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Teaching more than English – giving students the professional skills to succeed

Image by © Laura Doss/Corbis

Disrupting our definition of Business English in the 21st Century

In a recent Washington Post article entitled ‘The surprising thing Google learned about its employees – and what it means for today’s students’, it was reported that Google had carried out a survey into the key characteristics for achieving success as a Google employee. Surprisingly, knowledge of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) did not appear first. Instead, the survey placed skills such as coaching, insight, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, dealing with complex ideas at the top of the list.

As a Business English teacher and course book author, I have a natural interest in these emerging ‘soft skills’ which reflect the needs of the 21st century workplace skills. I feel it’s my job to make sure my course materials and the contents of my lessons reflect the English needed to support these emerging skills. However, I also feel that for sometimes Business English materials have resisted integrating these skills into course programmes because they don’t easily fit into our longstanding definition of what Business English is.

If we go back about 25 years, the prevailing definition of ‘Business English’ has been:

  • Language: Like General English course it covered grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, the four skills etc.
  • Communication Skills: Unlike General English, Business English aimed to train students in how to present more effectively, how to run a meeting, how to negotiate etc.
  • Professional content: Business English books also dealt with topics such as production processes or marketing and sales; in other words, we taught business concepts alongside the vocabulary required to talk about them.

Since then, this three-part definition has dominated the contents and structure of most Business English classrooms and courses. And yet, some of the new skills don’t fit comfortably into the definition. Where exactly would you place ‘insight’ or ‘empathy’ into the three categories? Do thinking skills (critical or creative) require their own category? Is it even the job of a Business English to ‘teach’ these items alongside English?

These were just some of the questions that confronted me when I returned to work on the second edition of Business Result. The first edition of Business Result was published exactly ten years ago and so it naturally reflected the three-part structure of language, communication skills and professional content. But on returning to re-author the materials a decade later, it was apparent to me that we needed to incorporate the demands of newer 21st Century workplace skills. It’s the same challenge that faces many Business English teachers today – that we strive to prepare our learners not only with English but also with the professional skills they will need in the next few decades.

On March 16th Oxford University Press holds its first Business English Online Conference and my webinar, entitled ‘Teaching more than English’, will assess the kinds of professional skills needed to succeed in the 21st century. We’ll consider how we might integrate them into our course design and lessons, and our approach to teaching and training our students to operate more effectively. The session encourages you to participate and comment based on your own experiences and I’ll also share some practical ideas to include in your Business English lessons.

Register now for Oxford’s first Business English Online Conference where John Hughes will be presenting a webinar on Teaching more than English – giving students the professional skills to succeed.

John Hughes is an award-winning author with over 30 ELT titles including the course book series ‘Business Result’ (Oxford) and the resource series ‘ETpedia’ (Pavilion). He has trained teachers at all levels of experience and background. In particular, he specializes in materials writing and offers consultancy and training in this area. His blog is www.elteachertrainer.com.

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Using games for win-win learning | Q&A

Over a thousand teachers attended the webinars on Using games for win-win learning and there was plenty of discussion in the chatbox with teachers sharing their ideas and opinions on using games. Here are some of the comments and questions that were raised.

With reference to Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow, how do we take students from A1 to A4?

Early on this webinar we looked at the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his theory of Flow. In his book of the same name, the author presents the idea that when we are truly engaged in an activity we enter a state of ‘flow’ or the ‘flow channel’, as shown in the diagram below. In pages 72-77, Csikszentmihalyi makes particular reference to the use of games as a form of activity which encourages flow. For example, when we present new language to students and they start using it, they are probably engaged at A1 in the diagram. If we drill that language repeatedly, then after a while student might become bored and go to A2. If we then add too much challenge to the task, students can become anxious and go to A3. If we add the right amount of challenge to the new language, students continue up the flow channel to A4. The author suggests that playing games offers an effective way to achieve this.

Diagram from Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow. Rider publishing. p74.

Are all games a form of controlled practice?

This question came out of a discussion on what type of classroom practice games are useful for. In particular, there is a view that games are a type of classroom drilling. In other words, that when we introduce a new language structure and drill it with students, games can offer another kind of drill where students practise the target language in a very controlled way. With many types of language games based on the idea of dominoes or pelmanism (also known as memory) this is probably true. However, there are also types of role-playing games which encourage fluency practice and authentic communicative situations. So the answer is that it depends on the type of game you are using as to how controlled the practice is.

Sometimes students become so interested in the game, they forget to use English and slip back into their mother tongue. How can we make sure they keep using English? 

There was a lively discussion on the topic of how to make sure students keep using English when they became so focused on winning the game itself. Participants shared various experiences and views on this. One option was to take points away from a student or a team when they didn’t speak English. On the other hand, one teacher, Helen Beesley, also pointed out that points should be given for use of English during a game for positive reinforcement. Similarly, when playing a boardgame, students could miss a go if they don’t speak English or have another go if they use English well.

What kind of authentic board games on the market are useful for language learning? Participants answered this questions with various suggestions including Monopoly and The Game of Life with Business English to practise the language of finance, or word-based games such as Taboo and Pictionary.

 Some students don’t like competitive games in the classroom, especially adults. How do we get them interested?

This question probably created the most debate with teachers agreeing and disagreeing that adult students don’t like playing games. With regard to competitive games, we looked at the idea that competition is often more useful when a student competes against him or herself. For example, if I set up a telephone role play where students practise calling to arrange to meet, I could give students this card with phrases on that I want them to use.

As they speak, they tick off phrases. At the end of the first role play I ask them to count how many phrases they used and get a score out of ten. Then I ask them to repeat the role play and try to get a higher score by using more of the phrases. In this way, a student competes against him/herself. This ‘self-competition’ approach is very similar to principle behind online games such as Quizlet where you try to beat your previous score and reach the next level. It was also noted these online games also offer rewards and badges as well as points and that teachers sometimes need to offer ‘prizes’ to winning teams as well as points.

Overall, it was a very active webinar and I’d like to thank everyone for their enthusiastic participation.

Missed the webinar? If you’re a member of the Oxford Teacher’s Club, you can catch the recording right here in the webinar library. If you’re not yet a member, registration is free and shouldn’t take long at all.

John Hughes likes using games in his own classroom and he designs games for his course books. He is a lead author on Business Result, Successful Meetings and Successful Presentations (published by Oxford University Press). He also runs teacher training courses, and is a regular ELT blogger: www.elteachertrainer.com.


Making teaching personal | How to bring client-led content into your teaching

Developing critical thinking in ESL

Teaching a group of business English students first thing on a Monday morning – short of going for a jog in sub-zero temperatures – is one of the surest ways I know of having to get out of bed and get into the swing of things snappily! I can’t say I look forward to the ordeal, but I can say that I don’t think I can remember a class which disappointed, and after which I didn’t feel energised. But perhaps I’m lucky.

However, when Kata asked me, as she always did, about my weekend on a particular Monday back in June, I really didn’t know what to say.

I’d had a nightmare of a time, spending most of it in a whirlwind filling in forms at a police station. It didn’t seem right to relate such personal issues to my students. But I knew her and the group well, and in any case, telling them would make a change from, “Great, thanks – yeah, we went hiking; I met a friend for coffee, and you?” etc. So I decided to tell them that on the Friday evening I’d had my briefcase with amongst other things my passport stolen. I told them how annoyed I was, and they were all ears!

Of course! It was only with hindsight that it dawned on me what a golden opportunity this was, and how much I could exploit it. After all, this was my upper intermediate insurance class; without hesitation, they started firing questions at me about the contents of my bag, the value of the items in question, exactly what had happened, whether I was insured, and so on. They then insisted on helping me fill in the claim form so as to get the best deal possible. I couldn’t have broken this news to a more sympathetic or expert group: They gave me insights into the industry I’d have never known otherwise! ‘In return’, we worked on form-filling, question forms, formal insurance language vs. everyday spoken English, the passive, and much more besides. My longer-term course plan was ditched for a few weeks, but during these weeks, attendance rose, and engagement and involvement was higher than it had ever been.

While I don’t intentionally generate major personal events to exploit in class, it’s surprising how, with a bit of thought, we can in some way or other gain a better understanding of what our students do through bringing our own or a friends’ experiences to class (have a think!).

With my insurance group, I found myself drawing on students’ expertise, and focusing on language relevant for them so as to reach a win-win situation. Although I ‘took’ the story to class, input over the next two or three weeks was based on the language they needed in order, in part, to be able to offer me professional advice.

 In my webinar on 16 March, I’ll be looking at how we can incorporate real-life and authentic experiences and events into a course plan in a more structured manner, in order to enhance the learning experience through better engagement and higher motivation.

I hope you’ll join me then!

Register now for the Oxford Business Online Conference where Rachel will be presenting a webinar on Making teaching personal – how to bring client-led content into your teaching

Rachel Appleby has taught English for International House and the British Council in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, and Hungary, where she now lives. She focuses mostly on teaching English to adults, in-company students and, more recently, to University students. Rachel works part-time at ELTE University in Budapest on the BA and MA programmes. She is also a Teacher trainer specifically for Business English, but also a CELTA trainer, and British Council EMI trainer.

Rachel has also authored/co-authored a number of English Language Teaching titles with Oxford University Press, including Business one:one, and International Express,


Flipped Classroom Approach | What is all the fuss about?

Flipped Classroom Approach

The Flipped Classroom Approach, what’s all the fuss about?

Many educators are familiar with the notion of a ‘Flipped Classroom Approach’: The Flipped Model has been adopted across a wide range of educational contexts, and English Language Teaching is no different.

So, what is it? Simply, it’s an approach that involves the reorganisation of what happens in class time and outside of class time. The traditional notion of classroom-based learning is turned on its head: One commonly-quoted definition is that homework becomes schoolwork, and schoolwork becomes homework.

In a conventional classroom, content delivery happens during the class, when learners are expected to acquire knowledge in the classroom with (from) their teacher. The time left for practice activities, assimilation and the application of new knowledge is squeezed, which means that learners are often left to do these activities as ‘follow up’ for homework by themselves – without the support of their teacher and peers.

The Flipped Classroom Approach tries to overcome these problems. It’s strongly associated with blended learning, and one basic way to flip your classroom involves putting content onto online videos (for example using screencasts), which students are invited to work through before they attend your classroom session. Proponents of the Flipped Classroom Approach argue that by inverting what happens in the classroom, in-class time can now focus on active learning and student-centred strategies, such as discussions and task-based learning, leading to an improvement in student engagement, motivation, attendance and performance.

Thus in the Flipped Classroom model, students are able to access content in their own time, at their own pace, reviewing it as many times as necessary before they come to class, armed with their own questions and ready to put their new learning into practice.

It’s clear to see that a key purpose of the flipped approach is to move students away from a passive learning experience towards active learning, with all the associated collaboration and peer learning that goes with it, coupled with a similar move away from a teacher-centred approach towards a more facilitative role.

We could argue that this is just good teaching. I’m a big fan of active learning. I’ve been involved in English language teaching since the 1990s, and even way back then, when I first set foot in the classroom, I knew that those learners who came to class having done some work in advance (“pre-reading”, anyone?), those who were happy to work collaboratively, and those that took ownership of their learning were far more likely to succeed than those that needed spoon-feeding. Surely we’ve come a long way across all educational sectors, in our move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’.

Nonetheless, an increasing number case studies are emerging where flipped learning as a pedagogy is being evaluated more rigorously, and it’s clear that increasing numbers of teachers are adopting (at least some of) the practices associated with the Flipped Classroom Approach. It also becomes ever easier to create, store and share online content and blended learning is a widely accepted teaching model in itself.

So, these are interesting times for Flipping. With this in mind, I’d like to invite you to join me in an upcoming webinar: “Flipping your classroom: how to make the most of your teaching time” on Friday 16th March, 1pm. In this webinar we’ll explore what flipped learning could look like for the busy language teacher, and I’d love to hear what sort of things you’ve been doing and what the experience has been like for your students. We’ll also consider why and how you might want to try Flipping your classroom, as well as what might stop you.

I’m looking forward to seeing you then!

Angela Buckingham is an Academic Developer working in Higher Education in the UK with over twenty five years of experience in ELT as a classroom teacher, teacher trainer, and writer. Courses for OUP include the best selling Passport series for Japan, the third edition of Business Venture, level 5 and level 6 of Oxford Discover Grammar (primary) and the Beginner and Elementary levels of new edition International Express. Angela has an MA in TEFL.


Learning to learn in the primary classroom

I have been teaching a group of young teenagers of very mixed levels and ages for six months now. Half of the group comes from the state-school system and the other half attend “an alternative school”. The latter group is one-three years younger and was the weakest one in terms of language knowledge at the beginning of the year. These children were weak elementary while the rest strong pre-intermediate/intermediate. I was even wondering whether they would be able to cope emotionally with the fact that the rest of the class coming from a state-school background is so much stronger.

As time went by, however, the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed. They were very good at using soft skills such as really listening to the teacher and to each other. They asked questions with confidence if they got stuck. They were able to work out answers for themselves by observing the clues carefully. I also watched them constantly use colors to highlight, to make mind-maps, and to make beautiful drawings in their notebooks to accompany their newly learnt language without having to draw their attention to these learning strategies. Their notebooks are not ordinary ones with the answers of exercises, lists of words and occasional grammar tables, but they look more like living books that you would want to open again and again to look at. And of course, I sometimes witnessed their frustration as well, but I saw their strategies of handling these emotions successfully too.

‘… the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed.’

These children have learnt something important that we all need in this rapidly changing world, and these are skills that allow them to adapt to new situations, new contexts, new people, and new tasks easily. Possessing vast knowledge – most of which computers provide us with in fractions of seconds anyway – does not give us enough support in being able to rise up to new challenges at this speed. Instead we need the soft skills and learning skills that equip us with the necessary flexibility.

What are these skills? How can they be developed? From the example above – just as, I am sure, we can all list such examples from our lives – these questions have obvious answers. But it feels harder to teach these skills instead of a set of new words or a new language point as they are less tangible.

Essential skills for primary children

So what is it that children need to learn in the primary school? According to Emőke Bagdy, a renowned Hungarian clinical psychologist, at this age children need to learn the following things: To read, to write, to count, and to be confident. They need to develop a sense of self-belief that they can do it. If this fails, according to E. Bagdy, children will struggle with their learning, in managing new situations at school, and in their life as adults.  This is also supported by the PISA report (Programme for International Student Assessment) that has found that learners’ belief in their own efficacy is the strongest single predictor of whether they will adopt strategies that make learning effective or not (Artelt et al., 2003, pages 33–34).

One of the key things that influence children’s confidence is our own view of them as individuals and of their abilities. It is important to approach every single child believing that they can do it. A simple idea to do this is to catch them being good, something that can be easily done with the help of the Snakes poster – see below.

Snake Poster.

Draw one snake for every child in the class and label each one with a student’s name. Make sure the body of each snake is divided into lots of triangular sections. Each time a student does something praiseworthy (e.g. makes a helpful comment, shows determination, waiting patiently for their turn, etc.), tell them to come out and colour in one section of their snake with a pen of their choice.

Mixed-ability teaching, Edmund Dudley, Erika Osváth, OUP, 2016


Of course, we need to make sure that children progress with the colouring in their snakes approximately at similar speeds to avoid any feelings of shame, which would definitely be detrimental. Feeling good about oneself has an immense motivational power at any age, but it is imperative in the primary classroom.

Another important teaching moment that has a great impact on children’s self-confidence is our way of dealing with mistakes. In my view, there are no mistakes made in the primary classroom, but rather opportunities for children to notice something that is different or new in terms of use of words, language chunks, spelling, etc. For example, if children are copying words in their notebook from the board and there are some spelling errors, rather than overwriting these in red by the teacher, it’s a good idea to encourage children to look at the board again and discover the differences for themselves.

Naturally, there are many more soft-skills that need to be developed at this age so that children become efficient learners, such as resilience, curiosity and collaboration. In my upcoming ‘learning to learn skills’ webinar, we will be looking at further practical examples of how we can develop these in the primary language classroom. Click here to register, don’t miss it!

Have an idea of your own? We’d love to see it, so do share it below in the comments!

Erika Osvath is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a YL co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. She regularly travels to teach demonstration lessons with local children, and do workshops for teachers. Erika is co–author with Edmund Dudley of Teaching Mixed Ability.


Artelt, C., Baumert, J., Julius-McElvany, N. and Peschar, J. (2003). Learners for life: student approaches to learning. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/education/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/33690476.pdf Accessed 15/2/18.

For Bagdy Emőke, see: http://bagdyemoke.hu/beszelgetesek-emokevel/

Dudley, E. and Osváth, E. (2016). Mixed-ability teaching. Oxford: OUP.