Teaching Business English With \\\"The Tractor Deal\\\"
Nov 17, 2009 Lesson Planning 3514 Views
Specs, specs, and specs! It's quite common for international business negotiators to use lots of numerical details. Each of these details must be precisely communicated for both sides of the negotiation to make a good working deal. It makes sense that a business English class should have at least one such activity of working with lots of technical numbers. "The Tractor Deal" certainly gives this kind of practice.
Before starting the classroom activity, the instructor should encourage learners to visit "The Tractor Deal Online," a complementary online listening activity. This activity has six dialogues between a tractor buyer and a tractor seller. The first half of the dialogue is based on several surveys of business English learners which identified making small talk as a skill learners needed to improve. So as the buyer and seller first meet, they model good small talk which smooths the way into the more technical conversation.
This second part is the "spec exchange." The actors, cast as buyers and sellers, are trying to identify what tractor in the seller's line fits the buyer's needs. So there are lots of questions, answers, clarifications-and numbers, numbers, numbers! Here's an example of what could be in this dialogue: "The 110 kW 5520 has both 540 and 1000 PTO and Category II 3-point hitch with a 3200 kg. capacity." That's seven numbers in 22 words! And each of these numbers must be associated with an appropriate noun for precise communication.
While the learners are listening to this fast-paced numbers dialogue, they can follow the transcript and fill in a downloadable PDF worksheet for the specs they think they are hearing. Later they can self-check their answers, and review the transcript and dialogue to figure out where they have heard wrong.
The online activity has two other downloadable documents, which are optional for the learner. The first is a technical glossary about tractors. Although the online and classroom activities don't need much knowledge of tractors, some learners may feel more comfortable reading this document. And it's still good reading practice. The second document is a vocabulary quiz based on the transcripts; it is there for those learners who like this kind of activity.
After listening to the six dialogues, the learners will have a very good understanding of the classroom activity. They will know they are going to be cast as a tractor buyer or seller who is trying to exchange many specs to get the right kind of tractor communicated. The online modeling will prepare them for the classroom task: words, phrases, and number usages they have heard in the listening will be great tools for the classroom activity.
Next is the classroom activity. From Resource Manual, the instructor will hand out the various tractor buyer and seller roles. The buyer roles will specific buying assignments; the seller roles will have six tractors in the line, with a list of standard and optional features. As the activities progresses, each buyer will meet each seller to exchange specs and prices. The resource manual has seven seller roles and 24 buying assignments (each buyer should get at least 2 assignments). There is a big variety of buyer/seller combinations regardless of which roles and assignments are selected.
Of course, the seller's objective is to sell as many tractors as possible. The buyer's objective is to buy a tractor with all the specs at the lowest cost.
The final classroom activities will require each buyer to give a short presentation of the tractor he or she has selected. Based on the buyers' presentations, the sellers will then give a short presentation of why their tractor line is so successful or how the line can be improved.
Many business English instructors will feel that such an activity will only be useful to learners in the agricultural or mechanical engineering professions. This really is not the case, because The Tractor Deal has been designed such that learners need not be all that knowledgeable about tractors to do well. The buyer and seller role cards guide the learners, feature-by-feature, into asking the kind of questions that will find them a suitable tractor and its final costs. For example, most learners will have a rather minimal understanding of a 3-point hitch, but they can certainly communicate whether this 3-point hitch has a lifting capacity of 3,000 kg. or 4,000 kg. Most business and technical learners will have no problems working with role cards in a technical field they are not too familiar with.
At the close of the classroom activity, the instructor should encourage the learners to spend a little time with the online activity again. Having gone through the buyer and seller roles themselves, they will see the dialogues in a different light, which then enhances their learning experience with The Tractor Deal.