Tag Archives: feedback

7 Tools for Truly Effective Training Courses

Here you can download the resource documents presented in my talk “7 Tools for Truly Effective Training Courses.” You’ll find tools that can help you better organize your business English courses. They allow you to keep track of material covered (even if it just “emerges”), make sure you and your trainees know what you’re working towards, and ensure that your clients stay happy.

These tools have all proven effective in my own business courses. They help save time and energy and help you build coherent and effective courses. And if you’re wondering why the title of the talk claims there are 7 tools, but you only see 6 downloads, wonder no more! The 7th tool is a technique, not a document, but you’ll have to see the talk to find out what it is!

1. “Zero session” interviews

2. Needs discussion questions

3. Program storyboard

4. Lesson record

5. “The module that was”

6. Course log

In my talk at the 2014 TESOL France Annual Colloquium, I’ll explain how the documents work and how they’ve helped me to stay on top of the training courses I manage. In the meantime, feel free to post a question in the comments section and I’ll happily respond!

And of course, if you have any suggestions for improving any of the documents, please share it! We work better when we work together!


Tags: , , ,

A few thoughts, post-lesson 9

After the lesson with Hyperion by John Keats, I got to wondering about a few questions and issues, none of which had anything to do with nymphs or fallen deities. Here’s what Hyperion made me think about:

  • L1 IS ok for some activities

I can thank Ken Wilson’s BESIG webinar the previous day of my lesson for this. For very complex activities or for trying to grasp rather abstract grammar concepts, maybe we should be tolerant of L1 use.

In the Hyperion lesson for example, trying to interpret a Keats’ poem is already a challenging task (especially for this A2-B1 group). Imagine if you’ve also got the teacher hovering over you going “In English!” Some students may go into cognitive overload or shutdown mode. Of course, if they want to try the discussion in English, I wouldn’t stop them!

  • Students need to be reminded of how technology can help them uncover new language and ideas.

Sure they use Google and co.  to know bus times, phone numbers, or the square root of 987,362, but that doesn’t mean they automatically think to use their tech toys to help them learn English. Sometimes we need to remind them and even show them, when the possibility exists. I know this isn’t the case in all parts of the world or for all students, but for those who can take advantage of technology, teachers should be up-to-date enough to show them how.

  • CCQ’d instructions can be a teacher’s best friend

When instructions might include unfamiliar words or a novel activity for the group, it can help to ask CCQs (concept checking questions). Some of the students in lesson 9 thought I was asking them to script the poem itself for homework. Since the verse we read seems to be about a man who’s alone in a forest… Well, let’s just say that unless Hyperion is schizophrenic, even the most motivated students would have hard time thinking of a scene with multiple characters.

Once I CCQ’d to help them understand that the script was to be loosely based on the poem and connected to their own interpretation of the poem plus the Wordle color scheme, the creative juices flowed better.

  • Not all students are spontaneously creative and need a little extra help opening their imaginations

One group was having a really hard time getting into the poem. So I tried to help them little by little with questions. What does Hyperion look like? Where do you think he is? How did he get there? What is he doing there?  Is anyone else with him? How is this person connected to the main character? etc. Then they came up with the beginning of a story…

  • Not teacher-fronting doesn’t mean not teaching

During the lesson, I spent my time rotating between the groups, helping where needed, and practically no time in front of the class. At the end of the lesson, my immediate thought was “Maybe I didn’t explain enough.”

Then, looking back, I realized I had worked a lot with each group, explaining and asking questions to guide the group along. In the end it was like 3 mini-classes of 4-5 students rather than one class of 15 students. They did the same activity, but focused on different aspects of it as was relevant to their group. I didn’t need to stand in front and lead them but that doesn’t mean we didn’t explore the path together.

I know I got a lot out of this one lesson–I hope the students got as much out of it as well!


Tags: , , , , , ,

Lesson 9: Hyperion by John Keats (suggested by a student)

Admittedly, I don’t exploit poetry enough in class. So maybe it was a good thing that the second text Student A chose to bring in last lesson was…a poem. John Keats’ Hyperion to be precise.

I’ve never studied this particular poem, which created conditions for authentic discovery and reflection. The teacher didn’t have the “right” interpretation of the work. I put the students in groups of 4-5 and asked how they wanted to approach the poem. They suggested:

  1. Reading it again silently (good way to start—gives them some thinking time)
  2. Working on new vocabulary (it’s a 19th century poem, so there is a bit of fluffy vocab)
  3. Discussing their ideas in L1 to make sure everything is ok (Thanks, Ken Wilson for the reassurance that this is not ELT heresy)

Activity 2 was particularly useful on two levels—first it introduced students to a bit of culture générale as they say here in France. They found out that Hyperion was not just a Dan Simmons character but also figure of Greek mythology and I learned that it’s also the name of one of the moons of Saturn. Same goes for Saturn—not just a planet, but a mythological figure.

It also led to a class discussion on how to handle unknown words. They suggested using context  or the gist of the text to help (good) and looking for familiar roots (impressive!). When I picked up a student’s smartphone from her desk, though, her first reaction was “Sorry. I’ll put it away immediately.” Funny that for 1st-year university students, no one had thought to use mobile technology as a learning tool.

After dealing with necessary vocabulary, they discussed their ideas in groups and each came to a consensus. Interestingly, some of the groups had very different interpretations.

To inspire them and create continuity from our lesson on color symbolism, I had created Wordles with the poem with various color schemes that could be associated with the interpretations—black, gray and red for a darker interpretation; pinks and lavenders for romance; sky blue, sea green, light gray for tranquility. You get the picture.

Each group chose the color-scheme Wordle that best matched their ideas about the poem and amazingly, each group chose a different one. I asked each group to then create a Hyperion-inspired story, script it, and come to class next time ready to act out their story and explain the link with the Wordle they chose.

In feedback, many students said they enjoyed working with the poem but that it was very challenging. I could feel that as they worked to find meaning in the obscure language and the unfamiliar references to Greek mythology. It wasn’t the most comfortable class we’ve done, but one that got me thinking about quite a few things.

Thank you, Mr. Keats.

Lesson 8


Tags: , , , ,

Lesson 8: Surrendering power

This week, I took a step into the unknown.

At the end of every lesson, we spend the last 15 minutes or so doing structured feedback. By that I mean, the students have a form that they fill out every lesson with four criteria, based on the suggestion in Teaching Unplugged:

  • What I liked about this lesson
  • What I didn’t really care for
  • What I found useful
  • What I found less useful

Students fill out the feedback form, I flip through them, and we discuss their feedback. Last lesson, one student suggested working with a text in class. So, naturally I asked for a volunteer to find a text for the next class. And the next class was today.

StudentA sent me the text by email the evening before the lesson. His last-minuteness maybe was a good thing, because it meant I wasn’t tempted to create all sorts of worksheets to scaffold, pre-teach vocabulary, etc. It was a short text, about 3 short paragraphs, easy enough vocabulary.  Oh, and the title was “An Introduction to a Modern Theory of Color.

I gave the students the title and asked them to think of any words that came into their heads. We mind-mapped their concepts and ideas, then they got into small groups to read the text and sort out the ideas.

Then I asked them how they could relate to the text. What did color mean for them? How do we use color in our lives? Here was where the ideas flowed.

Each group spent about 20 minutes preparing a presentation on their ideas. Some mentioned cultural aspects of color–how red meant luck and happiness in China, while black was worn for funerals in Western cultures. Some mentioned how we use color when decorating our homes to encourage different moods or how “blue and white in the bathroom reminds of beaches in Brittany.” Another group took a more artistic perspective, talking about high-contrast, b & w, or sepia-toned photos and how they effected the way we saw the photo.

After each presentation, I encouraged questioning to find out more and then I asked the listeners to summarize what they had understood to check that they had indeed followed what was said. In most cases, they got a surprising amount of info right!

Then the last group, which included StudentA, explained the real modern theory of color–that artists should use opposing colors on the color wheel to create deeper and more natural shadows in their art. This was the most interactive presentation, where the other students really seemed to want to know more (because I didn’t have to prompt them to ask questions afterwards!)

I was relieved that the students took to the subject. The night before, I was worried that the text was too narrow in scope, that some students just wouldn’t care for the subject, or that it would be so “everyday” that they would have nothing to say. I guess you don’t always need the “big” topics to get students’ ideas flowing.

However, on the feedback forms, the “less useful” activity that came up most was the reformulating stage. They didn’t really seem to see the point in it. I could tell as we were doing this–I either had to do hardcore eliciting or let the class sit until the silence got, well, awkward. Not sure if this is the route to go, but I know that I do thave a bad tendency cut thinking time short after asking questions.

Perhaps this activity would have been more engaging had there been a real need to summarize what was said. We may have relapsed into “display chatter” here, which would explain the reticence.

Overall though, I was pleased to see their reaction to the text. They even thanked StudentA for bringing it in. That’s powerful feedback.

Lesson 7                                                                                                                           Lesson 9


Tags: , , , , ,

Students’ (real) explanation of what Dogme is

Last week, in one of my other Dogme classes with a group of 12 art history students, 3 new students were suddenly added, 5 weeks into the semester. Make that a group of 15 art history students then.

I wanted to make sure these newcomers knew what was going on in class, so instead of me explaining Dogme, I let the “old” students do it for me.

In pairs, they had a few minutes to think about how they could explain the approach. Then they would do some real communicating with their new classmates. This of course had two purposes:

  1. The new students got filled in on Dogme
  2. I found out how students saw the approach, now that we’ve done 5 weeks of it

Here’s what I got from each pair, based on the notes I scribbled as they were talking:

  • It’s about communication between students in the class. The new vocabulary, etc. comes from students’ communication and from the teacher’s help. It involves re-working what we said to correct it.
  • We often work in small groups, then we compare with another group, then we share as a class
  • It’s a new way to learn English. The students get to decide what we want to work on and the themes of the lessons
  • It’s more practice than theory and is an original method
  • It’s communication exercises with vocabulary help and homework based on what came up in class. We share with others and it encourages communication about ourselves between the students

I think that pretty much sums up the way the class has been working. I was glad that they recognized the very communicative element of the approach. The theory-practice dichotomy also made me smile, as many classes here in France are often criticized for being all theory and no practice.

I’m not sure what I would have liked them to say more. Perhaps that they are more involved in the approach or that it gives them opportunities to take control of THEIR class. Perhaps this means that I should encourage them more strongly to be really active in what goes on in class.

These students are indeed more involved than some of my traditional classes, so maybe now I can push them just a bit more in the second half of the semester…

Do you think they missed anything?

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Dogme


Tags: , , ,

Lesson 5: SAYA A (as in again)

Last week’s lesson ended with half of the class sharing their personal “headlines” with the other half of the class. Based on our daily feedback form, they enjoyed this activity, so we started with it in yesterday’s lesson.

It ran on and then the listeners retold the parts they remembered to piece together the stories about events ranging from a class lawn bowling star to a heavy metal band member’s noisy run-in with the neighbors. As last week, I popped in and listened to make notes on things that could be improved. Like last week, this would become homework—try to correct the errors.

After the discussion, we spent some time on last week’s error list. Rather than just going through the list with “Julien, what’s number 1? Marie, do you have the correction to number 2?” I split the students in small groups and gave them a few of the mistakes to correct for the class. The twist was that they were also asked to go to the board and explain why the correction was correct and why the error was wrong. They did this fairly well, using their own words. Sure sometimes we got explanations like “It’s not “like” it’s “liked” because it’s past” which seemed pretty obvious stuff, but for the activity, I figured such simplicity was sufficient.

Then back to the students’ stories.

Homework was to write the article to go with their headlines either as a recap of last week or to prepare for this week, depending on what group they were in. In pairs, students helped each other with language questions and I encouraged them to proofread, but they seemed a bit shy on this. I would have liked them to help each other organize their ideas, but criticism, even constructive just wasn’t flowing.

I’ve found though, that students can be very timid about critiquing classmates’ ideas. Correcting language doesn’t seem to bother, as it is more a question of correct or not. Ideas, though, they’re a different matter…

On to some SAYA focus to carry on from last week then. Again in pairs, students looked for examples of since, already, yet, and again, along with any present perfect continuous tenses in their text and that of their partner.

I was building up to an class-created example corpus to see if they could get the use without having to explain any rules (after all, they had already explained a lot of rules with the error correction activity).

We divided the board into squares, one for each element, and filled them with corresponding examples from the students’ own work, correcting as we went. In feedback, they said that they had enjoyed this, perhaps because it allowed them to see examples they could relate to and had already experimented with.

They seemed more comfortable with SAYA and one student admitted that he also had issues with the infamous “for” and “since.” He unknowingly set their homework: try to write a few sentences with these two, which we’ll use for the catalyst of next week’s lesson!

Lesson 4                                                                                                                       Lesson 6


Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Experimental practice


Tags: , , , , ,