Teaching Business People to Tie Their Shoes

Here’s a video I’ve been using with my business students. It uses a very short TED talk by Terry Moore, all about tying shoes:

What I love about his video is how he takes something so commonplace and mundane and makes his incredibly intelligent audience realise that they are doing it wrong. He does this with great wit and flourish, before ending with the moral of his story which is the real message behind his talk.

That sometimes a small advantage someplace in life can yield tremendous results someplace else.

It’s a simple message, but can create a very fertile topic of conversation with business students. Below you can see how I’ve been using the video.

1) Give the students a shoe each (if that’s not practical, give them a piece of string which they can imagine is attached to a shoe). Ask them to tie the lace. Ask them to swap shoes and check each others knots. Get some feedback on how good they think the knot is.

At this point you’re probably going to get some strange looks from your students. Just give them a smile and tell them to trust you!

2) Show them the video.

3) After they’ve seen the video, ask them to go back to the shoe and reevaluate their partners efforts.

4) In pairs, ask them to practice tying the shoes. Can they tie a better knot?

5) Before showing the video again, ask them to identify the main thing we can learn from this video (“That sometimes a small advantage someplace in life can yield tremendous results someplace else”)

6) Normally I prefer to get my students to write their own comprehension questions, but this time around, just as a one off, I made them for reasons I’ll explain at the end.

Give them some comprehension questions (see the attached handout):

  • How does he describe the TED audience? (intellectual, worldly, savvy, and innovative.
  • What was the problem with the shoes? (he was tying them wrong, they had round nylon laces)
  • What did he think he would have achieved by the age of 50? (the ability to tie his shoes)
  • What are the differences between the two knots? (one is tied on the weak axis, the other on the strong; the weak one goes down the long axis, the strong across the transverse axis; the bow goes in the other direction on the weaker form; it looks better)

7) Tell them you are going to play the video one last time. Ask them to make a note of the time whenever they have a language point to raise. This could be new vocabulary, interesting sentences, useful phrases etc.

I ask the students to note down the time as opposed to the language because it doesn’t seem reasonable to me to ask them to write down something they potentially don’t know. You can just go back in the video and ask them to point it out to you during feedback.

8) Get feedback and deal with any vocabulary that emerges. You can also point out any other language points that you noticed in the video that may be useful and that they missed.

9) Discuss the issue in groups. Again, I would prefer to get the students to generate their own questions, so I would begin by putting one of these questions on the board and letting them go from there:

– Can this rule be applied to anything in your life / workplace?
– Do you remember a situation where a small change made a big difference in your professional life?
– Is there anything in your current work where you think a small change could make a big difference?

This discussion is an opportunity for them to practice new language that has emerged from the video, so encourage them to try. You can make notes during the discussion in order to give some feedback after it is over.

As I said above at point 6, I decided to break my own rule and make a handout for this particular activity. This was because of Jason Renshaw’s materials design masterclasses. I have always admire his gorgeous materials, so I, along with some other people, encouraged him to give those of us who have battled with Word some tips in creating our own materials. He has more than delivered, creating a whole series of detailed instructional videos that go beyond the mere tips I was asking for.

The handout below is my effort based on his first three videos. I can’t believe how much better my materials look already. Imagine what they’ll be like after I’ve watched all twelve! Feel free to download and use the handout.

How to Tie Your Shoes


8 thoughts on “Teaching Business People to Tie Their Shoes

  1. Looking good, James!

    Impressed as I am with your flourishing materials design, more importantly I am really impressed with how this overall lesson is put together and what it involves.

    Keep up the great work (and happy someone has been watching those materials design videos!).

    Cheers mate,

    – Mr. Raven

  2. Thanks Jason. I really appreciate your kind comments, especially since your blog has been an inspiration to me ever since I first got into all this PLN and blogging business. And fear not, I'm sure I”m one of many people who have enjoyed your design videos – they're called masterclasses for a reason!

  3. A great TED and a great lesson … gonna go off and tie my shoelaces as soon as I’ve finished writing this comment 🙂

    The handout looks great, really professional, certainly worthy of the Raven’s masterclasses, though I wonder what questions your students would have come up with if asked?  But a thing of beauty is good to share at times.

    I really love the point you make about getting the students to write down the times. It’s such a tiny, simple thing on the surface, but it really lets you do so much.  Just as you can use a reader response code to unlock the student’s internal dialogue with a written text – and to pinpoint difficulties in understanding – so you can use a code with the numbers to access the student’s reactions to an audio text – and to go back and revisit the points of difficulty.  Like the shoe tying, a small advantage can yield tremendous results 🙂

  4. Very good.
    Could I suggest taking this a bit further?

    T could ask students (poss prepare for subsequent lesson) to give a 1 min tutorial in front of class on a skill that they possess. This could be from their business or social life.

    (I know what you're thinking…a lot of BE Ss are as dull as dishwater – well, putting Ss well outside of their comfort zone is one way we, as teachers, can attempt to replicate some of the stress levels found in business. So ignore the moans! 🙂 )

    Ss can also be pre-warned that if they can't be arsed to prepare something then they are going to have to watch and learn a skill from someone else and then present that!
    Oh, hold on – is that an improvement still? Right, this is how it runs…next lesson Ss have to present their skill to a partner, coach them and then the PARTNER presents the newly learnt skill. That's better from a communicative standpoint, isn't it?

    Presentation watching audience can stay active throughout all presentations (i.e. not still planning their own presentation while others suffer) meanwhile by filling out a rating table (scores of 1 to 5) with fields like 'content', 'engaging?', 'humour', professional?','educational'…whatever.
    I think it's important for teacher as moderator to strictly enforce a 1 min time limit to keep everything snappy and not let some bore drag on forever!

    Then after all presentations are done, have a feedback discussion on any number of areas: difficulty of presenting, what makes an effective presentation, keeping message simple vs sufficient detail, how do you make your message memorable? etc etc blah blah blah

    How would that work?

  5. Hi Ceri, thanks for your comment. It's amazing to think that this video has changed something as basic and fundamental as how I tie my shoes!

    As I said, the handout was very much an experiment in materials design. It wasn't the most student centred thing I've ever done, but I thought it won't do any harm as a one off.

    Certainly the students would have come up with a completely different set of questions had I not given them the handout. I would have told them that they were going to watch a video called “How to tie your shoes” and shown them the photo on the handout. I then would have asked them to discuss what they think the video is about, who it's aimed at etc. I then would have got the doubts they expressed and asked them to turn them into questions, which they could try and answer after watching the video.

    Thanks for noticing the thing with the times, and tying it 😉 into the theme of the video in such a neat way. you're right, it is a small thing, but it seems so obvious now!

  6. Hi Bren, thanks for your suggestions for extension activities. I didn't do any this time because the lesson that I detailed above took two classes and I could tell that the students were looking to change the subject. It will still feed in neatly into some presentations classes that I'm doing now.

    But normally I'd always try to feed an input activity like this into some sort of output. Sure, the discussion activity in the last point is a perfectly good way of creating genuine output, but you're right in suggesting further extension activities.

    I really like the communicative activity of students teaching each other how to do the skill, but how about we extend that even further? Make groups of three, making sure that none of the students were in pairs together before. They now have to demonstrate their new skill in their groups. You can then get feedback from the class by asking them to tell you about one of the three new skills they have acquired.

    And by the way, I have to take issue with your statement that BE students can be boring. Some of the most fascinating students I have taught have been BE. Maybe I've been lucky, but we can have that conversation another day!

  7. James, as always – great post:) I will definitely use your idea with my business students:) I already ask them to do strange things so I guess they won't mind taking their shoe (shoes;)) off:) And the handout looks great:) Ania

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