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