Task-Based Learning (TBL) is a teaching approach that is particularly useful for students learning English for business purposes. Focusing on real-world scenarios, rather than hand-holding through mechanical grammar tasks, empowers adult learners by boosting their confidence and showing them that it’s better to try and make a mistake than sit back and be silent.
Making an impression and demonstrating confidence matters in the business realm, and focusing on tasks rather than form has proven to be a great way to facilitate those things in ESL learners. This OnTESOL Graduate article reviews key concepts and activities for using Task Based Learning in the Business English class.
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Key Concepts For Using Task-Based Learning In The Business English Classroom
- Prepare the students for what they need to do. Model what you are looking for without giving away too much. It should be a challenge with easily understood instructions.
- Focus on the successful outcome of the task, rather than correcting form. Corrections come afterward and do have a valuable place in language development. However, Task-based Learning calls upon students to use their mental faculties and to be able to adjust to the situation that they’re in. Students should be working to achieve a result, rather than focusing on each individual detail of speech.
- Recycle and consolidate language. Tasks serve as the practice field for the big game. Encourage them to call upon elements that they’re learned in the past, rather than focusing on a single grammar pattern- that’s not how natural, organic conversation takes place
- Encourage group tasks. Most companies require employees to work in groups, at least some time or other. Practicing deciphering ideas, responding to others, and comparing options are all things that will make your student successful.
- When designing tasks, try to make them multifaceted. Instead of solving focusing on an information gap task, include elements of comparison, listing, and problem-solving. Any interaction that occurs naturally in the world will undoubtedly possess the traits and qualities of many different areas.
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7 Scenarios and Activities for your task-Based Lesson
The following Task-based Learning examples will show you how to prepare classes for students across a wide range of positions and English language proficiency levels.
1. Job Interview
Going to an interview is something that everyone can relate to. Interview skills are important, practical bits of knowledge that we all use regularly in life. Some of your students might even be in charge of conducting interviews, so this task works two-fold for skill development.
The group can decide what the company is and what position the candidate is going for in advance. Divide them into pairs, with one person acting as the boss and the other as the interviewee. You can permit each role to prepare questions and answers for a few minutes during the prep phase of the task. Give a time limit to the groups and send them off on a mock interview. Evaluating and responding, as well as quick-thinking, are developed here. Have the partners switch roles to experience the target language from both sides.
The class can then discuss elements of a great candidate and interview session, as well as offer tips on how to best respond to certain types of interviewers.
2. Business Networking
Professionals are often obliged to attend company functions and parties. As such, it is necessary for them to develop and practice skills relevant to socializing appropriately in these environments. Essentially, your students will need to learn how to use the perfect balance of job talk versus small talk.
Prepare for the activity by providing details of their company: name, types of products or services, basic information, and what they are looking for in a business partnership or affiliation. Each student will have slightly different details on their cards (think single-person departments or different companies altogether). However, make sure that each card has a “match”- another card with details allowing both parties to achieve what they want.
Encourage them to call upon their previous knowledge of appropriate introductions, how to talk about oneself, and how to ask appropriate questions to fellow professionals; then set them loose. Students will roam the room, making small talk with fellow businessmen and women before moving into business discussions. They should work through what they have on their cards to determine whether this person is a good fit for their business or not. If they are not matches, they must practice tactfully leaving the conversation in an appropriate manner.
All students are engaged in this task, and even if some find their matches before others, they can continue to socialize using the target language. In the end, pairs should get together and explain to the group how they figured out that they were good matches.
3. Customer Service
Providing customer service is a huge role in the working world. Many adult students are working for companies where their responsibilities might include dealing with unhappy clients. Likewise, they themselves might be the customers who need to call another company about an issue or or inquire about a product.
If all your students are from the same company, you can brainstorm a list of potential complaints or problems as a group. In pairs, have one student act as the client and the other as the customer service agent. The ‘client’ will ask questions or lodge a complaint, and the customer service agent must deal with them accordingly. Then switch roles. At the end of the task, have the students discuss methods that were successful and those that were not.
What are some common themes among the entire class? Listening, evaluating, and responding, and negotiating are huge players here. You can use one problem/complaint about the class or give each group different ones to change it up. The end goal of the task is to resolve the issue as best as the ‘agent’ can, leaving the ‘client’ feeling well-serviced.
I used this task with students working in a variety of fields, including medicine, higher education, engineering, and sales. I found it more challenging and effective to have the students sit back to back, as though they were on the phone, thus forcing them to rely solely on verbal language.
4. Presentation Pitch
Many students of business English work in fields requiring presentations or pitches, at least to some extent. Many times, this falls in line with sales of products or services: their company has something and they are trying to push it to someone else. A great way to develop the necessary presentation skills and build confidence with the relevant target language is to do mock pitches/presentations. This task can be tailored to any industry and any department.
Prep the students by telling them that, in pairs, they must develop a convincing presentation to pitch to their boss, the board, or a potential client. The subject of the presentation will need to be tailored to the industry of your students in order to be most effective. If you have a mixed class, you can have mixed topics. Perhaps the students will be pitching a new product or offering a solution to a current problem.
Have the pairs prepare key points with supporting details aimed at convincing their audience of what they’re offering. The entire class can serve as the client/boss/board that needs to be convinced. After all groups have gone, the class can have a discussion on what tactics and language styles were most effective and what could be improved upon.
5. Telephone Role Play
Naturally, a great deal of spoken language in the workplace takes place by phone. It’s a good idea – and quite simple – to replicate such a situation inside the classroom. Put your students into pairs and get them to prepare a small conversation or dialogue. Alternatively, do this activity at the end of your lessons and get one learner to ask about the things you have learned while the other explains; this is a great way of reviewing and recapping what you did in class.
To set this up the students need to sit back to back so that they can’t see each other. Doing this will get them speaking a lot more because they only have their voices to rely on for giving and receiving information.
6. Twenty Questions
One skill that is particularly important to business English students, and yet which is often overlooked, is the ability to ask a variety of questions. This classic format is the best way to get students to rifle off a lot of questions in a very short space of time. Instead of choosing a famous person or building as their subject, make sure the students choose a concept that they have learned about in their course. Require that they ask full questions, as they would do in a formal meeting.
To make this activity as useful as possible, note down badly-worded questions, and go through them with the students, exemplifying how to say them correctly.
7. Class Survey
Conducting a class survey is a great way of seeing how many people agree and disagree. They are also useful for looking at the language of reaching a consensus. Start with a series of questions or statements and get students to ask each other about them. As you look at the results, encourage students to ask each other why they agree or disagree. This is also useful for teaching phrases such as ‘Most of us think that…’ and ‘We all generally believe that…”.