August 2011

Are You Playing The Best Role As a Teacher?

The definition of Devil’s Advocate is “a person who advocates an opposing or unpopular cause for the sake of argument or to expose it to a thorough examination”.

Why is this important though? Simply becuase it helps to drive the conversation further and find a better solution to the problem. Often in meetings does one play the role for the sake of argument to challenge the idea and to affirm whether it really stands a solid ground or not. It also helped to enhance the idea by finding flaws with it, which you can them look for solutions or a work around.

How do I apply this though as a teacher. By simply doing in your role-plays or even drills. Advise the student ahead of time that you will take the opposing role so they are aware and that you don’t step on any toes. Take caution not to get too heated in the debate. Remember this is for practice exercising the language to be learned and not to fight and loose the student. Remember to use open ended questions too as this helps to get more than one word responses!

Check out Wiki for more info on the point.

Here are 4 additional tips on being a well-received Devils Advocate.

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3 Techniques to Improve Your Teaching

I was looking for ways to improve my teaching skills and stumbled upon this great book by Doug Lemov. I think it was incredibly powerful so I would like to share just three points in this blog that I now constantly use in my lessons whether teaching in junior high school or with my private students.

  1. No Opt Out – The point here is not to allow the student to escape from answering the question. If they say “I don’t know” or give a random answer, don’t accept that. Throw the question back at them to get an answer. If they again decline then turn to someone else (yourself if it is a 1:1 situation of course) to get the answer. Once you have gotten the answer, go back to that student to ask them the same question for the answer. Basically, they cannot escape. If they don’t participate, then it is unlikely they will remember.
  2. Right is Right – Don’t stop until the student gives the exact answer. This is one factor what separates good teachers from great teachers. Keep pushing the student until they give the full answer.  There are a few points on this:
    • Hold Out all the way – Support with positive simple words to encourage the student to continue at getting the answer.
    • Answer the question – Direct the student back to the question rather than giving hints.
    • Right answer, right time – Go Step by Step rather than allow the student to jump to the end. Order is important.
    • Use technical vocabulary – Push for precise technical vocabulary. Don’t settle for simplified words.
  3. Stretch It – Have the student expand by asking a follow-up question, asking how they got that answer, or even ask them to rephrase it another way. Push the student further so they expand and/or test their knowledge more.

As you can see they are pretty straight forward but the real challenge is following through with using them constantly. I found myself not applying them as I was now conscious so it took some effort to remember to utilize. These techniques really did make an impact when I did use them as it got the student to think more and practice more so I could see some improvement. Give it a try, you’ll see too!

Here is a great summary from the book. I recommend that you have a read through if you don’t plan to read the book.

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

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ESL Business Giving Updates Lesson Plans

Giving updates to your manager or even asking for updates is a serious business. Many of the meetings you have will likely revolve around this conversation. You clients should know how to give clear updates while being able set expectations about when the matter will be completed or resolved. The client should also be able to gather information on where something stands in case they need to know or help out.

Lesson Plans

As always, any feedback on these lessons plans would be greatly appreciated.

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What Does it Take to be Great?

“I don’t care what business you are in, you are in the business of people” – Sam Walton

We are living in the Thank You Economy so Gary Vaynerchuk says. I think he is right. Thank your clients and treat them all like your best friends by going out the way for them or just going that extra mile and you will likely find luck coming your way. Sure people will take advantage of the niceness but that doesn’t mean you should cut back. It is all about word-of-mouth. If you create a great customer experience, they will spread the word. This is a powerful marketing strategy.

So are you going that extra mile in your lessons? When a client tells you they will be finishing up taking lessons with you, does that make it ok to loosen up and basically toss in the towel? No, I don’t think so. You should be pushing yourself harder to deliever even better conent to meet this person’s needs Perhaps they will reconsider their decision and stay as a loyal student and/or they may tell his or her friends about the quality of lessons they got, who will them sign up with you.

Of course there is also the saying “He who tries to please everyone, ends up pleasing no one”.  Give it your best shot but don’t slap yourself if they end up not coming back. Sometimes your greatest efforts just weren’t right for this person. You may still get a referral from this person so do your best anyway. Reflect on the situation as to why you might not have gotten their business. Don’t blame them, be responsible for this result. Keep tweaking your lessons to do your best. Be a superstar.

“If you build it, he will come” -Shoeless Joe Jackson (Field of Dreams)

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5 Ways to Help Increase the Chance to Retain your Clients

Here are 5 ways I found that helps me finding my students returning back over and over to take a lesson with me. Of course the most important point is to deliver great lesson content that is customized to the students needs but these below points also help to drive the lesson towards greatness.

  1. Smile – As they say, smile and the world will smile at you. Would you rather deal with an unhappy person or a happy person? Having a smile helps make the lesson so much smoother.
  2. Praise Be sincere and give constant praise for the client’s efforts. Feedback is important and praise is just one method. Help get the student to self-correct but don’t forget the praise again for doing so. Everyone wants a boost to their confidence and honest praise is a good way to do that.
  3. Talk Time Watch how much you speak. Keep it under 20% of the lesson.  Clients want the opportunity to talk so give it to them.
  4. Formalities Give a warm welcome. A firm handshake, a great smile, help with their cost, bag, or other items, and a big “Hello”.  Don’t forget when closing to thank them, praise them, and appreciate their effort today and preparing for their next lesson. A compliment wouldn’t hurt either!
  5. MannersBe polite, be humble, be organized, be prepared, don’t step on toes, apologize when necessary, be present and focused, keep your ears open, be sincere and curious, be devoted to helping this person, and I am sure your student will be grateful. Don’t be hungover, don’t be late, don’t be sloppy, don’t be dirty, don’t point at the client, don’t dress poorly and so on. Presentation matters. People will judge you in that first minute so start on the right foot.

Be consistent about these routines with all your students too! If you form good habits and maintain them, students will know how to respond better as they will expect them each time. All the best!

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ESL Business Teacher Resource Tips: Do you talk too much?

Do you talk too much? As a teacher, you would think you need to do loads of talking. You need to make sure the student is learning something after all right? Well, yea sure but does that really give the student the opportunity to practice what they learn? You learn from doing, right? Take a look at the cone of learning below for some insight on the impact of methods that have on one.

Cone of Learning

So as you can see, if you student does more talking, it is likely they will remember more. The other positive effect of having your student talk more is that they feel they had more practice time, which is what they want. They can watch a movie in English if they want to do more listening practice after all.

People love to talk so give them the opportunity to do so and they will be joyous. Cut down your talk time and increase your listening time. Whip out some notepaper and a pen to jot down incorrect sentences and/or natural ways to say things, which you can go over later. Keep it simple though.

The conclusion, apply the 80/20 rule. 80% or more of the talk time should be allocated to the student and 20% or less to your own. Don’t ramble on and Keep it Simple (KIS).Remember, you have two ears and one mouth so do twice as much listening as talking.

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation” -Chinese Proverbs

Here are some extra tips from Dale Carnegie’s Book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

Six ways to make people like you

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

I suggest to read this book, you will learn a lot!

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How to be SMART in your lesson

In the business world, setting objectives is essential. As Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there” and this is not an effective way for a company to move forward. In turn, a mnemonic was created to help set clear goals called SMART. Each letter represents a criteria to set the goal or objective. You can apply this concept to your lesson objective, explain the concept to your students, or you can work with the student to discuss goals for each part of the lesson.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there

Let’s break down SMART so you have a better understanding.

Specific – Be clear about what it is that you want to accomplish by answering the below questions. The clearer, the better.

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
  • Who: Who is involved?
  • Where: Identify a location.
  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

Measurable – If it can be measured, it can be improved. You should be able to apply one of these questions to track your progress:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

Attainable – Is the goal realistic yet a stretch? Does it make you a little nervous when you think of it? If the goal is too overwhleming then perhaps it is not feasible and unlikely you will be able to accomplish it so then don’t set it. You should be able to answer this question:

  • How can the goal be accomplished?

Relevant – Goals are good but does it push you in the direction towards your destination or take you further away. Remember, if you don’t know where you want to go, any path will get you there. Make sure you can answer these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Does this bring me closer to vision?

Timely – You must set a time frame to accomplish this goal. Without time pressure, you can either procrastinate or let it go altogether. Make sure the time set is a stretch that creates pressure but be realistic at the same time.Ask yourself this question:

  • When can I accomplish this?
  • What can I do today?

Now, how can you apply this to your lesson?

Example 1: Use the photo from the lesson plan.

  1. You can open up with “Who are these people?” or “What is their relationship?”
  2. Then follow-up with “What are they talking about?”
  3. You can then prompt them with “What is the goal or vision of this topic?”
  4. Ask if they can make it more SPECIFIC?
  5. Ask “How can they MEASURE their progress?”
  6. Ask “Do you think this is a stretch objective/goal?”
  7. Ask “Is this a good goal for them? Why?”
  8. Ask then, “When will they know when they are done” or “When can they finish this goal?”

Example 2: Use the Tie It Together section to apply this concept. You can take a manager role and then apply these questions such as in example 1 to the objective or topic of the discussion. You can also highlight this concept in the end to explain what you just did so maybe they can apply in their own work environment.

Good luck and I hope your client enjoys!


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ESL Business Opinions on the Market

The economy is a tough topic but it doesn’t have to be. This lesson is simplified but it should give a good idea to students that they can simply agree or disagree with an opinion and indicate the direction of the market. You can always expand each section of the practice to challenge the student. You may want to check headlines so you know where Japan and the world economy stands.

Lesson Plans:

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10 Things to Do in a Lesson

Here are my 10 things to do while teaching a lesson.

  1. Do take lots of notes. It is important that you take good well written notes for the student. If they walk away with nothing in the hand, they will wonder if they actually learned anything. The notes help re-enforce the learning of the lesson, which you should review at the end. Hopefully the student will also review. So bring some paper!
  2. Do use a multi-colored pen. Based on Tony Buzan’s findings, color helps stimulate the brain to recall better. If you just use one color ink, it will not stick as well. So make sure you bring a variety of colors to your classroom and assign each one to a specific category.
  3. Do review at the start and end. Make sure you review the previous lesson and also review what you covered in this lesson at the end to make sure the student retains the information. It is easy to jump into new content but is that good for the student? Use it or loose it. How often do these students get to practice these materials? Probably not often. So it is up to you to help keep it fresh in their mind.
  4. Do a warm up relative to the subject. A lot of teachers talk about what’s new. Thats nice but I think students get annoyed. I was invited a friend (ESL student) to an event and after I asked he respond, “Yes! Now I will have something to tell my teacher!” So perhaps it would be more valuable if you talked about something relative to the topic you will discuss. This is a chance to prep some vocabulary words or get the brain turning in the same direction.
  5. Do apply the 80/20 rule. The student should be talking 80% or more of the time and you only 20% or less. If you are always talking, how will the student get better? Watch yourself. Perhaps keep a stopwatch handy. Do something to track yourself or keep yourself in check. Create situations where you do listening. Keep things simple so you don’t get stuck explaining.
  6. Do use open ended questions rather than yes/no. If you ask “do you..”, the student will likely have a short response and that is it. Keep firing open questions to stimulate the mind and expand the situation. What, When, Where, Who, Why, and How should be the first word from your mouth.
  7. Do keep track of your students identity and what you talked about. Your mind is very powerful but unfortunately it is hard to jog back every detail from the many discussions you previously had. Keep a notebook to track anything interesting and topics with points you had so you can quickly jog back who this person is so you don’t stumble over same conversations again.
  8. Do give constructive feedback. Feedback is critical for learning. On one hand you don’t want to step on toes but then again if you don’t give feedback, your student will wonder how they are doing, which may lead them to find another teacher. Apply the sandwich technique. Give some positive examples where they demonstrated well and then give negative examples with corrections. Then close it off with some positive points. Be consistent here too. Every lesson, structure the same. Don’t just say, “Great job, keep it up!” That helps no one.
  9. Do watch their body language as well as your own. How are they responding to your lesson? Crossed arms, feet pointing towards a door, tapping foot/fingers, legs crossed and toe pointed away? Not looking good here. Are you leaning in too much, are you invading their space, are you using gestures that can insult such as finger pointing, and so? Be careful. It is difficult to keep an eye out but if you make it a habit to constantly watch and adjust, you will get better at this.
  10. Do always smile. Smile at the world and the world will smile at you. If you walk into a travel agency and you see three people working, one has a frown on their face, one has an angry face, and the other has a smile, which one would you choose. It pays to smile at all times.
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5 Business Book Recommendations

Sometimes students ask me what books they should read to improve their business knowledge. There are loads of books out there and many of them are great reads. But if I had to break it down to just 5 books, I would suggest the following:


  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey This book covers everything from win-win situations to taking responsibility. Master and make these habits of your life and you will see results in due time. The concepts are straightforward but applying them is the challenge. Most corporations offer some sort of training regarding this book. Check it out and read constantly because once just isn’t enough.
  • The One Minute Manager – Ken Blanchard Short book but right to the core. There is a good flow chart at the end of the book which you should print out and stick on your desk. If you ever read, “Who moved my cheese” then you will love this book too.
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Leicioni A well written fable on getting your team sorted. Mr. Leicioni has several other great books relating to business, which I also advise you to check out. They all have solid points, tips, and are easy to understand. Very applicable in the real word.
  • The Essential Drucker – Peter Drucker How can anyone not read Drucker, the father of management. Though I will admit it is difficult to grasp some of his points or ideas, if you can figure it out, you will be all the wiser. Many great leaders follow his material religiously and have been lead to great success. Google some of his quotes, you’ll see.
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell  I picked this book because outliers is a concept often talked about at work, particularly if you apply Six Sigma. He provides many case examples to make his point clear. Tipping point and Blink are also great reads too if you can make the time!
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