Thursday, 19 July 2012

Pork and the Final Parsnip

Photo Courtesy of Photo Pin
Our final parsnip comes with a generous helping of pork. How you serve it up depends entirely on you and your teaching context.

Food Inc

I recently watched Food Inc and haven't quite regained my appetite yet. This documentary film examines America's food industry and, with pretty gruesome footage of slaughterhouses, it is not for the faint hearted. However, a short and judiciously chosen extract could provide some meaty classroom fodder for the question: Where does our food come from?

What I, personally, took away from this film was the resolve to read food labels more carefully. In an ESOL class this would be a useful and empowering exercise for learners. Too many of us are consuming way more sugar and salt than we should be, and we are often duped by the cunning wiles of companies which sell us healthy looking fruit juice and yoghurt loaded with sinister ingredients. ESOL learners are more vulnerable to the food industry's cunning ploys than most, and therefore benefit from a little input in deciphering labels.

There is an excellent lesson on the ESOL Nexus website which looks at "traffic light" labels on food packaging. Find it at:

A Great Bacon Sandwich

Does all this sound too depressing for you? If you teach a class of pork eating carnivores, digest this recipe for the perfect bacon sandwich. I have yet to encounter a meat eater who does not have a fixed opinion on the best method and ingredients required to achieve this culinary delight, and cultural variations should provide an interesting discussion here.

Porky and Beautiful

This post would not have felt complete without a mention of my very favourite pig. Here's a lovely little clip to lift the mood mid lesson.

The Last Parsnip

Thanks to all of you who have read and commented on these posts here and on Twitter: I've had fun writing them.  Do let me know if you have any Parsnip successes in your own classes: I'd love to hear from you.


Parsnips Part Six: Isms

Photo courtesy of Photo Pin
We use the handy little ism suffix to denote general principles or doctrines, and also to form the names of certain schools of thoughts and theories. The fact that -isms generally come trailing heavy ideological baggage in their wake explains their absence in ELT course books: a pity, because like our other parsnip friends they are rich sources of classroom activity just waiting to be tapped!

So which ism to choose? The very best ism lessons generate an exchange of ideas, in which everyone (both learners and teacher) leaves the classroom having had the chance to question their own deeply held beliefs. In this post, I will discuss feminism. I choose this particular ism not only because it is a movement close to my own heart. Feminism generates discussion which can be as light hearted or serious as you and your learners wish.  Many of my learners come from cultures where gender roles and expectations are quite different from those in the UK: as an ESOL teacher I feel it is important that learners have the opportunity to explore these differences in an open and non judgemental environment.

Warmer: Gender Roles

The following warmer provides handy revision of character adjectives, although you may need to referee a few arguments!

Make a list of about fifteen character adjectives geared towards the level of your learners ( e.g.: brave, thoughtful, intuitive, sentimental, reliable, practical, logical, emotional , confrontational etc. ) Ask learners to work through the list in pairs, marking each adjective with M (male) or F (female) or B (both), depending on who is most likely to possess this quality. Come together to discuss answers and the areas in which people agree/disagree. Encourage learners to back up their ideas with examples and illustrations.

You might wish to show your class this amusing little animation on gender roles.
Ask learners to report back on what they have seen. This activity provides the opportunity to practice comparative forms (e.g.: women are more talkative) With more advanced learners you could use it as a vehicle to work on the language of making generalisations, e.g.: women tend to enjoy shopping more, men usually like to get out of the supermarket as quickly as possible. Encourage the learners to challenge and question these generalisations.

Changes Through Time

A look at the changing roles of women in society is important in any serious discussion of this topic.

The following clips provide a useful insight into the history of the women's movement: highlighting how far womens' lives have changed in the last few decades.

This short clip describes the anit-discrimination laws passed in the 1970s and contrasts these laws with the sexist way in which women continued to be portrayed in advertising. You could use this clip to generate discussion on how life has changed for women in the past thirty years, focusing on past/present tenses and used to. As a follow up, you could select a handful of television commercials from recent years and ask learners to comment on what they tell us about gender roles in UK society.

You could personalise this discussion by asking learners to compare their own lives as men/women with those of their mothers and fathers. What has changed? Do they feel these changes are positive?

This footage of the 1970's Miss World competition shows presenter Bob Hope being attacked by angry feminists in the middle of his (outrageously sexist and disparaging) commentary. You could show the learners the footage and ask them discuss what they think it might be about. Follow this up by providing a little more background and asking them if they sympathise with the protestors. What do they think about such beauty pageants? Are such competitions still as popular today?

A Spot of Market Research
Divide your class into two groups and allocate a three minute time limit. One half of the class lists as many "boys' toys" as they can think of, while the rest of the class lists "girls' toys". Collect and board the lists, providing linguistic input where necessary. Then discuss the items on the list. Why are some toys seen as being for girls, and others for boys?
If your learners seem interested in this discussion, you can follow up by taking a look at the "pink stinks" website. This is a campaign which is aimed at the gender stereotyping of toys; particularly at the marketing of make up and beauty products to the parents of female toddlers.

Learners could follow this up by doing a little research in their own communities. Is there a toy shop in your town? You could ask learners to visit and look at its layout. Does the layout of the shop perpetrate the gender divide? How does it do this?

Other Isms
Ask your learners to list all the -isms they can think of. (This provides a useful exercise in word formation too.) Are there any -isms they would care to discuss in future lessons?

Further Reading

Barnyard, K. The Equality Illusion (Faber and Faber: 2010)
Greer, G. The Whole Woman (First Anchor Books: 2000)
Power, N. One Dimensional Woman (Zero Books: 2009)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Parsnips Part Five: Narcotics

Our fifth parsnip is rich in classroom potential. The drugs certainly do work when it comes to engaging learners in discussion and debate.

Attitudes to and legislation on drugs will vary depending on where you are based, and a good way of kicking things off is to discuss drugs at a local level. Here in Shetland, sniffer dogs greet new arrivals off the ferry (funded by a popular local campaign: Dogs Against Drugs). The dogs are expert at sniffing out dope, so I imagine smuggling this particular drug into Shetland might be a challenge. Unfortunately, heroin easily gets past the dogs.  I might begin by asking learners what they know about Shetland's “dogs against drugs” campaign. Is it a wise idea? Or are there perhaps more serious implications (especially for young people wishing to experiment with drugs)?  

If you wish to brush up on your own narcotic knowledge, I recommend a quick visit to where you can find a list of the top ten drugs and their effects.  If you wish, you could adapt this text to the level of your learners. You could also focus on practising the zero conditional here: e.g. when you smoke hash you feel relaxed/confused etc.

Research and Discussion

The topic of whether or not cannibas should be legalised has long been up for debate in the British press.   Giving learners the time to research arguments for and against should result in an informed and structured discussion. This may take a little time and effort to organise, but the quality of the argument will be worth it.
I suggest dividing the class into two groups. One will be pro legalisation and the other group will be against it. Each group will then have to read through a selection of arguments you have prepared (I have included suggestions below, but you can find plenty more online!) Give the groups plenty of time to read and assess the arguments, and monitor carefully, before asking learners to discuss their views.

 Further Discussion
The pleasures and pains of drug use are well documented in songs and films. Requiem for a Dream is one of many films to explore addiction. What makes this film particularly interesting is the way in which it contrasts a mother’s addiction to prescription (diet) drugs to her son’s heroin addiction. This contrast could be discussed after showing learners the film trailer.
Trainspotting has been criticised for “glamorising” drug addiction. Certainly, I remember the mid nineties' flirtation with “junkie chic”. The following clip (in which Mark Renton overdoses, and gets bundled into a taxi by his dealer and dumped at the entrance of Edinburgh’s royal infirmary) would provide a good starting point for the question: “Does the Media glamorise drugs?”

Songs and Drugs

The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve
Brown Sugar: The Rolling Stones
Mother’s Little Helper: The Rolling Stones
Under the Bridge: The Red Hot Chilli Pepper
Heroin – The Velvet Underground
Purple Haze: Jimmi Hendrix
Ebeneezer Good: The Shamen

These are some well known classics, but I’m sure you can find songs on drugs to suit most musical tastes. Stuck for ideas on how best to exploit these songs in class? Then visit Eva Buyuksimkesyan's blog
for some excellent suggestions.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Parsnips Part Four: Sex

Photo courtesy of Photo Pin
It’s time for our fourth PARSNIP, and you will not be surprised to learn that the web hosts an embarrassment of riches on this particular subject. The watch word here is “comfort zone”: both yours and your learners'.  This post will discuss approaches to the topic of sex which I would feel comfortable in bringing to my own class of learners (an outgoing and relaxed group of adults ranging in age from their mid twenties to mid forties, and Hungarian, Polish, Spanish, Malaysian and Moroccan in nationality.) You may feel you can get away with more or less in your own teaching context!


It can be difficult to gauge how comfortable your learners feel with discussing sex in the classroom, so why not leave the initial lexical input up to them? You could begin by showing them a trailer for a romantic film, and asking them to reconstruct the central narrative after a couple of viewings. I’ve chosen the trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind because learners interpret this chaotic few minutes worth of film in a multitude of ways. It also contains scenes of a couple dancing around in their underwear, so will hopefully generate some of the target language!
If learners happily come up with lexis such as to have a one night stand, and to have an affair with someone and seem eager to engage in further discussion of the topic, you can work on a love and relationships mind map of topic related vocabulary.
 Afterwards, you might want to follow up with some of the ideas below.

Chat-up Lines 

As an ESOL teacher, I seek first and foremost to give learners input which they will be able to use in their immediate environment. In the past, learners have asked me to help them translate some (very dodgy) chat up lines from their own L1 for use in the hostelries and night spots of Lerwick. I have tried to impress upon my learners the naffness of these opening gambits, but to no avail.
Having said this, chat up lines can provide an opening into a fun lexical activity, which can pave the way for a discussion of more serious topics. Here’s what I’ve tried:
  • ·Ask the class if they have heard any good chat up lines recently
  •  If not, give them some you prepared earlier: an excellent source is, which contains 49 horrendously cheesy little numbers.
  •  Put learners into pairs and ask them to come up with two possible responses to the line (one should be a polite rebuff, and the other could be more positive).
  • This leads into a role play activity, in which learners try to prolong to the conversation as far as they can (practicing  turn taking, short answers and other conversational strategies).
  • Finally, learners could try to translate chat up lines they know in their own L1. Do they work? If so, learners could add them to the chat up site listed above.

Serious Sex

This light hearted banter paves the way for more serious discussions on the topic.
Sub topics and suggested texts are listed below.
When should children begin to receive sex education?
Gay marriage around the world: what is the situation regarding gay marriage in your learners’ countries? Really good photos on this webpage should help promote discussion.
A sobering look at the grim reality of a trafficker’s town in Mexico.

And Finally

One of my favourite public health ads ever, and likely to get a few chuckles (or wry nods of recognition from the mums and dads in your class!).  If learners have enjoyed some of the other activities, they might want to make a public health advertisement of their own.

I am on holiday till mid July, and will post the concluding Parnsips on my return.