Business Basics: How to Plan a Great ESL Business Course

Business Basics
How to Plan a Great ESL Business Course

Graham Dixon
by Graham Dixon 3,890 views |

Many ESL schools and colleges have introduced Business English courses in recent years, and this growing trend has meant that ESL teachers, especially those with more experience, are adding a business teaching to their résumés.

It can be a powerful boost to a job application, and for teachers who would like to try something new, it can be a great outlet for creativity, a spur to research and a genuinely interesting new aspect to their teaching.

I recommend that, if you find yourself invited to teach a business course, you consider planning the structure and content yourself. It’s additional work, but you’ll be able to tailor the content to suit your students, find and explore areas which truly interest you, learn a great deal about the world of business, and exercise some important planning and preparation skills. Here are some hints for creating a high-quality course which will stimulate your own professional life, as well as meeting the needs of your students:

How You Can Plan a Great ESL Business Course in 5 Important Steps

  1. 1

    Find the Best Textbook You Can

    There are now a plethora of ESL business books on the market, and as one might expect, quality varies widely. I’ve had consistent good results with the Market Leader set; be aware of which edition you’re using, and double-check the publication date to make sure it’s the latest one, as their editions emerge a few years apart and, like any book of this type, quickly become out of date. Their Case Studies are a real strength. Cambridge University Press also produces some quality ESL business books including the reliable English for Business Studies; I dip into it often, though it’s occasionally a little dry. Last time I worked with them, the Intelligent Business set needed an update, but I liked its structure and overall approach.

    It’s unlikely that you’ll use a single book, or proceed through it in chapter order; my courses tend to draw on two or three texts, with plenty of additional material in support.

  2. 2

    Choose Interesting and Relevant Topic Areas

    I canvassed my students at the beginning of the semester and, in addition to ‘core’ topics which I felt were indispensable, included themes which were based on their preferences. A twelve-week course, which allows two weeks for a break, review and testing, might include these ten topics:

    • Advertising - methods and philosophies, famous examples, history, target audiences and demographics, controversies
    • Marketing - the psychology of purchasing, corporate personality and brand image, the history of public relations, ‘selling the lifestyle’
    • Finance - Types of borrowing, the Federal Reserve system, the national debt and its implications, the 2008 crisis
    • Start-ups - How to begin a new business, corporate structure, tax for beginners, basic patent law, examples of buy-outs
    • The Stock Market - How an IPO happens, buying and selling, types of stock, famous crashes and why they happened
    • Ethics and the Environment - Alternate energy, the equality gap, harassment, corporate espionage and fraud, ethical investing, organic food, carbon trading and the Tobin Tax
    • Recruitment - Interview techniques, writing a good CV/résumé, researching potential hirers, choosing the right employee, gender equality
    • Risk Management - Risk assessment, a balanced portfolio, examples of past risky investments, mitigation
    • Working Overseas - Cultural differences and expectations, breaking the ice, understanding historical problems and rifts
    • Competition - Case studies and examples (Apple vs. Samsung has been fruitful), methods of gaining advantage, outsourcing, buy-outs.
  3. 4

    Organize the Course Structure

    Several factors feed into the course structure. Apart from assigning a theme to each week, you’ll need to choose which skills are to be emphasized and practiced. I recommend an integrated approach, requiring reading, listening, speaking and writing, and based on your students’ needs. Include some skills work under each topic area; there are obvious examples, such as speaking skills during practice of interview techniques and giving presentations, but try also to include listening (radio shows, lectures, documentaries), plenty of reading (assigned articles, textbook excerpts, biographies, blogs, journals) and at least one writing task each week. Ideally, each day of your course plan should feature all four skills.

    Once these decisions are made, your assessment system will almost have designed itself. Choose how many pieces of written work you’re going to require, and how many presentations your students will give; I recommend two or three of each, but stagger these assignments so that they are distributed throughout the course, rather than risking overloaded students.

    These assignments can then be built into the course structure, which in turn gives everyone a reasonable set of expectations. The complete document - topics for each week, assignment expectations, and the timetable for completion - forms your syllabus. Hand out a copy to your students on the first day, so that they know exactly what’s expected of them.

  4. 5

    Find Other Resources

    I keep a notebook (actually, these days, it’s a .doc file) of discoveries, questions and ideas for my courses. If you see a CNN report on a takeover, or a corporate lawsuit, or an interesting new CEO hiring, make a note of it. Other good sources include The Economist, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal (US), The Guardian and Financial Times (UK), biographies of business leaders, the Harvard Business Review online sources (and in particular their in-depth case studies of Starbucks, Walmart, IKEA and others) and Bloomberg.

  5. 6

    Decide on Possible Project

    For a final assignment, especially if it is a presentation, I often let my students choose from a list of larger topics, which they discuss as a group and then narrow down to an ‘assignment proposal’. Good topics include:

    • A special topic in ethics (the Dodd-Frank act, the minimum wage, Austerity in the UK (or elsewhere), the collision between economic growth and the environment, etc)
    • Future possibilities (alternative energy, robotics, virtual reality, the implications of The Singularity)
    • Inventions. My students have loved coming up with their own inventions (a gadget, device or concept) and then preparing a pitch to an imaginary group of investors (their classmates and I).

Other topics might run throughout the semester, including a Fantasy Stock Market League. Give your students $1000 (in imaginary dollars!) at the beginning of the semester and ask them to research stocks with good growth potential. Compare their portfolios each week and, at the end of the course, ‘liquidate’ their holdings to see who has made the most profit. This is a good way to encourage research into each company, to discuss the diversification of risk, and to inculcate a respect for sensible, perhaps also ethical investing.

I have learned a great deal from teaching business - reasons both to be optimistic about the global business environment, and to worry about it - and it has informed my teaching in welcome and unexpected ways.

I encourage you to add a business course to your own portfolio, and see where it takes you.

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