Category Archives: textbook

Teaching academic writing

Most writing books are pretty useless.

Why?

They are born out of a sort of academic incest, inbreeding. The authors look at what other authors got published and follow that. Publishers look at what other publishers sold and publish that. Jack Richards hints at this problem on his website. Shocking truth: Publishers are not in the business to help your students. Continue reading

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Lessons for leaders

All of my students want to be leaders. Some of my students are leaders. And they like learning how to be a leader or a better leader. They are looking for an edge, some new insight that will help them improve.

I have found that using English lessons that are quasi-leadership consultations are highly Continue reading

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Why publishers do such a lousy job

[Note: This is the message that was banned by TESL-L editors. They did not want you to see it.]

Do you know why publishers keep pumping out boring useless business English courebooks? Do you know why you have to keep apologizing to the students for the boring lessons? Do you know why you struggle to motivate your students to keep at their lessons? Do you know why so much of the English you teach is not exactly the English your students need?

It is my fault. I will take responsibility.

But it is also your fault. You must take responsibility, too.

Let’s look at the publishers’ mission.

Do publishers want to introduce the latest most effective training methodologies to the classrooms? Do publishers endeavor to prepare our students to be properly skilled in English for their life and work? Do they want to help businesses be able to have employees that are highly skilled and ready for the challenges of the 21st century?

We never really thought about those questions before, have we? But it seems like the answers should all be “Yes!”

Surprisingly, the answers are all “No!”

So what is the publishers’ mission?

Make money.

That’s it! That’s all! It’s very simple!

They don’t love you. They don’t love your students. You do but they don’t. They are not trying to raise the standard of English in today’s businesses or society.

They just want to make money.

What? Did you think they were a charity? Did you think they are Greenpeace or something? Did you think they are some sort of linguistic Red Cross? Gandhi or Mother Teresa?

They are a business. They are interested in three things: Sales, sales and sales.

We can’t blame them for that. They cannot do anything else but try to produce whatever will sell best. That’s it!

Sure, they put some unit in the book that shows someone using Email instead of sending a telex or fax. (Oh, God, using those old books was so embarrassing.) Maybe they are really fancy and show someone using Twitter. Oh, wow, how cute. These things interest and amaze our students for the first two lessons. By the time our students get to the third lesson they are beginning to realize that it is the same old boring stuff in new clothes.

And that is why it is my fault and your fault that publishers are doing such a lousy job and producing such boring business English materials. Their mission is to sell, sell, sell.

And you and I buy, buy, buy.

Of course, we buy and complain to our students. We buy and then tell our students, “Sorry, I know it is boring but it will help your English.” “Sorry, I know it is boring and you are going to forget half of this stuff after you take the exam or after you get the job but that is the way it is. There is nothing I can do.”

Do you want better materials? Do you want something that will excite your students? Do you want your class to let out a collective groan when the bell rings and class is over because they want the class to go on and on and on it was so engaging and interesting? Do you want your students to stop asking you to show them a movie instead of the boring coursebook?

Let’s demand that publishers start producing materials that excite and amaze our students. Let’s demand they make materials that turn English lessons into our students’ favorite subject. Let’s demand that they help us make our English lessons the highlight of our students’ day.

When I teach my college class on Monday, I tell all of my students at the beginning of every lesson, “Hey, it’s Monday! It’s Uncle Dave Day! It’s your favorite day of the week!!!” They moan and groan with smiles on their faces.

I suppose Uncle Dave Day is not their favorite day of the week. I don’t know if they like my classes at all. I get feedback that they do like the classes but you never know for sure.

But wouldn’t it be great if publishers gave us the tools to make our lessons not only interesting but fascinating? Not only informative but unforgettable?

Publishers want to know what we want. After all, they just want to sell, sell, sell. Let’s tell them what we want to buy.

Contact their local office and their head office. Contact their reps. Tell your director and tell other teachers.

Can they do better? We think they can. Let’s tell them.

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Engineering an Experience! – Think outside the book…way outside!

What are we going to do with our time if we don’t teach grammar? Blow our students’ minds!

Have you ever seen a three-way orgy in an Ikea store? I have. You can too! Ikea 3-way

 

Scene from "Ikea Heights"

This crazy filmmaker thought it would be great fun to secretly film a melodrama in an Ikea store. With price tags hanging in front of their faces and customers walking behind, they act out living and dying in a fictitious neighborhood called “Ikea Heights”. What an out-of-the-box crazy idea.

 

If I have a small group, maybe 6-7 students, I will always take them to Ikea at some point during our training.

For us “experience engineers”, perhaps you are one, part of “engineering the experience” is not just to engineer a lesson but to engineer the overall training experience. Some lessons are in the classroom. Some lessons are out…way out! We want to not only have interesting and exciting lessons but also surprising experiences. We want our students to associate English learning to something thoroughly enjoyable, stimulating, amazing — not boring.

To this end we often not only “think outside of the box” but we “teach outside of the classroom”. There’s many things we can do along this line.

You know the boring lesson in English coursebooks where they read some dialog to order the food? Teachers who are “experience engineers” will do crazy things like having lunch together with their students at a buffet restaurant…with a twist. Instead of every student going to get their own food from the buffet counter, the teacher, or even one or two students, will act as “waiters” and take orders from the other students who act as “customers”. The “customers” sit at their tables while the “waiters” take the orders and serve the food. Students take turns waitering so everyone gets a chance. Perhaps the teacher or a student will visit the buffet the day before to make a “menu” that the others will use to order from but this is not necessary. (BTW, if asked, the manager will probably offer a discount for the group.) Wow, a lesson you can eat!

My student, a manager in an American company, trying out the Ikea experience

Ikea is a unique kind of store. They are “experience engineers”, too. They create these realistic rooms or even tiny apartments so you can feel the life of living in an Ikea home. Show your students the “Ikea Heights” film before you go. (Write me if you would like subtitles.) At the store you can act out your own mini-scenarios or role plays. (Orgy scene NOT recommended.)

There are a lot of interesting business strategies employed at Ikea. My English students who are managers love it when I point these things out. Ikea herds customers through a path like a rat maze. They station a cafeteria exactly halfway through the store so that customers will have no excuse to leave before they finish their shopping. They have a very cheap hot dog and ice cream available at the end of the shopping experience to provide a favorable “peak/end” experience.[1] There are lots of business concepts to unravel there.

There is a wealth of business talk to engage your students in discussing marketing, sales, promotion, staffing (few staff), ideas from things like Paco Underhill’s “Why We Buy?” and Joseph Pine’s “Experience Economy” and business questions like “This frying pan costs only $1. Now why would a big store like Ikea sell a frying pan below cost?”

That’s not to mention all the discussion of preferences and even games: “What do you like more? This sofa or that sofa? Why?” “Now John, choose a chair you like but don’t tell us. Jane, guess what chair John prefers and tell us why.”

How about simulations? “Jane, you go ahead to the bed department. You are going to be a salesperson. Think of what advantages different beds have and when we come you should try to interest us in buying one of those beds. Give us a good sales pitch!”

Let’s quit complaining about the dull English coursebooks. They’re hopeless. Let’s go outside and turn the world into our coursebook. Let’s quit apologizing to the students for the boring books and take the responsibility and the challenge of being like other teachers who are “experience engineers”, creating lessons that you can see, feel, hear and even taste, lessons that are interesting, engaging and even surprising! Can’t we make experiences so mind-blowing that our students will want to grab their phones and text their buddies about the crazy English lesson they are having, that they will have to tell their parents or spouse about the crazy things they did today?

Don’t you think we can do better? I think we can.

(You “experience engineers” out there, share with us your lessons and ideas!)

Notes and references:

[1] Nobel winner Kahneman’s Peak End Rule not only applies to some of the things Ikea does but to what our lessons should be like:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak-end_rule

http://tinyurl.com/4okbks5

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“Office English” and why nearly all business English books are useless

Famous publisher coursebooks, such as Cambridge University Press Pass Cambridge BEC Preliminary, teach such seemingly useful and important items as:

Product development (drug development in the USA) Measuring company performance (a private British rail network) Banking sector (about British banks) Quality control (a snack foods producer) Recruiting staff (article about various methods)

The seeming usefulness of this sort of study quickly vanishes when examined through the lens of reality, aka: needs analysis. Our students don’t need it. Contrary to popular belief and even many of our own assumptions, these lessons have little or no connection to the jobs our students will have.

This became apparent to me due to my practice of collecting 10 Emails from each of my corporate students. Examining the English that is actually used in companies, two things are very clear:

1. The specific vocabulary taught in these books is useless.
2. What our students need is basic business vocabulary and grammar.

At the bottom of this message are ten very typical examples[1] of Emails from a foreign insurance company operating in China. Please note the business vocabulary:
seminar
target customers
inactive
criterias [sic]
marketing plan

But please also note the specific industry vocabulary:
insured campaign
agent score card
Production Tracking Reports

As you read the Emails, below, you will see that little vocabulary is specifically about the insurance industry. But there is a lot “office English”, communication about approving forms, arranging a meeting, new procedures. Rather than call it “business English” with all its current sexy connotations of big negotiations, wining and dining in exotic five-star restaurants and stock market investments, I call this “office English”.

“Office English” is what our students are going to need. Not all that other crazy stuff in the business English books. Some of our students are going to work in the fashion, catering, manufacturing, chemical supply industries. Each of these have a very specialized vocabulary.

Special vocabulary they will pick up on the job.

So let’s look at this grammar. A few samples from the messages:

1. I’ll attend HR training this two days.
2. target customers who is inactive
3. the data in today’s reports just update to June 1st 4. u guys need not worry his ability 5. he has agreed with the revise

This is not “business grammar”. This is everyday grammar. They can pick up this grammar from reading novels, watching TV or movies, surfing the Internet, reading newspapers, graded readers.

In other words, they can learn it from extensive comprehensible input, material at their level and a little above that is interesting. Specific business vocabulary they will learn on the job from extensive comprehensible input in their work environment.

Collect Emails from your corporate students or ask your graduates who now have jobs to send you some samples and let’s compare notes. Are business English books hitting the target or are our students’ needs so diverse there is no ESP (English for Special Purposes) book able to serve them well?

Notes:

[1] Below are ten actual Emails from an American insurance company in China. Please note some very specialized vocabulary. Students tell me they learned this vocabulary on the job and did not study it. They just picked it up from their work in the office. For a Word document with 50 examples, please contact me.

=======================
EMAIL 1

Kindly to inform you that xx has invited xx to be the speaker of OOC touch point seminar.

The seminar will be held on July 27 evening ( Pls see the attachment for the detail rundown).

On xx’s introduction, xx is a very very good speaker and he can speak fluent mandarin too. He is a world class speaker.

We think it’s maybe a good opportunity for agency promotion, we wonder whether you need to invite him too?

If yes, we should inform xx the schedule today.

Your reply today will be highly appreciated!

=======================
EMAIL 2

The under insured’s leaflet has finish it’s final design, I’ve submit to xx for her comment.

I’ll attend HR training this two days, yy will forward the confirmed design to you ASAP.

Anything urgent pls contact xx or zz.

Thank you!

=======================
EMAIL 3

Dear all:
Kindly to remind you that as GZ’s inactive orphan policy lead size is not so sufficient. GZ have 2 selection criterias:
1. For the target customers who is inactive for 5 years(the same as SH), 2. For the target customers who is inactive for 3 years.
Thank you for your attention.

=======================
EMAIL 4

Kindly be informed that the marketing plan of Under Insured campaign has been approved by our GM, I’ve fax the hardcopy to you, pls check it.

As the time is very tight, can we finish the whole approval circle in two weeks?

Thank you very much!

=======================
EMAIL 5

Considering the under insured campaign is LG channel, to give more information and motivation to our agent, I modified the tracking report:
1. Add a new report named: billboard
2. Modify the agent score card( for team) I’ve discuss with xx, he has agreed with the revise.

Thank you!

=======================
EMAIL 6

Many thanks for your kindest support to make it happen! We strongly believe that xx is the right person for our seminar.
Your continuous support is the key of our success!

=======================
EMAIL 7

Dear both,

Denise has already invited a guest speaker from HK agency. He is called Andy xxx ( Senior District Director).

well, he is a very very good speaker and he can speak fluent mandarin too. He is a world class speaker, so u guys need not worry his ability 🙂

Kind regards,

=======================
EMAIL 8

I’ve double checked these cost items, and they are all right. Furthermore, I’ve mastered how to use correlative forms, and I’ll ask xx’s help when I have other questions.

=======================
EMAIL 9

There is the final version wording of “NML Campaign” we prepared in the attachment, please help to check whether it is ready to apply for approval program.

=======================
EMAIL 10

To conduct the campaign better and more conveniently, we prepared three “Production Tracking Reports” for agencies, and we’ll update them every two weeks from now on; Furthermore, because the data in today’s reports just update to June 1st- when our campaign have only launched for ten days, so some items just for your reference. If there are some questions or proposals about these reports, you can contact us further.

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>Thinking outside the book

>One thing that students and teachers really struggle with is boredom. Maybe I’m just easily bored but I have yet to find a book or teacher that really keeps the student’s interest from cover to cover, it doesn’t matter how good they are.

Sometimes I think that the way English teaching works is that we often trap ourselves into thinking “inside the book”. Publishers have little interest in helping teachers think otherwise and because we often lean on manufactured materials we always wind up with a book.

We are basically teaching the same way Socrates, Plato and Aristotle taught thousands of years ago except for the addition of the printed book invented by Gutenberg.

Of course, there are guys who have rebelled against the book. You can find a bunch of them at Dogme. They have a Yahoo group and their leader has published in The Guardian newspaper ELT pages.

But to me, they seem more readily identified for what they are against than what they are for. And from my experience, it really helps to have a course or plan for students as otherwise the training can seem a bit aimless to the students.

So how can we escape the book but still have a plan?

First, let’s brainstorm a list of all the new tools and technologies and other things that are available to us since the days of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Gutenberg. Without much order, here is my list:

Computers
Email
Telephone
Phone messages
PowerPoint
YouTube
PDA
Chat rooms
Blogs
Websites
Fax
MP3
MP4
Video
Email spam
Voice spam
Television
Shopping malls

Perhaps your list is longer. Now, just as a thought exercise to stretch us “outside the book”, what if you assigned yourself the task of using each of these to provide some part of a training course.

There was once a game called Majestic by Electronic Arts. They described it as “The suspense thriller that infiltrates your life through the Internet, telephone and fax, then leaves you guessing where the game ends and reality begins.” To play this game you had to check websites and periodically you’d receive frantic phone calls with clues or cryptic faxes.

I think something so pervasive would be an exciting way to teach and learn. What would a “Majestic” English course be like? The student would be receiving training from so many directions at so many times. Of course, not all of this is possible with every teacher and every student, but employing some of these technologies could really get us “out of the book”. Consider the possibilities that a ficticious Chinese student named Jerry Liang would experience:

– Jerry gets a daily Email that has a short lesson, story or MP3. This Email is pumped out to Jerry and all the other students by a program similar to those used by spammers.

– Jerry also receives a daily SMS phone messages that reminds him to study an assignment, do homework or join some activities that the teacher has organized.

– Every week, Jerry is directed to watch a certain TV program or movie which all the other students and teacher will be watching. Jerry doesn’t have to participate if he is busy that night but he does need to participate in at least two per week. Jerry tunes in the program and starts the chat program on his computer. While he is watching the program on his home TV, other students and the teacher are watching it and chatting with him about it, about the story, actors, what they like or don’t like, etc. (“Don’t go in that dark room!…don’t do it!…Ugh! I knew it!!!”)

– Jerry posts assignments on the blog.

– Jerry gets SMS phone messages with new vocabulary on set days. After first contact with the new vocabulary in a lesson he receives the vocabulary in a message on day 2, 5, 12, 19, 33, 63. He has a look at the words and reviews them.

– He has some specially recorded lessons made by his teacher or other teachers in MP3 format in his MP3/MP4 player or PDA which he listens to throughout the day.

– When Jerry visits the popular local mall he takes a walking tour via MP3. The teacher has made a short recording and guides the him through the mall, describing interesting things about the mall and shops and introducing more new vocabulary. (“Starbucks took its name from a coffee-loving character in the famous American novel called ‘Moby Dick’, a story about a man hunting a whale. Starbuck’s strategy is to become people’s ‘third place’, the main place people go outside of home and work.”)

– Sometimes Jerry receives a phone call from the teacher to practice his speaking, but more often than not, the teacher (randomly?) assigns Jerry and the other students speaking buddies, other students, who he calls to practice a particular speaking activity. Every week Jerry recieves an Email with a speaking lesson to practice and his speaking buddy’s phone number. Sometimes the buddy is in his class but most of the time the buddy is a student in one of the teacher’s other classes, perhaps a manager in a company. It’s interesting to have this way to talk to various professionals that he wouldn’t normally meet (and Jerry thinks it’s always interesting to talk to girls).

– Twice a month, Jerry is given a phone number to a company in an English speaking country that provides information about their services along with one or more questions that he needs to ask about. For example, he once had to call Trump International Hotel in New York to find out if they allow dogs in the room. (They do if the dog is under 10 pounds but the guest must pay a non-refundable $200.) This provides a real English challenge and practice for Jerry.

– Etc, etc, etc.

All of this is possible with current technology but will never be offered by a book publisher. It just remains for the teacher to sort out his content and figure out the different ways to deliver it.

A student, going through a course like that, would have an experience they’ve never had before. But as I said, maybe I dream up this stuff because I’m the kind of person who is easily bored.

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>Two-course strategy to teaching IELTS

> My strategy for teaching IELTS is:

1) ENGLISH SKILLS: If there’s enough time, work to improve the student’s English level through English training.

2) TEST PREP: Help the student gain an understanding of how the IELTS test functions. There are various books that deal specifically with the IELTS, how the speaking part works, the two tasks of the writing part, etc. (I always teach my students how to do a 5-paragraph essay for the 250-word Task 2.)

I think of it as two courses and think it’s best taught as two courses. The first one is actually teaching English and the second one is teaching how the functions of how the IELTS test works.

ENGLISH SKILLS TRAINING

I have found that Interchange by Cambridge Universtity Press hits on almost all of the types of content that IELTS does such as the environment, education, work, news, movies, food, people, etc. In addition, it is teaching skills for reading, writing, listening, speaking. There are some examples below from New Interchange level 3.

IELTS TEST PREP SKILLS

The second course can be a short and it’s rather easy for the students to get the point of how different parts of the test work. Once they have this test-prep course they should understand it. I believe this one bit of training can help a candidate improve their score by one band level. I suppose some people would question that assertion so let’s look at it another way. This training can help a candidate avoid making mistakes that could cost him one band level.

Now if they should fail to get the score they want in IELTS they do not have to take this second course, the test-prep course, again. Not scoring high enough, means that their English level is not high enough and they need to work on their English skills which is a much bigger job.

For this effort I have used various test-prep books for IELTS. All of the ones I have tried have been useful but I guess I wasn’t relying on them so completely, using them more as a framework to work from, as I have a lot of things about the test that I have learned and use that as a resource when teaching IELTS. So I have no strong recommendations to make on IELTS test-prep books but am interested to hear other’s recommendations on those as well.

SOME TOPICS INTERCHANGE COVERS:

DESCRIBING PEOPLE
Personality types and qualities; relationships; “turn ons and turn offs”. Describing personalities; expressing likes and dislikes; expressing agreement and disagreement; complaining Relative descriptions of people; making inferences. Writing about a best friend. “Friends Again – Forever!”: Reading a narrative about friendship. “Personality types”: Interviewing a classmate to find out about personality.

TALKING ABOUT WORK, JOBS, EMPLOYMENT, CAREERS
Unusual and exceptional jobs; job skills; summer jobs. Giving opinions about jobs; describing and comparing jobs Gerund phrases as subjects and objects; comparisons with -er / Writing about career advantages and disadvantages. “Strategies for Keeping Your Job”: Reading advice about behavior in the workplace. “The best and the worst”: Finding out about classmates’ summer or part-time jobs.

DISCUSSING NEWS AND CURRENT EVENTS
The media; news stories; exceptional events. Describing past events; narrating a story. Listening to news broadcasts; listening to a narrative about a past event; making up stories. Writing a newspaper story. “Strange but True”: Reading tabloid news stories. “A double ending”: Completing a story with two different endings.

DESCRIBING COUNTRIES AND CULTURES
Cultural comparisons and culture shock; customs; tourism and travel abroad. Expressing emotions; describing expectations; talking about customs; giving advice Noun phrases containing relative living listening to descriptions of and opinions about customs. Writing advice for a visitor to your country. “Culture Check” Reading and completing a questionnaire. “Culture clash”: Comparing customs in different countries.

DISCUSSING THE ENVIRONMENT AND GLOBAL PROBLEMS
The environment and world issues. Identifying and describing problems; offering solutions. Listening to people talk about problems, solutions, and accomplishments. Writing about local issues and offering solutions. “The Threat to Kiribati: Reading about an island that is sinking into the sea. “Community planner”: Solving some small-scale environmental problems.

TALKING ABOUT THE PAST AND HISTORY
Historic events and people; biography; the future. Talking about historical events; giving opinions about the future. Listening to historical facts; listening for opinions about public figures; listening to predictions. Writing a biography.
“The Global Village”: Reading about political and technological changes. “History buff”: Taking a history quiz.

DISCUSSING PERSONAL LESSONS AND EVENTS
Milestones and turning points; behavior; regrets. Describing yourself in the past; describing regrets about the past; describing hypothetical situations. Listening to descriptions of important events; listening to regrets and explanations. “If You Could Do It All Again”: Reading about three people’s life choices. “If only . . . .”: Imagining different possibilities for yourself.

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