Teaching English to adults is one thing, but teaching business English is another animal entirely. While it can seem difficult to teach business English without prior business experience, teaching English for a specific purpose (tourism, academia, business, etc) can be a lot of fun and really engaging for both the teacher and the students!
Business English gives you an opportunity to target exactly what language and skills your students need to succeed. Instead of guessing at broader topics, you can begin to really understand what circumstances they may find themselves in and how you can help them succeed. Before creating your lesson play, make sure you know where you are headed. Learn how to create a lesson plan road map here!
A business ESL class can take a variety of shapes, and each shape allows for a certain level of personalized education. Let me explain, there are four main types of classes and/or students: pre-experience, in-service, in-company, and one-on-one.
A pre-experience class is one which is comprised of students who don’t yet have experience in the field of business. An in-service class is a class of students who currently work in business, but which are from a variety of companies and fields, and who hold a variety of job titles. An in-company ESL class is where you are hired by a specific company to come in and teach their employees English. Finally, a one-on-one class is where you are working with one student.
As you can imagine, these different types of classes allow you to personalize your materials and activities in different ways. You won’t be able to be as specific in your instruction with a large pre-experience class, as much as you would in a one-on-one session.
After identifying your students and what they need to succeed, you’ll want to start teaching right away! However, while your business students may enjoy letting their guard down and learning a song about grammar every once in a while, that activity doesn’t maximize your time with them. Choosing activities that can teach business skills AND business language will benefit your students in countless ways.
It’s important to remember that your students are not only adults, but educated adults. Many of them may feel uncomfortable learning about plural nouns through hand movements and childish cartoons. Choosing the right activities is really important. Check out this pre-planning guide for some more tips on creating activities for adults.
Below you’ll find three of the best business English activities to teach your students language and skills that are specific to them and their needs. There are plenty of other types of activities that are appropriate for a business English class. Simply think about what situations your students will find themselves in and turn it into a learning experience. For now, let’s start with presentations, log-keeping, and role plays.
Teaching Business English Through Presentations
Having your students give presentations can seem boring, but in actuality presenting teaches a variety of skills that are applicable for a large amount of students, especially business English students.
Presentations are commonplace in business circles, and it’s important to mimic this in the classroom. Make sure you give your students time to prepare, rehearse, and present their information. Don’t solely focus on the presentation, but ensure that your students are preparing and rehearsing well also. Take time in your classes to teach your students how to do these things. Especially in pre-experience classes, you should be spending just as much time teaching them how to prepare as you are teaching them how to present.
Another great component of using presentations in a business English class is that you can focus on topics that reflect what your students will have to do in their line of work. If you have the ability to personalize - do! However, if you don’t have that opportunity, be sure to provide a variety of topics that they can either choose from or that they can gain experience from doing.
Give your students an opportunity to present on things such as their progress, a problem they've encountered, a solution to a problem, or a proposal of some sort. Have your students propose a project or budget, present their progress in their language learning, etc. Emphasize the need for data, facts, and the element of persuasion.
After a presentation, students should have time to receive feedback on the presentation, on their topic, and on their language use. You can make a choice, as the teacher, on whether to use the feedback session to continue the business-simulation or to have an informal review. This is a great opportunity to continue the simulation, by having students critique, question, or discuss the presentation as they would if they were coworkers in an office. However, being able to debrief the presentation as students is also a valuable task.
Teaching Business English Through Log-Keeping
At first glance, keeping a log or diary does not seem to be a task that would reflect a business scenario. However, there are many instances when a business person might have to keep a log of their time, expenses, or mileage. This basic skill is a great one to teach your students, and the language they use within them is an important linguistic skill to practice.
Keeping a log is a valuable skill, but so is keeping a word diary. In fact, the Harvard Business Review posted this article to discuss the benefits of keeping one. They list the benefits as increased focus and patience, as well as a level of personal growth and planning.
There are plenty of ways that you can implement log-keeping or maintaining a diary into your business English routine. Having students keep a log of language progress will help them to see the benefit of keeping a diary related to work or growth. The basic discipline is great for aspiring individuals to create their own level of accountability.
If you or your students still aren't sure, try it out for a few weeks. After your trial period is over discuss the benefits of the experiment. What did they learn? Will they continue? Show them the article from the Harvard Business Review and see what their thoughts are. Simply creating a discussion related to business can be extremely beneficial for your students. Not all tasks have to be explicitly related to the field of work your students wish to or are working in.
Teaching Business English Through Role Play
One of the most reliable activities for language learning, role play can be beneficial for esteemed business people as well. I have to make a confession here, though: I hate role plays. They make me uncomfortable, I hate participating in them, I’d much rather just learn something or have a conversation than act or pretend. However, I think that business role plays make sense. So, if you're like me, hear me out!
In the context of business English, role plays allow your learners to practice their English in a specific scenario, such as a corporate meeting, interview, phone call, etc. If your students are already involved with the business world, you can have them share about situations they found themselves in in the past week, and then role play how it could have gone better.
In order to make a role play more grounded in reality, have your students bring in realia from their studies or business experience. Realia simply refers to objects or artifacts from real life. If you’re talking about food, realia could be cooking supplies or fruit from the market. If you’re talking about business, realia could be pamphlets, diagrams, or outlines from the workplace. If your students are not currently in the world of business (pre-experience), do some of your own digging to find realia or something to stand in the place of realia.
Another important aspect of role play, especially when “re-doing” an actual business experience, is the teaching of necessary language. While there are times to allow your students to talk around a subject or make do with the language they currently have, to best prepare them for speaking English in the workplace you should provide them with the language they need.
It could be beneficial to do a role play of a business conversation over the phone with no prior instruction, then present language they could use, and have them re-do the role play with the language they’ve learned. This will allow you, as the teacher, to pick up on what language they’re missing and what they already know. Find what works for your students. In fact, ask them what they would prefer!
Nobody wants to waste their time. A teacher doesn't want to waste time teaching something that isn't applicable, and students don't want to was their time sitting in a class that doesn't help. Make sure you choose the right activities in order to allow your students to learn all that they can.
Presentations, log-keeping, and role plays help you to maximize your time in the classroom. Not only are you teaching your students language that they will need, but these activities allow you to provide space to practice those skills in applicable ways.
I Want to Hear From You!
Do you teach business English? What are your favorite activities to use?
What are some struggles that are specific to a business English class? How have you overcome them?