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Oksana Hera: Give your learners a business perspective
ETAS Journal, Volume 34 Number 1 (Winter 2016), p. 18
Are you teaching Business English at a university or some other institution and want to foster your students’ ability to work in a team? Do you want to give your learners the opportunity to practise their negotiation and presentation skills? Are you teaching a group in-company and looking for activities to challenge your learners’ creativity? I heartily invite you to read Oksana Hera’s article Give Your Learners a Business Perspective, in which she describes an activity called “Start-up opportunity: Find your investor”.
The activity places the learners in the position of start-up owners who need to promote their business ideas to collect venture capital. This capital is put up by so-called angel investors, business people with capital behind them looking for profitable ways to invest it. The learners now must convince the investors, who are also played by English language learners, to invest money in their respective projects. To achieve this goal, they get time for a short presentation and some networking. In the final stage of the activity, the angel investors decide which of the start-ups they want to invest in.
So, what is it that makes this activity so useful in an English language class? First of all, it is fascinatingly simple ― easy to explain, to understand, and to carry through. Yet learners are provided with the opportunity to practise various language skills and Business English skills, such as speaking, negotiating, and presenting, as well as functions like asking for information and making suggestions.
Secondly, it enhances critical thinking and creativity, because the presentations must be evaluated and explanations and justifications must be given. The learners are put under time constraints and therefore have an incentive to present their business idea concisely and convincingly.
Thirdly, the activity can be undertaken with a variety of different learner groups, e.g. as a role-play with a group of business students or as a simulation with learners who have already gained work experience. Even though it is aimed at intermediate level learners, a real-life situation would certainly involve people who master the English language at very different levels. Consequently, the activity leaves room for experimentation with other levels, and it may even be found to be more authentic when used with a mixed level group.
And finally, the teamwork involved and the competitive aspect of the activity should ensure some fun in the classroom.
Oksana’s activity is a magnificent way to bring a bit of business-like creative bustle to your English class. Don’t miss out on the motivation it generates!
Markus Jürgen Dietz
Editorial Board, ETAS Journal
Give your learners a business perspective
The activity, Start-up opportunity: Find your investor, aims at providing the learners with fluency speaking practise in the context of negotiating, speaking to investors, and presenting in public. It is a flexible simulation which allows them to explore their creative ideas and practise them in the comfort of their English class.
Over the recent years, the idea of start-ups has inspired many creative minds to turn their ideas into profitable business ventures. And English has been instrumental in popularizing these ideas and aiding founders and inventors in reaching out to investors.
In modern professional context, the ability to present your ideas clearly and confidently is one of the key aspects of successful communication. At the same time, even if learners can achieve this, they can hardly expect their interlocutors to be at the same level of competence in terms of English. Therefore, the activity that was originally designed for intermediate level learners becomes even more realistic if used with mixed level groups.
Start-up opportunity: Find your investor activity was presented for the first time at the Pre-Conference Event of IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group in Birmingham in 2016. The idea behind it is to provide learners with fluency speaking practise in the context of negotiating, speaking to investors, and presenting in public. Depending on your teaching context, it can serve either as a simulation learners of English who are already employed or who have some job experience, or as a role-play for those without experience. The advantage of this activity is that learners can tap into their creativity and generate their roles and information by themselves: it is purely their choice if they want to use their work context or deploy their hidden resources and work on a unique idea in a safe environment of a friendly team.
Using the activity with my learners at the stage where I introduce the notion on ‘angel investors’, I try to emphasize that these people invest their own money into new ideas. This fact should encourage the learners to look for better reasons why angels have to support them financially, as this crucial detail helps start-up representatives to put themselves in their angels’ shoes.
Language Area: Start-ups
Level: B1 and above
Preparation: 10 minutes
Materials: A4 sheet for notes, business angels’ card
Interaction: Individual, pair, and groupwork
- To set the scene tell your learners that a group of investors are setting up a business incubator in your city and that they are going to invest in five start-ups. Your learners have been invited to the pre-launch event to present their ideas and to get the funding.
- In groups of three, learners brainstorm ideas for their start-up.
- In the same groups, learners select one idea.
- Learners think of three to five benefits of their start-up.
- Learners discuss and give answers to the following questions, e.g., How much money do you want to get from investors? What can you offer in return (e.g. part of revenue, ownership equity)? The range and number of questions may vary depending on your target group and how familiar they are with the business environment and related financial issues.
- Choose one learner from each group of three to be the angel investors. They get an individual activity card for angel investors (see below) and fill it in with their own ideas.
- Simultaneously in pairs, the rest of the learners prepare a short presentation (two to three minutes) for the group of potential investors (angels).
- Start-ups present their ideas while angels listen to these pitches and work on questions for the next stage.
- Angels mingle with start-up representatives and have a minute or two to network with every start-up to ask questions they prepared in the previous step.
- Angels take the final decision about providing funding and prepare the final announcement.
- Angels announce their decision to start-up representatives providing the reasons behind it. Time for each announcement can vary from thirty seconds to a minute.
Activity card for angel investors:
Area(s) of interest:
There are a number of possible extensions for some of the stages.
- Stage 1: Pre-teach rules of brainstorming.
- Stages 2 and 3: Pre-teach/revise negotiation techniques and vocabulary.
- Stage 4: Pre-teach/revise basic rules of presenting.
- Stage 5: Pre-teach/revise making requests and responding to them.
- Stage 6: Pre-teach/revise vocabulary for giving explanations and justifying them.
- Stages 8 and 11: Use a voice or video recorder to record presentations for further analysis.
The whole activity provides learners with a chance to focus on such skills as negotiating and presenting in public, making suggestions and requesting information, working in a team, and thinking critically.
Taking into consideration that some of the skills under practise may be more challenging to those of your learners who tend to be introverted, it is a good idea to follow the advice of Susan Cain (2013, pp. 256-257): you have to set the activity in a balanced way for your context, by making sure that every learner receives clear instructions on their role at every stage of the activity and that you have allowed for time for your quieter learners to make a contribution and express their ideas.
Moreover, you can easily adapt the activity by adding some authentic video resources suggested by Dodge (2016, p. 9), for example, reality TV shows such as Dragon’s Den (UK) and Shark Tank (US).
On the whole, my learners enjoyed doing the activity as it allowed them to discuss and work on a range of topics which they considered interesting. In addition to this, they saw that everyone had the potential to come up with an innovative idea. I do hope your learners will like it as much as mine did.
Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Dodge, V. (2016). IATEFL BESIG PCE: Practical activities for the Business English classroom. Business Issues, 93, 9-11.
About the Author
Oksana Hera has been teaching General and Business English and ESP to adults for over nine years. She is based in Lviv, Ukraine. She holds an MA in Linguistics and is CELTA qualified. Her professional interests lie in materials design, in-company training, and learners’ testing and motivation.