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August 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 4

ISSN 1755-9715

Implementing a Systemic Functional Approach To Teach Business Speaking

Ni Putu Era Marsakawati is a faculty member at Universitas Pendidikan Ganesha (Undiksha). She holds a master and a doctoral degree in English language education. Her research interests include issues on systemic functional approach and language teaching.  



This paper describes a teaching model which can be implemented in teaching business speaking. The impetus of this paper is the lack portion of gestures taught by the lecturers to the students in speaking courses. To my knowledge, some (if not many) lecturers tend to neglect the use of gestures although gestures are as important as language in delivering meanings to the audience. To fill the need of providing a balanced portion of using language and gestures in communication, I propose a teaching model to teach business speaking by adapting the systemic functional approach. The model is in line with text-based instruction, with some modifications. The target students are those having elementary level of English language. This paper will hopefully provide some practical insights in teaching business speaking.



As communication is multimodal, people rarely speak by using language alone. In addition to language, people use other semiotic resources such as gestures to help them communicate effectively. In fact, the use of gestures is as important as the use of language (Kress, 2011; Norris, 2004; 2011) to help the speakers deliver their meanings effectively to their audience.

Unfortunately, this multimodal phenomenon seems to be neglected in classroom practices, in which teachers only emphasize on the use of language alone.  As far as I concern, little attention has been given to the use of gestures in business speaking courses in Indonesian context.

This paper aims at describing an instructional approach that provides a balanced emphasis on the use of language and gestures in business communication. This instructional approach is designed for students majoring in business communication with elementary English language proficiency. Even so, the model is also applicable in general speaking courses.


The model

In designing the model, I combined the existing works of literature concerning English language teaching methods and empirical research. The designed model proposed in this study is informed by the systemic functional theory.

This theory believes that every semiotic resource either language or others (i.e. gestures) is used to make and exchange meanings (Lim, 2018). According to Halliday (1978), there are three kinds of meanings conveyed by the speakers: ideational meaning (expressing experiences of the world), interpersonal meaning (enacting social relationship), and textual meaning (organizing a coherent flow of information). These three meanings can be well delivered when the speakers can select and use the semiotic resources (language and gestures) effectively. 

The systemic functional approach used in this study adopts a text-based orientation towards multimodality. According to Hodgson-Drysdade (2014), text-based instruction provides many opportunities for students to engage with texts. Through this instructional model, students are given explicit guidance on how to create spoken texts related to business. Students are facilitated with both linguistic and gestural resources on how to deliver the three meanings. For instance, to enable the students to convey ideational meaning effectively, teachers need to scaffold the learners with the Transitivity system for both language and gestures. To help the students deliver interpersonal meaning well, the lecturers need to introduce the Appraisal system for language and gestures. To enable the students to express textual meaning effectively, the lecturers need to facilitate the students explicitly with resources to organize the ideas and experiences. It is important also to introduce to the students how language and gestures interact with each other to help them convey the meanings (Lim, 2018).

For the implementation of the designed model, I adopt the learning stages of Feez and Joyce (1998). The stages include building the context (the lecturers introduce the social context of the text), modeling the spoken business texts studied (the lecturers highlight the generic structure of the text), developing the joint construction of the text (the lecturers encourage the students to create the text in group), and having independent construction of the text (the lecturers let the students create their text independently). In implementing these learning stages,

I also include the principles of cooperative learning, the use of technology, and reflective practice.  The arguments why these three components are included in the designed model are given below.

First, cooperative learning provides room for students to develop their language skills through social interaction.  The social interaction among the students is the characteristics of Vygotsky’s cultural theory. This theory believes that learning occurs when the students interact or collaborate with others (Widodo, 2016).  Cooperative principle can be implemented in this model almost in every stage of instruction, more specifically in the building knowledge of the field and joint construction of the text. In the building knowledge of the field, learning is much helped by the explicit guidance given by the English lecturers. In this stage, English lecturers introduce the social context of the business texts studied (for example, spoken multimodal persuasive presentations), identify features of the general cultural context of the texts and the social purposes the texts, and explore the immediate context of situation by investigating the lexico-grammar of the texts. In this stage, learning occurs from the interaction between the lecturers and the students. The lecturers, as a more competent adult, provide guided practice for the learners to create a meaningful text in a particular context.

Besides interacting with the lecturers, the learners also interact with other peers in the joint construction of the text. The students can share ideas with their more competent peers about resources used to compose business texts. As the cooperative learning has a principle of individual accountability, which means that, every student takes the responsibility of their learning and for the learning of others in the group (Astuti, 2016; Astudi & Lammers, 2017a, 2017b; Astudi & Barratt, 2018), all learners can have the advantage to execute the tasks well. Thus, cooperative learning can promote students’ Zone of Proximal Development, in which students are facilitated more by the interaction from the teacher and the more competent learners.

Second, the designed teaching model integrates the use of technology in the classroom:  video-based instruction and videotaped performance. In relation to the video-based instruction, the English lecturers provide explicit teaching to the students with the help of videos. The English lecturers can use videos containing real spoken business communication such as persuasive business presentations, which are downloaded from YouTube or TED talks. These learning resources adopted from the Internet are important in providing authentic models of how good texts are created (Agustien, 2016).  Thus, the use of video is significant to use as it contains authentic texts on how speakers use semiotic resources to express meanings.  The students are presented with real examples not only about the spoken language but also effective gestures to communicate effectively. In so doing, the use of video-based instruction can enhance students’ communication skills (Richards & Renandya, 2002).

With regard to the videotaped performance, the lecturers encourage the students to create their multimodal business texts. The experience of creating their business texts could develop the students’ competency in using English. This is because they are involved not only in the learning itself but also in the creation of the texts (Lim, 2018). The lecturers, in this case, assign the students to videotape their spoken multimodal presentation. This can be done individually or collaboratively. This activity is quite easy to do as there are a lot of inexpensive video recordings available. The students can use their gadgets or mobile phones to videotape their multimodal spoken presentations.

Third, the designed model includes reflective practice. According to Chittleborough (2015), reflective practice gives benefits for the students, in which reflection is not only useful for students’ academic purposes but also for their long life learning experience, including their future career. The practice of reflection can provide an opportunity for the students to recapture their learning experience, think about it, and evaluate it. Through this activity, the students reflect on what they have learned, why they learned it, and how they learned. This practice can be used as a tool, particularly for students who are unsuccessful in achieving their learning goal, to find out reasons why they are failed and find solutions to improve their learning.

Reflective practice can be performed through self-assessment and peer assessment. In the case of self-assessment, the students are assigned to assess their performance. The students watch their own videotaped multimodal spoken presentations. They, then, asses their performance by using the assessment rubric shown in Table 2. In this case, they identify and analyze the ways they use multimodal resources to express meanings. They make a reflection on their skills in executing different semiotic resources by using the reflective sheet shown in Table 3. In relation to the peer assessment, the students are asked to assess their friends’ performance on executing different semiotic resources in a spoken multimodal persuasive business presentation. This can be done in a classical way or a small group. Similar to the self-assessment, the students also use the assessment rubric shown in Table 2 to assess their friends’ performance. 


The implementation

The designed teaching model is in line with the text-based instruction proposed by Feez and Joyce (1998). In this design, the target text produced by the students is persuasive business text, in the form of oral presentation. The target students are the novice speakers, who have elementary level of English language proficiency.

The stages of the implementation are presented as follows.

  1. Building the context

In this stage, the lecturers perform a brainstorming activity by posing leading questions or providing students with information about the text that the students have to create. The lecturers also encourage the students to share what they have already known about the text.  The purpose of this stage is to activate the students’ schema about the topic they are going to present. Additionally, this activity also invites the students’ participation to practice their English communication skills.

  1. Modeling and deconstructing the text

Modeling of the text is done with the help of YouTube video.  The English lecturers show an authentic model of a presentation given by a real business executive in a business context. Through the help of video, the English lecturers scaffold the students with the generic structure of the persuasive text and the lexico-grammatical resources used either through language or gestures. The students are introduced with the use of semiotic resources as an information/content resource (to express ideational meaning), as interpersonal resources (to express interpersonal meaning), and as a resource for discourse coherence (to express textual meaning).

In the case of information resources, the students are taught explicitly about the experiential grammar to convey information to the audience (for instance, information about the product of the company/ the advantages of the product) through language and gestures. Thus, students are introduced with elements of experiential grammar (Participant, Process, and Circumstance) and how to use these elements in a certain context of communication. In this case, the students are guided on how, for example, Relational Processes are used to identify and describe things (products or services) vividly so that the potential customers are interested to buy the product. In relation to gestures, the English lecturers teach the students about types of gestures (presenting gestures, representing gestures, and indexical gestures), which can be used to express ideational meanings. They can scaffold the students with ways to strengthen the ideational meanings by using the resources of language and gestures.

In the case of interpersonal resources, the lecturers scaffold the students with evaluative resources through language and gestures by using the Appraisal framework (Attitude, Engagement, and Graduation) proposed by Martin and White (2005) and Hood (2011). The lecturers introduce the students with a kind of resources used to show feelings, emotions, and stance through language and gestures. The lecturers also provide the students with examples of how to grade emotions and how to engage the audience well. The lecturers can give a list of lexical items that can be used by the students to express their interpersonal meanings.

In the case of discourse resources, the lecturers help the students to organize the flow of information coherently by facilitating the students with textual resources through language (topical theme, interpersonal theme, and textual theme of Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004) and gestures (directionality and specificity of Hood, 2011). The lecturers can guide the students on how to use those textual resources effectively to achieve the purpose of communication. The lecturers can, for example, provide a model for the students on how to use effective textual resources to organize the flow of information coherently. In so doing, the audience can grasp the meanings delivered by the speakers well (Butt, 2000).

In the stage of modeling of the text, the teachers expose the students with the spoken persuasive business text: the generic structure, the resources (language and gestures), and the relation between the resources. This is done to enable the students to meet the communicative purpose of the text.  The use of the authentic model of the business presentation in YouTube is also beneficial to provide a bridge for the students to enter their future careers. Through watching the video, the students do not only learn the communication skills needed but also see the real implementation of their learning in the future (Lim, 2018). This activity can boost their learning motivation as they have known the purpose of their learning. All resources, which are needed to be learned by the students are provided in Table 1.

Table 1. Instructional Content

Ideational meaning

Form and meaning of transitivity resources of language (Participant, Process, and Circumstance)

Form and meaning of transitivity resources of gesture (Participant, Process, and Circumstance)

Interpersonal meaning

Form and meaning of evaluative language (Attitude, Engagement, and Graduation)

Form and meaning of evaluative gesture (Attitude, Engagement, and Graduation)

Textual meaning

Form and meaning of textual resources (topical theme, interpersonal theme, and textual theme)

Form and meaning of textual resources (specificity and directionality)


Parallel and polysemy

  1. Developing the joint construction of the tex

In the stage of joint construction of the text, the lecturers can work together with the students or assign the student to work collaboratively with their peers to do the following tasks.

  • Analyzing genre

As its name suggests, the task of analyzing genre assigns the students to analyze the structure and the function of the text. In this task, the students find out when, where, and under what situation certain text is produced (Widodo, 2015). For example, in the business context, students are assigned to explore how persuasive business presentation is performed by different business executives. The students can analyze the structure of the texts produced by those speakers. To aid the students in analyzing the text, the lecturers can distribute the worksheet containing the structural elements of persuasive text and ask the students to fill it in.

  • Analyzing lexico-grammar

In this task, the lecturers assign the students to analyze the lexico-grammar produced by the speakers (Widodo, 2016).  The students can, for example, analyze the clauses uttered by the speakers. These clauses are then classified based on the Transitivity analysis consisting of Participant, Process, and Circumstance. Through this activity, the students learn how to use the elements of Transitivity system to meet the function of the text.  

  • Analyzing evaluative resources

In this task, the lecturers assign the students to identify elements of evaluative resources used by the professional speakers. They can make a list of the identified evaluative resources and analyze how these professional speakers use evaluative resources. These listed resources can be used by them to create their texts.

  • Gestural analysis task

The lecturers also can assign the students to identify gestures used by the professional speakers in conveying strands of meanings. They can screenshot the image of the professional speakers and analyze the image by following the framework of Hood (2011). They are also assigned to identify how gestures interact with language and how these two semiotic resources work together to convey meanings.


  1. Having the independent construction of the text

In the independent construction of the text, the students work individually to perform their communication skills. In this case, they create their persuasive business persuasive text. Having created the text, they are asked to perform it in the form of self-video performance. Having videotaped their own text, the students are assigned to assess their performance. Additionally, they also are assigned to assess their peers’ performance. The lecturers give the students a rubric used to assess both their performance and their peers’ performances (Table 2).  The rubric is mainly used to assess the lexico-grammatical resources and gestures used by the speakers. Having completed with the assessments, the students are told to write reflective journal by highlighting their own strengths and weaknesses. The sheet for doing a reflection is given in Table 3. The process of creating their text in this stage does not only provide a path for their learning but also provides a way to demonstrate their learning.

Table 2. Assessment Rubric Adapted from Pan (2016)


Band descriptors for lexico-grammar

4 (Excellent)

  • Use free grammatical errors
  • Use rich variations of transitivity resources with accuracy
  • Use rich variations of evaluative resources with accuracy
  • Use rich variations of textual resources with accuracy

3 (Good)

  • Use occasional grammatical errors
  • Use a range of transitivity resources with occasional inaccuracy
  • Use a range of evaluative resources with occasional inaccuracy
  • Use a range of textual resources with occasional inaccuracy

2 (Average)

  • Use some grammatical errors
  • Use transitivity resources with frequent inaccuracy
  • Use evaluative resources with frequent inaccuracy
  • Use textual resources with frequent inaccuracy

1 (Poor)

  • Use very frequent grammatical errors
  • Use limited and repetitive transitivity resources with inaccuracy
  • Use limited and repetitive evaluative resources with inaccuracy
  • Use limited and repetitive textual resources with inaccuracy


Band descriptors for gestures

4 (Excellent)

Frequent and various meaning-making communication-conducive gestures (support or enhance meaning)

3 (Good)

Frequent gestures with a lack in variety

2 (Average)

Gestures are employed, but some are not for communicative purposes


Almost use no gesture


Table 3. Guided Reflective Journal  (adopted from Widodo, 2015)

Reflective Points


Things that I have learned


Things that I need to improve


Things that I have not understood





In this paper, I have presented some guides for designing and implementing the systematic functional approach to teach business speaking.  This paper, hopefully, could promote EFL lecturers’ awareness on the importance of both language and gestures in oral communication and later will inspire them to facilitate their learners to use not only language but also gestures appropriately for effective communication.



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  • Implementing a Systemic Functional Approach To Teach Business Speaking
    Ni Putu Era Marsakawati, Indonesia