How to plan your first (business) class with new students

The immaculately turned out English teacher strides confidently into the well-furnished classroom complete with whiteboard, projector and state-of-the-art laptop. The awed students gaze on silently at the teacher, a model of sartorial elegance, resplendent in a perfectly-cut suit, ironed shirt and gleaming polished black shoes.

You'll be as cool as a cucumber wearing sunglasses

You’ll be as cool as a cucumber wearing sunglasses

He/she places his/her bag neatly to one side and takes out four brand new whiteboard markers, colour after gorgeous colour. After penning his/her name in impeccable handwriting, the teacher invites the students to introduce themselves. Sucked into the teacher’s easy, self-assured aura, the students enthusiastically comply. The teacher listens and nods knowingly, punctuating the student’s life stories with wry and witty observations gleaned from his/her encyclopedic knowledge of medium-sized towns in Saxony and the historical intricacies of the Bavarian waste management industry. The teacher probes the student`s knowledge of the English language, effortlessly establishing language needs, work requirements and areas of interest. A well-rehearsed get to know you activity completes the lesson. The students leave the room, excitedly talking amongst themselves and mentally counting how many milliseconds will pass before next week’s (master)class. The teacher silently packs his/her bag and leaves the room. Mission accomplished.

Whilst your class may not follow this ideal exactly, your first lesson with a new group of students is the most vital. After all, first impressions always last for the longest and a well-organised, confidently delivered class will stick in your student’s minds. How you go about planning this class will depend on your students, but following is the approach I use with business students in the fair city of Berlin.

What do you need to accomplish?

Along with actually meeting your student(s) and getting to know them, the main objective of your first class is to get more information on their learning backgrounds and to establish what they want to cover during the course. Therefore, I break down the standard first class into 4 parts:

  1. Introductions
  2. Course objectives
  3. Get to Know You (GTKY) activity
  4. Job and company profile


Self-explanatory first stage. Write your name, job and home city on the board and go around the room, asking them to introduce themselves like we’ve all done at every single training course/class ever

Alternative: Brainstorm/elicit some introduction language on the board, for example:
What is your name?
Where are you from?
What do you do?
Ask them to introduce themselves to their partner and then introduce their partner to class

Course objectives

Some skills or functions to do during the course

Some skills or functions to do during the course

To make planning your course possible, you will need to establish what the student’s language needs and expectations are. You may very well have the luxury of a textbook, but you should always discuss and create some aims to help you tailor the lessons to your students. I give each pair a set of cards with skills or functions – presentations, meetings, sending emails, telephoning, grammar, reading newspapers and so on. I then ask each pair to discuss which ones are important for them and not important and why. Then we hold a feedback session and agree a list of skills/functions to study and the more specific aspects of each that are necessary for the class’s jobs or other needs.

Alternative. Give them a needs analysis sheet (loads of examples can be found on Tefltastic), get them to interview each other and then hold your feedback session to create your course objectives.

Get to know you (GTKY) activities

You can add any information about you that you want

You can add any information about you that you want

The GTKY activity is an ice breaker which also helps you to get more information about student’s backgrounds, hobbies and so on – information which is relevant to planning classes. I always use Jeopardy as my GTKY. Inspired by the American TV show, you write up pieces of information (answers) about you – 29, football – and then get your student’s to guess the questions – how old are you?, what’s your favourite sport? The beauty of this activity is that it’s very gradable. You might start a lower level class with the questions above, but a higher level class could tackle something more complicated, conditionals for example. As a follow up, ask the students to write the answers themselves and do the activity with their partner.

Alternative. Search google! Shelly Terrell,, lists some great ideas.

Job and company profile

Some example job tasks

Some example job tasks

Finally, talk through the student’s jobs and company (also vital information for planning). I have a set of cards with common job-related verbs and nouns/noun phrases on them. In pairs or small groups, the students match the cards together and then as a follow up, they tell their partner which of the tasks they do in their job. Hold a feedback session and ask them to explain their tasks and what their company does.

Alternative. Put the students into pairs or small groups and ask them to prepare a 5 minute presentation on their company or department


Write a short description of their job, department or company.

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3 Responses

  1. BerLingo says:

    Hi David,
    As usual, this post made me laugh, but I am also very grateful as I have three weeks’ work teaching sort-of Business English straight after my CELTA, so I’ve no doubt these tips will come in handy 🙂
    And, after that, if you hear of anyone in need of a keeno softie southerner English teacher, please let me know!

  1. May 11, 2015

    […] I prepared a lot of getting-to-know-you activities, so that the existing students could get to know the new students. I also prepared a little needs analysis exercise, so they could tell me what sort of vaguely business-related tasks they wanted to be able to do. I credit David McFetridge exclusively for this idea! […]

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