Talk at BESIG 2021 for Cornelsen

Managing your hybrid course with Cornelsen’s Basis for Business


This 30-minute talk aimed to give Business English trainers an overview of lessons learned in the “two worlds” of online and presence training. Clients and learners are now requesting courses that some participants attend physically, while others log on using a conference interface. While this flexibility matches increased mobility needs, it also poses new technical and didactic challenges. The devil is often in the details.

The talk discussed how to manage hybrid courses, suggesting how to design and manage contact hours so that they enable both the present and the remote participants to improve their communication skills as defined by the CEFR Companion. Examples of such lesson plans were based on Basis for Business, now available as a modular digital resource package, in combination with external resources and mobile tools, creating a customized syllabus.

Quite frankly, it’s early days, too early to report success stories. Overall, the talk warned of expected pitfalls and the need to manage expectations and be ready for dangers yet unknown, yet also encouraged trainers to embrace change for the benefit of their clients and learners, taking the opportunity to refocus on their pedagogical aims and to find new ways of achieving them.

Going from presence and online to hybrid

So, what do participants want to keep from the experiences of the past 1.5 years? First surveys show that many prefer key aspects of online courses, finding them more time-effective and focussed. Online breakouts and including offsite hybrid team members are appreciated. Digitalized media and easy peer file sharing, documenting vocabulary and grammar in the chat, and new course environments have become standard. Sharing in-app online voice and video recordings (Zoom) is very useful in coaching.

While some learners prefer streamlined online input (expect studies on cognitively diverse learners), others have been held back by connectivity issues. Lately, attending classes from a workstation is becoming inconvenient, as office workers return, and the space becomes busier.

The best parts of presence training are generally said to be socializing and multisensory, emotional learning.

The hybrid setup disrupts both of those worlds. The playing field is clearly split, with online members having views of the situation and communication needs very different from those in the room. Will all participants rotate into the room and online? Will those online remain the out-group? That obviously changes the game.

A way forward for plenary work will be to involve the online group in the socializing and experiential learning, and the in-the-room group in the digital sharing and documenting. 

Special pedagogical challenges for the trainer in hybrid learning will be connected to organizing group practice effectively. We discussed why this is so important: Key communicative competencies from the CEFR Companion are best acquired by practicing situations, experiencing immediate feedback, and then considering what has just happened. Contact sessions, therefore, need to include communicative practice. As we design hybrid courses, we need to manage group work well and factor in well-organized instruction, especially to support the online individuals hived off in their breakout sessions. 

Some basic tips for hybrid courses

A basic need: conference hardware, i.e. audio (e.g. Jabra), video camera (best: 360 degrees, following the speaker), large monitor or if necessary a laptop + projector
Manage a single audiovisual interface
Show materials through the conference software on a large monitor or projector
Mute microphones/loudspeakers of possible student devices going online to avoid feedback distortion
Have a headset ready to support online breakout groups or individuals (take time out)
Use mobile apps to poll the online and present groups together

Manage files on course platform/ intranet. 
Assign a book and/or other materials with clear instructions

Negotiate/ agree on rules of participation, manage expectations, define boundaries

Document classroom work in the chat – Assign roles for vocab + tasks
Show and respond to the chat – Assign chat monitor role
Save documentation to your platform

levelling the playing field:
Use mobile polls for whole class
Assign asynchronous collaborative tasks to integrate groups

Using Basis for Business

You’d like to integrate your own materials? Basis for Business has a modular structure.

You share all materials on screen? Then get the eBook.

You value group work in communication training? Each lesson in Basis for Business is built around a communicative core.

Lessons should be clearly organized and it should be easy to add in or suppplement external materials seamlessly? All videos and listening exercises should be directly accessible and in one place? The UnterrichtsManager provides that.

You want stimulating exercises for student self-study? They’re available in the mobile app, PagePlayer, for free.

The standard structure of the double-spread units (designed for 90 minutes) can easily be extended, and we saw how in a course based on Basis for Business C1 that added work on presentations and job interviews. Two lesson examples showed how external materials/ media could be added in, or how a discussion task from the book could be turned into a mobile poll before a plenary discussion. Individual online exploration of a job website could lead into an additional group activity to prepare for job interviews.

Many thanks to Carl Dowse, Britta Landermann, and Marion Karg for generously sharing their concepts and experience. All mistaken extrapolations are my own.


Basis for Business C1 Coursebook (Cornelsen 2020) ­– by Anne Hodgson, Carole Eilertson, with Mike Hogan and the advisor team – Kartoniert: ISBN 978-3-06-122164-5; e-Book: ISBN 978-3-06-122171-3

Basis for Business C1 Teachers Guide (Cornelsen 2021), by Andreas Grundtvig:  ISBN 978-3-06-122167-6.  

Basis for Business C1 Workbook (Cornelsen 2021) – by Angela Lloyd, ISBN 978-3-06-122165-2

Basis for Business C1 PagePlayer app (Cornelsen 2020) – w. additional interactive exercises 

PagePlayer for coursebook: 978-3-06-122527-8 

PagePlayer for workbook: ISBN 978-3-06-122526-1 

Basis for Business C1 Unterrichtsmanager (Cornelsen April 2021) 978-3-06-122169-0 – sign up for 90 days for a free trial

Course materials available online:

Council of Europe (April 2020): CEFR Companion Volume, ISBN 978-92-871-8621-8  available for free at

The need for civic courage

Last Friday on the train in Erfurt there was a very ugly case of xenophobia and racism directed against a young Syrian. A German man with a bike hurled verbal abuse at the boy, and then physically attacked him, kicking him and smashing his phone on the ground. The man was later arrested, but I certainly imagine that the boy is scarred.

I wasn’t there – this was shared on Twitter. But as I have witnessed a number of frightening attacks on fellow passengers where my reactions were sometimes more and sometimes less effective, and I want to do better, here is a note to myself: If someone is attacked in my presence, my most promising intervention would go like this:

I would not confront the offender – that would only attract the aggressions of the perpetrator. After all, in his view, I would have no official role or privilege, I’d just be a fellow citizen, so he would be able to challenge me directly.

Instead, it would make sense to notify the driver, who could close the doors to prevent the attacker from escaping; also, to call the police to report the incident. Ideally, I could engage with the other passengers around me to get this done.

Overall, my and our attention would then need to be on the victim, who is experiencing something traumatic. So I would go to him, sitting down with him, and address him nicely, starting a familiar conversation, as if we knew each other. “Good to see you here. How is school going? I’m on my way home from work. What about you?…”

Something to bear in mind is that courage is contagious – courage begets more courage – and civic courage is liberating.

Saturday Night Live Minnesota News Cold Open

Saturday Night Live has picked up on current political events in the USA. The comedy series opens this week’s episode with a fictional Minnesota morning show with two Black anchors, played by Ego Nwodim and Kenan Thompson, and two white anchors, played by Kate McKinnon and Alex Moffat.

They begin their weekly news review by discussing the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer on trial for the murder of George Floyd. The defense has tried to pin the cause of death on Floyd’s alleged drug use, while the prosecution has presented evidence that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen directly connected to the knee-hold on his neck. The jury is still out, the verdict has yet to be spoken.

In the SNL Cold Open, Nwodim’s character says that watching the trial has brought back “so many bad feelings” from last summer. McKinnon comments, “Sounds like we all agree there’s no way that Derek Chauvin walks away from this”. But Nwodim and Thompson disagree. “Well…,” Nwodim and Thompson say, looking unhappy. Nwodim adds, “Let’s just say, we’ve seen this movie before.” McKinnon insists, “But after all the protests that happened last summer, there’s no way this doesn’t go the way we hope.” Nwodim turns to Thompson, and says, “I don’t know what she’s talking about.”

McKinnon acknowledges that “skepticism of the legal process is valid… Historically, police have gotten away in other cases like this.” “Historically?” Thompson asks incredulously. “She means every single time,” Nwodim says.

As they argue, Nwodim pointedly uses her colleague’s “Nordic-sounding” last name. Intending to pick his words carefully when talking about the sensitive subject of race, he starts in: “To quote Thomas Jefferson…” “That’s a bad start,” Thompson responds. (Slaveholder Jefferson is clearly not PC.)

McKinnon asks the show’s Black weatherman, played by Chris Redd, to join in the discussion. “Man, don’t put me into this mess!” Redd says. “I’m still in hot water for being in that Paul Pierce video,” a reference to the former NBA player-turned-sports-analyst just fired by cable news for posting a racy Instagram Live movie. In Redd’s opinion, “It’s an open and shut case.” But the anchors don’t agree on what that means for the outcome of the case.

“For the sake of our city,” says McKinnon, “I hope justice is finally served.” They can all agree on that hope. “The last thing we want is another riot.” But then Thompson says, “And I think we can all agree that no matter how bad things are, destroying property is never the answer.” The Black anchors seem to see that differently. “I wouldn’t say that.” “There’s insurance.” “I just think protest should be non-violent.” “Well, thank you for that little note, Craig!” “Yeah, you’ll be sure to tell the others, Craig Matthew Juergensen!”

“At least we agree on the stuff”, says Moffat. If so, Nwodim says, they can all begin major reforms, “and we start with reparations” – proposed payments to the descendants of slaves for the lasting systemic socio-economic impact of slavery. “Now, wait just a minute…”

The news team, seeking harmony, moves on to other big stories from the week. McKinnon says, “More sad news this week. Unfortunately, we lost royalty yesterday.” “Yes, the rapper DMX died,” Nwodim adds. McKinnon’s anchor explains that she is talking about “the prince.” “Girl, Prince been dead,” says Nwodim. Moffat explains that she means Prince Philip of England. “Meghan Markle’s boyfriend??” Thompson asks.

Looking for even one news item to agree on, the team lands on Matt Gaetz, the US Senator currently accused of sex trafficking with a minor. While they seem to all agree that he is toxic, Redd comes to Gaetz’s defense, saying “17 is not all that young”. “That’s why you’re in trouble!”

With that, they give up trying to agree on anything, and drop the mic with the show’s opening catchphrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

You can watch the video on Facebook
What is your impression: Is this funny or serious? What makes you say that?

Where do the anchors agree, and where do they differ?

The list below contains the phrases used by the anchors to create common ground and to clarify their differing points of view.

Who says what, and in which context? Which phrases get laughs in that context, and why? Which would you use, in which of your contexts?

(repeat): “…”? – She means “…”
Wait, so what are you trying to say?
Propose common ground
This has been (highly emotional) for everyone, I’m sure.
There is no way that…
And I think we can all agree that…
We can’t deny that…
The last thing we want is…
Let’s just say,…
That’s all we’re saying.
You can at least admit…
Ok, look…
At least we agree on…
I know.
Sure did. Yep. No doubt about it.
Hopefully. That would be nice. God willing.
Of course not.
You know, that’s fair.
Agreed. I’m with you there.
Amen to that.
Can’t deny that. No argument there.
Well, I…
I’m not saying that.
I don’t know about that.
That’s a bad start.
I wouldn’t say that.
(Sarcastic tone) Well, thank you for that little note.
Not necessarily.
I don’t know what she’s talking about.
For who(m)? When?
Now, wait just a minute.

What actually happened in the USA last night – and what do we call it?

It’s been quite a day/night, and indeed, quite a year in the USA. People have had to decide how to characterize widespread unrest. Are these events demonstrations? uprisingsrebellionsinsurrectionriots? Were the people who came out for Black Lives Matter (BLM) last summer, or those who stormed the Capitol yesterday, protesters or a mob? Each term sends a very different message about what is going on in the streets.

During a speech in the Rose Garden on June 1, President Trump used the word riot five times. It is a loaded word. In general, riot connotes meaningless violence by people who have lost touch with reason. In the U.S., it also has a racial dimension. In the 1960s, it was weaponized by whites to conjure up the image of Black people creating senseless chaos in cities. The word helped to hide the political dimension of what was going on, including the socioeconomic disparities that preceded the upheaval.

Compared to riot, words like uprising, insurrection or rebellion suggest a struggle for justice, a warranted (or justified) response to oppression, with a demand for systemic change. 

Trump referred to the mostly peaceful BLM protesters by suggesting that America was in the grips of an “angry mob.” He called the people in the streets “looters, criminals, rioters” who were committing “acts of domestic terror”. He vowed to bring “law and order.” 

Law and order” is coded in its own way. Actions that the police might take – even firing rubber bullets into a crowd – are often cast as “imposing order”. The logic is that rioting is always disorder, and so whatever is done in response to it must be the opposite. 

And then there is inciting violent insurrection: causing people to riot. Even before the election, Trump and his enablers had begun delegitimizing the election in the eyes of his supporters. Some in the media say Trump has been attempting to stage a coup. On 6 January, Trump told his supporters, “You are the real people” and “Your voices are not going to be silenced, we won’t let that happen”, and told them that “we” would walk the mile to the Capitol. They then took off – but Trump let them go on their own. That mob was “wholly owned” by Trump, in both senses of the word: To own something means to have it in your belongings. And to be owned is to be made a fool of.

In the riot on 6 January, Senator Mitch McConnell and the other Senators and Representatives and their staff were chased out of the Capitol. On their return, McConnell said he would not bow to “thugs” and the “unhinged” crowd. He referred to what had happened as a “failed insurrection“. What he didn’t want to admit in his speech was that these people, whom he didn’t want to call “protesters”, included his own voters. Mitt Romney – the only Republican Senator who voted in favor of charging Trump with abuse of power in the impeachment – was more specific: He called the Capitol mob “an insurrection incited by the President of the United States.”

Trump’s right-wing enablers may continue to defend this as a (legitimate) protest, but this is connected to overturning a legitimate election. President Trump invited these people, and he is the one who instigated the mob and the riot. Under normal circumstances, we might classify his actions as treason and consider the actors traitors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking of sedition, which is conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state. The Trump side is doubling down now.

Today Congress is discussing whether Trump should be declared unfit for office and removed from office – his cabinet would need to invoke the 25th Amendment for this – for the last 2 weeks of his term. If that does not happen, Nancy Pelosi has announced that Congress will impeach Trump again.

There was much speechifying – i.e. making weighty speeches – in the joint congressional session to accept the electors. But Congress continues to be very divided. Vice-President Pence has now been banned from the White House. Trump has been banned on Twitter and Facebook for the remainder of his term. And the riot, or protest, or insurrection, or coup, in the streets and at the White House? The attempt by the executive branch to control the legislative branch? It is anything but over.

Suggested level: B2


uprising – Volksaufstand
to rise against – sich erheben gegen
insurrection – Aufstand
Riot – Krawall
Protestors – Demonstranten
Upheaval – Aufruhr
rebellion – Rebellion
to rebel against – rebellieren gegen
angry mob – wütender Mob
act of domestic terror – Terrorakt im Inland
law and order – Recht und Ordnung
to impose order – Ordnung aufzwingen
disorder – Unordnung
to incite violence – Gewalt anzetteln

insurrection – Aufstand
failed/successful – gescheiterter/erfolgreicher
to stage a coup – einen Putsch inszenieren
unhinged – aus den Angeln gehoben
thugs – Schlägertypen
(legitimate) protest – (legitimer) Protest
treason – Verrat
traitor – Verräter

sedition – Volksverhetzung
declared unfit – für untauglich erklärt
speechify – gewandt reden

Global dexterity

Andy Molinsky: Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process. Harvard Business Review Press. 2013

So you want to be a true “citizen of the world”? You’ll need more than a knowledge of dos and don’ts in the many cultures you are moving into. There are large gaps between knowing what behavior is required of you in any given setting and situation, and being able to actually act accordingly. To sustain your role in that setting, you’ll need to be able to adapt your behavior to the context without losing your authenticity or becoming embittered by being required to adapt to imposed norms. The process can be unsettling.

To work with teams across cultures, and to lead people from other cultures, you need a key competence that Andy Molinsky calls “global dexterity”. He offers a self-coaching toolbox. At its core is his key message: Remain true to yourself. Take a holistic approach. Be successful in your own way.

The first step is to crack your own “cultural code” as well as that of your foreign environment. This means determining the prototypical behavioral and mindset considered appropriate in a given situation you must negotiate, and to compare that with how you would normally behave.

Molinsky offers the following behavioral categories:

  • how direct or indirect (degree of directness)
  • how enthusiastic or restrained (degree of enthusiasm)
  • how formal or informal (degree of formality)
  • how assertive or compliant (degree of assertiveness)
  • how self-promoting or modest (degree of self-promotion)
  • how self-revealing or private (degree of personal disclosure)

Consider the entire range of behaviors in the target culture that would be considered appropriate, defining a “zone of appropriateness”. Then consider whether any of your preferred ways of behaving would still fit within that zone.

Where this is not the case, the question inevitably arises whether you can stretch your comfort zone to overlap with the appropriateness zone of the other cultural code, to create a “new normal” for yourself in given situations. Before we look at Molinsky’s suggestions, consider the psychological challenges he identifies:

  • Can you maintain your authenticity when your personal values and convictions are in conflict with those underlying the behavior?
  • Do you have the know-how and the ability to actually execute the new behavior?
  • Do you have the strength to overcome any resentment and bitterness about having to conform?

Molinsky uses a coaching approach to help you explore this. After taking inventory and setting goals you are invited to test the new behavior gently in small experiments in a safe environment, asking familiars and mentors from the target culture for constructive feedback on your performance. Each experiment requires emotional and psychological reflection and inventory taking so that you try new behavior on for size only so far as you feel comfortable. Your aim is to integrate this behavior through new insights on a self-paced journey. So you build global dexterity much as you would develop a “muscle memory” through sports coaching. You build self-confidence as you experience your own increased efficacy.

Molinsky uses acting as a metaphor for the process. When you learn a new role, mastery does not mean that you lose other aspects of yourself. On the contrary, you are acquiring or realizing your potential, expanding your repertoire. As you learn and practice these new abilities you can look at them critically and say: “That’s not me… or not yet”.

The real challenge is making this new behavior acceptable to your old self. If you have decided that you do indeed want to try, the way is twofold: First, to seek to understand and appreciate the logic behind the behavior; secondly, to seek harmony in your shared goals. If your values remain at odds, Molinsky suggests engaging in intercultural bridge-building, i.e. attempting to integrate the logic of the foreign culture with your own to create a completely new culture.

Soft skills for natural scientists

In January 2017 I had the pleasure of conducting a 2-day workshop at the Max-Planck-Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart. We focused on

  • becoming a better listener
  • storytelling across disciplines
  • dealing with and resolving conflict
  • recognizing and improving how you work in teams

I’d like to present to you how we explored the last of these points.

  1. Team poster

In a first exercise, teams had 20 minutes to create a poster on a subject of their choice using a limited set of materials. The aim was to reflect on the roles each group member tended to take in groupwork, and how each contributed to both the process and the outcome. One interesting result was that a group consisting of members who had identified as similar MBTI types operated almost seemlessly to come up with a neatly engineered result. They didn’t begin actually creating their poster until half-way through the alotted time. Meanwhile, a second group of highly diverse types went through a lively, laughter-driven process, got hands-on almost immediately, and came up with a colorful patchwork showcasing individual contributions. Both groups were quite satisfied with their product, but the distinction between their approaches was food for thought:

  • Similar types may work together and achieve results with little friction, but they will not have the opportunity to gain an understanding for the thoughts and work processes of those unlike them.
  • Diverse types may experience a great deal of friction (to the point of experiencing the process as ‘a waste of time’), and the group will be slowed down by the attempt to include all participants, but they will, on reflection, acquire insights to enable improved collaboration on later projects. For research suggests that “It’s group conflict that actually makes a team function with more of the razor’s edge it needs to be innovative.”

2. Team meeting

In a second exercise, teams convened to hold a meeting to solve an important issue of their choice. Again the format was highly stylized, using Edward de Bono’s Six Hats approach in a precisely timed game format. At the end, the groups presented their solutions. Key lessons from the exercise were:

  • Using a strict format creatively limiting talking time heightens focus and improves results. It avoids members blocking each other competitively by trying to outdo each other.
  • A key to useful outcomes is  to allow thoughts to blossom first before finding weaknesses in them, and then to go on to seek solutions to those weaknesses, rather than shooting them down in the bud.

Such reflective exercises are great at inviting colleagues to discuss what they need and don’t need from each other, and allows them to grow as a team.

Though the team poster exercise made for better pictures (see below), the team meeting exercise won greater praise.

A warm thank you to the participants from the Max-Planck-Institute for Intelligent Systems for permitting me to show you these photos.

Lessons learned

First, a warm thank you to Wera Schmidt for thinking through my concept with me and suggesting the poster exercise. And a heartfelt thank you to my coaching colleague Wolf Wagner, who went through the feedback and assessed it for me. Overall, the feedback was quite positive. What participants liked most was the day 1 opportunity to practice listening and speaking skills. They were keen to explore conflict resolution in the simulations they were invited to act out. However, some found it quite difficult to imagine what the other side might argue in concrete terms, and in general would have prefered greater guidance in a smaller number of role plays.  This suggests to me that more focused and generative group coaching might be called for. Overall, a reprise in a similar soft skills workshop will include:

  1. fewer items
  2. a greater focus on issues specific to each participant’s work/life reality
  3. more time for guided reflection after each exercise
  4. a crystal-clear summary of the intended lesson to be learned.

A Prezi to teach Cialdini’s principles of persuasion

In teaching communication skills, I’ve decided to experiment with Prezi as my presentation tool. I normally use Powerpoint to present Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, but find that Prezi, which lets you zoom in and out, lets me put the task and reference material into one big picture. The template is one of the many very nice designs available. Prezi is free of charge if you don’t mind sharing your materials on line.