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Practical ideas for the Business English classroom: Part One – Developing critical thinking

Developing critical thinking in ESLThis is the first article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at the core critical thinking skills required by business English students.

Business English teachers are familiar with teaching the language for communication skills, such as giving a presentation or negotiating a deal. Perhaps fewer of us consider including the skill of critical thinking as part of our typical Business English course. And yet critical thinking is regarded as one of the key twenty-first century skills that employees look for in a candidate when recruiting. This demand for job applicants with critical thinking skills is also reflected in the course descriptions of many MBA and university-based business programmes which list the development of critical thinking as a core objective.

So can we, as business English teachers, integrate this skill into our courses? The answer is ‘yes’ and in fact you probably already provide students with language-practice tasks that require critical thinking. Here are five critical thinking skills that I believe the typical Business English lesson can help develop:

Critical questioning

Critical thinkers naturally question information that is presented to them and this clearly has an important role in business. Take, for example, the situation where you have quotes from three different suppliers and you need to select the best offer. It’s important to ask questions about each offer rather than accept each of them at face value. In the classroom, we can also develop this skill by asking students questions about a text they have read or listened to which will encourage them to consider it critically. For example, these might include questions like: Do you think the author supports his opinion with facts? Are you convinced by the author’s argument? Why? Why not?

Challenging assumptions

Business decisions which are based on assumptions run the risk of being out-of-date or repeating past mistakes. By challenging your assumptions you are likely to come up with innovative ideas and original products. Class discussions and debates on topical business issues are one way to develop this skill and require students to use the language for expressing opinions, agreeing, and disagreeing.

Identifying evidence

Evidence in business helps us to make informed decisions; for example, a market research survey will help the future development of new products or services which are customer-focused. Ignoring such evidence could result in failure. However, identifying evidence also means separating what is useful or correct evidence from information which may be opinionated or even untrue. This is often the case if you give students a reading text which contains factual information alongside the view of the author. Ask students to underline factual information and circle the writer’s opinions in the text.

Identifying perspective

This skill means seeing things from another point of view. It’s especially useful in a business situation where, for example, you are negotiating with someone else and need to understand their objectives. Similarly, if you attend a meeting where you disagree with another person, it’s helpful to recognise their perspective. In class, using role pays where students take on a different character and have to view a business problem from their point of view is a useful way to develop this skill.

Creating solutions

My fifth and final critical thinking skill in business is often referred to as problem-solving but I prefer to call it ‘creating solutions’. In other words, I give my students a problem and ask them to work in a team and generate a variety of solutions before selecting the best one. Typically, this kind of task might take the form of a case study in which students read about a real business problem and have to create the solution that they would follow.

As you can see, incorporating these kinds of critical thinking skills into your lessons is fairly straight-forward as the kind of language practice and classroom activities needed are familiar. The difference is that by defining the sub-skills of critical thinking, you can also clearly state your aims in terms of critical thinking and the language that will be required. Such an approach could be the response we need in order to satisfy the growing demand for business professionals who can combine a command of English with the ability to think critically.

Look out for my next article next week where I’ll be providing examples of how to integrate video into your Business English lessons, with suggestions for classroom activities.

 

This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Discover the NEW International Express Tests and Teacher’s Guides

Students Sitting at Desks and WritingBruce Wade, Managing Editor of International Express, introduces his upcoming webinar on 11th September about the new International Express Tests and Teacher’s Guides.

The new International Express launched earlier this year, and now, plenty of extra resources to support the course are available for free on Oxford Teachers’ Club.  In this webinar, I’ll be exploring how the new Teacher’s Guides can help you quickly plan your lessons, and I’ll show you around the new tests and Student Progress Report, which help you to regularly and quickly check your students’ performance.

Plan your lessons in a flash

International Express comes with extensive extra resources including photocopiable activities, videos for every unit, and worksheets to support each video – so you won’t be short of material, but how do you make the best use of it all?  We’ve developed Teacher’s Guides for every level, which give a clear, one-page overview of the course, meaning that you can see all the syllabus items, target language and skills, and resources in one go. I’ll be exploring how you can use these to plan your lessons quickly and easily.

Regularly check students’ progress

Tests are an important part of every course, and International Express tests provide comprehensive coverage of all the language in the Student’s Book.  Most test items are written as A‒B exchanges to reflect the communicative nature of the course.   There is a separate test for each section so teachers can test their students after completing a section, or a unit.  I’ll explain the different ways you can use these with your class, and we’ll look at how you can analyse the results to make direct comparisons of your students’ performance across sections, and whole units.

Analyse students’ performance

We developed the unique Student Progress Report to help you measure students’ performance unit-by-unit, and across different skills.  I’ll explain how you can use this tool to see how a student is performing across the four sections of a unit, and we’ll look at how you can customise it, for example, by drawing different types of graphs, or by adding comments on your students’ performance.

I look forward to helping you making the most of all of these resources on 11th September.  In the meantime, you can take a look at them on Oxford Teachers’ Club – you just need to sign in with your usual log in details.


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Critical Thinking in Business English

Critical thinking businessmanAhead of his forthcoming webinar on the subject, John Hughes, ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, looks at the growing need for critical thinking skills to be integrated into Business English teaching.

In a recent article on the subject of technology and the 21st century workplace, The Economist (January 18th, 2004) made the following demand: “Schools need to change, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers. There should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking.” As teachers and educators, many of you will be familiar with this viewpoint; after all, the calls for more critical thinking in education grow louder all the time. But the fact that this comment appears in a business magazine like The Economist reflects a growing view from the world of work that ‘critical thinking’ is a key skill.

Critical thinking in the workplace

Employers, Human Resource recruiters and business schools globally also report a lack of suitable graduates and candidates with ‘critical thinking skills.’ A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted the problem and looked at the high number of business schools that now include critical thinking as a key course component. In other words, you are increasingly likely to see the term ‘Critical thinking skills’ listed on the syllabus of a business course programme next to course components such as ‘Presentation skills’ or ‘Negotiating Skills’.

Fostering sub-skills to develop critical thinking

So if companies require critical thinking skills and business schools are teaching these skills, is it time for Business English teachers to consider how critical thinking skills might be integrated into their Business English courses? After all, we readily teach the skills and language for presenting, negotiating, meetings and so on. So why not critical thinking

In fact, some language schools specialising in business English and corporate training ARE already offering critical thinking in English as part of their courses. And I suspect that many Business English teachers probably help students to develop this skill as part of their typical Business English lessons without realising it. Take the use of Case Studies, for example. A case study requires students to identify evidence, recognise different perspectives, express opinions with supported arguments and negotiate a final outcome. These are all sub-skills that go towards developing critical thinking as well as improving language fluency.

In my forthcoming webinar on the 25th & 26th June I’ll be going into much more detail on this topic. We’ll define the sub-skills of critical thinking in Business and what language we need to teach students in order to support those skills. I’ll also suggest a variety of practical activities that you can use in your lessons to start developing the skills whilst at the same time – of course – improving students’ business English.

 

Register for the webinar


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Webinar: Making the most of the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook

Business people having discussionKeith Layfield, lead editor on the Business Result series, introduces his upcoming webinar on 17th April entitled “Making the most of the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook“.

Have you used the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook, and are you getting the most out of it? Are you interested in using online resources to provide self-study material, supplementary classroom material, or a more interactive blended learning package?

My upcoming webinar is suitable for any teacher of Business Result. I will be providing practical help and ideas for using the Online Interactive Workbook, whether for self-study, classroom material, or for blended learning.

The webinar will provide an overview of the following:

Online practice and other resources

Business Result Online Interactive Workbook is a motivating self-study item that supports and develops themes from the Student’s Book. Each unit offers a series of interactive exercises practising the main sections of each unit – Working with words, Language at work, and Business communication – which are marked automatically and added to each student’s gradebook.

The interactive exercises also develop a number of skills: email writing and extended reading, plus there are video activities and discussion forum topics to encourage free writing practice. And there are extensive student resources – unit glossaries, sample emails, class audio – plus a unit test for each unit in the Student’s Book.

In the webinar, we’ll explore how you can make the most of these features, inside and outside class.

Gradebook and communication tools

I’ll also be exploring the automatic gradebook, which gives students and teachers instant access to grades. It saves time on marking and enables teachers to quickly track progress of all students.

Each unit of the Online Interactive Workbook has its own discussion topic related to the theme of the unit. This encourages communicative and collaborative learning, as students (and teachers) are able to read and reply to discussion topics. During the webinar, we’ll look at how to get the most out of this, and we’ll also focus on the ‘chat’ functionality, which enables students and teachers to communicate outside class.

The Online Interactive Workbook also allows teachers to add, create, and manage their own content. Teachers can add their own tests, create their own discussions, assign due dates for activities to be completed, add new activities, and many other things using a number of teacher tools.

So as you can see, the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook provides teachers and students with an exciting range of resources and tools to choose from! I look forward to exploring all of this with you in more detail during the webinar.


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The value of Virtual Learning Environments for Business English

Business person using computerPete Sharma explores some of the different Virtual Learning Environments suitable for Business English teachers.

A colleague recently asked me: “Which VLE should I use with my Business English students?” This started me thinking that there are, in fact, many ways to support the work that teachers do in the classroom. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of these exciting options.

At one end of the spectrum is using a full-scale Virtual Learning Environment. This is a password-protected area on the internet which is used to store and deliver digital materials such as texts, interactive activities, audio, video and links to websites. A VLE is often called an LMS (Learning Management System) or CMS (Content Management System), and contains communication tools. For example, a teacher can post a message to a forum for students to answer in their own time (asynchronous communication), or use instant messaging (synchronous communication).

Two well-known VLEs used by universities are Moodle and Blackboard. Such platforms have a large number of features, such as ‘quiz-makers’. Creative teachers can make their own digital materials with authoring software such as Hot Potatoes, and upload these to the platform.

On my last course, I used the website Edmodo, which is free and easy to join. It is easy to use and allows you to communicate with your students between classes, and post links to websites and other teaching materials you wish them to look at. This was perfectly adequate for this particular course and group of students.

It is important to remember that a VLE is empty until you add material. Let’s look at a different option. Many course books have an access code at the back, allowing access to publisher-produced materials on a web-based platform. Students can download audio files, or do online interactive exercises. Tracking tools allow teachers (and training managers!) to see which exercises students have worked on, and how much time they have spent on each one.

There are other options. Some of my colleagues use Dropbox to share materials. Teachers running writing courses sometimes start a class wiki. A wiki is a website containing editable pages, so students can collaborate on a piece of writing.

There is a lot of choice, and it is important to support your course with something which works for you.  Maybe you want to offer your students 24/7 access to their digital materials, or perhaps you want to create material yourself. Whatever you decide, it is impossible for me to imagine a course which is simply ‘done in the classroom’, without being able to provide autonomous learning opportunities outside class, too. And busy Business English students, who often travel, will appreciate this course enrichment more than most.

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