teaching professional people english
Creativity and business English sometimes find it difficult to get along. That’s a pity because they do a lot of their best work when they’re together. However, there are ways to help them to find each other …
Today’s starting point is a little article from ‘inc’ magazine about inducting new employees into a company. It’s geared towards sales staff training but the principles are universal enough. The trouble is that if I give it to my students at the start of the class, they’ll read it and then put it to one side and expect me to dish up something else for desert. It’s generally very difficult to get them to really think about – let alone apply – the ideas. On the up-side, if I can trick them into doing it they’ll have a thoroughly productive discussion… So how to go about distracting them?
I have a rather ancient collection of photographs out of magazines pasted onto pieces of card stock. I keep them in a ring binder, and every now and again they get an airing. They are all of real people. All ages, all styles and body types. All colours and hues. The collection took a while to amass, but it does come in handy. The thing that all these pics have in common is that they are fairly closely focussed on the people in question, and if there is any background, it could conceivably be a place of work. Today they are my secret weapon.
The cards are placed in the centre of the table, and the student(s) invited to appropriate them. Who might these people be? Where are they from perhaps? What do you think they do in life..? After a while, and it can take quite a while for some people to get going, I announce that in fact each of these unlikely looking people is a hugely successful business owner. I ask them to speculate as to what that business might be… sector, location, number of employees, capitalisation. Is this person a hands-on boss, or are they perhaps semi-retired? Depending on the number of students, the pile will probably be reduced down to a handful of particularly inspiring pics. There is no way of telling which these will be ahead of time.
Then the pictures are laid aside and students are asked to read an article. This can be got by clicking here.
I don’t think there will be a better time to prompt students to read the article like grown-ups – by which I mean that they should feel free to scan it briefly as they would any other document, and attempt to get the gist of it. If they were reading something at work in their native tongue they wouldn’t be limping along examining each individual word as a precious jewel. They would be evaluating the beauty of the piece as a whole. This is not a naughty cheaty thing to do just because this is an English lesson. We can go back and check vocabulary later.
The best comprehension exercises usually involve processing and reformulation, so why not ask the class to draw a flow-chart of the process using only key words and no sentences? Relaying the chart to the class is the perfect opportunity to practice sequencing language…and NOT to say ‘
in a first time‘. Other approaches could be to write an executive summary, make a mind-map of the subject, or to do a round-robin verbal summary with each student speaking just one sentence before the next one takes over (from memory! or they’ll probably paraphrase every word)
Now the pictures come back … the ones which are now attached to an imaginary company concept. Let’s imagine that this company is in real difficulties. Just recently it experienced a period of unexpected growth and was forced to take on loads of new staff. Unfortunately the strain on the people already working for the company was such that they were unable to train all these new recruits correctly, and some customers had a less than satisfactory experience. Ultimately this has been bad for business. The board/boss has brought you in as management consultants to devise a strategy to dig the company out of the hole it’s sliding into. ….
Of course it is quite legitimate to decide that given the specifics of the imaginary company and its imaginary owner, the principles in the article just wouldn’t apply.. and there will be just as much discussion about them either way.
The icing on the cake would be to produce a succinct document outlining the team’s recommendations. This could perhaps take the form of an executive summary, or an e-mail. If there was time, this could be written on the board by a ‘secretary’ (or you if it was a one-on-one lesson). Alternatively, it could be homework…