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Adult English Lessons / Business English Classes / English Teaching

Teaching Business English Secondary Key Points

Let's take a look at some different ways that you can teach secondary key points or objectives to your students. Secondary objectives can be added into your classes curriculum based on your student's individual needs and weaknesses. If you change a couple of things up you can use many of these methods in other types of classes as well. Let's take a look.


Secondary Objective Methods

  • Vocab Builder
  • Listening Exercise
  • Pronunciation
  • Email Activity
  • Telephone Practice
  • Review Role Playing Activity
  • Reading Activity
  • Culture Focus

Vocab Builder

vocab builders are exactly what they sound like, exercises to build a student’s vocabulary. Generally your textbook should have a variety of different vocab builders within it. If it doesn’t then you can click here (insert link) to get some ideas. Vocabulary builders can be used in a couple of different ways. Occasionally I like to use vocabulary builders as a warm-up. I also like to use vocabulary builders when I need a 5 to 10 minute activity. This could be in the middle of a lesson, or could be at the end of the lesson. Vocabularies are also very useful before you go into any kind of role-playing activities. Generally in the role-playing activities you have already decided the setting. So perhaps the role-playing activity that you want your students to do takes place in a restaurant. In that case before you start the role-playing activity you can have them do a quick vocab builder that focuses on restaurant related terms and words.

If you have time I think it’s important to take 2 to 3 minutes after the vocab building exercise to have the students attempt to use the words that they just learned. There are number of ways that you can accomplish this. A simple way would be for the teacher to ask related questions to each individual student where you know that the responses will have to use the new vocabulary words. For some other ideas click here (insert link). Regardless of the method you choose, this vocalizing of the new vocabulary words is extremely important. If the students are going to remember these words then they are going to have to be exposed to them in all different manners. So they need to read the word, they need to listen to the words used in the conversation, they need to attempt to use the word themselves. Simply looking at the word in looking it up in a dictionary will not do. Understanding this it’s important for the teacher to inform the students that memorizing or remembering vocabulary takes time. Depending on the word and the student, they will have to hear or read or use the word anywhere from 10 to 20 times before they will be able to reproduce it in a conversation.



Listening Exercises

There are many different ways to use CDs and various recordings to help improve the student’s listening ability. These listening exercises can be used in various ways as well. You can use the listening exercise as a warm-up to set the scene or situation of where the students might use that lesson’s key points and topics. You can also use listening exercises to help reinforce previously learned vocabulary words. Generally textbooks come with CDs that have recordings of native English speakers reading out the roles of the various sample conversations within the textbook. You can use these before you have your students read the conversation themselves. You can also play the CD after the students have gone over the conversations with each other. For a list of various listening exercises click here(insert link).

As with all of these secondary objectives, you have to think about your student’s strengths and weaknesses. If your student has great listening skills then you really don’t have to focus too much on listening exercises. But if your students do not have a lot of experience listening to native English speakers speak then you might need to focus much more on using listening exercises in your classroom.

Here are a couple of things you should think about when using listening exercises. First off, generally teachers assume that listening exercises will be quick, perhaps 5 to 10 minutes. I have found that listening exercises take much more time than initially anticipated. You have to keep this in mind when planning your lesson. Also the transcript for the CD or for the recordings is absolutely essential to getting the most out of these listening exercises. You need the transcript so that the students can review the conversation. You need the transcript so that if the listening is too difficult for the students than they can read along as they listen. You need the transcript so that the students can look over the conversation and look up any words or terms that they don’t know in their dictionaries. The transcripts are essential. And always think about this when you are choosing a textbook for your class. There are quite a lot of textbooks out there that will give you the CD in the textbook but then they want you to purchase the transcript separately. Make sure that the textbook you choose has a transcript available in the back of the book.




Pronunciation is a tricky thing. Pronunciation is something that most students feel that they are lacking. It is something that most students want to improve. As a teacher you need to evaluate your student’s pronunciation objectively. Again most students will say that their pronunciation is bad and that they want to improve it. But very often this is wrong. These students would be better off doing a different activity. But on the other hand there are many students who have such bad pronunciation that they cannot be understood. Very often this is related to that student’s native language.

There are two types of pronunciation training, one type is general pronunciation. This concerns the students overall pronunciation and intonation. And another type of pronunciation training is slightly more specific. This type of training will take individual sounds that are difficult for the student or students and try to improve upon them. For example the “L” and “R” sounds for some Japanese students.

Each teacher must decide how strict they want to be in regards to their student’s pronunciation. I have always followed the rule that if I can understand my students with no problems then their pronunciation is fine. If your student is planning on giving a speech then you might want to work a little bit more on intonation and pronunciation but for the most part I believe that communication is the key here and if students can be understood then that means there pronunciation is more than okay.

Also as a teacher you have to remember that pronunciation takes quite a long time to improve. So it really doesn’t make a lot of sense for you to go over certain word or certain sound for 20 minutes with the student. In most cases the student is simply going to lose confidence in themself and stop talking altogether. If you do try to improve your student’s pronunciation, do it step by step, little by little. Don’t try to change everything in one day.

When teaching pronunciation you will have to explain to the students how to create the sounds using your mouth. You can print out a diagram that shows the mouth and tongue placement for individual sounds. After explaining how to create the sounds you can have a list of words or sentences that the students can practice with. Generally you as a teacher should first pronounce the word or sentence and the students should listen and repeat trying to mimic your pronunciation is much as possible. I have found success keeping these pronunciation exercises short. Generally 5 to 10 minutes.



Email Activity

Very similar to any kind of telephone practice that you will do, email activities or email practice is very important for any student studying business English. When teaching your students about how to write emails it’s important to have them understand how important politeness can be. There are times when informal emails are better than formal and vice versa. There are times informal emails are much better than formal. Teachers must also introduce their students to good structure. They need to understand main points and supporting sentences, paragraphs and topic sentences, etc.

I have always used emails as homework. I would often create an email writing activity for my students. I would give my students role playing cards that had certain information on it. The students would have to look at the activity and look at the role playing card and write an email to another student. Then the other student would have to respond to the email. I think this generally works well as homework because it doesn’t take up precious time in class. Teaching the students how to write emails or what words and phrases they should use can all be done in the classroom but writing an email takes time and that time could be better used doing something else in the classroom. That is why emails good for homework.



Telephone Practice

For business English classes many aspects of the classes are very similar to conversation classes. But in a couple of ways they are very different. Business professionals often have to communicate over the telephone. If you’ve never practiced speaking over the phone this can be very difficult. The student’s voices are more difficult to hear over the phone. Students can’t use body language or gestures to help communicate. Overall the telephone can be very difficult. So occasionally having telephone activities or telephone practice in class can be very beneficial for any businessmen studying English.

Another thing the students need to practice is how to take messages, how to give messages, and how to do all these things politely.

Generally when we have our students practice using the telephone we want to set up situations that they might encounter in the real world. So it’s a good idea to create some kind of role playing activity that mirrors what they would really do.


Review Role Playing Activity

We already mentioned that role-playing activities and the review role-play activity is more or less the same. The key difference being that this is review, so we are practicing something that we learned two weeks ago or three weeks ago. When doing these activities you can quickly remind your students of the various key points of the previous lesson. You can write some of the key points on the whiteboard but generally you want to keep this very short, like 2 to 3 minutes. Then you explain the role-playing situation, perhaps pass out some role-playing cards, split your students into groups and have them practice.

This can be absolutely great practice for your students and can really help them improve their English skills. The key is to do this often. In order to be able to do this often you need to keep it short. 5 to 10 minutes is probably best.



Reading Activity

Reading activities generally have a long reading passage that is related to the lesson’s topic. The students will read the passage and often they will answer some reading comprehension questions as well. Then depending on how much time is left in the class they can break off into groups to discuss the article that they just read.

You have to decide as a teacher how much time you are going to use to explain some of the more difficult vocabulary words or sentences in the reading passage. Remember that your students do not need to understand 100% of the article. And if you try to explain every single thing that the students don’t understand you can often take up too much time of your class. I will have my students read the article and when they finish I will write 7 to 10 vocabulary words on the whiteboard. Then I will give them the definitions in English and also write some example sentences using the vocabulary words. If they still do not understand the meaning I will give them a couple minutes to look the words up in their dictionaries. Then I will try and answer any other questions that my students might have about the reading passage. When I do this I’m very conscious that I do not want to spend too much time going over every little thing. Then I will have the students answer the reading comprehension questions. I will go over the answers with the students. Then if I have time I will break off the students into pairs of two and tell them to discuss the article with each other. Often I will have to write some warm-up questions on the whiteboard to get them started. When they are discussing the article I will walk around the class and sometimes join in conversations, sometimes correcting student’s English and sometimes simply listening.



Culture Focus

Cultural focus activities are created to help students understand various countries’ business culture and to help those students avoid cultural mishaps and pitfalls when they travel abroad. Some cultural focus activities can go over the proper ways and amounts to tip a person when in America or Canada, proper etiquette on receiving a gift in Japan. The primary goal is for the students to learn and think about different ways of doing things in different countries. If you are teaching a class with students from all over the world then it can be relatively easy to have the students start conversations about that activity’s topic. This way they can practice their English speaking skills and learn about the different cultural traits of their fellow student’s native countries. If you are teaching a class where the students are mostly of one nationality then you as a teacher will have to introduce the students to the various different ways each country does things.

Often cultural focus activities are reading passages or articles that highlight a specific cultural trait. After the students read the passage you will have to answer some comprehension questions. Then if you have time you can break the students off into smaller groups and have them discuss the reading passage with each other.




Teaching secondary objectives of is very important for your business English classes. It allows you to work on other skills and abilities that your students need to improve. It also adds a little variation and fun to your classes. Regardless of how long your classes are you should always make time for a couple of secondary objectives that are related to your class topic. Without these exercises your student’s English ability will be very unbalanced.




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Randy League owns an English School in Japan and has been teaching English for 20 years. In his free time he trains MMA , plays video games and studies Japanese.

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