Business English lesson plan: Emmanuel Macron’s Neoliberal BINGO!!!

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I kinda like Emmanuel Macron. He soundly defeated one of the world’s most unpleasant creatures in the debat last week and in Sunday’s election, and he’s also said some very laudable things about France’s shameful colonial past and its need to hold onto its liberal traditions. At the same time, he is, as many have pointed out (some of them dickheads, but what the hey) a bit of a (quelle horreur!!!) Neoliberal. Watching an interview with him this week (he is an excellent role model for non-‘native’ English speakers), I was struck by just how many neoliberal buzzwords he managed to fit in to a short interview: competition, compete, competitiveness, competitively, markets, markets, markets… it was a bit like watching a windup neoliberal doll. On that basis I’ve devised this game for use in ‘Business English classes’ (after all it’s basically just neoliberal ideology taught more slowly, your students coming up with wacky product ideas and reading articles on how smartphones will enable a new generation of innovative entrepreneurs to market their innovative innovations competitively and provide innovative global leadership blah blah innovative blah…). The interview in question is here and the BINGO! cards here (don’t worry – that link genuinely has nothing to do with Wikileaks/the Kremlin). If you don’t know how to play Bingo, er…jfgi.

P.s. You could complement the lesson (and counter the pro-neoliberal stance of Macron) by showing your students this.)

Et voilà!!!

Anti-fascist lesson plan

This is an anti-fascist lesson for the week leading up to the potential election of a fascist leader of a major European country. Although in some teaching contexts political content is discouraged, engaging with questions of power and society is one way of allowing your students to develop their rhetorical skills, and also a means of encouraging a sense of group unity and shared purpose at a time of increasing division and social atomization.

It’s possible that you have a fascist or two in your class. Let’s hope not. This lesson isn’t designed for them, but who cares. Maybe they can leave the classroom and go and troll Twitter instead. It aims to enable your normal students to engage politically on an international level through the medium of English. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, don’t do the lesson, but it’s worth bearing in mind that a) English is not just a language for conducting trade, presenting innovative product ideas, etc and also b) if fascists such as Le Pen triumph your livelihood as teacher of a globalising language will be under threat and a lot of your students (and your friends, your family and you) will end up exiled, in jail, dead, or guarding concentration camps for a living.

The lesson as designed is 75 minutes long and should work well for high Upper Int/B2.2 upwards. I did it on Tuesday with a B2-ish class of Political Science students and it worked wonderfully.

Lesson procedure

1. Write on the board ‘fascism’. Ask what it is. Elicit names of famous fascists but also ideas about how to define it. Offer no definitions of your own. (5 mins)

2. In pairs students write their own definition of fascism. (5 mins)

3. Now look at the one on Wikipedia. Do your students agree? How would they change it? (5 mins)

4. On their phones or together as a class, edit the definition on Wikipedia (NB. your/their definition(s) will be rejected almost immediately, but you don’t need to tell them that.) (10 mins)

5. In small groups students address the following

Questions for discussion:

Do you know any fascists personally?

What would you do if a friend of yours started talking about:

  • Voting for a fascist candidate?
  • Joining a fascist organisation?

Have friends on or off social media been talking about the French election?

What would you say to a French friend who was talking about voting Le Pen?

(10 mins including brief report back from each brief pair on what was briefly said – don’t let this bit drag on. Make it brief.)

6. Half the students read Article A, half Article B. They take notes on the MAIN points (stress this and jog them along if they get stuck on details – with less strong groups tell them to just read the first seven or eight paragraphs), check difficult vocab and compare with a partner who’s read the same article. (15 mins)

7. Students swap partners and share what they learnt, taking notes on other person’s article. (10 mins)

8. Share and clarify the meaning of vocab they learnt on the board. (5 mins)

9. Students imagine they have a French friend who has been posting pro-Le Pen stuff online. They write an email to their friend telling them what they think. Depending on their level you could instruct them to use a certain number of conditional sentences (‘if Le Pen wins’, etc). Be on hand to offer vocab and grammar suggestions, etc. They then share what they wrote with a partner, asking for constructive suggestions, etc (20 mins)

10. For homework students write a second draft and then email it to you for corrections, etc.

C’est tout. Nique les fachos!

Listening worksheet: David Foster Wallace’s commencement address (B2+)

Students can often surprise you with what they’ve read in English. I once taught a 14-year-old FCE candidate who’d enjoyed ‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh in the original ‘Embra’ dialect, and over the years I’ve met several dedicated fans of Nicholas Sparks and Paulo Coelho, one Margaret Atwood reader (yay!) and a particularly sulky and precocious Russian student who on the first day of the course simultaneously impressed and horrified me by proudly claiming to have read everything by Ayn ‘Medicare’ Rand. Choosing a particular long-form author to be your language teacher is, as Steven Krashen points out in this excellent essay (one which is also very good to use in class), a tremendous way to take your command of a language way beyond anything a coursebook can teach you.

David Foster Wallace is more of a challenge. Although I wouldn’t suggest ‘Infinite Jest’ to anyone with a CEF level of less than C9.9, his essays and short stories are so entertaining that the inherent language difficulties shouldn’t be insurmountable. If you happen to be teaching students with a very strong interest in issues of language usage his long essays ‘Tense Present: Democracy, English and the Wars Over Usage‘ and ‘Authority and American Usage‘ are worth pointing out to them.

But even for students who would never tackle his writing, this speech (audio here, full transcript here) is typically inspiring and engaging, particularly if you’re teaching university-age students. The format is one they should be familiar with – I start by showing them a google image search for ‘commencement address’, which brings up photos of Oprah Winfry, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. His speech, which has been very widely shared and published and is known as ‘This is Water’, lasts 25 minutes, so it’s a very good idea to break it down into four sections – stop the recording after each four answers, allow the students to consult a partner and then share ideas. To extend the exercise/for homework you can get them to write, rehearse and perform their own five-minute commencement speeches, passing on the multifarious lessons that life has taught them, or, in the case of any Ayn Rand fans, telling the audience they’re all worthless subhuman filth :-P.

Listening worksheet

1. What is the point of the fish story?

2. What is the point of a Liberal Arts education supposed to be?

3. What, for DFW, is a more important thing to learn?

4. What does the eskimo story have to say about belief, according to DFW?

5. What do we need to bear in mind about a lot of the stuff we believe?

6. What is our ‘default setting’?

7. What is the most dangerous thing about a university education?

8. What does ‘learning how to think’ mean?

9. What is the point that DFW makes about suicides?

10. What is it that no one talks about in commencement speeches?

11. What is ‘the absolute voice of death’?

12. What is the point of the supermarket anecdote?

13. What is ‘the only thing that’s capital-T true’?

14. What is a great reason for choosing some sort of spiritual higher power to believe in?

15. Why will the world not discourage you from operating on your default settings?

16. What is ‘the really important kind of freedom’? 

Brexit lesson plan – Key issues and consequences

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As I’m a British person living abroad, I’ve found that my students are very keen to know what I think of Brexit and are generally relieved to hear that (like most people in my situation) I think it was a catastrophic decision. However, I think it’s very important not to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone who voted for it did so out of xenophobia or because they’re all thick, as the Guardian reporter John Harris patiently explains here. Many were frustrated with society, left out of globalisation and duped by nationalist politicians and self-interested newspaper moguls into thinking the EU was somehow to blame. So now you know what I think. Just for a change.

This lesson doesn’t focus on the causes of the vote, but rather uses a Guardian article from yesterday (March 29th) to help your students (and you) understand some complex issues involved in the negotiations which will now take place. This can be followed by a speaking activity in which they express their own opinions about the broader consequences. The lesson was designed for B2+ Politics students but could be used with any Upp Int+/Adv class interested in the issue.

Procedure

  1. Show them this article and draw their attention to the subject (Brexit) and the date (March 29th). Ask them what happened on March 29th (Theresa May write a suicide note) (you don’t have to call it a suicide note).
  2. Draw their attention to the subheadline. Make sure they understand what civil servants are. Demonstrate what ‘untangle’ means and establish that in this case ‘distill’ means to reduce a list of 700 areas down to eight.
  3. Scroll down pointing out the categories (Timing, The ‘divorce’ bill, Citizenship, Borders, Trade, European Court of Justice, Transition, Ratification). Elicit a brief definition/translation for each.
  4. Show them the questions below and get them to copy them off the board. This will enable them to identify any which cause confusion. Point out that the answers can be found in the text and that they should only use their dictionaries as a last resort.
  5. Either handout printed copies of the article or get them to find it on their phones/tablets/pcs/etc.
  6. Students in pairs find the answers. Monitor to offer occasional hints to any pairs who are struggling.
  7. After 20 minutes or so, swap partners to check their answers.
  8. Go through the answers on the board (make sure you know the answers first).
  9. Tell them they’re going to be interviewed about the consequences of Brexit, and that there will be two questions: 1) What are the short-term consequences a) for the UK b) for Europe? 2) What are the long-term consequences a) for the UK b) for Europe?
  10. Give students three minutes to prepare, looking up vocab they will need and asking you for help if necessary. Make sure they are taking notes and not preparing a speech.
  11. Students interview a partner for 3-4 minutes and then swap roles and repeat.
  12. They change partners and repeat the exercise but this time film/record each other on their phones.
  13. HOMEWORK: Students write a transcript of the interview they gave, making corrections where necessary, and then email it to you for comments.

Questions for reading exercise

Timing

1) When will Brexit happen?
2) What’s the main disagreement between the UK Govt and the EU on this point?

Divorce Bill

1) How much does the EU think the UK should pay?
2) How much does the UK Govt think it should pay?

Citizenship

1) Why are a lot of people in Europe angry about this?
2) What does pretty much everyone agree on?

Borders

1) What do both the UK and the Irish Govts want to protect?
2) What do some people hope?

Trade

1) What do most Europeans believe is most important?
2) What is a “bespoke customs union”?

European Court of Justice

1) What doesn’t the UK Govt want to do after it leaves the EU?
2) What possible solution is the UK Govt considering?

Transition

1) What “painful concession” could May face?
2) What have business and the City insisted is important?

Ratification

1) What are the names of the chief negotiators on each side?
2) Why would the UK Govt have problems obtaining a “generous trade deal”?

Tady Prosim!

EFL worksheet: Russell Brand’s new podcast

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The British standup comedian and political gobbermouth Russell Brand has gone back to school (well, university) (well, SOAS) to learn more about politics, and he’s sharing his new knowledge in the form of an excellent new podcast in which he (making the most of his celebrity connections) interviews leading figures from areas related to religion and global politics. This lesson uses the first episode, which is an interview with the political philosopher Brad Evans called ‘Can we really stop terror?’. It will work well with upper-int(+)/advanced EFL/ESOL students with an interest in  global issues and also with EAP/IELTS classes.

Worksheet

  1. Preparing to listen

On your phone or tablet, google the following to find out who or what they are and then compare notes with a partner:

Russell Brand                      Ed Miliband             Brad Evans               SOAS

Now see if you can find anything they have in common.

  1. Podcast – gapfill

Try to identify the missing words. Remember that a) you won’t be able to understand every word and b) you don’t need to!

Part 1 (0.50 – 8.43)

  1. I’m doing a three-year __________ in Religion and Global Politics.
  2. His work introduced me to the relationship between governments and _________.
  3. …the sudden lurch to the __________ as demonstrated by Brexit and the rise of Trump.
  4. I realized this was a very complex world and I realized I didn’t have the artillery to engage in this __________.
  5. What do you say to someone like me who feels __________ with politics but doesn’t know quite where to begin?
  6. Our power to change the world is still __________ to these nationalistic models.
  7. We feel __________ because we know change is not going to happen through those kinds of mechanisms.
  8. One of the purposes of an academic is to ask how we can __________ the right types of questions.
  9. What is the historical __________? What makes this moment this moment?
  10. Why is it that we often put the blame on the __________ of the most vulnerable?

Now check your answers with your partner.

Part 2 (8.43 – 17.57)

  1. There is no such thing as Muslim __________ separate from US imperialism.
  2. The term terror has a much broader historical __________.
  3. If you look at the old colonial seafaring powers, they had the __________.
  4. On the one hand you had powers trying to establish __________.
  5. The best way to understand any political regime is to understand the relationships of __________ that it’s engaged in.
  6. Liberalism says it has a __________ over these terms – universality, rights, security, justice – but it doesn’t.
  7. He doesn’t stipulate one precise point about what this shared universal __________ system actually looks like.
  8. The idea that liberalism can transform the world for the better is __________.
  9. People are denied the most fundamental political right, which is the right to __________.
  10. You have these impoverished communities who are taught by the media and people like __________ to fear these people who are deeply vulnerable.

Now check your answers with your partner.

Part 3 (17.57 – 26.07)

  1. Whose story is the __________ story, and how do they get to maintain it?
  2. You get people to __________ the conditions they should find intolerable.
  3. Global capitalism today doesn’t require __________ of the world’s population.
  4. Why doesn’t that idea get __________ more?
  5. People are working in such __________ environments today, they can just turn on the TV and be filtered a message which is comforting to them.
  6. It’s what the late Zygmunt Bauman called ‘__________’.
  7. We live in an age of what I’ve called ‘__________’.
  8. You have to __________ them from trying to achieve the kind of lifestyles that we’ve been selling to them.
  9. The ways in which certain elites are operating is having __________ consequences for people on the planet.
  10. One of the questions we need to ask is ‘where is the __________?’.

Now check your answers with your partner.

  1. Discussion

Now you’re going to have a conversation about what you’ve heard. Think on your own for two minutes about the following question:

How does the conversation relate to a) your life b) your country c) your view of the world?

You can take some notes if you wish. Look up or ask your teacher for any vocabulary you might need.

Now get into a group of three or four and compare your reactions to the podcasts for ten minutes. One person in the group will need to report back to the whole class on what is said so they need to write down any interesting points. Remember that you don’t have to agree with each other – if you have different points of, explore them, but remember that this isn’t Facebook – be respectful!

Homework

Using your phone, either with a classmate or on your own, make a 5-minute podcast in which (similarly to what you just did in class) you talk about your reaction(s) to the podcast. You might want to listen to the rest of the podcast before you start, but you don’t have to.

HEALTH WARNING: You might find the ambivalence of your students upon hearing that 60-70% of the world’s population is surplus to the requirements of global capitalism somewhat dispiriting.

Lesson Plan: Procedure for writing a story

This is a very simple procedure for writing a story in the first person about a personal experience. It’s in the form of a Powerpoint presentation so you can just show it to your students and put your feet up. At the end of the lesson get your students to stick up their stories on the walls, walk round reading them and choose their favourite. For homework they can either do a second draft with more details (which don’t by any means have to be true) or write another story. 매우 쉬운!


Great activity for getting to know who you’re teaching

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It’s easy to forget, but your students are never just students. They are parents, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, third cousins twice-removed, guitar players, Japanese speakers, chess players, travel bloggers and many other things besides, many of them entirely surprising*. How many times have you, towards the end of a course, found out something really interesting about one of your students and thought, I wish I’d known that sooner? I once, on the last day of an (ahem) challenging low-level ESOL course, found out that one of my students had played football for the Iraqi national team 40 years earlier and that another had eleven (count ’em) children. Silly me for not making the effort to find out such things sooner.

In order to trust you to teach them they need to know who you are and who their classmates are. This is a fun activity which helps with that process. You can do it at the start of your course or at any point afterwards and it works well with pretty much any level post-beginner.

  1. Write up on the board/screen your own version of the following (n.b. don’t just copy mine):
  2. I am a teacher, an examiner, a dad, a brother, a son, an uncle, English, half-German, a husband, an immigrant, a second-generation immigrant, a Northerner, a Sheffielder, an East Londoner, an avid reader, a music-lover, a Momus fan, a Thomas Pynchon obsessive, a blogger, a cyclist, a non-driver, an English speaker, a Philosophy graduate, a Portuguese speaker, a Spanish speaker, an Italian speaker, a language learner, a former DJ, a former part-time comedian, a former part-time actor, a former activist…
  3. Encourage your students to ask you: “so you’re a …”. Then tell them a couple of entertaining details. Do this for five minutes or so, dealing with vocabulary as it comes up.
  4. For lower levels point out the difference between where you’ve used an adjective (with no article) and where you’ve used a noun (with an article), and also the meaning of ‘former’.
  5. Get them to make their own lists. Monitor to help out if they’re stuck. Make sure they each have a decent list of things (at least eight or nine).
  6. Put them in pairs and get them to swap lists and take it in turns to ask. They don’t need to take notes. Make sure they’re asking follow-up questions (‘when?’, ‘why?’).
  7. Rotate the pairs once or twice depending on how many students you have.
  8. The third time they swap pairs, get them to film each other on their phones.
  9. At the end of the lesson, get each of them to report what the most surprising thing they found out was.
  10. Extension: If you and they like, make (or get one of them to make) a short film compiling the most interesting snippets of the interviews. This might sound challenging but there will probably be someone in the class with the technical know-how.
  11. Extra extension: You could easily incorporate a listening comprehension activity using this.

Dekiagari!

* Some of them might even be racists, but you’ll have to hope they don’t proudly announce that in the course of the activity.

Lesson plan: Getting your students to solve the world’s problems

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A lot of exams (like IELTS) quite reasonably expect candidates to be able to talk about social, environmental and economic issues. I’ve noticed over the years that some lack the basic conceptual tools. This lesson is designed to classify global problems and discuss possible solutions. It works well with B2+ classes.

  1. Match the definition with the keyword

Keywords

  1. Society
  2. The Environment
  3. The Economy

Definitions

  1. The area in which something exists or lives
  2. The system of production and distribution and consumption
  3. An extended group of people with a specific cultural and economic organization
  1. Problems

Are the following problems social, economic or environmental? (some of them fit into more than one category). Decide for yourself and then compare with a partner.

  • Unemployment
  • Climate Change
  • Violence against women
  • Racism
  • Poverty
  • Corruption
  • Inequality
  • Poor healthcare services
  • Deforestation
  • Financial collapse
  • Underemployment
  • Obesity
  • Malnutrition
  • Homelessness
  • Alcoholism
  • Illiteracy 
  1. Solutions

What possible solutions are there to each of the above problems? Can you think of any more? Discuss in small groups. Feel free to disagree!

  • Awareness-raising
  • Regulation
  • New legislation
  • Education
  • Redistribution of wealth through taxation
  • Investment
  • Subsidies
  • Aid
  • Leave it to the market
  • Revolution

Evaluating solutions

Look at the list of words for describing solutions, and look up any you don’t know in a dictionary. 

utopian      practical/impractical      equitable      viable/unviable      sufficient/insufficient      popular/unpopular      expensive      radical

4. Writing

Plan and write a paragraph (150 words) headed ‘The world’s biggest problems and what should be done about them’.

5. Reading and Speaking

Stick your paragraph up on the wall. Walk round and read what others have written. If you disagree, find the writer and tell them!

6. Homework

Bearing in mind the conversations you’ve just had, rewrite and expand your paragraph and then email it to your teacher for feedback.

Lesson plan: Talking about experiences and abilities

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Could this be one of your students?

After two months, seventy or so blog posts, 880,000 views and the arrival of one impossibly cute baby daughter, I am now back at work. This is the lesson I just did with a low B1 class. I think it’s very important in any lesson for the students to produce something they can feel proud of, so (with their consent) I have posted the recordings of their interviews at the end. You could use them as examples/models at the start of the lesson or to demonstrate the task to the students before they do their own interviews (you could also use them to highlight errors in question formation. Then do some drilling of the correct forms. I didn’t do this and it shows). The point of this lesson is to give them a chance to reflect on their English at the start of term, but you could easily use it in the middle or at the end of a course. The items in the list relate directly to what they’ll need to do in the next few months (some of them do, anyway. I’m not planning to send them to do an eye test) so obviously feel free to change them.

Worksheet:

Your experiences and abilities in English

Look at the list below and make sentences using ‘I have (never)…(past participle)’ / ‘I could (not)…(bare infinitive)’, eg ‘I have never written a 200-word essay in English’ or ‘I could write a 200-word essay in English’.

  •         Write a 200-word essay
  •         Work in a bar
  •         Read Shakespeare in the original language
  •         Order a meal in a restaurant
  •         Work as a taxi driver
  •         Give a five-minute presentation
  •         Read a short novel without a dictionary
  •         Watch a whole TV series with no subtitles
  •         Do an eye test
  •         Teach a beginner’s class
  •         Do a Master’s degree

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Now look at your sentences and decide if you want to insert any of these expressions:

if I had to         easily                 with difficulty                when I was at school                 with a bit of practice

Now look at the list of things you couldn’t do and choose two you would really like to be able to do, eg ‘I would love to be able to…’:

1.

2.

Now think of one more thing you would love to be able to do in English:

1.

Now prepare to be interviewed about your English. Don’t worry about making mistakes. If you are the interviewer, ask questions beginning with ‘Have you ever…?’ and ‘Do you think you could…?’. Remember to choose the appropriate verb form and then ask follow-up questions: when, why, why not, etc.

Swap partners and take out your phones. This time you are going to record the interview! Once you’ve finished, listen to it and check that you’re happy with the result – if not, delete it and do it again.

(nb. I know this is not strictly speaking a lesson plan but the material sort of teaches itself so I don’t feel it’s necessary to specify the points at which you should monitor, look out of the window, do the TEFL crouch, etc.)

Polyglots/language freaks lesson plan

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This is a lesson about learning languages quickly. The input is mostly in the form of videos, so your students get to develop their listening skills. More importantly, however, it uses five examples of savants – extraordinarily gifted/freakish language learners – in order to encourage your students to think about what they could do to improve their command of English as quickly as possible. Due to the demanding level of the input I wouldn’t attempt it with anything lower than a solid Upper Intermediate group. If you use all the material it should take between 75-90 minutes.

Procedure

  • Begin by telling the students you’re going to talk about learning languages -not just English. You want to start by finding out which languages they have a command of or would like to learn.
  • Stick up a piece of A4 paper on each of the four walls of the classroom. At the top of one write ‘I’m fluent in’; another ‘I can get by in’, the third ‘I know a few words of’ and the fourth ‘I’d love to learn’. Establish that in this context ‘be fluent in’ means ‘have a full command of’. Students walk round and add their names and languages to each sheet, eg. ‘Davide – French’. Monitor to clarify what the terms mean in case of confusion.
  • Have a brief whole class discussion, drawing on what they’ve written: ‘So, Sandra, you can get by in German’, or ‘So, Yuki, you’d like to learn Chinese’, etc.
  • Elicit/introduce the word ‘polyglot’. Decide together on the basis of the discussion who in the class could be considered a polyglot. Explain you’re going to watch two short interviews with polyglots. The first one is Alex, from the UK. Their task is to write down which languages he speaks.
  • Compare lists. If there is anyone who speaks any of the languages mentioned, ask how well Alex spoke it.
  • Then ask them: if a 20-year-old can speak 11 languages, how many could a 16-year-old speak?
  • They can then repeat the previous exercise with the second video. (NB: If you prefer, there is also a listening gapfill exercise here.)
  • Ask the student how the two polyglots learned all those languages – put them in pairs to discuss.
  • Tell them you’re going to watch two more videos which present very different methods for learning languages quickly. The students’ task is to choose which method they prefer.
  • Gather ideas. This will be very subjective- some will prefer the music/radio approach, others the book-based method. That’s fine.
  • Give them 5 minutes in small groups to discuss how the videos relate to their own language-learning experiences. Get one person in each group to report back on their discussion.
  • Tell them you’re going to show them one more video. Write on the board the phrase ‘from scratch’ and ask them what it means. Once the meaning is established, ask them how fluent you could become in a week in a completely unfamiliar language if you really dedicated yourself to it.
  • Tell them to take notes on: the name of the person; the language; the challenge; how successful they think he is at it. (NB: there is also a listening comprehension exercise here.)
  • Gather responses. Give them a chance to watch some or all of the video again if they need to.
  • Put on the board the following questions, and tell the students on their own to write down their responses:

1. Which example do you find most inspiring?
2. What lessons can you learn from the five videos you’ve seen?
3. What three specific things are you going to do in the next week to improve your English as much as possible?

  • Do a 5-minute whole class stand-up mingle in relation to the third question.
  • To close, elicit some of the things they’re going to do. Make sure they’ve chosen specific things, not just ‘read a book’ or ‘listen to music’. What book? What music? Remind them that they have a week to do those things and you will dedicate time in next week’s lesson to discussing how each thing went.

Det är det!

ps. there’s an interesting dimension to this whole polyglot thing, viz. why are most of those who go online to boast about their language skills men? You could open up this question with a higher-level class, using this blog entry (and the subsequent comments) to guide you.