Introducing Economics and Business language

Students need to understand the meaning of specific disciplinary vocabulary across multiple contexts (Bailey, 2007; Lea and Street, 2006) as they read, listen to, view and write about economic and business decisions, actions, issues and problems across a range of text types.

It is important to introduce new vocabulary in the context of real-world economic and business issues using texts that reflect these contexts. Two strategies that teachers can use to introduce new vocabulary to students are:

  • joint construction of definitions
  • everyday versus economics and business words (register).

Note: other strategies for introducing vocabulary can be found in the 'Developing Understanding' sections of the other curriculum areas.

Joint construction of definitions

Joint construction is a process that involves a dialogue between the teacher and students as the teacher guides students to write texts, or in this case definitions of new economic and business terminology.  Teachers build on content knowledge and knowledge about language. This new vocabulary can then later be used in the texts that the students write.

  1. Highlight a curriculum-specific term within a text (e.g. within a paragraph in a business article).
  2. Students write the term in column 1 of the table.
  3. Before students read the text, instruct students to predict what the technical term means and write it in column 2.
  4. Students read the text individually then discuss the meaning of the technical term with a partner. Students write their agreed definition of the term in column 3.
  5. In pairs, students discuss clues in the text that helped them to define the term (for example, by using 'Modelled word solving'. Students write these clues in column 4.
  6. The teacher asks students to share their definition and clues, writing examples on the board.
  7. The teacher and students refine the definition on the board through whole-class discussion. During this discussion, the teacher might use prompts such as:
    • 'Can we say that in fewer words?'
    • 'How might we make that meaning clearer in this context of its use?'
    • 'Can we use some other economic/business-specific terms in the definition?'
  8. Students compare and revise their definition with the jointly constructed definition. The jointly constructed definition is written in column 5.

Example of a business text, and vocabulary table:

Innovation can have many positive benefits for the original creator, or business, who comes up with a new product or business idea as well as the community.

For instance, the Hills Hoist clothesline and the bionic ear were invented by Australians. When the Hills Hoist was invented, it was considered a new and efficient way for families to dry their clothes easily and cheaply.

The bionic ear, or cochlear implant, is seen as an improvement to other devices such as hearing aids as it enables hearing-impaired individuals to hear sounds more clearly and improve their ability to understand speech.

Both products have helped to improve the lives of Australian people and boosted the economy by creating jobs in the businesses that make these products.

Vocabulary word or term ​Predicted meaning ​Meaning after reading ​Clues to meaning ​Jointly constructed definition
Innovation ​Innovation is something creative or new. ​Innovation is a new product or idea that has been invented or improved to help people. ​The words 'new', 'idea', and 'invented' are mentioned. Examples are given how innovation helps individuals and the economy. ​Innovation is the process of taking a new idea or invention to create a new product or service, or improve an existing one, for the benefit of different individuals and the economy.

Curriculum links for this example are: VCEBN018, VCEBN027

Using teacher talk to promote subject-specific language

Economists and business specialists create speeches and write texts taking into consideration the audience, context and purpose. These different styles, or formalities, of speaking and writing, are known as register. (See Everyday vs scientific words (register) for further elaboration).

In Economics and Business, students should be taught explicitly how to write and speak in more formal registers. Teacher modelling (HITS strategy 3) and questioning (HITS strategy 7) can enable students to develop their economic and business understanding and use of appropriate register within the Economics and Business classroom.

For example, a lesson focused on financial literacy:

  1. Students are instructed to discuss investment options for an individual in a case study.
      • For example, a widower receives $250,000 inheritance from his deceased wife's estate.
  2. The teacher revises the economic and business content and knowledge that students require, introducing and explaining curriculum-specific terms (e.g. equity, mortgage, superannuation) and making explicit links between base words and more abstract words (e.g. investing and investment).
  3. Students work in pairs or small groups to discuss the possible investment options to develop their recommendations, for example:
      • does the widower pay off remaining debts or invest the money?
  4. The teacher moves around the groups, questioning them to encourage students to use more specific terms when discussing their recommendations:
    • 'You said 'money that the person makes. What is the financial term that we can use instead?' (e.g. return)
    • You said, 'if you take chances with your money, you might make more money, but you might possibly waste more money because something can go wrong'. How might you say this if you were advising your client as an investment adviser?' (e.g. 'If you take greater risks with your investments, you might expect a higher rate of return. However, your potential loss on the investment is greater because you are taking higher risks.) 
  5. Each group presents recommendations.
  6. The teacher writes up a recommendation(s) on the board, questioning and assisting students to use more formal, financial terms. The teacher models how to do this using the recommendation(s) written on the board, showing how everyday words can be changed to a more formal register.
    • For example

      Example text showing original text without formal terms: The widower still owes the bank $100,000 for his house. He should pay this off and then put the rest of his money in a fixed-term deposit. There is less risk with fixed-term deposits compared to shares, and he will know exactly how much he will be getting of the $150,000.


      Example text showing updated text with formal terms: The widower has a mortgage of $100,000. He should pay this off and then invest the remaining sum of $150,000 in a fixed-term deposit. There is less risk with fixed-term deposits compared to shares, and he will receive a fixed income from his investment.

Curriculum links for the above example: VCEBC013, VCEBC014, VCEBC023.