52: Bailout

52 by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings is an e-book collection of subversive activities for the ELT classroom (see also the support blog Subversive Teaching 52). Each of the activities in the book attempt to engage the learner and the teacher in a challenging conversation. They are both forced to question, investigate and debate the world that we live in.

Since I like to push my students to engage critically with materials, I’m always on the lookout for interesting and demanding stimuli for my lessons. Subsequently this book was just what I was looking for.


As they say themselves at the beginning, “This book is not for everyone” and they are right. Indeed, there are activities that I wouldn’t use in there. But I would always choose to use a book that advertises itself in this way over a book that suggests that it appeals to everyone. Something that designed to be liked to everyone is going to bland and unchallenging, and I don’t want anything to do with that.

And in case you’re wondering, my students have never had a problem with it either!

I recently taught a lesson from the book and I thought I’d share it with you here. This classed was based on activity number 32 and is simply this picture below:

There is no lesson plan, no levels and no language exponents, so that’s how I taught it. No planning, no pre-set ideas of grammar that should be covered or vocabulary acquired, just an improvised lesson. (I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with planning, by the way, this time was just an experiment.)

The Setting:

A one to one business lesson, 2 hours long. The first 30 minutes was spent on conversation.

The Procedure:

I showed the image to the student and gave him a minute to look at it. We then discussed the following questions / points:

1) What’s your immediate reaction?

2) What’s it about?

3) Who is responsible for this advert? (He took another look it at this point.)

4) What does the slogan mean? (He thought it was written by the car companies.)

5) We discussed Wouldn’t referring to the past in the headline sentence. (He understandably found this confusing as the structure of the sentence is complex.)

6) Again, who is responsible for this advert? (We discussed this again, as he hadn’t yet grasped the nature of the advert. At no point did I explicitly tell him that it was a criticism, I just dropped hints as we went along.)

7) The meaning of the headline to the paragraph (“The auto bailout…”) (He was becoming more suspicious by this point, but hadn’t yet made the leap to satire.)

8) Pronunciation of precedent. (He was pronouncing it like president.)

9) Tone of the paragraph (It was here that it finally grasped that this was a satirical criticism of the car companies.)

10) What impressions does the final sentence of the paragraph give you?

11) What’s the message behind the satire?

12) You work for one of these companies, how would you respond? (His novel approach was to suggest that they should acknowledge that the advert was correct and that they will be better from now on.)

13) The final line (“We’re learning to…”)

14) Have you any experience of a company that doesn’t need to compete?

15) What happens to a company that thinks it doesn’t need to compete? (The word ‘struggle’ came up and we discussed how it can be used.)

16) I told him about Adbusters and showed him a few more examples from their website, which we discussed the meaning of in less detail.

The Homework:

I asked the student to find another advert on the Adbusters website that interested him and to bring it next week. He chose this image:

Taken from here.
The Next Lesson:

1) Why did you choose this ad?

2) We discussed the message.

3) Who is this aimed at? (new vocabulary included ‘preaching to the converted’, ‘activists’.)

4) Would you ever work for Philip Morris? (Interestingly, despite agreeing with most of the things in the adverts, my student would still work for them. He also told me several scandalous stories about the company that I won’t repeat for fear of libel!)

5) We reviewed new vocabulary that had come up during the discussions.

Conclusion:

I had a quick chat with my student after we had finished to see what he thought of the lessons. He thought it was very interesting and thought provoking. It was a different experience for him to see this kind of material, in or out of the classroom, so he enjoyed the challenge. He is someone who is not afraid of expressing an opinion which is why I chose this particular image to use with him, so from the perspective of student engagement, the lesson was a success.

From my point of view, I was very happy with how it went. The student didn’t understand the tone of the advert at the beginning, but I led him towards it, pointing out key words and phrases (shitty, taking your money, corporate irresponsibility, market share loss, too big to fail) that eventually made him realise what the advert was really about. I thought it was particularly interesting to observe how, even in the face of such explicitly critical language that he understood, the format of the advert was so compellingly authentic that he dismissed the linguistic clues, instead choosing to continue to believe that this must be a real advert for this companies, because frankly it looks like one. It’s interesting to consider how often we are convinced by a text simply by the way it is presented.

To conclude, I consider the class to have been a worthwhile and successful experiment and I’ll be using both this image and other materials from 52 again.

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10 thoughts on “52: Bailout

  1. Hi James
    I liked your remark about choosing materials that are “not for everyone” over those that appeal to everyone and are therefore often bland.
    Also I am not surprised that your student believed that it was a real advert – I would have too! – because a lot of companies these days use subversive anti-advertising advertising techniques.

    LEO.

  2. Seems perfectly natural not to understand the tone of the ad, its creators or its purpose at first. I didn't either. 😉 I love the two ads and the simple approach to using them that you did, James. This is definitely something I could use.

  3. Thanks Fiona. It was good to see you've tried out an activity too, I particularly like that one, I just wish I had a roomful of students to try it out on! Hope you find more inspiration in the book.

  4. Thanks Leo. I guess it's a reflection of the kind of person I am. I can be fairly demanding of myself when it comes to the things that consume my time, and while I'm not going to tell my students what to be interested in, I'm also not going to patronise them by choosing materials that aren't stimulating. Sorry, life's too short to waste!

    Fair point about the nature of the advert. I think it's fascinating that my student was prepared to ignore what the language was telling him because how the advert was made. There's the root of some interesting research there, I think.

  5. Cheers Tyson. I guess it's a testament to how well made these adverts are that both you and Leo needed a second glance! I'd love to know how you use this adverts, let me know if you do.

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