English Teacher Article Handling clashes in demands: When the demands of the student and the person who is paying clash

Summary: What to do when the demands of the student and the person paying for the classes clash

By: |Audience: Teachers|Category: Teaching English


Many methodologies of teaching Business English and ESP are based on the optimistic assumption that you can start the course by finding out what language the student needs and then follow a logical process to design a course that will give them that language. There are many ways in which this assumption can break down, one if which is that the things the student tells you they need are completely different from what their HR manager has decided they should learn. The same kind of problem can also happen when a parent is paying for the class of kids or teenagers, or with differences in demands between education ministries, head teachers, classroom teachers and school students. Some typical clashes you have to somehow find a way round include demands for:

  • Speaking/ Writing
  • General English/ Business English
  • Lots of correction/ Free speaking
  • Sticking to the textbook/ Lots of chitchat
  • Working through the textbook at a fixed schedule/ Slowing down or taking a break when they are tired or haven’t really got it
  • Lots of homework/ Little or no homework
  • Periodic testing/ No tests
  • Preparation for their work/ Preparation for their TOEIC test
  • English to help them in this job/ English to get them their next job
  • Topics related to their work/ Topics related to their hobbies
  • Preparation for presentations/ Preparation for their next foreign holiday
  • Accuracy/ Fluency
  • Formal English/ Idioms and slang
  • Being pushed/ Going over the basics
  • Finding out about business or academic topics/ Finding out about the teacher and his or her country

Although there is no perfect way of giving everyone what they want, there are some ways of tackling this problem.

1. Make the problem clear

If you tell your students that what they have said is completely different to what the person who is paying has demanded, they should at least understand that you are in a difficult position. Whether you also want to make the problem clear to the person who is paying depends on whether you think it will be met with flexibility or will just result in them watching you more closely to make sure you stick to what they originally said.

2. Split the time

You can compromise by spending a certain portion of the course time on what the students want and the rest on what the course programme specifies. Ways of splitting it include within each class (e.g. 10 minutes of travel English per lesson before the main topic starts), per month (e.g. one lesson a month on stuff not using the textbook) or per course (e.g. one lesson chosen by each student scattered throughout the course between the Business English lessons).

3. Combine

A more challenging but more time-efficient method is to manage to combine the two competing demands in two connected stages of one lesson or even during one activity. For example, by using speaking tasks with correction when they have finished you will be able to focus on both fluency and accuracy. You can also combine topics by having a business meeting on a topic related to someone’s hobby, such as deciding on a sporting event that your company should sponsor. Other combinations for some typical clashes include:

Speaking/ Writing

  • A debate before a discursive essay.
  • Discussing which cover letters would make you accept the candidates for a job in your company before writing formal letters
  • Problem solving roleplays where you can write a quick email or make a telephone call

General English/ Business English

  • Business topics that touch on everyday life such as the inventions of well known household goods
  • Negotiations on everyday topics like who should do what at the next Xmas party

Lots of correction/ Free speaking

  • Bring speaking into error correction with the Grammar Auction game, Pairwork Error Dictations etc.

Working through the textbook at a fixed schedule/ Taking a break when they are tired

  • Tell them they have to catch up on anything missed in class by doing it for homework
  • Build extra topics into the schedule that can be dropped if they lack time or energy, allowing you to still cover the important parts

Lots of homework/ Little or no homework

  • Make the homework task them preparing for the next class, e.g. writing a presentation about their hobbies
  • Make the homework task them having to do something fun in English like watch a video with English subtitles and report back on the experience

Periodic testing/ No tests

  • Write reports on their performance in class (continuous assessment) rather than giving them sit down tests
  • Give them the test for homework
  • Do oral assessment instead/ as well, maybe letting the others take a break as you test each student

Preparation for their work/ Preparation for their TOEIC test

  • Bring test materials related to particular skills, such as reading texts based on emails, into classes on related subjects
  • English to help them in this job/ English to get them their next job
  • Do CVs and cover letters as part of the topic of HR

Topics related to their work/ Topics related to their hobbies

  • Lessons about companies that make products connected to their hobby
  • The business of sport

Preparation for presentations/ Preparation for their next foreign holiday

  • Do “Business Travel” as a topic
  • Do lessons on cultural differences in the Business world of the country they are going to on holiday

Accuracy/ Fluency

  • Give marks on their speaking based on the FCE, IELTS or BULATS marking scheme, including points for both accuracy and fluency
  • Tell them clearly if you want them to focus on accuracy or fluency in each activity
  • Write how the topics of the lessons and the activities you see will improve both their fluency and accuracy on the course programme

Formal English/ Idioms and slang

  • Stick sentences that are unsuitable for business (but suitable for elsewhere) in each activity for them to eliminate from the business dialogues

Being pushed/ Going over the basics

  • Make the lesson’s grammar point something new but the error correction revision of the basics
  • Pick grammar points that summarize and extend basics, such as all Continuous tenses together

Games/ No games

  • Call all games “activities”
  • Do games on very boring points like emailing

Finding out about business or academic topics/ Finding out about the teacher and his or her country

  • Tell them about a business or academic topic related to your country, e.g. “My 10 British companies to watch in the next 10 years”
  • Give a presentation on a topic you know well before they do their own presentations and/ or you do a lesson on presentation skills

hen the demands of the student and the person who is paying clash

Many methodologies of teaching Business English and ESP are based on the optimistic assumption that you can start the course by finding out what language the student needs and then follow a logical process to design a course that will give them that language. There are many ways in which this assumption can break down, one if which is that the things the student tells you they need are completely different from what their HR manager has decided they should learn. The same kind of problem can also happen when a parent is paying for the class of kids or teenagers, or with differences in demands between education ministries, head teachers, classroom teachers and school students. Some typical clashes you have to somehow find a way round include demands for:

Speaking/ Writing

General English/ Business English

Lots of correction/ Free speaking

Sticking to the textbook/ Lots of chitchat

Working through the textbook at a fixed schedule/ Slowing down or taking a break when they are tired or haven’t really got it

Lots of homework/ Little or no homework

Periodic testing/ No tests

Preparation for their work/ Preparation for their TOEIC test

English to help them in this job/ English to get them their next job

Topics related to their work/ Topics related to their hobbies

Preparation for presentations/ Preparation for their next foreign holiday

Accuracy/ Fluency

Formal English/ Idioms and slang

Being pushed/ Going over the basics

Finding out about business or academic topics/ Finding out about the teacher and his or her country

Although there is no perfect way of giving everyone what they want, there are some ways of tackling this problem.

1. Make the problem clear

If you tell your students that what they have said is completely different to what the person who is paying has demanded, they should at least understand that you are in a difficult position. Whether you also want to make the problem clear to the person who is paying depends on whether you think it will be met with flexibility or will just result in them watching you more closely to make sure you stick to what they originally said.

2. Split the time

You can compromise by spending a certain portion of the course time on what the students want and the rest on what the course programme specifies. Ways of splitting it include within each class (e.g. 10 minutes of travel English per lesson before the main topic starts), per month (e.g. one lesson a month on stuff not using the textbook) or per course (e.g. one lesson chosen by each student scattered throughout the course between the Business English lessons).

3. Combine

A more challenging but more time-efficient method is to manage to combine the two competing demands in two connected stages of one lesson or even during one activity. For example, by using speaking tasks with correction when they have finished you will be able to focus on both fluency and accuracy. You can also combine topics by having a business meeting on a topic related to someone’s hobby, such as deciding on a sporting event that your company should sponsor. Other combinations for some typical clashes include:

Speaking/ Writing

A debate before a discursive essay.

Discussing which cover letters would make you accept the candidates for a job in your company before writing formal letters

Problem solving roleplays where you can write a quick email or make a telephone call

General English/ Business English

Business topics that touch on everyday life such as the inventions of well known household goods

Negotiations on everyday topics like who should do what at the next Xmas party

Lots of correction/ Free speaking

Bring speaking into error correction with the Grammar Auction game, Pairwork Error Dictations etc.

Working through the textbook at a fixed schedule/ Taking a break when they are tired

Tell them they have to catch up on anything missed in class by doing it for homework

Build extra topics into the schedule that can be dropped if they lack time or energy, allowing you to still cover the important parts

Lots of homework/ Little or no homework

Make the homework task them preparing for the next class, e.g. writing a presentation about their hobbies

Make the homework task them having to do something fun in English like watch a video with English subtitles and report back on the experience

Periodic testing/ No tests

Write reports on their performance in class (continuous assessment) rather than giving them sit down tests

Give them the test for homework

Do oral assessment instead/ as well, maybe letting the others take a break as you test each student

Preparation for their work/ Preparation for their TOEIC test

Bring test materials related to particular skills, such as reading texts based on emails, into classes on related subjects

English to help them in this job/ English to get them their next job

Do CVs and cover letters as part of the topic of HR

Topics related to their work/ Topics related to their hobbies

Lessons about companies that make products connected to their hobby

The business of sport

Preparation for presentations/ Preparation for their next foreign holiday

Do “Business Travel” as a topic

Do lessons on cultural differences in the Business world of the country they are going to on holiday

Accuracy/ Fluency

Give marks on their speaking based on the FCE, IELTS or BULATS marking scheme, including points for both accuracy and fluency

Tell them clearly if you want them to focus on accuracy or fluency in each activity

Write how the topics of the lessons and the activities you see will improve both their fluency and accuracy on the course programme

Formal English/ Idioms and slang

Stick sentences that are unsuitable for business (but suitable for elsewhere) in each activity for them to eliminate from the business dialogues

Being pushed/ Going over the basics

Make the lesson’s grammar point something new but the error correction revision of the basics

Pick grammar points that summarize and extend basics, such as all Continuous tenses together

Games/ No games

Call all games “activities”

Do games on very boring points like emailing

Finding out about business or academic topics/ Finding out about the teacher and his or her country

Tell them about a business or academic topic related to your country, e.g. “My 10 British companies to watch in the next 10 years”

Give a presentation on a topic you know well before they do their own presentations and/ or you do a lesson on presentation skills

Copyright © 2011

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com