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How To Teach ´Great Openings´ for Presentations In English

Young businessman giving presentation

Photo via Dries Buytaert under Creative Commons license

Christopher Wright has worked as a Business English Teacher and a Business Trainer in the UK, US, Spain and France. In his first guest post for OUP, he outlines techniques for teaching Business English students the art of opening presentations.

Doing presentations, like anything in life, is a question of preparation, positive attitude and ´practice makes perfect´.

Just like in the popular BBC TV Show Dragon´s Den the more preparation and practice participants (students) have, either in front of an audience (no matter how small) or recording themselves on a web camera, the more relaxed and confident they will feel when they actually have to give their presentations.

So what can we do as teachers and trainers to help? Here are 6 tips:

1. Visual Aids

Visual aids such as images, objects, sculptures and models are a fantastic but under-exploited tool for making ´great openings´ in presentations in English. A visual aid immediately helps grab the audience´s attention and piques their curiosity. And once the audience starts thinking “what is it?”, “how does it relate to the presentation?” and “why have they shown me this?”, the presenter starts winning their battle to achieve their presentation objective (to inform, persuade, entertain etc.). Visual aids also act as a great support for non-native speakers who are nervous speaking in front of people, as it removes them from the spotlight. Also it helps focus their attention on the presentation opening instead of worrying about the audience´s reaction. Watch this great example, a 5 minute TED Talk by a Dutch Engineer, and how he uses a visual object to make a boring presentation really come alive. Count how long it is before he actually starts speaking.

2. Petcha Kutcha 20×20

Petcha Kutcha events are organized around the World. They were started by a group of young designers in Tokyo in 2003 and have become world famous. Their goal is to improve ´The Art of Concise Presentations´. Each presenter is allowed to show 20 images (one per slide), with each slide lasting up to 20 seconds, hence the 20×20. So how does this relate to teaching presentations in English? In an internet obsessed world that has become more visual, faster paced, and now suffers from information overload, the ability to quickly communicate your key messages is vital. Other advantages include: being a useful technique for teaching time-poor professionals and managers; helping long- winded students become more concise; and finally there is a cross-cultural aspect.

3. Storytelling

Nancy Duarte wrote an excellent book called Resonate (Wiley, 2010), which helps any person learn how to craft visual stories and present them using the techniques normally reserved for cinema and literature. With Resonate, presenters learn how to: connect with the audience empathetically; craft ideas that get repeated; use story structures inherent in great communication; create captivating content; inspire and persuade audiences. It´s a book full of quick and easy-to-use communication techniques for creating great presentation openings.

4. Power of your Voice

Following on from point 3, great story-tellers also know how to use the power of their voice to captivate, entertain and influence their audience. There´s a reason why children (and some adults) will sit quietly, attentively and listen for a long time to a good story-teller. What is it they do? They vary their tone, pitch, volume, speed, intonation, emphasis and pauses to create moments of suspense, excitement, danger and happiness. There are hundreds of good examples on YouTube you can analyse with your students to show them the effect of the power of their voice when giving a presentation. Try comparing a presenter with a monotonous tone and one who knows how to use the power of their voice to see how different they are.

5. Using Quotes

This can feel like a very American presentation style, but its appeal is much more international than you´d think. They key is to select quotes from internationally known and famous authors, figures and people both from the past and present. Here is a good source for presentation quotes. Why do presenters use quotes? For two reasons, firstly it helps them quickly frame an argument or key message for the audience. Secondly, it gives their own presentation a little more credibility as people tend not to question these quotes as much as they would if they’re the presenter´s own.

6. Evaluating and Giving Feedback

At the beginning of this post I mentioned ´practice makes perfect´ and also the TV program Dragon´s Den. Why? Both highlight the importance of ´Evaluating and Giving Feedback´ to perfect a presentation. As teachers we can work with our students to develop criteria to evaluate their own and other presentations so they can learn through watching others as well as themselves. Technology (webcams, private YouTube channels, etc.) gives students the option of peer review of their presentations, either by themselves, or by teachers and classmates.

Here are some useful Phrases for Presentations in English from our website.


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Creating opportunities for kids to interact with stories

Story timeErika Osváth, an educator, English teacher and materials writer from Hungary, talks about some different ways for kids to interact with stories.

My friend, who teaches English literature at ELTE University in Budapest told me the other day “I wanted to read this book, which is said to be interesting, written in exquisite language, but I just cannot make myself finish it, even though I am now on page 400. I just cannot connect with anything and anybody in the book.”

This sheds a little light on why we read in our everyday lives. What is the engine, the personal motive that makes us read a story or a book? If I turned my friend’s comment into a definition, she doesn’t read to see if she understands the story, neither to explicitly learn a particular language point, but through reading she satisfies her fundamental need to connect with the storyline and/or its characters. I believe this is the case with most of us when it comes to free reading.

And yet in the language classroom, very often all we have time for (and what the course-books helps our approach to stories with) are the comprehension check activities and some language work based around the text of the story. The one and only way we tend to encourage children to connect with the storyline and/or characters on an emotional level is through acting. I firmly believe, however, that there’s room and need for much deeper engagement forms of authentic interaction with stories, which will help them internalise language in an unconscious and effortless manner.

Here are some activities you can use to go beyond comprehension check and help children engage with stories on an emotional level at lower levels.

After directed reading, i.e. a story chosen by the teacher:

Interacting with the characters:

  1.   Ask children to draw their favourite character or the one they dislike, if appropriate, and fill in the sentence.”I really like him/her because he/she is/can/…” – here, choose verbs that are appropriate for the storyline.

    “I didn’t like him/her because …”

  2. Go through the story again and ask children to stick adjectives to the characters at different stages of the story, for example naughty, cross, careless, attentive, helpful, etc. Alternatively, you could use the faces representing some of these words, if possible, and ask them to justify their choices in L1.
  3. Ask children to match colours, shapes or sounds of musical instruments to characters and let them explain why. In my experience they love doing such abstract things.

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Once upon a time, in the language classroom…

Christina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about teaching through stories.

There are many techniques that language teachers can use to keep young language learners interested and motivated. Storytelling has been described as an ‘ideal method of influencing a child to associate listening with pleasure of increasing a child’s attention span and retention capacity’ (Cooper, 1989:3). In a fun way, young learners see themselves in a motivating and challenging environment which develops and enhances a positive attitude towards the foreign language.

Outcomes of my own research showed that students of a young age are especially interested and drawn to stories where they are given the opportunity to become personally involved and take responsibility for their own language learning. This imaginative experience helps them identify with the characters of the story and build up their own creative powers. One example of this is a lesson with a beginners’ class who were new to story-telling in a foreign language context. Before the story was told, I pre-taught some of the vocabulary which was done by writing the unknown lexical items on the board and eliciting their meaning by miming or placing the words in context. The children were involved and felt great delight when they correctly estimated the meaning of the word.

After the unknown vocabulary was clarified, the children were asked to sit in a circle whereas I was seated in the centre of the network. The students were comfortable and excited since this was new for them. Because of the fact that they were eager to hear the story, I had their undivided attention. The story was taken from Vanessa Reilly and Sheila M. Ward’s ‘Very Young Learners’, a resource book for teachers. The story was called ‘Why do Rabbits Have Long Ears?’ and the aim of the story was to enhance students’ listening, enrich vocabulary by introducing names of animals and the phrases I am a… You are a…before telling the story, I told students that rabbits did not always have long ears and that they were going to discover how rabbits changed. Students were involved in the story-telling process where they were encouraged to mime and pretend to be different animals and elicit names of animals, which made the plot interesting and challenging since their participation was carried out in English.
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Creative Writing in the Language Classroom: 8 Collected Poems

Group of teenagers studyingFollowing a webinar entitled “Creative Writing in the Language Classroom” on 9th and 15th March, Jane Spiro, author of Creative Poetry Writing (2004) and Storybuilding (2007), presents 8 Collected Poems generated by the participants of the webinar over both dates.

During our two webinars we experimented with language and language play, and ‘wrote’ together 8 poems, which I am delighted to share with you in this blog.

The poems here have all been generated by you the participants, coming from 52 different countries and writing your lines and ideas online during the sessions. I have merely organised them, pared down words here and there where less might express more, cut out repetition where several of you said the same thing, sometimes grouped ideas together that seemed to fit semantically, creating verse forms of 2 or 3 or 4 lines. So, although I have acted here as editor, every word in these poems comes from you, the participants.

Download the full PDF of Collected Poems generated from the webinar.

We started by sharing and comparing ways in which we write ourselves, and use creative writing with our learners. I have collated some of these comments into the first poem Writing Creatively.

We then experimented with the different components of language, starting with the phoneme, the smallest unit of language. Here we tried to ‘describe’ to one another in writing, the sounds participants were hearing all around the world in their rooms and classrooms. This led to the second poem Our sounds with spring and summer sounds from Brazil, Italy, Portugal, India.

We then looked at the next biggest component of language, the morpheme, with our example being the prefix ‘man’. This idea comes from a poem by Andy Brown which we used as a starting point. Which words can be constructed with the prefix ‘man’? Participants wrote their ‘man’ words and built this into the sentence ‘It’s a man—– world’, as in the poem by Andy Brown. Our results are in the poem Mankind World – just as good as the published one, which became part of the UK school exam syllabus!

Next we looked at negative and positive connotations in words: how do we interpret words and where do our associations come from – our experience of life, stories, cultural influences? We compared responses to the words ‘red’ and ‘rose’, and all these associations formed the poem Rose Red.

Our next activity looked at the way words collate – or do not naturally collate – with one another. So, for example, if we compare someone human to something inanimate, we have immediately generated a metaphor – ‘finding similarities in dissimilarities’ as Coleridge said in his treatise on poetry. We listed people in our lives: then objects in the natural world, and joined the two with the verb form ‘is like’. Participants very rapidly joined in with this idea, creating metaphors about mothers, boyfriends and girlfriends, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. The results are in the poem My mother is like a flower.

Another way to create a metaphor is to compare something abstract – for example, ‘learning a language’, with something concrete such as seashells, a white room, or a mountain. Participants were asked to choose which metaphor they related to most from a choice of three, and to explain their choice. The results are in the poem Learning a language is like

Next we moved onto  sentence patterns. The first pattern ‘I remember’ was used to trigger memories of schooldays, and in particular first days at school. This very simple sentence opening could be completed by just a single noun or noun phrase, or a whole clause – but all convey past memories and even a sense of nostalgia. The results are in the poem I remember schooldays.

Finally we looked at complex sentence patterns, and the structure ‘If I were ____, I would’. When we introduce ‘language play’ and allow ourselves to ‘be’ inanimate as well as animate, abstract as well as concrete, this sentence structure yields all kinds of interesting metaphors. You can read these in the poem If I were, I would.

These ideas and examples are offered to you, the reader, so you can try them out for yourselves, in the  classroom and outside, and compare and add your own results to those we have here as our poems become more and more international. Happy writing!

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Creative Writing in the Language Classroom

Jane Spiro, author of Creative Poetry Writing (2004) Storybuilding (2007), looks at how, why, and with what effect we can include creative writing activities in the language classroom. Jane will be hosting a webinar entitled “Creative Writing in the Language Classroom” on 9th and 15th March. You can find more information and register to attend here.

Why introduce creative writing activities?  

Our use of the mother tongue is full of the same ‘creative’ strategies that poets use when they are shaping a poem. When we tell jokes we are often playing with puns and the shape and form of words: when we use idioms we are often invoking a metaphor or simile that has become part of the language. The names of products, or the nicknames we use for people we like and dislike often play with the sound of words – alliteration and internal rhymes, the connotation of words, or multiple meanings.  So one reason that creative activities in the language classroom are worthwhile, is because they mirror the strategies we use in our mother tongue.

Another, perhaps even more important reason, is that an effective creative writing strategy brings the whole learner into the classroom: experiences, feelings, memories, beliefs. Of course other activities can do this too – but the creative writing activity can lead to an outcome which is memorable, which the learner may want to keep, or even ‘publish’ to others: a Valentine poem, a poem of thanks to a parent, a birthday poem for a sibling or friend.

How do creative writing activities fit with language learning?

Many teachers say there is no time for poetry activities, or creative activities, alongside all the language goals of the classroom. Another objection, is that the language of poems and stories is quite different from the everyday language students really need.

This webinar will answer these two concerns.  We will explore the ways in which creative writing activities can be developed as part of the language syllabus, helping to make vocabulary, structures and patterns memorable and engaging.  We will also consider how creative writing activities allow opportunities for connecting language skills so that writing leads to informed reading, and vice versa. Our discussions and activities will also prove that these strategies are within the capacity of all learners (and teachers too!) and do not require special ‘genius’ or talent to be achievable.

Don’t forget to find out more information and register for Jane’s upcoming webinar.

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