Good ESL link- 10 Fun Activities for Business English classes

This week- I was looking for some fresh ideas for the classroom as warmup and came across this useful selection of ideas. I personally am going to try the ‘selling lemons’ activity tomorrow!

10 Fun Activities for Business English classes.

I hope someone else finds it useful!


The elevator pitch- for Business ESL

Years back when I was working in an office back home, at a meeting our boss had tasked us all with the idea of thinking out what our

Elevator pitch would be. This was a new concept to me and at the time I didn’t think it very relevant to me as I was simply working in a customer support role; most of the people I dealt with already knew what the product was (and often weren’t very happy with it, but that is another story).

Years later I have been teaching at business classes mainly for a number of years now and my mind often comes to what sort of practical speaking exercises I can use in my class. Finally the whole spirit behind the Elevator Pitch makes sense to me and is a great no prep activity you can walk into class and get your students to prepare and do without taking up too much time.

1. Setup

First the students need to know what an elevator pitch is.

I would start by loading up an image of two people talking in an elevator on my iPad and asking the students what you imagine they are talking about (of course you could print one out or find one in a magazine if you don’t have a tablet). Talk as a group or get them to brainstorm in pairs and then tell the class.

After that has run it’s course- tell them that they are,in fact,  talking about one man’s company. In fact he is giving an elevator pitch.

What is an elevator pitch you ask? Well the basic idea is- a presentation that explains what your company is and does in the time it takes to ride an elevator (my boss many years ago said “imagine that someone asks you about your company at the beginning of an elevator ride- you have until that person gets off on the 7th floor to explain in detail to them”). If that wasn’t descriptive enough- you can derive your own explanation from the wikipedia page here.

2. Help to fill out their ideas. Brainstorm.

Take a few minutes to brainstorm together what they think are the key points that you should talk about. There is really no perfect answer and it may depend on what industry they are in or what company they work for as to what is important for them to talk about. Fill out with some ideas of your own. This article may give you some ideas to add to the list or other ways you may want to coach them.

3. Plan.

Have them write out what they want to say. Set a time limit to this, the speech doesn’t need to be very long, so they shouldn’t require too long to plan. If you have a student who is struggling, focus on them to get them moving along- but for the most part circulate and tighten their grammar and provoke ideas.

4. Do.

Depending on how important speech making is for your curriculum, you may want to add a feedback session where the students say something positive about each person’s speech, write out some comments anonymously or just a Q and A session.

Oh, if you are wondering how long is an elevator ride, according to this article an average elevator ride in New York is 118 seconds.

If you have any similar class ideas I would love to hear them or read about them in your blogs! Let me know!

Communication in EFL

It is important to not lose site of one of the key points when you are an EFL teacher- communication.

It is really the heart and soul of everything related to your classes. It is the basic goal of your students – the ability to communicate. It needs to be used in pair and group work activities. It is also important that the teacher does not slack in his responsibility to communicate to his or her students.

When introducing an activity or when launching into a class wide discussion about something, it is important to explain why the activity is useful or practical. You will introduce a new game or topic and see some students stiffen. That body language tells us they are wondering what is the practical reason for doing this. They need to know why you have selected it and more importantly what are the skills and target functions of your activity. Even if the students don’t love the activity, you will find that they respect that you have thought out the activity and aren’t just filling in time and might actually take more from it than if they went into it cold.

From my early days of teaching I was interesting in bringing a formal debate into the classroom. I actually later learned that a lot of students had never had the chance to practice debate in school in Japan so it is a unique experience for a lot of students. The mistake that I made in the beginning was to just do the debate cold, as a way to spark conversation. I was  met with some coldness and confusion and probably lost a return student or two. The next time, I took some time and broke down the format of a debate and sold it as a way to practice speaking your opinion which I pre-taught. It went over much better than before and we even were able to run a few more debates over that course. That was better but not perfect.

There are actually a few skills at play in debating- negotiation, opinion speaking, meeting skills. So over a few weeks we covered those skills, each time they were told that it would relate to a debate, finally I broke down the format, had teams work together to brainstorm ideas and things went over very well. The students had a chance to practice lots of forms of communication, understood what they were doing and hopefully took away something that they could put into play in their international business experiences. All because I had learned the value of communicating strongly with the students.

Good blog post- A lesson on Business Negotiation

I was trying to find some resource to help me to teach negotiations in a non-threatening manner. A lot of the materials I have at my disposal are a little heavy or not focused enough.

I came across this well laid out plan that draws on a few different resources and used Market Leader Intermediate a little bit, though it could be taught without ML- and focus on brainstorming that part on the White board.

I really liked this one and I hope that she will post more class breakdowns like this!


Studying English as a Foreign Language (well anything!) 5 pieces of advice.

Having been teaching EFL in Japan for a bit short of a decade now, I have found some common themes to people’s approach to taking up English. In this culture, not unsimilar to back home, there is a great love for the ‘quick fix’ solutions. Anyone remember the Billy’s Boot Camp boom? How about the Morning Banana diet? How about Speed Learning?

For those of you not in Japan, Speed Learning is supposed to be a quick way to pick up English, of course. Listening to the disk and being programmed new vocabulary etc. The product is pushed by a young Pro Golfer whose name eludes me at this point. The one major point a lot of people are overlooking is that Pro Golfers speak English everyday as a common language, so this boy has frequent and practical practice daily. This more than a simple listening program is what is pushing along his English skills. The common point about each of the ‘quick fix’ fads I listed above is that I have heard from students that they are all ineffective, because a little more is needed than just the programs, it always requires an effort. The effort is the point that everyone seems to want to avoid.

So here is my advice;

1. Ask questions of your teacher. The key to picking up your skill is to enter a training session with an active mind. You need to remain open and be inquisitive, ask questions when you are unclear. If you have chosen to study with no teacher, then make notes of your question and investigate on the internet- if you word your question properly, you can find almost any answer. On top of that searching in English on the web is a great practical English exercise!

2. Make notes, review your notes. I learned in late high school how the brain works in moving things from the short term memory into the long term memory. The key theme is that repetition is important. Your one hour or two hour class is not enough. If you studied English only 2 hours out of a week, which is 168 hours, that is only 1 percent or less of your time. You need the review.

3. Stay on the horse. Even living in another country, I have days where I have no confidence in my ability to communicate. The key is not to give up, the next day out you may be having some of your best conversations. Little things like surrounding environment, who you are talking to, being tired, etc could be effecting your ability to talk. No pain no gain.

4. Don’t throw up the barriers. You need to bear in mind that some of the rules or way of saying something in English doesn’t directly translate into your language. I have seen a lot of students shut down or close their minds up because they can’t get their head around why a certain idiom means what it does. Some idioms we can teach the reason or meaning behind or simply imagine it, but some just don’t make sense. Sometimes we have to just straight up remember a phrase as meaning what it does.

5. Try to use new phrases or teach others what you just learned. The brain seems to respond well when you are not on the defensive (learning) and are on the offensive (communicating or teaching) and the transfer to long term memory or improvement of your confidence is greater.

In the above passage, I have listed some words in italics. These may be good words or phrases for non- native speakers to investigate on the web.

Idiom site and my idiom – Put your foot in your mouth

Recently I have reflected that I haven’t been using idioms enough in the classroom. As I remember from when I studied how to teach English, they had said that higher level students are mostly learning phrasal verbs and idioms to improve their communicative ability. I would take this one step further and start to introduce them to students as early as possible- in the beginning I would pick easy to imagine idioms (ones where the meaning isn’t totally far from the literal translation) and start to branch out when they are ready.

Sometimes the web provides inspiration for what phrases to teach and how to do so. I came across this great site;

She has very simply laid out a bunch of idioms and explains things in an easy to understand manner. Great to glean ideas from.

Of course at times we have to come up with our own ideas, so I will try one out now;

To put one’s foot in their mouth.

Meaning: When someone talks to much or sometimes says something that they shouldn’t have, we say that they put their foot in their mouth.

Imagery: It’s easy to imagine someone saying something that they shouldn’t have and in their embarrassment, feel the need to plug their mouth as soon as possible. A foot is large enough and very convenient to find , so fits the role easily as a plug.

Example: John really put his foot in his mouth when he told called Mr. Anderson stupid at the meeting.


1. Have you ever put your foot in your mouth (said something you shouldn’t have?)

2. Is there a similar saying in your language?

Local tradition, fear of English

Yuzen, a buddhist monk from the Sōtō Zen sect ...

Yuzen, a buddhist monk from the Sōtō Zen sect begging at Oigawa, Kyoto. Begging is part of the training of some Buddhist sects. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in the outskirts of a moderate sized city in Japan, but the area I live in is rather rural. For a young adventurous traveler it’s not the place that you would choose to go to. If I step outside my door at 9 PM, there is no one stirring outside, the occasional car passes, that is about it. When I lived in Tokyo you would see hustle and bustle well past midnight if you were in the right area.

It’s because of this simpler lifestyle here that they have clutched to a traditional memorial dance ritual known as the Enshu no dainenbutsu. It is tied to the Buddhist religion (I think?). July 13 and 14 is the original timing for Obon, the time when the dead return to visit the Earth- somewhat similar origins to Halloween. In the first year after someone’s death, the hatsubon, they ask the members of the group to come to their home to perform the dance in memorial or to call and release the spirit to and from their home.

Living in this area each household within each subdivision of the community must offer 2 volunteers each year. I was convinced to do my service the last 2 years and they asked me to try to play the taiko drums. I am horribly uncoordinated and unaccustomed to the intricacies so it has been a great struggle for me to perform it with dignity, but I decided to continue and attempt to get better and do justice as probably the sole gaijin member for my area.

In my group are a couple of teenage girls. They are very nice and appear interested in my presence, but though both show a dislike for English. They have to study for a test called the Eiken in High School to help to get them speaking and listening to the English they have started to study. The girls say to me “Eigo wo oshiete moratte…” (Teach me English), okay, I reply, studying is important. “yada. Isogashi sugiru” (no way, I am too busy). I can’t help you.

The truth is that it’s not the girls fault. When I was in Canada and they slapped the French textbook in front of me, I had a similar reaction- why do we need French? (Though I still remember the first dialogue partially- Quel bruit!Jean, Paul vous regardex le tele vous deux?; No maman c’est Henri!) Now I regret not having taken it more seriously and picking up a bit more of that beautiful language. Japanese society these days focuses on it’s insularity. The TV programs, the music and the comics are all good here and suited to the Japanese people but they don’t fulfill their responsibility to making an international cultural existence seem appealing. It’s a very shut and locked culture, and young people don’t take to the foreign bands (not that I think it’s a bad thing that they don’t like Justin Beiber here) or movie idols, because their own culture is enough. Without that passion and excitement it’s tough to motivate the young to get into putting into play the endless word lists they are studying in class.

Of course this probably stands out more here in amongst the small farmers homes, but for Japan to turn another corner to growth and prosperity, they need to get with the global community better. Us teachers still have a lot of work to do here…

New lesson- Jumping the shark

Fonzie on water skis, in a scene from the Happ...

Fonzie on water skis, in a scene from the Happy Days episode “Hollywood, Part Three of Three,” after literally jumping over a shark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had been asked to make homework assignments each week for a long running class this term. As I detected a mutiny if I brought in some dull homework , been trying to make creative homework assignments. I did all audio in one take, so it’s not professional sounding, but I wanted to test their listening skills and teach them a bit of culture. It goes as follows;

1. The back story. Listen to my soundcloud audio clip and answer the following questions;

1. What was the name of the popular American show?
2. What does sitcom stand for?
3. The main actor is now a famous director, list 2 movies that he directed (either from the audio or your own ideas)
4. Which American comedian got his own show after guest starring on this show?

2. Jumping the shark.
Around the 5th or 6th season the stories were starting to get more odd and silly.
Here is the episode where Fonzie jumps the shark.

Question; One man says something in the clip- what does he say?
“He’s………………………………………………..! There………………………..!

3. Definition.

Question- What does Jumping the shark mean?

4. Parody.
Years later- the same actor parodied this scene by jumping over a mini shark in this episode.

Question– What did he say before jumping the shark?

Personal Question-
do you know of an example of a tv show, movie, band or anyone else jumping the shark?

Into the fire- that first class

English: A black and white icon of a teacher i...

English: A black and white icon of a teacher in front of a class, with dialogue bubbles indicating class discussion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the students;

– into the fire– is to be placed into a high pressure situation relatively under-prepared.

– thrown to the wolves- is to be placed in a hostile situation.

I remember my first job teaching English. It was about 10 years ago in Tokyo and I was hired within about a month by an English school with a few locations around the town.

I had no concept of what to do in a class. The only training they offered was a little bit of guidance, I could watch about 3-4 classes, then I got thrown into the fire. They said they would later offer ‘little tweaks’ they would like me to follow.

Soon after I sat in on a couple of classes- a teacher called in sick and they called me to duty way before I was prepared. I guess every mother bird has to try to push their little babies out of their nests at one time or another. But I was not ready. They threw me to the wolves- the class was a vicious pack of 8 year-old kids.  I froze mid class- couldn’t control or communicate with them. The head teacher had to come in and take over the class. It was an utter failure.

What went wrong? I would suppose that some people excel at taking over just with a little guidance what to do. People probably enjoy that freedom and trust and can conceptualize and engage with minimal instruction. They can eat up the nudges and criticism and adapt quickly- it just killed my confidence every time they called me into the office. I still feel that the teacher training was insufficient. This sort of business practice is reckless and  threatens the success of any business owner who thinks that is a good way to run a company in an industry that really relies on human to human contact. I guess turnover is high in these schools so actually having a proper training regimen would be a waste of time but you need to arm the teacher with the right skills and communication style to help them get by.

In looking at my TESOL course we started by looking at different ways people learn and study and I realized that their system catered to a certain type of person but I wasn’t in that group. This site has some interesting information about the different learning styles there are;

In preparing the training of new teachers you need a more broad and informative training system and as an employer you need to start your new staff out with the understanding of how you expect to conduct the class with no room for uncertainty.