Posts Tagged ‘talk summaries’

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: 


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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: 


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):



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. 

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.


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:


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


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


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


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. 
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.


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. 

IATEFL Business English SIG are running their 1st Online Symposium today – a day of pecha kuchas, talks and workshops on Business English topics.

Here’s a summary of a Pecha Kucha presentation by Rachel Appleby (@rapple18): The Confidence to Stand Up and Talk!


Presentations are common in business contexts, and yet, regardless of age and experience, even the most senior in the company can find this challenge nerve-wracking. Course materials provide long lists of “useful phrases”, how to use visuals effectively, and so on, but still many of our clients lack the confidence to do this well. What clients specifically need is how to get started, engage their audience, keep them involved, and, not least, how to end effectively. This pecha kucha will take the fast-lane approach to hooks and tools to help clients not just survive but succeed!

For some people presenting in English is more nerve-wracking that meeting a spider. How to help our students?  Rachel is going to present 7 ideas to help the learners build up the confidence to present in English.


1. A good idea: if you don’t have a new idea, tweak it and provide a new a new angle on the topic.
Examples:  ‘Recent Sales Figures’ >> ‘The key points about recent sales figures’ or ‘Something you didn’t know about..’; ‘Update on a project’ >> ‘Three features about the project’ / ‘What no-one else has done’.

2 How to start? if the beginning doesn’t make a good impression, you’re doomed.From the very beginning, get attention of the audience, e.g. through a quote / a fun fact (‘Did you know?..‘). Rachel’s favourite is a hands-up question (involves the audience and no-one needs to speak).

3 Have a ‘take home’ message. We could change the audience’s knowledge, attitude or behaviour – all three could be the ‘take-away’.

4 Also, establish your credibility (say a few things about yourself).

5 Provide direction: organize content to have clear structure, e.g. have three WH-questions on the first slide that you answer during the presentation, or organized it around a problem>> solution.

Involve the audience (e.g. get them to discuss a question, ask Yes/No questions).

7 Plan the end in advance. This is an invaluable opportunity to make your points again. Get the learners to write down ~3 sentences they’ll end their talk with. Some options: come down to the beginning? Summarize?

This was a very enjoyable and useful session: I feel that these seven key points would make a great check-list for anyone preparing to give a talk. 

This year I was very lucky to go to Manchester to attend the IATEFL Conference. While there, I wrote up summaries of over 20 talks and workshops – I’ve decided to sort them by topic area and put the links in one post to make them easier to navigate.

Apart from reading summaries on blogs, you can watch lots of interviews and some of the sessions that were recorded and will be available on IATEFL Online site for at least a year. I would especially recommend watching the incredible plenary by Harry Kuchah. I missed the plenary by Ann Cotton, but judging by what people who’d seen it said, this was also one of the highlights of the conference. Another unmissable talk was Appropriate strategies for teaching grammar – a Dave Willis retrospective by Jane Willis.

So, here are links to my summaries.

Materials writing

Most sessions I attended on material writing were part of The Material Writer’s Essential Toolkit – MaWSIG Pre-Conference Event). The event featured eight information-packed sessions and workshops focusing on practical hands-on ideas useful for any materials writer, no matter how experienced you are.

Sue Kay: ‘Writing multiple-choice questions’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Sue Kay gives a checklist of potential pitfalls to avoid when writing multiple-choice questions and shares several very useful slides with suggestions how to reformulate language from the text in the questions.  

Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones: ‘Maximising the image in materials design’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones show that images can be used a lot more productively than just as a pretty picture displayed next to the text. They also share lots of image stocks where you can find different types of images, as well as tips how to navigate those stocks to get exactly what you need.

Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher: ‘How to write ELT activities for authentic video and film’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher explore the changing role of video in ELT and share lots of ideas for activity types that can be used with video content.

John Hughes ‘Writing ELT audio and video scripts: From basic principles to creating drama’ (MaWSIG PCE)
John Hughes shares insight into writing scripts for videos,  focusing specifically on the ways to make them sound natural. He also shares some techniques for making scripts interesting, referring to none other than Kurt Vonnegut and his 8 tips for writers. Material writers are writers too!

Sheila Thorn: Practical advice on creating authentic Medical English listening materials  (recording)
Sheila Thorn, who previously produced a wonderful listening coursebook series aimed at general English students, talks about how she successfully created authentic Medical English materials in the situation when it’s virtually impossible to obtain recordings of medical interactions between patients and doctors. She also shares insight into the exercise types that students need to fully benefit from authentic listening materials. 

Julie Moore ‘Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Julie Moore demonstrates how indispensable a corpus is for creating grammar and vocabulary materials – and also talks about the limitations of corpora.

Evan Frendo ‘Tailor-making materials from an ESP author perspective’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Evan Frendo talks about what an ESP materials writer must do before creating materials. Materials in this context will aim to enable the learners to become successful communicators (as opposed to ‘improve their language level’), and, since ‘successful communication’  means different things in different settings, materials needs to be informed by the conventions of the company/field and by top sources of difficulty in intercultural communication. 

Christien Lee ‘Adventures in self-publishing’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Christien Lee tells us the story of his (mis)adventures in self-publishing. Along the way, he shares some very useful tips and tools for creating practice tests for high stakes exams – specifically, how to make sure that they are close in difficulty to the original tests. 

Technology for materials writing

Nick Tims: ‘A technological toolkit for material writers’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Nick Tims gave a wonderful, lively session in which he makes a very strong point that whenever you find yourself frequently doing a certain action in several clicks, you should find a tool that does that action in one click. He also shares some great browser extensions that allow you to control and analyze your time spent online.  

Paul Sweeney: Course (be)ware: key lessons in online course development
Paul Sweeney asked people who had created 13,000 hours of online course content between them: ‘What were the five biggest problems you faced?’ If you are starting out on the path of creating online courses, you should really read his paper when he writes it – but for now, check out the summary of this talk. 

Humanistic teaching

Lizzie Pinard: Fostering autonomy: harnessing the outside world from within the classroom (though better read Lizzie’s own write-up of her talk on her blog).
In her great talk, Lizzie Pinard shares her top seven tips for how to win the students over to the idea of practicing language outside class, support them, and really make them feel in charge of their learning, both in and outside the classroom.

Kirsten Waechter: Your class is your resource – making use of learner styles
Kirsten Waechter talks about the dangers of ignoring the learners’ learning preferences, and shares ideas how to find out learner styles and what activity types to use with learners of different styles to really help them to learn. 

Madeleine du Vivier & Jo-Ann Delaney: Lessons learned as a language learner
Madelaine du Vivier and Jo-Ann Delaney share how their language learning experience made them question their assumptions about what should be happening in classroom and made them much more aware of their learners and their individual preferences. 

Jason Anderson: Lying is the best policy… to get learners speaking! (Update: Jason’s own write-up is available here.)
Jason Anderson shares lots of game-like activities that involve deception, and also reflects on how ‘lying activities’ benefit learners in general, e.g. by developing higher order thinking skills and learning to adjust and read intonations and body language.

Robert Zammit: Structured spontaneity. Unleashing participants’ spontaneity and creativity for role playing
This was a workshop on psychodramaturgy during which we created human statues and shaped invisible people with their lives and histories and emotions, and then became those statues and people and talked through them. It was a hopeless idea to capture that session, but it was a very different experience, so I wanted to share it. 

Luke Meddings: People, pronunciation and play
Writing this workshop up was an even more hopeless idea than writing up the workshop by Robert Zammit. We laughed (and laughed and laughed) and played and relished language. Still, maybe this post will inspire you to play too, so I’m sharing it anyway. 

Continuous professional development

Dita Phillips & Ela Wassell: Better together: peer-coaching for continuing professional development
Dita Phillips and Ella Wassell share their experience peer-coaching each other and the benefits this brought to their professional development. They share lots of tips for how to set up a similar project with a colleague you trust. 

Marisa Constantinides: Evernote for teacher observation and teacher development
Marisa Constantinides shows how she uses technology to capture and convey her lesson observations a lot more powerfully than mere notes ever could. 

See also Madeleine du Vivier & Jo-Ann Delaney: Lessons learned as a language learner above.

Language & methodology

Candy van Olst: How does just chatting become a purposeful conversation? (recording)
Candy van Olst outlines a list of skills that skillful conversationalists employ and translates those skills into specific grammar areas that learners need to learn and practise in order to be able to have purposeful, rich conversations of the kind they might be having in their mother tongues. 

Chia Suan Chong: The pragmatics of successful business communication
Chia Suan Chong shows examples of how different cultures may read different meaning into the same language and interaction patterns and gives examples of activities that language trainers can use to sensitize learners to those differences and thus help them become more successful communicators.

Pamela Rogerson-Revell: Research into practice: revisiting some ‘old-fashioned’ notions in pronunciation teaching (recording)
Pamela Rogerson-Revell draws on phonological research to formulate some concrete tips for how to create successful drills, minimal pairs activities and target intonation in class.

Paul Davis: Grammar: deixis – pointing this way and that
Paul Davis points out that a handful of grammar areas account for a vast majority of learner mistakes, and therefore those areas need to receive a lot more attention in class than they might currently be receiving. He also suggested some activity types to nail those slippery areas.  

My workshop: Authentic listening: stepping from bottom-up decoding to understanding
We started by listening to examples of features of authentic speech that may cause language learners a lot of listening difficulties, even at post-C2 levels. I then show how to use free technology (youtube and Aegisub) to help learners cope with those features and share my typical listening lesson plan. In my slides you’ll find the audio and video snippets we listened to, and a link to a wide range of videos that this lesson plan can be adapted to.


Christina Rebuffet-Broadus: Market smarter to sell higher as a freelance trainer
Christina Rebuffet-Broadus pinpoints things that freelancers often say to potential clients which hurt them by sending the wrong message, shows how small differences in the way you market your services might have a big impact on how they are perceived, and shares her experience creating value for potential clients so that they want to hear from you when you are ready to offer them a service. 


Lots of people blogged about the sessions they attended this year. Here are a few great sources (please feel free to share other links in the comments):  

Lizzie Pinard wrote up over thirty sessions – indexed in this post on her blog.
IATEFL online roving reporters Csilla Jaray-Benn and David Dodgson shared their impressions from about ten sessions here.
Mark Hancock shared some reflections on the pronunciation sessions he attended on his blog.

Abstract: In the competitive training market, it is crucial for freelance trainers to prove their added value and differentiate themselves if they want to ask for higher prices. This talk presents proven tools and techniques to do just that. We will also identify common marketing practices to avoid if you want to increase your chances for successful sales.


Christina is going to focus on the following three topics:

  • Common practices people use to mark themselves as TEFL trainers that are not very effective.
  • Pricing strategies that are based in psychology
  • Techniques to build trust and promote yourself without screaming ‘please buy my product’ – by showing them rather than telling them.

Do you use any of these arguments? 

They all might hurt you!

  • ‘My charge is €.. an hour’

Formulating price in contact hours hurts you because HRs don’t take into account all the other work you have to do (lesson preparation, drawing up contracts and so on). ‘€30 per (contact) hour’ might mean that in fact you get €3 per hour.

  • My training is customized to your needs’

Of course it is! It’s your job to customize – everyone’s doing that so that doesn’t differentiate you.

  • ‘Covers grammar and vocabulary that you need to [do such and such things]’

This only reminds your clients of traumatizing experiences trying to learn English at school

  • ‘Best prices on the market’

If you think of food, who has the best prices on the market? Not high quality restaurants. This is not the message you want to send out.

  • ‘Hi, would you be interested in training?’

The answer is always ‘No’ or ‘We’ll get in touch’. Asking an HR this question e.g. at a conference out of the blue scares them and this produces lizard brain reaction: ‘can I eat it?’ (no) ‘can I ignore it?’ (not polite) ‘can I run away?’ (yes, and that’s what they do).

Psychology of pricing 

How many packages to present? Christina showed us a little experiment on how the number and prices of packages may affect your perception.


Option 1.A: online subscription €29
Option 1.B: Print & web subscription €64


Option 2.A: Online subscription €29
Option 2.B Print subscription €64
Option 2.C Print & web €64

The second way is a lot better because just two products at random price are difficult to compare. The point of having option 2.B is to make customers see the value of 2.C. Shops use these principles in the same way: if you see a dress at €200 you might think that’s too expensive, but when later you see a product (e.g. a bag) that’s very expensive (€1140), this anchors the customer’s idea of what’s an acceptable price for other products.

Also, when you present your products in three different packages, people normally go for the middle one. This means: the one you really want to sell more should be in the middle!

Presenting a discount also makes things attractive: Reg €54 > €40 is more attractive than €39. Prices that end in 9 or 7 are also more attractive.

Finally, package your offers as products with names! Christina offers their clients three courses called ‘On the go’,’Half and half’ and ‘The total package’. Everything you normally do as part of the training product (needs analysis, etc) has to be listed in the product description.

Build before sales 

Build media presence (e.g. newsletters, etc). You need to be in regular contact with your marketing base to reduce the ‘lizard’ reaction. This can be done by regularly providing content that’s useful for your clients (e.g. share or create videos / share tips / e-books and pdfs). Set yourself a schedule. Christina sends out a newsletter every Tuesday – this has become part of her job. She also produces videos (ideas for what topics to address come from her clients’ typical difficulties, but she also sends new subscribers of her blog a questionnaire in which they write areas they need to practice).

(video from Christina Rebuffet-Broadus’s youtube channel Speak Better Feel Great)

Managing subscriptions

  • MailChimp is free up to 2000 subscribers.
  • SumoMe is a plug-in to collect internet addresses. If you don’t collect the addresses of your visitors, your really have to start. They are the people who’ve heard of you and when you’re ready to present an offer, they will be willing to listen to you.

Comments from the audience:

Don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn (build up your profile, create a blog, think about keywords, etc).

My takeaway from this session, apart from all the great tips? In our work teachers have to perform a lot of diverse functions and we really should draw on expertise accumulated in other professional fields. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus successfully uses insights into marketing and psychology when marketing her services in the same way as John Hughes uses Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips for writers when writing his coursebooks and Nick Tims uses technology to save himself time. Probably there are a lot more very relevant ideas to explore in books which it had never occurred to me to open. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract: This talk reports on a project that two experienced teacher trainers undertook to inform what they tell their pre/in-service trainees about the language learning process. We studied elementary Spanish for a term and documented our findings on a weekly basis. You’ll leave the session with practical ideas of how you can use this experience in your teaching and training sessions.,  jo-ann

As a result of their experience as language learners, Madeleine and Jo-Ann’s attitudes and beliefs about what should happen in classroom changed.  They had skype discussions of their experience after each class and altogether there were about 30 things that they saw differently in the end. Also, sometimes they had quite different perspectives on what was happening in class. For this presentation they chose what they felt were the ten most important issues, so this session is a summary of key perceptions that changed for Madeleine and Jo-Ann.

But first, what are your beliefs on these issues?


1. Learners should engage with the meaning of a written or spoken text before they do any language work. 


2. Teacher should provide controlled practice of pronunciation through repetition or drilling.

Both Madeleine and Jo-Ann felt desperate to use controlled pronunciation practice through repetitions / drilling (they even noticed other students trying words out under their breath because they wanted to try them out so much, but didn’t get enough opportunities in the lessons).

3. Classroom tasks and resources should be authentic.

When they started out, they felt that authenticity was very important. However, when she was taking classes, Jo-Ann felt happy practicing language asking partners about things she’d never speak about in L1, like in this exercise:


4. Learners should work in different pairs / groups in a lesson.

Not Imp >>>>> V important.
Both Madeleine and Jo-Ann really recognized the value of re-grouping students. They got incredibly bored sitting next to the same person.

5. Whole group questions should be asked randomly. 

What they mean was checking answers to exercises: should the teacher nominate random people, or use a predictable pattern of nomination?
Madeleine: Not imp >>>> V imp – she wanted to prepare her answer and really didn’t want to be put on the spot.
Jo-Ann: V imp >>>> Not – she felt predictable patterns were bad for her learning missed questions 1-5 because she would be number six.

6. It’s good for stronger and weaker learners to work together to encourage peer teaching.
Madeleine V imp >>>> Not – she wanted to work with same level or lower to feel safer.
Jo-Ann: ‘explaining helps you’ is rubbish. I want to learn, I don’t want to explain.

7. Praise is important for motivation.
fenomenalJo-Ann Imp >>> V Imp. Before taking lessons, Jo-Ann thought it’s not that important and she had a worry that sometimes teachers overpraise.

But when she had ‘Fenomenal!’ on her writing, it had enormous impact on her motivation. When she came to work, she couldn’t stop talking about it and worked really hard to get that again.

  • 8. Be aware of physical features of the learning environment. E.g. heat, light, furniture layout.
    Madeleine: Not >>> V Imp. Before the experience, Madeleine hadn’t realized how much being uncomfortable would affect your learning. You should really think about how the classroom is laid out and the temperature.

9. It’s important to always use the target language even with a monolingual group. 

Jo-Ann: V Imp and stayed that way (the classes were 99% in Spanish and Jo-Ann really valued that).
Madeleine: V Imp >>> NOT. She wanted more English because she didn’t understand grammar explanations.

10. There should be a variety of tasks and input.

Madeleine Imp >>>> V Imp.
Jo-Ann – wasn’t an issue.

Other issues included listening – too fast and the teacher didn’t play them enough times; the amount of time spent on correcting homework in the lesson, etc.


The experience (and the fact that they had different attitudes to what was happening in classroom) made Madeleine and Jo-Ann more aware that they need to question their assumptions. They became more aware of their students (and, for Madeleine, especially their comfort).


  • all teachers should get involved in an L2 course (even 5 lessons would tell you a lot);
  • keep a diary and if you have someone to compare, draw a scale.  t’s the scale that makes you realize how different your reactions are;
  • they feel that in a teacher trainer course week 3 would be a good time for a foreign language lesson;
  • it’s a great idea to do a foreign language lesson in a Delta / in service courses

Here’s the handout that Madeleine and Jo-Ann shared (the last page comes from The Developing English Teacher by Duncan Foord).

_handout1 _handout2 _handout3


Tim Lo, IH Learning Chinese  – this is an article that I wasn’t able to locate
Scott Thornbury, The (De-)Fossilisation Diaries.

This session was one of the ‘unmissables’ for me, because I’m very interested in lessons that teachers draw from their language learning experience. It was also quite surprising: I had expected the presenters to talk about some aspects of language acquisition or learner strategies, because those were the kinds of takeaways I drew from my own recent language learner experience (I was teaching myself German and also took two dozen Dogme-type skype lessons). But Madeleine and Jo-Ann’s experience was in a class, so it was a lot more similar to that of their learners, and their top takeaways were about classroom management and the teacher’s decisions. Two most important things I took away from this talk was (1) it’s extremely important to survey students’ perceptions about 5 lessons into the course (2) things important for the students might be things that have never occurred to me – so it’s important to make sure that feedback I get isn’t too focused – e.g. simply a questionnaire might be a poor choice. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Chia Suan Chong (York Associates)

Abstract. Many Business English teachers often worry about their knowledge (or lack thereof) of the business world. But aren’t we already well-equipped as language practitioners to understand the delicate and ever-so-interesting nature of discourse in business and how it differs amongst different speech communities? This workshop explains how we can use these instincts to help our clients become more successful communicators.

The title says ‘pragmatics’. What is it? The way meaning of an utterance is negotiated by people in the context.

Terms: utterance (the words that were spoken); locutionary force (surface meaning of the utterance); illocutionary force / function (the intended/negotiated meaning of the utterance).


The function here is probably ‘advice’.

What are the functions here?
Emma: Can you find out if the train is running? (locutionary force: ability; illocutionary force: a request)
Tom: The internet is down. (illocutionary force: No)

How do you know that these two utterances are even connectedThe listeners make Tom’s answer relevant through making all kinds of references. But imagine the listener is from a country with no internet or no trains?

Another example:
Dawn: The phone is ringing. (= an order)
Jay: I’m in the bath. (= I can’t)

In coursebooks often we see

  • decontextualized utterances (which in fact could mean anything, given the right context);
  • exponents that aren’t synonymous but which are labeled under the same category. Some functions, at least on the surface, lend themselves to such categorization (e.g. with requests / commands). However, language is difficult to categorize – e.g. the examples below were presented in one coursebook together labeled as ‘praise’, But the intentions of people who use those exponents are probably very different.
    My manager speaks very highly of you //could be used to try to established good relationship
    I don’t mean to brag but..

    You have outdone yourself this time. //could be sarcastic
    …if I do say so myself

Another example: exponents for adding a point and contrast:
Adding a point
On top of that
Having said that,

On the other hand

(Adapted from Prof. Henry Widdowson).

However, what could they mean in context?
Jen: He was on social welfare but was not lazy. (‘but’ says a lot about what Jen thinks about people on social wellfare)
Casey: She wore flat shoes to the job interview. On top of that, she wore trousers.
Beth: We are totally underpaid, the offices are overcrowded, and the directors are completely out of touch with the staff. Having said that, I do love working here.
(implies ‘I’m just venting‘. Compare what happens if you substitute for ‘But then again?’ implies more equal weight).

Implications: the simple categories are not enough. There’s really meaning in everything.

Illocutionary forces. What do the following utterances really mean?

  • It’s stuffy in here, isn’t it? (probably: could you open the window?)
  • Will you be passing the supermarket on your way home? (probably: a request)
  • That curry smells really good. (probably:=I want some! How could this dialogue develop> Oh really? I’m cooking it for a fundraising even> Oh really? How good of you! = let’s pretend I never asked – because I never actually said that.) – so it’s a great face-saving device

In business every sentence also has meaning

  • Are your busy? (could you help me? can I talk to you?)
  • We need to get this proposal in by Friday. (you need to get it in)
  • I hear what you say (what’s going to follow is …but + disagreement or critism)
  • That is a very brave proposal (you’re mad).

Intercultural communication

The fact that there’s meaning in everything may create great difficulties in intercultural communication, when different people read different meaning into the same words / behaviour patterns / body language etc.

Example 1

What is the context? Who are Sarah and Aki? What does Aki really mean?
Sarah: We could inject another $50k for 15% of your business.
Aki: That’s interesting.

‘That’s interesting’ might mean ‘I need to think about that’ or ‘I need to discuss that with my boss‘. However, in Japanese ‘That’s interesting’ means no’ (and Chia Suan Chong has never heard the actual word ‘no’ in Japanese).

Example 2. Adjacency pairs

How would you reply to those greetings?

Hello! How are you? > Fine! Yourself?
Lovely weather today. > Gorgeous, isn’t it?
That is a gorgeous dress you have on! > Oh, this old thing? I’ve had it for ages!

How about these greetings?

  • How’s your wife and children?
  • Have you had lunch?
  • How’s business?

In some cultures they are standard greetings (and require standard responses). In China, you have to say: fine/yes to all of them (when used as greetings). E.g. if you reply ‘no’ to ‘Have you had lunch?’ I’m obliged to bring you up for lunch.

Implications: the need to attune to the culture of the other person.

Example 3. Formulaic responses that draw on cultural inferences. 

Deb: Is the meeting going to overrun again?
Rachel: Is the pope Catholic?

Sandy: What did you think of their new offices?
Josh: Well, the carpet was a nice colour.

Lucia: Did you understand his explanation?
Steve: It wasn’t exactly rocket science, was it?

Example 4. Interaction patterns. 

Allyson: You won’t believe what happened to me today!
Jun Sook stares at her and doesn’t say a word.
Allyson: Right, if you’re not interested, then I’m not going to tell you!
Jun Sook: Huh?

But Jun Sook

  • was just waiting – she didn’t recognize that she was supposed to show encouragement;
  • in her culture, it was impolite to interrupt.

Example 5. 


Students who received this notice were very offended because in their culture, this handout would be an accusation – it read like ‘you ARE going to smoke and take illegal drugs; you ARe going to tamper with electrical equipment, behave aggressively and fight’ etc.

Things to do in class

We’ve established the need to attune to the culture of the other person. But: you can’t accommodate what you don’t see.

Activity 1. 

Students work in pairs. Student B has a task and a secret emotion. They should talk with that emotion; Student A guesses the emotion.

Examples of tasks:
You’re an employee. Show a new employee around the office. (Emotion: e.g. jealousy)
You’re a sales representative. Promote a new course on intercultural communication. (Emotion: love/adoration)
Your partner is going to tell you that they’ve been promoted. (Emotion: disappointment)

This activity attunes learners to a range of cues:

  • Body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Words they used / eye contact
  • Repetition – agenda comes out again and again

Activity 2. Hot Seat + idiosyncratic behaviour.

Students work in groups. The student in hot seat has an idiosyncrasy (e.g. starts each question with So, ..?) Other need to

  • spot the idiosyncrasy
  • then imitate it

Trains s/s to become sensitive to idiosyncrasies and accommodate them.

Such activities help to ground real-life situations where things are not what they appear to be.

An incredibly useful session – I especially loved that it was so practical. Lots of examples that can be brought to class, and great activities. I teach in monolingual context so the first activity probably needs to be adapted – I think I’ll start collecting film scenes where characters project strong emotions, e.g. boredom with the conversation, envy, etc. I think activity 2 is also ideal for practicing interaction patterns that are different between L1 and L2 – e.g. for Ru/Eng that would be backchanneling, using expressions like ‘Well’ and ‘Right’ and so on. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Abstract: “I’m not creative”, “I hate role-plays”, “I’m not spontaneous”; a common reaction to the roleplaying activities offered in many a classroom. Using techniques and methods from PDL (psychodramaturgy for language acquisition), we’ll see how easy and fun it can be to set up role plays that feel authentic, using nothing but the resources every teacher has – the participants.

Bernard & Maria Dufen

This was a great (and very unusual) workshop in which we created human statues and shaped invisible people with their lives and histories and emotions, and then became those people and talked through them. I’m not really sure whether it’s possible to make a write-up of this workshop. Can one write up a theatre performance? A game? Written down, will the questions that Robert asked us sound right? But it was a very different experience, so I will try to share some impressions. 

Premise: Being spontaneous – is being here and now. And being relaxed about it

Part one 

Relax, close your eyes and imagine that you’re another person. Are you a man? or a woman? what is your hair like? where do you live? what do you do? What is your name? …
Follow-up: Now open your eyes, say hello to the person next to you and talk (being that person you’ve imagined).
Comments: For me, it’s always difficult to find a voice to ask these questions in. I really like the way Robert talked – softly, going up – and down.. His voice and particularly intonations reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman – I’ll take the liberty to insert a clip. It seems to be very fitting anyway. 🙂

Regarding the second part – the conversation – we got stuck a bit, mainly because we didn’t know where we were supposed to have that conversation. I think setting up the scene would’ve helped.

Part two

Next, we started playing ‘human statues’: participants get into groups and one volunteers to be a ‘marionette’. The others pull them by invisible strings – changing the gestures, creating a smile – or a grimace, moving them, etc. There’s only one rule: if someone did something, you can’t just undo it, e.g. put the marionette’s hand back, etc. But you can develop other people’s actions.

Follow-up: Two participants who were statues from different groups face each other, get into the position they were in at the end, say something and see what happens. Sometimes they have a whole conversation, sometimes it’s just a two lines – that’s fine.

Part three 

Participants sit in circles in groups. There’s one empty chair. There’s an (invisible) person sitting in it. Your group decides – who is this person? Again, you can’t undo what someone has said! Be careful, if you say ‘It’s a hundred year old blond prostitute’, you’re stuck with it! Start with simple things: is it a man of a woman? What do they look like?

Comment: I wrote up the first half of our group’s conversation, because I wanted to see what language and interaction would come up. Here it is (new lines represent a new person speaking).

It’s a she? She looks a bit old. Like, grey short hair? Glasses?
Glasses. She’s wearing read.
Yeah, I was thinking.
Actually, me too!
I think she’s got beads. 
IT’s made of something like… pearls but very big. I think they’re made of wood.
She looks a bit nervous, I don’t know why.
She’s holding a book.
And fiddling with it.
What book is it?
The Bible. Or Quran? 
She crosses her legs.
She checks her watch. Maybe she’s waiting for someone.
She wears lipstick.
Very red.

[At this point Robert came up to our group and suggested we can go into the history of the person: problems, secrets, dreams]
Maybe she’s waiting for her lover or something.
I think though that she’s going to tell him that being a religious woman she can no longer cheat on her husband.

… and so on.

Follow-up: One of you is going to sit in that chair and become that person.

Do we have a volunteer?

Have this person take that role by asking questions. Start by asking the questions that you know answers for to help them to get into the role – but then new questions will come up. In this position you’re always entitled to say ‘no comment’ or ‘I’d rather not say’.

When volunteers were in their chairs, Robert first asked them to say their new names. ‘Rachel, you’re going to meet Alice. And the rest of you sit behind. You’re assistance – they can support you with ideas, but they’re also linguistic supporters. At any time you can turn back to them and ask: what the hell am I supposed to say?

Next Robert elicited

  • where they’re going to meet
  • what time? …

(Have a look at the photo on this page to get a feel of what this looked like).

Where does linguistic input comes in? 

The technique that Robert demonstrated next, reminded me of Community Language Learning. To make the experience more vivid, he demonstrated the technique as if we were learning Italian and Maltese (it’s difficult for English speakers to experience an English lesson).

Robert asked Alice, ‘Can you think of one thing that you wanted to say to this person’ (in her L1)?
A: I’m very happy to meet you here cause I was feeling a bit lonely.
R: I’m going to sit behind you and I’m going to say what you said in Italian, and I’m going to say more. And you repeat what I say.
2015-04-14 12.51.14
R: Grazia A: Grazia.
R: Que bello. //Quite long monologue followed, with Alice repeating utterance by utterance. 

Questions from the audience:
1. If it was an English language classroom, would the participants be proficient enough to build a personality?
Robert has tried this with beginners – they cope, they can always code switch (ask for vocabulary). In the last activity, he adjusts what he says depending on what she can repeat – following the learner! The principle is: create the desire to say something; then say it; and after, they repeat.

2. A question to the person who was repeating utterances in Maltese:  how did it feel repeating things you didn’t understand?
Comment: it’s stressful. The trainer might have to say the utterance 2-3 times before they can repeat. Tip: get them to look at your lips.

3. It’s almost impossible to speak Maltese without gesticulating. So, you (the trainer) were speaking with your hands but she couldn’t see your hands.
Comment: There are a range of different activities. They also worked a lot with hands – lots of exercises where you have to mirror what T does. The whole point is going from the physical aspect to linguistic.

Final notes:  Robert tried this with most of his groups, in different contexts, including Business English. One great experience was when they did an intensive weekend of this work with beginners. By the end they all could understand: had basic vocabulary and understood words. When Robert wrote them a follow-up email, he realized that he didn’t even have to translate it.

Often in coursebook you get the task, ‘Speak about your hobbies,’ but it’s impossible to start speaking. Using the techniques Robert showed, because you help the person say what they want to say, they’ll remember it.

Comment from Paul Davis: he has been using similar techniques too. In multilingual groups where you can’t use translation, participants try to say something and he elaborates it. Also, Paul Davis thinks that it’s ideal for ESP. He did this with medical groups. Half of them were bacteria and half of them were viruses and they argued. Or half of them were scalpel and the other half cancer.

One sentence summary. This is pedagogy of being: your participant is an individual human being, and if you respect that, they will want to say something.

A very interesting session.I don’t think I’ll have the courage to bring this to my Business English class, but I might try it as a fun evening event in my school.

Also, I think when we left that room we were a group of smiley people who all liked each other. And Evan Frendo also had lived the unique experience of being ‘the man in a hole on a hill’. 🙂

P.S. While I was googling pictures and videos for this write-up, I found another great workshop on integrating improvisational theatre activities in the business classroom by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus at IATEFL Hungary. And this one actually was videotaped! Really enjoyed watching it.



Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.