Connect, Grow, Thrive

ETAS Journal Editors' Choice, Number 10 (May 2016)

Being one of the co-editors of this summer’s Special Supplement has given me the unique opportunity of being able to read a wide variety of excellent articles on Creativity, including some on domains that are unfamiliar to me. I don’t teach Business English and before reading Marjorie Rosenberg’s article found it hard to imagine using creativity in this kind of environment. In fact this is one of the reasons I prefer teaching young learners.

However, this article has made me rethink how I would describe and use creativity in the classroom. Marjorie makes a point echoed elsewhere in the Special Supplement that in this changing world of work, creativity and innovation are now essential elements in our CV. Thinking outside the box as well as on your feet are now vital professional skills. She points out that adults bring a wealth of experience to the lesson, and by using this in problem-solving situations we as teachers have much to learn from our students.

I chose this article because apart from giving me food for thought, it contains many activities that with a slight tweak can be used in any classroom. Like some of the best workshops I have attended, I enjoyed the chance to reflect while simultaneously being given more practical ideas and something new to use in class. A good example of this is “Forming a company”, an idea Marjorie saw at a Sheelagh Deller workshop. I tried this in a slightly different context this week and my young learners loved it. However, I won’t spoil the surprise – read the article yourself to find out all about it!

Rachael Harris
ETAS Journal Editorial Board

Creativity in the Business English context

Marjorie Rosenberg

There are many different ways to look at creativity. Although it is often associated with the arts, it is, in fact, also a major part of the business world. When business people talk about ‘thinking outside the box’ or being ‘innovative’, they usually mean tapping into the creative resources all of us possess. In order to make use of this resource in the classroom, there are several principles we can keep in mind.

Give the learners space

Sometimes just giving our learners the chance to think on their own will get their creative juices flowing. Business English learners often come to class with a wealth of ideas and experiences of their own that can be used in the classroom. Including students in decision making and in finding solutions allow them to discover how to use language they need for themselves.

Give the learners power

Since a large amount of business today is carried out in English, and business communication is task-oriented, purposeful, and goal-oriented, Business English learners are rarely in class to learn ‘about’ language. Instead, they come to learn what they can do with it. In addition, our learners need to discover how to use small talk to build relationships and be aware of cultural sensitivities. This often means that learners may come to a lesson with a clear idea of what exactly they need, and our job is to help them find ways to achieve this. As much of Business English involves ‘thinking on your feet’, the creative aspect is a big part of Business English lessons.

Work as a facilitator

One problem we often face as teachers is ‘letting go’ and allowing our learners to ‘take over’ the lesson for a time. However, as Business English learners are the experts in their fields, we may need to sit back and let them ‘teach’ us about their jobs or the projects they are working on. They already possess a great deal of knowledge and have their own set of goals for using the language actively. This, or course, leads to creativity within the language, how to use it, and in communication in general. To quote what I wrote in another article, “It is vital that we do not think of our learners as empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, but as fertile field which can be cultivated and harvested” (Rosenberg, 2015, p. 123).


Forming a company

This activity was presented years ago by Sheelagh Deller in a workshop I attended. Learners are told they are going to take part in an activity in which one group comes up with an idea for a company and the other group has to guess what type of company it is, where it is located, etc. The group creating the business is sent out of the room and the other group stays in their seats and works out questions to ask which can be answered with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. The creative aspect comes up quite soon as the group outside is told by the teacher that they are not actually creating a company but instead thinking of a code to answer the questions they receive from the others. For example, they can decide to answer all questions coming from someone wearing glasses or a watch or a red shirt with ‘Yes’ and all other questions with ‘No’.

The groups then come together again and the questions begin. As the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ answers begin to accumulate, those asking the questions begin to form an idea of the branch the company is in, where it might be located, the size of the workforce, and what is produced or provided as a service. The teacher then stops the questions and explains what actually happened and the group is then instructed to form a company based on the information they have. They need to make use of creative thinking and can also assign people to jobs within the company and explain why they chose the people they did. If the group is on the larger side, the class can be divided into several groups, each of which works on their own. After the groups have been ‘formed’ and subsequently named their new companies, they can find ways to do business with each other.  This activity is always fun and learners appreciate the innovative and creative aspect of it.

Business anecdotes

This activity was taught to a group of us by Andrew Wright and has been adapted to Business English classes. Firstly, a general discussion about business anecdotes is initiated to encourage the learners to think about other anecdotes they have heard. Mention how they are used for small talk as well as in presentations to get learners interested in the topic. Then give each learner a piece of paper and ask them to write their names on it while thinking of a small problem they had had recently. This should not be a major or personal issue but should be work-related. The group is then told that they are to exchange their stories along with the pieces of paper with others in the room and listen carefully to the stories.  

Since this is meant to be a creative activity, learners are asked to change some small aspect of the story while passing it on to another student. The game continues until a number of people have listened to and passed on the anecdotes. Then the learners repeat the last anecdote they heard without mentioning the person whose name is on the card. They all listen carefully and people try to guess if what they heard was their original story. When the story is identified along with its creator, the learner who first told it tells the class the original version. This activity encourages students to think on their feet, listen carefully, keep a lot of information in their head without writing it down, and be creative on the spot.

The marketing campaign

This activity is very simple but calls for innovative ideas within the group. The teacher or the group chooses an everyday item in the room and shows it to the class. They then brainstorm new uses for the item and create a complete marketing campaign based on the new ideas. They have to give it a name, determine the unique selling points (USPs), make pricing decisions including discounts and give-aways, determine the target audience, decide where it should be sold, come up with promotion ideas, etc. At this stage the AIDA concept (attention, interest, desire, action) can be used. They can then go on to create written adverts including illustrations and a 30-second TV or radio commercial which could be recorded or filmed. In this activity, they not only use their creative resources to think of ways to sell an item but also to think of different ways to use something they know well.

What these activities cover

These activities give the learners space and power – the teacher functions as the facilitator, not the driving force in the activity. Each of these activities allows the learners to tap into their own creativity and to truly think outside the box. What they learn doing activities such as these is not just language, but how to be innovators and creative thinkers, skills that are extremely important in today’s workplace.


Deller, S. (1990). Lessons from the learner: Student-generated activities for the language classroom (Pilgrims Longman Resource Books). Harlow, UK: Longman Group.

Kryszewska, H. & Campbell, C (1992). Learner-based teaching. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Rosenberg, M. (1995). In business. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Rosenberg, M. (2015). The learner as a creativity resource. In A. Maley & N. Peachy (Eds.), Creativity in the English language classroom (pp. 123-133). London, UK: British Council.

About the Author

Marjorie Rosenberg teaches at the University of Graz, works with corporate clients, and trains teachers throughout Europe.  Originally, from the United States, Marjorie has been working for the last 35 years in ELT.  With a background covering diverse areas such as music performance and advertising, she has long made use of music, art, and creativity in the classroom. Marjorie was the IATEFL BESIG coordinator and is now the IATEFL President.