Article-based lesson for Business English students

In today’s post I am using one article for two speaking lessons or conversational sessions. Before I move on, let me explain what I mean by a conversational session.  This is a lesson during which you share an article with your learner, and you just talk about the article. It is a freer type of lesson. If you see opportunities for linguistic development, seize them. If your learner asks questions about words or grammar points, go ahead and answer them. The main goal is to get the learner to talk though, have some sort of chit-chat session. This is for those days when your BE students are tired and want something more laid back. The fact that this is a lesson based on authentic material makes it more motivating for your learners.

You can use this material with your Business English students or even adult learners. It is more appropriate for learners who are B1+ and above. When I used it, we spent about 30-40 minutes reading and talking about it. The lesson is based on the BBC news article which can be found here
Lesson 1
Brief lesson description:
The lesson begins with some warmer questions and questions related to a picture. Students then move on to read the article in sections and answer the questions following each section.
Lesson 2 
Brief lesson description.
If you have two or more learners, why not try jigsaw reading? What you can do is cut the text in two pieces. Put your students in pairs. One student reads one part of the article and takes notes, the other student reads the other half of the article and then takes notes. Once both students have read and taken notes of their halves, you take away their articles and then tell them to summarise the whole text and tell it to you.My experience  using this article:

This article got my learners talking initially about the Barbie doll and information related to this childhood toy (contoversial and non-controversial). We then talked about big companies making mistakes in marketing, the marketing of toys etc. We also discussed the Chinese market and the difference between the Chinese and European customer/ market.

The Lesson

1. When you
think of childhood toys which ones come to your mind? Are there any you
associate with girls?
2. Look
at the picture. What do you think the article is about?
3. The
title of the article is
Can Barbie conquer China. Tell your teacher what you think the
article is about.
4. What
steps would you take in order to promote the Barbie doll in China?
Barbie conquer China article from BBC news (Business) link found here
At 36,000 sq ft it
must have been the biggest Barbie house ever created.
In 2009 the world’s
largest toy maker, US firm Mattel, set its sights firmly on the Chinese market,
opening a flagship store in Shanghai.It was using a toy
that in her 50 years had conquered all before her.
Created in 1959,
Barbie is today sold in 150 countries and has won the hearts and minds of
little girls as far afield as Mumbai and Buenos Aires.
She has thrived
almost everywhere, despite regular criticism from feminist groups who have
decried her influence on young girls’ body image and ambitions. Even in markets
where she is triumphant Barbie
continues to court controversy.But it is in China,
arguably the most important consumer market in the world, where the
all-conquering doll has stumbled on her kitten heels.
The Shanghai Barbie store closed in 2011, just two years
after its grand opening.
Now, as Barbie
attempts to crack China once again, has Mattel learnt from its earlier failure?
1. When did Mattel
first open a store in China?
2. Was the opening
of the store successful?
3. Think of reasons
why the launching of the store was not successful and tell your teacher.
Now read the next
part of the text

Barbie’s CV
  • On 9 March 1959 Barbie was unveiled at the New
    York Toy Fair; the date is her official birthday
  • Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent
  • Mattel claims she has had more than 150
  • She became a business executive for the first
    time in 1985 and an astronaut in 1965
  • More than one billion Barbie dolls have been
    sold around the world
1. When’s Barbie’s

2. How many careers
has she had? Can you name a few?
Now, read on.

Trouble in store
The 2009 opening of
the Shanghai store was not done by half measures.
It was not so much
a shop as a lifestyle concept.
A grand spiral
staircase surrounded by more than 800 different Barbies climbed the building.
And it was not just aimed at children.
                           The entrance to the spa at the now
closed Shanghai Barbie store
Mattel was
marketing the Barbie lifestyle to women in their 20s.
Clothing lines for
women as well as young girls were part of the key products. 
Real life
brides-to-be were invited to coo over a Vera Wang Barbie wedding dress. 
“It was
confusing,” says Benjamin Cavender of China Market Research Group. 
“No-one knew
what the brand stood for and so instead of going for cute they went towards
As well as clothes
and design-your-own dolls, shoppers could eat in the Barbie restaurant, relax
in the Barbie Spa and drink in the Barbie cocktail lounge.
But the problem was
not enough people knew who Barbie was. 
“It wasn’t
like in other countries where generations of women had grown up with
Barbie,” Mr Cavendar says.
“They created
this massive experience but not enough people came to find out about it as the
concept of Barbie wasn’t a pre-existing draw in China.”

1. What were some
of the problems with the Barbie store?
Now, read on.

Don’t think pink
The massive store
was located on Huaihai Road, one of the most prestigious shopping streets in
But on the ground
floor it was not clear to anyone passing exactly what was inside – you had to
enter the store and climb an escalator to feel the impact of the design.
Plus a pink light
shone outside. In China, a pink light district is associated with a much more
adult style of trade than selling toys and clothes.
And despite the
location being sought after, it wasn’t easily accessible for shoppers.
“There was
nowhere to park your car and it was not near a subway station,” says Mr
“If you can’t
get to it and you don’t already know about Barbie, you’re just not going to
1. What was the
problem with the colour of pink?

2. Are there any
other problems regarding the location of the store mentioned in the article?
Now, read on.

Too frivolous?
“Joy and
learning are like oil and water in China,” a Mattel executive recently
told the Wall Street Journal.
His point was that
the first time round Barbie may have been too frivolous for the Chinese market.
The toy market in
China, however, is big – and growing.
Between 2009 and
2013, it nearly doubled in size to be worth about £5.5bn (53.8bn yuan; $8.7bn),
according to Euromonitor.
Video games are far
and away the biggest category in the market.
But Mattel has done
well – as a company it is the fifth biggest toy maker in China with 1.4% of the
overall market.
Its most successful
offering is the more learning-oriented Fisher Price brand, the 14th biggest toy
brand in China, according to Euromonitor. And Barbie could be going the same
1. What do you
understand by the phrase “Joy and learning are like oil and water in
a. oil and water
mix well.
b. oil (learning)
is heavier/ more important than water (joy)
c. learning and joy
do not go together

2. What games are
popular in China?
Now, read on.

Barbie’s back
In 2013 Mattel
brought Barbie back to the Chinese market. Only this time instead of clothes by
Oscar De La Renta she had a violin and you could buy Barbie for the much more
affordable price of $13 (£8.20).
This year there was
another launch – a “specialty” Barbie doll in the likeness of Chinese
actress Fan Bingbing.
Heralding the
launch of the doll Mattel declared: “[Fan Bingbing’s] collaboration with
Barbie will give purpose and meaning to play and help ignite the spark inside
girls across China to ‘Shine Your Way’.”
So it’s clear that
Barbie has learnt that to succeed in China today you have to have a sense of
purpose, but then she didn’t get the keys to the super-deluxe dreamhouse and
the perfect boyfriend Ken by being just a pretty face. 
                                                                           Fan Bingbing, the
face of Barbie in China in 2014
List the changes Mattel made to the
launching of the Barbie doll in China

The article and pictures were taken from the BBC news website. The Questions are my own creation.Enjoy the session and please let me know how it went : )

Sorry for the formatting and layout of this post, but it was originally posted on my other blog (Blogger). As I am moving everything to my wordpress blog, I moved it here and this is what it looks like!!

Till next time…..


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