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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

Business English with a Creative Twist

Vanni (Myfanwy) Cook, UK

Vanni (Myfanwy) Cook works as a teacher and course designer for companies, government-funded bodies and schools including Her current interests are injecting Business English with a dose of creative fun. E-mail:


Introduction and Background
Activity Template - Creative Crime Writing Challenge
References and General Background Reading

Introduction and Background

Adding a dose of zest and creative fun into a Business English course or lesson can be an effective teaching tool. It can humanize the process of mastering English for general and specific purposes. The other benefits are that it offers every learner* the opportunity to demonstrate their own individuality. It also enables them to use their own previously acquired skills and to experiment in an innovative way within a 'safe zone', which is outside their normal business activities. The aim of this article is to demonstrate how a creative language activity such as writing a short story can be used. The activity chosen to illustrate this is designed to round off or to compliment a lesson, which focused on phrasal verbs used in a business context. The objectives are as follows:

  • To enable the student to transfer the skills acquired during the lesson (or group of lessons) and use them for a different purpose i.e. Business Meeting to Crime Fiction;
  • To use their language skills to write in a different register;
  • To produced a short piece of fiction;
  • To have creative fun.

Activity Template - Creative Crime Writing Challenge

Tutor Brief

  • Introduce the activity as a creative writing challenge to write a mini-crime fiction story in five (or ten) minutes.
  • Ask the group what they think makes a good story. Write a selection of their
  • suggestions up on the white board or flip chart e.g. strong characters, interesting
  • setting, tension, dramatic plot etc.
  • Elicit what a story comprises of e.g. beginning, middle, end, cliffhangers, problems and solutions.
  • Ask what they think are the main differences between a novel and a short story e.g. a short story only has a few characters and not a 'cast of thousands', a change occurs in the life of the main character etc.
  • Write up three possible titles or themes they have suggested on the white board e.g. Cut Price Murder, Murder on Sale, Theft at the Touch of a Button, The Statistics of Death etc.
  • Select ten phrasal verbs (or less depending on the level of your group) and write them up e.g. tie up, share out, pick up, bump off, take over, carve up, check up, pass over, move on, switch off, take away, pick out, kill off, knock off, bump off, back out etc.
  • Write on the flip chart a title that you have chosen before the lesson e.g. Minus One. Then layout your board (or flip chart) as illustrated below.

Title: Minus One
Main character:
Secondary character:
Whatbis the crime? (e.g. theft, murder, fraud etc.):

What happened?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
How did it happen?
How does the main character discover who did it?
What is the motivation of the character that committed the crime?
What does the main character do about it?
What happens in the end?

Ask the class to select names for the characters and then get them to provide possible answers to the questions. Only write key words or phrases down as in the example below.

Title : Minus One
Main character: Laurent
Secondary Character: Claire
What is the crime? Fraud
What happened? A stock-market trader decides to defraud one of their clients.
When did it happen? When the stock market is closed for a national holiday.
Where did it happen? In New York on Thanksgiving Day.
How did it happen? By redirecting funds to their own account.
How does the main character discover who did it? They come back into work to collect a present that they've left behind.
What is the motivation of the character that committed the crime? They've got a sick wife who needs a major operation and they haven't got the money for it.
What does the main character do about it? Nothing as they feel sorry for the man and his wife.
What happens in the end? The wife recovers and no one ever notices that a fraud has been committed.

  • Read the story slowly aloud to the group inserting a selection of the phrasal verbs that you've used during the course of your previous lesson or unit of work. You could add adding in a few creative details and change the plot as you go. Try to include a 'twist' if possible, which will alter the story line.


Minus One

Claire arrived at the office in New York. It was closed for Thanksgiving Day. She had left her parents' present in her desk. She decided to call in and pick it up on the way to their apartment. The office was silent except for the hum from the computers. Even the security guards had the day off. Then Claire saw Laurent. Recently, he'd been doing a lot of overtime, because his wife was ill. She needed an operation, which was going to cost a fortune. Laurent was bent over his computer screen. He'd just tied up a share deal that would mean a big profit for their company. If the managers shared out the profits then Laurent might have enough money to pay for his wife's treatment. Laurent was a hard worker, but he was never picked out for promotion.
Laurent didn't notice Claire as she stood in his doorway watching as he moved columns of figures around. Minus one flashed up on the screen. Suddenly, Claire realized that she was watching a fraud taking place. She closed her eyes. It was, after all, Thanksgiving. She had no desire to kill off any chances that Laurent might have to get the money for his wife's operation. She backed out of the office quietly. It was a month later that she found out that Laurent's wife was recovering from her operation and that Laurent had been promoted. He'd checked out some information he'd been given about one of the managers and uncovered a major fraud. Claire laughed. She thought that it was plus one for Laurent and minus one for her detective skills.

  • Present the challenge to your students. They have to try to write a mini-crime story using as many of the phrasal verbs that they can in the story. It is a timed activity. They have ten minutes. Tell them not to worry about the spelling. They can correct that when they edit it (a possible follow-up task at home).
  • Invite them to read their contributions to the class, or even organize a lunchtime Sandwiches and Crime performance for other groups.
  • Ask them if they can spot the twist in the story you've just read aloud if you've included one? Check with them to see if they spotted any changes that you made to their original key words and phrases.


  • If you haven't got the time to present the crime story template simply write up the phrasal verbs and a selection of titles or themes e.g. Murder in the office, Bank raid in Madrid, Credit Card Computer Fraud etc. Then ask them to write a story in five minutes using as many of the phrasal verbs on your list as they can.
  • Encourage them not to use dialogue in their stories. Writing dialogue is an advanced creative writing and language skill and it will limit the amount they can write in a timed activity.
  • Give lots of positive praise, but do not make the students read out what they've written unless they feel comfortable about it. Many students will never have tried this type of creative activity before.
  • This type of activity can be the springboard to introducing a host of other skills such as editing, reviewing, producing a mini-magazine, writing letters to other members of the group complimenting them on their story and highlighting one particular point that they liked etc.


Successful businesses are often the result of creativity and imagination. Introducing business people to an alternative way to learn and practice phrasal verbs, within the context of a creative activity, is designed to bring a dose of fun into a lesson and to evoke a sense of achievement. It can also enable the learner to bridge the register gap between the use of phrasal verbs (multi-phrase verbs) for both general and business purposes. Giving Business English a Creative Twist can be a satisfying conclusion to a lesson or course for both the student* and the teacher.

*learner = student, participant, practitioner

References and General Background Reading

Brande, D, (1996), Becoming a Writer-The Classic Inspirational Guide

Brayfield, C, Bestseller, Fourth Estate, ISBN 1857023838 Macmillan, ISBN 0333653777

Cameron, J, The Artist's Way, Pan, ISBN 0330343580

DeSalvo, L, Writing as a Way of Healing, The Women's Press

Goldberg, N, (1993), Writing Down to the Bones- Freeing the Writer Within, ISBN 087733759

Goldberg, N, (2000), Wild Mind-Living the Writer's Life, Rider, ISBN 0712602917

Neubauer, B, (2006), The Write Brain Workbook, Writers Digest Books, ISBN1582973555


Please check the Expert Teacher course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Fun, Laughter and Learning course at Pilgrims website.

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