Flipping the classroom

Currently there are some ideas amongst teachers about “flipping the classroom”. The idea is for students to have lessons at home and do homework in class.

This idea is being attached to Kahn Academy. Salman Kahn has produced a couple thousand videoed math lessons which are freely available and have been downloaded about a million times. Since Kahn has done such a good job of explaining mathematical concepts in a concise and clear way, teachers are letting Kahn teach their students. The students watch the videos at home and then when they come to class they will practice the mathematical concepts with the teacher there to help the ones who need help.

I am currently experimenting with flipping the classroom with my college students. I am using material from ESL Pod. Each lesson consists of the transcript of a short dialog and a 15-minute long MP3. The MP3 begins with the dialog spoken slowly, then an in depth explanation of the new vocabulary followed by the dialog again at normal speed. I would like to talk more about the merits of ESL Pod in another message but right now let’s focus on flipping the classroom.

Each Thursday I assign four of these ESL Pod lessons on a business English theme and recommend that the students do one a day. On the following Tuesday, I will give them a very short quiz on one of the lessons. The purpose of this quiz is just to put a little pressure on the students to make sure that they do the assignment or to find out who didn’t do it.

Then in the classroom, we will do some games or activities based around the theme of the assignments and the new vocabulary we learned. (Photo: Working in pairs, students use the new vocabulary from the lesson they studied at home to prepare and act out a role play with other pairs of students.)

I am currently engaged in a project to visit 100 classrooms to see how teachers teach and how students learn. I am seeing a lot of teaching going on that is identical to the type of teaching that ESL Pod or other resources do. I think that we as teachers should embrace these resources and use them to their full potential but then in our classrooms we should focus on doing what can only be done in person, that is, things like massive role plays and games and highly personal interaction activities.

Mobile apps for teachers

My old Windows Mobile phone is still going and still doing a lot of work. It’s not just the app you add to your mobile but how you use the apps you have. I have a Windows Mobile phone that runs a mobile version of Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and Word. Here are some things I do with my mobile:


I keep attendance, scores and other student data on my computer using Excel and this Excel master file is very complex with a lot of conditional formatting, macros and formulas. But I can also do attendance on my mobile using the simpler Mobile Excel and by using the built-in synchronization features it will automatically update my master Excel file. This way I don’t have to take my computer to class.


I teach some smaller classes of managers or other corporate students. These classes are typically 1-6 students. When I want to create an experience[1] for my students and take them to a shopping mall or an interesting retailer like Ikea, I will write the new vocabulary on my phone in Word. Using Word I can make the text quite large. As new words come up, I write them on my phone and show them to the students. After our two-hour lesson, we say goodbye and go our separate ways but after we part I copy these new words to my phone’s SMS messaging function and send them off to each student. As my students are heading home they all receive the list of new words that we just learned that day.

Sometimes I have some vocabulary or other English points that I want to review with my students. Rather than simply writing this down in a notebook, which I often forget to check, I will write it as a Mobile Outlook appointment. This appointment will pop up at a scheduled time, the time when I will be teaching those students. So this material that I want to review with my students will appear “Just-In-Time”. Appointments can be set in Outlook on your computer and then will get synchronized automatically to your mobile.


In researching business English usage, I have visited trade fairs and used my phone to record myself talk to salesmen about their products. I can study the real language used in trade fairs, the types of business terms and sentences, and also my students can get an idea of real business conversations. (Photo: Maotai salesman who tried to sell me some famous high quality Chinese liquor.)

Although I usually use my computer for this, I sometimes use my phone to record students speaking at my first class with them. Then at the last class, students can listen to themselves to hear the difference in their English, before and after.

I have also encountered certain individuals from a country famous for scamming people through Emails that purportedly offer you a million dollars or so if you help them to transfer several million out of their country. These guys, not Chinese, have actually approached me on the street here in China and presented the same deal as the Email spam scam asking me to help
them in this manner. I have used my phone to surreptitiously record these guys trying to scam me. The English is business English and accent from a certain region in the world that my students need practice with.


Sometimes it is easier for me to load the lesson MP3’s into my mobile for playback in the class than it is to play them from my computer. This is especially so when I am teaching at a coffee shop where I usually go to teach managers.


I have put many Conversation Questions[3] into my Mobile Powerpoint. I usually use this when I’m out Engineering an Experience or when having lunch with students in the canteen and I want to get them talking about something. I ask them to choose a number between 1-5 and then flip through the slides that many times to add an element of luck or adventure to the process.


After learning about how business uses Customer Relations Management (CRM) software to develop closer relations with customers, I decided to develop a Student Relations Management platform, I call BOB[2], to develop closer relations with my students. The purpose is to create a “presence” with my students, that I’m not just there for them two hours a week but I’m always around always trying to help them with their English.

I have developed macros on my computer to work with my Excel master file of student data. When I connect my mobile to my computer I can use my computer and macros to send SMS messages through my mobile to my students in the following manner:

* Practice English message – I try to get my students to speak English with each other outside of class. We have sometimes established lunchtime, when they eat lunch with classmates, as a good time for them to do this but they often forget. I have sent reminders to each student to speak English at lunchtime. By using the macros I have developed, I can also send each student a different question that they can ask their classmates to help stimulate discussions in English.

* Student updates – My macros can send each student their individual scores by SMS so they can be aware of how they are doing in class as far as quizzes, attendance, participation, etc.

* News flash – Sometimes a particularly good movie with relatively simple English is showing on TV. I will use SMS to notify my students and invite them to watch it with me by tuning into the program and then using a chat program to chat with me and other students while watching the movie at the same time.

* “Where are you?” message – I can do attendance at the beginning of class and then my computer will send a message to the absent students letting them know they are missing our class. Students realize they are not forgotten.

* Reminders – I can send reminders about upcoming tests or homework that is due.

* Nudges – Research has shown that American students who do not read during the holidays decline in reading skills during the holidays. I figure that my Chinese students probably decline in English skills during the holidays so I will send them an SMS message to remind them to do something in English during these periods. I have developed a whole set of reminders to send to them every couple days of the holiday with a different suggestion of something they can do to improve or practice their English.

* Coaching reminders – I have been coaching some of my corporate students. Coaching involves agreeing on specific study goals with students and then encouraging and checking up on students to help them hit those goals. For example, the student may say he wants to listen to an English mp3 everyday while going to work on the bus. Using Outlook’s appointment function, I can have my phone remind me every morning that the student should be doing this. Then at that time I can send an SMS to the student to remind him or check up on him that he is doing this. My phone’s SMS function allows me to create ten stock messages that I can fire off to my students. Appointments can be set in Outlook on your computer and then will get synchronized  automatically to your mobile.

All of this I have done with four basic programs: Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and Word. It’s not just the app you add to your mobile but how you use the apps you have.


[1] Engineering an Experience – http://goo.gl/i8Ttz
[2] BOB – http://goo.gl/ziWDK
[3] Conversation Questions – http://goo.gl/7uHw7

Website English level ratings according to Google

26 websites rated according to the Basic Level classification:

1 MTV MTV.com 76
2 ESL Pod eslpod.com 72
3 Breaking News English breakingnewsenglish.com 62
4 Sports Illustrated sportsillustrated.cnn.com 56
5 VOA Special English voanews.com/learningenglish 42
6 National Geographic nationalgeographic.org 39
7 MSNBC msnbc.com 37
8 Business English Pod businessenglishpod.com 37
9 Detroit Free Press freep.com 36
10 Wikipedia Simple simple.wikipedia.org/ 29
11 Fox News foxnews.com 28
12 USA Today usatoday.com 28
13 Washington Post washingtonpost.com 27
14 The New Yorker newyorker.com 24
15 Yahoo News news.yahoo.com 19
16 CNN edition.cnn.com 18
17 China Daily chinadaily.com.cn 15
18 Wikipedia wikipedia.org 15
19 New York Times nytimes.com 15
20 VOA News voanews.com 11
21 The Standard (Hong Kong) thestandard.com.hk 8
22 People’s Daily Online english.peopledaily.com.cn/ 8
23 Wall Street Journal online.wsj.com 5
24 Aljazeera News Aljazeera.net 4
25 Bloomberg News bloomberg.com/news 2
26 Scientific American scientificamerican.com 1

26 websites rated according to the Intermediate Level classification:

1 Bloomberg News bloomberg.com/news 93
2 Aljazeera News Aljazeera.net 91
3 Wall Street Journal online.wsj.com 90
4 VOA News voanews.com 87
5 People’s Daily Online english.peopledaily.com.cn/ 86
6 The Standard (Hong Kong) thestandard.com.hk 85
7 Yahoo News news.yahoo.com 78
8 CNN edition.cnn.com 78
9 China Daily chinadaily.com.cn 78
10 Scientific American scientificamerican.com 71
11 Fox News foxnews.com 70
12 USA Today usatoday.com 70
13 New York Times nytimes.com 70
14 Washington Post washingtonpost.com 69
15 The New Yorker newyorker.com 68
16 Detroit Free Press freep.com 62
17 National Geographic nationalgeographic.org 60
18 MSNBC msnbc.com 60
19 VOA Special English voanews.com/learningenglish 56
20 Business English Pod businessenglishpod.com 53
21 Wikipedia Simple simple.wikipedia.org/ 51
22 Wikipedia wikipedia.org 50
23 Sports Illustrated sportsillustrated.cnn.com 42
24 Breaking News English breakingnewsenglish.com 37
25 ESL Pod eslpod.com 26
26 MTV MTV.com 22

26 websites rated according to the Advanced Level classification:

1 Wikipedia wikipedia.org 33
2 Scientific American scientificamerican.com 27
3 Wikipedia Simple simple.wikipedia.org/ 18
4 New York Times nytimes.com 13
5 Business English Pod businessenglishpod.com 9
6 The New Yorker newyorker.com 7
7 The Standard (Hong Kong) thestandard.com.hk 5
8 China Daily chinadaily.com.cn 5
9 Bloomberg News bloomberg.com/news 4
10 People’s Daily Online english.peopledaily.com.cn/ 4
11 Aljazeera News Aljazeera.net 3
12 Wall Street Journal online.wsj.com 3
13 Washington Post washingtonpost.com 3
14 Yahoo News news.yahoo.com 2
15 CNN edition.cnn.com 2
16 MSNBC msnbc.com 2
17 VOA News voanews.com 1
18 Fox News foxnews.com 1
19 USA Today usatoday.com 1
20 Detroit Free Press freep.com 1
21 VOA Special English voanews.com/learningenglish 1
22 Sports Illustrated sportsillustrated.cnn.com 1
23 Breaking News English breakingnewsenglish.com 1
24 ESL Pod eslpod.com 1
25 MTV MTV.com 1
26 National Geographic nationalgeographic.org 0

Benchmarking to a Moscow band

Sometimes you can take some aspect of a business and compare your business to that. The two businesses may be quite different but there may be some function of the business that can be compared. I do this, too.

In Moscow I had some friends who had a band. They were going to perform and invited me to a big concert. Many bands were going to perform. My friends looked good and sang and played well. I was impressed. After they finished, this straggly young guy got on the stage and I thought he was going to sweep it but he had no broom. I was surprised when he walked over to the microphone and called to the control booth to start the music. Then he began singing. His voice was not remarkable, it was suitable. But somehow he reached out and grabbed our hearts and minds and had us all clapping our hands and dancing in our seats. It was all in Russian and I didn’t understand a single word but he was the star of the show. I was thrilled!

How I use it:

Technical perfection is not the important thing. We can maybe look good and teach well and appeal to our students’ intellect. But I think a great teacher can reach out and grab hearts and minds. I think great teachers can distract students from all their distractions and capture students so completely that they fall under the spell of the lesson. That Russian singer is my benchmark for teaching. I am seldom successful at hitting this mark but I think even hitting halfway is beneficial to my students. Along with his spirit and enthusiasm that so moved me, I noticed how he got us clapping by showing us to clap. When we joined him in clapping we were no longer passive observers but we were active. From this I learned it is important to get my students’ bodies involved in the class. Make them get up and change partners, get up and join others to form a group, and they will be more active. I don’t let them pairwork with the person sitting next to them because their attitude and spirit will be too passive. My first task is to activate my students’ hearts and minds. If they are activated, they can learn anything. If they are not activated, they can learn nothing.

Ready for the iPad? Maybe not

I’m sure many teachers are wondering if they should make the jump into the iPad realm.

Sometimes you just have to try things out. Sometimes the path is not already prepared for you. You have to blaze your own trail trying out the technology and seeing if you can make it work for you in new ways that you never imagined when you set out.

Several years ago I bought a little Acer tablet computer. It was like a notebook but you could twist the screen and use it like a tablet. It cost much more than other notebooks, $2000, but I wanted to see how a tablet could affect my teaching. It didn’t affect it. Of course, tablets today are much improved. But sometimes you just have to try things out.

One problem I have with the i-Stuff is there is so much hype about it all. People are so gaga over it. Of course that should not turn you off to the idea of getting i-Stuff. We just need to consider what our real needs are and see if the technology can fit those needs. Or could that technology lead us down an interesting road. But that is a decision that we should make without the help of Apple’s excellent propaganda department trying everything they can to make us feel uncool for not joining their ranks. Current reports say that the primary use of iPads is for games.

There is a lot of celebration and hype about the millions of app downloads taking place but one thing Apple will never tell you is that 28% of the “apps” people download are only used once. http://tinyurl.com/4mkdkvq. And how many are only used two, three or four times and never used again?

I don’t want to completely dismiss iStuff for teaching. Maybe they’ll have something we really need. Of course, almost everything for the Apple is duplicated for notebooks and vice versa.

Here is a technology that could take our jobs (it’s coming soon to the other phones): http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjMwNTY5NDI0.html

Project 400 – Backstage Fashions

A large percentage of our students get jobs at foreign trade companies. Backstage Fashions is a woman’s fashion exporter doing business in several countries in Europe and in the USA. One of my former students works there.

As part of the 400 Project, I visited my former student and her boss. In the photo, I am talking to the manager of Back Stage. I am learning (1) what kind of English do companies need (2) what kind of English we taught our students that they use at their jobs (3)  what kind of English we taught our students that they do not use at their jobs (4) what kind of English our students need but were not taught.

From this research, I am learning how to prepare our students to find jobs easier and to do great at their jobs.

In search of comprehensible material on the web

Students can learn vocabulary and grammar from extensive comprehensible input. In fact, even if students memorize some definitions of words they will only have a very shallow understanding of the meaning of those words unless they can be exposed to many usages of those words. Where can teachers find materials for their students that can provide extensive comprehensible input?

The graphic above shows Google’s rating of websites at Basic English level. When I rated a website that I use with my students it rated at 100%. As you can see, ESLPod, rates at 72% which is very good. USA Today, a newspaper that is supposedly written at an American 5th grade level, is perhaps the easiest mainstream newspaper for students to understand. The New York Times is more complicated. That little blue box at the top of the graphic is Bloomberg business news at 2%, very difficult for our students.

If we think of this material as a stairway to proficiency, our students can climb up to greater and greater complexity. You will have to select appropriate materials for your students according to their needs and interests. The materials listed above, for example the MIT university website, are not suggested reading materials. They are only shown to display levels of difficulty.

If you have suggestions of useful online materials, please use the comments section below to tell us.

Project 400 – McDonald’s logistics company

McDonald’s sells millions of hamburgers in China. All of that food has to be sent from the companies that make the food to every McDonald’s restaurant. The food has to be kept in a high-quality condition, sometimes kept cold or frozen, and sent to each McDonald’s restaurant when the restaurant needs it. Taking care of that food and moving that food is the job of McDonald’s logistics company called Havi, an international American company operating also in Guangzhou.

The accounting manager and human resources manager explained to me how their American company uses English, what kind of English students need to learn and what kind of English students do not need to learn to work at their company. These managers are also my English students and we meet every week to talk about business innovation and management concepts while improving their English.

Our students may not get jobs at American logistics companies, but this research helps me to have a better understanding of how business English is used in China and how our students may get jobs in American companies.

Project 400 – Chuck and Ace, Business Management Majors

As part of the 400 Project, I am visiting students to see how they study and spend their time.

I joined Chuck and Ace for lunch and then they invited me to their dorm room so I could see more about student life. They talked to me about student life, their studies and how they spend their free time. What they told me was very interesting and helped me to understand my students better.

Project 400 – What kind of English does Mercedes Benz need?

As part of my Project 400, I am talking to company managers, HR managers and company staff to learn how English is being used today.

Teachers should teach students the English they will need when they use English. So let’s start with the question, Why are students learning English? Although most students will say they want to learn English to travel and to make friends, the most important reason they will say is for their jobs.

If that is true, then the next question is, What English do they need for their jobs? We can answer this question by studying the English used in companies right now. When business people in today’s companies in our city use English, how do they use it?

The number one way English is used in companies today is in Emails. I have studied company Emails for almost ten years. They are short. They are informal, almost friendly. They are almost always written to people who are known, not to strangers. They usually use company special words correctly but there are mistakes in sentences. Here are some examples of real Emails from Benz. Please note the mistakes and corrections.

From these sample Emails, you will see that the main mistakes are with small errors in grammar. This is what students need to improve.


Kindly I’d like to inform you that yy has invited xx to be the speaker of OOC touch point seminar.
The seminar will be held on July 27 in the evening ( Pls see the attachment for the detail detailed rundown).
On yy’s introduction, we have invited xx. xx is a very very good speaker and he can speak fluent mandarin Mandarin, too. He is a world class speaker.
We think it’s maybe a good opportunity for agency promotion(,). we We wonder whether you need to invite him too?
If yes, we should inform yy of the schedule today.
Your reply today will be highly greatly appreciated!


The under insured’s leaflet has finish finished it’s final design, I’ve submit submitted it to bb for her comment.
I’ll attend an HR training this these two days, dd will forward the confirmed design to you ASAP.
If there is Anything anything urgent pls contact zz or aa.
Thank you!