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!


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.

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.

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!

Great visuals for lesson

I love using visuals in classes but actually find I don’t end up using them as much as I  would like to.

Today, I came across this great slideshow of pictures that ‘made our week’ according to Time magazine:

Most of the pictures have some great detail or interesting points. There are many ways to use these in a class:

—  assign one picture each to a student and get them to either describe the picture or try to tell the back story of the picture- depending on the needs and level of the students.

—  look at each picture together and talk about how the picture makes them feel, the emotions that are expressed in the picture or as a launchpad for discussion.

— a variant on a commercially sold game called Stare- you can allow one student to look at a picture for a minute to memorize as much detail as possible. After the minute give the picture to the other students and have them ask questions in turn to test the first student’s memory- a great communicative game.

Or you can just enjoy the pictures, some of them really left an impression on me.

Launching, disappearing, hoping…

For some reason my first blog post disappeared. Maybe I am new to WordPress so I did something wrong? Well anyway, my first post was about charades being used in class as a warmup for a discussion on body language in presentations. I don’t really want to retype it all. Anyway it was a good class and everything went smoothly, though I should take more time to think out the movies I use next time around.

What do I hope from this blog? I want to work on building my English class load at home. There is a hut outside my home that we built 3 years ago. In that time I have had one recurring class which may be ending soon unfortunately. I would like to draw some more students so I built a twitter site ( @EH_Hamakita) this blog and am working on a simple website using the template service site moonfruit. I hope to connect themes and ideas through the same. If anyone has any advice on how to get these channels working at drawing customers (students) or how to expand that business, I would be happy to hear!