One striking fact mentioned in this chapter comes from an article by Biber and Reppern. Apparently, just 12 lexical verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) account for 45% of lexical verbs used in conversation. Biber and Reppern suggest that, since they are so frequently used in speech, these verbs require more attention in class than they currently do, judging by the coursebooks that they reviewed, and that these verbs should be used more to exemplify various grammar structures.

I’m thinking of giving my students an occasional gap-fill exercise based on the reading and listening texts that we are working on, with these verbs gapped out (their frequency is said to be higher in conversation than fiction, news and academic texts, so probably the task will work best with listening transcripts and informal writing, e.g. forum posts).

Finding and replacing the various forms of these verbs could be time-consuming, but there are tools in which one can make such a gap-fill exercise in one click. The first one is a free nifty little text editor called Notepad++.

notepadThe trick is that the editor uses so-called ‘regular expressions’ to allow you to search for more than one expression at once. So, if you open your text file in Notepad++ and type in (some|any) in the search box, you’ll see all occurrences of both words in your file and will be able to replace them with gaps in one click. The following search will find all verb forms of the 12 verbs mentioned above:

\b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b

(If you want to know why this expression matches all forms of those verbs, scroll to the bottom of the post).

Here’s how to create a gap-fill using Notepad++ in a bit more detail:

  1. Insert your text into Notepad++, select the text (on my system, by pressing CTRL+A),  and open the search window by pressing CTRL+H.
  2. In the search window, click the ‘Mark’ tab. Ensure that Search mode is set to ‘Regular expressions’ and that the ‘in selection’ check box is checked. Insert this into the ‘Find what’ box:

    \b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b
    Click ‘Mark all’ to highlight all occurrences of these words, so that you can look through them and check how many there are and how they’re used, and that nothing unrelated was accidentally found. In the example below there are 14 matches.

  3. Go to the ‘Replace’ tab, type in ‘________’ into the ‘Replace with’ box and click ‘Replace all’.
    Replace_Youtube
  4. Finally, insert the gap-filled text alongside the initial text into a word document. Voilà!

As an alternative to installing Notepad++, use the web-based Find and Replace tool – thanks to Mura Nava for the heads up! It’s even quicker and you don’t have to install it on your computer (one possible drawback is that you can’t highlight and check what you’re going to replace).

Find-and-Replace

I’ve tried this activity with a few transcripts from youtube, and I found it doable and enjoyable. I think I want to try to use it on a regular basis with my Upper-Intermediate students, encouraging them to note down interesting chunks with those verbs.

Let me know what you think.

References

Biber, D. and Reppern, R. (2002) What does frequency have to do with grammar teaching? Studies in Second Language Acquisition 24/2: 199-208

Timmis, I. (2015) Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice. Routledge

A bit on regular expressions

If you want to create your own regular expression searches, you might like to figure out how the one in this post works.

  • | stands for ‘or’. So (say|said) will return all present/past/past participle forms of ‘say’.
  • ? stands for ‘this part is optional’. So, (say|said)(s|ing)? will return all the forms from the previous example, plus ‘says’, ‘saying’, ‘saids’, and ‘saiding’. Only the first two words exist, but that doesn’t matter.
  • Some instances might be ‘false positives’. For example, ‘essays’ contains ‘say’, but that’s clearly not what we need. So, we need a way to show the tool that we’re only looking for full words. This is done by wrapping the search expression into ‘\b’ tags (they stand for ‘word boundary’).

So, in order to find all verb forms, I list all present and irregular forms, separating them by ‘or’, add possible endings (ed|ing|s)?, account for the fact that (e) will disappear before ing (hence, mak(e)?) and add \b at the beginning and the end:

\b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b

It’s summer and it seems that this blog has gone into a light mode. 🙂 Here’s another short game that we enjoyed playing with a pre-intermediate group a few days ago in order to revise some grammar (past and present simple, future for plans and hopes, second conditional).

Level: strong Pre-Intermediate (for End-of-Course revision) or Intermediate (B1).
Time:
 10 minutes for the warmer, 20-30 minutes for the game.
Materials: One class set of quotes for the warmer, a board game for each pair (Worksheet page 1), a grammar task for each student (Worksheet page 2), playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suite – for each pair). If you teach Business English, check out this version of the worksheet.

Procedure

Warmer

Print out a set of quotes (if there are more than eight students, print two sets). Display the quotes around the classroom. Ask the students to get up, look around, pick a quote that they like and get back to their seat with their quote. (Circulate and be prepared to give a bit of help with some of the vocabulary.) Get the students to share their quotes in groups of three, reading them out and explaining why they like them – also invite them to share as a whole group. Finally, ask the students whose quote is about the past. The present? The future? A dream?

Game
First, the students revise questions for past, present simple, future (will or going to for distant plans) and hypothetical questions (Worksheet page 2). After that, hand out, to each pair

  • the board (Worksheet page 1),
  • a counter (e.g. a coin) and
  • playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suit – to each pair).

The students place the counter at the bottom of the ladder. Each turn, a student whose turn it is to ask a question moves one step up the ladder, draws a card and asks their partner a question of the corresponding type. Encourage the students to ask follow-up questions and chat for a few minutes before moving on to the next question.

Acknowledgement 

The idea behind this game comes from an activity in Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, and the inspiration comes from Anna Zernova, who mentioned the activity during one of our chats about teaching.

The grid for the board comes from a fantastic post on turning tests into games by Svetlana Kandybovich and Tekhnologic.

Finally, I’m very grateful to Adi Rajan for the idea to use playing cards, and to my colleague Eleonora Popova for the beautiful England-styled pack of cards she gave me.

Happy teaching everyone – and enjoy your summer, if it’s summer where you are! 🙂

A couple of weeks ago I was doing a diagnostic test with one of my Business English groups to establish how well they answered interview questions. One of the questions was Have you ever worked with someone who it was difficult to work with? The students came up with lots of stories of difficult colleagues, but two things became evident from their replies. First, they didn’t really understand what to include in the answer, so they mostly focused on the description of the situation, and at least half of them didn’t even mention how the situation was resolved. And second, their replies were so long-winded that it was difficult to see structure in them even when they were structured.star-304291_640

So here is a video-based lesson plan that we did with that group today. The main aim of this lesson was to help the students structure their speech when talking about past experiences and decisions using the STAR framework for impromptu speaking. They listen to an extract from a workshop in Stanford Graduate School of Business in which the framework is presented, focus on vocabulary (talking about deadlines) and grammar (cleft sentences) in the video and then practice using the framework in their own speech.

In the second lesson (or for homework), the students analyze an example of a business person using a variation of the technique in her presentation:

Language level: B2 (Upper-Intermediate)
Learner type: adults (Business English)
Activity: listening (gist and decoding work), vocabulary, speaking strategies (STAR framework), cleft sentences (optional)
Length: ideally, two lessons (either 60 or 90 minutes, as communicative activities are flexible in length)
To do the lesson in 90 minutes, skip the task focusing on cleft sentences (see the procedure in the Teacher’s notes at the end of the worksheet).
Materials: editable .docx worksheet (tasks, transcripts, teacher’s notes). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from Slideshare: