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ETAS Journal Editors' Choice, Number 16 (January 2017)

Marjorie Rosenberg: Creativity in the Business Context

ETAS Journal Volume 33 Number 3 (Summer 2016), pp. 25-26

What is a Business English teacher? Is it an English teacher who teaches a course from a business coursebook? Or is it an expert in business? Frankly, we might ask that if they were experts in business, why are they teaching? Maybe that is a debate for another day. However, I think most teachers are teaching because the world of economics and business did not appeal. A vocationally driven occupation attracted us more, perhaps, than a self-image of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.

Most of us who given the task of teaching Business English feel a dread, followed by the sentence “but I know nothing about business”. Marjorie Rosenberg’s article is, therefore, for you. She is liberating the reader and suggesting that the power of the classroom be shared equally between the “knower” of language and the “knower” of business.

To do this, she recommends giving the students the opportunity to allow their business experience to flourish and for the teacher to become the catalyst for interaction, communication, and learning.

This article embeds this notion through three activities. None of these activities would be defined as “technical”. Therefore, the secretary, the accountant, the marketer, the researcher and the human resources manager (etc) could all participate equally and neither would be disadvantaged by a lack of job-specific vocabulary. With adaptation, the activities work in non-business classes.

The first activity is based around “Yes/No” questions. However, there is a twist that creates “on-the-foot-thinking” – an important business skill. When I tried the activity, I kept the twist fairly standard at first but as I became confident with the activity and the groups I was with, I enjoyed removing the shackles further.

Activity 2 is an anecdote but with a ruse that even Agatha Christie would enjoy. The topic remains ‘businessy’ but the skills being exercised are general soft skills.

The final activity is a collaborative activity where the participants may indeed use their professional skills in designing a marketing campaign for everyday things.

These activities will add spice to what are often dry courses and coursebooks. Embracing these activities will allow you to step back and for the participant to take centre stage.

Lee Shutler
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 can be cultivated and harvested” (Rosenberg 2015).


Forming a company

This activity was presented years ago by Shelagh Dellar 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.


  • Dellar, S. (1990). Lessons from the learner. Harlow: Longman.
  • Kryszewska, H. & Campbell, C (1992). Learner-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rosenberg, M. (1995). In business. Cambridge: 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.