Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Business English - Presentation Skills

I made this PPT recently for my ESL students to learn group presentation skills. It is intended to teach them how to work together as a team in order to give an overview of a company's history and corporate culture.

My students have never given presentations in English before and lack teamwork skills, so I thought this would be a useful exercise for them. I put them into ten groups of five and assigned them each a company like Google, Amazon, or Tesla Motors. I then gave them a few weeks to put together a presentation.

This PPT introduces some important aspects of creating and delivering a presentation, and does so in simple English that your ESL students will understand.

Monday, 20 March 2017

ESL Essential Computer Vocabulary

I've been teaching ESL for about ten years, and in that time I've come across good textbooks and bad ones. However, very few of them have ever covered the topic of computers (or, for that matter, the internet) adequately.

The problem is pretty obvious: half the textbooks your school gives you are going to be between two and twenty years old. They're already horribly out of date. If they cover computers, they'll introduce words like "floppy disk" and phrases like "surf the net" that no one uses anymore.

To teach computer-related language, you really need to do the work yourself or find some up-to-date material online. I've put together a PPT that introduces the different parts of a computer for my intermediate-level students, although you could easily tailor it for pre-intermediate by altering a few slides.

Here it is:

Lesson Plan

I begin the lesson with a picture, which I give my students 1-2 mins to discuss in pairs:
I have them talk about it, drawing attention to what the computer can do, and then introduce the next activity:


1. How have computers changed in the last twenty years?

2. How will they change in the next twenty years?

3. What do people mostly use computers for?

4. How have computers changed our lives?

5. What dangers do computers pose to our lives?

After that, I show them this video and talk about it:

Then we use the above PPT to learn the essential computer vocabulary.

After that, I will test the students' listening skills by having them do these questions:


Watch the video about computer prices and answer the following questions:

1. What can you do with a $200-300 computer?

2. How much money would a hobbyist gamer pay for a new computer?

3. What’s the least you would have to pay to buy an entry level MacBook?

4. How much would a professional graphic designer need to spend?

For this video:

Finally, I have the students do a roleplay, where one needs to buy a computer and the other will be the salesperson.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Don't Say Delicious!

In China, people love talking about food. In fact, for Chinese, food is like weather is for the British. It's the go-to conversation starter, and it probably makes up a great deal of the rest of the conversation, too.

When I meet Chinese people who want to speak English, they immediately go for food as a topic. My students all love talking about it... A few months ago, I gave them this lesson on food adjectives to help them be more specific.

But sometimes you don't want to be terribly specific, and in fact in China people rarely think, "This is rather crunchy, but also a bit rich..." No, they think in terms of "good" and "bad." As such, even the most advanced English-speakers I encounter will describe everything as "delicious" or "not delicious." It gets a bit tedious.

So here are some other words we can use to say "delicious":

  • Yummy
    • However, for me this word sounds a bit childish. It's not wrong to say something is yummy, but I wouldn't expect a university student or graduate to be saying, "I had a really yummy lunch today!" 
  • Tasty
    • This is a great alternative to "delicious." It is pretty much the same in terms of meaning, although maybe a bit understated. 
  • Scrumptious
    • Does this make you think of Nigella Lawson? That's what it reminds me of. This is actually a pretty good word to use, even if it might sound a tad strange. Again, it shows an enhanced vocabulary.
  • Mouth-watering
    • This is a great phrase. It is descriptive and shows a good lexical awareness. But of course, be aware that this describes something which one assumes to be delicious, rather than what we know from experience. 
  • Flavorful/flavourful 
    • Again, this is a somewhat toned down version of "delicious" and very useful for describing a range of foods. 
  • Delectable
    • Now here's an advanced synonym for delicious! This is a wonderful word to teach your students.  

Friday, 17 March 2017

Introduction to IELTS Reading

This past week, I have been introducing my students to the IELTS exam. Some of them are already familiar with it but most of them aren't. I've been trying to ease them in with some overviews and get them exposed to the style of the questions and the topics that are so commonly used.

A few days ago, for example, I introduced them very gently to the IELTS speaking test. Yesterday I gave them this overview of the IELTS reading test, which contains some useful pointers. Then we did some work from a great textbook called Focus on IELTS Foundation. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Business English Vocabulary - Company History

One of the most important parts of business English is teaching your students the necessary vocabulary for describing a company's history. This means teaching key vocabulary and collocations for describing a business, as well as using grammar incorrectly.

This Powerpoint presentation is intended for intermediate level students who are new to business English, and it mostly gives them vocabulary with examples. However, you may want to bring attention to the grammar used, such as the passive voice for "was founded," and so on.

Company History - ESL Language from David Wills

After teaching this language, I try to give my students a listening task to get them using it for a well-known company. I like this video about the history of Apple:

I would use these questions, which are obviously quite simple, but it makes the students really pay attention to those important phrases:

1. When was Apple founded?

2. When was the Apple II first sold?

3. When did they introduce the Macintosh?

4. When did they release the iPod?

After this, you'll want your students to practice using the target language with some freer practice, so have them describe a company they know. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Groupwork in Big Classes

How do you get big classes to work well in groups? It's a question that baffles many teachers. Indeed, some classes are just going to be difficult, while others many act like angels. But there are some ways that you can help them out.

  1. Most importantly, make sure the students know what they should do. This sounds obvious, but think about your instructions and how they might be misinterpreted. Ask some ICQs to ensure they follow you.
  2. Following on from that, make sure to give tangible goals and realistic time limits. Don't give vague tasks and indefinite periods of time to achieve them. 
  3. Mix up the groups so that the students aren't just playing around with their friends. Sometimes friends work best together... but sometimes they need split up so that they can get some actual work done. 
  4. Monitor the students to make sure that they're on task. If they're not, push them in the right direction. Sometimes this means just quietly reaffirming the task, but if many groups are doing the wrong thing, you need to go back to the start and explain more clearly. 
  5. Give the groups names! This is a surprising one, but it really, really helps. Better yet, let them name themselves. This gives them a sense of identity, and makes them work harder towards their goal. 
  6. Allow the team to choose a leader, and allow the leader to lead the team. Don't let them be tyrants, but this will help keep them working towards their goal. 
  7. Don't interfere too much. Show that you are interested in what they're doing, but watch from a distance after your initial monitoring. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Introduction to IELTS Speaking

If your students are fairly new to the IELTS exam, but you want to introduce them to the speaking section and have them get some valuable practice, then I have a great idea for you.

Have them watch a video of someone actually doing the IELTS exam. It's probably best if you choose a candidate from your own students' country. Mine are Chinese, so I use this video:

I'll tell my students to listen and note down the questions the examiner asks her.

After that, we'll go through the questions together. Parts 2 and 3 might be a little difficult for students just being introduced to the IELTS exam, so you might want to just focus on Part 1 instead. The questions can be found at my IELTS help website.

Once you have written up the questions after eliciting them from your students, draw attention to the topics - study, internet, TV - and explain that these are very common IELTS speaking topics. Mention some others.

If you want, you can watch certain parts again and critique the candidate's answers. If you do so, inform the students of the expectations - that they should reply to Part 1 questions with one or two short sentences, but that later they need to speak more.

Then, finally, have your students pair up and practice asking and answering these questions. They're great because they're so common and really quite easy to answer.