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Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English Classes – My Workshop for the ETAS SIG Day, September 17, 2011

My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher, born in Toronto, Canada but of Greek descent. I have been living here in Switzerland for two years and I absolutely love my work and life here. What I like the most about my teaching here is that I have a lot of business people that I teach, be it in banks, companies, and so on. I find it very interesting to learn new terms and things about the business world – you see, I learn alongside them as well.

  • I find it great that I can do numerous activities with them to help them in their learning process. One of our favourite activities which will start off my talk is Word of the Week. I came up with this idea coincidentally, as one day we were talking about unusual words in English with the bankers that I teach. Words that are relatively new to the English dictionary, compound words that we have heard and sound newish and suddenly at that moment, it hit me: find a way, that I can incorporate them into the lessons, because I saw how interested they were and the great conversation they got out of it. Thinking about it, I decided to make it the start of the lesson. I would present it as Word of the Week (since I see them only once a week) and see how it goes. I explained to them in the next lesson what the purpose of that activity would be – they did not have to remember all these words, we would simply use them as a foundation for developing conversation. They were very open to it and I can tell you, ever since we started it, they absolutely love it! I see that even when they leave the lesson, they go and tell their colleagues about these words in English, and they even continue their conversations in their offices!

Let me show you with a simple word how I do it – and then you can up the ante and use more complex words, depending on the students´ level. The one I am about to show you is for pre-intermediate classes or intermediate – I have used it with all levels, however!

This is what I always put up on the board before the students come in - it builds up suspense!
Then I try to give them hints – for this one I would say: “What do you usually do in the summer or when you have time off? ” “We go on holiday”, would most probably be their answer. So then I tell them to look for another word that means the same. If they do come up with the word vacation, then I write it underneath the Word of the Week as a clue to help them.
When they find the hint, I add it underneath the Word of the Week
Then I ask them to put their thinking caps on and think of a word that means a holiday for only one day. After some playing with words, they usually come up with the correct answer – daycation!
Ta-dam! The Word of the Week has been found and will lead to great discussions in class - and outside!
As I mentioned earlier, the point is not for them to remember all of these words – and you will see that they remember the vast majority, because they are playful and catchy words, because they try to use them in sentences in the next lessons and there has been so much conversation going on about them that the words just stay with them. Coincidentally, the day before my presentation I had my last lesson with a group of IT experts form a bank. They had prepared the most beautiful card – including some words of the week they had learned! I absolutely love what they did and the fact that they sat down and thought up of the whole text, makes me think that they took a lot out of our lessons and Word of the Week! Here is the card (which I have asked for permission to publish as part of my presentation): The point is that one single word can spark such a big conversation, can unlock the students and their potentials – they just start talking, and the language we get out of it is unbelievable! This is our absolute favourite.

  • Another activity we do is called difficult situations or Crisis! I have taken thi idea form Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton’s book Five-Minute Business English Activities. I present them with potential problems in their work and have them discuss a course of action in twos or threes – when they have it ready and planned, then they discuss the way they would solve the problem and come up with potential solutions. Through this activity they learn how to use language to negotiate (as they might not always agree on a common course of action) and use expressions like I think, I believe that the best course of action would be… and of course practice their Conditionals (I have a great love for Conditionals and try to get them in there any way I can!) – If we did this, this would happen….If we had done this, this would not have happened… The only thing we should be cautious with in this activity is not to touch any sensitive issues that might stress them, or any topics we know they might have a problem with. It can be for instance something like this: informing my IT students that the new system they installed is having a few problems, so they have been told by their line manager that they have to work over the weekend to fix it and what they would do in this case. Sometimes I go out of the room and pretend to be a partner or colleague of theirs who comes into the room and shouts Crisis! This and this happened. So it kind of prepares the atmosphere and the ground, let´s say, for this activity. It also depends on the culture of the students. Perhaps their culture is not so expressive so actually coming into a classroom shouting Crisis! is not the best idea.
  • If you have Business English students who make presentations, then you might find it useful for them to give you an actual presentation as part of the lesson. It can be something they have done for their work (but there you have to vouch for confidentiality – some teachers even sign an agreement of confidentiality that no information will leave the room) or a presentation on anything. Some of my bankers use vaious ideas to present – a few of them presented their countries, along with Powerpoint slides, or bike races – it can be even something as simple as that and the language you get out of it is absolutely amazing. What I do there is I sit with the rest of the students while one of them is presenting and keep notes, of great things they have said or of mistakes they have made. I then present the mistakes altogether if I know they will feel uncomfortable. It all depends on the learners.
  • I also practice telephone conversations with them – but because our classroom does not connect via intercom with another, what we do is we turn our chairs and backs to one another and pretend we are phoning each other – turning our backs, so that the other person cannot see facial expressions and so cannot anticipate what the call is about.

Here is my slideshow for the presentation:

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12 thoughts on “Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English Classes – My Workshop for the ETAS SIG Day, September 17, 2011”

  1. Hi Vicky
    Loved the “word of the week” activity! I will definitely try it out with some of my classes. And it’s not just for them, right! I personally love discovering all these new words out there and if I can share after, well, that makes my day!
    Thanks again

    How was the SIG day? And how did your talk go?

    1. Hi Sirja!

      Thanks so much for your comment – yes, I love learning these new words as well : ) The talk went well, I think – I enjoyed it and the people there seemed to as well. They participated a lot!

      Look forward to meeting you,
      Vicky

  2. Not only did I like the activity but I love how “building suspense” is a current theme in your posts – your always keep the lessons interesting!
    Naomi
    P.s. – I hadn’t encountered the term ‘daycation” before!

    1. Thank you so much Naomi!

      I am very happy you liked it – I always like adding a little bit of mystery to my lessons : )

      There are so many new words added to the dictionaries every day, it is unbelievable – daycation is one of their favourites! Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Naomi!

      Thank you,
      Vicky

  3. Yes, “staycation” I’ve also heard of, but are they actually in the dictionary? So since the last you mentioned this ‘word of the week’ suggestion, I’m coming around to its value. 😉 Your students are getting conversation and engagement out of it, so it obviously has its benefits.

    Glad to hear you’re doing workshops these days. Have wondered where you were.

    1. Hi Tyson,

      Thanks very much for your comment.

      Yes, these words are checked first from what I know and then added to the online Macmillan dictionary. My students who have other dictionaries on their phones (including English-German ones) have told me they find the words there as well! One of them went on a trip to England and saw a couple in the newspaper : )

      Thanks, Vicky

  4. Thanks for these fantastic ideas, Vicky! I don’t teach business students but all these ideas can be adapted to general English courses, even for young learners! I must admit that I hadn’t heard of hardly any of those words of the week your students managed to inlcude in their letter!

    1. Hi Michelle!

      Thanks so much for reading and for your lovely comment.

      You are absolutely right, this idea could also be used with young learners – let me know if you do implement it as an idea and how it went! Have a great week and many thanks again.

      Kindest regards,
      Vicky

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