Tag Archives: teaching unplugged

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!


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Hyperion resurrected and the end of the Dogme experiment

ImageLast Monday was the final lesson with the science students. The end of a semester of experimenting with Dogme. The chance for the students to tell me what they thought about the experience.

Before getting into this, though, we had to go through their exam. I wanted to go through their exam with them, to take the time to let them see their mistakes and what they had done well. In correcting their work, I made sure to include both, in red and green ink, respectively, as I thought it was important to point out where improvement still needed to be made, but also when they had used some new vocabulary or a particularly challenging structure. Plus, since part of the exam was to write a short story, I could add my comments, questions, and reaction to their story without bleeding all over their papers.

For the corrections, I used the marking symbols out of J. Harmer’s How to Teach Writing. The idea was for them to figure out the correction themselves. Beforehand, we spent some time trying to guess what the code meant. Some, like “sp” or “g” were easy to guess, while we had some discussion about “c” for concordance, “wo” for word order, and “λ” for something’s missing.

Then, they spent nearly an hour working on correcting their work (which was a reaction to a text + writing a short story). I circulated to help with questions, reformulations, and checking their work. I noticed that they seemed particularly into the activity, looking from their paper to the symbol key on the board, to their paper, and sometimes asking each other for help. It’s difficult to say if the energy poured into the effort was because this is a group of good students or because they liked the challenge and the personalized activity, but it felt like gold.

We transitioned with end-of-semester feedback forms. I wanted to make sure that they took the time to think about and complete the forms, and I’ve learned that the quantity of feedback given runs pretty much in proportion to how close the end of class is. In other words, don’t expect a novel when the group has to rush to their next class right after filling in your feedback form. (P.S. their feedback is in another postJ

After I had collected their forms, we rounded off the semester with a final performance by one of the groups who hadn’t been able to show us their work last lesson because half of their pair was absent. We followed the same format as in the last lesson, as it seemed to encourage both communication between the groups and an opportunity for language work.

Surprisingly, the story seemed quite complex, with a narrator to recount the background to the plot and a few character swaps to manage 4 roles with 2 people. The story built on the poem Hyperion that we studied in Lesson 9, but didn’t just bring the poem to life. It rewrote the story completely!

In short, Hyperion, who was the keeper of the sun, had fought and lost against Atlas. To show his despair, he hid the sun from the humans. One day, a farmer realized that without the sun, his crops, and thus his family could not survive. The farmer went to see Atlas (on a chair-mountain, with a heavy backpack on his shoulders) to explain the dire situation. Atlas told the farmer that he would have to walk for many days (symbolized by the student pacing in circles around the room) to do plead his case directly with Hyperion. He found Hyperion, who offered to turn provide light to humans by setting the farmer’s body on fire and allowing it to burn in place of the sun. As the farmer climbed on a desk, his arms outstretched like a crucifixion, the narrator told of the farmer’s brave sacrifice for mankind and why the sun we see today is in fact a burning farmer’s body. Not bad, huh?

And thus we ended our semester of an experiment together with Dogme.

Students, I thank you for your willingness to try this out with me and for your valuable feedback. Let’s hope it will help us better understand what you, the learners, think about how we teachers do our job.


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Lesson 4: The SAYA dilemma

Since, ago, yet, already. These four little words seem to plague French learners and for obvious reasons. Since translates to depuis. So does for. The idea of ago has a structure that when translated looks like there are four years, I went to the US for vacation. As for already, well, its French equivalent can also translate to yet. In some contexts, that is.

Not what I had predicted doing, but it came up and incidentally SAYA could fit well with the jump-start idea that I had chosen (thank you, ELT gods!)

We began the lesson with a little revision from the regular “Lesson That Was” form that I fill in and photocopy for everyone at the end of each lesson (See Teaching Unplugged, p. 63). Students made mental notes of questions they still had about any language. We boarded this and then students grouped in 4s to try to answer some of their classmates’ questions by going to the board and playing teacher. I monitored and corrected as needed. Although the students seemed reluctant to take the place of the teacher, they do it and they really try. Best thing is they explain in their own words, which are probably better understood by their peers than my explanations.

This was when SAYA came in, probably sparked by last lesson’s work on the present perfect simple.

I explained it to one group, who then went to the board to explain it to the rest of the class. We elicited a few examples together, and I circled the words in red to set up for the next activity. Maybe we could have done some more SAYA-specific work here, but I thought the activity I had planned would lend itself nicely to some natural emergence. I was hoping this would be shed light on these little linguistic trouble-makers in a more organic, holistic way. Did it?

My own "headline"

I asked if any of the students had a newspaper on them. Since they give out freebies near the tram stop, I was pretty sure the answer would be yes. Bingo! We opened a page, I read the headline and asked if they could guess what the article was about. Luckily, this one particular headline was a bit enigmatic–something about a Salkin-Magnani face off. Then I pulled out my grassroots “front page” based on “Headlines” (Teaching Unplugged, p. 38) about my weekend spent purging my apartment of unneeded clothes, books, papers, and general clutter. Students asked a few questions about what sort of home purification took place, but I stopped them before they could get all the details (oh, the suspense building up to next week’s lesson!)

Students were encouraged to create their own headline, and if desired, to exaggerate their exploits. 6 of them lined up with their own front pages, the other half stood in front of a partner to ask him/her questions to learn more about their headline.  After a minute or so, the questioners rotated until they had spoken to each headline-holder. All the while, I circulate to help with vocab and make notes on what I hear.

Afterwards, group summary of the stories to check what they had understood and to consolidate the stories.  We went over some of the new vocabulary as we pieced together the stories and I pointed out where SAYA could have been used to try to tie the day’s bits together.

During the Headlines activity, SAYA didn’t come up as much as I would have liked, but I think that I was less disappointed than if I had done a traditional PPP lesson. In a way, it was a bit liberating and at the same time, a signal to say that this aspect would need some recycling in future lessons.

Which is why their homework is to write the “article” to match their headline, making a special effort to incorporate since, ago, yet, and already when possible. In the meantime, I’ll try to think of a catalyst likely to draw out this language again for next week.

Any suggestions?

BONUS: A few memorable headlines and their stories:

–On a Culinary Quest for Taste: about a girl making crepes with her mom

–Boomerang Rock Strikes: one guy threw a rock against a wall when he was a kid. It bounced back and left a small scar on his lower lip.

–Nightmare in the ER: this poor girl spent her week of vacation at home with stomach flu that required a trip to the hospital

–Young Painter Wins Prize: one of my students won his height in paint thanks to a miniature octopus woman figurine he created.

Lesson 3                                                                                                                       Lesson 5


Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Experimental practice


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