Friday, 26 October 2012


LEVEL: Upper Intermediate – Advanced
LANGUAGE TYPE: adults, business English
LANGUAGE FUNCTIONS: discussing consequences of past actions, describing failure
POSSIBLE STRUCTURES: third conditional

TIME: 3 hours


 IMPORTANT NOTE: BE SURE to have students notice the sexism of some of the quotes, and explain that fortunately this is no longer acceptable in modern English. Have students suggest non-sexist versions!

This can be used creatively and dynamically in a number of ways which I will discuss in a future post.For now, I give 2 suggestions.

Small class:

  • Cut the worksheet into columns, and give each student a column A, B, or C
  • Give them time to decide which of their quotes they prefer
  • Have them mingle and discuss different quotes with each other
  •  Finish with a brief discussion as a whole group.

Large class:

  • Make two copies of the quote sheet. If you have for example 16 students, choose just 8 quotes, so there will be 2 students with the same quote.
  • Have students randomly select a quote.
  • Give students time to mingle and discuss each other’s quotes. They may help each other to decide what they mean, which they prefer and so forth.
  • After 5 minutes or so, call time.
  • Ask students to find the person with the same quote. This will be their partner for the coming part of the class.
  • Give them 5 minutes to write a list of as many (paraphrased) quotes as they can recall
  • Call time and have the pairs count how many quotes they recalled. Have the winning group read out their quotes to be written on the board.
  • Pairs discuss what their own quote means and which of all they like best and why.
  • Have a reporting session.


Write on the board “DAY FOR FAILURE”.
Ask Ss what they think this might be, and why it might be celebrated.

Tell them they are about to watch a video made in Finland by the group DAYFORFAILURE.COM

Before watching, write the following language on the board;
“huge disgrace” “utter crap” “throw in the towel” “a flop”
Discuss in pairs and then as a whole group what the different phrases mean.
Tell Ss to watch the video and be ready to explain

  1. When THE DAY FOR FAILURE is celebrated?
  2. How it is celebrated?
  3. Why it is celebrated?
  4. How is the following phrase completed: “Remember, if you’ve never failed.....”

 DISCUSS answers to the above and the questions
·         Do you agree it’s a good idea to celebrate failure?
·         Why do you think there is this movement in the very successful country of Finland, specifically sponsored by entreprenneurial business groups?

      Watch the following short video, (selecting CC in English) and have students discuss WHAT the failures are and WHAT the LESSONS learned are.

PART THREE: Reflection and Discussion

  • You might start by sharing one of your own experiences when you failed at something, but learned important lessons which helped you to grow.  
  • Give students some time to think about a similar occasion they don’t mind sharing with the group. Have them write a few notes about when, where, why and how they failed, what they learned and how they benefited from the experience.
  • Have them share their experiences in pairs or small groups.

PART FOUR: Reading: Mistakes in Business

OK, so to some extent we have come to a position where we have ‘celebrated’ some of our mistakes.

But what about when mistakes are made at work? Should work mistakes be celebrated?

An excellent free downloadable reading is available on the very useful website Business English Pod, here:

PRE-READING: Reading subskill: skimming for information:
Tell students you will give them a reading about a very expensive work mistake. 

They will have only 45 seconds to identify

  1. What mistake was made?
  2. How expensive was it?
  3. What were the consequences for the makers of the mistake?
·         Call time.

  • ·         Students read the article silently for comprehension and to check their previous answers. 
  •       Ask them to notice the words and phrases in bold print, and to try to come up with alternate phrases for them.
After this, particularly in a small group, it can be a good opportunity to have students practice reading aloud, with drilling for pronunciation of difficult sounds and words. (Remember to never have students read aloud without first reading silently for comprehension; even in a first language reading aloud calls for so much concentration on the mechanics of the process little is left over for comprehension.)
  • ·         Discuss vocabulary and students ideas without giving answers.
  •        Hand out strips from the vocabulary explanations, having previously folded under the original and the examples, leaving only the synonymous phrases. Have students match them with the vocabulary in bold type.

FURTHER ACTIVITIES you might develop:

  • Use this vocabulary  - plus other new vocabulary - in an INSTANT TABLETOP BOARD GAME
  • Discuss what might have been the consequences for the person who made the typing mistake.
  • Discuss what students would do if they were 
    • a) the person who made the mistake
    • b) the boss of the person who made the typing mistake 
    • c) the company owner.
          • Develop a roleplay based on this situation
          • Have students write letters of apology to the affected people from the points of view. It might be helpful to look at examples of template apology letters such as those here or here.

Depending on your students and the types of skills they enjoy or need to work on, there are many places you might take the class next.

If you have any further ideas, please share!

I hope you enjoy the lesson!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

more free training from the comfort of your own home!

Macmillan once again are offering their excellent Online Conference, featuring many TESL greats.

you can register and see the details of the speakers here.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Working with Frustrated - and Frustrating! - Students

Public Domain Image by Petr Kratochvil at
I have worked with literally hundreds of students, but I have never found any as frustrating, as challenging to my teaching skills as my own daughter

I write this in recovery mode from the recent -often harrowing - but ultimately satisfactory experience of coaching her for a maths exam.

To make matters more difficult for both of us we are attempting to bridge not only gaps of time,  subject matter , but also culture and language - with myself last having seen these sorts of problem 30 years ago, in English, in Australia, while she is learning it in Spanish in Costa Rica. Of course maths is maths and the operations are the same, but differences in the very basics  such as the setting out long division trebles the confusion factor and communication barrier on both sides.

There were times when she was in tears. There were times when I was very nearly likewise.

But her test is tomorrow, and we had no time to give up. So we persisted, through all the difficulties, and by the end, our family were pleasantly surprised to hear us wildly cheering each other, hugging, kissing and whooping with joy as she worked out sum after sum correctly.

Some of the strategies that DON'T work:

  • scolding or negative comments
  • repetition of the same problems using the same approach
  • getting angry
  • losing patience
  • giving up

Strategies that DO work:

  • Time out; in moments of really not communicating, we needed many short rests, to let out the negative emotions. Use rest time to talk with someone else, about something else, something nice and positive. 
  • Checking the internet for fresh ideas and supporting practice.
  • Coming back to the same problem again with a fresh perspective or from a new angle
  • Multiple examples
  • Recognition of frustration; taking time to talk about what was hard and why.
  • Noting that giving in to frustration leads to a vicious circle. the only way to win is through advanced application of PATIENCE and DETERMINATION 
  • Deep breathing. It sounds cliched, but it really worked! Counting to ten, letting it pass, and moving on. If it can't be breathed through, it's time for a five minute break.
  • Raise self-esteem by focussing positively on accomplishments and abilities. Remember the cultivation of confidence is essential for success
  • Starting AGAIN from certain ground. Going back to where we felt sure, and moving on from there, in small steps towards more complex subject matter.
  • Praise - LOUD praise for ALL acheivements, however small. WILD CHEERING and excitement as mastery levels rise. 
We are both exhausted but, finally, happy and feel confident she will get a good grade.