Thursday, May 10, 2012

Simple, No Prep, BE Skills Lesson

Just wanted to take a minute and share an easy-to-use skills lesson plan which is highly engaging and helpful for learners.  It can either be used as is, or more likely, adapted to fit your current course participants.

Aim:  Learners will practice the specific, everyday skills they need in their particular job and receive feedback to improve.  Goal is to practice lexical chunks and scripted sentences to make these simple tasks more fluent and natural.

Time:  4-6 learners - 90 min, 7-10 learners - 120 min (unless run in two groups simultaneously

Procedure:  Flexible depending on course makeup...  here is what I did.

I had 5 participants in an electrical components manufacturing company:
  • Sales Manager B2 - coordinates sales efforts of the division product lines with the regional sales force in South America.  Uses primarily web meetings and email.
  • Quality Assurance Project Manager B1/B2 - manages projects to ensure the quality of subcomponents from suppliers, particularly in China.  Rarely attends the lesson due to work load.  Travels to China roughly 4 times per year.  Writes reports and emails pertaining to specifications and technical standards.
  • Customer Support Specialist B1 - Handles calls and emails about technical issues with company products.  Short and simple correspondance (what is the problem, ask for details, troubleshoot, promise action, follow-up on action).
  • 2x Admin Assistants B1 - Typical secretarial work here, make and change appointments, handle travel plans, spread information mostly per telephone and email.
In this case, I was trying to help the weaker and less confident AAs and they were at the core of the lesson.  I set a series of one-to-one tasks around arranging a meeting, interrupted by trainer and peer feedback.  It looked like this:

Click on image to enlarge, to close click on 'x' in top right corner.

First, I spelled out what the tasks would be and went around and asked each one what they were expected to do to ensure understanding.  I purposely did not give them any more details.  Their job was to fill in the gaps (purpose of meeting, times, rooms, why people were out of the office, why the meeting must be changed, etc.) to create information gaps.

Next, I gave them as much time as needed individully to think of the language they would need to complete the task and come up with details.  I walked around and checked, fixing any glaring grammar mistakes, adding specific lexis, and generally refining what I saw.

Finally, we began.  For each segment, I asked the next two in the chain to leave the room where they could chit-chat.  The student who was left and I would observe the task and offer some feedback.  The students would perform the task.  For the final task, he wrote the email on my computer in Word and I displayed it on the projector.  We ran short on time here, but it was still helpful for all.

For the feedback sessions, I would ask the students to come back in the room and without revealing any details of the events, would highlight good examples of language used and refine excessively long or confusing sentences.  The students would take notes, I would take questions, and we repeated the process.

Here is a sample of some the language examined:
  • Politeness and formality - nearly each conversation varied in tone and register.  We looked at the reasons for this.  Example: It would be great if you could do me a favor.  (From student)
  • Using shorter structures - Example:  changing What is the topic of the meeting? to What's it about? and drilling this phrase until it was natural.  Surprisingly, this simple sentence was new to all.
  • Changing I don't know to I'm not sure + about/if/question word then offering action.  At this point we also discussed with the QA project manager about Chinese culture and I don't know.
  • Summarizing and clarifying at the end of a call - one pair did this extremely well.  I wrote the phrases they used to do it, e.g. So, that's..., Let me get that straight...
  • -ing forms with have a problem, suggest, propose, and recommend.
  • Sentences to say why someone is out of the office, from specific to vague.  He's on a business trip.  She's in a meeting.  He's not at his desk.  He's out of the office (not He's not in the house.)
This is just an example of how multiple tasks can be done in one class.  Although only two students were performing a task at each time, they all found it highly informative and appreciated the simple recommendations and refinements to help them improve everyday fluency.  During the feedback sessions they were firing questions at me left and right, Can I say this...?, What do I say if...? because the situations were so tangible to them.

Good luck with the lesson and I would love to hear how it works for you.

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