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Teaching Tips 99

Reaching for the stars
Taking a sickie
The World Cup


Reach for the stars

Reaching for the

Goals of a different kind this week. Quite a lot of our students would like to sound like native speakers. There are others who want to retain some of their mother tongue accent when speaking another language. And there are others who are not interested so long as they are understood.

It is common to reply to the first group with 'Sorry, but only a few ever achieve that, so don't bother' followed by a discussion on 'comfortable intelligibility', a term coined by Abercrombie in 1967. This means that if the student is comfortably intelligible in situations they find themselves, then there is no reason to make a greater effort along the road to native speaker-likeness. This extra effort can be devoted to more important & attainable areas of language development. The Teaching Tip 'Getting a perspective' looks at a few questions that can guide students to an awareness of the degree of native-speaker accent that they might need.

But maybe we are wrong about this as we are discouraging students from becoming better speakers of the language. Sure, there are reasons for this, but is it such a good idea? Why not let them try & encourage them to attain the highest degree that they can? A dampening of motivation is sure to have knock-on effects in other areas of their language learning.

Maybe as teachers, the best route is to point out that a native speaker accent won't come overnight & then proceed to show them the steps they need to achieve it. These steps include finding out yourself how the sound & intonation systems work & then what problems the different areas pose for the nationalities you are teaching.

Then you will need to consider how to approach the different areas, productively & receptively, as there are some areas that our students will only need to recognise, initially anyway. If for reception only, the students need to actually hear the area, then they will need to identify it & finally discriminate between similar aspects. If for production, the students will need the three previous stages plus a production stage to follow on. Encouragement, awareness of what is involved & building up logically stage by stage seems to be a sensible approach.

It is easy to inadvertently put students off when discussing their long-term goals & we have to be careful how we channel their ideas. Part of our job is to look hard at what they might be using English for in the future. The student will have a general idea & we bring our expertise to the detail in an effort to help them attain their goals.

To see a collection of pronunciation ideas & Tips:

Continuing with the lesson material from the World Cup in the last couple of weeks' Tip, there is an interesting article for advanced learners about sport & sponsorship at the Guardian Online at:,,1800885,00.html
Dutch fans were asked to take off shorts with a rival beer makers advert on them before entering the stadium.

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Phoning in

Taking a sickie

If you did them, hope your lessons on the World Cup went well. This week is a continuation but broadens out into the area of 'taking/pulling/throwing a sickie' - when you feign illness to avoid work, false absenteeism. On trawling the net I found it referred to in terms of national reverence - 'the great British tradition', 'the great Aussie sickie' etc.. It seems that most countries try to lay claim to it!

Have a look at the following article taken from the Guardian Online:

'How to take a sickie' union attacked as irresponsible

Friday June 16, 2006, The Guardian

The CBI has described as irresponsible the advice by one of the
biggest trade unions on how to take a "sickie" during the World Cup to avoid missing crucial matches.

The advice, published by Amicus on its website under the title World
Cup Fever - Can You Play Away? makes suggestions on how workers can watch matches during working hours without being caught by their employers, and on how to minimise the consequences if they are caught.

Amicus advises workers to first check their contracts and conditions
of employment to see whether they have the right to alter their hours
or take time off during the World Cup. It also suggests asking a union negotiator to persuade managers to allow staff to watch matches together, which, it says, is "great team-building and a lot cheaper than an 'away day'".

It goes on to ask whether, failing that, workers should "just take a
sickie". To minimise the risks, Amicus advises, they should restrict
unauthorised absences to one day at a time. "It is quite difficult to
prove that someone is not really sick if they have one day off, and
most sick policies provide for the employee to self-certificate for
the first day," the advice says.

Amicus also advises workers what to do in case they get caught taking unauthorised time off, which some employers treat as gross misconduct. "If your company's disciplinary/absence procedure does not make this clear you can argue that it is simply a form of misconduct which should be viewed in the light of your work record."

While recognising that employers often want to watch World Cup matches themselves, the CBI said it was unfair for some staff to take"sickies" while others carried on working. A spokesman added that Amicus's advice was irresponsible.

According to the CBI-Axa 2006 Absence Survey, "sickies" constituted
13% of days lost to illness in 2005. The accountancy firm Tenon
estimates that 10% of the workforce, 90% of them men, will take bogus sick days during the World Cup.

Some employers have made arrangements to enable staff to watch matches and reduce the temptation to take unauthorised leave. The supermarket group Asda has offered its 150,000 staff "German Jolly" unpaid leave for up to two weeks during the tournament. Its stores are running shift-swapping schemes and extended breaks. It says its flexible approach reduced absenteeism during Euro 2004 and the last World Cup.,,1798954,00.html

The link to the original article at the Amicus site is:

Whether your students are interested in football or not, the article is likely to appeal to levels of intermediate & upwards. The content could be used with lower groups as you could give an oral summary of the article & then go into a discussion on 'sickies' & absenteeism at work.

Here are some ideas for dealing with the article:

Stage 1 - Roleplays
1. Give out the cards & give the students a couple of minutes to think about what they will say. Help out if requested.
2. Roleplay

Worker 1 : You want to watch your country's match in the World Cup tomorrow & you are thinking of calling in sick & taking the day off. Discuss this with a fellow worker.
Worker 2: You think the World Cup is totally over-rated & you don't think that work should suffer as a result. Talk to your fellow worker.

3. Feedback - how did they get on - did the employee manage to get the day off? What were some of the arguments used? etc. As this is probably the beginning of the lesson, possibly ignore any language correction at this stage.
4. Set up the next roleplay - same procedure. Same pairs or swap around? - sit the students back-to-back to simulate a phone call - get around & take notes.

Employee: You want to watch your country's match in the World Cup today at 3.00pm. You have decided to phone in ill & take the day off. Call your boss.
Employer: You suspect that some people will call in sick today because the country's team is playing in the World Cup at 3.00pm. You are not happy about this, apart from the fact that it is a busy time in the office. Think about what you might say if an employee rings in sick.

Stage 2 - Vocab & intro to the reading
1. Elicit what the employee was doing & introduce: to take a sickie, to take the day off, absenteeism......
2. Put the headline on the board: 'How to take a sickie' union attacked as irresponsible - & in pairs the students discuss what the article might contain - content & people who might be represented in the article.
3. As they do the previous task go round & ask them to write 6-8 questions they would like answered when they read the article. Have a look at the questions being written to get an idea of the sort of things being asked & make corrections when necessary.

Stage 3 - Reading
1. Ask the students to read the articles quickly to find the answers to their questions - give out the articles.
2. Students read & then discuss the answers with their partners.
3. Have some questions ready to ask, filling in the necessary gaps in their questions.

Stage 4 - More intensive reading & language focus
1. Give out the following task - students read & then check in pairs.

Look back at the article & answer the following questions:

1. Who or what is the CBI?
2. What reasons do the CBI give for not taking a sickie?
3. What's the first thing that Amicus suggest workers do?
4. And if the worker does take a sickie, how can they justify it?
5. What do Amicus suggest you do if you are caught?
6. What has the store Asda offered their staff?

Language focus:
1. Find some examples of verbs that report in the article what is said by Amicus & the CBI.

2. Underline all the vocabulary related to 'work' in the article.

What do you think?
Do you think it's OK to take a sickie for the World Cup?
Do you think it is reasonable to take a sickie for another reason? Such as?
Have you ever taken a sickie?
Do people take sickies in your company much?
Do you think the solution is the one Asda came up with?
Can you think of any more solutions to the problem?

2. Feedback on the questions.
3. Feedback on the language questions - the reporting verbs & the vocabulary. Prepare a follow up task on the verbs - suggests, advises, asks, said, added. Also discuss why the direct speech was used.
Possibly build up a mind map on the board of the work-related vocab.
Pick up on other language points to suit.

Stage 5 - Discussion
1. Using the notes the students made in the previous section, start a class discussion on the article & issues.

Stage 6 - Roleplays
These continue the roleplay at the beginning of the lesson. You might want to introduce some functional language that the students will need before the roleplays.

1. Set up the roleplay & give out the rolecards & give the students time to think of what they might say.

Employee: You took a sickie yesterday to see the match. Your team won!! Be careful what you say at work - you were supposed to be ill!
Employer: You know that your employee took a sickie yesterday to watch the match. Talk to him/her & try to catch him/her out, & get him/her to admit it.

2. Roleplay - wander round, monitoring & take notes on +/- things said. .
3. Feedback - on the content - did the bosses catch them out? How? - & on the language, both + & -.
4. Set up the next roleplay - same procedure.

Employee: You have been sacked for taking a sickie for taking a sickie to watch a World Cup match. It's true but you think it is very unfair to be sacked. You have been a model employee for several years. You are going to have a meeting with the boss, a union rep & a rep from the CBI. Think about what you are going to say.
Employer: You have sacked an employee for taking a sickie to watch a World Cup match. You want to make an example of this worker so that no one else takes sickies while the World Cup is on. You are going to have a meeting with the worker, a union rep & a rep from the CBI. Think about what you are going to say.
Union rep: You are at the meeting to represent the employee who has been sacked for taking a sickie to watch a World Cup match. You are going to have a meeting with the boss, the worker& a rep from the CBI. Think about what you are going to say.
CBI rep: You are at the meeting to help the employer who has sacked a worker for taking a sickie to watch a World Cup match. You are going to have a meeting with the boss, the worker & a union rep. Think about what you are going to say.

Stage 7 - homework & recap
1. For an exam group, you could set a 200 word discursive writing task based around the sickie theme. To contextualise it a bit more, it could be a letter to the editor.
2. Recap the lesson.

A couple of links to articles on sickies:
The art of the 'sickie':
Chucking a Sickie:

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World Cup stamp

The World Cup

The World Cup in Germany is in full swing & it's hard to ignore so why not join in. A good place to begin for material is the official Fifa website -

A few more sites:

A few lesson ideas:

- general vocab: team, pitch, referee, linesmen, club, stadium, player (goalkeeper, defender/back, mid-field, attacker/forward/striker, winger), captain, manager, penalty, score a goal, win, lose, draw, free/penalty/goal kick, full/extra/half time, sub, to book someone, to/a tackle, to/a foul, pass/kick/head/cross/save the ball, a header, a throw in, a corner, offside.

- with cuisenaire rods, teach the positions putting out different colours for the different schemes - 4-4-2, 5-4-1 - then the students decide on their favourite national selection in pairs, each with a selection of rods. On deciding, they show other pairs their decision & justify their choice of players. Do the same for their dream team.

- comparisons of the strengths & weaknesses of the different teams >> predictions on which will make it through to the semis, final & win - language of probability.
Play the Predictor Game - from the Fifa site at:

- discuss highlights of each match with the short videos from Fifa:
Combine with present simple for commentaries, teach & then students write their own dream commentary, read out for all in style of an exciting match.

- World Cup stats - put the groups & matches on the wall & fill in each lesson, all commenting on how they feel it went.
Wallchart from the BBC:

- reading scores - England 2, Spain 6 - rising on first part & falling on the second.

- posters - make for their favourite team. This idea of students providing a 'product' at the end of discussions encourages their original discussions to be of better quality. As the students know their colleagues will view their results, they will work harder in producing the poster.

- Why not introduce a bit of German? Football German for beginners:

- An introductory text to be used as a straightforward dictation or a dictogloss by way of leading into the theme. Use all or part to suit:

The FIFA World Cup (often called the Football World Cup, Soccer World Cup or simply the World Cup) is the most significant competition in world football. The world's most representative team sport event, the World Cup is contested by the men's national football teams of member nations of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) (the sport's global governing body). FIFA also holds the Women's World Cup on a separate schedule. The championship has been awarded every four years since the first tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946, due to World War II. However, the event is often ongoing, as the qualifying rounds of the competition take place over the three years preceding the final rounds.

The tournament's final phase (often called the "Finals") involves 32 national teams competing over a four-week period in a previously nominated host nation, with these games making it the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world.

In seventeen tournaments held, only seven nations have ever won the World Cup. Brazil is the current holder, as well as the most successful World Cup team, having won the tournament five times, while Germany and Italy follow with three titles each. Of the nine World Cups staged in Europe before the current tournament, only one saw victory by a non-European team, that being Brazil in 1958. When held outside Europe, the competition has only ever been won by South American teams.

The current football World Cup Finals are being held in Germany between June 9 and July 9, 2006.

For dictogloss/high speed dictations, see:

- Anti-World Cup - ideas on alternative things to do while everyone is glued to the TV. Debates on value of the WC - for & against. See also:

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