In an extract from ELT Teacher2Writer’s training module, Ros Wright covers the importance of carrying out a detailed needs analysis and creating a framework for a specific course.

Introduction Needs analysis Using a framework from the L1 Authentic (or real-world) tasks


I tend to agree with Dudley-Evans and St John (2005) who suggested that effective ESP courses should make use of the underlying methodology and activities (or authentic tasks) from the given discipline. The aim is to centre on the language (grammar, lexis, register, genre) appropriate to the high-frequency tasks carried out by the learner. By seeking to replicate real-world tasks and methodology from the field, you are not only more closely reflecting the working environment of the target audience, but also better preparing learners for the world beyond the classroom. Materials developed around such tasks provide greater opportunities for learners to draw on their own professional (and personal) experiences. Learners are also able to concentrate on language usage and related cultural issues. Learners and stakeholders (e.g. company training or HR managers) grasp the immediate relevance of the materials, which in turn enhances their credibility.

Needs analysis

While carrying out a detailed needs analysis might be advisable when teaching an ESP course, when writing materials for specific purposes it is essential. The needs analysis is fundamental to the process of ESP materials design. Unlike other areas of ELT, you will be required to take into consideration not only the current competences of your learners – be they in-work or pre-experience learners – but also have an understanding of what the stakeholder wishes the learner to have achieved by the end of the course. Stakeholders appreciate a confirmed, pedagogically-sound syllabus that aims to achieve the objectives required by the company or institution. As you carry out your needs analysis, try to establish the high-frequency tasks that your learners need to carry out in English in order to be effective in their job, or at least operational. If you have direct access to your learner’s work environment, you may be able to observe their daily functions and the level of competence required in order to accomplish them successfully.

Task 1

Take a minute to look at the information about these two target audiences:

Group A

Level: Intermediate (B1)
Type: students on a management programme at a university in Paris
Group size: 25
Course length: six month period / two hours a week

Group B

Level: Upper Intermediate (C1)
Type: managers at the subsidiary of a US company in Munich
Group size: five
Course length: six month period / intensive two-week programme

Answer these questions:

1. Which functions do you think both groups will share, e.g. writing emails?
2. Which functions will differ between the two groups?
3. What other information will have a bearing on the kind of materials / activities you develop for these two groups?

When you have finished, check your answers by clicking the link under ‘Related resources’.

A word of advice when carrying out your ESP needs analysis: assume nothing! Regardless of discipline, there are certain skills that are common to many different professions, e.g. delivering presentations, participating in meetings, communicating via telephone or video conference and writing emails. However, the exact nature of these can differ greatly, which in turn has implications for the materials you design.

While a conference presentation in ELT generally lasts 45 – 60 minutes, presenters in the medical and scientific fields may only be required to speak for 15 minutes – that’s to say, ten minutes to deliver the content followed by a five-minute Q&A session. Naturally this has an impact on the style and the format of the presentation, allowing little time for rhetorical questions and anecdotes. Instead the style tends to be more formulaic and the content is delivered in a more factual manner. The medium may also differ. Poster presentations in the scientific field are the norm and are attributed just as much importance as the traditional presentation. In the marketing sector, a ‘presentation’ may occur at an exhibition stand, or take the form of a sales pitch, which is more about ‘playing to the crowd’ and employs very persuasive language.

The format and language of a meeting may also differ depending on the professional context. A hospital handover might take place at the patient’s bedside between nurses as they change shifts, or more formally in a meeting room with a multi-discipline team. A meeting to discuss a new redundancy policy between the HR manager and trades union representatives may well call for tentative language or hedging devices. Compare this with a product launch in the marketing context which is likely to be very upbeat, making use of numerous adjectival phrases and superlatives.

The medical receptionist and the company sales rep may both have recourse to use the telephone. However, while the receptionist needs a set of communication strategies to ensure patient confidentiality is maintained, the sales rep is more likely to want to use strategies that are of a more persuasive nature so as to close a deal.

Using a framework from the L1

These two examples demonstrate how ESP materials writers can make use of underlying methodologies to good effect.

MBA core modulesDuties of a doctor
  • leadership and change management
  • entrepreneurship
  • innovation and creativity
  • strategy and globalization
  • organizational politics
  • finance
  • marketing
  • listening to patients and respecting their views
  • explaining the diagnosis in a way patients can understand
  • breaking bad news
  • making sure that personal beliefs do not prejudice patient care
Criteria for the Accreditation of MBA Programmes, Association of  MBAs, 2010Adapted from Good Medical Practice, General Medical Council, 2006


The accreditation body, the Association of Masters of Business Administration, requires that all MBA programmes include the core modules listed above. This list could very easily serve as the basis for a topic-based course in management English. The second example comes from the medical communications field. The ‘Duties of a doctor’ forms the basic code of conduct by which all doctors are expected to engage with their patients. The linguistic (questioning, signposting, reflecting, listening, summarizing, paraphrasing, explaining, reassuring) and cultural implications of these duties provide a basis on which to develop a sound programme in doctor-patient communication. In both cases, materials writers can be sure they have the basis for a programme that responds to the real needs of the learners.

Evan Frendo (2012) reminds us that quite often pre-experience learners are not conversant in the discourse of the community concerned – even in their L1. The aim should therefore be to expose students to a target discourse community and help them become members of that community”. Neither are they au fait with the concepts or skills being taught; whether that be a SWOT analysis (marketing), or understanding the theories of ‘change management’. If you are teaching in a university or institute, a feasible alternative is to design a course around the programme your learners are currently following in their L1, therefore making it directly applicable to their needs. To give you an idea of what this might mean, the following are examples of course outlines:

Diploma of management
International marketing strategy

Task 2

Take a minute to think about the context you wish to write for and answer the questions.

1. Is there a recognized accreditation / professional body or existing (university) course, etc. that could provide you with a framework on which to hang the main elements of your course?
2. Which reference materials from your learners’ discipline could provide you with a structure and / or methodology to design materials for your learners?

Here is an example of a framework that could be used to design a course in medical communications:

ELT Teacher 2 Writer_ESP_course framework diagram

Silverman J., S.M. Kurtz and J. Draper(1998) Skills for Communicating with Patients, Radcliffe Medical Press

The Calgary-Cambridge Observation Guide is a training tool consisting of a simple framework developed to guide doctors through a patient consultation. Think back to the last time you visited your GP or family doctor and the consultation probably (hopefully) went through these five different stages, each one requiring certain lexical items. The framework also requires communication strategies to provide structure to the consultation, i.e. linking words (first, then, finally), pausing to allow the patient to assimilate the information, as well as non-verbal techniques and active listening skills to establish and maintain rapport with the patient as the consultation progresses and beyond.

Similar frameworks exist in other disciplines, especially in the fields of human resources, management (interview techniques, teamwork skills and conflict resolution), and customer care; indeed anywhere where heightened communication skills are required.

Once a suitable framework or model has been found, it is then a question of building the language and communication tasks around it.

Task 3

The patient consultation

Match the expressions (a–j) to the correct stage (1–5) in the Cambridge-Calgary Observation Guide.

a. ‘Tell me in your own words what’s been happening.’
b. ‘To begin with, I’m going to give you your results.’
c. ‘What would you like to discuss today?’
d. ‘Can you raise your left arm above your head for me?’
e. ‘Is there anything else you’d like to ask?’
f. ‘How would you describe the feeling in your arm?’
g. ‘Can you just unbutton your shirt, please?’
h, ‘It’s Jill Baker, isn’t it?’
i ‘So, just to recap, we need to do another series of tests.’
j, ‘One option is to take a course of diuretics.’

When you have finished, check your answers by clicking the link under ’Related resources’.

It may not always be feasible to design a course around an existing framework or methodology. However, where possible, try to find out as much as you can about the high-frequency tasks your learners need to carry out in English (see Needs analysis).

Authentic (or real-world) tasks

This next section presents a series of real-world tasks that pre-MBA or marketing students might do as part of their studies in their L1; tasks that are equally valid for the language learning opportunities they bring.

Carrying out market research

1. With a partner, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each market research technique.

  • online questionnaires
  • face-to-face questionnaires
  • focus groups
  • consumer panels
2. With your partner, research the meaning of the acronym STEEP. Report your findings to the rest of the group.
3. Now prepare a STEEP analysis for your partner’s product and then provide your recommendations to your partner.


The first activity – a general discussion about the different techniques employed in marketing – serves to activate the learner’s schemata. Relating the question to the learner’s own product allows him / her to personalize the task which in turn ensures the task is more relevant to the learner. For those working with pre-experience learners, it may be advisable to generalize the activity and reword the instructions as follows:

1. With a partner, discuss the advantages or disadvantages of each market research technique for a product you know well.


The second activity asks learners to find out information about another aspect of the market research process – the STEEP (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political) analysis. This gives learners a chance to either research the information if they are not already aware of the concept, or to make use of their existing professional knowledge to discuss the concept as a group. Finally, the third activity asks learners to carry out another real-world task, using the information from the second activity, again related to their own product or one they know well. The three activities follow on logically from each other, building on learners’ understanding of the concept of market research, while at the same time developing their language skills.

We will now look at a second set of activities designed for learners of management English. The Canadian professor, Henry Mintzberg, made significant contributions to our understanding of management functions. He determined ten different managerial roles that could then be sub-divided into interpersonal, information and decision-type roles.

Management perspectives

Find the correct definition (a–j) for each of Mintzberg’s ten managerial roles.

disseminatordisturbance handler
resource allocatormonitor


a. performs symbolic duties as a representative of the organization

b. Collects all types of information that are relevant and useful to the organization

c. develops and maintains business networks

d. establishes the organizational culture and motivates staff

e. spots opportunities, is innovative and champions change in products, services or business processes

f. deals with unexpected challenges and crises

g. negotiates with individuals and deals with other organizations

h. communicates information from inside the organization to outsiders

i. decides on the most appropriate use of the organization’s resources

j. communicates information from outside the organization to relevant groups inside the organization


a. figurehead; b. monitor; c. liaiser, d. leader; e. entrepreneur; f. disturbance handler; g. negotiator; h. spokesperson; i. resource allocator; j. disseminator

H. Mintzberg, Mintzberg on Management: Inside our strange world of organisations, 2007, The Free Press, Simon and Schuster

The proposed activity asks learners to match the definition to the different role in each case. While pedagogically speaking, this activity is obviously a vehicle for learners to acquire specialist terms in management; it would also constitute an authentic task for someone studying management or an MBA in the L1.