Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review lesson and tax lesson using authentic materials

The two lessons I taught this morning... both received high praise.


The client is an international tax consultancy.  The lessons are held on-site and the minimalistic luxurious conference room is equipped with a large flatscreen intended for videoconferencing, but accomodates my computer hook up as well.  There are two groups, 90 min once a week.  The first group is lower level (A2-B1) of mostly clerks who conduct more straightforward tax declartions for international clients and then a higher group (B1-B2) which consists mostly of advisors who guide their clients through international tax regulation.  The lesson today for the first group was to review what we had learned.  The follow lesson to the higher group was based on the Germany-US Double Taxation Agreement.

Lesson One - Review

I had just returned from vacation so we when through my selection of photos and discussed what makes a good beach.

Then we began the real lesson...
  • I gave them an envelope filled with the vocabulary words we had seen over the past few lessons.  I keep a running excel list of vocab which I send to them post lesson.  The spreadsheet is open during the lesson and instead of a whiteboard I fill the columns.  To create the cards, I simply paste to word, change the size of the cells, print, and cut out.
  • Then, I asked them to choose 4 colors from a selection of color cards I collected from the hardware store.
  • Next, I asked them to group the words by color.  In order to do this, the learners had to understand the word and explain to their group why it should fit with the color.  In the process they were explaining the meanings of the unknown words.  I stepped in for troublesome words they were avoiding and asked for the pronunciation of other (like exaggerate).  But the rationale was their own.  For example, one group put 'to order' with the caramel color because he envisioned ordering dessert.  Because their office phones have a green button to make a call, both groups placed all the telephone words with green.  The next time we do telephoning, I will probably print the exercises on green paper.  Words from the email lesson tended to be in blue.... hmmm.
  • They then changed groups and had to explain to others how they had grouped the words.  I filled in gaps and answered questions.  By the end, I was confident that we had reviewed and could use most of the words, especially the business specific lexis.
  • We then moved onto a jeopardy game to assess our learning.  I used a free jeopardy game for this and two teams.  It was effective and students like it.  I recommend the site.  Note:  You will have to download the application and the game text file to make sure it works on your computer.  I did not use the online version because I am never 100% certain about connection and I don't like the ads.

    You can find the online game version of the game we played here.
  • To conclude the lesson we reviewed our course plan and expectations and discussed what was working, what they had used in their jobs, and what could be improved.

Lesson Two - Double Taxation Agreements

The second lesson began as the first, with my vacation pictures... but they wanted to chat a bit more comparing Italy and Croatia.  No problem... let them play with the English a bit.

Then the lesson began...
  • Warmer - what is a Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) and why do we need them?
    Here are the discussion questions... this allowed those with more experience to clarify what we are talking about (actually all the participants work with regulations like this).

    Why do taxation agreements exist?
    What flaws are in these agreements?  Give examples.
    Are there any loopholes which can be exploited?  Give examples.
  • Next, I gave them a word cloud from the US-Germany DTA.  The document was available from the IRS website in the US.  I cut and pasted it into wordle and printed to pdf.  I handed out copies of the cloud.  The task was like Taboo.  They had to describe words and their partner had to say which word from the cloud they meant.  This was a risky deep-ending activity and I wasn't sure, but their command of lexis in this discourse community was quite good.  I only jumped in to challenge them a bit and make sure some of the key words were covered.  By the end of the activity their minds were ready for the text.

  • They did not receive the whole text, only the cases included in the treaty (starting page 7).
    Germany US DTA
  • Luckily for me the US-Germany DTA included specific examples for how to apply the treaty.  When I use contracts and formal legal documents in the future, I will search for these examples.  One example reads...
A third-country resident establishes a German company for the purpose of acquiring a large U.S. manufacturing company. The sole business activity of the German company (other than holding the stock of the U.S. company) is the operation of a small retailing outlet which sells products manufactured by the U.S. company. Is the German company entitled to treaty benefits under paragraph 1(c) with respect to dividends it receives from the U.S. manufacturer?

The task was to read the case and check understanding with a partner.

  • Next, the learners were to describe their situation to their 'tax advisor' and find out if they could use the DTA and why.  The 'tax advisors' were given the answers from the DTA.  For example the answer to the case above reads...


The dividends would not be entitled to benefits. Although there is, arguably, a business connection between the U.S. and the German businesses, the "substantiality" test described in the preceding examples is not met.

  • They were having trouble with this task and understanding was not 100% so I gave them a follow-up task.   Explain the case using graphic representation.  Show the investors, subsidiaries, dividend flow, etc.  This produced the outcome I was looking for.  They were better able to explain the situation and why the DTA did or did not apply in this case.  One woman stated during the lesson, "These are exactly like the cases we deal with on a daily basis.  Where did you get these examples?"
  • The surrounding discussion was amazing.  The learners were activating vocabulary.  I was able to make corrections on functional language.  We had reached flow.  In addition, they were linking all this to their previous knowledge and questioning if the US-Germany DTA was really so.  They were learning more than just English.

So... two great lessons this morning.  One a simple review lesson, the second shows the benefits of a good communicative event analysis ("I have to explain the impacts of double taxation") and tapping the discourse community.

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