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Talking Points for Business English students
by Michael Berman

Is this new teacher any good? – The students wonder. Are they going to like me? – You ask yourself. What do you do first day with a new class, or in a school with continuous enrolment where you can expect new students every Monday? Clearly this will depend on their level and whether they already know each other or not. However, we each have our preferred activities and here is something I frequently use with Business English classes from Intermediate level upwards – talking points.

Four different sets of questions are used to ensure a variety of different answers result and to prevent the listeners from getting bored with what they hear during the reporting back stage. You will notice that instead of the teacher deciding on the questions to be discussed, with this type of activity the students are given more of a choice in the matter. When working with larger classes, the learners can be arranged in circles of eight for the reporting stage, and you can move among the groups.

While listening to the reports, I make notes in two columns, on a sheet of paper or an OHT, of the effective language used and also of the problems that reveal themselves. At the end of the lesson, so as not to interrupt the flow during the productive stage, I then go through these together with the class as a whole.

First of all, I focus on the effective language that was produced to provide the learners with positive "strokes", and then point out the errors, asking them to self-correct if possible and to explain why the utterances were problematic. Obviously this has to be done selectively, just focussing on those points you consider to be the most important to deal with, taking the students' needs and level into account, so as not to undermine their self-confidence in their ability to get their messages across. The last thing you want to do is to inhibit the learners from practising their English, which is why it is important not to overdo the error correction. The aim is to promote fluency, but not at the expense of accuracy.

What I particularly like about this lesson is that first of all it is relatively easy to set up, secondly that it provides for plenty of STT, and thirdly that the feedback stage is an opportunity for you to show the class that you know your stuff (through your grammar explanations). In this way you can gain the learners' respect right from the start, an essential prerequisite to ensuring their cooperation and a successful working relationship for the duration of the course.

Talking Points (i)

Working in small groups, choose one of the following quotations to discuss. Then elect a spokesperson to take notes and present the group's views to the rest of the class:

a. "Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, in as much as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid." John Keats (1795 - 1821). To what extent would you say that you have learnt from the mistakes you have made?

b. "To follow, without halt, one aim: There's the secret of success." Anna Pavlova (1885 - 1931). Do you agree that being single-minded is the key to success or does it simply make you rather boring as a person?

c. "People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up." Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971). To what extent would you agree that this is the case?

d. "Drive thy business or it will drive thee." Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790). But is it always possible to be in the driving seat or are some things out of our control? What do you think?

e. "Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you're not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were." David Rockefeller (1915 - ). To what extent do you think this is true or does luck have a large part to play in the process too?

f. "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965). Are you still as enthusiastic today as you were when you first left school or college? How optimistic would you say you are now about your future prospects?

Talking Points (ii)

Working in small groups, choose one of the following quotations to discuss. Then elect a spokesperson to take notes and present the group's views to the rest of the class:

a. "You never really hear the truth from your subordinates until after 10 in the evening." Jurgen Schrempp, Former CEO of DaimlerChrysler. How helpful have you found socialising with work associates after hours, or do you believe in keeping business and pleasure separate?

b. "Make money your god and it will plague you like the devil." Henry Fielding (1707 - 1754). Is money the root of all evil, as this quote suggests? What do you think?

c. "All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind." Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC). Is it true that the only worthwhile jobs are unpaid ones? What do you think?

d. "The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling." Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914), in The Devil's Dictionary. Is business success anything more than just being good at taking risks? What do you think?

e. "The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others." Hasidic Saying. Is self-confidence all you need in business? What do you think?

f. "A dinner lubricates business." Lord William Stowell. How and where do you prefer to conduct business?

Talking Points (iii)

Working in small groups, choose one of the following quotations to discuss. Then elect a spokesperson to take notes and present the group's views to the rest of the class:

a. "If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down." Mary Pickford (1893 - 1979). How good would you say you are at "bouncing back" again after disappointments?

b. "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973). What do you think Picasso meant by this and do you agree with him?

c. "So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work." Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005). Is a "hands-on" or a "hands-off" approach to management more likely to be successful? What do you think?

d. "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of." Jane Austen, in Mansfield Park (1775 - 1817). To what extent is money your God?

e. "If you don't risk anything you risk even more." Erica Jong. Is taking risks always the best course of action? What do you think?

f. "Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work." Horace (65 BC - 8 BC), Satires. Is success in life always dependent on hard work? What do you think?

Talking Points (iv)

Working in small groups, choose one of the following quotations to discuss. Then elect a spokesperson to take notes and present the group's views to the rest of the class:

a. "It has been my experience that one cannot, in any shape or form, depend on human relations for lasting reward. It is only work that truly satisfies." Bette Davis (1908 - 1989), in The Lonely Life, 1962. Do you put your work first, before your relationships with people, or is it the other way round for you?

b. "Every time you don't follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness." Shakti Gawain. How good do you believe you are at listening to your inner voice?

c. "Seize opportunity by the beard, for it is bald behind." Bulgarian Proverb. Have you always taken full advantage of the opportunities you have had in life. If not, what regrets do you have?

d. "He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money." Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790). How important would you say money is to you – too important or not important enough?

e. "Here's my theory about meetings and life; the three things you can't fake are erections, competence and creativity. That's why meetings become toxic they put uncreative people in a situation in which they have to be something they can never be. And the more effort they put into concealing their inabilities, the more toxic the meeting becomes. One of the most common creativity-faking tactics is when someone puts their hands in prayer position and conceals their mouth while they nod at you and say, 'Mmmmmm. Interesting.' If pressed, they'll add, 'I'll have to get back to you on that.' Then they don't say anything else." Douglas Coupland. To what extent do you think meetings are frequently a waste of time that could probably be put towards more constructive use?

f. "To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge." Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881), in Sybil, 1845. How self-aware do you consider yourself to be?


Michael Berman works as a teacher and a writer. Publications include The Power of Metaphor for Crown House, The Nature of Shamanism and the Shamanic Story for Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Shamanic Journeys through the Caucasus for O-Books, and Journeys Outside Time for Pendraig Publishing. Spring 2011 will see the publication of Tales of Power for Lear Books and Shamanic Journeys, Shamanic Stories for O Books. ELT titles include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom, In a Faraway Land (a resource book for teachers on storytelling), On Business and for Pleasure (a self-study workbook). and ELT Matters (written with Mojca Belak and Wayne Rimmer).  For more information please visit  

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