“the Apprentice” as a business English resource

On the lookout for some video material for your Business English students, but have run out of the coursebook resources? Want them to watch and discuss smth (and it better be authentic) but series or TED talks are not exactly what you want? Look, there are reality shows! No, I don’t mean the ones where they are cooking, learning to sing or losing weight. I’ve recently come to appreciate the business-focused reality show, the Apprentice.
The beginning of the first episode was exactly what I needed for one of my students. By that moment we’d been speaking about success in business for some time, having read smb’s top 10 leadership qualities post and watched Richard Branson on BBC’s 5 minutes interview   (an amazing source of inspiration in itself, no doubt!).
So just to get an idea of what Apprentice is, we started off with
a short description of the show from Wikipedia. I got my student to read it, we did some work on the vocab, and  then I asked if she thought it could be an interesting watch. It was, so we started from the very beginning of the first episode (I’m talking about the UK version) and watched the first 3 minutes. I asked her to stop at 3:15, to be precise. After the first watch she had to answer some general questions:
  • Where is the show set?
  • Who is the boss?
  • How many participants are there?
 After that, we focused on details. The very first part of the video is perfect if you want your SS to learn a lot of adjectives to talk about people’s qualities (that is, business / work-related qualities).
So the task was to complete the gaps using the words from the list. I wanted her to try and do it on her own, after which she could rewatch the first half (0 – 1:15) and check it.
Complete the gaps

 1. how do they describe themselves? (try to guess, then watch and check)

  • mind
  • shrewd
  •  definitely
  • degree
  • success
  • far
  • trustworthy
  • unique
  • hungry
…… is important to me
I ….. to win most times, I don’t ….. losing
I am very adaptable, ……., determined
I am ….., yet honest
I am definitely a ……… thinker
I’ve got O-levels, I’ve got A-levels, I’ve got a …… in environmental planning
There are …..too many business ideas in my head
14 people ……for success have been shortlisted for this ……. opportunity
All they’ve …..to do is impress the boss
  1. lord sugar speech (try to guess, then watch and check, 1:15 – 3:15)

  • tired
  • blow
  • let
  • impressed
  • fired
  • top
I don’t wanna ….. my own trumpet here
I am telling you, I am sick and …… of it
Sir Alan sugar is on the ….. of his game
I am very, very ………
you are ……!
don’t ……. me down
We didn’t continue watching at the lesson as those 3 minutes was quite sufficient and saturated with the info, and anyway, my main goal had been to spark her interest, but we left another part (where Lord Sugar is briefing the teams on their first task, from 15:43 to 17:03; and his comments on the task, starting at 17:33) for the hometask.
And…here comes the unexpected part: instead of watching only those several mins my student, who is an entrepreneur herself, watched the whole episode (over 40 mins). Not only did she watch, but she also came up with a big post (in English! and it was a genuine surprise for me) in her blog sharing her impressions of “the Apprentice”. Her impressions actually we’re not all joy and admiration, but that’s not the point. Especially since the task and it’s execution as well as the whole idea of putting 14 competitive adults into one place are pretty controversial. Anyway, the point is, smth caught her attention so much that she got really interested even though she didn’t become a fan of the show.
At least we had smth to discuss next lesson, and she took away a lot of good vocab out of it.
What do you think? Would you take “the Apprentice” to your classroom?
Posted in authentic materials, Business English, ELT, lesson plans, materials writing, one-to-one, speaking, teaching higher levels, vocabulary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jennifer Aniston, Emirates and an English lesson

Tailoring your teaching to each and every student is fantastic, no doubt. And I am a big fan of course. But isn’t it nice to have something up your sleeve, something that would work for everyone?
It’s not often the case, unfortunately, but lately I’ve been trying to practise the “less is more” principle and try to stretch as my efforts adapting the same content for different levels and needs. I’ve used this commercial with 5 different students, from pre-intermediate to upper-intermediate, and it went down brilliantly!
As it is a) a commercial b) about an airline (and a swanky one!) c)starring Jennifer Aniston d) touching upon sleep, dreams and nightmares, it can be used to accompany a number of great speaking topics, like travelling, sleep, films…
It uses quite a lot (for a commercial, anyway) of language, so I asked my students to watch it twice, first asking a couple of general questions (at the same time introducing some vocab they might have forgotten/ not know, like “lounge”):

You can google this commercial (“Emirates Airlines featuring Jennifer Anniston”)

or use the link here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GS8nqYf5NvQ

Watch once. Answer the questions:
Is it her dream or reality?
Is she flying some usual airline or a more fancy one?
Is she enjoying herself?
Is  there a shower?
is there a lounge?
And then asking to spot which of the phrases were actually used in the video (to make it simplier for the ones who might be struggling with listening comprehension):
Watch again if you need to.
Which of the phrases are/ are not said in the commercial?
  • Is there someone we can talk to about may be flying us around a little bit longer before we land?
  • well, aren’t I gonna look really silly, dressed like this in a lounge?
  • It was such a nightmare!
  • Wake up happy!
  • There is no lounge.
  • There are no showers, but we do have hot towels.
  • I am sorry to hear that, Madame
  • We are landing in an hour
  • I was on the plane and it was nothing like this.
I was varying the number of the expressions depending on the level, but the good thing is, no one told me “I don’t understand” which is a big achievement in itself,  everyone enjoyed the ad (and Aniston, of course) . Moreover, it set a nice mood at the lesson and got them all talking. Yaay!
Posted in authentic materials, ELT, intermediate, lesson plans, lesson starters, materials writing, Uncategorized, useful links, vocabulary | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Starting lessons in a new way

the right beginning of the lesson always sets the right mood for the rest of it, doesn’t it?

So recently I got a little tired of just informal chit-chat during the first minutes of my one-to-one lessons, and it got me thinking, what else can I do?

Here is what I’ve come up with: several versions of more or less the same thing, so here goes.

Version one:

this week,

  • the tastiest….
  • the most interesting…
  • the most unexpected…
  • the hardest…
  • the most boring…
  • the most pleasant…


Version two:

Just before the lesson,…

  • The last thing I was listening to/heard was…
  • The last thing I read was…
  • The last thing I saw/ was looking at was…
  • The last person I talked to was…
  • The last thing I had smth to eat/ drink, it was..

As in my case it was always a 1-to-1 activity, I usually started off with my own example, and then it was quite clear to my students what they were supposed to do.

I had a chance to try it out with different levels, from pre-int to upper-int, and the results obviously sounded differently, but I can say it worked well with all of them.

Plus, you get to hear a lot of interesting things and experiences your students have done. I wonder if it should work the same way in groups, but have no chance of checking at the moment. What do you think? )))

Posted in ELT, intermediate, lesson plans, lesson starters, materials writing, teaching higher levels, teaching lower levels | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Using authentic interviews in class

I love using interviews at my classes! Do you? I think they are just what you need to practice speaking, tenses, word order, and at the same time they let you make the lessons fun (obviously, depending on the interview contents, but still). Thanks to its structure, an interview gives you so much to work with!
I would normally follow the order I describe below :
1) take only the questions and either just print them out separately or strip them off all the grammar and present them in a “slashed” look (e.g. instead of “how did you start your business?”  it would be “how/start /your business?”)
2) ask SS to think of possible answers to the questions / recreate the questions and then to think of possible answers. Ask them to share their opinions on what they expect to read/hear in each of the answers. In a group situation, I’d then ask them to compare their guesses
3) give the answers and get them to match Qs with As.
4) do some comprehension check
5) get them to comment on if the answers were expected /unexpected
6) ask them to think of more questions they’d ask that person
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learning grammar through context

putting grammar into context. Recently I’ve been struggling (not for the first time, obviously) to find some nice way to teach/ revise a grammar topic, and by “nice way” I mean something different from exercises (which are great, but mostly as a homework) and videos featuring the grammar usage (which are good too, their drawback being that they showcase a structure but don’t make a student use it). The topics high on my list now are gerund/ infinitive and passive (different tenses). In all cases I was dealing with one-one students, hence not much opportunity for all those great speaking activities that would more or less naturally involve using passives or gerund/infinitive structures.

The way that seems to have worked for me and my students is very much personalised, which I know is not always good (at least, it can’t be easily copied, it wouldn’t necessarily work for all the others out there if it had worked for one or 2), but at least I’ll just share what I did, and if you think it’s worth it, you could try and do the same for a different context.

Anyway, here is what I did:, 2 cases:

  1. the student: a young woman, a co-owner of a company delivering farm goods to people. Is keen on everything to do with food and nature. I thought an idea of a wastED restaurant could interest her, so I

a) compiled a short text describing Dan Barber’s initiative (here are a lot of picturesque examples http://www.wastedlondon.com/scrapbook , and in “press” section there are a lot of good texts too)

b) asked my student to share her thoughts about the initiative (which could be quite controversial, too)

c) offered her a list of gerund/ infinitve phrases to complete, with regard to the WastED story:

Dan Barber…
  • tries
  • makes people
  • suggests
  • enjoys
  • decided
  • looks forward to
  • thinks there’s no point in
  • wants people to stop
  • wants us to remember (not)


    • The WASTed restaurant lets
    • Such projects make us not forget / remember
    • A lot of people don’t mind (e.g. eating “reusable food”)

2) the student: a male working for Russian search giant, quite fluent, but not too accurate. At our previous class we both noticed he was making a lot of errors in Passive Voice usage, and it was quite logical to revisit the topic, even though he’d definitely studied it in the past. For that reason, we needed smth more sophisticated than the usual (exercises, talks about how this or that process is usually carried out). As our recent topic has been Open Source software, and he’d introduced me to Google’s Open source site

So I just rephrased a couple of sentences from their main page so that each of them used different passive structures, but wrote the grammar parts in Russian (see the brackets for the English versions):
  • Thousands of open source projects используются в Google to build scalable and reliable products  (are used in Google)
  • Millions of lines of code уже были выданы Гуглом under open source licenses for others to use (have already been released by Google)
  • A healthy ecosystem используется for the sustainability of open source for all these days (is being used)
  • At Google open source всегда использовался to innovate (has always been used)

This short exercise made my student think (!), remember the appropriate structures, think again and in the end, get it right, which was just what I wanted him to do. To wrap it ip, I also asked him to watch a short video featuring TensorFlow (Google’s Open Source library)  and then to comment on how/where it can be applied, how it was developed, how long it has been used etc, using the Passive Voice again.


Surely, both tasks are not very easy for students, and they should be something that follows (a lot of) controlled practice and a great deal of memorising and checking (especially in gerund/infinitve case). All in all, however, this approach proved to be a good one for revisiting the topic and putting the grammar into active usage.

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Retelling the text without noticing it, a trick?)

 I’ve been a firm believer in deep and profound work with texts for a long time. No need to repeat that it (and “texts”, obviously can stand for listening/ videos) has tons of benefits, acquiring vocabulary from the context and having a lot to discuss among them. After getting students to read a text and clarifying all the unclear bits/ new words and maybe going through the usual, like comprehension questions
etc, it really pays to ask them to (simply,  old-school style) retell the text,  but the problem is, it could look bad. Or not bad,  but just not very “adult-like”  teaching.
Since I mostly teach quite adult and professional people, it often feels quite counterintuitive to ask them just to retell the text. Don’t know though, it might be just my problem. (Or is it yours too? Let me know). So as some inner feeling wouldn’t let me just make them retell the contents, I have to disguise the retelling task and make it look “decent”  and appropriate for adults.
 So my favourite way to go about it (and it also helps to focus on the vocabulary) is to  write out some key expressions/ words from a text,  mostly featuring new and useful vocabulary items,  in the same order as they appear in a text.
 Ask a student 1) to see if everything is clear on the list 2) how all these words and phrases are connected to the text.
 And the second point is of course what in the end results into the text review /retell, often without the person actually noticing it.  So my usual question to go with such a list would be “can you remember how all these words and phrases were used in the text”? And, after some thinking time, a student would usually come up with a more a less structured summary of what they’ve read.
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a song to remember for a before a New Year time

I’ve stumbled upon a great song, just an English teacher’s dream!)) thanks to the site http://www.tefltunes.com/ ! the song is all about how smb is going to do smth next year and about New Year resolutions.

not too actual now, but I’ll leave the link here just to be able to find it at the right season

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apartment renovation: teaching English for virtually any topic with authentic materials

Are there many ESL materials that would encourage speaking about a flat renovation/redecoration or repair? Surprisingly, they are scarce! and the ones existing are not what I want them to be, to tell you the truth. So after some really focused search, looking through all the books I posessed or managed to find online I still didn’t have anything worth considering as a teaching material. And as one of my students specifically asked for that topic for the several classes to come (her interest has quite a plain reason as she is in the middle of , I had to do something!

I wanted the materials to be thought-(and speaking)-provoking, full of good words, preferably the ones that could be used to talk on some other subjects as well..and also I wanted something interesting!

So here is a couple of things that worked for me andf my student (though I’m still wondering why the renovation topic isn’t covered in usual ESL books. Or am I wrong?)

  • some text on flat decoration from http://commonenglisherrors.com/housekeeping-jargons-homerenovation-phrases/ . I used certain parts of it, making it look like several people were sharing their intentions on house renovation and housekeeping.
  • videos: I was lucky to discover IKEA home tour, the series on home remake. The episodes are around 3 mins, are made by the American IKEA, many of them have simple Enlgish spoken with different accents, and could be used not only to start a talk about home design but also about many other things (like shopping, home, tastes etc) . I went for an episode no 113 for a start;). I’d say some of them could be used at intermediate level and upwards.
  • one more thing that’s not directly connected to home design but could still be a logical continuation is discussing the concept of “home exchange” and that’s what we are going to talk about next time with my 1-1 student. So far we’ve just touched upon the sunject slightly and she seemed to be quite engaged. During my (re)search I came across a site knok.com where there is a nice “success story” of one of their users. I took it as a starting point and will see soon if it was a good choice ..

if you know some good materials to do with home repair/ redesign, please let me know!

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using famous songs to revise tenses: thanks, U2, Beatles and others

Do you often get students who is really confused about tenses? “I living in a big city”, “they speaks Spanish” and even “he is has been …”. oh and… “future? how do I make future? ” I am sure you’ve been there too)

So I’ve been thinking about one more way to revise, refresh and structure the tenses quickly and in a fun way, and surely songs are just a great way to do that. As I needed to cover very basic tenses mostly (with one of my students who is struggling to get his head around all this “grammar” and to be honest is not a very “grammar person” at all – he just wants to speak, and grammar is not important. You’ve heard that too, right?)

Songs were a good choice because he likes music (and who doesn’t?) and lines from songs are usually very memorable, so it wouldn’t be too hard to recall a cliched phrase like “I will survive” and then make another sentence using that model, like “Ok, I will call you” . But I couldn’t use just one song, because even if I found something covering Present Simple, Present Continuous, Past Simple, Present Perfect and Future Simple, it would be too hard for him to get it – his level can be assessed as pre-int low. So all this didn’t leave me much choice and I decided just to crop several songs that everyone knows – for the benefit of English Grammar 🙂

What I came up with is a 1:47 min file containing 8 song extracts (from Gloria Gaynor, U2, Beatles, Susan Vega, Queen etc) and a simple worksheet to go with it(taking into consideration that that student of mine needed smth really easy to grasp). I just asked him to listen to the extracts, complete the gaps in the song lines, match them to the right grammar tense, and then make his own examples (positive, negative, question) for each of the tenses. I am sure the task might be much more profound, but I decided not to make it too complicated and proved to be right. It worked pretty well for him and helped to structure the tenses and to revise the forms. Although I can’t say his tenses are immaculate now 🙂 , this was at least one of the steps to make him just a little more confident in using them.

Here are the mp3 and .doc files, hope you’ll find them useful too:)

grammar song mix English

UPD> Can’t think of a way to upload an MP3 file here, so if you need it, pls let me know and I’ll mail it to you. Alternatively, please teach me how to upload it here))))

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“I’ll be back” post :)

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages! (not a very original start, I know. But it’s still true. and it’s actually 2 posts).

So I’ll be back (soon, really soon) with 2 posts, one containing an audio file with some very well known songs helping to review the main grammar tenses, and the second featuring a movie extract to tap into a number of great adjectives to describe behavior.


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