Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Parsnips Part Two: Alcohol

Alcohol Seizure by Greater Manchester Police
Photo courtesy of ELT pics
It is time for the second part of my series on PARSNIPS, and today I'll be thinking about ways we might incorporate the topic of alcohol into ELT lessons. As with all PARSNIPS, it should go without saying that it is wise to know your learners well before you embark on a discussion of any of this, or any other sensitive topic! Below are some potential approaches to alcohol: all need further development. Pick one, and let me know how you get on!

1. Binge drinking: in Britain and elsewhere

Before writing this blog, I visited Phil Wade's blog for inspiration. Phil has recently written his own PARSNIP series, and I was keen to pick his brains. There are some excellent topics here: see http://eflthoughtsandreflections.wordpress.com/
 for some bold questions to generate interest and debate among learners. I also really liked Phil's idea about presenting images and texts about the binge drinking culture so prevalent in the UK. He suggests kicking off a classroom discussion on alcohol with clips of drunk youths on British streets, inebriated football fans abroad, or British revellers in Ibiza. How comfortable British teachers would feel about showing learners such footage would really depend on them. Were I an EFL teacher abroad I'm not sure if  I’d want to present this side of my culture (not that us Brits have much of a reputation to maintain in the binge drinking and bad behaviour abroad stakes, I know.) However, I am not an EFL teacher abroad; I am an ESOL teacher in Shetland, and I know that the majority of my learners are well acquainted with (if somewhat bewildered by) the displays of binge drinking and alcohol fuelled abandonment which play out on the streets of Lerwick every Saturday night. Therefore, this is something I may well experiment with next term.

Here is a video and accompanying article on the subject of binge drinking Britain which I sourced from the Daily Mail. The language used is fairly straightforward: whether or not you can stomach the tone of the article is a matter of personal preference. 

The following articles would provide an interesting spring board for a discussion of alcohol. Two of them focus on binge drinking cultures in other countries: namely France and China.These texts could be easily shortened and adapted and used to spark off discussions about drinking habits in the countries of your learners.
(an article about binge drinking among Chinese professionals)

As well as the interesting cultural issues these texts raise, they are also rich in useful lexis, and could potentially be used to practice a range of language areas: for example: comparatives and superlatives.

2. A lexical approach

  • A completely different approach would be to focus on the lexis required in different situations involving alcohol, e.g.bar language: It's my round, this one's on me, have one for yourself, last orders (suitable for ESOL learners living with UK pub culture)
  • The many different synonyms to describe drunkenness: to get wasted, inebriated, tipsy, tiddly, plastered etc.
  • Discussing culture specific hangover cures: hair of the dog, a fried breakfast etc.

3. Wine tasting

The following activity is a fun way of practicing adjectives to describe taste with an upper intermediate/advanced group of learners.
Watch the following video clip on wine tasting:


Discuss the different stages of wine tasting with learners, boarding relevant language. And then do some wine tasting of your own. Now, I’m not suggesting you bring real wine into your classroom – just three different (white or burgundy coloured) juices would suffice. Give learners a chance to taste the "wines", note down their reactions and then deliver their tasting notes. Pay particular attention to intonation and the form of adjectives here.

4. Language Areas

The list of language points that alcohol lends itself to is endless!

Try these for size:

Question forms: learners write a survey to find out more about attitudes to alcohol and drinking habits in their community.

Advice forms: should/If I were you I'd: using the language generated from the hangover cures activity (above) learners advise each other on how to deal with "the morning after the night before"

If only I'd..., I wish I'd/ hadn't..: Create a little anecdote about "a friend's" wild night out. Then ask the learners to write down a list of his/her regrets using expressions of regret. Depending on how well this goes, you could extend this activity into a role play activity or practicing functional language (apologising!). 

Well, after all that, I'm off for a well deserved beer. In my next post, I'll be looking at possibilities for bringing religion into the ELT class.


  1. You'd be surprise dhow many time I've taught 'get plastered'. Alcohol is a very popular topic with late teens and students. It's when they come up and say "hey teacher, what I say to a girl in disco?" then when I tell them "hello, my name is.." it never seems to be what they want but chat up lines are. Foreigners find them fascinating. It's all drink culture I guess and part of the image of Britain be it warts n' all.

  2. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for dropping by! Yes, chat up lines are a good one - actually it would be interesting to know whether "lines" exist to the same extent in other languages - what about French?

    I'm just about to experiment with some of the ideas I've outlined above - so we'll see how it goes. Hm, I wonder what the etymology of "get plastered" is?

    Bye for now,


  3. p.s. This lesson went well. An interesting discussion on drink culture around the world with my class of Slovenian, Polish, Hungarian and Malaysian learners - turns out that binge drinking is a serious issue elsewhere too...

    The "wine" tasting was a fun follow up, and learners produced some lovely tasting notes: "This bouquet reminds me of a forest at the beginning of spring" was one learner's impression!