listening comprehension

What are the qualities of great leadership?

Skill: Listening Theme: Leadership
Level: Intermediate/Upper Intermediate (B1-C1)

The following short video takes a fun look at some qualities of good leadership that you may not have thought of.


In your opinion, what are the essential qualities of a good leader?  Make a list, then try and put the qualities in order from the most important to the least important.

Write your list of qualities in the comments field below.


There are hundreds of different « movements » around the world that have had outstanding leaders.  Click on this link for a list of movements.  Choose three that you would like to know more about, and look for information to answer the following questions:

  • Who were the key leaders of this movement?
  • In what ways did they demonstrate effective leadership? (you may not be able to find this information for every movement on the list)


Derek Sivers is best known as the founder of CD Baby. A professional musician since 1987, he started CD Baby by accident in 1998 when he was selling his own CD on his website, and friends asked if he could sell theirs, too. CD Baby was the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients.  In the video below, entitled How to start a movement, he mentions some qualities of leadership that you may not have thought of.  According to Sivers, what are the principles behind starting a movement?

Note that this video can also be viewed at, where there are subtitles and a transcript available.


The video contains the following idioms:

he needs the guts (courage and fortitude; nerve; determination; stamina)

lone nut (an eccentric person)

tipping point (the crisis stage in a process, when a significant change takes place)

be part of the in-crowd (a group  of people sharing similar interests and attitudes, producing feelings of solidarity, community, and exclusivity)

recap (short for ‘recapitulate’)

over-glorified (honoured with praise or admiration, in an exaggerrated way)

gain momentum (the force that keeps something moving or developing after it has started)

It also contains the following phrasal verbs:

stand out, stick with, join in

Test: how would you translate these idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs into your language?.


1. Sivers says:

The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself.

Do you agree?  Why?  Can you think of any other examples?

2. Do you think that leadership is over-glorified?  Why?

3. Would you revise any of the qualities of leadership that you thought of before watching the video?

Listening and reading comprehension with online books

Most of the information I think I might need or want to keep either gets thrown in my Evernote « drawer », or subscribed to in Google Reader, but the reality is that there are few sites that I read in detail.  I said in a recent post that I don’t save bookmarks to my browser any more because there are too many to manage, but that’s not quite true.  The few sites that I know I will want to refer to regularly and read in detail have the honour of being saved to my Firefox bookmarks.

Openculture is one of them.

Open Culture explores cultural and educational media (podcasts, videos, online courses, online books etc.) that’s freely available on the web, and that makes learning dynamic, productive, and fun.

This site is all about learning.  It is a labour of love that provides links to audio, video and text resources in English for no cost other than the time you invest to study them.  Rather than having to Google these resources separately, Openculture conveniently groups them together in one place.  Most of the material is appropriate for listening and reading comprehension practice for higher level (B2 +)  students of English.  Here are just a few of the possibilities.

In the free audio books section you can download great online books from a variety of sources (Librivox, iTunes…),  and in different formats (mp3, m4p…)  Although some of the works are downloaded whole, many are formatted into chapters for easier handling.  The books are categorised into fiction and literature (Jane Austen’s Emma, The Wizard of Oz, Canterbury Tales, Great Expectations …) non fiction (Aristotle, Descartes, Roosevelt …), poetry (Blake, Coleridge, Tennyson…) plus links to a number of specialist audio-book sites.

There are free online university courses and lectures in fields as diverse as archaeology, economics, geography, history and literature.

Language-learning has its own section, with courses in 34 different languages, including English and French.  There is also general material on language learning skills.

If you have spent any time on YouTube, you have discovered that there is a lot of junk in online video land.  However, Openculture provides links to a variety of « intelligent video collections« , touching on a large range of general subjects, as well as university collections.

Podcast collections include ideas, books and writing, film, music and museums, news and current affairs, science, travel, technology.

If you prefer reading to listening, the « life-changing books »  section will give you some ideas, although these online books are for purchase, not free download.  If you were hoping for a free book, you can click through to a number of free fiction and non-fiction e-books,  which, while not life-changing, will no doubt give you food for thought.

There are also links to a huge number of culture-related blogs.

Most days the Openculture blog has articles featuring new content which is a must for the feedreader.

You could spend hours just looking through it all.  As for me I’m working my way through a list of 15 free Spanish courses on the foreign languages page.

What are you going to start with?  So much free learning to be had!  For some specific ideas on using Open Culture resources for language learning, try the following:

Newspapers aren’t dead – yet – how to use a pdf version of front page news for tried and true newspaper activities for language learners.

photo credit: Stella Dauer cc

An ESL lesson plan from « History of the Internet »

One of the obscure but interesting things I came across this week was PICOL – Pictorial Communication Language.  You probably haven’t heard of it yet – it’s a fascinating project by some German graphic designers developing  » a standard and reduced sign system for electronic communication. »

So what’s a language teacher doing writing about graphic design?  Well, using these PICOL icons they’ve made an interesting short documentary entitled History of the Internet – very engaging.  I thought it would make a good English lesson for Upper Intermediate to Advanced students (that’s level B2 for CEF fans), or an ESP class related to computer science.  Here’s the online video.  There is also a YouTube version.

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

Here are a few ideas I might use to craft an esl lesson plan out of this video.  You can download a transcript of the video here: pdf-iconhistory-of-the-internet-transcript

Lead-in (10 minutes).  What do your learners know about the history of the Internet?  Brainstorm and mindmap a few elements of Internet history.  Depending on how geeky your group is you may wish to set them homework the night before to do some very basic research (using Wikipedia, for example) so they have something to bring to the discussion.

Pre-teaching vocabulary (10-15 minutes).  Assuming this is an ESP class you could focus on the general theme of language to talk about NETWORKS.  Here’s a brief summary of useful material that comes up in the video:

remote connection, time-sharing, large-scale computer network, knowledge transfer, mainframe, interface, interconnected, TCP – Transmission Control Protocol, file transfer, packet switching, centralised/decentralised network architecture, node, compatibility

In ESP classes I love the way that students are usually the experts, and one of the most valuable language-learning experiences you can create is to have them explain their field to you using the language you are focusing on.  Being a complete dummy in this area I will have a great time asking my B2 IT expert to explain to me what ‘TCP’ is, the difference between a mainframe and an interface, how ‘packet switching’ works for example.

You could also design a matching activity with a jumbled list of the words to be matched to definitions.  A good online dictionary for computer and Internet technology terms is Webopedia.

Viewing (30 minutes). The clip is about 9 minutes long, the speech is very clear but quite fast, and the language quite challenging so even for higher-level students it should probably be viewed in three chunks.  Why not design a different viewing activity for each chunk?

  • Gap fill.  Very easy to prepare by cutting and pasting the text from the transcript into a Word document and creating gaps at meaningful points for learners to fill in.
  • Transcription.  Practising similar skills to gap fill but a lot more challenging.  It can be a very rewarding activity too.  Set a limited number of sentences to be transcribed depending on the level.
  • Viewing without sound.  View a brief section with the audio switched off and have learners discuss in pairs what they think the section is talking about.
  • Comprehension questions.   Best for the teacher to invent his own questions, particularly if you’re not familiar with the subject matter.  Your learners don’t need to know you’re a dummy!  There are two ways I like to attack comprehension questions: the traditional way (question + multi-choice or short answer) OR the back-to-front way.  In other words, I give the learners the answer, and then they have to produce the question.  In view of the difficulty even advanced students have formulating questions, this is always a meaningful activity (see Can you answer questions correctly?).

Follow-up.  Lots of scope here.  The documentary finishes with the real launch of the Internet in 1990.  What I would probably do is to set a research activity where pairs have to imagine the script for a follow-on documentary concerning the main events in Internet development say from 1990-2000.  This could either be structured for an oral presentation, or a piece of writing.  I think this kind of activity is more meaningful when learners can do the preparation between class sessions, and can email their work for comment and correction before actually giving the presentation.

So those are some of the ingredients I would probably throw together.  How would you use a video clip like this in a lesson?  Share some ideas in a comment.

A fun way to develop listening comprehension

Every language learner has used video at some stage in their journey, and with the explosion of video on the Internet there is a huge amount of material to work with.

But have you ever been on YouTube and found that there are so many videos that you don’t know where to start? Which clips are good for my level?  How do I know that they will be interesting?  What if the sound quality isn’t good and I find it hard to understand?
If you have asked these questions, then there is a site that is specifically designed for you :

Yappr was designed by a guy who found that watching local television in his second language was the most fun and productive way to study.

On Yappr you can view funny or interesting videos uploaded from people all over the world, that are appropriate for language learning.  Yappr members transcribe the videos and add the text, and may even post translations into 7 other languages.

yappr-video1As you watch and listen to the video you can pause it or replay the sentence you just heard as you follow the text.  This exercises your reading and listening skills at the same time, and the video material helps your comprehension.  It is a very low-stress and enjoyable way to learn.  You can even download the full transcription of the video in .pdf format for vocabulary work.

The videos are graded according to their difficulty, and site members can rate the videos so you can see which are most popular.  Learners also add their comments to videos, and can add them to their own favourites.
When you’ve had enough of watching videos, you can move over to the chat page where you can chat with other Yappr users.  There are rooms for three English levels, and 7 other languages.  You can leave messages on a forum, and search for other Yappr fans in your country.

If you are an English learner of any level, you need to have Yappr in your language-learning toolbox.