Teaching English to a beginner class overseas

Posted: November 28th, 2013


Good Evening William, I will be making my comments in blue tonight.


Part One: Question 1

In point one, Marco and Kumiko expect to learn different things in relation to their environment. Marco, the engineer, would expect to learn English for special purposes. This is because he needs to communicate well with the other Engineers on issues of both professional and social nature. By the end of the course, he expects to be able to talk about the details of the project with appropriate English. He should also be able to communicate with his superiors and the clients using fluent English.

Kumiko’s interest in English is for academic purposes. She would expect to be able to read write and listen any English related materials without difficulty. Since she is in an English speaking country, her classes will be taught in English. She expects to follow her classes with no difficulty by the time she finishes her course. She will also expect to interact with her peers with ease.

I agree with you regarding both students. Here are some other points to consider.

Let us assume that Marco is at the Intermediate level of English in all four areas, i.e. reading, writing, speaking and listening. This means that he is already able to communicate fairly well with others in English and can make himself understood as long as the topic, or the task is not to complicated or too technical. Marco is an engineer and is going to China to work with other engineers from other countries.  They all have English as a common language.





Marco needs to be able to communicate effectively with the other engineers, so he will need to learn:

  1. How to read and understand very specific material written in English that is related to the engineering project he will be involved with. ( specific vocabulary  and style of writing unique to the genre )
  2. How to prepare and present a report or an update on the work he is doing.
  3. How to have a discussion and express agreement or disagreement
  4. How to interrupt politely and turn taking in a meeting.
  5. How to express an opinion and support it with facts.
  6. How to express and resolve a complaint.
  7. How to ask and give advice.



Kumiko would need to have a very comprehensive level test done in order to determine what kind of English she would need to study. The level test would need to focus on English for Academic Purposes. What level is her reading and writing? Would she be able to do the assignments given to her by her teachers? Is she ahead or behind in the curriculum to be taught? She would need to be tested for Classroom English; her ability to understand instructions, directions and explanations from her teachers. She would also need to have her  English speaking ability tested to determine if she could communicate with the teachers and other students. She would benefit greatly if she attended an international school where there were other students in her same situation. The school would have an ESL/EFL program in place in order to help her get up the same level as the other students.



The sixth point elaborates on motivational factors. Students in an ideal classroom will most likely perform better as compared to students in an average or a poor classroom (Fayton, 2002). My ideal classroom had walls that were decorated with charts and pictures that were both entertaining and educative. The wall color was cream. The lighting was good (not too bright and not too dull) as the class had large windows that enabled most of the natural light to penetrate. The window blinds prevented the burning rays of the sun from reaching the students. The reading materials brought in a touch of ‘fun’ in what would have otherwise been a dull class.

One of my favorite teachers taught me when I was in elementary school. She made one feel as though the topic being taught was the most fascinating topic one could ever learn. If one looked distracted, she would create time for the specific student. This included asking them whether they had any problems outside the classroom. She also went of her way and talked to parents in order to make sure that the students’ environments at school and home were conducive for learning.

I thought I would add a few of my own ideas on the subject.

My ideal classroom would have bulletin boards on the walls so students could post their work. This would allow other students to see what their friends were doing and hopefully give them new ideas of their own. It would be a version of brainstorming. I would also have one section of the classroom for pictures. Students could draw something that relates to the lesson and put it up for others to see. Visualizing helps students to remember things better.  Color also stimulates the brain and makes it easier to remember.


I remember a teacher named Mr.Massengale. He was a teacher of mine in junior high school when I was around 13 or 14 years old. He was the first African American I ever met. He was kind, strong and always encouraging. I remember he told me I could be anything I wanted to be, but first I had to decide what that was going to be. He was honest, direct and open. I could ask him anything about anything. He was very relaxed, confident and knew his subject. He taught geography.



The seventh point can be used to elaborate on ways of introducing the more communicative approach to students who are used to the traditional approach. Most students will be conservative during the first few lessons. They may just sit there and look at the teacher, fail to understand what the teacher is trying to do, or simply find the class difficult. However, the teacher can start by asking the students which way they were taught in their previous learning experiences (Hinkel, 2004). The teacher can try to illustrate in order to encourage students to interact.

In order to introduce the role-play, the teacher may start by asking the students to talk about themselves. This will encourage them to be open. Then he/she can ask simple questions that need direct answers. Instead of approaching the topic directly, the teacher can start by talking about issues relating to the topic thus encouraging students to participate. The students will feel free to think and contribute (Hinkel, 2004). The teacher should make sure that the students are corrected in the right way in case of any mistakes.


This particular point to consider applies directly to my own teaching situation so I would like to share a few thoughts with you.

A teacher trying to use purely communicative activities for the first time in this kind of class would be greeted with stunned silence. If students have always had a teacher-fronted class, then the teacher has been doing all of the talking and has been the main focal point of the class. In a communicative class students would feel bewildered if they were   expected to say or do something. They expect the teacher to be the authority, the source of knowledge in the classroom and expect him/her to do all of the talking and they would feel lost if they were suddenly expected to participate. They would feel shy and embarrassed because they might give the wrong answer.  They wouldn’t understand that in a communicative language class, there is no wrong answer, because if you are not making mistakes, it means that you are not trying hard enough. We learn from doing and learn from our mistakes. If you wait until you can say it perfectly, you will never say it.


Another point that might inhibit students from speaking is that traditionally, students get into trouble if they talk in class and that is precisely what you are asking them to do in a communicative language class. It would be a good idea to start slowly with simple communicative activities, such as pair work. That way if students make a mistake when they speak, they only say it to their partner.


To ease into pair work, the teacher might start the class by presenting the language function for the lesson, let’s say Describing Yourself and then the target language, adjectives, such as tall, thin, pretty handsome, black hair, short hair, long hair etc., the correct use of the verb to be or have, and common nouns such as body parts and clothes.




The teacher would go around the class and ask students words that describe themselves. If the class is a low level beginner class, the teacher would supply the adjectives and nouns by looking at students in the class and then writing them under the correct column.

Adjectives                               Verbs                                       Nouns


Tall                                          to be                                        hair

Short                                       have                                         shirt

Black                                       wear                                        nose


I am _________________

I have________________

She is________________

He has________________

Tom is wearing______________________


So far the activity has been 70 / 30 teacher fronted. Now the teacher can bring up two students in front of the class and demonstrate how to do pair work. The students can look at the board and find a word or words that describe themselves, e.g. I have black hair. Their partner can say, ‘ I am thin’. The students can take turns until they have described themselves. Now all of the rest of the students can simply turn in their chairs and describe themselves to the person next to them. As time goes on, and students become more comfortable to talking to other student in class, they can move their chairs, or move around the room describing themselves to many students. This can be expanded into asking questions about what their partner looks like as well.


Once students have gotten used to pair work, role-plays could be introduced. It would be good for the teacher to present the language focus of the role-play and write it on the board, such as  Giving Directions. The teacher would then introduce the target language that students would need in order to achieve the goal, giving directions. The teacher would then hand out pre-made example conversations for students to read to their partner. This would get them more comfortable with how a real conversation is supposed to sound like. On another handout, key words or grammar points could be left out, so that students would have to fill in the blanks. This can be done gradually, removing easy words at first and then moving on to harder ones. Eventually, students could write their own simple conversations, tell them to their partners and later present them to the class.




Part Two: Question 1- Students’ Questionnaire

  1. Where (Country) are you from?
  2. Which is your native language (first language)?
  3. What level of English are you currently at? Tick one: (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced)
  4. Why are you in this country?
  5. What do you plan to achieve by the end of this course?
  6. Have you had any previous learning experiences even in other subjects/courses? If yes, how long was the experience?
  7. How did the teacher teach you? Did you have class discussions or did she/he do most of the talking?
  8. Describe one of the classes you attended (color of the class, lighting, materials in the class, etc).
  9. Describe one of your favorite teachers. What made his/her classes interesting?
  10. What interests you most when learning?
  11. What motivates you to take this particular course?


These are some good questions that would help you determine their learning style and level of English ability. Here are some others to consider.


  1. Does your native language interfere with your learning of English? If so, how? ( explain )


  1. What is the most difficult part of learning English? ( be specific and explain )


  1. How many years of English instruction have you had?


  1. Have you ever experienced role-plays, pair or group work or made oral presentations in an English class before?  If yes, were these methods of learning English helpful?  How?


  1. How do you currently study English when you are out of class? ( be specific )


  1. How would you rate your English ability?  ( poor/fair/good/excellent )
  • Reading ____________
  • Writing____________
  • Speaking___________
  • Listening___________



  1. Why are you taking this course? ( explain )


  1. What do you hope to learn in this course? ( be specific )


  1.  How do you plan to use English in the future?


  1. In terms of your career, where do you see yourself in 5 years. ( explain )


  1. How will proficiency in English help you achieve your career goals? ( explain )


  1. In one paragraph, describe the  perfect  job and why.



Part Three: Question 1

The lesson plan on dating is meant for students learning the general English. This can be foe personal or social purposes. This class mostly comprises of teenagers, youths or young adults. Either the students might be mixed in gender or the class could have the girls as the majority. The students are at the intermediate level. The students are from a country that has been influenced by westernization.

Dating is very popular among the young and the middle-aged people. It is a social event and a very fascinating topic among the young people. The main need of these students is to learn English for social and interaction purposes. The young people are also particularly fond of pop music. The girls are very fond of the boy-bands. Incorporating the materials brought forth by the teacher will also attract maximum attention and concentration. It will also make the class more interesting as compared to teaching about dating without either of the materials. Since the country has been influenced by westernization, the dating topic is not a taboo and the pop music from the boy band is not considered as inappropriate music.



A teacher should be careful in choosing songs they use to study because some pop songs use ‘bad’ language, glorify sex and violence, and can be racially insulting. Some cultures find this kind of music offensive.  The last thing a teacher needs is to get into trouble with the school for teaching students something culturally unacceptable.


Having said that, if a teacher can find a song that is suitable and acceptable.  I think that it would be useful to pre-teach slang words that are in the lyrics, as well as idiomatic expressions. The teacher could also show how song lyrics are modern day poetry in that they have rhyming words and rhythm.


In the election lesson plan, the students are from learning English for special purposes. They are at the advanced level. The students in this class are from the age of thirty years. The students may have more men than women. This is because the political interest is more in men than it is in women.

The national elections and the recent CNN extracts will enable students to discuss the issue professionally. They may be learning English in order to carry out a particular survey in the host country or they may be learning it in order to follow up on the political issues of the host country. Since this class is full of professionals and adults of an advanced age, the materials to be used are of a professional nature. These extracts will enable the advanced learners to enhance the vocabularies, and they will enable hem to communicate professionally better.

It would  be extremely important to make sure that discussing politics is acceptable in the country you are teaching in. In any class, you will have students who take political issues and their candidates very seriously. Discussions could get very heated. The teacher must also be careful not to take sides or express their own personal views on the issues and candidates for fear of alienating students who disagree.





The lesson on the little red riding hood is for a class that is at the beginners’ level. Most of the students in this class are below the age of ten years. The English being learnt at this level is for academic purposes. The students expect to read, write, listen and speak using the Enlish language. The students may also take and English exam so their interest would also be to pass their exams.

The song is meant for young children. It helps the children to learn basic vocabulary while enjoying the lesson. It is also meant to build up the basics of the English language in these students. Through this lesson plan, the students will also know how to use the language to entertain others as they remember the basic things they have been taught.

Younger students like to hear and read stories about characters their own age. The stories are interesting and entertaining. Stories like this one can be read aloud to the students or students can read it silently. Students can be pre-taught key vocabulary items as well as how to use simple conjunctives and temporal markers as these help move a story along. They can be taught how verbs change to talk about different periods of time, in this case the past tense or past continuous. Students can be encouraged to write their own short stories or draw picture stories.




Part Three: Question 2

“HIV and AIDS condition”- We could discuss what this means or what they stand for. We could also discuss the causes of the condition, its prevention and the condition’s cure. If not, we could discuss its control. We could also discuss the people whose bodies are at risk of acquiring this condition. Language functions would include cause and effect (It is caused by…because of…). Another function is communicating opinions (I think, maybe).



“Literature”- We could read a story from a book and then tell to summarize the story verbally and then ask the students to summarize each character in the story. After this exercise, we would come up with the best character in the story. Language functions would include relating/retelling the events (use of past tense). The other describing function (good, evil, merciful).


“The internet”- We could discuss both aspects of it in form of a debate. We could talk about its effect on the society. We could also discuss what effect the internet has on the young people. Language functions may include expressing of possibility (may, could). There could also be comparative function (It is good…unlike, it is better than).

It would be important to make sure that this topic would be acceptable to the DoS. Some cultures do not approve of open discussions of homosexuality and it could cause some serious problems for the teacher.



William, please scroll down to the end of the module and read my comments for Part 4 Q1-Q3.


Part Four: Question 1

By the end of this course, the class will have improved on their weak areas. They will also have developed good vocabulary in order to express themselves in a clearer manner. This having the proper knowledge of the language functions in reading, writing and in speech. Activities such as explaining the culture differences between the students’ culture and the host country’s culture can be used. Job description, resolving conflicts between co-workers, talking about the current affairs in the host country or the home country, interviewing and hiring, amongst other activities can be used in order to develop their interaction and their professional vocabulary using the language functions.

Part Four: Question 2: Language Functions

Explaining/Describing- The students can describe the areas the areas that are most suitable for putting up the project. They can pick the two most suitable sites. Each should give reasons that make one site better than the other does. For example, site A is in an area that is not economically active.

Clarifying/asking questions- students should engage in the ‘what’ questions, focusing on work related areas. For example, what can be done in order to reduce the overwhelming costs being incurred? What are the chances of failing to complete the project?

Cause and Effect- The students should be to express the cause of something and then explain the effect as far as work is concerned. For example, delaying the project will lead to an increase in the project related costs.

Evaluating- The students should be able to use this language function in order to evaluate certain things at the workplace. For example, what are the pros and cons reporting to one manager as compared to reporting to diverse managers?

Expressing likes/needs – Students should be able to express their preferences. I like to work with co-workers who communicate.

Drawing conclusions- the students should be able to draw conclusions from the presented issues at the work place. For example, This site is the best because…

Describing actions – The students should be able to describe the various activities that might take place in a site or office. For example, the structure will first be built up to the sixth storey within the first six months and then the rest will be finished later.

Making predictions – The students should be able to make predictions in anticipation of future results related to the project. For example, the cost of materials will have increased by the time we are half through to finish the project.

1. Change – develop. Maybe have them try to persuade each other as to which location is                                          best suited for the project and why.


2. Change- develop    You need to have a work related lesson focus. Questions about what?                                       You need to drop the part about ‘social questions’. They can already                                        perform that language function.


3. Change –replace.  Select a new lesson topic and a new language function if you use                                                ‘Persuading’ in #1.


4. Change – replace.  This one is OK, but develop it further.

5. Change – replace.  It is not work related.

6. Change – replace   They can already perform this language function.

7. Change – replace   It is not work related.

8. Change-replace.    Making predictions is a good language function, but how does it relate                          to their needs on the project?


 Part Four: Question 3

Class: Engineers (Tuesday 4- 5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 1 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Target Language: Explaining/Describing

Activities: Introduce scenario: possible sites that the project can be put up. Describe each site stating its pros and cons. Give handouts with sentences of a descriptive nature. For example, site one is on wet, flat land. Site two, is too hilly, etc. By the end of the discussion, the students should be able to come with the best site for the project.

Materials: Three sites appropriate for the project




Class: Engineers (Tuesday 4- 5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 2 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Target Language: Clarifying/asking questions

Activities: Introduce scenario: Students to form two groups. They should discuss on the things that can be done in order to make sure that the project runs smoothly (e.g. What can be done in order to make sure that the costs are reduced? What are the managers doing in order to increase efficiency? What can be done in order to ensure that each worker performs his/her role?). The necessary corrections will be done by the other group.

Materials: The two groups, each member taking up a character (e.g a head engineer, a worker, a human resource manager, etc).


Class: Engineers (Tuesday 4- 5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 3 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Target Language: Cause and Effect

Activities: Introduce scenario: The students should pick up a number of actions and then explain their cause and effect. For example, the students can discuss issues such as uncorporating workers, poor human resource management, poor site, amongst others. They may also choose to discuss the opposite of each issue. For example, cooperating workers, good human resource management, a good site, etc.

Materials: A chart containing the diverse issues.


Class: Engineers (4- 5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 4 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Target Language:  Evaluating

Activities: pick a major project in the host country that is of interest to students. Ask the students to evaluate the project, stating the compliments, the weaknesses and recommendations.

Materials: the site with the project of interest.


Class: Engineers (4- 5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 5 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Target Language: Expressing likes/needs

Activities: Introduce scenario: the site of the project. Students can come up with different activities that might take place in a site. For example, there might be a group of engineers evaluating the grounds, the might be other workers looking at the project charts. The students should use phrases and terms that express their feelings (e.g. I like efficient workers. I wish the human resource department could appoint more managers.)

Materials: The site of the project can be introduced in form of a picture. The people might be doing different activities.


Class: Engineers (4 -5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 6 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Target Language: Drawing Conclusions

Activities: Introduce scenario: Students should come up with different activities taking place while people are working on a project. The students should then make conclusions from these actions. For example, if the workers are not increased, the project will take longer than expected. The project will not become a success if the manager will not be changed.

Materials: Chart with activities.


Class: Engineers (Tuesday 4- 5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 7 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Target Language: Describing Actions

Activities: Introduce scenario: The students can watch a short documentary incorporating workers/engineers working on a different project. The students will be asked to describe the activities taking place in the documentary. They can also describe the activities that are more popular than the others are.

Materials: A documentary


Class: Engineers (Tuesday 4- 5.30 p.m.)

Lesson: 8 of 8

Level: Upper-Intermediate:

Target language: Making predictions

Activities: Introduce scenario: The students can evaluate a project of interest and make predictions of what would take place if certain actions were taken. Words such would, can or may, should be used. The costs may reduce if the efficiency is improved.

Materials: A project of interest.



Feyton, C. M. (2002). Teaching ESL. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice-Hall.

Hinkel, E. (2004). Teaching academic ESL writing: Practical techniques in vocabulary and grammar. Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates.


 Part 4 Q!-Q3 


William, many of my students have a problem with this part of the module. The key is being aware of their level of English (upper – intermediate) and making sure that what you would teach them would be relevant for a group of engineers going overseas where the common language will be English.


This group of students is at the upper-intermediate level of English. As such they can already have discussions about international politics, the world economy and a variety of social issues. For this reason, the lessons must be at an appropriate level and they must also be relevant to work.




Here are a few ideas other students have used to develop great lessons. Take a look.


1. Describing jobs and discussing the role of each person on the project.

2. Cultural differences – the do’s and don’ts in the host country.

3. Conflict resolution between co-workers.

4. Current affairs in the host country that might impact the project.

5. Interviewing and hiring local workers for the project.


Please go back and make changes to the following lessons for both Q2 and Q3. They must match. Also make sure you also change Q1 so that the ‘outcomes’ cover the target lessons in Q2 and Q3.



1. Change – develop. Maybe have them try to persuade each other as to which location is                                          best suited for the project and why.


2. Change- develop    You need to have a work related lesson focus. Questions about what?                                       You need to drop the part about ‘social questions’. They can already                                        perform that language function.


3. Change –replace.  Select a new lesson topic and a new language function if you use                                                ‘Persuading’ in #1.


4. Change – replace.  This one is OK, but develop it further.

5. Change – replace.  It is not work related.

6. Change – replace   They can already perform this language function.

7. Change – replace   It is not work related.

8. Change-replace.    Making predictions is a good language function, but how does it relate                          to their needs on the project?



The, overall, you have done an excellent job on this module. I am very pleased with your work. Your writing is clear and to the point. You have a solid understanding of what the module is trying to get across to you and present your ideas in a thoughtful and well organized fashion. I just need you to go back and make the changes I have requested for Part 4 Q1-Q3. Remember, keep the lessons focused on the students’ work related needs.


I’ll keep an eye out for your resubmission. Keep up the good work. You are doing a great job. Really!






Grade: None yet


( As with all ICAL assignments, a pass mark is 16/20. If you grade less than this you are allowed to re-work and re-submit assignment as many times as you wish to reach a pass mark. If your grade 16 or above then you move automatically on to the next module.)

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