Friday, 3 July 2009

Factory tour

I spent most of the first half of my teaching career in factories, including half a year in a paper factory (where they turned trees into boxes) and three and a half years in a cigarette factory.

That was where I first got into ESP, although at the time I didn't know there was a name for what I was doing.

In the very early days, I had one-to-one lessons with the Health and Safety Manager, so every lesson we used to go through her huge H&S Manual (which was in English) and see where it would take us. I called that course English for Health and Safety. I did something similar with a group of accountants preparing for their ACCA exams (English for Finance) and the team of junior managers who were being trained in their new SAP computer system in English (English for SAP Coordinators).

A bit more sophisticated was my first course on sales, English for Regional Sales Managers, where I actually wrote some of my own materials, and English for Company Chauffeurs (for the A1-level drivers who ferried VIPs around and needed to say "Let me help you with your bag" instead of "Give me bag!"). My final course in the cigarette factory, English for Production Trainers, was my most ambitious. The students were the factory's top engineers who had become trainers within the factory and were being groomed to train in other factories around the world. In English, of course.

So at the end of my stint in the factory, I had a pretty impressive ESP CV (although the names for my courses didn't show much imagination - a tradition I'm pleased to say has continued with the series I edit for Cambridge University Press). But in fact the courses in those days were based on the simplest of teaching techniques. One of my favourite such techniques was the fabulous Factory Tour.

Basically, this involved the student(s) showing me round their part of the factory and explaining everything in English. ... er ... and that's it. Of course I did error correction and noted useful new vocab, but otherwise there was no input from me. What I loved about the tours (apart from the fact that I could get away with a whole lesson with no preparation) was that I got to know the factory really well - better in fact than most of the employees. When you've been shown the same machine by a production manager, an accountant, the H&S manager, an engineer and the factory boss, you get a really deep understanding of how everything works.

But there was always the nagging feeling that I should be providing more input, rather than just correcting the output. At the end of last year, I stumbled across a video of an authentic factory tour on the BBC news website - well, actually it was a tour of a TV recycling plant, but the language of the tour is what I was interested in. So I set about analysing the language of describing processes as part of a factory tour. Here's what I came up with:

a. What you can see here is the conveyor belt which takes the circuit board away.
b. Over here is where the glass is cut and dropped down a chute.
c. What we do here is we use a rotary diamond blade to separate the back glass, containing lead, from the front glass, which has some hazardous coatings.
d. What happens next is the TV yokes are sent to another specialist recycling plant.
e. What we have to do next is separate the glass section from all the other components.
f. This is where the old televisions are brought in to the plant.
g. What’s going on here is the televisions are taken apart.

So lots of great what-clefting, as well as a few more such introductory phrases - phrases which focus the listener's attention, and allow the main content of the utterance to come at the end, where it'll be more prominent. What-clefting is one of my favourite grammar structures: once you start noticing it, it's everywhere.

Anyway, you can find my activity on Recycling Televisions
here, and the BBC clips here and here. You don't actually need internet access in the classroom to try the activity - and you don't need to be in a factory. If you do use this lesson, I'd love to hear how you get on with it.


  1. well explaining how we can learn the english language, no matter came from you . .just try for it . .
    Vacanze di studio Barcellona