Avoiding misunderstandings – lesson plan

Time: 60 minutes + Level: B1+
Objective:  To discuss how to avoid misunderstandings at work where complex or unfamiliar information is exchanged  To discuss and practice language strategies for clarifying and summarizing what is said when exchanging information Materials: 1 copy per participant of pages 1-3 1 copy of the teacher’s resource sheet, cut up Procedure: 1. Discuss the lead in questions 2. Read the first conversation between Simon and a new foreign student who has taken a placement in his company. 3. Discuss the factors which would cause confusion. Examples: use of vague language (thingummyjig, wotchamacallit, wotsit), hesitations, overly complex and long-winded explanations, failure to address Juan’s questions, lack of repetition, failure to summarise the information ‘exchanged’. Conclude that clarification and simplification is required on both sides. 4. Read the second conversation. Underline the strategies used by Simon and Juan to improve mutual understanding Answer:
Simon: Juan: Simon: Juan: Simon: Juan: Simon: Juan: Simon: Juan: Let me show you how the photocopier works. Lift the lid – what I mean is this part here. Next, place your paper on the glass – it depends on the size you want it to copy. I’m not sure what you mean – could you say that in a different way? Ok. The paper goes here, and you can photocopy the document onto different sizes of paper. Ah, I understand. Now you’ve got to choose the settings. In other words, you can decide if you’d like to double-side things, hole punch them… Do you mean putting holes in the paper? That’s right. You can also staple them or enlarge them. To put it differently, you can make the copies bigger. Ok, I see. When you’re finished take out your original and your copies. Thanks, that’s great.

Note that the conversation has also been simplified – sentences are shorter and there are fewer hesitations and vague language. 5. Distribute the expressions from the teacher’s resource sheet, one set per pair or group, mixed up. Ask the groups to rearrange the vocabulary into three groups: clarifying one's point or idea, how you ask for clarification, how to express lack of understanding. The participants can compare their answers with worksheet two when they are finished. 6. Practice: in three minutes participants describe the layout out of their office/company in as much detail as possible. One person should speak and the other will draw a picture, according to what they hear. While doing so they should aim to use the phrases from the previous exercise, attempting to ensure that they avoid misunderstandings 7. Show the pictures to each other and confirm how accurate they are

. 8. Coordinating tasks at work – participants imagine they have been called away to a lengthy meeting, and their partners in the class will have to step in for them. As the colleague in question is unfamiliar with his/her partner’s job or current schedule, they will need to give them clear instructions and respond to any questions. Begin by asking the participants to complete their table with details of three tasks which should be carried out – an example is given. 9. Ask participants to take it in turns to give their instructions. They must bear in mind that their colleagues do not usually do these tasks, and they must therefore ensure they are completely clear – use clarifying and summarising language, and respond to colleagues’ questions as appropriate. 10. Debrief: compare notes, then discuss how successfully the instructions were given and understood.

Teacher’s resource sheet
Cut up the sentences below and ask learners to rearrange them into three groups:

Clarifying one's point or idea Let me explain that... What I mean is... In other words... To put it differently... How you ask for clarification What do you mean by...? Could you say that again, please? Do you mean…? I wonder if you could say that in a different way. How to express you don’t understand I don't quite understand. I'm not sure what you mean. I'm not sure I follow you. I’m not sure I got that

Avoiding misunderstandings
Lead in: 1. When was the last time you gave instructions about something to another person? Was it easy or difficult? 2. How easy do you find explaining things in your own language? What about in English? 3. What tips would you give someone who had a complicated process to explain?

Conversation one: It’s Juan’s first day at a student work placement in a British company. His boss, Simon, is showing him how to use the company photocopier.

Simon: Righty-ho, let me show you how the thingummy jig here works. Firstly, right, ahem, err, you’ve got to, ok, lift the lid, then place your paper on the glass at the right position – it all depends on the size you want it to copy. Juan: Mmm Simon: Now you’ve got to get the wotchamacallit, the settings right – you can double-side things, hole punch them, staple them together and blow something up. Juan: Yes, but… Simon: When you’re finished take out your original and your copies out of the wotsit here and Bob’s your uncle! Got it? Juan: Bob? Mmm, ok.

Discussion one: What problems do you think Juan might have? What could Simon say to help Juan understand more easily? What should Juan do and say? Conversation two: Simon: Let me show you how the photocopier works. Lift the lid – what I mean is this part here. Next, place your paper on the glass – it depends on the size you want it to copy. Juan: I’m not sure what you mean – could you say that in a different way? Simon: Ok. The paper goes here, and you can photocopy the document onto different sizes of paper. Juan: Ah, I understand. Simon: Now you’ve got to choose the settings. In other words, you can decide if you’d like to double-side things, hole punch them… Juan: Do you mean putting holes in the paper? Simon: That’s right. You can also staple them or enlarge them. To put it differently, you can make the copies bigger. Juan: Ok, I see. Simon: When you’re finished take out your original and your copies. Juan: Thanks, that’s great. Discussion two: How did Simon make sure that Juan understood him? How did Juan react when some of Simon’s instructions weren’t clear? Underline the phrases they used to avoid misunderstandings.

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Avoiding misunderstandings – useful language
How to express lack of understanding
   

I don't quite understand. I'm not sure what you mean. I'm not sure I follow you. I'm not sure I got that.

How you ask for clarification
   

What do you mean by...? Could you say that again, please? Do you mean…? I wonder if you could say that in a different way.

Clarifying one's point or idea
   

Let me explain that... What I mean is... In other words... To put it differently...

Practice:
Take it in turn to describe the layout out of your office or company in as much detail as possible. One person should speak and the other will draw a picture, according to what they hear. If you feel your partner may not have understood you completely, then clarify what you say. If you are drawing, and aren’t completely sure you have understood, let your partner know and confirm your understanding. When you are finished show your drawing to your partner: how accurate is it?

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Coordinating tasks at work
You’ve been asked to attend an urgent meeting. It will last for half a day and you have a number of very important jobs which need done. Your colleagues will have to cover for you, even though they have no experience of your job. You need to give them clear instructions so they know exactly what to do. Make notes using the table below – try and think of three tasks:

Task

People involved

Communication
(face to face, teleconference, email etc.)

Result wanted

Example: Need information about the conference venue in Slovenia – size and number of rooms, how many visitors can be invited, catering service available?

Get the information from Maria Elosabas (00386 11548892) or m.elosabas@conf.ljubljana.sl

Phone call or email if no answer

All information about conference venue

Step one: Using your notes, explain to a colleague what they need to do in order to be able to cover for you. They have never done your job before, so you need to ensure that they are clear on who to contact, how and what they need to do, so remember to summarise and clarify what you explain. Step two: when you are finished, your partner will explain the tasks which he or she needs covered. Make notes in the table below. Make sure that you are clear on what to do, asking questions and summarizing where necessary. Task People involved Communication Result wanted

Debrief: when you are ready, check your notes. Discuss how successfully you clarified, summarized and checked your understanding while giving your instructions and taking notes.

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