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10 attack strategies for teaching the text in Business English

Business woman reading reportAhead of his webinar on the same topic (click on Adult > Teaching the whole text in Business English), Business English expert John Hughes shares his top tips for approaching a piece of text in Business English or ESP.

If you are teaching Business English or ESP students, then analysing a text from their place of work is an invaluable part of determining their needs. You can also turn such texts into classroom materials which will help them to read and possibly write similar texts. It’s a fundamental skill for any teacher of Business English or English for Specific Purposes.

When I first look at an authentic text, I analyse for it ten features and decide which ones are most prominent and lend themselves to classroom exploitation.

1. Visual clues

The first thing we notice about a written text is any kind of accompanying image. For example, it might have a photograph, a chart, a graph, a map or even a table of figures. This will often act as a useful point of focus for students as it helps them predict what the text will be about.

2. Shape and layout

I also look for a shape or layout to the text type. Texts with an overt shape (typically formal texts such as letters and reports) help students to recognise what kind of text it is, which helps build their schema before reading. It also allows for exercises which draw students’ attention to the conventions for layout or to how the writer organises the content.

3. Overt title

A text with an overt title is like a text with a good photograph. You can use it with students to make predictions about the content of the text. In business texts, an overt title might be title to a company report or the title to a set of instructions. In emails, a clear subject line is the equivalent to an overt title.

4. Overt openings

Some texts don’t have overt titles but they do use opening sentences or phrases that indicate what kind of text it is and its purpose. A phrase like ‘I am writing to inform you…’ suggests that we are about to read a semi-formal letter from someone we haven’t met before or don’t know very well.

5. General meaning

Before any further textual analysis, I see if the text lends itself to reading for gist so that I can set some general gist comprehension questions. This is particularly necessary if the text doesn’t contain an overt title or overt opening (see 3 and 4).

6. The writer and reader

With some texts it’s useful to ask students to identify the writer and reader. For example, in the case of a departmental report, students can say who wrote it and who received it. With less obvious texts such as an informal message from a social media site, students might need to speculate who posted the text and why.

7. Detailed information

Having analysed the text for its general purpose and meaning, I start preparing comprehension questions to help students search for and understand more detailed information within the text. This is especially true of long texts.

8. Fixed expressions

Having understood the content of the text, I can start to analyse language which students might be able to use in their own writing. Formulaic texts often make use of fixed expressions. For example, reports might include expressions such as ‘The aim of this reports is to…’, ‘Please refer to figure 8.1…’, ‘It is recommended that…’.

9. Lexical sets

Texts that are related to very specific areas of industry may not fit into a typical pattern or fixed expressions but they will usually have their own specific lexis. For example, within a text related to shipping you might come across terms such as lading, container, pallet, abatement, in bond and ship demurrage. Once you identify a lexical set, you can create vocabulary exercises to help students with them.

10. Grammar

As with lexical sets, certain texts might contain frequently-used grammar. For example, in the recommendations section of an internal company document you might see the it is +passive form structure commonly used; i.e. it is recognised, it is recommended, it is advised… Help students to discover this grammar in the text and identify its form, meaning and use.

So those are my ten strategies for attacking a text in Business English or ESP. Do you have any more to add?


#qskills – Why are questions a good way to stimulate language learners? (Part 2)

Clouds in the form of a question markIn the latest of our series of posts on English for Academic Purposes, Joe McVeigh, a teacher trainer and author from the U.S., continues to explore a question-based approach to teaching English and developing critical thinking skills.

As teachers, we use many different types of questions in the classroom. We ask students questions to see if they know the answer. A question like, “Can you answer number six, please?” is one example. “What does remote mean?” might be another. These are questions that we know the answer to already. They are used to quickly gauge comprehension and to make sure students are following along.

Compare this with another type of question, such as “What did you do this weekend?” In this case, the teacher, who is asking the question doesn’t know the answer. When the student answers, some real communication has taken place. Still, the question is not going to lead to a lot of conversation.

A third type of question is more likely to stimulate student learners. This is a question like, “Why does something become popular?”  This is a question without an easy answer—and chances are that the teacher doesn’t know the answer either. To answer this question will require not only good language skills, but the ability to think in English.

Helping students answer challenging questions

While some students might enjoy this type of question and dive right in, others may need some help from the teacher. Here are some tips on working with questions with your students.

Warm ups

Students will respond better when they have an opportunity to get warmed up. Rather than starting off with a challenging question, lead them up to it gently, by asking some easier questions. For instance, if the essential question you are looking at is Why does something become popular? you can start off with some easier questions such as: What are some popular trends today? or have students look around the room at the clothing they are wearing or think about the music they listen to and answer questions about how those things became popular.

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