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Business English, Professional English, Legal English, Medical English, Academic English etc.
Online peer-reviewed Journal for Teachers

English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World)

English for Specific Purposes World

ISSN 1682-3257

English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World) Home    Information   ESP Encyclopaedia    Resources    Contacts

Developing small team communication skills in teaching ESP

Anissimova Lyubov Alexandrovna
Head of Foreign Languages Department
Togliatti Academy of Management.

The first focus of ESP was on lexis and grammatical structures (3).Today we are witnessing the progress in ESP movementAs Ann M. Johns said: ESP should not be taught in vacuum, but should prepare students, in the most efficient way, for the content and task to which they will be exposed(3).

Globalization affects the activity of every person. We, ELT teachers, are not the exception. In Togliatti Academy of Management we teach future managers as well as programmers, designers, financiers and economists those who will try to win the global labor market game in future. In other words we teach specified student populations, who need our help and efforts and to whom we provide what is most appropriate for them.

In my article I want to highlight some features of small group/team communication while teaching ESP. I believe that communication skills ability to interact effectively can be learnt through case- study method within ESP context.

As professionals our students in future will function in numerous small groups throughout their productive lives. They will put in hundreds of hours attending staff meetings, departmental meetings, committee meetings, unit gatherings. They ll have to negotiate different issues and make decisions. In Scandinavian countries employees are required by governmental legislation to participate in industrial decision making. In America organizations , labour and management groups come together to attempt to keep companies open, to increase productivity, and to fight competition with foreign markets(4).

Participatory management(4) has been a buzzword for several years. In real life getting employees involved in meetings, negotiations, task groups is a challenging affair. Small group/team communication is addressed as management skills training, where behavioral strategies and techniques play an important role. For all of these reasons developing communication skills and decision- making skills are vital.

This is the reason why we focus on case study method with a student- centered approach in teaching ESP (the course World Trade).

Last academic year we piloted teaching negotiations with ESP students. In teaching negotiation skills we employed case study method with a student centered approach. This approach develops communication competence by putting the students in the center of the action in the classroom activity where they can use language actively, practice communication skills, learn the fundamentals of a negotiation process, develop an awareness of different cultures approach to negotiation(2).

A classroom becomes a workshop in training communication and language skills, content and cross- cultural awareness development.

A teacher acts as

  • A reference person in negotiating strategies, stages.
  • A coacher (a trainer) who provides language input & coaches (trains) negotiation strategies,
  • A facilitator who helps to create dynamic partnership in learning between the teacher & the student.

This partnership enhances the learning experience & helps to achieve communicative competence in English.

The teachers role focuses on providing the students with vocabulary, grammatical structures & content feedback, as well as helping them to become sensitive negotiators.

In their turn students ask for vocabulary and structures. Thus you see this is a two-sided process.

I want to emphasize 2 moments:

Firstly, case study method allows to expand students repertoire of communication skills by requiring them to develop presentation, team-working, net-working, critical / analytical problem solving skills, become sensitive negotiators.

Secondly, with the case study method students are allowed to communicate in their own individual groups/teams, multiplying the opportunities to produce language & to be corrected as well as to practice communication & negotiation skills.

. A small group/ team can function effectively under conditions where its members know something about group process, have the right kinds of attitudes, regular practice it, are motivated and interested in it, willing to work together to share information and make proper decisions (4) .

The effectiveness of team working depends on psychological relationships within the group. For small groups to perform successfully, it is essential that group members perceive themselves as something other than a collection of independent individuals. Bales was among the first to point to the importance of group members developing a psychological relationship, a sense of mutual awareness and independence (6).

Communication facilitates interaction and by doing so helps to define the psychological relationship that develops within the small group. Small group members also have some degree of shared interest. This interest is expressed as a goal upon which there is mutual agreement(7).

At this point Id like to draw your attention to our objectives.They are :

  1. To develop group/team working and making decision ability .
  2. To develop students awareness of different stages of negotiation in World Trade
  3. To present the language appropriate to each stage.
  4. To give practice in listening to & using this language in controlled situations.
  5. To develop awareness of cultural differences in negotiating styles.

Case- study method in problem solving gives students opportunity to define, analyze, make decisions, solve problems and promote communication skills. Each participant can contribute to the development of solutions(5).

In the theory of group/ team communication there exists such a notion as role structure(4) which is also essential for case- study approach in English teaching methodology. Patricia Hayes Andrews and John E. Bairdhave described 2 primary sets ofpositive roles: group task roles and group building and maintenance roles. I think the sets of roles can be adapted to classroom activity. Group task roles involve the communication functions necessary for a group to accomplish its task,whether it is decision making, problem solving, information exchange, or conflict resolution.

Group task roles

Communication functions


Proposes new ideas, procedures, goals, and solutions; gets the group started

Information giver

Supplies evidence, opinions, and related personal experiences relevant to task;

Information seeker

Asks for information from other members, seeks clarification when necessary, and makes sure that relevant evidence is not overlooked;

Opinion giver

States her own beliefs, attitudes, and judgments, is willing to take a position, although not without sensitivity to others views;

Opinion seeker

Solicits the opinions and feelings of others and asks for clarification of positions. Ideally, those who give opinions will be equally willing to seek opinions;


Clarifies and expands the ideas of others through examples, illustrations, and explanations.


Clarifies the relationship between various facts, opinions, and suggestions and integrates the ideas of other members.


Keeps the group directed toward its goal, summarizes what has taken place, and clarifies the positions of a group.

The second category of groups roles build and maintain the groups interpersonal relationships.

Group task roles Communication functions


Praises and agrees with others, providing a warm, supportive interpersonal climate.


Attempts to mediate differences, introduce compromises, and reconcile differences.

Tension reliever

Encourages a relaxed atmosphere by reducing formality and interjecting appropriate humor.


Exerts some control over the channels of communication, attempting to provide proper balance in the amount each person participates. They encourage reticent members and discourage those who tend to monopolize the discussion.

Besides the positive roles in the theory of small groups/ teams working, there are self-centered roles, when individuals put their own needs above the groups best interests. They are blockers, aggressors, storytellers, recognition seekers, dominators, confessors, special-interest pleaders (4). As we are always pressed for time in a teaching process, we ve never tried self-centered roles in a classroom.

I also want to concentrate on advantages and disadvantages of working in groups/teams as it is extremely important to understand all pros and cons while preparing a case- study class oriented on group/team working.



  • Groups stimulate thought
  • Groups share information
  • Groups build commitment
  • Groups promote self-esteem
  • Groups make better decisions
  • Groups take time
  • Meetings can be inefficient
  • Groups can be undemocratic
  • Groups pressures can mislead

To avoid the disadvantages in a teaching process English teacher/instructor has to circulate and monitor the way group- members attempt to evaluate opinions and assumptions, evaluate alternatives and measure them. English instructor provides students with the appropriate vocabulary and grammatical structures.

Another problem which lies in the sphere of teachers activity, is amount of materials appropriate for the lesson. To organize properly a case study class a teacher has to collect a relevant information. We rely on 4 general criteria formulated by Dennis S. Gouran (1) which are helpful:


Is the information true and verifiable?


Is the information based on the most current data?


Do you have all important information?

Reliability of the source

Have the sources been trustworthy in the past(recently published reports, surveys)

We understand well enough that from time to time even the most reputable of sources can be in error. No one is perfect, and ultimately one or more established authorities may be proven mistaken. We, English instructors have to remember the interrelatedness of the above mentioned criteria. Using one of them often assists us in making valid judgments with regard to the others.

Another necessary condition is if we want our students to be effective when participating in groups/teams, we have to persuade them follow the behavioral guidelines for a team participant:

  1. Participate actively.
  2. Be knowledgeable about the content of the topic.
  3. Be oriented toward the goals of the team.
  4. Be open-minded and open to criticism.
  5. Concentrate on issues, not personalities.
  6. Listen to everyone.
  7. Interact ethically.(7)

To sum up, as the students participate in teams they learn, form friendships, contribute content knowledge and communication skills vital to the task of solving the problems. Moreover performance in team settings in class represents an opportunity for students to impress their team-members and a teacher, have their ideas adopted, assert positive influence over others, demonstrate capabilities for greater responsibility. I assume that any ESP student can learn to interact effectively in a small team setting. But it requires knowledge, the right attitudes, and a willingness to work at it.


1.      Dennis S.Gouran, Discussion:The Process of Group Decision Making,New-York: Harper &Row , Publishers, Inc.,1974.

2.      Drew Rodgers English for International Nagotiations (a cross-cultural case study approach), Cambridge University Press, 1999.

3.      P. Master, Responses to ESP, San Jose State University,1998.

4.      Patricia Hayes Andrews, John E. Baird, Jr. Communication for Business and the Professions, Wm. C. Brown Publishers Dubuque, Iowa, 1989.

5.      Quality Circles Participants Manual , Prospects Heights, Ill.: Waweland Press, Inc.,1982.

6.      Robert F. Bales, Interaction Process Analysis:A method for Study of small groups,Cambridge , Mass.: Addison- Wesley Publishing Co.,Inc.,1950.

7.      William Scott, Organization Theory, Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, Inc.,1967.

Developing small team communication skills in teaching ESP

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