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Ten Top Tips for teaching Business English


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Here are my top tips for teaching Business English, based on more than 20 years experience as a teacher and teacher trainer.

Published in: Education

Ten Top Tips for teaching Business English

  1. 1. Ten Top Tips for teaching Business English for teachers for learners
  2. 2. for teachers for learners Tip 1: Focus on words already known passively All reading texts and listening scripts contain : 1. Known words, actively used (dog, company, marketing) 2. Known words, not actively used (feature, revenue, ‘meet’ a target) 3. Unknown words (smattering, sturdy, reviled) Students’ eyes are drawn like magnets to #3 words. And we feel good explaining them – isn’t that what teaching is all about? But #3 words are likely to be low-frequency and therefore not very useful. They will also be quickly forgotten. And even if students do learn them, will they be understood by other non-native speakers?
  3. 3. for teachers for learners Much more useful to focus on the #2 words! Say to the students: “In this text you will find some words you don’t know. For homework, you can find them in a dictionary and write the translations. But remember that they may not be very useful – if they are new to you, they are probably not very common. In class we are going to do something different. I want you to find all the words and phrases that you already know, but don’t actively use yet. Then underline them. Okay, start reading.” The act of choosing and underlining the words will bring them strongly into attention. An obvious follow up is for the students to include the words in personalized sentences, similar to ones they might speak in real life. At the end they can read out their sentences to the class . That gives further ‘noticing’ and attention (other people’s words), and some sentences will provoke comment , laughter or discussion.
  4. 4. for teachers for learners Tip 2: Make a mind map of an authentic text Problems with authentic texts: 1. The same problems mentioned in Tip 1 – students are drawn to unknown words which may not be very useful. We have all taught classes where huge amounts of time are spent with students scanning a text and writing translations of unknown words in the margin. At the end they know very little about the content of the text. 2. With an authentic text this problem is much greater. Journalists use language to engage a native speaker audience: puns, metaphors, cultural references, ‘clever’ language instead of clear language, etc.
  5. 5. for teachers for learners Solution. Follow this lesson plan: 1. Ask students to read the text and underline key words and phrases that are important to the meaning. (Save Tip 1 for later – here you want them to focus on meaning, not vocabulary building). 2. Next, they should produce a mind-map of the article: title of article in middle, three or four main points in the article as the inner ring, and key words and phrases as outer branches of the main points. As a model, sketch the diagram on the next slide on the board. Note that this stage (reading the text and producing the mind map) can be done for homework. 3. Students now summarize the article to a partner – using their MM and not the original text. 4. Students turn over their MMs face down and work with a new partner. They summarize again, from memory, not using the MM.
  6. 6. for teachers for learners Key word or phrase Key word or phrase Article title Point 2 Point 1 Point 4 Point 3 Key word or phrase Key word or phrase Key word or phrase
  7. 7. for teachers for learners You, and the students, will be amazed by their fluency at stage 4. Remember that they have: • Processed the text for meaning when selecting key words and phrases to underline. • Processed the text for meaning when deciding what are the three or four main points. • Rehearsed the summarizing activity in their minds when producing the mind map. • Had guided, structured speaking practice with the first partner at stage 3, using the mind map as support.
  8. 8. for teachers for learners Tip 3: websites for classroom material Wharton Business School site: Finance, Marketing, Management, etc. Articles, podcasts (with scripts) and videos (with scripts). Articles quite long, so read first yourself and choose a few key paragraphs to use in class.
  9. 9. for teachers for learners Short videos where academics and ‘thought leaders’ give presentations on their research. Transcript on screen. Choose a topic that the students are already familiar with and it’s okay for Upper Int upwards. Students love the authenticity of seeing real people giving talks.
  10. 10. for teachers for learners Slideshare is to Powerpoint what YouTube is to video. A platform for thousands and thousands of PPTs. Many slide ‘decks’ are well designed and interesting. Especially recommended for all things marketing-related. But all human life is there.
  11. 11. for teachers for learners An American weekly magazine, less dry and intellectual than the Economist. Free. Longish articles, but good in-depth analysis. Choose selected paragraphs. Can have a lot of informal, low- frequency language.
  12. 12. for teachers for learners McKinsey is very high-level, big picture analysis of Strategy, Marketing, Organizational change, etc. They are the organization that CEOs use as consultants. Long articles, but good in-depth analysis for senior managers with a good level of English. Choose selected paragraphs.
  13. 13. for teachers for learners Tip 4: a warmer for Social English Write this on the board: Student A 1. Really? Right/Yuh. 2. Echo key words/phrases. 3. Ask questions. 4. Little words: No! Wow! Fantastic! That’s amazing! Student B … And what about you?
  14. 14. for teachers for learners Follow this procedure: 1. Point to line #1. Lots of funny listen and repeat for ‘Really!’ and ‘Really?’. Ditto ‘Right/Yuh’. Then 30 second demo of one student telling you something (eg what they did this morning) and you doing ‘Really?’ and ‘Right/Yuh’. 2. Point to line #2. Establish idea of echoing back key words to show interest. Then 30 second demo of another student telling you the same thing. You echo key words as well as throwing in an occasional ‘Really?’ and ‘Right/Yuh’. 3. Point to line #3. Establish idea of Yes/No and Wh- questions, with a few examples based on previous two stories (to show that context is important). Another demo where you put all three techniques together. This time a student can tell you a more interesting story, eg what they did on their last vacation. 4. Point to line #4. Elicit a few more words and short phrases if you like. Final demo with you using all four techniques and another student telling you a story. This time tell them that after a short time they should say: ‘And what about you? Where was your last vacation?’ 5. Students work in pairs to do similar activities themselves. Break down into stages according to level.
  15. 15. for teachers for learners Tip 5: Use silence and calm I think that the biggest difference between how I teach now and how I taught ten or twenty years ago is my use of silence in class. In the old days I filled lessons 100% with sound and activity. Students spoke and had discussions and did tasks, and I set things up and explained language and entertained. Lessons were high-energy and buzzy. All that hasn’t changed, but it’s now dropped to maybe 90% of the lesson time. The remaining 10% is silence. I now put much more value on silent preparation before an activity, silent reflection on language, and internal thought processes generally. I know recognize that deep mental processing happens when the mind is calm, focussed and undistracted. On the next few slides are some examples. They are all simple, but I believe they are profound in their impact and non-obvious in the ELT classroom.
  16. 16. for teachers for learners If I have a reading text, I give plenty of time for calm, silent reading regardless of any prediction or comprehension exercises in the book. I don’t believe students need a ‘reason to read’ in the sense of an activity to do. We all read for interest every day without exercises and tasks. And when students are reading, I tell them to do it in complete silence, keeping any questions about vocabulary etc. until everyone has finished.
  17. 17. for teachers for learners If I have a listening exercise, the audio will fill the silence. But the students’ minds can be calm and undistracted by textbook questions and exercises. So before playing the audio I ask them to close their eyes. I say “Listen with eyes closed, no exercise or task, just focus on the words”. At the end I ask them “how much did you understand, to the nearest 10%?”. They tell me. Then I play it again, ditto with eyes closed. I ask them how much they understood now. Usually it is 20% more. Then I ask them to look at the script in the back of the book, keeping questions until everyone has finished. I deal with the questions. Then I ask them to close their eyes again, and really focus on the words and try to hear every single one. I play the audio a third time. It becomes an exercise in pure micro-listening.
  18. 18. for teachers for learners If students are finding a conventional grammar or vocabulary exercise difficult, I just stop it half way through. I ask them to put their pens down and relax. I read aloud question #1 exactly as it is in the book, without giving the answer. For example, if it is an exercise where the students fill the gap, then I read the whole sentence saying ‘mmm’ for the gap. I ask students to think of a possible answer, but not to call it out. Then I read the sentence again, supplying the correct answer myself. I move on to question #2 and repeat: I read, students think in silence, and I read again with the correct answer. Then they do the exercise themselves, normally. If the exercise is important, and the students have almost understood, then I continue until the very last question. The students have not spoken, or written anything. They have just thought, and then listened to my answers. Finally I ask them to work in pairs to do the exercise themselves, from #1.
  19. 19. for teachers for learners I use silence during language feedback at the board. I do this in a deliberate, strategic way. Silence allows time for mental processing.  I am at the board, feedback notes in hand, after a task. I am going to write up something from my notes that a student said. It could be a lack of vocabulary, a lexical simplicity that needs developing, a mistake in a phrase (vocabulary or register), or a grammar mistake.  I will of course try to elicit the correction/improvement, guiding students with hints, concept questions, etc. BUT … I leave a few seconds silence first, after writing and before eliciting. I move away from the board and withdraw eye contact from the students.  At this moment, during this silence, language acquisition is taking place! Students are activating their passive knowledge to reformulate what they see on the board. They are getting practice at self-correction/self-improvement.  The next time they say the same thing (in class or outside) they are far more likely to notice it in their own stream of speech and self-correct/self-improve.
  20. 20. for teachers for learners Tip 6: Use ‘Teacher Talking Time’ mindfully Yes, teachers talk too much in class. Students need speaking practice, not us. But, it’s also true that YOU are the best listening material in the class. Take an active, mindful, part in discussions. Students will be listening to your words with high levels of attention and noticing: Grade your language. Choose appropriate occasions to use a new word. Make it count. Use your voice for emphasis. Help students by reformulating what they say as they speak. But make these interventions very brief. Write them down and return to them at the board later. You don’t want the students to lose their train of thought.
  21. 21. for teachers for learners And here is one specific activity using ‘Teacher Talking Time’ with a text. The text can be from a book used in class, or authentic from the web. 1. Teacher reads a text aloud, just a fraction slower than natural pace to help the students. Students close eyes and listen. They don’t see the text yet. 2. Students in pairs: can they remember the main points? 3. Teacher reads it again. This time, the students write down key words they hear while the teacher is reading. Just any random words they catch. 4. Students in same pairs: looking at their notes, can they summarize the main points now? 5. Teacher hands out the text and reads it aloud again. Students just follow along, silently reading. Teacher answers their vocabulary questions at the end. 6. Discuss the content of the text as a whole class. Note three benefits to you reading a text aloud: your automatic chunking and stress of key words will help comprehension; the class will stay together; you will avoid some of the questions about unimportant, low-frequency vocabulary.
  22. 22. for teachers for learners Tip 7: Record One-to-One students Record 1:1 students whenever they are speaking (you don’t have to use it). After a useful/interesting bit of speaking, playback the recording to them as soon as they finish. Pause the recording frequently to correct and extend language. Work collaboratively with the student: offer them the chance to reformulate before you do so; allow them to pause the recording as well as you. I use Sony ICD-PX312 digital voice recorder. Smartphones/laptops also work fine. Make sure you know how to go back quickly to the last bit of speech so that you can re-listen.
  23. 23. for teachers for learners Tip 8: Explain the learning process A student sighs and says they are making no progress. Others agree. The mood is the room is suddenly subdued. The students need motivating. What can you do? This is what I do. I choose ONE of the diagrams on the next two slides. I quickly sketch the diagrams on the board, and follow the accompanying procedure. The diagrams give the students a simple insight into the learning process, and help them to understand their feeling of lack of progress.
  24. 24. for teachers for learners This is a graph with overall upward progress, but long plateaus and some dips. I ask students to remember how learning other skills was also like this: learning a musical instrument, learning how to drive, learning how to use a piece of software, etc. After some time it seems easy and automatic, but there is always an initial phase of practise, forgetting, and periods of no progress.
  25. 25. for teachers for learners I sketch a funny head with eye, ear, mouth and brain.  Arrow into eye and ear: ‘Awareness’  Brain: ‘Passive understanding’  Arrow out of mouth: ‘Active speech’ Then, lots of little boxes (language items) in a line coming into the eye and ear, moving to the brain, going round in the brain, moving to the mouth, and finally coming out of the mouth. I say to the students something like this: “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of stuff on the assembly line, it just isn’t ready to come out yet.” “We’re going to cover a new language area today. It will be Awareness. It won’t be ready to come out in speech for a few more months. Don’t worry.”
  26. 26. for teachers for learners Tip 9: a lesson on Intercultural Awareness Here is my standard lesson on Intercultural Awareness. It is based on the Richard Lewis model of culture. You don’t have to agree with the model to use it in class: the whole point is to provoke discussion. For the record, I do largely accept it. You will need the diagram on the next page, and the ‘answers’ in two slides’ time. You may want to transfer these two images to handouts, or show them as PPT slides on an IWB. You can find the original images by typing ‘Lewis Model Of Culture’ into a search engine. Be careful – the images on the web have ‘the answer key’ in the middle, and I have carefully removed this on the next slide. Note also Richard Lewis’ website:
  27. 27. for teachers for learners Procedure 1. Show students the diagram. Give them a few minutes to study it in silence. If they spot the words ‘Linear Active’, ‘Multi Active’ and ‘Reactive’ in the three corners of the triangle, say you will explain them later. It’s better to ignore these words if possible at this stage. 2. Ask the students: ‘What values and behaviours to the three corners of the triangle represent?’ You could elicit one example to get them started (see next slide). Have them work in small groups to brainstorm ideas then share ideas with the class. 3. Show students the ‘answers’ on the next slide, which come from Richard Lewis. Allow silent reading and reflection time. Ask for reactions, and of course students are free to disagree. It’s just one person’s opinion and insight.
  28. 28. for teachers for learners Tip 10: Remember pronunciation! Drilling of word stress to help retention in memory. a na ly sis Drilling of whole functional phrases to help retention in memory. Can I just interrupt for a moment? Using sentence stress to bring out meaning. Use Presentations as a context here. Each sentence we speak has a few key words, and these will be stressed to bring out the meaning. Of course the key words have stressed syllables inside them. These stressed syllable need really stressing. Work through and drill an example, then students work out the stress for their own very short text/presentation extract.
  29. 29. for teachers for learners Use pausing for dramatic effect. Use Presentations as a context here. Pausing just before a word creates impact and attention - the listener awaits the next word with interest. Pausing just after a word gives the listener a moment to absorb the information. Work through and drill an example, then students work out the pauses for their own very short text. Pauses can be marked on paper with a line. Combine sentence stress + pausing for maximum impact. First give a model. Choose two or three paragraphs that all students can see. Say you are going to read it aloud like a politician giving an important speech, or maybe a preacher. Then go for it: have fun and read with exaggerated impact. Just be spontaneous. If you like, read it again emphasizing different words. Then students try it, using the same text, or some paragraphs from their own presentations.
  30. 30. That’s all, folks! Please check out my two websites. For teachers: tips and techniques For learners: eLearning