Activities to personalize topics, language, communication skills and business skills

The IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium was a wonderfully intimate event with a wide range of excellent presentations. On Friday, Evan Frendo provided the excellent keynote, Exploring business English. He’s got a clear vision that is enormously helpful to anyone working in the field. Then I went to Simona Petrescu’s presentation on how to create a customized syllabus (see her blog, Enterprise English).  Her key message was that you need to base the curriculum on a very specific needs analysis of the communication situations all along the standard flow of work processes, and working through these in their logical sequence. Pete Rutherford presented his work in process in developing a competency radar chart (=spidergram) to supplement the CEFR, an interesting suggestion including a range of communicative competencies in addition to linguistic competency. I presented on day 2, and then heard a number of talks including Paul Walsh’s on Decentralized Teaching and Clarice Chan’s on What we can learn from interaction in learner roleplays, which I’ll review separately.

In my talk I introduced the concept behind Basis for Business C1, I explained that the book is rooted in my reflective teaching approach of reconstructing the communicative situations my  clients experience at the workplace in class, discussing these with both them and my business mentors, and applying research on discourse and culture to work on better ways of handling those specific situations.  The presentation is here.

Thanks to ELTpics for the great photos!

Speaking on behalf of the publisher, Cornelsen, I suggested 4 activities to personalize topics, language, communication skills and business skills in any intermediate or advanced coursebook:

1. Topical personalization: Freewriting reviews

In the first lesson with a new book, use a free-writing activity to get ideas flowing and agree on how to use the book.

Have students to write 3 headings a sheet of paper:

  • An article about…
  • A picture of…
  • Something about…

(This activity and the headings were suggested by Jo Westcombe here in her column, Try it Out)

Give them a few minutes to browse the book. Then ask them to write down under the 3 headings what they found. Encourage them to note down anything that comes to mind, and keep writing. Full sentences and accuracy are not important.

Put them in pairs to share what they’ve written. Encourage them to explain to their partners how what they saw relates to their experience. Then have the pairs look through the book together.

Use to lead into a group discussion on how you will use the book in class. Those selecting a particular topic or skill could be engaged to chair that particular lesson and provide additional materials from their workplace, field, or area of interest.

2. Linguistic personalization: Dictogloss (“grammar dictation”)

Learners reconstruct a dictated text in a grammatically acceptable form. Initially the learners work individually to take notes. They then get together in small groups to pool their ideas and work towards a final version. Texts can be up to ca. 12 sentences, and should be challenging. In Basis for Business C1, “Outside view” will work well, but you can easily use materials supplied by your learners,  i.e. short business reports, press releases, involved business emails, presentation scripts… any genre you want them to notice the linguistic details of.

Read the text once at normal speed. Students listen. Then read the text again and have learners take notes on key words and phrases. Recommend leaving room between words and lines to be able extend their notes. Pause very briefly after each sentence.

Put them in groups of about 4 to reconstruct a grammatically correct version of the text containing the same information.

Follow up with feedback, comparing the group versions with the original.

In the Basis for Business C1 Teachers Book, Andreas Grundtvig’s worksheet 5 “Don’t let it escape your notice” is a listening dictogloss to help students identify relevant language and adapt structures for their own purposes that uses a visual organizer to compile smaller units of language.

3. Communication skills personalization: Listening trios

This activity practices all skills, but especially listening, and encourages collaboration and learner autonomy. The aim is to produce a 3 sentence written summary of three separate texts.

Take three short texts – A, B, C. You could take an article in the book, e.g. Unit 7C on Nutella, and 2 similar new articles by bloggers e.g.  something by Seth Godin or Daniel Pink on trends in social media marketing, and a short article on social media overload). Make one copy of one of the textx per student. Make three groups, A, B and C. Give the A texts to the A group, and so on. Give the students a few minutes to read their text, and to check understanding in their group. Everyone needs to fully understand their text. Then divide the large groups into groups of three containing an A, B and C student. Have the students share the information in their texts with each other. Student A  reports on the content of his or her text. Student B listens and will write the summary. He or she asks any necessary questions. Student C monitors to make sure English is used and they are on task. After a few minutes, ask the Bs to make notes on what they have heard. Repeat the steps for the second round: student C tells the story, A listens and B monitors. Once the three rounds are completed and notes have been compiled, the groups polish each of the summaries collaboratively to produce three sentence summaries.

Compare the summaries by pinning As, Bs and Cs in groups.

4. Business skills personalization: Storytelling

In Basis for Business, business skills (e.g. SWOT analysis, report writing, performance review…) are connected to the business content of any given unit, often featuring in Part C. For example, in Unit 5, stories loom large, suggesting ways of using them in their own business context. Storytelling as a business skills introduced in Part A in a presentation recounting the rise and fall of a company in hindsight – listening, accompaniesd by a look at language markers. 5B shows that not every presentation should be a monologue, as here the focus on the dialogue aspect of pitching. 5C contrasts persuasive and objective reporting, and storytelling is discussed in Outside View 5 on speaking, summarizing Robert McKee’s reflections on storytelling as a persuasive cultural skill. Business File 3 also involves storytelling, i.e. looking back on a decision making process as part of a simulation.

Students can bounce off the book’s presentation of and practice with stories at many points here. I would  have them tell business stories repeatedly throughout this unit, both orally and in writing, with the aim of persuading others to see the issues from their point of view.

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

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