Going paperless with OneNote


Over the weekend, I presented at a professional development event in Chennai – Perspectives in Business English Training – hosted by ELTAI BESIG and Ethiraj College. We had Evan Frendo from IATEFL BESIG as our keynote speaker. Here’s a summary of my presentation on going paperless with OneNote.

I started exploring OneNote a few years ago in response to some conclusions I arrived at after reflecting on my ESP courses.

  • We use too much paper in Business English and ESP courses: the difference between the volume of paper handouts we use and the amount of paper that’s used in a large digitally driven organisation has only become more pronounced over the years. I recall walking past a series of meeting rooms with glass walls to the one that I was training in at the end of the corridor for an in-company workshop. All the other rooms were filled with people busy on their laptops, smartphones and at the whiteboard. I don’t think there was a single piece of paper in any of them. My room was the only one swamped by paper handouts.
  • Our courses don’t reflect the realities of the workplace and workplace communication: whether it’s in terms of the amount of paper we use, or the limited way in which we use technology, Business English and ESP courses are often divorced from how communication occurs in the workplace. Evan Frendo in a BESIG webinar once spoke about the tendency for teachers to ask students to stand and deliver presentations when the great majority of presentations at work are delivered sitting down and often over the phone.
  • Even millenials or digital natives need support with using technology meaningfully and resourcefully at work: we assume that young people are on top of tech. This isn’t necessarily true particularly when it comes to mapping the affordances of digital tools that are available at work to their communicative needs.
  • Texts within courses and training programs don’t reflect the multimodal nature of texts at work: coursebook texts are quite different than the range of texts that working professionals encounter which include multiple genres within a single text type, data, images, infographics, video, audio, hyperlinks, embedded social media, all of which are underscored by intertextuality (how texts connect and speak to each other).
  • Written tasks at work are often collaborative but written tasks in the classroom are usually done individually: I can’t generalize and say this is true for everyone. Certainly, when I think of a typical email writing task on my courses, I don’t usually set it up as pair or group work. But even emails are often written collaboratively by teams in meetings – not to mention other sorts of documents such as presentations, proposals and reports which often have multiple authors.

But it was a specific event that led me to OneNote. Four years ago, I was teaching a course that focused on improving communication in meetings and it also included some on-the-job coaching. One of the outcomes we focused on was getting learners to produce useful minutes/notes during the meeting. I got them to watch a lot of videos and participate in simulations, and write up minutes on flipcharts with colourful markers. By the end of the course, the walls of the room were covered with rainbow coloured ‘minutes’ in large writing. I was feeling very pleased with myself.

Later that week I found myself observing a meeting with three of these learners. It also included some attendees who’d joined in telephonically as well as a client who’d been dialed in. Interestingly, all three of my learners were taking notes in different ways. The first was using the Notepad application on his laptop. Notepad has no text wrap or formatting so he was essentially writing one long sentence across his screen. The second learner had an Outlook message open and he was typing the notes directly as an email. He even had all the attendees’ and the client’s email addresses filled in the To: field; presumably to send the notes the minute the meeting got over. The third learner didn’t have his laptop with him. Instead, he was writing in a physical notebook. Halfway through the meeting, the second learner suddenly put up his hands and started to apologise profusely – he’d accidentally sent the email with half-written barely understandable notes to everyone. He then went to his Sent items folder and opened the message, and started writing in it again! And all this while, his colleagues continued to make their own notes and the other virtual attendees were conceivably making their own notes.

I saw a need and a opportunity – and a definite gap in the way I was approaching course design and delivery. I needed to

  • Make in-class tasks more authentic
  • Mirror real life tech use
  • Build digital literacy along with language and soft skills
  • Allow for collaboration
  • Reflect the multimodal nature of work.

My research took me to OneNote, a relatively unknown application in the Microsoft suite. OneNote comes bundled with Microsoft Office which means a lot of people already have access to a licensed version without realising it. It’s certainly on most work systems that have Microsoft Office. OneNote also has a free app for mobiles and tablets although it restricts you to a maximum of 500 notes.

Initially, I only focused on getting my learners to use OneNote to take meeting notes. But I soon discovered what a versatile tool it is. It lets you record audio, draw, research, organise, and collaborate among other things. One of my favourite features is Insert stickers which lets you personalize stickers and use them to give quick feedback for written work. I also like the web-clipper which is a button that gets added to your browser and is an easy way to collect links, articles etc. This can be really useful for web quests with a bit of learner training. The best part is that it’s easy to share a Notebook with your learners and get them to work collaboratively on it either using the OneNote mobile app or on their laptops.

You’ll find more ideas in this presentation which is a slightly modified version of the slides I used for the session.

OneNote also has an additional Class Notebook add-in which is specifically designed for education with lots of useful tools. Unfortunately, this version is only available for people who have Microsoft Office for Education which in turn is only available to those in the formal education sector.

Jigsaw caselet | A QR code activity


My learners often get bored with traditional text-based case studies. Presenting it as a jigsaw task explored using QR codes is one way of making it more engaging.


  • Transform staid case studies into active, jigsaw tasks


  • Printed QR codes which you can stick around your classroom using Blu-tac or similar
  • Focus questions
  • Learners will need to have downloaded a QR code reader on their smartphones


  • Select a case study that you can condense into a caselet narrated preferably from different perspectives. For example, if the caselet involves a manager and her team member, chunk it so you have 4 bits of information from the manager’s side and four from her team members. Eight is a good number in terms of chunks for this exercise.
  • Copy-paste each chunk into a QR generator (I like using QRstuff). Select plain text from the panel on the left and paste the text into field. Download the QR code that’s generated.
  • Print the QR codes. I prefer to use coloured paper so they’re easier for learners to find.
  • Prepare some focus questions that learners will answer incrementally at they uncover the text in the QR codes.
  • Stick the QR codes randomly around the classroom.


  • Signpost your focus questions and tell learners that the answers are hidden within the QR codes posted around the room.
  • Learners work in pairs to scan the QR codes and analyse bits of the caselet.
  • They need to answer a question after scanning and reading an odd number of QR codes (for example after the first QR code, the third one, the fifth one, and the seventh one). Make sure they write their answers down.


  • Ask learners to share their reaction to the caselet. How did their perception of the issue change as they uncovered the perspectives of the people involved and got a fuller picture?
  • How do the different ‘agents’ feel?
  • How might this relate to their own work?
  • Get learners to discuss other context-specific questions based on the caselet.


The caselet I’ve used is adapted from Bob Dignen’s session on Leading International Projects at the recent BESIG Annual Conference in Munich.

Focus questions

  • After scanning one QR code: What do you think is happening?
  • After scanning three QR codes: Who is at fault? Why?
  • After scanning five QR codes: What should be done to resolve the issue?
  • After scanning seven QR codes: How could this situation have been avoided?

Image attribution: QR_Code_in_HandCropped by @GwynethJones -The Daring Librarian!  | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Facilitating the development of a credible business-like persona | Conference talk summary


This was one of the simulcast talks from day one of the IATEFL BESIG 2016 annual conference in Munich. The speaker, Sylvie Donna, happened to headline my Delta Module 3 submission and why ever not – she’s so eminently quotable with respect to all things BE.

Her session yesterday was really rich and full of recommendations that some might frown at or find controversial. Donna argued that just as different business people have different business personas, we ought to help our learners develop an appropriate English-speaking personality. She asserted that our personalities differ when we shift between languages, providing her own example of how she exhibits varying behaviours and personality attributes in Japanese, English, German and French.

I know it seems a bit wacky but to her credit, she did support what she was saying with research. She suggested that there are prosodic differences between speakers (intonation, stress, rhythm, tone of voice, use of silence) and word choice; and that perhaps learners of English haven’t thought through how the use of these attributes in English may lead them to be perceived. Donna correlated this with what Silvana Richardson spoke about when she said that the goal was no longer near-native competence but pluralingual identity.

Some of the examples she presented of high competency learners being unaware of their persona in English included a Japanese student who spoke too directly only using simple forms such as imperatives; a German student who used ‘like’ far too frequently; and a Korean student who reckoned he’d developed an American persona but was actually completely unintelligible.

I think what Donna is proposing isn’t that learners ought to change their personality when using English. In fact, she presented research that she was horrified about where Chinese learners seemed to think that acquiring English required them to acquire a new culture and personality. She’s suggesting that learners may subconsciously project a very different persona in English as opposed to L1 and they may unaware of the unintended consequences of this persona.

In terms of how this could happen, Donna recommends a focus on the length of utterances, the use of lexis (level of formality, choice of words associated with specific socio-cultural groups) and features such as comment clauses, interjections and tag questions.

She also shared some awareness raising activities:

Activity 1: Visualisation

Visualise three people:

  1. one you think is similar to you
  2. one who is different in a good way
  3. one who is very different in a bad way

How does each person speak?

Follow up: Find an audio or video clip of each person

Activity 2: Word-association

Think of a situation for each phrase. Role play mini-dialogue for some or all the phrases:

  • perennial problem
  • absolutely wicked
  • you ain’t seen nothing yet
  • considering this from another point of view
  • I need to know
  • Would you consider

How does your accent or intonation change each time? What about other prosodic features (volume, pitch, speed of delivery)

Activity 3: Draw some pictures

  • the person you were when you were 13
  • the person you were at 21
  • the person you are now

Add some words and ideas in a mindmap of how you used to speak at these ages

Activity 4: Linguistic analysis

Record clips from a few soap operas/comedy series/films

Identify some of the key linguistic features. Look for:

  • prosodic features
  • body language
  • level of formality of the words
  • standard or non-standard forms used (slang, dialect?)
  • use of comment clauses (you know) or fillers (er, like)
  • sentence length

Activity 5: Sorry wasn’t paying attention for this one

Activity 6: Mindmap in L1

Draw a mindmap/diagram representing yourself.

  • Is there anything you would feel embarrassed to say?
  • Is there any language you would definitely not use?
  • How do you feel about swearing?
  • How do you feel about using slang or very colloquial language?
  • How do you feel about using language associated with a particular region or variety of English (not dialect)?
  • What impression do you want to make when you speak?

Activity 7: Vocabulary notebook

  • How do business associates you admire speak? (Record specific instances of remembered or observed speech)
  • How do they ‘do’ small talk?
  • How do they negotiate? Which specific phrases do they use?
  • How do they write emails? Keep some examples in a folder.
  • Review the notebook before meeting anyone or emailing.
  • Add to the notebook on an ongoing basis.

While I don’t think this concept is completely there yet, Donna is definitely on to something. Several years ago, I was asked to work with an Indian manager whose boss felt he was not very effective when presenting to and speaking with senior stakeholders from the US. Having worked with him over a few months, I knew the issue wasn’t language. It was something else that I couldn’t articulate at the time. I often found myself focusing on prosodic features while coaching him although in my mind I was thinking that this might have been snake oil because what he needed was to be perceived as more dynamic and engaging. I have experienced similar situations with others as well. I have also recommended activity 7 to my learners although I’m not sure how many of them have ever followed through on it.

Lots of food for thought in this talk. If you’re unfamiliar with Sylvie Donna, you might want to look up her seminal book on Business English.


Personalised learning programmes | A BESIG workshop summary in 3 activities

Last weekend’s BESIG workshop, facilitated by David Petrie, was titled Personalised learning programmes – a pick and choose approach. David touched on issues such as personalised learning, differentiated instruction and teaching the student instead of the lesson. Towards the end of the webinar, he shared three activities for using students as resources and offering personalised learning:

1. Office modals 

Ask Ss to make three lists:

  • Things my boss makes me do
  • Things I think it’s important to do
  • Things it would be a good idea to do around here.

Personalised learning

Ss explore the items in these lists by reframing them using some suggested modals.

2. Office gossip

Ask Ss to work in pairs to share some hopefully innocuous gossip. Then put Ss into new pairs and have them share the gossip they heard using reported speech.

3. The meatloaf game 

Ask Ss to write down ten things that are a part of their job role that they like doing and ten things that they hate. They should write each item on separate piece of paper. I think ten’s a bit much for even a medium sized class – five might be more manageable. 

Have Ss crumple the chits and play snowball fight with each other. Call time after a minute and have them collect chits so they are all equally distributed. Ss spend a couple of minutes reading through the chits – there’ll probably be some items that they dislike doing. They should negotiate with other Ss to trade job responsibilities so they have a list of things that they more or less like doing.

Techtip: Appgesyer 

David, like many of us, uses Google Forms to collect data during the needs analysis phase. He suggests distributing the form through a web app so it can be accessed easily on mobiles using a tool called Appgeyser which reformulates your web-content for the mobile device (Here’s an example he’s created). I’m not sure I see the point of doing this. Google Forms accessed via a normal mobile browser seems to display content fairly well and it makes sense to pin a web-app to the user’s mobile screen only if you want her to repeatedly access the link. David uses QR codes to share the Appgeyser URL (but you could do this with a normal URL as well) and Appgeyser offers a short URL. I see two issues with this: QR codes cause more problems than they solve especially when Ss are expected to use their own devices (and they’ve really not taken off in India); and the Appgeyser short URL is really not very short and would benefit from additional shortening using Goo.gl.  Appgeyser is worth exploring but I think there are far simpler and more efficient ways of distributing surveys created in Google Forms.


Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Jun – Jul 2015

It’s been an insanely hot summer in India this year with temperatures hitting a roasting 48 in parts of the north. Thankfully, things are a bit more reasonable where I live on the coast although the humidity is still suffocating. And what better way to bring in the monsoon than with a nice little bunch of webinars. Do let me know if you spot any online events that ought to be included in this list. Happy webinaring!

An asterisk (*) indicates that the event requires prior registration. A (+) means that it’s probably a plug for a coursebook or some such.


1. Cambridge English Empower: bringing learning-oriented assessment into the classroom | Stephanie Dimond-Bayir & Sarah Unsworth | Cambridge English Language Assessment | June 3, 1000 & 1400 BST*+

2. Personalised Learning Programs – a pick and choose approach | David Petrie | IATEFL BEsig | Jun 7, 1500 BST

3. #FlashmobELT: activities from classrooms around the world | Anna Loseva | BELTA | Jun 7, 1600 CET

4. An introduction to the Oxford Young Learners Placement Test | Hannah Ball | Oxford | Jun 9, 1000 & 1500 BST*+

5. Peer observation – how can we make it work? | Andy Hockley | IATEFL LAMSIG | Jun 10, 1200 BST

6. Exam classes: creating order out of chaos | Roy Norris | Macmillan | Jun 10, 1500 BST*

7. Where have all our textbooks gone? | Maria J Garcia San Martin | IATEFL YLT | Jun 10, 1600 BST

8. Tackling Native Speaker Favouritism Head On – PD and Classroom Ideas | BrazTESOL | June 12, 1200 EDT 

9. Planning a successful blended ESP course | Jeremy Day | IATEFL ESP | Jun 13, 1500 BST

10. Nativeness – a feather in your cap for language teaching? | James Beddington | TEFL Equity Advocates | Jun 14, 1700 CET

11. Developing functional language skills for Cambridge English: Key for Schools | Rachel Harding & Coreen Doherty | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Jun 15, 1400 & Jun 17, 1000 BST*+

12. Creating Creative Teachers | Marisa Constantinides | British Council | Jun 17 1900 EEST (2030 IST)*

13. Children’s apps you can trust | Tracy Dumais | British Council | Jun 18, 1200 BST

14. Teaching with Technology | EnglishOnline | Jun 19, 1900 CDT or Jun 20, 1000 CDT

15. Peer Interaction in the Foreign Language Classroom | Jenefer Philp | Oxford | Jun 24, 1530 BST & Jun 25, 1130 BST

16. Creativity in Teaching and Learning | British Council Seminars | Jun 24, 1730 – 2030 BST*

17. Self-publishing ELT Materials | Dorothy Zemach | IATEFL | Jun 27, 1500 BST

18. Life Skills Special | Emma Sue Prince| Macmillan | Jul 1, 1500 BST*

19. Business storytelling: Helping learners to create memorable stories | Dana Poklepovic | IATEFL BEsig | Jul 5,1500 BST

20. Issues and dilemmas in designing assessments and marking criteria for a module on MA in Professional Language and Intercultural Studies | Judith Hanks | IATEFL Testing Evaluation & Assessment | Jul 8, 1700 BST

21. Assessing reading comprehension with tips for classroom practice | Ivana Vidakovic & Nancy Sneddon | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Jul 13, 1400 & Jul 15, 1000 BST*

22. Creativity in the language classroom | Nik Peachey | British Council | Jul 16, 2100 BST*

23. Published Resources vs. Teaching Unplugged | Andrew Dilger | Oxford | Jul 23, 1100 & 1430 BST*

24. Managing YL Centres – essential training and preparation | Lou McLaughlin | IATEFL YLT | Jul 26, 1500 BST

Image attribution: I’m A Mac by Alec Couros | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Upcoming webinars for educators | Feb-Mar 2015

A webinar a day keeps atrophy at bay.

I’m really looking forward to Divya’s talk on action research and the IATEFL PronSIG event. Some of these webinars were listed in an earlier post. New additions are in green.

1. Motivating teenage learners | Rebecca Robb Benne | Macmillan | Feb 11, 1500 GMT

2. Flip, Blend and Project: Technology for language teachers | Russell Stannard | Feb 15, 0900 GMT

3. Virtual Strategies for Social Learning | Tom Massato | On24 |Feb 17, 1400 EST

4.  The Melody of English: Research and resources for teaching the pragmatic functions of intonation | Marnie Reed and Tamara Jones | IATEFL PronSIG | Feb 17, 1700 GMT | Read the summary

5. Challenging students to think critically | Edmund Dudley | OUP | Feb 17 & 19, 2015, 1400 & 1600 GMT | Read the summary

6. Lesson flipping and creating video presentations | Thomas Healy | OUP | February 17 & 19,  1300 & 1200 GMT

7. Level-up Students’ Learning: Gaming the Blended Classroom | Jessica Anderson | Fluency MC/WizIQ | Feb 18, 2300 UTC

8. The power of pronunciation in business | John Hughes | OUP | Feb 20, 1000 & 1500 GMT

9. Reflections on why I wish I was a non-native English speaker teacher | James Taylor | TEFL Equity Advocates | Feb 22, 1700 CET

10. Solutions Writing Challenge* |  Olha Madylus | Oxford | Feb 24 & 26, 2015, 1400 & 1700 GMT

11. Cambridge English: Advanced – Reading & Use of English paper | Jacqueline Douglas | Cambridge English Language Assessment Feb 23 & 25 2015, 1400 & 100 GMT

12. Developing and Teaching Effective English for Specific Purposes Programs | Carol Derby | Tutela | Feb 24, 1800 EST

13. Technology Enhanced Language Learning | Aisha Walker | Oxford | Feb 25 & 26, 1000 & 1530 GMT

14. Appraisals | Jenny Johnson | IATEFL LamSIG | Feb 26, 1630 GMT

15. Play, learn & grow together: An after school language project’  | Nives Torres | IATEFL YltSIG | Feb 26, 1800 GMT

16. Get Them Speaking & Learning with Digital Icebreakers | Shelly Terrell | IATEFL | Feb 28, 1500 GMT | Read the summary

17. The transition from general English to business English training | Marjorie Rosenberg | IATEFL BeSIG | Mar 1, 1500 GMT

18. Informed learning activities in the Adult ESL Literacy context | Svetlana Lupasco | Tutela | Mar 3, 0000 GMT

19. Horrible History: Rising to the challenge of writing engaging materials | Genevieve White and Emily Bryson | IATEFL MaWSIG | Mar 7, 1200 GMT

20. Action Research: What yours might look like | Divya Madhavan | Belta | Mar 8, 1500 CET

21. Learning Orientated Assessment: a theory in search of a pedagogy | Neil Jones | IATEFL TeaSIG | Mar 9, 1700 GMT 

22. Moodle for Language Teachers: Increasing interactivity | Russell Stannard | Landesinstitut für Pädagogik und Medien | Mar 9, 1900 CET 

23. Teach Your Learners to Fish: How Holistic Learning Makes Performance Gains Stick | Alex Khurgin |  eLearning Guild | Mar 11, 1000 PST 

24. Thinking Through English | Alan Mackenzie | Cambridge English Teacher | Mar 11, 1500 GMT

25. YLT Webinar: Digital Marking and Flashcards to Motivate Learners | Andreas Molander  | IATEFL YltSIG | Mar 12, 1210 IST

26. Help Teachers Integrate App Building into any K-12 Class or Subject (It’s Easier than You Think!) | Michael Braun | Simple K12 | Mar 13, 1100 EDT 

27. Setting Up an Audio Project | Shelly Terrell | American TESOL | Mar 13, 1600 EST

28. 15 Free Mobile Apps to Promote Collaboration, Critical thinking, Creativity, and Communication | Lauren Boucher | Simple K12 | Mar 14, 1000 EDT 

29. 15 Free Mobile Apps to Support Struggling Readers | Jenna Linskens | Simple K12 | Mar 14, 1100 EDT

30. 15 Free Mobile Apps to Engage and Motivate Learners | Jayme Linton | Simple K12 | Mar 14, 1300 EDT 

31. teachSTEP 2015 | Carol Read, Ceri Jones, Scott Thornbury. Silvana Richardson, Jack Richards | Cambridge | Mar 13, 1500 – 1720 GMT & Mar 14, 1000 – 1240 GMT

32. E-merging Forum 5 online | Link to the live session | All times are per Moscow time zone

  • Mar 12
    • Herbert Puchta: Teaching Very Young Learners — What’s Hot, and What Not | 1400
    • Malgosia Tetiurka: Myths and facts about teaching Young Learners |1450
    • Vera I. Zabotkina: Essential skills for academic success | 1710
    • Steve Kirk: Teaching ‘EAP’: Enabling Academic Participation | 1800
  • Mar 13
    • Catherine Walter: Learning grammar and pronunciation: What do we know, and what can we do about it? | 1100
    • Svetlana G. Ter-Minasova: Teaching Language Issues in Todays Russia: to think about… | 1150
    • Jane Allemano: Authenticity in Speaking Tests | 1650
    • Thom Kiddle: Technology in Classroom-based Assessment: Friend of Foe? | 1740
  • Mar 14
    • Alla L. Nazarenko: The Power Of Technologies? The Power of a Teacher? The Power of a Learner? | 1100
    • Gavin Dudeney: Of Big Data & Little Data — How Numbers Have (Almost) Ruined Everything | 1150

33. Storytelling in the classroom | James Keddie | IATEFL | Mar 14, 1500 GMT

34. Barefoot with beginners | Ceri Jones | British Council | Mar 17, 0900 GMT

35. Engaging beginnings: Grab their attention & get them engaged | Andrea Langton | Oxford Professional Development | Mar 17, 1800 CET 

36. Young Literacy Day | Macmillan | Mar 18, a whole day of talks

37. Retro teaching techniques | Jamie Keddie | Oxford Professional Development | Mar 18, 1800 CET 

38. Thinking Inside the Exam Box | Andrew Walkley & John Hughes | Nat Geo Cengage | Mar 18, 1600 GMT

39. Solutions writing challenge #2* | Gareth Davies | OUP | Mar 19 & 20 | 1400 & 1700 GMT

40. Storytelling Projects | Shelly Terrell | American TESOL | Mar 20, 1600 EST

41. Spring Blog Festival | Various topics & speakers | WizIQ | Mar 21, 1100 to 2300 GMT

42. Computer-based testing for young learners | Cambridge English Language Assessment | Mar 23 & 25, 1400 & 1000 GMT

43. Increase Motivation, Understanding, and Participation with a Gamified Classroom |  Avi Spector | Simple K12 | Mar 24, 1630 EDT 

44.  Small steps to going digital in the Pre-Primary and 1st Cycle classroom | Jennifer Dobson | March 24, 18:00 CET 

45. Choosing your words carefully | Caroline Krantz | OUP | Mar 25, 0900 & 1500 GMT

46. How to get Kindergarten Children Speaking in English | Sandie Mourão | OUP | Mar 25, 1700 GMT

47. Oxford Discover: Getting students to speak* | Susan Rivers | OUP | Mar 26, 1700 GMT

48. Presenting with Digital Posters | Shelly Terrell | American TESOL | Mar 27, 1600 EST

49. How to get published in YLTSIG Children & Teenagers | David Valtente | YLTSIG | Mar 29, 1200 GMT

50. Must-See Google Tips and Tools for Teachers | Richard Byrne | Simple K12 | Mar 31 (A set of three hour-long webinars)

  • Going Google: The Quick Start Guide to Getting Started with Google Tools, 1300 EDT
  • Google Search Strategies You Probably Don’t Know, But Wish You Did! 1400 EDT
  • Save Time and Make Your Job Easier with Google Spreadsheets and Form, 1500 EDT

*Disclaimer: These look like plugs for course books.

I’ll keep adding to this list as and when I find more webinars for Feb-Mar. Do let me know if you know of any online events which I’ve missed out on.

Image attribution: Flickr | GDC Online 2011_Show Environment_Jesse Knish Photography | by GDC Online | CC by 2.0

Teacher talk in 1:1 business English training | BEsig workshop summary

Business one to one

February’s BEsig weekend workshop was facilitated by Gareth Humphrey who reviewed a framework for evaluating language used in the one to one business English classroom.


Gareth started off by talking about how one to one teaching is a crucial but often neglected skill. For example, it’s not a part of initial teaching qualifications such as the Celta. On the Celta, you are normally told that one to one is something you have to work out on your own. However, a lot of the engaging techniques you learn in teacher training such as pair work, group work and peer feedback don’t work in a one to one session. Moreover, in the business classroom, you are frequently doing one to one, and instead of your regular repertoire of communicative language teaching tricks, you are more reliant on conversation.

In the one to one classroom, conversation is often the goal, and the medium of instruction. Thornbury & Slade, 2006)

The challenge is making sure our dialogues are pedagogically effective for the teaching situations we find ourselves in with the learner and go beyond merely doing things based on intuition.


Gareth’s premise is that we are compelled to play different roles in one to one teaching, imposing conflicting demands on us. We may need to don all of these following hats: coach, therapist, business partner (not just in the sense of providing services to a client but also as a role play partner), teacher, cheerleader and listener. The role we play is going to influence the kind of language we use.

Reducing teacher-talking-time (TTT) is the conventional refrain in ELT but in one to one, it’s not just about decreasing TTT but increasing its quality. As we move from role to role, our use of language changes.  Gareth suggests that when our perceived role in the classroom overlaps with the right language for that role, that’s when good teaching occurs.  However, it’s sometimes very difficult to hold back on teacher instincts and we often slip out of one mode and into another when it’s not called for.

5 modes for interactions between teachers and students 

Gareth has drawn on the work of Steve Walsh who suggested that interactions between teachers and students could be divided into 4 modes (for General English settings) and adapted this framework, including an additional mode for the business one to one classroom.

1. Managerial mode

Characterized by extended teacher turns and the use of transitional markers such as right, so and well, this mode is used to transmit information and organize the learning environment.

T: As agreed last week, we’re going to have a look at language for structuring presentations today. Is that still ok for you?

S: Yes, that‘s great.

T: Right, let‘s start then by listening to a presentation.

S: One minute, let me get a pen. OK.

2. Materials mode

More frequently found in General English, it could involve looking at some text or listening to an audio. The objective is to provide language practice around some material. It involves extensive use of display questions (where there is a targeted answer), form-focused feedback and corrective repair.

T: What’s the answer to question three?

L: Personnel department

T: Personnel department – say it again…

L: Personnel department

T: Good.



T:What’s the answer to question three?

L: Richard went to London.

T: To London?

L: er… ah, no, to Birmingham.

T: That’s right.

3. Skills and system mode

This mode aims to get learners to produce the correct forms and give corrective feedback. It’s characterized by display questions, form-focused feedback and extended teacher turns.

T: What did you do last week?

S: I go on a business journey.

T: I go? I…

S: … went on a business journey.

T: Do you mean journey?

S:… er… trip, business trip.

T: Good. We would use journey to talk about the actual travelling, but the whole thing is a business trip

4. Classroom context mode

Characterized by extended learner turns with referential questions, content feedback and minimal repair. The focus is oral fluency. The T is interested in the content of the Ss’ response.

T: What did you do last week?

S: I go on a business journey.

T: Really? Where did you go?

S: I went to Madrid to meeting with my co… coll…

T: Colleagues, yes. And how long was the meeting?

S: Two days. I stayed by Friday.

T: You stayed until Friday?

S: Until Friday, yes.

T: Sounds great.

5. Business fluency mode

Turn length on the part of the T or the learner depends on the situation and the focus is encouraging language use in the learner’s work place. For example, the T plays the role of a negotiator in a conversation that the learner would typically have with stakeholders. It’s marked by the collaborative construction of dialogue, clarification questions, referential questions and content feedback.

T: So how big a discount did you have in mind?

S: I thinking we can offer 14%

T: Sorry, forty or fourteen?

S: Fourteen.

T: I’m sorry, but I can‘t agree to that, it‘s nowhere near what we need, it‘s just too…too…

S: …too low for you? Well maybe we can do a little more, but I must to speak with my chef.

Gareth encourages Ts to use the SETT cycle to become reflective practitioners while switching between these modes, leveraging video-recording as a way of reflecting on what you’re doing and of course paying close attention to the language you use in each mode.

SETT cycle


Image attribution: Flickr | GDC Europe 2010 Talks, Conversations, Presentations by Official GDC | CC by 2.0