I love it when, at the end of a lesson learners say that they appreciated the work done because it helped them with English and with being more effective in their work too. Of course we could argue that that’s what Business English lessons are all about, but it is nice when the learners point out how helpful the lesson was and not solely in terms of language.
Yesterday we had one such lesson, on telephoning about problems. This learner specifically has to call about IT problems she may have, so we worked on that. In the role-plays we set up, I would play the role of IT support and she would be herself.
Here is the sequence of activities for the lesson, which can be adapted to other telephone conversations .
1. Discuss with the learner the reasons why they use the telephone. Ask them to choose a situation that they wish to work on.
2. Invite the learner to give you more details about the situation. Who are they calling ? What is the subject of the call ? In our case of an IT problem, what have they already tried to solve the problem ? How urgent must the problem be solved ? What are some possible responses that will be given by the person called (in this case tech support) ?
This step has two advantages : you’re sketching in the background of the phone call that will soon happen (as in real life, you know all this information before calling) and it provides you the trainer with valuable information to use when playing your role (which you may be unfamiliar with—I’m certainly no IT technician !
3. Role play and record the first version of the phone conversation. I call this a « diagnostic role play » because you can « diagnose » what needs to be worked on in the lesson.
4. Listen to the recording with your learner. Discuss their impressions and yours, negotiate what to focus on in the communication work that will follow.
5. Ask the learner to take a piece of paper. On the left side they will draw a flowchart of their actions in the conversation. In our lesson, this took the form of boxes lined up vertically. Each box had one « action » in it and they were connected by arrows (Click here for a blank preparation chart that can be printed or just used as inspiration). On the right side, the learner wrote key expressions and/or vocabulary they would need for that step of the phone conversation. The trainer can provide valuable input and suggestions during this step, where the learner and trainer decide together what goes onto the paper.
6. Role play and record a second version of the conversation done in step 3. This should be the same conversation (but hopefully improved).
7. Again, listen to this second recording with your learner. Discuss your impressions and compare it with the first recording. What has improved ? What could still use some work ? You may also want to point out that taking a few minutes to sketch out some notes before making phone calls may vastly improve the effectiveness of the communication.
8. Ask the learner to think of another situation, but one that falls into the broad category of the first role play. For example, our first role play dealt with calling to ask for help with a problem. The new situation thus involved solving a problem, but it concerned a problem with information in a document rather than an IT problem.
9. Give the learner time to create their notes themselves. This is similar to what they will do when using this technique outside of class. They can then explain what kind of information they would possibly receive from the person they call. This way, the trainer who is playing this role can provide information that reflects the reality of the situation for the learner.
10. Role play this new situation and again, ask the learner for their feedback. Feedback can include both the effectiveness of the role play and the effectiveness of the preparatory stages.
The structure of the lesson has several advantages for both the trainer and the learner :
- The content of the lesson is based on situations the learners must really deal with in their professional life.
- By doing a « diagnostic role play », the trainer can ensure that the lesson covers the areas of communication that most need improvement.
- Taking time to build up the situation allows both learner and trainer to have the necessary background information for a successful role play. Remember in real life, we often have a lot of background information before making a call.
- Preparation time for the trainer is reduced. They supply the structure of the lesson, but the learner supplies the content.
- By the end of the lesson, the learner has created notes they can use for future phone conversations. They also come away with a technique that can be adapted to other situations.
If you’ve got any suggestions for effectively blending telephone skills and language skills, I would love to hear from you ! This is a topic that comes up in nearly every business program I write, so I’m always looking for fresh ideas !