Monthly Archives: May, 2012

10 tips for ESP teachers

The webinar that I attended today was called 10 Tips for ESP Teachers and it was conducted by Keith Harding.

In many cases we are all worried about teaching Legal English or Medical English thinking that we don’t know anything about the subject to teach it. Keith Harding’s tips can help us a lot.

Tip 1 – Always find out the learners’ needs.
Never assume that you know what your learners need, go through needs analysis every time you have a new student. The student may just say that s/he needs to learn grammar, don’t get satisfied with that answer, ask more questions to find out what your learner really needs. S/he might be saying “Grammar” because that’s what s/he thinks learning English is all about.

Tip 2 –  Keep needs analysis short and effective.
The best question to ask is “What do you need to do in English in your job?”. If you ask this one question, you will be able to understand what you have to teach. You can also ask some other questions to find out what your learners’ interests are. Don’t forget that your learners are human  beings and you can use the information about their interests to motivate them.

Tip 3 – Think functionally not like a grammar book.
Teach them functional language – something which they can use to function in their jobs. Don’t provide them with theoretical knowledge. Grammar is the engine of the car, but what they actually need is to drive that car.

Tip 4 – Remember you are the language expert not the subject expert.
As Jim Scrivener said: “You know about English, they know about the topic. Put the two together, and you have the potential for some exciting lessons”. Find out a little about the subject, and then learn from your learners.

Tip 5 – Don’t obsess about ‘technical jargon’.
Your learners will know those words, they will know what they do. Get your students to explain what the words are (even if you know those words). From what you hear, you will find out what enabling vocabulary they need to learn and teach it. Teacher’s Books are also very helpful in finding out a little about the jargon you are going to face in a unit.

Tip 6 – Find out about the specialism.
You don’t need to be a professional in the field to teach it. Just read a little about the field your learners are in. They know their job, give them grammar and vocabulary to function in English in their jobs.

Tip 7 – Make materials and methods motivating.
Don’t get too serious, use a more entertaining approach to motivate your students. The example given was for teaching cause and effect.
“In one year in the UK 10, 733 people were admitted to hospital because of accidents with socks and tights.

Tip 8 – Exploit authentic materials to the max.
The Internet is full of materials to use in the classroom which will make the lessons more interesting to your learners.

Tip 9 – Integrate skills.
In ESP you can integrate reading, speaking, writing and listening in one task.

Tip 10 – Big yourself up (be proud of yourself) – ESP is the future.
English is the language of international business communication and it needs to be taught. The demand for ESP classes is going to increase year by year.


FCE – Paper 3 – Use of English

I thought of creating an introductory Prezi on Use of English part of FCE exam after a colleague of mine, Ana Rivas, asked me whether I had any material for it or not.

I think that this presentation can be used to introduce a group of students to this part of exam and let them practise a little.
The teacher will surely be explaining the skills required for this part and students can write down some tips. Alternatively, the Prezi can shared online if the learners have an online group page.
Anyway, this is what I’ve got and you are welcome to share it with your learners.
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Prezi for Reading Activities

I had the itch since morning to create some kind of reading activity for my IGCSE students when I thought of Prezi. At the IATEFL conference there was a session about this and I decided to experiment with it. I chose an excerpt from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (one of my favourite books). The prezi still needs to be imroved but here is what I have:

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First for Schools

The webinar conducted by Cambridge ESOL Examinations was very informative. The aim of the webinar was to give an overview of the format of Cambridge English: First for Schools exam and to share some classroom ideas for preparing students for the examination.

First of all, it is important to know that FCE Certificates do not expire, they are for life. However, some universities will only accept the certificate only if it is no more than two years old. This certificate is also accepted by the UK Border Agency for Tier 1, 2 and 4 visas covering studying and working in the UK.

Reading Paper of the exam takes 1 hour and has three texts. Exam takers should transfer their answer to the answer sheet while reading as they do not get extra time for this after 1 hour is over. It was interesting to find out that Multiple Choice and Gapped Text type of questions receive two marks for each correct answer, whereas Multiple Matching questions receive only one. The answers must be written in pencil. In order to take the exam successfully our learners need to be able to trace an argument in a text, to move quickly through the text, decode references, find information quickly, infer meaning and check/revise decisions.

Paper 2 is Writing and it has two tasks and takes 1 hour 20 minutes. The first task is compulsory and is to write either an email or a letter. The second one offers a choice of 4 tasks. The last option is to write on a set text, but we were advised to tell our learners not to attempt the last task if they have not read the set text. One of the participants said that this part MUST be written in pen. Exam takers are advised against writing too long or too short because in the first case there might be repetition (even extra 20 words are considered unnecessary) and in the second case it is likely that they will not cover all the points.

Next paper is Use of English and lasts for 45 minutes, after which Listening part starts. We should make sure that our students know that they are going to hear each section twice so if they have not heard an answer the first time, they should not worry. This paper takes about 40 minutes, and exam takers get some time to transfer their answers onto the answer sheet. The answers for Papers 3 and 4 should be written in pencil.

Finally Paper 5 – Speaking. Exam takers take this section in pairs and this part lasts 14 minutes. There are two examiners but one does not take part in the conversation, s/he only makes notes to discuss the marks with the other one afterwards. Here our learners should know that they should not interrupt their peer while it is his/her long-turn; after one candidate has finished, the second one has up to 20 seconds to express their opinion.

To develop our learners reading skills we were advised to find interviews with their favourite stars on the Internet (if very difficult – adapt them), read and discuss them with our learners. Jigsaw reading will also help them with Gapped Text part. It is also useful to find various adverts/reviews of our learners’ favourite products and ask them to compare the reviews and find similarities and/or differences. It also helps to read Graded Readers and discuss the text with our learners. Teachers are also advised to find materials related to the topics studied in the classroom to expand on the subject-related vocabulary. To find out what words our learners are expected to know at B2 level, we were advised to check the words studied on English Profile Website.

For the writing paper we were advised to train our learners to complete each writing task within 40 minutes. Our learners need to get into habit of doing this and they should not have problems with the timing on the exam day. It is also a good idea for them to underline all the important points in the task before planning the answer. Students should learn to write legibly.

For the Use of English section, students should be encouraged to learn groups of words with the same root to make it easier to remember. For example, to impress, impressive, impressed, unimpressive, impression, etc. Dictionaries are a great help here.

Students can be encouraged to find and share various podcasts or programs on the Internet that are related to the subject studied in each unit int he classroom. We an either set up a group page on Facebook for them or create a blog where then can post their findings and discuss them in writing which will also improve their writing skills.

To improve speaking skills (Part 2 – long turn), the advise was the following:

  • practise the language of comparison about topics or interests chosen by students
  • break the task down into 3 sections: 1. describe first picture, 2. describe second picture, 3. answer the question (Important to time each part!)
  • ask students to bring pictures of their own choice, then they in groups choose some pictures and write questions to ask other group members.

Sites we were advised to use:


For future webinars check out the Webinars page of Cambridge ESOL.

You can also join the Webinar Forum to discuss any problems that you face while preparing your learners for this examination.

Good luck!

Do schools kill creativity?

From the talk given by Sir Ken Robinson:

At a drawing class:
Teacher: What are you drawing?
Girl: The picture of God.
Teacher: But nobody knows what the God looks like.
Girl: They will, in a minute.
What reactions would this reply cause in many cases (hopefully not most)? The girl might have been punished, right? And why? Just because she said something that wasn’t what the teacher could accept. How fair is this?
An animated presentation of Sir Ken Robinson’s  talk.
The point that Sir Ken Robinson makes is that children are extraordinarily creative and educational system is killing this creativity, or as K. Robinson puts it: We educate children out of their creativity. We squander children’s talents by trying to put them into a frame of our educational system, which doesn’t allow for any mistakes.
But how do we learn? Don’t we learn from our mistakes? What makes children creative? The fact that “They are not afraid of making mistakes. If one is not prepared to make mistakes, one will never come up with anything original” (K.Robinson)
Isn’t it true, that while getting educated, children become frightened of making a mistake because either they will be punished, or they will get a low mark which will make their parents angry? Well, I would say that this is true in many schools. The fact that children lose their capacity to be creative is explained by K.Robinson as: “Children start being frightened of making a mistake and thus by the time they are adults they are not as creative as they could be”.
Now we have created a condition for children who fidget and are inattentive during lessons, who fail to hand in their homework on time, or who pick fights with other kids at school (maybe out of boredom). The condition is ADHD and these children get fed by a lot of medication to “calm them down”. Why do we do this to children? Can all children be equally attentive during classes? Can they all be good at all school subjects? Can they all be well-behaved? And with the number of children diagnosed with ADHD increasing around the world, isn’t it time to think that there must be something wrong with the educational system rather than children? At present children can get any information from the Internet and now they can question their teachers if they have read something that differs from what the teacher says. This fact might make children uninterested in lessons, which will lead to their being inattentive, which in its turn will bring down the ADHD diagnosis. (I am not trying to say that there is no such a thing as ADHD, believe me. I don’t know this for sure. What I am arguing against is the fact of it being classified as mental illness.)
Why are we trying to standardize all children as well as the way they learn or what they learn? Maybe it’s time to find a different way of educating our children so that they benefit from it without losing their creativity and imagination. Then maybe we won’t be wondering why we cannot find many creative employees to do the jobs that require this quality, which we do everything to kill while educating children. And maybe we should stop treating children who can’t sit still as mentally ill and pump them up with psychotropic drugs but instead try to find out what they can be really good at.