The 300Gardens Project: Teaching Business English, Benefiting Public Gardens Worldwide

Dec 22nd, 2016 | By | Category: In the Classroom
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Deb Grove

Deb Grove


—Ample pedagogical literature suggests and concludes that real-world projects to solve real-world problems result in higher-quality assignments from students. Not surprisingly, after international students in my class visited public gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area, they wanted to support plant conservation. That was part of the impetus behind the creation of the 300Gardens Project, which I started in late 2015, after attending CATESOL in Anaheim, for English learners as part of the pre-MBA Program at California State University, East Bay in Hayward. The other goal is to provide 300 public gardens around the world with English language brochures for international visitors. And that is why I am calling for the help of fellow teachers to reach the goal of student-created brochures for gardens worldwide with the ultimate aim of helping plant conservation and public gardens in a significant way. English learners are fantastic resources for creating visitor brochures for public gardens in their home countries. Why do we need the brochures? Because our mobile phones tend to fail when we need them, standing at the front of a public garden in a less developed country off the beaten track. At least, that’s my experience, having visited gardens in 45 countries.

As part of the project, international pre-MBA students, hoping to further their careers with an MBA from California State University, East Bay, took a field trip during week 4 of their 10-week quarter to the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and the following week to the University of California, Berkeley Botanical Garden and created a brochure for each in their home language. For their final assessment for the project, they were tasked with writing an English visitor brochure for a garden in their home country, gathering information on the web.

The brochures created by the students are exciting to public garden professionals: marketing managers, education managers, and visitor services managers. When Abby Hird Meyer, program manager at Botanical Garden Conservation International ( USA first saw the brochures, she was immediately drawn to the contents, which, she says, will fill in gaps in the garden database. The BGCI China office will hand over the soft-copy brochures to the marketing or educational manager at each of the relevant garden members in China, Mongolia, and Vietnam.

page 1 of 300Gardens project brochure

Sample student-created brochure, page 1, for the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden

Two steps are involved in realizing brochures such as these: teaching students what belongs inside a visitor brochure (understanding audience, the competitive landscape, the compelling attributes of any particular garden) as well as the logistics of this writing exercise (content should be direct, factual, contain some persuasive sentences, and include lots of photos).

The second assignment, after students complete a visitors’ brochure in their native language and learn to manage the formatting of text and photos, is to use these skills to develop a brochure in English. Since students have already practiced with the digital tools for creating their first two brochures, their English content takes precedence on this project.

For Business English classes, teachers should emphasize revenue-generation highlights during the tour, such as annual memberships, event tickets to garden classes and lectures, and often, large parties such as weddings. For Academic English, or advanced writing, facilitate students’ understanding of what a brochure does for the potential visitor: It promises them a great time! Learning how to write about a tourist attraction or a theme park is a valuable skill no matter what career path students follow: Marketing skills are useful in most parts of our lives, even if it is for a future brochure to your Etsy site or a sing-along for your choir. In welcoming international visitors to their hometown botanical gardens, international students gain insights about why people travel, what they hope to learn or accomplish, and how to look forward with pleasure to an afternoon in a new location.

page 2 of 300Gardens project brochure

Interior of the student-created trifold brochure

So how do we get from 20 gardens that were supplied English language brochures, from this first class, to 300 gardens? It can happen if more ESL teachers create similar assignments to engage students in writing something practical. To that end, I have developed a series of 10 lesson plans for ESL teachers to help pre-MBA and Business English students create visitor brochures for public gardens around the world. If 10 different teachers used this as course material for 30 students per year, the goal of providing 300 gardens with brochures would be met (there might be some duplication with the same popular gardens in China, for example). Additionally, international students will have an enhanced American experience from their forays into the gardens.

Contact Deb Grove ( to learn more about the syllabus for this program and how to partner with your local public garden. Ten sample lesson plans can be found below.

After careers as a visual artist, Silicon Valley start-up entrepreneur, and sustainability consultant, Deb Grove went back to university for her MA in TESOL at California State University, East Bay. Her passion for tropical plants, an unintended consequence of her expatriate years in Hong Kong doing market research for tech companies, sparked the idea to help underfunded public gardens abroad to attract more international visitors with compelling trifold brochures to be distributed at hotels and tourist agencies as well as online.

Lesson Plans for Advanced English, Business English,
or Pre-MBA Class  for Conserving Botanical Gardens

Administrative Tasks

This set of 10 lesson plans is based on strong pedagogical foundations. Paul Nation’s (2007) theories on “meaningful output” have been widely accepted in schools around the globe. By providing an opportunity for students to prepare a publishable document that has value to society, their home country, and their host country, students are more actively engaged in the assignment, more conscientious of their responsibility, more motivated to create a well-crafted finished document, and rewarded by the knowledge that this assignment may contribute to their accomplishments on their professional résumés.

As such, it is imperative that teachers take the time to follow the necessary protocols to ensure that student work is protected by legally binding consent forms. A research consent form from your college research office must be in place before you can use any of the student work, so it is important to look into this early in the semester or quarter. If you are teaching in a two- or four-year college, additional academic research policies and procedures are in place. Contact your institution’s internal research (human subjects) board in advance of the semester to find out which forms must be completed. In my initial study, a consent form to use the work for five years, on the web and in print, was asked of the students. Permission to use student work must be voluntary and cannot affect student grades at most colleges. Contact me at if you would like a sample consent-form template.


Paul Nation (2007) describes the conditions under which students learn effectively as meaning-focused output. He begins by comparing it with meaning-focused input, and in the case of the class members, in this case international pre-MBA students, they had at their disposal visitor guides in English from San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and the University of California, Berkeley Botanical Gardens. Moreover, during their field trips, students were intently gazing at the plants, snapping photos, listening to their guide, and glancing down at the brochures that gave them a bird’s-eye perspective on the layout of the garden/conservatory.

Because the world and America have changed during the last two decades, the idea of selling products has had to be enlarged to include selling services. America derives most of its GDP from services, not products. In the hospital industry, one of America’s largest, the notion of a “visitor experience” has garnered huge interest. From city, county, and state tourist agencies to global enterprises centered around theme parks such as Disneyworld, the notion of providing a positive visitor experience is studied, analyzed, and learned. This inclusion of the service industry effectively updated the course syllabus from the old textbook and made relevant the contents for 2016 and beyond.

Assessment: What Could Be Taught? What Could Be Assessed?

The final assessment for the Case Studies class—production of the English-language brochure for a botanical garden in the students’ home countries—calls upon and uses many of the learning components, such as creating meaningful output that has value in the real world and beyond a class grade. This exercise teaches awareness about reading, careful writing promising a wonderful visitor experience without exaggerating, and attention to the reader audience—older adults, young adults, families with children, or people with disabilities, as examples. (This closely follows Celce’s set of specifications for advanced writing, which she says should include task, content, and audience descriptions as well as format and linguistic cues.) Beginning with strategic competency, they have successfully navigated the required contents and produced a similar product twice before in class midterms. As an object of sociocultural competency, the students have understood the importance of creating compelling material for the expectation of a “good visitor experience.” They have:

  • Become familiar with the concept of mind share, the opportunities every international visitor has on how to spend his or her leisure money and time.
  • Imagined their own brochure on a custom-built shelf, surrounded by other attractive brochures vying for attention, all whispering urgently, “Pick me!” while intriguing a future visitor.
  • Understood that the brochure must have six key elements: attractiveness, completeness, accuracy, a compelling message, and ease of reproduction and distribution.
  • Created a brochure that is easy to read on the web and carry around.
  • Finally, the contents must be placed in context so that it can be easily read in 90 seconds: The open hours, entrance address, fees, wheelchair accessibility, and description of the garden landscaping must all be addressed in easy-to-read English.

The Lesson Plans

Each class is an approximately 30-minute or 45-minute segment.

This syllabus is written for the San Francisco Bay Area, and it needs to be localized to each metropolitan area nationwide where this might be taught. Make contact with the education director and/or the marketing director at one or two local public gardens at the beginning of the term, so that a class visit to the garden can be scheduled for later in the term.

Class 1

15 mins. Scaffolding: Discussion: In your country, what are the main industries that drive the economy? Students respond: Growing rice, exporting steel, tourism, exporting manufactured goods, exporting wine and fruit, assembling cars, mineral mining, shipping ports.

15 mins. Exercise 1: Class discussion: In the US, what are the main industries that drive the US economy? Students answer by raising their hands or teacher selects students: rap, music, clothing such as A&F, the military, cars, and so on.

Teacher needs to remind them about banking and finance, the education sector, growing wheat for the world, and so on.

20 mins. Exercise 2: Two teams write on the board what the US excels at, and what the US does poorly. Students answer: Excels at: globalization, national parks protection, Internet apps, rap music, brand clothing, and so on.

Homework: Write down all the notes from the board, and for homework, compare the economy in your home country with that of the US in three paragraphs, 150 words.

Class 2

10 mins. Scaffolding: Collect homework and ask students to briefly explain the differences between their home country and the US.

15 mins. Exercise 1: Teacher introduces the concept of tourism, hospitality, and “the visitor experience.” Show Disneyland/Disneyworld, Yellowstone National Park, the Superbowl, also fast-food franchising around the world based on US models (McDonald’s, KFC, Häagen-Dazs ice cream), Broadway plays ($900 a ticket), Las Vegas and gambling as a destination.

10 mins. Exercise 2: Explain difference between service economy (visitor experiences) and durable goods (cars and trucks, home appliances, office equipment, engineering projects).

Homework: Consider the discussion in class. Compare a visit to McDonald’s/Mrs. Fields in your home country with a visit to one in the US: What differences do you notice? Compare a homegrown franchise with a US franchise: What differences do you notice? Write two paragraphs on each.

Class 3

10 mins. Scaffolding: Collect homework and ask students to briefly explain the differences in visiting a US franchise in their home country and one in the US. Ask students to briefly explain the differences in visiting a US franchise in their home country and one in the US.

30 mins. Exercise 1: Class discussion in groups of four: Where would you go with a date (movies, disco, restaurant, party)? Where would you go with your parents (museums, restaurants, afternoon at the beach, market)? Where would you go with your toddler nephews, nieces, and cousins (merry-go-round, to buy ice cream, to the children’s park for swings and slides, to play dates)?

Homework: Write a letter to your best friend back home, and tell him or her how you would spend four days in San Francisco (localize this). Describe how you would visit Fisherman’s Wharf to see the seals, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, bike through Golden Gate Park, visit Chinatown/Japantown, go clubbing at night, and so on.

Class 4

10 mins. Scaffolding: Collect homework and ask students to share.

15 mins. Exercise 1: Class discussion: How do you decide where to visit in your free time (Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook, talk with friends and relatives, do your own research)? Select students to write their favorite websites on the board.

15 mins. Exercise 2: Pair work: One student invites another student to go to San Francisco for the day. Use positive adjectives to describe what you will do (fun, relaxing, exciting, delicious). Describe the benefits—what you will get from the experience. For example, “We’ll get cardio exercise riding our bikes” or “We’ll meet more people and practice our English” or “We’ll see history.”…

Homework:  Make a list of 10 different places to visit in an afternoon in your city (San Francisco or otherwise) using TripAdvisor. List two benefits of going to each place.

Class 5

15 mins. Scaffolding and Review: Board work.

Select five students to start lists of places they went: Divide into categories such as exercise, cultural sightseeing, food, relaxing, other (Pokémon Go).

30 mins. Exercise 1: Teacher displays homepage on two public garden websites. What will you see? What can you learn? When can you go? How much does it cost? Who would you go with (friends, date, parents)? What would be fun? What would be boring? What is this website promising you (beautiful, fresh air, diversity to experience …)? Look at the garden mission statements and discuss how they are different/the same.

Homework: Pick a website for a national park or a garden in your home country written in your local language. Write in English about what you learned. Describe in three paragraphs what you will see, how to get there, how long you will spend there, the entry fee. Is there a gift shop? A café? Can people in wheelchairs also visit? Name five potential revenue-generating activities often found in national gardens (sale of permanent benches or naming memorial trees, gift shops, event-space rentals, café, workshops, tours, plant sales, branded sweatshirts, and so on).

Class 6

25 mins. Exercise 1: Small-group work (4-5 students). Take three minutes to present what you learned about a specific park/garden in your hometown. Emphasize what was most compelling in your web research.

20 mins. Exercise 2: Small-group work: Lecture and discussion. Why is plant conservation important? List reasons on board (plants give us food, medicine, protect the soil from erosion, are food for insects and animals, and so on).

Prepare for a local garden tour. What do you expect to see? What is this garden promising you? Why is this a special place? What questions would you like to ask the staff? For pre-MBA students: What is the business plan for this garden (events with rentals, memberships, visitors, educational outreach)?

Homework: Select either or APGA ( and write four paragraphs about its mission and what it is trying to achieve.

Class 7

15 mins. Lecture: Study website of local public gardens to be visited.

Midterm: (30 mins.)

Part 1: Select and describe five of these terms: (25 points)

• Visitor experience
• Service economy
• Public gardens versus university gardens
• Franchises
• Plant conservation
• Competitive landscapes
• Demographic information
• Target marketing
• Business models for public gardens or museums
• Seed banks
• Docents

Part 2: Based on the discussions in class so far, describe how you make decisions on where to go based on the person or people you are with. Use four examples of different places you would go with a specific person or people (friend, parent, small children). Then choose another person and explain how the visitor experience would be different. (25 points)

Homework: Prepare backpack for the field trip with necessary documents, including trip insurance, copy of passport, copy of questions for tour docents, time and place to meet, and so on.

Class 8

90 mins. Garden visit.

Class 9

30 mins. Review of midterm exam questions.

20 mins. Review: Students share their satisfaction levels with the garden visit. Was it fun? Dull? Best part? Docent expertise? Surprising facts learned?

15 mins. Fold a paper into three. Draft a brochure in student’s home language of the garden just visited. Brochure should include opening hours, entry costs, accessibility with wheelchairs, plant collections, restaurants, classrooms, and so on.

Homework:  Complete the trifold in the native language for the public garden that the class visited.

Class 10

30 mins. Share different brochures.

Final Project (no exam for this class)

Submit trifold brochure for a garden in your home country written in English. It must include: mission statement, URL for the garden, hours open to the public, entry costs, address and directions to get there by public transportation, why and how the collection is special, TripAdvisor ranking, and so on. Add photos, maps, and so on to fit the trifold. Assume it will be widely distributed in hotel lobby racks showing local tourist activities.

Partnering Benefits

This work fills a need among botanical gardens globally.

Through producing a much-needed body of work that will greatly enhance the visitor activities of botanical gardens around the world and contribute to plant conservation, using first-language marketing materials, advanced writing students create international visitor brochure texts that do the following:

  1. Solve a business problem: Insufficient international visitors.
  2. Build good management knowledge: Explore the revenue model of specific gardens as an opportunity to develop skills related to cash management, visitor experiences, education, events management, marketing, market research, and competitive leisure time opportunities for the target markets.
  3. Start and complete a complete project: The brochures will be used on the web or in paper documents and attract English-speaking visitors.
  4. Enhance student portfolios and résumés (proven examples of marketing materials that include extensive pre-analysis).
  5. Gather, catalog, and protect more endangered plants with added revenue generation from international visitor fees.
  6. Sustain stronger relationships among universities, public gardens, and industry trade groups.


Celce-Murcia, M. (Ed.). (2001). Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Heinle/Thomson Learning.

Nation, P. (2007). The four strands. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1(1), 2-13. DOI:10.2167/illt039.0 ebrary


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