Company secrets

Following on from my post about Facebook vs Twitter, the privacy or lack thereof when one chooses to place one's photo albums, private thoughts and messages to friends in a public space, I somehow got around to thinking about secrets in general.

dirtylaundry by jose goulaoIn today's modern world, via the internet, we can easily access just about anyone's dirty laundry.

I teach a lot of bankers and financial staff in general and we're in, it would seem the beginnings of a major financial crisis, so I ended up musing about financial reporting. Okay, okay, I had nothing else to think about. But

company reports are great materials for the language classroom.

They are authentic, relevant and often topical and believe it or not, interesting(!) , in short, if you teach financial English and want to get away from the textbook they make the perfect tool.

All the language your students could possibly need if they have to write their own reports in English, is contained within.

When discussing them - what is involved and included, the introductions written by the CEOs, the format and style of language, the pie-charts and statistics - you will be able to cover a lot of very useful vocabulary and believe me, it's very realistic and relevant English speaking practice.

I've got some notes below on what you can do with them in class, however, please feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comment box as I'd love for you to share with me too.

But first,

where to find company reports?

A lot of corporate websites actually have links on their pages which lead to their published reports.

First, visit the website of the company you're interested in, then look for a heading that reads financial reports or investor info or annual report.

You are often given the options of downloading (.pdf), or printing (watch out, they can be very long) and, if you're lucky, there will also be an emailing option. Emailing is a good idea if you have your students' addresses, let them decide if they want to print it out or read on-line.

There is also a great site, called which offers a huge variety of freely downloadable reports on listed companies.

The site is easy to use: simply state what company you're looking for in the box, click and you reach a pdf which you can download/read on-line. You can also search by industry or sector.

Top Tip:
Merrill Lynch have also published a guide to understanding financial reports, available on Scribd.

This .pdf brochure explains the major components within a financial report and a lot of the "jargon" is broken down into layman's terms (perfect as a teaching material - or a training tool for the non-financial Business English teacher who find him/herself having to teach these types of students!).

What to do with financial reports in the language classroom?

Lesson plan idea 1:
  • Ask your students for a list of 3 - 5 of their top competitors. If you're teaching at a bank or investment company, then ask them for a list of their clients. (This may be confidential information so treat it thus).
  • Find the company reports. Bring in the most relevant pages (or let your students do this task and make this decision). Some may be interested in only the balance sheet, some may like to concentrate on other specific areas.
  • Ask your students to make a comparative chart using either a flip-chart size piece of paper or an excel spreadsheet.

Lesson plan idea 2:
  • Provide students with the link to and then get them to choose a company they would like to do research on. They can do this at home or if you have a classroom with internet access and laptops they can do it in-class.
  • Ask them to create presentations of what they've learned. Multi-media it! (i.e. grab logos, link to videos and advertisements etc.,)

Lesson plan idea 3:
  • Choose a large international company that is currently undergoing a financial crisis (based on the news of the day).
  • Print out their report for the previous year(s) - focus on the balance sheet - get your students to analyze it and make opinions on why they think the company went bust/ is experiencing difficulties.
  • Ask students to become detectives and follow up on their opinions. They can check googlenews, wikipedia and other sources (including news published in their own language).
  • Ask them to go in-depth and find out the steps that ocurred before the company went under.
  • Hold an interesting discussion on what they found out.
Lesson plan idea 4

  • Get students to pick a major international company and ask them to read the financial report. Look specifically at their plans for the future.
  • Ask your group to think about what the future really holds - are the company's expectations realistic, why - why not?

Take care, enjoy the weekend!


p.s. If you teach financial students, you may also be interested in my SimplyC:finance and investment conversation cards and related webquest. Click here to purchase them (€1.49).

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