Personalised Business English Classes with No Books: Making a Plan of Studies

So you’ve landed a Business English client! Higher pay, higher responsibility, and higher expectations from you. The Business world is fast-moving, so you had better keep their attention! Now, it’s time to think about the curriculum and make a ‘plan of studies’ or a syllabus for the number of classes that they have contracted.

Yours will look a little different, but this is an example of a generic syllabus: Goodness! But where to begin?!? How do you know what to include?

My syllabus/plan of studies always includes the date, topic to be covered, and any homework I will assign. You can be even more thorough and divide the topic to be covered into listening goals, grammar goals, writing goals, speaking goals, and reading goals if you were really ambitious. While this does require a much larger time-commitment, it does help you visualise if your students are receiving a balanced amount of practice in each of those areas over the course of a semester/course. Also, depending on the class, some business students will tell you that it is impossible for them to do homework and that all practice needs to be done in class. If that is the case, understand that the classes will progress slower and just make sure you plan to do a lot more drilling of the topic within the class time.

Now, to begin making your syllabus.

Step 1. Start with the dates

Agree on a calendar with your client and figure out how many classes you should plan for.

Step 2. A THOROUGH STUDENT NEEDS ANALYSIS is where you make or break the game.

And some people may be saying to themselves, ‘How do I know what to test for in the needs analysis for Business”. Ok, don’t panic! Get your hands on some books. You can go to the library, but perhaps the best resource nowadays is the internet. Go to a site like Amazon and you can look at the INDEX of a series of books. For example, English File is a well-known series of books that is used by many academies and if you search for it on Amazon you will find the books and usually included in the description of the item they include a picture of the cover and the index. You can also do a google search in images for something like ‘Index English file 1’. LOOK AT THE INDEX. You can start with a low-level book (beginner) and pay attention to what grammar points they are teaching and in what order.

Then you go to the next book (lower intermediate) and write down the same notes. Do this until you get to their advanced book. Now you have a whole list of grammar points to test for and a professional suggestion for what order to teach them in.

The difference between business students and a normal adult class is the vocabulary. The grammar is the same. Do your student analysis by designing questions around the standard grammar points. The first time you meet with these students you are evaluating which points the student(s) know and which ones they need to review. You can test these by asking for a writing sample and through their speaking.

Firstly, test their speaking skills by asking guided questions. We need to evaluate to what extent the student or students dominate the grammar. This is also a great opportunity to build rapport with them and get to know them and what they are looking for.

So, for example: Do they have a family? Ask them about their routines at work, and the routines of their family. Do they use the ‘S’ in third person singular? Do you they use the correct form of ‘to be’ and ‘have’? We are evaluating the present simple. Ask them about what they did last week at work? Is that routine for them or was it something special?  Build questions that you are truly interested in knowing (without prying of course). Here we are evaluating their use of the past tenses. And you continue with GUIDED questions to see how much the student uses different grammar structures. Have enough prepared so that if your student is quite advanced that you see how much advanced grammar, they are familiar with as well. Remember that this is BUSINESS English class, so most people are happy to talk about their families and hobbies a little bit, but the focus should be on what they do daily at work and the work ambitions that they have for the future. Also keep in mind that this isn’t an interview, so warn the student that you will be taking notes, but keep the atmosphere relaxed and don’t just drill them with a ton of hard questions. Especially if you see them struggling with the vocabulary related to their job or struggling in general to be fluent, just stay encouraging and in that case, maybe switch to more generic questions. A good way to keep it relaxed is to explain little tidbits about yourself as well. This will test their listening skills. Have they understood you? Did they ask questions in response? Oh, and an important tip, ALWAYS WEAR A SMILE! The students are happy to know that you are not their boss or an auditor, and that you are a collaborator who is here to help!

So you’ve made a speaking evaluation, now it’s time to see what they can do in writing. You would be amazed by the number of students that I have met who speak more or less fluently, but then when it comes to dictating something they’ve heard or doing a composition, their spelling and written grammar is lagging far behind their conversational skills. I am a strong advocate for teaching writing and speaking even if the person will never write in English for work. To me, even with all of the spell-checking software available today, it seems pointless to speak well but be unaware of spelling rules and be able to at least compose simple emails with limited grammar mistakes. However, asking your students how much written correspondence they do will help you know exactly how much emphasis to put on this point.  That said, I have also had A LOT of students who speak quite poorly, but have stellar written skills. Your analysis here will help you gauge in which direction to drive the class.

Step 3. Fill in the grammar and vocabulary topics next to the date

Once you have a good list of grammar points and vocabulary that your students need to review, you can use the suggestions from ESL books about which order to study them in, or simply use your intuition about a logical order for you.

Listening, reading, composition, and speaking goals are secondary goals to reviewing grammar and vocabulary.

Step 4. Choose exercises to teach and drill those vocabulary and grammar goals

With no book you won’t have exercises. But the internet also has a plentitude of resources for downloading and printing exercises to fit your grammar goal. Design your class to include a lot of different resources to keep the class dynamic.


You can use YouTube for Listenings. There are apps like aTube catcher that let you screen record the YouTube video and put it on a pen-drive. You can take the script of the business topic being discussed and make blanks to favour whichever vocabulary or grammar goal that you have for the day. There are plenty of articles and YouTube videos just on making custom Listening exercises.For example, you can alsoYouTube ‘How to Screen Record using aTube Catcher’.


You can find relevant business articles online and print them out and underline the important words or grammar that you have been studying. Then try to have the students answer some questions about the article and perhaps discuss their opinion on the topic. But you want to try to combine reading with speaking with listening to make the classes interesting.

With the WEALTH of free material available, your job becomes ORGANISING and PLANNING THE FLOW.

It is extra work to organise a class with no book, but keep your work archived in an organised fashion and then you can re-use it for other classes that you have in the future. One massive upside to doing class this way is that you can give your students material that is 100% relevant to them.  You have done a needs analysis and you know what they do for work, so you aren’t giving them generic business English material, you are giving them something specific for them. On the other hand, I have found that an article that I do with one company as a drill/practice exercise can also be interesting to people in a different sector but who are also involved in sales. Plus, sometimes people also like to disconnect a little bit and hear about what other companies are doing.

The best way to keep their attention is to stay very relevant to what they do and do a successful needs analysis to identify main points and correct them. Students are motivated when they feel themselves improving and by talking about things that are important to them.

Keep it dynamic and relevant, make yourself a good plan of attack (aka the syllabus ;), and wear a smile! You’ll do great!

Good luck on your Business English Classes!

Katie ‘KT’ Kleinwachter

LinkedIn: Katie Lynn

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