Good Boss / Bad Boss: Speaking Strategies


As so often happens last minute cover lessons turn out to be much better than anything I’ve spent hours planning. This was a fun last minute cover for an upper-int “Business Conversation” class (Look, I did a dogme!). I’d already covered the previous class in which we’d talked about good and bad bosses and covered a ton of vocab (EVERYONE has bad boss stories don’t they?) so we revisited that in this lesson to consolidate.

1. I briefly asked sts to remember and board the vocab from the previous class to refresh their memories, then we rubbed off the easier ones and stuck with those that were new/difficult/less frequently used. Something like this…

Bad bossHe/she is demanding / expects me to be a mind reader / micro-manages / bitches about colleagues etc

Good bossHe/She is open to alternatives / supports my development  / sets a good example etc

2. I wanted to try out some of the improv ideas I’d really enjoyed at a David Heathfield workshop last summer and this seemed the perfect opportunity. In pairs, I asked students A and B to imagine they were taking a cigarette/coffee break at work. A’s departmental boss had just been a total nightmare, Bs boss had been wonderful. I asked them to imagine the scene, then counting down 5,4,3,2,1 they acted the conversation out silently. Lots of gesticulation ensued.

3. We quickly had some feedback on the different ways we expressed ourselves and showed we were listening, then I asked them to replay the conversation, this time talking. As I’d hoped, they were much more reserved and stilted. We had more feedback on this.

4.From here, I elicited and boarded some examples of back-chanelling.

No way!

Really? (upwards intonation – expresses surprise)

Really. (downwards intonation – shows I’m listening)

You’re kidding!

What a nightmare/disaster/pain/disappointment/relief/bonus

That’s ridiculous/awful/outrageous/amazing

He/She’s such a(n) arse/hypocrite etc

You poor thing.


5. After drilling the pronunciation we played a little game I like to call back-channel bingo (it’s more of a noughts and crosses thing really). The full activity is described here. Groups picked bad boss or good boss conversations with a flip of the coin, rather than talking about both as in the improv.

6. After that  Ls returned to their seats and original pairs. I wanted more natural conversation from them so I asked them to make a list of 5 of  work highlights, and 5 most difficult moments in the last year. They spent a few minutes individually preparing for this.  They then shared their moments with their partner in a really nice extended discussion where gradually they did start to use the speaking strategies at key moments, yey!

7. To round off, I tested them a little bit,with more random statements to elicit responses: “You normal teacher was hit by a motorbike today!” (this was true), “I lost my credit card this morning” (also true), “I’m going snowboarding this weekend” (also true), “I just won a holiday to Mexico” (unfortunately not true). It made a nice rounding off to the lesson as they were much more ready than the first time to respond.

Y voila! A really fun and no prep lesson 🙂 I wish they all went down like this!

Things I’d do differently next time…

  • Although the improv worked more or less, next time I’d be much more considered by using more visualisation cues, really getting them thinking about EXACTLY what had happened to them up there with their bosses, before the improvised conversation, perhaps with questions, e.g. What did they say to you? How did you feel? How do you feel now? What are you going to do about it? etc. The count down worked really well though.
  • I definitely need more of a treacly dulcet tone ala David Heathfield to deliver this.
  •  Spend more time eliciting and practicing the active listening phrases, rather than chuck them in at the deep end with a conversation.
  • I also would have given more support to prepare them for the bingo activity by boarding some examples of things good and bad bosses might do.

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