PowerPot – An English lesson for e-lab technicians

Imagine that you’re on a camping trip out in the wild, far away from buildings with power sockets. You can’t connect any equipment to the power supply. Your mobile phone needs recharging. Luckily, you and your friends have invented a device that will let you recharge it. What technology is it based on? What spare parts do you carry with you?

Guess what, such a device has been invented. Watch this video, and answer:

  1. What technology is it based on?
  2. What components is it made of?
  3. How does it work?
  4. What devices does it provide power for?
  5. What problems did the inventors have to overcome?
  6. Which users and what markets do the inventors want to reach?
  7. Is there more than one model? What for?
  8. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform. Did this invention get funding? Check the website.
  9. Find out at least one more fact about this invention by googling ‘PowerPot’.
  10. Would you buy one? Why or why not?

Read along in the transcript and do language exercises in the pdf worksheet after the break below:

Continue reading PowerPot – An English lesson for e-lab technicians

Activities to personalize topics, language, communication skills and business skills

The IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium was a wonderfully intimate event with a wide range of excellent presentations. On Friday, Evan Frendo provided the excellent keynote, Exploring business English. He’s got a clear vision that is enormously helpful to anyone working in the field. Then I went to Simona Petrescu’s presentation on how to create a customized syllabus (see her blog, Enterprise English).  Her key message was that you need to base the curriculum on a very specific needs analysis of the communication situations all along the standard flow of work processes, and working through these in their logical sequence. Pete Rutherford presented his work in process in developing a competency radar chart (=spidergram) to supplement the CEFR, an interesting suggestion including a range of communicative competencies in addition to linguistic competency. I presented on day 2, and then heard a number of talks including Paul Walsh’s on Decentralized Teaching and Clarice Chan’s on What we can learn from interaction in learner roleplays, which I’ll review separately.

In my talk I introduced the concept behind Basis for Business C1, I explained that the book is rooted in my reflective teaching approach of reconstructing the communicative situations my  clients experience at the workplace in class, discussing these with both them and my business mentors, and applying research on discourse and culture to work on better ways of handling those specific situations.  The presentation is here.

Thanks to ELTpics for the great photos!

Speaking on behalf of the publisher, Cornelsen, I suggested 4 activities to personalize topics, language, communication skills and business skills in any intermediate or advanced coursebook:

1. Topical personalization: Freewriting reviews

In the first lesson with a new book, use a free-writing activity to get ideas flowing and agree on how to use the book.

Have students to write 3 headings a sheet of paper:

  • An article about…
  • A picture of…
  • Something about…

(This activity and the headings were suggested by Jo Westcombe here in her column, Try it Out)

Give them a few minutes to browse the book. Then ask them to write down under the 3 headings what they found. Encourage them to note down anything that comes to mind, and keep writing. Full sentences and accuracy are not important.

Put them in pairs to share what they’ve written. Encourage them to explain to their partners how what they saw relates to their experience. Then have the pairs look through the book together.

Use to lead into a group discussion on how you will use the book in class. Those selecting a particular topic or skill could be engaged to chair that particular lesson and provide additional materials from their workplace, field, or area of interest.

2. Linguistic personalization: Dictogloss (“grammar dictation”)

Learners reconstruct a dictated text in a grammatically acceptable form. Initially the learners work individually to take notes. They then get together in small groups to pool their ideas and work towards a final version. Texts can be up to ca. 12 sentences, and should be challenging. In Basis for Business C1, “Outside view” will work well, but you can easily use materials supplied by your learners,  i.e. short business reports, press releases, involved business emails, presentation scripts… any genre you want them to notice the linguistic details of.

Read the text once at normal speed. Students listen. Then read the text again and have learners take notes on key words and phrases. Recommend leaving room between words and lines to be able extend their notes. Pause very briefly after each sentence.

Put them in groups of about 4 to reconstruct a grammatically correct version of the text containing the same information.

Follow up with feedback, comparing the group versions with the original.

In the Basis for Business C1 Teachers Book, Andreas Grundtvig’s worksheet 5 “Don’t let it escape your notice” is a listening dictogloss to help students identify relevant language and adapt structures for their own purposes that uses a visual organizer to compile smaller units of language.

3. Communication skills personalization: Listening trios

This activity practices all skills, but especially listening, and encourages collaboration and learner autonomy. The aim is to produce a 3 sentence written summary of three separate texts.

Take three short texts – A, B, C. You could take an article in the book, e.g. Unit 7C on Nutella, and 2 similar new articles by bloggers e.g.  something by Seth Godin or Daniel Pink on trends in social media marketing, and a short article on social media overload). Make one copy of one of the textx per student. Make three groups, A, B and C. Give the A texts to the A group, and so on. Give the students a few minutes to read their text, and to check understanding in their group. Everyone needs to fully understand their text. Then divide the large groups into groups of three containing an A, B and C student. Have the students share the information in their texts with each other. Student A  reports on the content of his or her text. Student B listens and will write the summary. He or she asks any necessary questions. Student C monitors to make sure English is used and they are on task. After a few minutes, ask the Bs to make notes on what they have heard. Repeat the steps for the second round: student C tells the story, A listens and B monitors. Once the three rounds are completed and notes have been compiled, the groups polish each of the summaries collaboratively to produce three sentence summaries.

Compare the summaries by pinning As, Bs and Cs in groups.

4. Business skills personalization: Storytelling

In Basis for Business, business skills (e.g. SWOT analysis, report writing, performance review…) are connected to the business content of any given unit, often featuring in Part C. For example, in Unit 5, stories loom large, suggesting ways of using them in their own business context. Storytelling as a business skills introduced in Part A in a presentation recounting the rise and fall of a company in hindsight – listening, accompaniesd by a look at language markers. 5B shows that not every presentation should be a monologue, as here the focus on the dialogue aspect of pitching. 5C contrasts persuasive and objective reporting, and storytelling is discussed in Outside View 5 on speaking, summarizing Robert McKee’s reflections on storytelling as a persuasive cultural skill. Business File 3 also involves storytelling, i.e. looking back on a decision making process as part of a simulation.

Students can bounce off the book’s presentation of and practice with stories at many points here. I would  have them tell business stories repeatedly throughout this unit, both orally and in writing, with the aim of persuading others to see the issues from their point of view.

David Heathfield’s workshop on storytelling and mental imagery

I couldn’t make IATEFL, so it’s really great that some of the sessions are recorded and uploaded. I particularly enjoyed David Heathfield’s workshop “Storytelling and Mental Imagery”. The flow of the lesson he proposes is great. He has learners

  • listening to the teacher tell the story
  • visualizing the highpoint of the story with a partner+
  • drawing 6 pictures on your own
  • retelling the story to a partner, then the listener becoming the teller
  • going from imitating to innovating (as differences emerge)
  • perhaps acting out, or at least working on the physical aspects of storytelling

He shows (in minute 24) that students build different kinds of mental images when they are retelling the story: still/rolling film, colors/black and white, life scenes/cartoons, remember the voice and cadences of the teacher/don’t remember the voice at all, imagine sounds/don’t hear sounds, feel physically involved/feel outside the story.

Thinking about the images we remember, I stumbled across Charles Simic in the New York Review of Books blog writing about “What’s left of my Books“, and highlighting how it is images that we remember when all else is forgotten:

I recall, for example, Flaubert saying that it is splendid to be a writer, to put men into the frying pan of your imagination and make them pop like chestnuts; St. Augustine confessing that even he could not comprehend God’s purpose in creating flies; Beckett telling about a character in his early novel Murphy whom the cops took in for begging without singing, and who was jailed for ten days by the judge; Victor Shklovsky, recounting how he once heard the great Russian poet Mayakovski claim that black cats produce electricity while being stroked; Emily Dickinson saying in a letter, It is lonely without birds today, for it rains badly, and the little poets have no umbrellas; Flannery O’Connor describing a young woman as having a face as broad and as innocent as a cabbage and tied around with a green handkerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit ears; and many other such small and overlooked delights.

Pete Seger: Turn Turn Turn

RIP Pete Seeger (3 May 1919 – 27 Jan 2014).

He turned Ecclesiastes 3 into Turn Turn Turn.

At this concert when he was 93, he said his wife Toshi had made up a few extra verses for their children. Like the rest of the song, they contain matching and contrasting words:

work – play
night – day
sleep – wake
candles on the cake

work – eat
sit and rest your feet
teach – learn
all to take their turn

cry – make a fuss
leave and catch the bus
quiet – talk
run – walk

get – give
remember – forgive
hug – kiss
close your eyes and wish
(why not “miss”?)

dirt – soap
tears – hope
fall – spring
hear the robin sing

How to die a social media death

Countless media bloopers, some with repercussions, have caused me to die little social media deaths. By “social media death” I mean that sinking sensation that I’ve done something that will turn my social networks against me.

When Twitter was still young, I would lie in bed at night thinking “Have I thanked XYZ for their RT?” It sounds silly and neurotic, but social media pressure to respond does mean that if you don’t respond, you’re not cultivating social media politeness. It eats up time. Many very organized people have got it down to an art. They’re admirably friendly and attentive online. Not me, unfortunately, I can’t do friendly fast. My solution is to continue to disengage and be less responsive overall. Now I just say what comes naturally when I have the time to say anything.

I was once a member of a Facebook group that shared music on themed days. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that a video of the Yiddish song “Zehn Brüder” that I shared contained images of concentration camps. A Lebanese member of the group took offense and responded with a shocking video showing dead Lebanese children. Oh no! We were both chastised by the moderator of the group for being political. But I hadn’t been thinking of ‘current politics’ at all, I was exploring German Jewish history.  But who’s to define where culture and history end and politics begin? The incident was disturbing enough that I decided to withdraw completely, and stopped sharing anything of real personal interest online.

In any communication with someone else, it’s key to consider: Who is this person to you? Who are you to them? So what kind of water-cooler information will you want to be broadcasting to a group of people, and for what purpose?

Emails are more directed and controllable, but they, too, have caused me embarrassment, especially since I don’t always know the people I’m writing to all that well. Something I wrote off the cuff last year was misinterpreted, and subsequently used against a colleague I admire, who suffered a temporary setback as a result. I had no idea of what was happening, and since I had not intentionally said anything harmful, was clueless as to what I was supposed to have done wrong. When I found out there was a problem, it was deeply humiliating not to be given a chance to set things right. Overall, this incident proves that email  can’t replace face to face communications and phoning. This particular incident has also showed me that you can choose to be humiliated – but you can also choose to disengage.

Commenting on blogs, to me, is the canary in the coal mine of social networking. If I feel comfortable responding respectfully and intelligently on someone’s blog, in his or her reflective space, something good is going on. If I hesitate and rephrase and leave the blog feeling stupid, well, maybe it’s simply not a blog I should be leaving a comment on. What am I trying to prove? What have I got to lose? What are we all here for, anyway? Thus spake the canary, and flew away. In fact, feeling out of my depth on some of the better blogs made me realize I had much to learn. So I went back and hit the books.

Back online, doing ‘social media light’, I’ll probably die many more little deaths. Never mind. I think I’ll take these ‘deaths’ with a pinch of salt.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, Twitter

After a year off social media, I’ve rejoined Facebook because so many of my peers are networking there, and I really felt I was missing out. Things like organizing meetups are happening there, or news on who is going to which conference, but also people having children and getting married, and career changing events like writing something or changing jobs.

Seeing what else people are sharing is really interesting. It’s frankly completely random, but easy to relate to, and quite entertaining.

I do have to keep my tendency to comment in check. I’m the responsive type, but in Social Media I tend to put my foot in my mouth. That’s what, in the end, made me decide to disengage a year ago. So for me it helps to concentrate on the fact that in social media, being a part of the game is the whole objective.

I just read a wise quote (posted by a colleague at BESIG, Holly Longstroth) that we often listen not to understand, but to reply. So less replying, more understanding.

Business correspondence

A short phrasebook for secretarial business correspondence has been published in my name. I was somewhat surprised when it was brought to my attention. I’m pretty sure it extracts the key phrases from a large collection of letters I wrote about 12 years ago, edited down by the publisher a few years back to bring out the ‘essence’ of each letter. I’m grateful for the additional publication, but frankly, my input here was limited.

The slim phrasebook is a “Prämie”, or bonus, offered online to attract customers, with a “Schutzgebühr”, or nominal or token fee,  listed on the cover. It’s also on offer on online marketplaces for €14,95, but would anyone really pay that much in this day and age?

I do find looking up complete phrases to be very helpful. I needed some formal French correspondence phrases yesterday to write to a gallery, and found the right phrases online. Sometimes it’s a special grammar form you need, and more involved phrases such as the ones in the 16-page booklet are more liable to include such extras.  So here’s wishing you a bit of serendipity – incidental, fortunate, unexpected discoveries – as you go through business correspondence phrases!