Needs Analysis for People Who Don’t Know Their Needs

“What do you need to do?” the teacher asks.

“Um, speak English,” the most outgoing student says.

“In what kinds of situations do you use English?”

“Business situations.”

So, not the most illuminating of exchanges to help plan a curriculum. There have been loads of times that this has happened to me, and to others. There’s a lovely post by Laura at Grown Up English about negotiating a task-based syllabus. You might also want a look at #TBLTChat 7 on syllabus design. Here, I’m going a bit hybrid.

With this group of learners I’m going to talk about, I asked their goals and what they usually use English for at work. I got that they want to work on fluency in speaking and listening, on the phone and face to face. There were no concrete situations, though.

Due to this, I get to use my imagination and have a bit of a daydream about other people’s work. Maybe this is due to too much Quantum Leap (“Oh, boy!”) as a boy. Not having the luxury of shadowing the students to find out about a typical day, I can only rely on what they tell me or what I can anticipate.


This board was based on my guesses what the students in this group might need based on knowledge that they work for a logistics services provider. I had the students in the group, of mixed level, rank the things that I chose according to how important they are.

It was interesting to find that answering complaints was not seen as important. I’ll leave this open for the rest of the course. It was also interesting to find that I don’t need to prioritise simple scheduling very highly. This means I’ll conflate the scheduling and queries lessons, with a bit of wriggle room by adding other things and renegotiating the syllabus again.

I leave one slot at the end for review or covering what crops up and then this is our syllabus for the rest of our 10-hour course. If you have any other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.


What happened on the #ELTwhiteboard? 

This whiteboard was for the second lesson of a course I am teaching based on Business Result Pre-Intermediate. The learners are six men at a logistics company. 

The flow

Check homework from the Practice File (gap fills for vocabulary review). 

First up was a game at the end of the chapter based on questions and answers. It gave me a chance to check question formation and adjacency pairs (speech acts that go together).

I was going to move on to ‘eavesdrop’ upon the listening on the previous page and transcribe the conversation with half the class transcribing the man and half transcribing the woman. I thought that the game went on too long to do the textbook listening so I moved on to the speaking activity. 

The speaking activity was the task at the top of the board:Introduce yourself; Targets: 80% native speed of response, 70% accurate vocabulary and grammar. They had to introduce their company, too. Matthew asked why I chose these targets. I figure that an introduction is really easy but an introduction with parameters close to what would be acceptable on business, generally, would be closer to the ‘real world’ and encourage more involvement than a task with no parameters. 

Kamila asked how I measure the speed. Basically, I wait till the preceding utterance finishes, mentally answer and count two beats from my point of answering. It sounds harder than it is. 

How I set it up was in threes, too talk one transcribes the first speaker only. This was to build accuracy in the first speaker. I read about it in this article by Skehan and Foster.  In the article, learners transcribed themselves but in this risk they transcribed each other. Conversations carried on for around seven minutes. I followed up with a focus on form. These were mainly about vocabulary or body language and a little bit on question formation with final prepositions. Advice was given based on the transcription and then the task was repeated. I then followed with pairs repeating a similar task but with a 2 min 30 sec time limit. The companies they chose to talk about were all fictionalised, hence ‘adult entertainment’. Homework set was a gap fill with ‘you’ or ‘I’ in questions. 

It went well, particularly with the weaker students in the class. Some things I wish I’d done were getting the students to record each other in pairs then transcribe themselves. This ended up being the end of the next lesson (make a podcast section to give an introduction to your company)  and homework (transcribe yourself, noting mistakes or things you would change if you did it again). Overall the lesson was quite good but I still am not totally satisfied. Maybe this is because I am still trying to figure out my rapport and how we gel. Maybe I feel it was a bit repetitive, though it was kind of a fun time. 

How I Plan Lessons

Massive disclaimer: plan like this and you will almost certainly fail certificates and diplomas. This is how I plan lessons in a task-based framework that’s a bit Long/Skehan-influenced. However, if you wish to reclaim time for leisure, read on. Many thanks to Kamila and Sarah for the spurring on.


First thing, refer to your syllabus and notes from the previous lesson. What did you plan for in the syllabus? Does this need to change?

Syllabus: persuade people. (Authentically vague note). Remember a weakness in dealing with difficult people.

Next, what is your target task/exit task, that is what do you want learners to be able to do by the end of the lesson? How much time do they need to do it? How much time do you expect to need for reflection and feedback?
Task: Persuade a colleague to visit a disagreeable client. Estimate: 12 mins task, 5 mins reflection and feedback.

Regarding the exit task, can it be broken up into smaller components? What are they?

Greet, broach a difficult topic, hedge, point out advantages, bargain.

Would a text be useful as an example? Do you expect to do decoding, vocabulary, pragmatics, semantics, grammar, pronunciation or discourse work?

Yes. I’d love an authentic text. Unlikely though. Maybe something like a documentary or the BBC version of The Apprentice. Use an excerpt. Note time codes for difficult words/elements of connected speech. Likely 15-20 mins.

Can you cover all the smaller tasks and the text in one lesson or do you need longer, once the exit task is added to the end?

Probably in a 90-minute lesson. Greetings are fine. Broaching needs 5 mins + 5 minutes Focus on Form (likely discourse markers so prepare some corpus lines, perhaps). Hedging probably 3 mins FonF 2 mins, combine with broaching 7 mins and 2 mins FonF. Point out advantages – maybe 5, seems good for schema activation. FonF might be intensifiers. Bargaining, 6 mins with FonF around  7, possibly syntax with conditionals/modality. The FonF is just predicted. It might be totally different depending upon task performance. Component tasks may be cut as needed (see below).

What will you do to activate schematic knowledge? What about differentiation?

Brainstorm a list of advantages of talking to difficult people. Choose most persuasive three. 7 mins.

Put stages in order. 

Schema activation, 7 mins

Attempt task, 10 mins. FonF 5-10 mins. If task OK, add complexity.

Text work.

Decode these words:

tough /tʌf/

(the) first /ðə fɜːst/

I wanted to /aɪ wɒnɪtʊ/

Listen, summarise, check.

Till 13:09


Component tasks with FonF

Exit task, feedback, homework.

Gather materials.

Probably copy and paste the corpus lines (linked above) into a document, blank out the adverbs. Give it to my student if required.

Cheers, I planned my lesson.

Real Alternatives Need Alacrity

It’s that old Corporate ELT is killing me slowly trope. Hang on to your hats, comrades, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So, the coursebooks palaver came up again on Geoff Jordan’s blog. I have written on this before. The main change in my ideas is that instead of Dogme or Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) being the utopia we should all aim for, what is needed to get teachers to go with something better than a textbook is an alternative.

In the aforementioned post, Steve Brown said that what is needed is not any other kind of alternative but for teachers to take agency: choose what the materials are, or choose to choose with the learners, or whatnot. He is right, but I think there needs to be a bit of handholding to get there.

I’ve seen comments saying that it takes bloody ages to plan a TBLT lesson, and it does when you first start. Similarly CELTA-type lessons take bloody ages when you first start. No qualifications? Think to your first week on the job. Lesson plans took forever. Anything takes ages when you first start.You need to think about whether the initial time investment will pay off or not. You are reading a blog about teacher development, so ostensibly you are open to this seeing as you are reading this instead of playing video games or trolling Trump supporters.

So, let the handholding begin. Or the push to start.

What can I use instead of a coursebook?

Have a think (always a good idea) about what your learners need. Asking them is often a good idea, though teenagers might tell you they need about 3 hours in bed and that they need to do gap-fills of A1 vocab. They don’t. Assess. What can they do? What can’t they do? What aren’t you sure they can do? The answers to this should rarely be “They can’t do the past tense with regular verbs” or something. Maybe “They can’t answer questions about the weekend” is better. Cool. That is something we can chuck into the syllabus, if we think that our learners need this. If they don’t, don’t put it in. But why did you bother assessing it otherwise?

With all this information, you can create a syllabus/course. Sequencing it is a bit of a bugger because you want to think about complexity, what is likely needed toward the start and middle to get to the end, recycling language and such. However, you and your learners have control. This is not the kind of thing to put on a granite tablet. If it seems to need a bit of something else, do that.

But what do I do?

Teach the skills you need to teach. Potentially this is all four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. There are books about ways to teach these. You might want to browse Wayzgoose press. Also The Round minis range has some very interesting stuff, as does 52. If you get a copy of Teaching Unplugged, I find it useful.

You and your learners can then source texts from the internet (which a lot of textbooks do anyway so you are cutting out the middleman), edit for length (nice authentic language) or elaborate and spend longer with (that is, put in a gloss at the side or add clauses explaining the language). You can create your own, too, which sounds time consuming but might not be the pain in the arse you think it is. You can also put in some stuff that is rarely covered in textbooks like pronunciation and how to build listening skills, microlistening, and more (a bugbear of mine).

There are also lots of lesson plans on blogs (including here). If you have some good lessons that have worked for you, they might work for others, who can then adapt them. With a book, there are sunk costs and learners will want to plough through the lot if they have bought it. If you have a lesson plan to manipulate, without having sunken money into it bar some printer paper, you and your learners get more control and hopefully smething more suited to them than something chosen by an anonymous somebody in London or New York.

If I’m going to use texts, I might as well use a textbook!

You could, but think of all the pages of nonsense you have to skip. Think of the time spent with learners focussing on pointless vocabulary like ‘sextant’ (thanks Total English pre-intermediate). You have an idea. You know your learners, or at least the context. There is also a ton of stuff on the internet. May I point you to the Google Drive folder at the top of this blog. All the stuff in there is Creative Commons Licensed so you can change it if it isn’t perfect, copy it for your learners, and because I already made it and was going to anyway, it’s free. There is also Paul Walsh’s brill Decentralised Teaching and Learning. There are also ideas to use from Flashmob ELT.


You have these ideas to use, modify, whatever and put into timeslots. You can move them around. You have the means, now, if you decide it’s worth a go, stick with it for a few weeks at least, so you can get into the swing of it. If you like it, leave a comment. If you hate it and I’ve ruined your life (and be warned that not all supervisors, managers and even learners are open to this at first. Check, or at least be aware of this. If your learners say they want a book they might just mean they want materials provided and a plan from week to week) leave a comment.

If you think I’m talking nonsense, I’d seriously love you to leave a comment. Tell me why.

If you want help with this, I’m thinking of using Slack for a free (yes, really, at least initially) course type thing, say an experimental three weeks, where I help you sort out how to go about things (together; top-down isn’t how I do things), help with any teething troubles and so on. If you’re interested, contact me.

Well, Sunday night, eleven o’clock and 1000 words. I’m going to bed. Let’s sleep on it.

Task Based Links and News (sort of)

Those of you who follow me on Twitter, (which you should definitely do for the misanthropy and ranting alone), must surely know about #TBLTchat coming up on Tuesday, 21 June 2016. I hope this is bigger than me as I would like it to have more longevity than Tokyo Lesson Jam. Hopefully internet chats are a much better thing. Certainly, I am 93.2% more attractive on the internet.

To get you in the mood, Ljiljana Havran has a great TBLT post here, and Huw Jarvis has an open-access article, in the open access TESL-EJ.

TBL/CLIL-ish Lesson: Paper Aeroplanes

Who doesn’t love paper aeroplanes? I mean apart from the person who has to tidy them up?

This is an easy lesson to do and could take about an hour to two hours depending on how many plane types you teach.

I took different sets of instructions from and told my students to practice making the plane. I made sure to tell everyone they would be teaching how to make their plane later.

The vocabulary needed was in the reading but be aware that inattentive students may ignore it. I would have them read and copy out a list of ten or so useful vocabulary items if I did this again. Focus on form was given as we went.

There was the opportunity to ask meanings of words as we went along and the instruction task was passed if planes were made and failed if they didn’t.

Plane types were tested for speed, height and distance. Students then wrote up a short report.

As extension work, we tried folds to the wings and fuselage to see if the planes would turn or roll.

The students loved doing this and everyone was speaking English all the time. There was even more negotiation of meaning than usual, too.

Materials/Task – Family tree puzzle


I made this to have learners build their family member vocabulary. A lot of elementary learners know the basics: ‘sister’, ‘brother’, etc. but not ‘nephew’, ‘niece’ or ‘~-in-law’.

I followed it up with learners giving easy definitions in English (and Japanese or Chinese if required1), quizzing each other using different relationships, and then writing about their own families.

I used very Anglo-Saxon names. Feel free to change them as and if you feel the need to. It has a Creative Commons license as usual.

Available as PDF and editable PPT.



Seeing as my learners can’t use L1 in their tests I wanted them to build upon extremely basic knowledge and substitute a possibly forgotten word with a half-decent explanation.