Reflections on teaching, 1 Apr. 2012

Twice a week I travel to Ciudad Empresarial to teach Business English to a group of four businessmen, all four of whom work for the same company. They know each other very well; aside from working together, this class is only one of many they have taken together over the last several years.

My first class with them was two weeks ago, and although we got off to a good start — we established a good rapport fairly quickly and moved swiftly through the materials I had planned — I sensed that they were bored on that first day. They understood the lesson quickly (too quickly!), and I could tell they wanted and needed more. This intrigued me; clearly they needed more of a challenge, so I went home that first day to re-evaluate my plan for the course.

Our next meeting was more interesting, for them as well as for me. From that day on, one of our main focuses has been on giving business presentations in English to international audiences. Of course we still cover the required course material (the students are preparing to take a rigorous exam testing their English, so there are certain things we must address in the course), but given the students’ already advanced command of English and their high intelligence, we have freedom to take more liberties and focus on more advanced aspects of effective Business English communication than I originally anticipated.

In order to give the students a chance to practice what we study, they will each give several presentations throughout the course. The idea is simple: the students can talk about any topics they choose, personal or professional, and they are welcome and invited to create complimentary materials (handouts, posters, etc.) as well. The first round of presentations will be 3 minutes each (I suggested 90 seconds, but the students said that they prefer to start with more time, which was fine with me –I couldn’t be more pleased that they’re up for a challenge). Subsequent rounds will be longer, and the final presentations will be at least 10 minutes each. As the students present, their classmates and I will take notes, evaluating their fluency and the overall effectiveness of the presentations, which we will then discuss.

To my happy surprise, the students were excited to hear about this addition to the coursework, and whereas I had expected to have to coerce them, two volunteered to make the first presentations — they even had a good-natured “fight” over which of them would be first. (We settled the matter with a good old-fashioned match of rock-paper-scissors, a game they were delighted to learn.)

Over the last couple of weeks we have spent time discussing presentations — qualities of effective and ineffective presentations, various structures, necessary adjustments for context and audience, etc. In two back-to-back classes we also listened to and then dissected 3-minute TED talks, after each of which we discussed the various elements that made them work. On Thursday of last week, we discussed Stacey Kramer’s TED Talk, “The Best Gift I Ever Survived” (link). After listening twice (once for general themes, and once for specific information and attention to structure), the students engaged in a spirited discussion, and they even broke into a debate over whether her delayed thesis (a term they had all scribbled down in their notes during our initial discussion of the presentation’s structure) was an effective or ineffective rhetorical technique.

After the class ended, I looked at the whiteboard and had a strange sense of déjà vu — it looked like the notes my students and I used to discuss at KSU when they were learning to analyze and construct arguments. Now here I am teaching on the other side of the equator, and although the lesson has been adjusted for a second-language Business English class, the idea is the same: teaching students to communicate their ideas and arguments effectively. I smiled and took a picture to preserve the memory of that moment:

Now, it’s time for the students to present. This week two of them will make presentations, and I could not be more excited to see what they come up with. I am sure they’ll come in ready to shine.

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About Christine Ghattas

Christine Ghattas (Christine Bonnie Ghattas) is a teacher and artist from the United States. View all posts by Christine Ghattas

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