Teaching with the Business Worksheets

As I prepare to release my business worksheets to the world, I thought it might be wise to give a few words of advice on how I teach from them.

There are two things I try to stress to my students:

  1. I don’t know anything about their work. Sure, I might come into the company every week and talk to them, but I can’t teach them their jobs, I can only help them talk about their jobs.
  2. A worksheet is a starting point. Even though I can honestly say that I made the worksheet, I point out that I made it to be reused. This is not specific to them. We need to work together, from the worksheet, to see what they need.

And there is one thing I keep in mind for myself:

  1. I need to make review drills with their vocabulary. The weird worksheets are fun and start a conversation. In the best case (though not all) they even cover some grammar. Then, I need to make something specific to them, so that 1) they practice the vocabulary they need and 2) they get that I’m trying to teach them and not just run through the same script I use in every lesson.

The worksheet structure

The worksheets I make are basically all the same. They follow a company or a person through a few anecdotes in their business life. These always serve to illustrate the grammar (often before it’s been explained) and I try to make these as absurd as I can.

“Is this how things work here in your company?”

There are references to human resources using a dartboard to decide who to fire. The ‘creative team’ in one company refers to vodka as ‘bottles of muse.’ It’s weird and it’s wacky.

The stranger things are, the more I insist that I thought that was how things were in their company. Then, I make them talk about their company. That’s what I’m there for.

Absurd examples, routine drills

After my experimentation, the winning combination for a worksheet like this seems to be absurd examples, but very routine drills. Partly because everyone focuses more on the drill than the example, it seems a great place to model good business English.

Ideally, the progression is something like this:

  1. We all laugh at the example story. Then, we have a little chat about what I got wrong about business life.
  2. We do the drills. They aren’t a ton of fun, but they serve first to reinforce whatever the focus of the activity is and second as a model so that, when I come in next week with a fast worksheet hat follows the same pattern (but uses examples tailored to their work), we all know what’s expected of us.
  3. I make up an intermediate worksheet that uses vocabulary specific to their company. The exercises are basically copied from the worksheet we just finished in point 2, so I don’t need to be especially creative. Still, I mention them by name in it and I mention their products by name. It doesn’t matter if they all seem to understand the grammar in class, I’m convinced you can’t review it too often if you let a week or two go by. If these are in a line-by-line format, the worksheet can be cut apart and put into a review envelope.

Grammar, from the basic to the specific

Finally, not all of my worksheets follow this pattern, but I generally realize that my students have trouble with something. Then, I work backwards to the most basic grammar lesson I can think of, and I start there.

Not only does this maximize the number of worksheets I can make, but it means that the whole thing should seem painless. We begin by practicing what we already know, and then maybe combine that with something we also know. We practice that in combination. Then we add something else.

The format seems to have worked for me and, when I’m really in the flow, I think I should pursue a career as a materials writer. Let me know if it’s useful to you, and if I could make the worksheets better.

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