21. WHAT NEXT? Eighty things to do with students learning English

This is a col­lec­tion of things to do in a class­room, plus a lit­tle expla­na­tion for teach­ers. The col­lec­tion is not a syl­labus, it is not graded and it is cer­tainly not “com­plete” (what would “com­plete” mean here?). How­ever bits of it should be use­ful for almost any­one teach­ing Eng­lish.

All teach­ers accu­mu­late a reper­toire of tricks. Over the years they find that some things work well for them, oth­ers not so well. Some approaches suc­ceed bril­liantly with one class, but fall flat with the next one. There is prob­a­bly a com­mon core of tech­niques and activ­i­ties pop­u­lar at any given time, with a fairly small num­ber of cre­ative teach­ers on the mar­gins invent­ing (or rein­vent­ing) extra ways to get across and embed skills or knowl­edge.

The present out­line is ded­i­cated to those Mon­day morn­ings when all inspi­ra­tion fails. Cur­ricu­lums are dull doc­u­ments, and unless a teacher is entirely a text book sludge repeater, she will want to use lively and inter­est­ing activ­i­ties as tools for meet­ing the abstract cur­ricu­lum objec­tives. It is there­fore use­ful to have a reminder list of activ­i­ties which can be adapted for the class wait­ing in room 201. 

Most of the exam­les used in this text come from tech­nol­ogy, espe­cially auto­mo­tive engi­neer­ing. This is an acci­dent of the writer’s career path, and such exam­ples can eas­ily be mod­i­fied. Note how­ever that while many Eng­lish teach­ers are per­son­ally uncom­fort­able with tech­ni­cal exam­ples, a large num­ber of stu­dents prefer them because of their per­sonal inter­ests and apti­tudes.

The mate­rial here is bare-bones, and of course it can be elab­o­rated or mod­i­fied in end­less ways. There is no such thing as an exhaus­tive list of lan­guage activ­i­ties because lan­guage is a tool applied to ever-chang­ing human sit­u­a­tions. Nev­er­the­less, our human needs do have pat­terns, and as native speak­ers we fit lan­guage to those pat­terns in famil­iar ways. This is a mat­ter of cus­tom, and so-called gram­mer is only a small part of that cus­tom.

For an exam­ple of lan­guage cus­tom, a Chi­nese mechanic learn­ing Eng­lish will want to know that his Aus­tralian dou­ble usu­ally says some­thing like “You’re gunna need a 12 mil’ span­ner*”, and NOT “the cor­rect span­ner for this task is a 12 mil­lime­tre span­ner”, which would sound hos­tile because of its ridicu­lous for­mal­ity. (*Note: span­ner = wrench in Amer­i­can Eng­lish). In other words, every non-native Eng­lish teacher will cer­tainly teach some fool­ish lan­guage, and in the case exam­pled, so might a native Eng­lish teacher who has never mixed with mechan­ics. That is an occu­pa­tional haz­ard and limit to the use­ful­ness of lan­guage “courses”. As teach­ers, we have to explain our lim­its to stu­dents, and always be ready to accept the help of those stu­dents in seek­ing out how the peo­ple they meet really say things. This can be a source of fun rather than embar­rass­ment. In this spirit, I won’t mind at all if teach­ers twist beyond recog­ni­tion any activ­i­ties and con­tent sug­gested in the paper below. 

Acknowl­edg­ments: Ideas (orig­i­nal or inno­cently stolen) tend to arrived in my brain ille­gally, when I am sup­posed to be think­ing about impor­tant mat­ters like meet­ing agen­das. How­ever, much that fol­lows will already be famil­iar in one guise or another, so I thank­fully acknowl­edge the teach­ers and writ­ers from many a for­got­ten moment when I saw some­thing neat and said “aha!”.



1. Listening, recalling & speaking 

S’s lis­ten to a teacher dis­course, then re-present it to a part­ner. This may be a tech­ni­cal expla­na­tion, dia­logue or story. Coher­ence is extremely impor­tant for this to work well, and the con­tent should not be too long. Humour helps greatly. A sim­ple out­line of key­words linked with arrows may be use­ful as a prompt, or a labeled dia­gram. Oral recall can be fol­lowed later by writ­ten recall. 


2. Listening for detail: 

S’s lis­ten to a short, recorded tech­ni­cal descrip­tion or a recorded exchange between tech­ni­cians. S’s extract speci­fic infor­ma­tion, accord­ing to a cue sheet, gap-fill­ing sheet, blank table or dia­gram.


3. Listening for key ideas & reconstructing

S’s have to report and explain an event, say an indus­trial acci­dent, after lis­ten­ing to an expla­na­tion from a wit­ness.


4. Instruction: training a new employee

S’s role play instruct­ing a “new employee” in a task or pro­ce­dure. The S being taught must demon­strate com­pe­tence by explain­ing or per­form­ing back.


5. Supervisory instructions

a) A pair of S’s con­struct a work­place job­sheet for a day in the life of a motor garage, a con­struc­tion site, or some other venue where there can be a chang­ing vari­ety of activ­i­ties. Exam­ples of authen­tic work­sheets col­lected from indus­trial sites could make this activ­ity more real­is­tic.

b) The teacher mod­els one super­vi­sory talk to employ­ees using an appro­pri­ate speech style (it will help if teach­ers have spent time in an indus­trial work­place them­selves!). Infor­ma­tion should include a per­sonal task assign­ment for each team mem­ber, brief oper­at­ing instruc­tions and an expected com­ple­tion time. Stu­dents may be given a style sheet and check­list to assist in copy­ing the teacher exam­ple.

c) Stu­dent actors (“super­vi­sors”) address mem­bers of their work teams (class) in order, in the way demon­strated by the teacher. Video if pos­si­ble, for later post mortem. 


6. Following instructions: task performance 

S’s com­pete to com­plete a task (e.g. assem­ble a machine), or draw a dia­gram or chart fol­low­ing spo­ken clues from the teacher. Points are deducted for exceed­ing or mis­in­ter­pret­ing the instruc­tions.


7. The “Know All” board game


a) Dis­trib­ute a blank 6×6 grid. Small groups of stu­dents are asked to con­struct a series of tasks to solve a prob­lem, one task per grid box. e.g. a set of tasks asso­ci­ated with brake repair (which must, of course, have been pre-taught). The tasks will be in a jum­bled, illog­i­cal order. A fun vari­a­tion on this is a set of improb­a­ble mis­sion tasks; e.g. get­ting a jumbo jet out of a tail-spin.

b) Mem­bers of an oppos­ing team are given the first team’s task grid. They have two min­utes to sort out and explain (in speech, not writ­ing) a clear, log­i­cally ordered solu­tion to the prob­lem, using their competitor’s task grid. They must use instruc­tions from the task grid, not just make up an inde­pen­dent solu­tion.

c) Points are assigned by inde­pen­dent auditors/ time-keep­ers and a league table of win­ners kept over sev­eral classes.


8. Information transfer 

A small tech­ni­cal dia­gram or descrip­tion is posted on the class­room wall. One of a pair of S’s walks from his desk to exam­ine it, returns and instructs a part­ner to re-cre­ate the dia­gram etc. As many trips as nec­es­sary are made, and the mes­sen­ger is allowed to com­mu­ni­cate only by voice. No notes are allowed. Sev­eral pairs of stu­dents can com­pete to com­plete the task accu­rately.


9. Telephone ordering 

The teacher col­lects mail order cat­a­logues, pro­duct fly­ers from man­u­fac­tur­ers etc. S’s role play tele­phone orders. Make sure that orders are read back by the receiver for error check­ing. Vari­a­tion & lead-in: turn-of-the-20th Cen­tury cat­a­logues (fac­sim­ile) are always a big hit. Goods can be ordered from an imag­i­nary remote loca­tion, where a mis­take will take three months for a replace­ment to arrive.


10. Telephone enquiry

a) The teacher iden­ti­fies areas of stu­dent inter­est: voca­tional, hobby, sport, music etc. 

b) The teacher elic­its com­plex knowl­edge gaps at the mar­gins of these inter­est areas. e.g. “how do you get an appren­tice­ship?”, “how do you mod­ify the sus­pen­sion on an XL Fal­con?”, “how do you start a judo club?” …

c) Stu­dent groups decide where they will seek appro­pri­ate infor­ma­tion and pre-struc­ture some ques­tions.

d) The teacher pre-teaches some suit­able terms of address for tele­phone enquiry.

e) S’s make actual tele­phone enqiries to real busi­nesses before report­ing back to the group. Alter­na­tively, a class “expert” on the topic can answer mock tele­phone enquiries.


11. Speaking strategies 

Record sets of ver­bal strate­gies actu­ally used by native speak­ers; (e.g. open­ings to a talk pre­sen­ta­tion, turn-tak­ing in con­ver­sa­tion etc.). The teacher high­lights ele­ments of each strat­egy and their mean­ings. S’s choose a strat­egy they prefer for a selected task, jus­tify the choice and then use it in a short role play.


12. Talks:

S’s do ten min­ute pre­sen­ta­tions on a pre­pared tech­ni­cal topic. Talks are best if they have a func­tion, such as explain­ing plant to new employ­ees, or sell­ing a pro­duct. Eval­u­a­tion should be by known and stated cri­te­ria. S’s can ben­e­fit from video or live mod­els to emu­late. Each talk should be pre­ceded by a state­ment of its aims. S’s should be pre­pared to answer peer ques­tions on their topic, and hand in a brief writ­ten syn­op­sis for later teacher check­ing.


13. Dialogue completion on a known topic

After a topic or text has been taught for some time, S’s are given a printed dia­logue in which the utter­ances of one party are blanked out. For exam­ple, a cus­tomer may be ques­tion­ing a mechanic on the oper­a­tion of the igni­tion sys­tem. The customer’s ques­tions will be given, but S’s must provide suit­able responses from the mechanic.

This exer­cise may be done either orally or in writ­ing. It may be role played. It injects greater real­ism than the nor­mal teacher ques­tion­ing while achiev­ing sim­i­lar results.


14. Monologue building from an outline

S’s describe a process, event or sys­tem using only cues from a pre­vi­ously con­structed out­line skele­ton sum­mary of a writ­ten text. In prac­tice this involves a mix­ture of tex­tual recall and lan­guage gen­er­a­tion.


15. Comparing registers and styles

Lis­ten to two or three dia­logues about the same topic, but pitched to dif­fer­ent con­texts. Com­pare for dif­fer­ences in for­mal­ity, per­spec­tive or style.

· What are the lin­guis­tic mark­ers of dif­fer­ence? (Check for vocab­u­lary, syn­tax (e.g. pas­sives, unfin­ished sen­tences etc.) and into­na­tion.

· What are the overt and covert goals of the speak­ers in these dia­logues?

· Now give a skele­ton out­line and ask groups of stu­dents to con­struct two dia­logues. For exam­ple, one between a work­shop man­ager and a cus­tomer with a sick car, then the same man­ager dis­cussing the same vehi­cle with one of his mechan­ics.


16. Recognizing style & social context

S’s match a list of sit­u­a­tional and/or tech­ni­cal descrip­tions with a scram­bled column of spo­ken quo­ta­tions.



Two mechan­ics are dis­cussingthe metal fatigue fail­ure of 

a petrol pump com­po­nent.

Yeah Jack. That pump shaft is stuffed. All those units are shit. Haven’t seen a good one yet.
One mechanic reports the com­po­nent fail­ure to a cus­tomer

I’m afraid we will have to replace the petrol pump Mrs Finks. These pumps have a bad rep­u­ta­tion, and you have been a lit­tle unlucky.




17. Question response 

S’s respond to teacher ques­tions with pre­cise infor­ma­tion. The pre­ci­sion can be focused and cal­i­brated. That is, the cri­te­ria may be con­tent accu­racy, syn­tac­tic or phono­log­i­cal accu­racy etc. It is best not to focus on too many things in one exer­cise. Note the qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence between teacher ques­tions based on what has already been taught, and teacher ques­tions designed to lead S’s to self-dis­cov­ery. Both have their uses, but dif­fer­ent out­comes. Also, the for­mer is often best served by fac­tual ques­tions (e.g. What is the melt­ing point of steel?), the lat­ter by a set of con­cept ques­tions (e.g. to grasp the mean­ing of “You shouldn’t have done that!” ask a) did some­one do some­thing?, b) did the speaker want the per­son to do it, c) is the speaker pleased?).


18. Question & answer preparation 

S’s (not the teacher) pre­pare a set of ques­tions and answers relat­ing to a speci­fic topic. Note: it is nec­es­sary to coach this skill to ensure that the ques­tions are com­pre­hen­sive enough to allow recon­struc­tion of a pro­ce­dure etc. from the responses. Pre-teach the dif­fer­ences between ques­tions of fact, infer­ence and opin­ion, then make sure that stu­dents are actu­ally able to cre­ate each kind of ques­tion.


19. Keyword checking 

S’s check each other’s com­pre­hen­sion and/or recall by expand­ing key­words from a learned text into phrases or sen­tences. The teacher will provide the key­words, per­haps one from each sen­tence of the text.


20. Revision game 

The teacher devises “twenty ques­tions” type games to revise knowl­edge sets; e.g. on qual­i­ties of mate­ri­als, tech­niques, pro­ce­dures. Note that this requires care­ful prepa­ra­tion.


21. Questions for understanding 

The teacher trains S’s to rou­tinely ask for answers to these ques­tions when­ever a new process or machine is encoun­tered: Where is it used? Why? How? How does it work? What hap­pens? What is gained by its use? At what cost? These ques­tions can be posed on a daily basis.


22. Yes/No questions in a flow chart

a) Iden­tify a process which has a vari­ety of inputs/causes and a vari­ety of pos­si­ble out­comes; e.g. iden­tify the rea­sons for over­heat­ing in an engine. Show S’s how this can be struc­tured into a flow chart.

b) Sup­ply S’s with a ran­dom­ize col­lec­tion of inputs or out­puts or both (the eas­i­est option). There task is i) to pri­or­i­tize actions. ; ii) to match inputs with alter­nate out­puts (two for each input); iii) to sup­ply a yes/no ques­tion which will select between alter­nate out­puts; iv) to draw an appro­pri­ate flow chart. Exam­ple (abre­vi­ated):

Prob­lem : Engine over­heat­ing




the pres­sure cap is faulty

replace pres­sure cap
a hose is leak­ing replace hose
the radi­a­tor cores are blocked recon­di­tions cores or reverse flush
the ther­mostat is faulty replace ther­mostat
the fan belt is slip­ping tighten fan­belt
the head gas­ket is blown replace head gas­ket
the engine block is cracked plug crack or replace engine block
the engine tim­ing is incor­rect reset the engine time

* Is the pres­sure cap faulty? 

=> YES => replace pres­sure cap

=> NO => check radi­a­tor hoses etc. 


23. Regular tests 

Uses of tests: a) a lan­guage and con­tent diag­no­sis; b) a real­ity check for both the teacher and S’s; c) a moti­vat­ing agent through wash­back.

S’s don’t really respect a pre­tense that they are “doing well” even with con­sis­tently low marks, although they should not be set up to fail. Every mark, no mat­ter how low, is a mea­sure of some knowl­edge avail­able for use. S’s like the sense of knowl­edge accu­mu­la­tion and pro­gres­sion given by tests. How­ever, the whole thing should be done in an atmos­phere of coach­ing, as with a sports team, not imply­ing judge­ments about stu­dent worth.

Most tests should be diag­nos­tic, not com­pet­i­tive, marked and returned quickly. The wash­back effect of test­ing is at least as impor­tant as any for­mal test result. Man­ag­ing wash­back should there­fore be built into any test­ing pro­gram. For exam­ple, tests moti­vate stu­dents to study in cer­tain ways, to think in cer­tain ways, and to man­age ques­tions or prob­lems in cer­tain ways. All these things are tools for the teacher to use clev­erly.

Lan­guage tests are usu­ally framed by ques­tions. Fac­tual ques­tions work bet­ter at first than infer­en­tial ques­tions for stu­dents with weaker Eng­lish and/or weaker sub­ject knowl­edge. How­ever, many trades and pro­fes­sions will ulti­mately require stu­dents to become pro­fi­cient with infer­en­tial ques­tions also. Peo­ple from some cul­tures or edu­ca­tional tra­di­tions may have had lit­tle prac­tice with sys­tem­atic infer­en­tial think­ing.

At the end of each day S’s should know exactly what they have to learn for a com­ing test, and the learn­ing demand should be achiev­able. Pre­dictabil­ity is espe­cially impor­tant for slower stu­dents.


Gen­eral note: Although the teacher’s under­ly­ing objec­tive may be to focus on prac­tic­ing par­tic­u­lar lin­guis­tic pat­terns, this will be of inter­est to few stu­dents. When stu­dents are bored they stop learn­ing. There­fore it is impor­tant to sugar-coat this kind of activ­ity by mak­ing the con­tent inher­ently inter­est­ing for the stu­dents by choos­ing top­ics which they value, or even allow­ing them to choose the top­ics, then invent­ing con­tent to implic­itly demon­strate the gram­mar.


24. Vocabulary matching 

S’s match use­ful new words by lines or num­bers with a scram­bled column of tech­ni­cal def­i­n­i­tions. This makes most sense when the words form a seman­tic set (i.e. have some con­nec­tion), such as that col­lec­tion of terms needed to describe a fuel sys­tem. Labeled dia­grams can be used as clues.


25. Synonym or Antonym location

Find words in a text sim­i­lar or oppo­site in mean­ing to a list of words or expres­sions. This can be extended to com­par­ing tech­ni­cal terms to their com­mon speech or slang equiv­a­lents, or even com­par­ing dif­fer­ent Eng­lish dialects (e.g. a span­ner in Aus­tralia or Eng­land is a wrench in Amer­ica).


26. Gap-filling

S’s fill the gaps in a text. The gaps can be cre­ated ran­domly, be every 5th word etc., or they can be omis­sions of par­tic­u­lar tech­ni­cal or syn­tac­tic infor­ma­tion. That is, gap-fill­ing can be a gen­eral lan­guage use activ­ity for the class­room, which at least checks com­pre­hen­sion, or it can be a focus­ing tech­nique for par­tic­u­lar lin­guis­tic or tech­ni­cal fea­tures.


27. Negatives

a) Imper­a­tive neg­a­tives: S’s provide neg­a­tive signs for a series of indus­trial sit­u­a­tions (give thumb­nail sketches); e.g. No Smok­ing; Do Not Enter; No Spit­ting / Do Not Spit. Note that use of the modal (do) ver­sus the gerun­dive (V-ing) is cus­tom­ary rather than rule-based.

b) S’s trans­form an exag­ger­ated dia­logue (e.g. a sales pitch) by con­tra­dict­ing each claim with its neg­a­tive; e.g. [Sales­man] The Xz series sports car reaches 100kmh in 3 sec­onds from a stand­ing start.. => [Cus­tomer] I don’t believe that the Xz can reach 100kmh in 3 sec­onds.. or The Xz cer­tainly can­not reach 100kmh in 3 sec­onds.

Note that the main prob­lem with neg­a­tives in Eng­lish is get­ting S’s to insert an appro­pri­ate modal or aux­il­iary verb (do, can, could, will etc.).


28. Pronouns

a) S’s prac­tice pro­noun sub­sti­tu­tion of IT and THEY for nouns, and apply the cor­rect agree­ment suf­fixes to verbs in present / sin­gu­lar / 3rd per­son: it breaks …; they require ….

b) A tech­ni­cal text is pro­vided with brack­eted pro­nouns in place of con­crete nouns. S’s must sub­sti­tute con­crete nouns for the pro­nouns. A sim­i­lar exer­cise with abstract nouns is more dif­fi­cult.

Note that in real speech pro­noun ref­er­ence is usu­ally clear from the phys­i­cal and social con­text. Poor writ­ing how­ever is often marked by pro­nouns whose ref­er­ence is unclear. This can be a real prob­lem in the work­place, for exam­ple with task reports for or by super­vi­sors. The teacher can set up this kind of task for class­room prac­tice.


29. Verbs

Per­haps the most impor­tant verbs to mas­ter in Eng­lish are the modal and aux­il­iary verbs, a very spe­cial group: can/could, will/would, shall/should/ ought to, may/might, must/have to, need to, BE, DO, HAVE. These words are needed a) to make neg­a­tive sen­tences; b) to make ques­tions; c) to indi­cate the mood or inten­tion of the speaker and his/her social rela­tion­ship to the lis­tener. The c) func­tion is very sub­tle, varies between social and dialect groups in Eng­lish, varies between gen­er­a­tions, and is often a clear indi­ca­tor of whether a learner of Eng­lish has become fully func­tional in the lan­guage. L2 speak­ers of Eng­lish often sound extremely rude when they get modals wrong. 

Many Eng­lish teach­ers unfor­tu­nately are just unaware of how impor­tant modals and aux­il­iaries are. There­fore, think care­fully, make a habit of col­lect­ing real life exam­ples, and set up funny role plays where the result of mis­us­ing these verbs will become clear to stu­dents.

For learn­ers of Eng­lish, the sec­ond major dif­fi­culty with Eng­lish verbs is tense and aspect. Most teach­ers think only of the tech­ni­cal mark­ers in the gram­mar, such as /-ed/ for PAST. How­ever, the real prob­lem is that Eng­lish speak­ers play around with time ref­er­ence in a way that is not pos­si­ble in some other lan­guages. For exam­ple, the speaker may relate events in time to him­self, to another per­son, or to another event which may itself be in the past, present or future. It is best for the teacher to think for her­self how she would do each of these tasks with the Eng­lish lan­guage, then get stu­dents to fig­ure out in groups how they might do the job. Col­lect and tab­u­late solu­tions. Only after that look for answers in gram­mar books, online, or from other native speak­ers.

Exer­cise: A tech­ni­cal text is pro­vided with all the verbs brack­eted in infini­tive form. S’s must sub­sti­tute verbs with the cor­rect sub­ject-verb agree­ment and tense/modal inflec­tion.


30. Prepositions

For native speak­ers in any lan­guage prepo­si­tions seem self-evi­dent, but for learn­ers prepo­si­tions are the most way­ward things ever to evolve. This is because a) the scope and loca­tion of par­tic­u­lar prepo­si­tion mark­ers varies widly among lan­guages, and b) even where a direct trans­la­tion seems pos­si­ble (say Eng­lish & Ger­man) the appar­ent sim­i­lar­i­ties are often mis­lead­ing.

The secret to learn­ing prepo­si­tions in Eng­lish is a) learn­ing the prepo­si­tions that keep com­pany with a range of com­mon verbs, and b) becom­ing a famil­iar with a com­mon set of prepo­si­tional phrases. Real prepo­si­tions gov­ern their own pred­i­cate ( the ham­mer fell | on -> the floor), rather than refer­ring back to verbs like an adverb (turn <- eas­ily), or being part of a verb like phrasal verbs ( pick-up -> a girl). 

These dif­fer­ences have con­se­quences for teach­ing. For exam­ple, in teach­ing prepo­si­tions, some­thing like a gap exer­cise will have less value than, say, a scram­bled list of sen­tences describ­ing a machine or sys­tem which need to be matched with a set of prepo­si­tional phrases. The ben­e­fit is in learn­ing to rec­og­nize the prepo­si­tional phrases as unit.


Match the Prepo­si­tional Phrases on the right with the sen­tences on the left:


The valve guides are press-fit­ted
on the cylin­der head
The valve train sits
Into the cylin­der head
The rocker shaft is inserted
over the valve train
The rocker cover is fit­ted
through the rocker arm bushes

31. Syntactic determiners (the, a)

The” and “a” are prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult two words in Eng­lish for a non-native speaker to mas­ter. Their core mean­ings are sim­ple enough. “The” is used to indi­cated a par­tic­u­lar object or event, usu­ally known to both speaker and lis­tener. “A” is used to indi­cate one ran­dom item from a selec­tion (e.g. a man, being any man from all the men on earth). “A” often occurs the first time an item or per­son is referred to, with “the” used the next time, since the ref­er­ent is now known to the lis­tener. (“A man came down the road. The man was wear­ing a white shirt.” ). The prob­lem is that a large dic­tio­nary will show up to forty odd vari­a­tions on these core mean­ings, and there are cer­tainly more than that. Once stu­dents under­stand the core mean­ings, their best hope of learn­ing is to encoun­ter as many lan­guage con­texts as pos­si­ble.


A cloze exer­cise in which all deter­min­ers have been deleted from a pas­sage can alert stu­dents to their use. Com­plet­ing the cloze can be made a lit­tle sim­pler by a hint list: a count of the numer of times the, a, and the zero mor­pheme (i.e. noth­ing) occur: the = 12; a=6; 0 = 5. For many stu­dents the choices may still seem to be a gam­ble, so care­fully review each cor­rect and incor­rect answer, explain­ing the rea­sons. Then do a sec­ond exer­cise of the same kind. 


32. Classes of items (generics)

A generic noun does not refer to any par­tic­u­lar per­son, object or event. It refers to all the mem­bers of a type or class. A generic noun might have no spec­i­fieer, or it might be spec­i­fied by “a”, “the” or “all” (Cows are large bovine ani­mals; the cow is a large bovine ani­mal; all cows are large bovine ani­mals). Gener­ics are very use­ful for cre­at­ing def­i­n­i­tions, but more dan­ger­ously, they are also used in stereo­types. Work with stu­dents to find exam­ples of var­i­ous generic nouns.

Devise a text with a mixed usage of generic nouns and spec­i­fied nouns. Bracket each noun in an unmarked form with no spec­i­fier (i.e. no “the”, “a” or “all”). S’s must rewrite these with the cor­rect usage. This exer­cise can also be done orally.

Tech­ni­cal mate­rial often con­tains generic forms, so stu­dents can find these from their sub­ject area and prac­tice sim­i­lar con­tent. For exam­ple : ham­mers are very use­ful tools; a/the metre is a dec­i­mal unit of mea­sure­ment; all eth­yl­ene gly­cols are dan­ger­ous.

Note that once an Eng­lish speaker knows that a generic form is needed, the actual generic marker they use is often not con­trolled by any strict gram­mar rule, but by style. Style is a mat­ter of taste, per­son­al­ity, habit, or social cus­tom. For exam­ple, all three of the fol­low­ing are gram­mat­i­cally fine, have the same mean­ing, but are styl­is­ti­cally a lit­tle dif­fer­ent: a) ele­phants are large ani­mals; b) the ele­phant is a large ani­mal; c) an ele­phant is a large ani­mal.


33. Word label search: 

Words and word sets are a social “cur­rency” which can be used like money to trade with. Learn­ing a sec­ond lan­guage is partly a mat­ter of becom­ing com­fort­able with new word labels (from L2, not L1) to label famil­iar ideas. In a class­room set­ting, play­ing with these new L2 word labels until they become famil­iar can be done in many ways. For exam­ple, sev­eral class groups may have dif­fer­ent objects or dia­grams whose parts they are told to label. How­ever the teacher may have given each group a ran­dom glos­sary (word list) not com­pletely suit­able for describ­ing their own object. There­fore S’s have to seek out the “owner” in the class of a needed word and trade it for one of their own stock. The real teacher aim is to max­imise S com­mu­ni­ca­tion prac­tice, although the stu­dents them­selves may think they are just doing a for­mal lan­guage task.


34. Logical words 

S’s prac­tice the proper use of quasi-log­i­cal oper­a­tors; e.g. and, but, or (inclu­sive & exclu­sive), if … then, although etc. This is best done by set­ting up choices in a tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dure or a game, where the wrong choices will cause a bad out­come, con­fu­sion or unnec­es­sary rep­e­ti­tion. For exam­ple, adapt the children’s game of Snakes & Lad­ders by build­ing in choices (not just a dice throw). There is much scope for elec­tronic games which set up log­i­cal options.


35. Matching subject and predicate

In Eng­lish, the sub­ject noun is usu­ally (not always) the sen­tence topic, while the pred­i­cate is usally a verb phrase which describes some­thing affect­ing, or affected by the topic. Exam­ple: [The driver]subject [steers the car]predicate. The Eng­lish pat­tern for mark­ing subject/predicate is usu­ally word order, but other lan­guages may use par­ti­cles or affixes (word end­ings) to do the same job.

Exer­cise: Divide a set of sen­tences describ­ing a machine, process or sys­tem into a list of sub­jects and their pred­i­cates. Scram­ble the order. S’s must match each sub­ject with its cor­rect pred­i­cate. Note that any match­ing activ­ity can also be turned into gen­eral com­mu­ni­ca­tion prac­tice by hav­ing two parts of a solu­tion (e.g. sub­ject and pred­i­cate phrases) with dif­fer­ent actors who must con­sult each other. 

As with most syn­tac­tic exer­cises, sim­ple match­ing activ­i­ties can be very bor­ing unless the con­tent is cho­sen for colour, inter­est or rel­e­vance. If pos­si­ble turn it into a game. Wrong syn­tac­tic choices can have big con­se­quences in a real work­place, so a good teacher will try to build such drama into the class­room prac­tice also, with sto­ries, games or tasks. Many stu­dents will not remem­ber a pure gram­mar lesson.


36. Syntactic passive 

S’s trans­form active vari­ants of tech­ni­cal descrip­tion into pas­sive equiv­a­lents (with or with­out the by-phrase), and vice versa; e.g. The mechanic must check the fluid level => The fluid level must be checked. The teacher will explain the value of pas­sives in (imper­sonal) tech­ni­cal descrip­tion using actual exam­ples from the pro­fes­sional skill area of the stu­dents.

Not all lan­guages have pas­sives. Most chil­dren do not fully mas­ter Eng­lish pas­sives until a lit­tle before puberty. Recent research has shown that many native Eng­lish speak­ers with low lit­er­acy never really under­stand pas­sive sen­tences, except for some com­mon expres­sions (e.g. He was shot! [.. by XYZ]). This sug­gests that stu­dents need to become famil­iar with pas­sive forms in tech­ni­cal lan­guage over many lessons. 

One tool for prac­tic­ing pas­sives is the “job report” (com­mon in many occu­pa­tions) where the worker gives a brief list of tasks per­formed and prob­lems encoun­tered : e.g. “the sump was drained / the oil fil­ter was removed / metal­lic fil­ings were found in the engine oil / it is rec­om­mended that the engine be fully stripped down”. Even daily class activ­i­ties can be described in this way. 


37. Syntactic quantifiers (all, some ..) 

S’s prac­tice using gram­mat­i­cal quan­ti­fiers (note count­a­bles and uncount­a­bles): e.g. all of the X’s, some of the Y’s, a major­ity of Zs.

The native lan­guages of some stu­dents might be impre­cise about quan­ti­fiers, or let them be assumed from con­text. There­fore what seems sim­ple and obvi­ous to the teacher might not be for all stu­dents. If pos­si­ble, check this and be alert to con­fu­sion.

This par­tic­u­lar part of Eng­lish gram­mar is best demon­strated with a col­lec­tion of realia. For exam­ple, the teacher can bring a jar of mis­cel­la­neous nuts and bolts and wash­ers and screws, spread them out on a bench and invite stu­dents to sort or iden­tify them accord­ing to the lan­guage forms:

Exam­ples: Make a col­lec­tion where all of the nuts are 12mm / Do the major­ity of screws have Philips (star) heads? / give me some match­ing bolts, nuts and wash­ers …

38. Qualifying ideas in language (those..which / the…that)

S’s prac­tice qual­i­fy­ing sets and classes of items using rel­a­tive or sub­or­di­nat­ing clauses: e.g. those Xs which Y; the Xs that Y; the As with three sides; Bs (which/that are) car­ry­ing the label Z must be …..

Lan­guage note: The pat­terns of spo­ken lan­guage and writ­ten lan­guage tend to dif­fer quite a lot when sen­tences have com­plex clauses. These dif­fer­ences are ampli­fied in work­ing class or infor­mal speech as com­pared to “edu­cated” or pro­fes­sional speech, and also accord­ing to dialect (say, British Eng­lish Vs Aus­tralian Eng­lish). For exam­ple, “which” is com­mon in spo­ken ques­tions (“Which one do you want?”) but has a slightly lit­er­ary feel in embed­ded clauses (“It was the truck which/that came on Mon­day”). Infor­mal Eng­lish much prefers “that” to “which”. Sim­i­larly, “the” is usu­ally pre­ferred infor­mally to “those” in the com­pany of rel­a­tive pro­nouns: “the books [that] you wanted” is more com­mon than “those books which you wanted”. There­fore, a teacher might prac­tice dif­fer­ent forms if his stu­dents are motor mechan­ics, as opposed to lawyers or med­ical doc­tors.

Prac­tice exam­ple: Set up an inter­ro­ga­tion game. There has been a crime, or an indus­trial acci­dent, or a social dis­as­ter (like some thugs crash­ing a party). One stu­dent or panel of stu­dents plays the questioner(s), while a wit­ness talks about the event. Make sure that the event has plenty of con­fu­sion, ambi­gu­ity and con­tra­dic­tions. The use of qual­i­fy­ing gram­mat­i­cal terms arises nat­u­rally when try­ing to sort out the mess. Advanced stu­dents can man­age this once they under­stand the task. Less able stu­dents will need a frame­work of clauses and phrases to choose from.

39. Definitions using “which/that” and “in order to”

Two crit­i­cal facts about a sub­stance, object or process may be related by “which” or “that” to form a def­i­n­i­tion of it. Def­i­n­i­tions tend to be for­mal, so “which” may be favoured over “that”. The out­come is often expressed with an “in order to” clause. Infor­mal lan­guage com­monly reduces “in order to” to sim­ply “to”. This lan­guage equa­tion is widely used in tech­ni­cal writ­ing:

Petrol is a volatile fuel. || Petrol is mixed with air.

=> Petrol is a volatile fuel which is mixed with air (in order) to power com­bus­tion engi­nes.

For­mula: [X BE Y] + which + BE + VERB PHRASE 1 + (in order) to + VERB PHRASE 2

Exer­cise: After study­ing a sub­stance, object or process give stu­dents a list of its con­stituents in a table and ask them to devise def­i­n­i­tions. The process may be made eas­ier by also sup­ply­ing the (scram­bled) qual­i­ties or behav­iours.


Hydro­car­bons car­bon com­pound refined for fuel
Petrol volatile hydro­car­bon used in inter­nal com­bus­tion engi­nes
Grease Vis­cu­ous hydro­car­bon used for lubri­ca­tion


40. Comparatives and superlatives: 

S’s prac­tice com­par­a­tive and superla­tive expres­sion: X is bet­ter than Y; M is the best. 

Link this to con­crete debate on a topic of inter­est. Tech­ni­cal stu­dents will gen­er­ally have some core inter­est (e.g. cars) on which they have def­i­nite opin­ions. They will have no prob­lem in assert­ing that, say, one kind of tyre is bet­ter than another. A tech­ni­cal course will also con­stantly throw up sit­u­a­tions in which a tech­ni­cal choice or com­pro­mise must be made; e.g. Soft sus­pen­sions are bet­ter for pas­sen­ger com­fort, but hard sus­pen­sion sys­tems are bet­ter for road hold­ing. Pose a set of tech­ni­cal choices and ask S’s to indi­cate com­par­i­tive pref­er­ences.


41. Contrasts (but / however)

Some com­mon con­trastive words and expres­sions are “but”, “although”, “how­ever”, “on the other hand”. The first two are used to join clauses in a sin­gle sen­tence. The lat­ter two are best used to make a con­trast between sep­a­rate sen­tences.

a) Use “spot the dif­fer­ence” pic­tures or dia­grams as a source to gen­er­ate con­trastive sen­tences, orally or in writ­ing. e.g. The cool­ing sys­tem in dia­gram 1 has an over­flow tank, but the cool­ing sys­tem in dia­gram 2 does not.

b) Lis­ten to a record­ing or video of two can­di­dates for a job. S’s in a mock inter­view eval­u­a­tion can com­ment on their dif­fer­ent behav­iours.


The first can­di­date spoke clearly, but the sec­ond did not.. 


The sec­ond can­di­date had good qual­i­fi­ca­tions. How­ever, his trade skills were poor.

c) Extract con­trasts from a table. This may tab­u­late dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties (e.g. types of steel), or it may be a com­par­ison of, say, the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of using par­tic­u­lar meth­ods, machi­nes, sys­tems etc. 

For exam­ple, a table might list the com­par­a­tive advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of road ver­sus rail trans­port. Relate such a table to a con­crete sit­u­a­tion; e.g. the stores super­vi­sor must decide whether to ship parts by road or rail to a cus­tomer. S’s role play his dis­cus­sion with the man­ager as options are put: We could send it by rail but road is quicker. On the other hand, VicRail has given us a cheaper quote for bulk ship­ment.


42. Sufficiency (too / enough)

a) Stu­dents dis­cuss their col­lec­tive rea­sons for var­i­ous fail­ures in the past, such as not suc­ceed­ing in job inter­views. e.g. I guess I didn’t want the job badly enough; My Eng­lish wasn’t good enough; I talked too much about the wrong things …etc. Cheer this scene up by match­ing it with future res­o­lu­tions! Next time I will leave home early enough …

b) Get S’s to develop new employee instruc­tions for some care­fully con­trolled process or pro­ce­dure; e.g. You have to mix in just enough thin­ners. If you put in too much it won’t cover prop­erly …

c) S’s describe the cause of indus­trial fail­ures or acci­dents which are illus­trated in a page of thumb­nail sketches; e.g. The fork­lift turned the cor­ner too fast; There was not enough oil in the engine …


43. Analogy (just as ..so..; similar, like)

Anal­ogy and metaphor are prob­a­bly the main tools that we have for under­stand­ing and remem­ber­ing facts about the world. Their effec­tive­ness depends upon being colour­ful, or some­times even pro­fane. There is always a well-known reper­tiore of analo­gies and metaphors in any group, which says much about each sub-cul­ture. How­ever the related gram­mar of these forms is pretty con­stant.

Exam­ple of an anal­ogy:

That Chevvy goes like a bat out of hell.

Exam­ple of a metaphor: 

That man is a snake. Don’t trust him.


a) Analo­gies based on appear­ance are very com­mon.

Match a (scram­bled) list of com­po­nents or objects with their most likely analo­gies:


Hor­i­zon­tally opposed cylin­ders in engi­nes .. .. are shaped like a box
Off­set cylin­ders are in engi­nes … .. shaped like a Y or V

b) An unfa­mil­iar process is best explained by anal­ogy with a famil­iar process. Match the famil­iar process on the left with the unfa­mil­iar process on the right:


Just as the curve in a plane’s wing cre­ates a low pres­sure area which is made to do work,  so the curve in a car­bu­ret­tor bore cre­ates a low pres­sure area which is made to do work.
Just as a pot of water boils more quickly in the lower air pres­sure on a moun­tain­top so an unpres­sur­ized cool­ing sys­tem will boil more quickly in the lower air pres­sure on a moun­tain­top


The writ­ing process is both psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal. It involves many skills and abil­i­ties, includ­ing those of man­ag­ing tex­tual coher­ence and cohe­sion, as in the sec­tion to fol­low. By the time adults approach a sec­ond lan­guage, those who are lit­er­ate should have already mas­tered the main prin­ci­ples of effec­tive writ­ing in their first lan­guage. Unfor­tu­nately, this is fre­quently not the case. L2 ter­tiary stu­dents, espe­cially, may have to be per­suaded that learn­ing to write (and read!) flu­ently in their first lan­guage is both more use­ful and eas­ier as a first step than plung­ing almost illit­er­ate into a sec­ond lan­guage and expect­ing to mas­ter that in a term or two of for­eign class­room assign­ments. The activ­i­ties listed in this paper are only a small sam­ple from the many an alert writ­ing teacher can devise.


44. Combining sentences 

a) The teacher (out of class) takes a com­plex text and reduces it to a list of short sen­tences. These sen­tences will be pro­vided to the class.

b) The teacher sup­plies a kit of func­tional link terms (e.g. press­ing … allow­ing; forc­ing; as … which; at the same time… , which; admit­ting … and clos­ing; as; when … and; which … and). These are likely to be the link terms extracted from the orig­i­nal com­plex text.

=> Task: S’s must com­bine the short sen­tences using the link terms. The final texts pro­duced by stu­dents should be exam­ined care­fully for cohe­sion, coher­ence and style. It is impor­tant to explain any weak­nesses (from the point of view of Eng­lish lan­guage con­ven­tions), and to explore any cul­tural resis­tance to the teacher’s pre­ferred solu­tions. Prac­tice this kind of task until stu­dents are com­fort­able with the norms of Eng­lish writ­ten expres­sion.


45. Textual elaboration 

a) The teacher pro­vides i) a basic sum­mary text, and ii) a scram­bled assem­bly of sup­ple­men­tary infor­ma­tion. The teacher may also include some irrel­e­vant infor­ma­tion to com­pli­cate the exer­cise.

=> Task: The S’s must add the sup­ple­men­tary infor­ma­tion to the basic text selec­tively, insert­ing it in the cor­rect gram­mat­i­cal man­ner at appro­pri­ate points. Com­pare and dis­cuss out­comes.


46. Text summary 

The S’s extract a syn­op­sis from a detailed text. It is likely that the teacher will have to model this process a num­ber of times to famil­iar­ize stu­dents with how it is done. Such skills may also emerge from prac­tice in note tak­ing, or the con­struc­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion of dia­grams and sta­tis­ti­cal tables. 

Note: Teach­ers should make the pro­ce­dure cred­i­ble. Abstract exer­cises with­out a con­text will be for­got­ten by most stu­dents as soon as they leave the class­room. Build a nar­ra­tive. For exam­ple, you wish to put a pro­posal to a meet­ing, or you need to advise your boss on the pur­chase of a new engine. Your audi­ence does not want a fully detailed spec­i­fi­ca­tion, but rather an exec­u­tive sum­mary of the main points for dis­cus­sion and con­sid­er­a­tion. Tell a story like this in colour­ful detail before expect­ing stu­dents to put any enthu­si­asm into their sum­ma­riz­ing task.


47. Translation exercise 

Note: Tech­ni­cal translating/interpreting is a very prac­ti­cal skill often needed in many work­places. How­ever, effec­tive per­for­mance requires much prac­tice. Mono­lin­gual Eng­lish teach­ers are often quite igno­rant about the impor­tance of good translating/interpreting, and also at a loss about how to prac­tice it. A good humoured, coop­er­a­tive and rec­i­p­ro­cal rela­tion­ship with stu­dents helps a great deal in teach­ing skills like this. It is also one area where non-native teach­ers of Eng­lish can have a clear advan­tage.

a) S’s pre­pare a pro­ce­du­ral descrip­tion, oper­at­ing instruc­tions, design set etc. in their first lan­guage;

b) S’s present a) to a part­ner using Eng­lish;

c) the part­ner makes a ver­bal or writ­ten report on the first S’s pre­sen­ta­tion.


48. Report writing

Note: Few stu­dents are ever going to write a novel, but a large num­ber of them will need to write reports of var­i­ous kinds in their jobs. This is true even in many trades areas. Wherever there is a hier­ar­chy of respon­si­bil­i­ties, reports tend to be required. For the largest num­ber of stu­dents report writ­ing is there­fore likely to be the most sev­ere test of their lan­guage writ­ing skills. Their employ­ment and pro­mo­tion will partly depend on those skills. 

Stu­dents who have never worked for a liv­ing might have trou­ble under­stand­ing these require­ments. Teach­ers who have also spent their entire work­ing lives in class­rooms may also have lit­tle grasp of how the real indus­trial and com­mer­cial world works. After all, there are not many movies that show the hero writ­ing a work report. 

There­fore any study pro­gram which includes a seg­ment on report writ­ing should make time and oppor­tu­ni­ties for both teach­ers and stu­dents to engage with real world require­ments. This might be through actual work expe­ri­ence, vis­its, vis­i­tors, and so on. In any case, the teacher needs to con­struct nar­ra­tives which give a real­is­tic con­text to tasks like report writ­ing.

Task (sam­ple): S’s pre­pare a report or review of a par­tic­u­lar machine, vehi­cle, process, pro­posal or event. 

Exam­ple: jus­tify the pur­chase of one par­tic­u­lar vehi­cle to meet a func­tional pur­pose; e.g. ten­der for a police patrol car, inter­city semi-trailer, petro­leum geologist’s field vehi­cle etc. 

S’s should study a model report with its struc­ture and lay­out explained before attempt­ing this dif­fi­cult task. Coach­ing will be required on sub-skills such as para­graph writ­ing.




Stu­dents who become quite flu­ent in social Eng­lish might have con­sid­er­able trou­ble con­struct­ing log­i­cally orga­nized text. This is usu­ally less of an L2 prob­lem than of devel­op­ing a trained mind: their native Eng­lish speak­ing peers in tech­ni­cal col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have exactly the same devel­op­men­tal issues to over­come. Highly edu­cated L2 stu­dents, such as post­grad­u­ates, may have an extra dif­fi­culty: they often have to “unlearn” forms of tex­tual orga­ni­za­tion which are required in other cul­tures. For exam­ple, Eng­lish argu­men­ta­tion tends to be lin­ear, adding log­i­cal points to arrive at a con­clu­sion. By con­trast, many Asian tra­di­tions stress a form of spi­ral argu­men­ta­tion, cir­cling the topic with broad gen­er­al­iza­tions from accepted author­i­ties, then offer­ing a very nar­row con­clu­sion which might seem only loosely related to the pre­ced­ing con­tent.


49. Unscrambling language 

S’s are given some com­po­nents, plus a model, for assem­bling a coher­ent text: 

a) a set of scram­bled sen­tences or parar­graphs.

b) a kit of gram­mat­i­cal sequencers, con­nec­tives etc. ( e.g. and, but, or, because, in order to, then, after that …etc.)

c) a model for tex­tual orga­ni­za­tion. This might be :

i) a nar­ra­tive, even a fairy tale, or some story which every­one knows; OR 

ii) a famil­iar process, such as pay­ing with a credit card at a super­mar­ket check­out; OR

iii) an exploded dia­gram of a machine or process; OR 

iv) a flow­chart or some­thing sim­i­lar.


The task is to gen­er­ate a coher­ent text sim­i­lar to the model, and using the scram­bled sen­tences + the gram­mat­i­cal sequencers, con­nec­tives etc from the kit pro­vided. The task can be done as pair work, and the solu­tion pre­sented to the class. Dif­fer­ent groups may have dif­fer­ent kits, which can be cir­cu­lated when one task is achieved.


A num­ber of edu­ca­tional com­puter pro­grams allow users to prac­tice sim­i­lar orga­ni­za­tion elec­tron­i­cally. As a source, repair man­u­als offer very good train­ing for this kind of thing since they usu­ally con­tain num­bered dia­grams plus a care­fully orga­nized text explain­ing pro­ce­dures.


50. Creating language to follow a procedure

a) S’s are given a col­lec­tion of gram­mat­i­cal sequencers, con­nec­tives etc (e.g. but, or, and, because, in order to, then, after that, …etc.)

b) S’s are assigned to describe a process, or the assem­bly (or dis­as­sem­bly) of an object 


The task is to gen­er­ate a coher­ent and cohe­sive text or dia­logue from the topic + the gram­mat­i­cal words pro­vided.

Exam­ple: A very sim­ple exam­ple might be to con­struct instruc­tions for the assem­bly of a desk, or other piece of fur­ni­ture from a knocked-down kit. Dif­fer­ent groups may have dif­fer­ent kits, which can be cir­cu­lated for more prac­tice when the first task has been achieved.


51. Editing for textual coherence, cohesion, sequence and economy of expression

Teach­ers can eas­ily assem­ble many, many exam­ples of poorly orga­nized, inco­her­ent or vac­u­ous descrip­tion and expla­na­tion. A great amount of this trash is even avail­able from pub­lished sources, their authors and edi­tors appar­ently being unaware of their fail­ure! Depend­ing upon her par­tic­u­lar stu­dents and their level of Eng­lish, a teacher can offer selec­tions of mate­rial like this to her stu­dents for edit­ing. She will have to lead them step by step through the edit­ing pro­ce­dures before let­ting them loose on faulty mate­rial. Edit­ing instruc­tions can be gen­eral, but with inex­pe­ri­enced edi­tors it is best at first to have them seek out par­tic­u­lar prob­lems of gram­mar, orga­ni­za­tion or style.

Ratio­nale: Why is edit­ing prac­tice valu­able?

a) it teaches atten­tion to detail, which is crit­i­cal not only in com­pe­tent lan­guage use but also in the per­for­mance of many pro­fes­sions;

b) it teaches that writ­ing and speak­ing involve more than a stream of recall from the author. Lan­guage also involves a receiver, and if it is not tai­lored to the receiver then the mes­sage is lost. Proper edit­ing prac­tice forces stu­dents to focus on this com­mu­nica­tive skill; 

c) edit­ing prac­tice teaches that good ideas are rarely expressed in the most effec­tive way in a first draft. Every writer I know works through many drafts to achieve the effect he or she wants on read­ers.



Some peo­ple have strong visual apti­tudes. Some com­press their under­stand­ing eas­ily into num­bers, sta­tis­tics and tab­u­la­tion. Oth­ers absorb infor­ma­tion more read­ily from exten­sive text. Most orga­ni­za­tions con­tain peo­ple with such dif­fer­ent apti­tudes, yet much waste and fail­ure arises from the inabil­ity of these dif­fer­ent “tribes” to com­mu­ni­cate with each other. It is no acci­dent there­fore that tests for eval­u­at­ing lan­guage skills, such as IELTS or TOEFL, as well as gen­eral scholas­tic apti­tude tests, usu­ally require stu­dents to trans­late between tex­tual, visual and numeric codes. 

Teach­ers must take time to teach these skills, and where some stu­dents resist (as they will), per­suade them with real world nar­ra­tives from the work­place. Some stu­dents may require lit­tle coach­ing to trans­late between modes, but oth­ers may need to be led fairly gen­tly with many mod­eled exam­ples.


52. Diagram labels 

a) S’s draw a labeled dia­gram to illus­trate a text or table. For busi­ness stu­dents, this kind of con­tent can be extracted eas­ily from mag­a­zi­nes, news­pa­pers or busi­ness web­sites. The con­tent for, say, auto­mo­tive engi­neer­ing stu­dents will look very dif­fer­ent, but the con­cep­tual processes are the same. 

b) S’s copy a dia­gram, then label it with a list of pro­vided com­po­nent names. Exam­ples: the parts of a car engine; the weather cycle; the tasks from a project; the prepa­ra­tion of a wed­ding.


53. Text reconstruction 

S’s recon­struct a text from a labeled dia­gram, table or graph. This is the reverse of item 52. The main prob­lem to watch is that the recon­structed text must form a cohe­sive and coher­ent whole. It should not be just a col­lec­tion of unre­lated sen­tences.

54. Tabulation

S’s tab­u­late or graph infor­ma­tion from a text. Since tab­u­la­tion requires num­bers, the text should ide­ally be one which quotes num­bers in a fairly sys­tem­atic way. A more sub­tle form of this exer­cise is a text which requires stu­dents to cal­cu­late or infer num­bers before they can actu­ally be inserted into the tab­u­la­tion.



Read­ing, like writ­ing, is a com­plex process which requires much more than an ele­men­tary knowl­edge of vocab­u­lary and gram­mar to be per­formed use­fully.

A rel­a­tively small part of any pop­u­la­tion reads exten­sively, even in their first lan­guage. The def­i­n­i­tion of “func­tional lit­er­acy” is fuzzy and con­tested, but lit­er­acy spe­cial­ists are aware that up to amost half the pop­u­la­tions in advanced OECD coun­tries (let alone devel­op­ing coun­tries) have trou­ble with sim­ple lit­er­acy tasks like read­ing the instruc­tions on a med­i­cine bot­tle or decod­ing a train timetable. 

The over­whelm­ing major­ity of peo­ple in prison every­where are illit­er­ate or quasi-lit­er­ate. Work­ing on a high cir­cu­la­tion tabloid news­pa­per once, I was instructed to write for a read­ing age of 11 years. Most people’s lit­er­acy decli­nes after the age of 14 years (when sex etc becomes a dis­trac­tion).

Advanced lit­er­acy is rare. Only a tiny per­cent­age can prop­erly com­pare two news­pa­per edi­to­ri­als. Con­se­quently, a large num­ber of stu­dents learn­ing Eng­lish in any class are likely to have had lit­tle prac­tice in exten­sive read­ing in their first lan­guage. Sadly this is true even of ter­tiary stu­dents. We know that even of those L2 stu­dents who do man­age to grad­u­ate fom an Eng­lish lan­guage insti­tu­tion, few will ever read Eng­lish doc­u­ments again unless they are absolutely required to. 

Indeed, few Eng­lish teach­ers them­selves are really aware of how scarce advanced lit­er­acy is in their own cul­ture, or in the cul­tures of stu­dents now learn­ing Eng­lish. There is no quick and easy fix for the world­wide prob­lems of lit­er­acy, though we can work to raise aware­ness (it is much cheaper to advance a person’s lit­er­acy than to keep them in prison). 

In the imme­di­ate and prac­ti­cal envi­ron­ment of a class­room, the teacher needs to be aware that the skills he thinks he is teach­ing will reg­is­ter in the minds of his stu­dents in ways quite dif­fer­ent from what he assumes. 

The activ­i­ties listed here are a small col­lec­tion from a large field of pos­si­bil­i­ties.


55. Skim reading for main ideas 

Effec­tive skim read­ing requires con­scious effort and tech­nique. Classs­room activ­i­ties should be designed to sharpen the fol­low­ing skills:

a) Read­ing with an explicit pur­pose, as pre­cisely as pos­si­ble. Encour­age stu­dents to make a very quick point list of search ques­tions before they begin to read. 

b) Tak­ing advan­tage of the tex­tual orga­ni­za­tion of mate­rial to short­cut what is read at all. For exam­ple, most writ­ers are for­mu­laic in their orga­ni­za­tion of para­graphs. Thus typ­i­cally (but not always) the first sen­tence in a para­graph may set the topic or argu­ment for what is to fol­low. This makes it easy for a reader who is skim­ming for main ideas. On the other hand, in some styles the writer does not arrive at a sum­ma­riz­ing state­ment until the end of a para­graph.

Sam­ple tasks:

i) Choose a sport which you know. Imag­ine you are a coach and your team is suf­fer­ing too many injuries. You want to scan a book on sports med­i­cine to find some hints. Make a short point list of ques­tions about injury you will be try­ing to answer as you scan the book.

ii) The teacher pro­vides a set of brief para­graph head­ings, scram­bled. S’s must skim read within a time limit to find the para­graphs to which the head­ings apply.

iii) The class is divided into teams who com­pete to find infor­ma­tion from a cho­sen text. The win­ning team should explain their tech­nique to the class. 


56. Scanning for specific detail 

In many occu­pa­tions it is nec­es­sary to find speci­fic infor­ma­tion quickly from a mass of mate­rial. The search func­tion of elec­tronic mate­rial is a gift for this. Printed text may be hand­ily orga­nized in alpha­bet­i­cal order (a tele­phone book), with indexes, tables and so on. Some text how­ever may offer none of these aids. The rea­son we pay lawyers (for exam­ple) is not for them to know thou­sands of pages of legal code, but for their skill in ask­ing the right ques­tions and locat­ing the rel­e­vant answers quickly. One of the main skills learned in a ter­tiary edu­ca­tion, hope­fully, is exactly this kind of skill applied to a par­tic­u­lar pro­fes­sion. Stu­dents learn­ing a sec­ond lan­guage might or might not have a back­ground in exer­cis­ing such skills. If not, they will have to be taught through a series of read­ing tasks of increas­ing dif­fi­culty. Even for skilled pro­fes­sion­als, scan­ning for speci­fic detail in L2 is an activ­ity vehi­cle which will give them much needed prac­tice in the lan­guage.

Sam­ple tasks:

i) Within a time limit, S’s scan a text, table, flow chart or graph for speci­fic infor­ma­tion to achieve a defined end; e.g. “find the parts which reg­u­late the oil pres­sure”, or ” find a mate­rial which is soft, duc­tile and mal­leable”.

ii) A client wants to know which of sev­eral options will get his goods to cus­tomers at the low­est cost, fastest, with the least legal risk to him. The teacher will need to have sev­eral doc­u­ments avail­able which set out alter­na­tives, with their advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. Role play the client and the con­sul­tant (who is to scan the doc­u­ments) within a time limit. 


57. Comprehension of fact and inference

In life there are con­crete facts which seem fairly cer­tain (“I am sit­ting on a chair”), there are things we come to accept as fac­tual through expe­ri­ence (“My hand will be burnt if I put it on a hot stove”), there are things which we accept as facts because they are stated by author­i­ties (“The doc­tor says Mr Jones has can­cer”; “The speed of light is 299,792,458 metres per sec­ond”). Accept­ing facts accord­ing to author­ity requires a cer­tain kind of faith, and peo­ple vary in their will­ing­ness to extend that faith. Some peo­ple also extend faith to a reli­gious con­text or ide­ol­ogy, and thus widen their domain of accept­able facts. Depend­ing upon the source of facts, and their accep­tance by any given indi­vid­ual, dif­fer­ent strengths of infer­ence might be drawn from the facts. Not sur­pris­ingly then, peo­ple argue end­lessly about the con­clu­sions they infer from “facts”.

What does all of this have to do with lan­guage learn­ing? Quite a lot. Because peo­ple do argue about fact, infer­ence and con­clu­sion, every lan­guage con­tains mech­a­nisms for dis­cussing these things, and cul­tural rules about how they can be dis­cussed.

A teacher of stu­dents learn­ing Eng­lish can­not assume that stu­dents are alert either to the mech­a­nisms in Eng­lish for such dis­cus­sions, or the cul­tural rules apply­ing to them. Igno­rance may result merely in social embar­rass­ment, or it may actu­ally dis­qual­ify stu­dents from cer­tain jobs or areas of ter­tiary study. 

The meth­ods and sophis­ti­ca­tion for teach­ing these mat­ters will depend upon the learn­ing con­text, the per­son­al­ity of the teacher, and the needs of the stu­dents. The exam­ples to fol­low are just a cou­ple of brief illus­tra­tions.

a) S’s read a text then label a set of related state­ments true or false accord­ing to what they have read in the text. The sim­plest form of this exer­cise is the direct match­ing of facts (e.g. The writer says that brake fluid should be changed at least every two years). A more dif­fi­cult exer­cise requires the draw­ing of likely infer­ences (e.g. brake fluid dete­ri­o­rates over time [this not being directly stated in the text]).

b) The teacher makes a col­lec­tion of com­mer­cial mate­rial which claims to draw valid infer­ences from solid facts. Large amounts of decep­tive adver­tis­ing are avail­able on any sub­ject which touches people’s inse­cu­ri­ties, ambi­tions, hopes and vices. Col­lect schemes to “make money eas­ily”, “work from home”, “lose weight in X amount of time”, “invest for unmatched returns”, “learn a lan­guage in 3 months” … and so on. Doc­u­ments such as this are rich fields for lan­guage learn­ers to take apart in a class­room, and have fun while doing so. The stu­dents of course can also con­struct their own get rich schemes and learn plenty of infer­en­tial lan­guage in the process. 


58. Information synthesis 

As with item 57 (fact and infer­ence) the skills required for infor­ma­tion syn­the­sis are not speci­fic L2 learn­ers of Eng­lish, but the lan­guage tools in Eng­lish needed to syn­the­size infor­ma­tion become impor­tant for stu­dents socially, espe­cially those enter­ing pro­fes­sional roles. 

Sam­ple tasks:

a) Use these phrases to com­bine ideas and pro­duce an out­come: / I won­der what would hap­pen if we put X with Y / On the Inter­net look for search terms related to “inno­va­tion” and “Aus­tralia”, then write a short report on what you learn / When I thought about X, I real­ized Y / Over the last 10 years Y has hap­pened. This means that X / We inter­viewed 300 peo­ple about X and con­cluded Y / 

b) Assign S’s to indi­vid­u­ally find infor­ma­tion in a text, then report back to a part­ner or group to achieve a fur­ther sequen­tial task; e.g. A finds a mate­rial which is X; B finds a mate­rial which is Y; A & B then find, say, a suit­able adhe­sive to lam­i­nate X to Y.


59. Technical error correction

Tech­ni­cal error cor­rec­tion is a daily expe­ri­ence in many pro­fes­sions (and of course lan­guage teach­ers are always look­ing for “lan­guage errors”). From a lan­guage learn­ing per­spec­tive, the skills to learn here are: 

i) lan­guage to describe the actual error(s);

ii) lan­guage to describe cor­rec­tive action; 

iii) lan­guage to describe avoid­ing such prob­lems in the future; 

iv) lan­guage to con­trol the polite­ness level and inter­per­sonal rela­tion­ships when errors occur. 

The social lan­guage in iv) is often the most dif­fi­cult to man­age appro­pri­ately since it varies with gen­der, social sta­tus, the kind of job involved, whether the stakes are high or not, the hon­esty and cul­tural pat­terns of the inter­locu­tors, and so on. 

For exam­ple, exces­sive polite­ness among men might some­times be taken as a sign of insin­cer­ity; blunt accu­sa­tion of an error might be accepted as nor­mal in same sex sit­u­a­tions but (some­times) be mis­in­ter­preted as sex­ism in cross-gen­der sit­u­a­tions; a poor use of modal verbs by an L2 speaker of Eng­lish might be decoded as extreme rude­ness.

It is impos­si­ble to cover all of these sit­u­a­tions in a class­room (even when the teacher is aware of them), but stu­dents can be for­warned to be alert and flex­i­ble through per­sonal nar­ra­tives and some timely exer­cises or role plays. 

Sam­ple exer­cises:

a) S’s find the errors in a pro­ce­du­ral descrip­tion, table, graph or labeled dia­gram. This can be com­pet­i­tive. A spokesper­son for each stu­dent group must then describe the nature of the error(s), to the class, and a proper rem­edy. The teacher needs to care­fully mon­i­tor and coach the lan­guage used resolve these sit­u­a­tions (since such lan­guage is the real point of the exer­cise). For exam­ple: “If we look at the fifth row in the sec­ond column of the table, we can see that this cell has been wrongly cal­cu­lated. When I checked the for­mula, I found that items had been added instead of sub­tracted …”

b) S’s role play a sit­u­a­tion where there has been a seri­ous pro­fes­sional error, or series of errors. 


i) an air­port man­ager is con­cerned because many flights are not depart­ing on time; 

ii) a patient dies because of a com­mu­ni­ca­tion error between an anaes­thetist and a nurse; 

iii) a mechanic for­gets to re-tighten the bolts on an engine block head, caus­ing a gas­ket fail­ure.

The point of these role plays is not only to describe the errors to another party, but to man­age the social level of lan­guage with which this is done. There is a real learn­ing advan­tage in video­ing role plays like this, if pos­si­ble, so that the lan­guage can be reviewed, dis­cussed, and the role play done again. 



60. System analysis #1

After review­ing real or sim­u­lated exam­ples of per­for­mance in pro­fes­sional sit­u­a­tions, S’s analyse a com­plex sys­tem (e.g. a refrig­er­a­tion unit) in a series of steps:

a) make a list of actions/processes per­formed (e.g. on the refrig­er­ant gas); 

b) make a list of the results of the actions/processes;

c) match the items in a) with the items in b), per­haps in a table; 

d) state c) as a set of causative sen­tences (e.g. when the com­pres­sor com­presses the gas, its tem­per­a­ture rises”). 

Note: a) and b) may be done by the teacher in some instances, or S’s in oth­ers. If done by the teacher, rela­tion­ships can be scram­bled to facil­i­tate c) as an exer­cise. a) may be stated in syn­tac­tic pas­sive form.


61. System analysis #2

a) One set of S’s list actions/processes in a sys­tem. The sys­tem may be entirely tech­ni­cal, or sim­ply a set of well-reg­u­lated pro­ce­dures in daily liv­ing.


A traf­fic offi­cer mon­i­tors the traf­fic stream / if a vehi­cle com­mits an offence, that vehi­cle is ordered to pull over / the dri­ver must show his dri­ving licence / the traf­fic offi­cer will explain the offence / the dri­ver will offer any ver­bal defence / the traf­fic offi­cer will explain the penalty / the traf­fic offi­cer will issue a traf­fic vio­la­tion notice).

b) A sec­ond group of S’s list out­comes.


Dri­vers must com­ply with the road traf­fic rules / the dri­ver of an offend­ing vehi­cle must pull over / the dri­ver must pro­duce his dri­ving licence promptly / the dri­ver must lis­ten politely to the traf­fic offi­cer and not engage in argu­ment / … etc)

c) Group a) and group b) must com­bine their find­ings to pro­duce cause & effect state­ments.


A traf­fic offi­cer mon­i­tors the traf­fic stream TO ENSURE THAT [or TO CHECK THAT] dri­vers com­ply with the road traf­fic rules. / IF a vehi­cle com­mits an offence, THEN that vehi­cle is ordered to pull over AND the dri­ver of an offend­ing vehi­cle must pull over. / The dri­ver must show his dri­ving licence, SO he will pro­duce it promptly [OR face sev­ere penalties.. ] / WHILE the traf­fic offi­cer IS explain­ING the offence, the dri­ver must lis­ten politely to the traf­fic offi­cer and not engage in argu­ment / … etc. 

d) When the sys­tem analy­sis is com­plex and tech­ni­cal, S’s will need to re-check if the totals of actions and out­comes do not match.


62. Technical argument 

Com­pet­ing teams of stu­dents are given alter­nate but func­tion­ally equiv­a­lent designs for a machine, process or tech­nique (e.g. a cool­ing fan dri­ven by a crank­shaft pul­ley Vs an elec­tric fan). 


a) S’s must per­suade an adju­di­ca­tor that their ver­sion is supe­rior, tech­ni­cally and/or eco­nom­i­cally.

b) Each team will have to do some research and learn­ing before pre­sen­ta­tion, and care­fully con­sider pos­si­ble coun­ter-argu­ments.

c) Detailed argu­ments before the adju­di­ca­tor may be nec­es­sary, since the fine points of a case will be unknown to other par­ties at the out­set.

d) The teacher can toss a coin to see which team is to defend which design.


63. Technical description 

Com­pet­ing teams are asigned unre­lated, sim­ple machi­nes (actual or dia­grams) to exam­ine.


a) S’s com­pete to provide the most lucid and com­pre­hen­sive descrip­tion of the oper­a­tion and oper­at­ing prin­ci­ples behind each machine. If this is a project, their pre­sen­ta­tion may include dia­grams, Pow­er­Point slides etc, which will also be eval­u­ated for rel­e­vance.

b) Key ques­tions for eval­u­a­tion:

i) What job does it do?; 

ii) How does it do it? 

iii) What tech­ni­cal prob­lems must be solved to do the job? 

iv) Which prin­ci­ples are employed to solve the prob­lems (e.g. lever­age, fluid pres­sure, seal­ing tech­niques, sur­face ten­sion etc.)?


64. Technical innovation 

Com­pet­ing teams are given the same mate­ri­als, mech­a­nisms and tools to work with. The sophis­ti­ca­tion of the work­ing mate­ri­als here can range from the very sim­ple, as say found in a rural vil­lage, to the most com­plex imag­in­able, such as the devel­op­men­tal lab­o­ra­tory of an elec­tron­ics com­pany. This depends entirely upon the nature of the stu­dents and the abil­i­ties of the teacher. 


a) S’s devise the max­i­mum num­ber of viable appli­ca­tions with these resources within a time frame. 

b) The mate­ri­als etc. may be either actual or imag­i­nary.

c) Since this is a lan­guage learn­ing class, the empha­sis is not only on inno­va­tion, but also the logic, flu­ency and clar­ity with which stu­dents can present their cre­ations. The stan­dard of descrip­tion needed for each inno­va­tion can be mod­i­fied for par­tic­u­lar classes.

Note: This kind of “inno­va­tion exer­cise” has become famous as stan­dard pro­ce­dure in train­ing for “lat­eral think­ing” of the kind first pop­u­lar­ized by the man­age­ment con­sul­tant and writer, Edward deBono. For exam­ple, deBono’s clients were often given a small col­lec­tion of com­mon items, for exam­ple paper clips, rub­ber bands, match sticks etc, and asked how many uses they could devise for them. 

An exten­sion from using phys­i­cal items is the kind of “thought exper­i­ment” used by Albert Ein­stein to explain the physics of rel­a­tiv­ity. Explor­ing the notion of lat­eral think­ing itself is a very use­ful and inter­est­ing addi­tion to the nor­mal activ­i­ties of a lan­guage class. (Stu­dents can research terms like “lat­eral think­ing” and “thought exper­i­ments” on the Inter­net, if they have access to it).


65. Resource search 

Dif­fer­ent stu­dents are given com­pli­men­tary mate­ri­als and/or tools. Within the class­room con­text, this “resource search” is essen­tially a com­mu­nica­tive activ­ity, whose lan­guage value will turn upon the readi­ness of stu­dents to enquire, nego­ti­ate and coop­er­ate.


a) S’s must find other S’s who can com­bine their resources to gen­er­ate the max­i­mum num­ber (or even one) viable appli­ca­tion.

b) Resources for sev­eral appli­ca­tions will be dis­trib­uted simul­ta­ne­ously, but the teacher will name none of them. 

c) Actual resources dis­trib­uted and their appli­ca­tions can be (and prob­a­bly will be) sym­bolic only (names, dia­grams etc.). For exam­ple, the con­stituents of a lead-acid bat­tery and a zinc-dip­ping unit might be dis­trib­uted ran­domly amongst S’s.

d) The final­iza­tion of the activ­ity will come with groups of stu­dents orga­niz­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion and expla­na­tion of their achieve­ment to the class as a whole. The kind of lan­guage this will require will mostly be in the PAST TENSE with a care­ful use of sequenc­ing con­nec­tives and log­i­cal rea­son­ing.


66. Technical development 

S’s in groups com­pare descrip­tions, illus­tra­tions or realia of early and late model ver­sions of a machine, com­po­nent, pro­ce­dure, tech­nique, com­puter pro­gram or pub­li­ca­tion. This might be a project type activ­ity with most resources col­lected out of class.


a) Iden­tify the gains, losses, com­pro­mises in func­tion­al­ity, design ele­gance, pro­duc­tion cost, ser­vice­abil­ity, dura­bil­ity, weight, size .. etc. 

b) Find the rea­sons (if any) for mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

c) Con­trast adver­tised claims for changes with the real­ity.


67. Technical analysis 

Pairs of S’s are given a small machine (e.g. a tap, per­haps a car­bu­ret­tor) to dis­as­sem­ble and reassem­ble. Spe­cial­ized pro­fes­sional stu­dents might work with some item com­mon to their pro­fes­sion – say some com­puter code, a spe­cial­ized gar­ment etc.


a) Tab­u­late a descrip­tion of each com­po­nent by func­tion / type of mate­rial / shape / dimen­sions / weight (i.e. S’s will have to weigh and mea­sure) / .. or what­ever other fea­tures dis­tin­guish com­po­nents from the whole . 

b) The task can be speed com­pet­i­tive, with points deducted for inac­cu­racy and omis­sions.


68. Design

Design” is a com­plex idea which can have many mean­ings, depend­ing upon the pur­pose at hand. In this con­text of lan­guage learn­ing, the “design” exer­cise is mostly a vehi­cle for the lan­guage gain which can come from dis­cus­sion amongst S’s.


a) The teacher gives S’s a list of objects / oper­a­tional actions and/or out­comes, scram­bled. For exam­ple, there may be an imag­i­nary truck­load of dis­as­sem­bled irri­ga­tion pipes / a pump / var­i­ous tools / a half acre of crops / a water source such as a nearby river / some water use reg­u­la­tions / some alter­na­tive lay­outs for the irri­ga­tion since the land is not flat …. 

b) S’s must design a machine, a build­ing, a land use design, a process … etc (prob­a­bly through a series of labeled dia­grams) to per­form the oper­a­tion.

d) The clos­ing activ­ity will come with groups of stu­dents orga­niz­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion and expla­na­tion of their choices to the class as a whole. 


69. Process completion 

This exer­cise can be done with stu­dents of almost any back­ground, and with the right kind of process, even with chil­dren.

The teacher gives S’s the first and final steps in a process, then says there are (for exam­ple) six steps in between. 

Exam­ples: the steps in a cook­ing recipe / the steps in cut­ting hair / the steps in apply­ing for a job or school place / the steps in dis­man­tling an elec­tri­cal appli­ance / …


a) S’s com­pete to find the six steps. Points are taken off for wrong sug­ges­tions.

b) The stu­dents have to jus­tify their choice of steps.


70. Technical Problem solving 

The teacher poses a tech­ni­cal prob­lem and S’s work in pairs to devise a solu­tion, which may be math­e­mat­i­cal or ver­bal.

Choice of Lan­guage:

Much of the value of prob­lem solv­ing as a lan­guage exer­cise comes from nego­ti­a­tion between stu­dents. There­fore care should be taken to ensure that they use Eng­lish, not their L1. For exam­ple, turn on the recorder of a mobile phone and leave it run­ning on their desk while you attend to other stu­dents. “Being lis­tened to” is a strong dis­in­cen­tive to switch­ing back to L1


a) Answers should be as detailed as pos­si­ble.

b) Ver­bal or tex­tual responses should con­tain the appro­pri­ate modal verbs; (e.g. you could sup­port the engine with a jack; you would have to remove X before you did Z…). 

Exam­ples of prac­ti­cal prob­lems (auto­mo­tive exam­ples):

<> The fan belt breaks 50km from a garage.

<> Air keeps get­ting into the fuel line.

<> A hydraulic bleed nip­ple shears off when you try to open it.

<> Cal­cu­late the bat­tery drain when you leave your car head­lights on.


71. Reward & punishment game

The teacher devises a board game, such as of “Snakes and Lad­ders”, where S’s can avoid pun­ish­ment or claim a reward by giv­ing cred­i­ble solu­tions to tech­ni­cal prob­lems (on cards) or giv­ing def­i­n­i­tions or cal­cu­lat­ing a value etc.




72. Sound profiles 

The teacher col­lects a library of sound pro­files. Exam­ples: the sound of run­ning engi­nes in var­i­ous con­di­tions / types of dog barks / gui­tar chords in and out of tune / voices in dif­fer­ent emo­tional states / ….

Objec­tive: The lan­guage point of projects like “Sound Pro­files” is to match some aspect of the envi­ron­ment, or a job or hobby etc. with the Eng­lish lan­guage. That is lan­guage (Eng­lish in this case) becomes the cur­rency amongst stu­dents in deal­ing with the topic. 

Tasks (exam­pled) :

a) S’s are asked to match recorded noises with a table of, for exam­ple, engine faults. 

b) S’s then have to ver­bal­ize descrip­tions of par­tic­u­lar sounds, and explain the tape / table match­ing.


73. Audio project 

Note that most stu­dents now have access to a mobile phone, which almost invari­ably include a recorder.


a) S’s record per­sonal col­lec­tions of sounds about a theme.

b) S’s com­pete to iden­tify the sound sets col­lected by peers; (the teacher will give an ini­tial model response); 

c) Every S must describe his sounds, where they occur, how they are made, and the effect they have on the sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment.


74. Photographic project 

It is impor­tant that this project be taken from life rather than copied from a book. It may be com­pet­i­tive. Some S’s will need coach­ing in pho­to­graphic tech­nique.


a) S’s pho­tograph the stages of an indus­trial process, mechan­i­cal repair, an event etc.

b) S’s develop a col­lage with cap­tions to illus­trate the topic.

c) S’s give an illus­trated talk on the topic.


75. Survey #1

Sur­veys come in an almost infinite num­ber of designs for many dif­fer­ent pur­poses. The pur­pose of sur­veys in a lan­guage pro­gram is not to con­duct a course in non para­met­ric sta­tis­tics! Rather, sur­veys cre­ate an oppor­tu­nity to prac­tice lan­guage in a sys­tem­atic but fairly socia­ble man­ner.


S’s do a mini-sur­vey of tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence in the com­mu­nity.

Exam­ples: What per­cent­age of peo­ple can …

i) Adjust a dig­i­tal watch

ii) Pro­gram a video recorder

iii) Fix a leaky tap

iv) Tune a car­bu­re­tor

v) Explain what is actu­ally meant by a “2000cc OHV engine” … etc. ? 


a) S’s need to nego­ti­ate a suit­able reper­toire of ques­tions, and how they will be eval­u­ated.

b) Sur­veys need to be designed care­fully, com­piled, analysed, and per­haps have illus­tra­tions or graphs added. The teacher her­self is likely to ben­e­fit from a lit­tle back­ground research on how to cre­ate sur­veys.

Out­come: The final out­come will be a pre­sen­ta­tion to the class, orally, in writ­ing, or both.


76. Survey #2


S’s do an atti­tude sur­vey on a vari­ety of social ques­tions relat­ing to tech­nol­ogy.


a) How many peo­ple are ashamed / proud of / indif­fer­ent to their tech­ni­cal abil­ity? Why? 

b) Is tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence learned or inherited? What is the evi­dence?

c) Are plumbers respected more or less than clerks? Why? … etc.

77. Survey #3


S’s do a mini sur­vey on the rea­sons that peo­ple work. 


S’s need to nego­ti­ate and a suit­able reper­toire of ques­tions, and how they will be eval­u­ated.


The teacher invites S’s to relate the sur­vey responses to their own career choices and decide whether their selec­tion has been ratio­nal.



78. Job search 


The teacher devises or bor­rows a selec­tion test for a par­tic­u­lar job. S’s are coached in appro­pri­ate responses, then tested to see if they “get an inter­view”. The “job search” pro­ce­dure in lan­guage learn­ing can be very sim­ple, or it can be com­pli­cated end­lessly with all sorts of cri­te­ria, depend­ing upon the lan­guage level of the stu­dents and their needs. 


79. Industrial relations problems 


The teacher researches and com­piles a library of actual com­mu­ni­ca­tion, indus­trial rela­tions, and health & safety prob­lems that have arisen in named enter­prises. In many cases teach­ers them­selves are poorly informed about indus­trial rela­tions issues, so it is a good teacher learn­ing exer­cise to con­sult with real indus­try sources them­selves, and also of course with stu­dents who have expe­ri­enced indus­trial con­di­tions.


The prob­lems are struc­tured as role play sets (with char­ac­ter descrip­tion cards) for stu­dents to dis­cuss and resolve. 


a) Com­pare S out­comes with the out­comes achieved in the actual sit­u­a­tions.

b) Explore the rea­sons for these dif­fer­ent out­comes (if any).


80. Negotiation

Nego­ti­a­tion is a crit­i­cal lan­guage skill. It may range from bar­gain­ing in a pro­duce mar­ket, to inter­per­sonal gen­der rela­tion­ships, to nego­ti­at­ing an employ­ment con­tract, to the inter­minable nego­ti­a­tions which gov­ern the rela­tion­ships between coun­tries.

Depend­ing upon their cul­tural ori­gins, stu­dents may vary greatly in their past expo­sure to the psy­chol­ogy and lan­guage of nego­ti­a­tion. There will also be crit­i­cal dif­fer­ences between those cul­tures where “face” (pub­lic respect) is crit­i­cal, and those which value direct­ness, even at the cost of some fric­tion.

Before under­tak­ing a learn­ing project which involves the lan­guage of nego­ti­a­tion, teach­ers need to explore these cul­tural dif­fer­ences with stu­dents, being sen­si­tive but per­sis­tent. Nego­ti­a­tion in real life, or in class­room sim­u­la­tion, will not suc­ceed until all par­ties are pre­pared to accept that nego­ti­a­tion involves adjust­ments not sim­ply on the issue in con­tention (such as a salary), but also in cul­tural style.

Prepa­ra­tion (sam­ple nego­ti­a­tion sit­u­a­tion):

Note that this sim­u­la­tion may be rel­a­tively sim­ple or extremely elab­o­rate. It should be as real­is­tic as pos­si­ble. Obvi­ously, very care­ful prepa­ra­tion of realia, and some pre-teach­ing is required.

a) Team X has the spec­i­fi­ca­tions for a ten­der being put out by their com­pany. This may be for equip­ment, machin­ery, mate­ri­als, vehi­cles, a ser­vice, or for the com­ple­tion of a project such as a road or build­ing con­struc­tion.

b) Team Y has spec­i­fi­ca­tions for a range of prod­ucts or ser­vices which they can com­bine in var­i­ous ways to meet the needs of team X. 

c) Team Z, like team Y, has a range of goods and ser­vices on offer. 


a) Teams Y and Z must com­pete to nego­ti­ate with team X to match ten­der require­ments with the best avail­able pro­duct or ser­vice at rea­son­able cost. 

b) Team X may be per­suaded in some cases to mod­ify their require­ments, but both Y & X par­ties must be given a chance to resub­mit if this hap­pens.


WHAT NEXT?: Eighty things to do with stu­dents learn­ing Eng­lish
© Thor May 2012 all rights reserved 

Bio: Thor May’s PhD dis­ser­ta­tion, Lan­guage Tan­gle, dealt with lan­guage teach­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity. Thor has been teach­ing Eng­lish to non-native speak­ers, train­ing teach­ers and lec­tur­ing lin­guis­tics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven coun­tries in Ocea­nia and East Asia, mostly with ter­tiary stu­dents, but with a cou­ple of detours to teach sec­ondary stu­dents and young chil­dren. He has trained teach­ers in Aus­tralia, Fiji and South Korea. Many of his papers, essays and sto­ries may be seen on his web­site at http://thormay.net ; e-mail thormay@yahoo.com .

return to Home Page  || return to index of Teach­ing Method­ol­ogy and Cri­tique



This entry was posted in Grammar, Language learning, Language teaching, Linguistics, method. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply