Number one for English language teachers

Introduction to Business Basics

Rosemary Richey introduces a series of Business English lesson plans especially tailored for elementary learners. This article provides guidance on how to get the most out of the material plus tips on how to manage lower-level business classes.

Teaching techniques

Business Basics is especially focused on interactive, student-oriented teaching techniques. Students have the opportunity to actively engage in communication activities that can be readily transferred to their real-life work or to a pre-experience learner setting. (See pre-experienced learner section below) The activities in the Business Basics series, whether listening, speaking or writing,  are designed to simulate activities which are as close as possible to the real-life business situations in which students are going to find themselves.

The language structures covered in Business Basics are at Elementary (A1+) and Pre-intermediate (A2) levels. You will find the level at the top of each page of teacher’s notes. With business English, some business-specific vocabulary concepts and fixed expressions may seem to be at a slightly higher level. Please consider your students’ knowledge and experience when planning how to use these worksheets with your class. You may feel you need to pre-teach some of the vocabulary and grammar listed at the top of the teacher’s notes if you are working with lower-level or pre-experience students.

The worksheets, together with your teaching techniques, should combine effectively to make the lessons relevant to the students.

Standard supplies

The material consists of photocopiable worksheets and other photocopiable resources such as cut-out cards and write-in templates. The latter appear at the end of the Teacher’s Notes and need to be prepared in advance. Using the photocopiable resources helps to give students optimal learning – in an interactive and enjoyable setting.

Here is a list of typical supplies needed for the activities in the worksheets.

  1. Coloured index cards
  2. A4 paper cut into quarters: coloured paper or white: highlighted with coloured markers
  3. Scissors
  4. Whiteboard (magnets)
  5. Flipchart (coloured markers)
  6. Pinboard (thumb tacks)
  7. Use colour (from the cards, paper or markers) to create a lively, attention-grabbing starting point for any activity.

Using the worksheets

The worksheets are most effective when used as classroom lessons. The follow-up activities could be assigned as homework. (Depending on the student time allowances in the workplace, homework may not be a relevant option.)

General teaching tips throughout the activities

Follow these basic teaching tips for the worksheet activities.

  1. Pair or group work is the core of any activity for maximum practice.
  2. Always model a role-play with yourself and another student to set up any pair-work practice or role-play.   
  3. If you have weaker students in the group, pair them up with the stronger ones.
  4. Switch up or change out pairs so students practise with different partners.
  5. Walk around in each activity to listen to the students’ pair work, whether they are sitting down or standing up in the classroom.

About in-work learners

Wherever possible, try to create opportunities for in-work learners to refer to and draw upon their own personal work experience as they do the worksheet activities. The Teacher’s Notes suggest various ways of doing this.  (The Teacher’s Notes refer to all learners using the material as ‘students’, but in-work learners - and the institutions teaching them -  might prefer to use the term ‘trainees’.)

About pre-experience learners

Here are some points to bear in mind when dealing with pre-experience learners for the worksheet activities. First, what exactly are pre-experience learners? The students could be:

  • still studying at school or in higher education.
  • in a vocational training programme. They might not have decided on a career yet.
  • preparing for a new job.

The tasks in the worksheets could be adjusted to reflect the students’ own experience. Find out:

  • about their background: their culture and education;
  • their own personal interests or experience: hobbies/sports, travel;
  • their interest in their business future. Do they have an interest in finance or sales, for example?

Tie their input into the business focus of the worksheet activities. Formulate questions like these:

  • What would you do if … ?
  • What do you think happens if / when … ?
  • What would you expect if… ?
  • Could you imagine … ?

Useful tips for specific skills and related teaching issues

Here are some suggestions for specific skills and related teaching issues.

Listening

Before having the students do any listening exercise, brainstorm the topic or gist of the activity. In pairs or groups, ask them to come up with their own first impressions. Then play the audio for students to continue the activity.

Speaking

Encourage students to speak and participate in all speaking activities. Tell them it does not matter if they make mistakes or do not know the right words to use. You and the rest of the students can help to create a collaborative learning atmosphere where everyone helps each other to correct their mistakes. (See notes under error correction.)

Writing

Have students do collaborative writing tasks in pairs or groups. They can exchange their writing for peer correction. (See notes under error correction.) Write up the final example from the writing activity on a flipchart page, but do not display it until the students give their examples first. In the case of emails, stress that the example might not be the only way to write it, but that it does model appropriate language and style.

Vocabulary and phrases

For vocabulary and phrase building, tell learners to use a conventional or an online dictionary with their phones, laptops or tablets. Encourage students to keep a new word or phrase list. They can use a notebook or set up lists on their laptops or tablets.

Ask the students to write up cards for each new word or phrase. They put the cards in box labelled ‘New word and phrase box’. At the end of the lesson, tell each student to draw one card and explain the meaning to the rest of the class.

The vocabulary and phrases used are based on a British English model, but American alternatives are given where relevant and useful.

Error correction

  1. Give the students a first chance to understand any new word, phrase or concept from context. Then have them use their dictionaries or ask each other to check if they can understand or explain the meaning. Then you have the final word to check students or guide them to the meaning. With lower-level students it might be necessary for you to directly translate the word or phrase into the student’s own language.
  2. Have the students engage in peer correction for speaking or writing activities. For a speaking task, elicit the corrections from each pair. For writing, the students exchange their writing with one other student or pair and then ideally, if time allows, exchange the writing again with another student or pair. Tell the students to report their findings to the rest of the class, and recap with any final corrections.
  3. Keep a flipchart page on a pinboard or on a whiteboard with magnets to write any error correction or tips for the learners. Keep the page posted where students can see the correction or tips throughout the lesson.
  4. Write up mistakes made by the students on cards. On the front side of the card write what they said. On the back write the correction. Have them read and review the mistake cards aloud at the end of the lesson as a wrap-up.
  5. Make use of your own or your students’ laptops to keep a list of common errors or to collate samples of your students’ writing. Use this document to review topics as you progress.

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