Posted in Business English, Games and activities

Thanks Mr Rajoy – The Interview Activity

The English say that one should never discuss religion or politics. My trainer on the TEFL course I took over 15 years ago said more or less the same thing and told us to stick to ‘safe’ topics with our learners: clothes, sports, houses, cooking etc.

pres rajoy

Well, the other day, I had a great class with a pair of Spanish sisters and we talked about..you guessed it…politics (aaarrrggghhhh!!!)

So, here’s what we did:

Step 1: After a brief discussion about work and jobs, I asked them if they were interested in learning about typical interviews questions and answers in English. They agreed and I elicited a series of questions from them. As I had expected, the questions they produced were standard interview questions, although I told them that interviewers shouldn’t ask any direct questions about marital status! Of course, their questions needed some grammatical, lexical, and syntactical fine-tuning but we drew up a list of 15 questions in about 10 minutes.

Step 2: I told them that they were going to perform a role-play / simulation based around the questions they had produced: one of them was to be the interviewer and the other the interviewee and then they would switch roles. One of them asked me what the position was. Their eyes lit up when I told them that Prime Minister Rajoy had resigned and the state was interviewing candidates for the presidential position.

Step 3: After giving them a few minutes to prepare, I let them get on with the interview. It just flowed….. They were both extremely eloquent and impassioned and the unreality of this particular interview scenario seem to free them to produce some of the most nuanced and expressive language I have heard them use. I made notes (errors and examples of good language) sat back and enjoyed the show.

Step 4: I praised their efforts and then had a quick feedback session in which I showed them the mistakes they had made and asked them to correct. When they couldn’t correct, I told them a better way to express their ideas.

Step 5: I asked them to write a speech entitled “If I were the Prime Minister of Spain, what would I do”. I asked them if they could record it and send me their speech as an MP3 recording. I’m still waiting for them!

They thanked me for the lesson and I left the room laughing and joking with them about some of the comments they had made. The lesson required zero preparation, no resources apart from a sheet of paper and a pen, and they even learned a number of new phrases.

So, thanks Mr Rajoy – I bet he doesn’t hear that word very often these days!

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Posted in Games and activities

Who loves you baby? Kojak and Sentence Stress

As a young boy growing up in the 70s, I thought that Kojak -a bald American detective with a penchant for lollipops – was the coolest man on TV. In my primary school, his popularity led to an outbreak of 7-year-old boys hitting girls on the head with lollipops before running away shouting his catchphrase:

Who loves you baby?

While I wouldn’t condone confectionery-related child on child violence, his catchphrase reminds me of one of my favourite activities for raising learners’ awareness of the importance of sentence stress when speaking English.

English is often termed a stress-timed language, which means that we pronounce content words (often nouns, adjectives and main verbs) more loudly and more slowly than grammar words like prepositions and articles. The beat or rhythm of the language is also determined by these stressed content words which means we ‘swallow’ the content words. Syllable-timed languages, like Spanish, sound quite different because most syllables have the same length. Speakers of syllable-timed languages can sound quite monotonous to native speakers as we are accustomed to identifying meaning by listening out for stressed content words.

Think of it this way. Have you ever had a telephone conversation in which the other person won’t stop talking in a loud voice? You hold the receiver or your mobile away from your ear but you still get the gist of what the other person is saying. You hear the content words and follow what they are saying.

As English is a stress-timed language, it’s vital that we raise our students’ awareness of this phonological feature. One way to do this is as follows:

Find a photo of a man and a woman having a serious chat.

Who loves you baby?
Who loves you baby?

Build up the context with a few questions:

  • Who are they?
  • What’s their relationship?
  • What are they talking about?
  • How does she feel about him? How does he feel about her?

Give the couple in the photo names, let’s say, Bob and Julie. Board the following dialogue:

Bob: I love you, Julie.

Julie: But, I don’t love you, Bob.

Ask for a couple of volunteers and seat them at the front of the class. Ask them to perform the dialogue. You’ll get a round of laughs at this stage.

Then, underline a couple of words in the dialogue and ask the students to perform the dialogue again but this time ask them to stress the underlined words.

Bob: I love you, Julie.

Julie: But, I don’t love you, Bob.

Ask the students if they can infer any extra information about the couple’s love life from this second performance. (For fun, I usually shout out Kojak’s catchphrase at this point – Who loves you baby?)

Hopefully, the students will come up with comments like those below in red.

Bob: I love you, Julie. (It’s you I love Julie. Not your sister/flatmate/my ex-girlfriend)

Julie: But, I don’t love you, Bob. (I am in love Bob. Not with you though. I love your brother/flatmate/best friend/ Justin Bieber)

Underline a couple of different words in the dialogue.

Bob: I love you, Julie. (I know we are supposed to be just good friends but I’m crazy about you Julie)

Julie: But, I don’t love you, Bob. (You’re one of my best friends Bob. You’re a great guy but you don’t float my boat / rock my world etc.)

Let the whole class join in now. Put them in pairs and get them stressing different words in the dialogue and ask them to infer extra information about Bob and Julie from the stressed content words.

By doing this simple activity, you can raise your learners’ awareness of which types of words are generally stressed and get them acting out dialogues and not merely reading them aloud.

Encouraging them to think about how stressed content words can help us identify the emotions and feelings of the speakers in dialogues should help improve their pronunciation and develop their listening skills – they will realise they don’t have to hear every single word to understand spoken language.

Thanks Kojak.

Posted in Games and activities

10 Fun Activities for Business English classes

Summer is on its way here in Southern Spain but the 10 teachers on the TEFL in Spain Introduction to Teaching Business English course  managed to stay focused and upbeat last Saturday in Malaga. For the final seminar, or workshop as we will call it next time, they had to present a game or activity that they might use with a group of Business English students.

For information about the course: http://www.tefl-in-spain.com/courses/teaching-business-english/

They came up with some great ideas:

1. Answerphone Dictation– Put the students in pairs and ask them to sit back-to-back. Give each student a short answerphone text with numbers, fractions, percentages, dates etc.For instance: Sales increased by 24% in the last quarter of 2012 peaking at 21,003 in December. Student A reads out their answerphone message to their partner who has to note down the key data. Simple and adaptable. This could also be used to practise talking about trends and the students could represent the data in chart or graph form.

2. Sentence Swap Needs’ Analysis – A quick icebreaker in which you’ll get to know what your students need and want from  the course.Ask them to write down their needs for the course on post-its. Collect them in then redistribute them, making sure that no student receives the post-it they wrote on. Ask them to read out what’s on the post-its they picked up and everybody guessing who wrote what. This could then lead into a discussion about needs and expectations for the course as a whole and could be compiled as a document that could be referred to throughout the course.

hotel

3. Hotel Negotiations – Two of the trainees chose to present a hotel role-play in which the two parties had to negotiate over room rates. In the first role-play, the students had to divide into 2 groups: the clients and the hoteliers. The clients have been reserving rooms in the hotel for a number of years as they attend a yearly conference in this particular city. They feel they are due a special price as they have been loyal customers. The hoteliers are in the tricky position of wanting to keep these valued clients but need to ensure profits are still made.

4. Hotel Holidays – The second hotel role-play was based on a negotiation between a Human Resources Manager and a Company Director. The company has recorded strong yearly profits and the CEO has offered to pay for a weekend break for all the staff. The conflict arises because the Human Resources Manager knows the staff are expecting a luxury hotel in some exotic location but the management want to offer a cheap city break in a cheap and cheerful resort town like Blackpool.

5. Battleships, Bingo, Blockbusters – One trainee drew up a grid on the board and demonstrated how competitive games can be used in the classroom to practise all sorts of Business vocabulary. These games are commonly used in TEFL classes but can be easily adapted for Business English students.

hands

6. The Hands of Hans – The most bizarre moment of the whole 2-day course happened when one of the trainees, a qualified Physical Education teacher, presented one of his favourite team-building exercises. We were all required to form a circle and join hands. Then, we had to twist around so we become a tangled web of interlinked arms. Our task was to reform the circle without letting go off anybody’s hands. Perhaps not the greatest activity for recycling financial terminology but a great energizer.

Buying a lemon
Buying a lemon

7.  Selling  lemons – In British English, we can talk about buying a lemon,, which means we have purchased something broken or worthless. For this activity, we were shown pictures of ridiculous gadgets and asked to prepare a sales pitch to impress potential investors. We had to do a lot of lateral thinking to work out what the products could be used for, which was great for developing our creative muscles. A challenging and fun activity for viewers of The Dragon’s Den.

8. Rumours of Cutbacks – The next activity was based on an all-too-real scenario. We were split into two groups and given role cards as employers or employees. The staff had heard rumours of staffing cutbacks and were afraid they were about to lose their job. An emergency meeting had been called to find out the truth. For the employers, this was an exercise in putting a positive spin on an unfortunate situation. For the employees, it was an exercise in weeding out the truth. Not sure I would do this activity with a group of students from the same company though!

9. Spot the Lies – There is an old BBC TV show named Call my Bluff which is played in many TEFL classrooms around the world. This game works extremely well with Business English students who know or need to learn some specific job-related vocabulary. Students are given an unusual word with three definitions: one true and two false. They read out these definitions to the rest of the class who try to identify the correct one. Great for practising how to keep a poker face and it can be made more challenging if you ask the students to choose their own words and create their own false definitions.

boss's wife
Mrs Smith, your husband is the worst boss I’ve ever had! More wine, please.

10. Small Talk Circles – The final activity got us all out of our chairs again. We were asked to form an inner and an outer circle with the inner circle people facing outwards and the outer circle facing inwards so we had to look another person straight in the eye. The trainer then asked us to imagine we were sitting or standing next to the person we were facing. Then, we were presented with a scenario, such as The person facing you in the inner circle is the boss’s wife, make small talk with her, and asked to improvise a conversation.  We only had 30 seconds to interact before the teacher clapped her hands and the inner circle revolved, meaning we were facing a new partner.The teacher then gave us a different scenario in which we had to quickly strike up a conversation. An excellent activity for developing fluency in social interactions.

Hope you get the chance to try some of these activities with your General English or Business English students. Maybe you have some other ideas you’d like to share.

My ebook A Short Guide to TEFL is available from Amazon for the price of a cup of coffee!

 

Posted in Games and activities

The Pixar Pitch Lesson

What do these animated movies have in common?

Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Up, Ratotouille and Brave (The winner of the best animated film at the Oscars in 2013).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All of these movies were made by Pixar, the animated film studio linked with George Lucas of Star Wars fame and the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. Pixar has in less than 20 years become the most successful animated film studio since Disney. These films have been critical and financial smashes but why has this company succeeded where so many others have failed?

In his new book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink talks about pitches – concise verbal or visual presentation of an idea for a film made by a screenwriter or director to a producer or studio in the hope of attracting financial backing – and how Pixar have created a simple but incredibly effective template.

The Pixar Pitch Template uses the following sequence adverbs to create a basic storyline.

Once upon a time….

Every day…

One day….

Because of that…..

Because of that….

Until finally….

Reading this part, I realised that it could be adapted to create a simple but effective integrated skills lesson for EFL students:

For this lesson, I have used a simple Engage, Study and Activate plan based on the Harmer model. Follow the link below to read more: ESA method.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ENGAGE –  Tell the students briefly about the last good film you saw. Put them in pairs / small groups and ask them to tell each other about the last good film they have seen. You could board these 3 questions:

What was the last good film you saw?

What type of film was it?

What happened in it?

STUDY

(You might have to prepare this part before the lesson).

Read a short pitch for a movie you think the students will have seen. Here is an example. As the students if they can you guess which film it is?

Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy called Peter who lived with his aunt.

Every day he went to school where he was often bullied and made fun of because he was a science nerd.

One day he went to a science expedition where he was bitten by a radioactive spider.

Because of that, he developed superhuman powers which meant that he was incredibly strong and fast, could climb walls and could sense danger before it occurred.

Because of that, he started to use his powers to take revenge on people who had made his life unpleasant and realised he could use his new powers to become rich, famous and successful with women. However, he made many enemies and they wanted to destroy him.

Until finally, he realised that with great power comes great responsibility. Instead of trying to become rich and famous, he had to use his powers to become a force for good.

Look out! It's Spiderman
Look out! It’s Spiderman

Simple isn’t it! With this simple template, you can create a simple and concise plot description. Provide the students with this template and briefly analyse the sequence adverbs and pronunciation features.

In order to provide students with a suitable model for a pitch, the teacher should ask them to identify key pronunciation features here such as word stress, intonation, and rhythm. Drilling each component of the pitch might be an effective way to do this and you could provide a simple handout on which they could note down phonological features and practise delivering the pitch in pairs.

ACTIVATE

You have a range of options here. You could:

  • Ask each student to prepare a pitch for a well-known movie. Then, do a mingling exercise in which the students pitch to each other and try to guess the movie.
  • Give the students a series of genres (horror, romance, comedy etc) and perhaps a location (New York, a language school, an office, a small village) and ask them to create a basic story on their own.Then put them in pairs and give them roles. Student A is a screenwriter and Student B is a producer. A pitches to B and then change roles.
  • Do the above but divide the classes into screenwriters and producers and do a mingling role play. Change roles so everybody has the chance to pitch and listen to a pitch.
  • Put students in small groups and give them a few ideas or pictures to create a story idea. Give them time to create a collaborative pitch and ask them to choose somebody to deliver the pitch in front of the whole class.

I hope you can try out this lesson with your students and I’d love to hear how it goes.

If you like this blog, why have a look at my new Ebook:  A Short Guide to TEFL

 

Posted in Games and activities

Last minute Love Lessons

Whoops! You’ve completely forgotten that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and haven’t planned anything with a romantic theme for your classes.

love

Don’t panic – Here are 3 last-minute love lessons / activities for you to try with very little preparation needed.

TIP: Talking about relationships can be uncomfortable for students who don’t want to discuss their personal lives. In order not to invade their privacy, encourage them to create imaginary characters.

1. SPEED-DATING

  • Briefly introduce the concept of ‘speed dating’. It may be unfamiliar to some cultures.
  • Divide the students into men and women. If you have an unequal number, just ask some of the students to play a member of the opposite sex.
  • Arrange the seats in two lines facing each other, one line for the women and the other for the men.
  • Give each student a photo of a single man or a single woman (you could ask them to draw a face) and create a profile for their portrait (age, name, job, interests, favourite movies or music etc.).
  • Tell them they are single people looking for a partner and their aim is to find somebody who wants to go on a date with them.
  • Let them show the portrait/ picture to their partner.
  • Do a trial run by asking the students to chat to the person sitting opposite them for 2/3 minutes and try to charm them.
  • Then, ask the men to stand up and move one seat to the right. Give them they 2/3 minutes to chat to their new partner.
  • Continue the activity until all the men and all the women have had a 2/3 minute chat.
  • To finish, ask the students to write down their first and second choice for a date.
  • Collect the slips of paper and see if any if any of the choices corresponded, if a man choose a woman as her number 1 and she also choose him as her favourite.

Great for: 2nd conditionals “If you were to go out with me, you’d have the night of your life.”

couple

2. Round-robin romantic story

  • Create a simple handout on an A4 sheet of paper. Draw a picture of a man and woman at the top. Write the following questions on the page. Leave enough space after each question so that students can write their answers. Tip: fold the sheet 3 times and you’ll have enough space for 8 questions.

Who was the man?

Who was the woman?

Where were they were they met?

What was he doing when they met? What was she doing?

What did they say to each other?

What did they think of each other?

What did they do after they met?

What happened in the end?

  • Hand a sheet to each student and ask them to write their name at the top of the sheet and an answer to the first question.
  • Wait for all students to finish, ask them to fold the sheet below their answer. Tell them to pass the sheet to the person to their left. The next person can see the second question but not the first answer.
  • Ask your students to answer the second question, fold, pass the sheet to the next person.
  • Continue until all of the questions have been answered.Collect all the sheets and then hand them back to the person whose name is at the top.
  • Finally, let the students read the stories. Some of them will be nonsense but a few are bound to make sense.
  • Ask them to correct any errors.

Great for: Practising narrative tenses.

  • Love is in the air

3. Dating Coach role-plays

  • Give each student a portrait photo. Tell them that the person in the photo is single and ask them to create a profile for the person in the photo.
  • Then, ask them to write down 3 reasons why this person is single (they have poor dress sense, terrible personal hygiene, embarrassing habits etc.)
  • Put the students in small groups of 3 (make sure the groups are mixed in terms of gender) and ask them to discuss a series of dating-related questions such as

What should people do to find a partner?

Where should they go on a first date?

What should men/women wear on a first date?

What topics should / shouldn’t they talk about on a first date?

What behavioural habits turn people off on a first date?

Who should pay the bill?

  • Get some whole class feedback and then move onto the role play.
  • Assign a role to each member of the group of 3: Man on a first date, woman on a first date, and dating coach.
  • Rearrange the chairs/desks to make the classroom resemble a restaurant/bar/cafe and play some romantic music to get the students in the mood.
  • Ask the men and the women to act out the blind date (remind them that they should behave according to the profile they created) and tell the dating coach to observe the date and make notes about how each participant performed.
  • Give a time limit (I find between 5 and 10 minutes is fine for Intermediate level learners) Stress that they are to assess their dating performance not their English speaking ability: Were they polite? Did they listen attentively to their partner? Were the conversation topics appropriate?
  • When the ‘date’ ends, ask the dating coaches to provide feedback on the participants’ performance.
  • Change roles / groups and repeat the role play.
  • The teacher can monitor and note down errors and examples of good language which could benefit the whole class.

Great for: Modal verbs to give advice in the past and present.

glass wine

 

Love is in the air…do dee do dee do dee dee…

Have a great Valentine’s Day.

Posted in Games and activities

The World’s Quickest Personality Test

Every teacher has their favourite topics to discuss in class.  Mine happen to be Psychology and Crime. It doesn’t matter what level I’m teaching or what kind of students are in my class, I’ll always try to crowbar that theme in somehow:

So Pepe, what’s the worst crime you have ever committed and how did you feel while doing it?

I think my predilection for introducing this topic into any classroom discussion stems from the fact I studied Psychology at university 20 years ago and my tutor was psychologist, author and performer, Professor Dr Wiseman http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/

Anyway, enough name-dropping but he is probably the best teacher I’ve ever had. Further proof in my opinion that teaching is all about understanding the psychological make-up of your learners.

I used the short clip as a lead-in to a lesson about personality types and adjectives to describe personality. It worked like a dream.

Posted in Games and activities

Seeing the bigger picture: A simple speaking lesson for busy teachers

Using pictures in ELT

I think you’ll agree that this is a rather boring picture:

A middle-aged man sitting in a garden reading a newspaper.

In this post, I’d like to show you a simple way of making a simple but effective lesson with no other materials other than this single image.

Show the picture to the students. Expand it, print out copies for them to share. Stick it on the board and let the students come up and see it. Post multiple copies of it around the room and ask them to look at it in pairs. Do whatever you like as long as they all see the image.

Then, start asking a few questions. Why not use a ball and throw it to the student you want to answer. Here are some example questions.

  1. Who is he?
  2. What’s he doing?
  3. How long has he been reading the paper?
  4. Is he drinking tea or coffee

When the students have got the hang of the task, put them into smaller groups (3-4),  let them throw the ball to each other and make their own questions. I suggest that you don’t do too much explicit correction here but note down errors and deal with them later. Let the students repeat or reformulate if their peers don’t understand them at first.

If the students run out of questions, write a few prompts on the board: reading, should, finish, feeling, last night, tomorrow, worried.

The more creative students will lead the way and the small groups should make all students feel comfortable. Soon, they’ll be creating plotlines and narratives from these questions and answers.

When this activity has run its course, do some feedback, correcting errors, discussing the best questions and answers and ask the students what they have just practised (lots of different structures)

As a follow-up activity, hand each group an image and ask them to write 5 or 10 questions about it. Ask the groups to swap the images with each other and let them discuss the questions. For homework, tell them to find an image (something more eye-catching obviously) and write questions about it. This can be your warmer for the next lesson in which students exchange images and question each other.

Variation: If you want to spice up the activity, tell your students that it is a picture of :

  • a middle-aged man with a terrible secret sitting in the garden reading a newspaper
  • a middle-aged man sitting in a prison garden reading a newspaper
  • a middle-aged man sitting in a garden reading a newspaper while waiting for a very important person
  • a middle-aged man who has been in a coma for 10 years sitting in a garden reading a newspaper

Any image with a person or people in it can be used to create a story. We share information, form bonds and learn so much through stories.

Hope some of you try this activity with your students. If you do, let me know how it goes.