7 Practical Activities for Business English Classes

In task-based learning, students learn English by using English. The tasks are ideal for business English classes because they put students in realistic scenarios where they need to negotiate, solve problems, and communicate in English. In this post we’ll look at how to design activities for business English classes. I’ll share some of my favorite tasks for business English classes. Finally, we’ll discuss how you can use these ideas in practice.

How can I design activities for Business English classes?

Like all opinion gap tasks/activities, business English tasks have three aspects: situations, standpoints, and solutions. Let’s look at what each of these involves.


This is the background or context for a task; the reason why learners need to talk. Situations should be familiar to the learners. For business English tasks, situations should relate to the workplace. Perhaps a company needs to find new investment opportunities, needs to expand, or they need to hire a new employee. The situations need to be as realistic as possible. The more you know about your students’ jobs and where they work, the more realistic the situations you’ll be able to think of.

If all your students work in the same company, make their organization the setting for tasks. Students can draw on their market knowledge to decide which competitor to buy. Or learners could use their knowledge of their organization to choose a new CEO. Using the students’ company as a setting encourages learners to express relevant ideas in English.

If you teach learners from different companies, this won’t work. Instead, you could set tasks in the English school your students are studying at. Students could create a new marketing plan for your school. Or they could create a presentation for stockholders interested in investing in your school. If that isn’t relevant, choose a company the students are familiar with for the setting of your tasks. The more familiar the scenario and setting, the more relevant the practice.


Standpoints are opinions. People spend a lot of time at work sharing opinions, negotiating, and reaching agreements. Tasks should encourage learners to do the same. Effective tasks push students to disagree with each other. If all the students have the same point of view, they won’t need to talk much. To encourage learners to talk, choose topics learners will disagree about. If that isn’t possible, give students roles. One learner might be the head of finance, who is desperate to cut costs. Another might be the head of sales, who needs more budget for next year. A third learner could be the CEO who must listen to both points of view before reaching a compromise and making a decision.


Just as meetings need to end with an agreed outcome, tasks need solutions. Solutions to business English tasks include selecting an idea for finding new customers, agreeing on a policy change, or selecting a group to invest in your company. After students have reached a solution, ask them to put their decision in writing. Students can stay in character and write an email to managers or employees. This is like a post-task report, where learners reflect on what they did during the task. These reports are a great opportunity for learners to practice and get feedback on their writing.

What do Business English tasks look like?

Below are some of my favorite business English activities. Each of these can be adapted for different language points and different levels.

Company expansion

Situation: Your company wants to expand into new territories. (These could be cities, countries, or regions of the world). The board of the company has asked the students to give their suggestions on where to expand to.

Solution: Each learner looks at a profile of a different area (city, country, or region). These profiles include information to help students decide where to expand to. This might include population, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and average income. The learners must agree on which area is the best to open a new office in.

Standpoints: Adjust the information about the areas to ensure that there is no clear answer. One area may have a larger population, another a larger GDP, another fewer competitors, etc. To encourage learners to take different standpoints, give each student a role. The head of sales may want to expand to an area with fewer competitors, while the COO prioritizes GDP. One student could be made the leader, who must listen to other ideas before deciding.

Who to hire

Situation: Your company has asked you to decide which candidate to hire for a new position. (Choose a position to match the company or the learners’ own jobs).

Solution: Show learners profiles of the different candidates. These profiles could be from HR, they could be notes from interviewers or example CVs or résumés. You may want to match the language in the profiles to the lesson topic (such as language for describing personalities).

Standpoints: To encourage disagreement, give slightly different information about the candidates to the different students. One student might have more positive information about candidate A, while another student has more negative information about the same person. This simulates real life, where we all have different perspectives of the same situation.

Who to fire

Situation: Due to an economic downturn, your company needs to cut costs. The students must work together to decide which departments must cut staff. 20% of the workforce must be let go from the organization. If learners work in the same company, let them use their knowledge of their organization. Learners can discuss which departments are overstaffed and which are essential. If your learners work in different companies, give them information about different departments from a fictitious organization.

Solution: Learners should discuss the value and costs of different departments before deciding on a solution. After deciding, the group should compose an email to inform stakeholders of their decision and their rationale.

Standpoints: To encourage learners to disagree with each other, give learners roles. Students can be made the leaders of the biggest departments in an organization. Another learner could be the CEO. The CEO must make the final decision about which department to cut staff from.

New Customer Brainstorm

Situation: Your company’s sales are down for the previous quarter. The CEO has asked employees to think of how the company can find new customers.

Solution: Students must brainstorm channels to find new customers. After coming up with new ideas individually, students share these with the rest of their group. As a group they then choose two or three ideas that have the most potential. Each group then presents its ideas to the CEO (the teacher or another student). This could lead to another role play where the CEO leads the whole class to choose the best ideas.

Standpoints: Encourage students to evaluate their ideas using a framework like impact vs. costs or SWOT. Learners will have different opinions about which ideas are best without any teacher intervention.


Situation: Everyone has some worries at work or challenges that they want advice on. Ask students to think of a problem or concern they want help with. Learners then need to tell their concerns to another student who acts as a coach. The coaches give advice or ask questions to prompt their partner to think and reflect. If the students are familiar with each other, they may share some genuine challenges.

Solution: Each learner talks to two or three coaches. At the end of the coaching session, the students report back on the best advice they received.

Standpoints: Different learners will share different challenges. The students acting as coaches are likely to give different advice based on their experience, personalities, etc. Make sure each student talks to a diverse group of coaches (gender, age, seniority, background, etc.). This should ensure they get exposed to a variety of opinions.

Change the policy

Situation: As leading executives, the students must decide whether to change a company policy. Choose a policy which is relevant to the learners. Students could debate hiring practices, working from home, or maternity leave.

Solution: Make one student the CEO with the power to decide on a solution. They must chair the meeting and listen to the pros and cons of changing a policy. At the end of the time limit, the CEO can reach a decision. Finally, ask the CEO to make a speech informing the staff (the whole class) of the new policy. This can lead to another role play where students ask questions about the policy.

Standpoints: Use roles to encourage disagreement. Some learners can advocate for a change in policy. The HR leader may want to hire more staff from abroad to increase the talent pool. The head of finance might think this is a bad idea because hiring from abroad will increase costs. For the working-from-home policy, the head of IT may want everyone to work in the office because of data security concerns. The head of finance on the other hand may want to save money by renting a smaller office.

Investor pitch

Situation: Your company is being sold by its current owners. The global head office has decided they no longer want to do business in your country. As loyal employees, the students want to keep their jobs and keep the company running. Learners must persuade a group of financiers to buy the company and install them as the managers. Students must give a short presentation to financiers on why the company is a good investment. If your learners work in different organizations, allow them to choose a company to advocate for. If your learners all work in the same organization, allow them to draw on their knowledge of their company to put forward the best case for investing in them.

Solution: Give some learners a role as investors. They listen to the presentations and ask questions. Finally, the investors choose the group they want to invest in. Alternatively, let students take turns to act as presenters and investors.

Standpoints: Different learners will have different ideas about what makes their organization valuable.

Using tasks in practice

Business English tasks are like other language learning tasks: they need careful preparation. Below are three top tips for designing and using business English tasks.

Understanding your students

The better you understand where your learners work, the more realistic your tasks will be. Take time to find out about the industries your students work in. You can set up tasks where learners do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of their organization. You can use this information to think up new tasks. Imagine a company’s biggest threat is a hostile takeover. Make a hostile takeover part of the scenario for the Who to Fire task. Or if an organization has an opportunity to buy a competitor, turn this into a task setting.

Preparation time

Give learners time to prepare before doing a task. If you have several groups of students in one class, change the groupings. Put students who have the same role together before doing a task. The learners can ask each other questions about their role cards and motivations. They can exchange ideas about how to approach the negotiation. Learners can create a bank of phrases they’ll need during the task. This helps to ensure learners understand what to do during the task and encourages learners to use more complex language.

Grouping students

If your business English classes have more than five or six students, you’ll need to put them in groups to do tasks. Group learners based on their ability level. This allows stronger learners to challenge each other and weaker learners to work at a slower pace. Put stronger students or learners with stronger personalities as leaders in group tasks. They can encourage quieter learners to contribute more.

Post task

After a task, ask the whole class to correct each other’s mistakes. During the task, monitor and note mistakes. You can also note any unusual or useful language you hear as well. After the task, display the errors and ask students to find and correct the mistakes. If you asked students to write an email to summarize their decision, give them feedback on their writing. Display emails on-screen and suggest edits to make the writing clearer.


Business English tasks let students learn English by using English in relevant situations. The better you understand your learners’ work situation, the better your tasks will be. Encourage students to disagree with each other by selecting controversial topics or by giving learners different roles. Ask learners to share their decisions post-task by writing an email, as they would after a meeting. This practice will prepare your students to communicate effectively at work in English.

About the Author

Ross Thorburn

Ross Thorburn is a teacher trainer, materials writer and consultant based in Shanghai. Ross started his career in language teaching in 2006. He holds a Trinity DipTESOL, a Trinity FTCL TESOL, an IDLTM from the University of Queensland and a Master’s Degree in Language Education from NILE. Ross is also a keen researcher and has published research articles on teacher training, teacher motivation, task-based learning and young learners. In 2020, Ross published his first book, Inside Online Language Teaching. He also is the host of the TEFL Training Institute podcast.

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