10 Quick Prep 1-2-1 Business English Activities About Work Life

10 Quick Prep 1-2-1 Business English Activities about Work Life



Written by Phil Wade and Noreen Lam


Cover design by Kati Alice Bilsborough


Copyright © Phil Wade & Noreen Lam 2016


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About the ebook


The name says it all. This ebook is for Business English teachers working with clients looking for meaningful and varied lesson activities that address work-based topics without the need for lengthy preparation, copying and handouts. It embraces mobile phones and tablets by incorporating online articles naturally in some activities.




There are 10 activities as I believe it is a sufficient number to keep you, the reader, interested and to give you inspiration. I didn’t want a lengthy book of 30+ activities you would just pick and choose from over months without much reflection. With this format, you can see 10 quite differently structured lesson activities which you can try in their entirety or borrow from and hopefully they will inspire you to make your own.


Quick Prep


The more you prepare and follow a strict plan, the less you can respond to students and be ‘in the moment’. However, no prep can make you look like you’re just making things up which is not wise with business professionals. A sufficient amount of preparation gives you a structure and activities to use but leaves you with enough space in between for personalisation. For instance, working with the client to create a scenario, allowing them to respond naturally or selecting from a list of questions based on what you know about the client.




Teaching 1-2-1 is extremely different to large and even small group work. To me, it becomes more like coaching as it is very student-centred and student-led. Relationships develop and you become very attuned to how the client receives and responds to what you do, how you speak and also the way you behave. This knowledge and understanding can enable you to tailor every activity to get the most out of the lessons.


Business English


Business English here does not mean English through Business Studies topics as some coursebooks do. This ebook’s approach treats the clients as adult business people, managers and directors. The topics are both general but highly relevant to all business people. A client at a managerial level will have quite different perspectives and responses to a director and that will make each activity with each client unique and meaningful.




The activities are collections of small multi-skill tasks together in a naturally developing way but with plenty of room for adaptation. They include discussions, roleplays, writing, listening, online reading, debate, negotiations, meetings and paper-based tasks. Each activity ends with 4 final discussion prompts to 1) create meaningful conversation 2) help develop new tasks 3) use for homework or next lesson follow-up.


Work Life


Anyone who has worked in a company knows that doing a job is very different from studying the topic at school. Therefore, these topics are about the nitty gritty of daily and weekly work in almost any office or company. As working environments vary between countries and cultures, the mixture of your experiences and ideas and your client’s, will provide the fuel for interesting discussions and interesting lessons. And the more international experience the clients have, the more they will have to share and talk about.




About the team

Phil Wade: Author


Phil has been teaching English and Business English for over 15 years. He has worked in language schools, corporate centers, universities and in companies as a teacher, teacher trainer, course co-ordinator and senior teacher. Phil was also a Cambridge examiner and Cert iBET tutor. He has published several articles on Business English and is the author of the 10 ebook Business English Teacher series and has worked on many elearning and printed projects for publishers. Phil’s Presentation Lesson Hacks ebook co-won the 2015 BESIG David Riley award for Innovation.


Noreen Lam: Author and editor


Noreen has taught English to all ages and levels in language schools, university, companies and private groups, as well as working as a Cambridge and university examiner. She has written articles, published lesson materials and contributed to ebooks on various topics. Noreen is interested in expanding more into publishing, especially digital publications and making them more accessible for teachers.


Kati Alice Bilsborough: Cover designer


Kati has been drawing, designing and making things since a young age. After getting a degree in Interior Design, and doing an internship with a design company, Kati decided to explore other areas of design including Graphics, Web Design and Illustration. This led to creating ELT ebook covers for numerous writers and organisations, one of which won the BESIG David Riley award for innovation. She is currently working on some original artwork for a primary coursebook and is designing the materials being used in an online English course.










1) Mornings


Give your client a piece of A4 paper and a pen. Ask them to draw a timeline to represent their morning from their alarm going off to arriving at their place of work. Tell them to add on important events like breakfast, dropping kids off at school etc and not to forget the times.


Do the same task on your own then put the 2 papers together on the table and compare them. Ask relevant clarification and related information questions to your client, such as:


1. Why do you get up so early?

2. How far is your home from your office?

3. What is the traffic like in the morning?

4. What route do you take to work?

5. Is this the same every day?


Encourage the client to do the same to you. Construct the questions together on paper if needed.


Next, share and read this article about mornings:




Take another paper and make a table with 3 columns. Write ‘Idea’ as the first heading, your initials for the second and the client’s for the third. Go through each of the ideas in the article, take turns sharing your opinions and ask the client to make brief notes on the paper.


Explain which of the 5 things you do or have tried and how successful you have been.

Either ask the client to think of 2 new ideas for their morning, 2 for their colleagues or staff or to suggest 2 for you.




1. Companies in Asia exercise sessions with their staff before starting work to foster team spirit.

2. A car sharing scheme can save staff money, ensure punctuality and create more relationships.

3. Companies should not hire staff who live more than 30 minutes away from the office.

4. Staff are only fit for work after drinking 3 coffees and smoking 3 cigarettes.




2) Meetings


Ask the client to show or describe their agenda, preferably from the previous week or this upcoming one, if it is late in the week. Have them explain the types of meetings, times and length, and if they had any say in determining any of these factors.


Tell them to be honest and to decide how many of these meetings were essential. From the ones that weren’t, ask them to specify why and which other means of communication would have been better, for instance: an email, a phone call, a memo, a meeting with specific individuals.


Get their opinions on the following aspects:


1. When is the best day, time and the ideal length for meetings?

2. What must be done before holding a meeting?

3. How can you lead and control an effective meeting?

4. What must be done afterwards as a follow-up?

Read the 4 steps in this article together:



Ask the client how many upcoming meetings they will have in the next week or month and then work together to apply the 4 steps from the article. Ask them ‘Would it be feasible to cancel some of the scheduled meetings and replace them with another form of communication?’

Tell them that you are a new employee and you would like them to give you advice on how to participate in a meeting in their company scheduled for next week. Use the following questions to draw out more specific information:


1. What is the best piece of advise you can give me for the meeting?

2. How should I ask questions or raise doubts?

3. Can I disagree with people? If so, how?

4. What should I do if the meeting goes off course?

5. How can I leave if I receive an important call?


Ask the client the important question ‘How do you measure if a meeting was successful?’

Comment on their ideas. Throw in your own and encourage them to share anecdotes. Help them come to some decision by perhaps creating a rating scale of categories to help assess each idea. For instance 0=We did not address any points, 5=We made decisions on all the points.




1. Why do people organise meetings when an email would do?

2. Do some bosses just like to play boss and call meetings to cement their power?

3. Must there always be an agenda? Should minutes always be taken?

4. What is the protocol for telephone use? Should they be turned off or can you take emergency calls?





3) Training


Ask the client to think back to all the training their company has organised over the past year. Suggest they make notes. Tell them to describe it and use the following points to ask questions to gather more information:


1. Internal or external training?

2. On or off site training?

3. Voluntary attendance or compulsory?

4. Essential or not?

5. Short or long term impact?

6. A high or low return on investment?

7. A full or half day?

8. Good or poor feedback?


Explain that you would like to roleplay with one of you being the head of training and the other a head of a department. The latter must propose some training with costs and justify it. The other will ask questions and decide whether to finance it or not.


Spend a few minutes preparing and then run the roleplay. Make sure to push the client by either providing very convincing arguments or asking hard to answer questions about benefits.


Take out 3 A4 papers and put them on the table. Give the client a big board pen and ask them to write down the names of 3 people in their team. 1 name per paper but 1 can be them. Then, ask the client to honestly write on each paper what those people need to improve related to their jobs. For instance, negotiation skills or knowledge of new procedures. After that, lead a meeting to cover the following points:


p<>{color:#000;}. Who should be trained?

p<>{color:#000;}. How?

p<>{color:#000;}. When?

p<>{color:#000;}. For how long?

p<>{color:#000;}. By whom?

p<>{color:#000;}. Where?

p<>{color:#000;}. How much will it cost?

p<>{color:#000;}. How can we measure the ROI?


When you finish, pose the question “If your budget was cut and you could only train 1 person for a day or have a group afternoon session, what and who would you choose, what training would you do and why?”




1. There should always be money for training with a good ROI.

2. How can you assess how useful the training was?

3. Is a weekly 1 hour, a single half day, a weekend or an intensive week training more efficient?

4. Are famed accredited trainers who don’t know your company better than internal ones who do?



4) Overtime


Convey to the client an anecdote about a person you know who works evenings. Let them respond or ask them their opinion if they do not.


Take a paper and write 3 column headings of ‘unpaid overtime’, ‘double paid overtime’ and ‘triple paid overtime’ at the top and add lines to separate them.


Question them about each to check their understanding and experience of them. For instance, in some countries, double time is often for extra hours after 5/6 pm while triple is for weekends or bank holidays.


Hand over the paper and inform the student that you will say 6 job titles and they must write them in the columns they believe are appropriate regarding extra work. Explain that you want their opinions and not the rules in their company or country. Say each slowly and give them time to write, check for spelling and only move on when they have finished writing or when more than 20 seconds have passed.


1. Company president

2. Managing director

3. Team manager

4. P.A

5. Factory worker

6. Financial consultant

7. Temporary worker

8. Student intern


Ask the student to hold up their paper and explain their choices and rationale. Play the devil’s advocate and challenge them to get justifications.


Hold a brief semi-formal meeting to make 3-5 official rules regarding overtime pay. Ask the student to write them down. Give them structures like these if they need them:


‘Overtime pay shall only apply to…’

‘Double time will not apply to..’


You can also more explanation with structures like ‘however, not in the case of…’.




1. A 35-hour working week is impossible except in government administration jobs.

2. Evening work is voluntary. A good employee should finish their tasks by the end of work.

3. You should never leave before the boss.

4. Productivity declines the longer you work.




5) Work chat


If possible, go on a walk with the client around the office for them to show you the layout of desks and other rooms. If not, give them a sheet of paper and get them to sketch a plan of their office.


Ask them questions about their office and offices in their company based on these prompts:


1. Open plan?

2. Cubicles?

3. Shared desks?

4. Individual offices?

5. Staff room?

6. Unisex bathrooms?

7. Canteen?


Enquire about how the layout of the building/office affects internal communication.


Tell the client you want to do a quick brainstorming where you will say topics and they just need to say the first thing in their head. Read out the following and get quick responses, note them down or record everything on your phone:


1. Staff talking at desks.

2. Work chat in the staff kitchen or common space.

3. Suitable work conversation topics.

4. Criticising colleagues.

5. Office gossip.

6. Office jokes.


Go over their answers and elicit explanations, responses or corrections.


Ask ‘how do you optimise internal communication but minimise chat’? Give the client time to think. Ask them for examples of both if they get stuck. Provide your own if you want.


Ask the client to consider their spoken and written conversations with colleagues and to explain what amount is chat or social and what is about work. Discuss how, from the client’s experience and knowledge, this differs in other companies and cultures and if and how they should adapt.




1. All work chat reduces productivity.

2. The English spend too much time talking about their private lives.

3. Work is work. Leave your personal problems at the door.

4. Bosses should use Facebook to keep an eye on what their staff say about their job.


6) Breaks


Take an A4 piece of paper and place it on the desk. Ask the client what time their office working day starts and finishes Write the start time as the title or header and the finish time as the footer. Next, draw a vertical line a few centimetres in front the border on the left. Explain that it represents the working day from start to finish. Add relevant times like every 2 hours.


Hand over the paper and ask the client to write the breaks people in their team or office take throughout the day by writing the times on the left of the line or a cross and then brief notes on the right. When they finish, summarise what you see and ask about anything surprising or interesting.


Now begin a discussion with these questions:


1. Are these breaks too long?

2. Is there a relationship between staff level and breaks?

3. How often do smokers have breaks? Why?

4. Do you have enforced breaks such as for pregnant women or computer users? Why?/Why not?


Ask the client to quickly calculate how long they, a colleague or their team spend on breaks per day. Compare that to staff you know of who have more and less. Use extreme examples such as no breaks and 4 hours.


Next, read out the following points and ask the client to say if each is ‘break or no break’ i.e. if they classify them as a break from work or not.


1. Going to the toilet.

2. Getting a coffee.

3. Taking a personal call.

4. Having lunch away from your desk.

5. Having a working lunch at your desk.

6. Checking Facebook.


Tell the client that you want to hire them as a coach to help you in planning out your day to create maximum efficiency. Say that they should ask you questions to establish your current working times and output, your desired ones and to help you plot out an improved schedule with breaks. Use some of the questions below to get and keep the ball rolling.


p<>{color:#000;}. What is the best biologically productive time?

p<>{color:#000;}. At what point in the day does productivity decline?

p<>{color:#000;}. How does sugar and caffeine help or hinder your work?

p<>{color:#000;}. How sustainable is intensive and prolonged work?

p<>{color:#000;}. Is a blocked out time period with no calls or interruptions possible?


Evaluate the plan and negotiate the payment in a fun way.




1. Einstein used power napping and it became fashionable at one point. What is your take on it?

2. Should you have breaks during meetings, negotiations and training?

3. Some cultures are very social and need socialisation in the staffroom and at desks.

4. There are staff who always seem to be on breaks or just have nothing to do.

7) Fridays


Inquire about what happens in the client’s workplace on Fridays. Draw out how they end the week and set up for the next.


Say you would like to be the client’s assistant for 5 minutes. Ask them to dictate an email to be sent out to all staff on Friday afternoon to:


1. Congratulate them on their week.

2. Inform them of something important that happened.

3. Explain about next week.


Go over the email and check any errors with them and jointly correct them.


Brainstorm other types of communication they use on Fridays, such as phone calls and notes.

Match each to its main purpose and benefit. For example, emails are used to send agendas and important reports, phone calls are utilised to ask important urgent questions, visiting your desk or office is reserved for important and often urgent issues.


Talk about good bosses and what they do to end the week on a positive. Give some anecdotes from your experience. Maybe you had a boss who came around to speak to staff, praised them in the Friday meeting or even rewarded the most productive.


Explain that you prefer motivational speeches and invite your client to prepare and present a short one. Then note the cultural differences in the content and style and ask the client which areas they felt weak at or could have done better.


Comment and say if you agree or not and if there are other issues, give the client a hint so they can find them. Then offer a few tips to improve and tell the client to choose 1 and explain what they will do between now and the next lesson to improve.




1. Is a casual or dress-down Friday a positive influence on staff motivation, morale or neither?

2. Friday after-works drinks are obligatory in some cultures.

3. Should you accept weekend invites from colleagues, bosses and subordinates?

4. Some companies have a best team member of the week award on Fridays to boost morale.


8) Sick days


Ask the client to explain to you what process must be taken when someone is sick in the company? Find out how many sick days people usually have and if they are paid.


Write the following on a piece of paper in a line: 1, 3, 5, 10+. Explain that they represent the numbers of sick days.


Tell the client to explain to you what staff need to do for each of those durations. For instance, do they need a medical note after 3 days?


Next, explain that you are a member of their team and that you will be sick tomorrow. Ask the client about what you need to do to inform them and then how the team will manage your absence. After that, explain that you visited the doctor and got a medical certificate for a month off work. Tell the client to again explain how the team will manage it. Ask them:


1. How will it affect my career?

2. Will you find a replacement?

3. Should they contact you regarding your work?


Ask the student to send a text message to you pretending you are a sick member of their team again to ask you about a specific work issue. Don’t give them any help. Open the message and reply quickly and ask the student to read the message.


Now, go over the first message and the reply. Correct any language and explain how to write short text messages and how to be polite. Write a few different versions such as a ‘get well soon message’, a tougher ‘request for information’ for a covering colleague and finally a ‘call me’ message to clarify the situation and when they will be back.


Ask the student the following:


1. What happens when you get back?

2. Is there resentment from management or fellow colleagues?

3. Is there a limit on this kind of time off?

4. Discuss how managers handle or should handle employees who are off sick regularly.




1. Is stress an acceptable reason for sick days?

2. Some companies offer flexi-time, food & drink etc and it allegedly reduces sick days.

3. Teleworking as an option for those with minor illness where they shouldn’t be in the office.

4. Going in sick shows you are dedicated and won’t let your team down.





9) Time off


Set up a roleplay where you play an employee at the client’s company and the client is either themself, if they are a manager, or their superior. Request 2 weeks off paid and negotiate the best deal.


Recap the roleplay and use it to uncover any differences between the national paid vacation allowance days and those in the company, also any opportunity for unpaid leave. Suggest the client notes it down to make it easier to understand. Add your own.


Share the link below and ask the client to compare the countries to find the highest and lowest annual leave. They will probably note the US with 0 and Panama with 30 + 10.




Discuss and try to pinpoint any pros and cons of 0 hours of unpaid leave and 35.


Express your interest in understanding the logistics of taking a 2-week holiday in the client’s company i.e. how you prepare before, what happens to your tasks and work during and how you continue after.


Take a piece of paper, listen to the explanation and make notes under headings ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’. Describe what you have written and explain your own opinions. You might want to teach or clarify the words ‘delegate’, ‘split up’, ‘cover’, ‘contactable’ and ‘catch up’.


Inform your client that there has been a new wave of companies, fronted by Virgin, that are offering unlimited time off. Ask the client to explain how much time off they would have and how they would arrange it.




1. Should you answer work email while having time off?

2. Is it better to delegate work or to do it when you get back?

3. You must always be contactable when on holiday in case of an emergency or just a question.

4. Public holidays should not be included in a company’s annual holiday entitlement.



10) Parental leave


Assign the article below for pre-reading or for the first 5 minutes of the lesson and ask the client to present a summary of the differences of parental leave between countries, using a map. Focus on language to show similarities and differences, and their reactions to the findings (e.g.: …along the same lines as…., at the other end of the spectrum…, surprisingly/unexpectedly….)




Discuss the parental leave policies of the client’s company and how it compares to the national length. Ask them:


1. Should it be extended, and if so, would they receive pay and at what %?

2. Would there be different lengths for men and women? Single parents? Adopting children?

3. How does society view those people who take parental leave?


Use a tablet/phone and watch this video together called Paternity Leave in Sweden:




Tell the client you want to write a letter to the national newspaper in response. Assist with the plan, development of arguments and supporting points.


Set up a roleplay between you, the head of the local trade union, and the client as a company representative or vice versa. Clarify the client’s company’s parental leave level and then explain that you are meeting to increase it for men and women, people who adopt. Say that the union is seeking 1 year paid for both parents with an option for a 2nd year at half pay.


Do the roleplay and note down good and bad arguments, then review them at the end, replacing them with better ones.




1. A subsidised work creche would encourage parents to return to work sooner.

2. Sick children or relatives are not valid excuses for days off work.

3. Flexi-time will enable everyone to fit work in with school timetables.

4. There should be a limit on the number of maternity leaves granted to a parent.




10 Quick Prep 1-2-1 Business English Activities About Work Life

  • ISBN: 9781311465429
  • Author: Phil Wade
  • Published: 2016-05-02 08:05:09
  • Words: 4385
10 Quick Prep 1-2-1 Business English Activities About Work Life 10 Quick Prep 1-2-1 Business English Activities About Work Life