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!

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?

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.

useful phrases for opinions

I have been trying to shift my focus in recent days to work on getting a TESOL certificate. I checked a few sites and settled on a Canadian based site called ONTESOL. A search of reviews turned up many positive reviews and they are a Canadian based school- so it seemed like a no-brainer. As I may get busy again and I am more looking to sharpen my skills and show some sort of credentials I stuck with the shorter 100 hour course. It looks like it will be able to provide exactly what I want and may be the launch pad for me to undertake more online studying (thinking about my lack of Bachelor Degree…)

Today I wanted to put together a brief quiz to use as a time filler at the end of class if we end up having some to spare on Friday. The whole course is based on Presentation skills. I have talked every time about some points related to making the presentation and have had them giving speeches with some discussion each week. Now I want to focus on the language and skills associated with giving opinions.

As time was short I wanted to find a reference list  of some key phrases and came up with this useful blog post;

After I developed the phrases into 4 groups of 3 sentences each and I would ask them which is the strongest opinion and which is lightest- each group would be a springboard for discussion about why we chose our answers. If anyone is interested I can send you the questions I came up with (just personal message me with your contact details). Though as the main ideas came from someone else’s brainstorming I didn’t want to post them in my blog.

The EFL Trap

Scales of Justice - Frankfurt Version

Scales of Justice – Frankfurt Version (Photo credit: mikecogh)

After having taught English in Japan for 8 years or so now, I see that a lot of new teachers fall into a dangerous trap. A trap that is strewn over with rich words and color leafs of conversational pleasure that is covering a deep hole with sharp spikes ready to impale your class.

When I first learnt of teaching English- I was introduced to the concept of warming up the class with some personal topics. The idea is pure and logical. The mind needs to warm up into thinking in another language, and indeed it does work, it helps you build some momentum and get active in that language. However a lot of teachers fall into a trap.

You see, it appears the students absolutely love this part of the class. Indeed they do- it often feels like the most practical and interesting part. Furthermore it often meets with a lot of students’ goal of being able to express themselves in another language.

Once the fresh teacher perceives this, the conversation time gets longer and in some classes takes over the whole class time. God knows that I have had a few classes where this has happened (okay I confess to my imperfection; I have a couple still ). However therein lies the trap.

While the student enjoys this aspect of the class, they often will go home and reflect on what they learnt and come up empty. Even if you have them jotting down the new key words and phrases, they rarely will review this and consequently rarely level up.

Remember the conversation section is supposed to be a warmup. In the case of a number of my classes where I have found they want to talk, I let them understand the importance of balance. We need to counterbalance the light and enjoyable segment with some structured study. Definitely on a percentage basis- the students that feel they have improved their skills have a higher rate of re-signing up the next term or year, etc… (no hard facts just based on my personal work experience).

Memorization 2- Mnemonics

As the science of learning and the ways to acquire knowledge are tightly knit into the job of teaching- it is good to keep looking at the ways the brain remembers.

I touched on the style roughly last time- the use of mnemonics has been a favorite technique of mine over the years. A mnemonic is a special visualization or unusual pattern that you use to help in learning a specific phrase or word. According to Wikipedia, there has been evidence of usage of mnemonics as far back as ancient Greece where Plato and Aristotle spoke of them. My earliest memory of this memorization style was in High School studying the classification of species King Phillip Came Over From Germany Stone- representing Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

The following website has outlined a few different techniques and specific times to use them;

Some ideas of other things you can get your English students to memorize are;

— Famous Quotes

— Idioms

— Personal Speeches

–Grammatical Rules (though it sounds like it could be a bit dull)

I hope this is useful for some!