Work-life balance – A business class idea

Photo taken from

Photo taken from

This lesson idea is based around a funny and thought provoking TED talk by Nigel Marsh. The talk is titled; How to make work-life balance work.

I have used the class with C1.3 and Proficiency students and each time the talk prompts different conversations within my groups, leading to good language work and exposure to authentic listening.

Here is the link to the talk – Nigel Marsh; How to make work-life balance work. (link will open in a new tab)

Here is what I did

  • Begin the class by asking your students to discuss two questions:
  1. Do you think you have a good work-life balance?
  2. If yes, how do you maintain this balance? If no, what would you like to change to create a balance?
  • An alternative opening could be to put the following statements, taken from the video onto the board/projector and ask the students to discuss and say which they agree/disagree with.

there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hateto enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you [as] they can get away with. It’s in their nature; it’s in their DNA; it’s what they do — even the good, well-intentioned companies.

We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our life.

  • Let this run, and try to make notes as you listen. Get feedback and ask any more relevant questions to push the students further.
  • Next, introduce the video and the title. Tell the students that they are going to listen to exactly the first 5 minutes of the talk. I prefer to use the video purely as audio. The video contains nothing of importance visually, i.e no slides, quotes etc. The only task for the student is to listen and when the first part is over, to say whether they agree with the points mentioned in this part. Encourage the students to write down any vocabulary as they are listening.
  • In my classes the following vocabulary was picked out and discussed; startled, thorny issue, getting to the nub of smthg and abattoirs of the human soul.
  • My students had a lot to say about the talk and most genuinely agreed with what was said. It was great for getting them to personalise the subject and talk(moan) about the companies they work for.
  • Once this dies down, remind the class that at the end of the 5 minute clip, Nigel Marsh begins to talk about how he sat down and wrote out his perfect working day. The video stops just before he tells us what it is. Get your students to write down or think about their perfect working day. It needs to be based around their current job. Get them thinking about what time they would start, how many hours they would work, time for lunch, when to finish and what they would do with their spare time.
  • Get feedback and ask more questions.
  • Now the students will listen to the remaining 5 minutes of the talk. They need to compare their ideal day with that of Nigel’s and again write down any vocabulary they want to discuss. In my classes the following vocabulary was discussed after the second part; daunting, upheaval, moronically simplistic
  • Again, work with the discussions that come up after the clip and ask how the students felt about Nigel’s perfect day. To finish off, here are some questions worth discussing;
  1. Is it true that we often neglect the intellectual, spiritual and emotional side of life?
  2. Do you dream of retiring or do you live for the hear and now?
  3. What small things could you change in your life to create a better work-life balance?

I hope the lesson is useful. As always, please feel free to comment and let me know how it goes. Remember that with all TED talks you can activate subtitles and also access an interactive transcript of the talk.


60 second idea to change the world.

Here is a lesson idea I recently tried out with several advanced level classes (C1 and up)

The original idea and resources were suggested by Emma Gore-Lloyd on her WordPress website, A hive of activities.

I simply want to share what I did with my classes and how I used the same resources.

The lesson revolves around some great authentic listening texts which you can find here, on the BBC future website. The concept is simple:

A global thinker from the world of philosophy, science or the arts is given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea – no matter how improbable – that they believe will change the world. (BBC future website)

These fantastic recordings are all archived on the link above. They actually last longer than 60 seconds, as the idea is then discussed and debated further by the speaker and a panel of guests.

For my lesson, I focused on three recordings and only on the actual 60 second idea itself, although the conversations following the ideas would be very useful for Proficiency or strong advanced level groups.

1) Why we should have three-lane pavements for pedestrians.

This was the first recording I used. The audio-script can be found on the same page and simply needs to be copy and pasted across to a word document.

  • On the board I wrote – “What would be the use/point of a three-lane pavement?” (I must add here that both of my groups struggled with the word ‘pavement’ and it might be worth checking meaning before starting the discussion)
  • I asked the students to simply discuss the question in groups/pairs and then got feedback from each group, to compare ideas.
  • I then told the class that they would hear someone talking about the idea of a three-lane pavement and as they were listening they should listen for whether their ideas match that of the speaker.
  • For stronger groups you can simply  get confirmation of the idea and then ask them to discuss; 1) Is it a good idea?   2) Would it work in your country?
  • For weaker groups, give them time after the first listening to discuss what they heard in the group and piece together a general summary of what they heard. Elicit and get confirmation from the class and then proceed with the above questions.
  • After discussing the questions, hand out the audio-script. Give the students time to read and highlight any vocabulary they want to discuss.
  • Before I do any feedback, I get the students to discuss the vocab or expressions in their pairs/groups, encouraging them to guess from context.
  • After feedback, I give the class the choice as to whether they want to listen again and read along. If they decide to do so, I ask them to highlight any particularly difficult parts and then we go back to listen again and clear up any doubts.

The process is then repeated for the next two recordings. This obviously depends on how much time you have, but my classes lasted for about 1hr 30 mins and this was just about enough time.

2) Should horn honkers be punished

  • Initial discussion question – How often do you hear horns being honked where you live? How do you feel about it?
  • Discussion questions for after first listening – 1) Is it a good idea? 2) Would it work in your country?

3) Plan for a University of life

  • Initial discussion question – If universities were to offer a course on ‘Life’, what would be taught on this course?
  • Discussion questions for after first listening – 1) Does this happen in your country? 2) Does it need to happen in your country? 

After the listening tasks, the students should be well aware of the concept and now is the time to tell them it is their turn to think of a 60 second idea to change the world.

Give your students time to plan their idea. Spend the time monitoring and helping to edit the students work. When they have finished get them to practise with their partner or group. Eventually get them to share their idea with the whole class.

After the initial attempts, I point out to the students, through the audio-script, the techniques that the three speakers used.

Listening 1 – Asking a question and then providing the answer.

Listening 2 – Providing a historical anecdote

Listening 3 – Providing a contrast. Highlighting what we are good and bad at, and then providing an idea to improve the bad part.

I allowed my students to re-draft and add these elements in and give them another chance to share their idea again. Obviously, this is time dependent.

I hope you find the lesson useful and would appreciate any feedback.