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Buy Nothing Day lesson plan
Capturing the essence
Building it up

buy nothing day logo

The Tip this week is a bit different - it's a lesson plan.

November 23rd is 'Buy Nothing Day', a campaign organised by Adbusters. They chose the 23rd as this is the busiest shopping day in the US, the day after Thanksgiving. The campaign was originally centred in the US but has grown to include countries all around the world.

We think that Buy Nothing Day is a good idea. Maybe you think so too, maybe your students will as well or maybe you & they won't - there's certain to be a difference of opinion. It is an interesting topic to most people but be careful how you treat it in class as you don't want to appear to be pushing your views on to your students.

All materials used are with the kind permission of

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Buy Nothing Day ad

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Capturing the essence
You've presented some new language, a vocabulary item, a structure or a function & you now need to check the students have understood the meaning. Depending on the item you could use the ideas in the Tip 'Extended sentences'. Or you could initially ask 'concept questions'. These are questions that capture the essence of the item & if the students respond correctly then you can assume they have understood (or so the theory goes).

Look at the following sentence:

'He used to work as a stripper.'

The new structure is 'used to' for talking about past discontinued states & habits. Here the situation is about a teacher who was a stripper & changed lifestyles to become a teacher.

The questions you ask should really keep to the following guidelines:

1. That the target item is not part of the question. e.g.. 'Did he use to be a plumber?' can be confusing if they haven't got a handle on 'used to' to begin with.

2. That there should not be too many questions.

3. That the questions should be easy to understand & answer. 'Yes/No questions' are suitable.

So, given these rules, here are some suggested questions:

1. What's his job now? He's a teacher.

2. What did he do when he lived in London? He was a stripper.

3. Did he work as a stripper once or over a period of time? Over a period of time.

4. Did he stop stripping? Yes

5. Is he a stripper now? No

The last two questions might not be necessary. And sometimes you might cheat slightly by giving it away in the last sentence eg. So are we talking about a present plan or a future plan? Future - for the present continuous / So are we criticising a present or past action? Past - should(n't)'ve. And also the nearer your students' mother tongue is to English, the more you can get away with.

You must remember with concept questions that only one or two students will answer the questions so what about the others? Clearly they are necessary but don't forget successive checks in the following practice stages.

And I wouldn't make them up on the spur of the moment - they need to be planned, written down beforehand when you write your lesson plan. You could find yourself in a mess if they are more confusing than clarifying.

Concept questions are not confined to structures & functions - they work just as well with vocabulary items. Here we've been talking about using them in presentations but there's no reason you can't use them anytime to check understanding.

Have a look at these items & write concept questions for them.

Why don't you take an aspirin?
Why don't you + infin. for suggestions/advice.

If I won the pools, I'd buy a house.
If + past simple, sub + would + infin. Second conditional

He should've stayed at home.
Subj + should + have + past participle

Oh I know, I'll have the steak.
Subj + will + infin. - for spontaneous decisions.

I've had the car serviced.
to have something done


Some suggested questions

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Building it up

A very nice way of giving very controlled oral practice with a lexical set or structure(s) is to build up a narrative on the board.

You need to think carefully about how you're going to build the story, as this activity will draw on your powers of elicitation. You need lots of visuals to help you on your way. A gory example:

'One day John went from Nottingham to London by train. On the way the train went through a tunnel. John met Paul in London & stayed there for four days. When he left London he was very happy. On the way back to Nottingham the train went through the tunnel. John stood up, walked to the door, opened it and jumped out.'

A procedure for this could be:

- elicit the clause/sentence

- model x 2/3 times - highlighting the parts.

- drill chorally

- drill individually a few students

- the students together - chorally - give you the story from the beginning again - this is important - if you don't do this they'll forget. After each time you elicit & drill a part, return to the beginning.

- while the students are recounting the story, put prompts for the part you have just elicited on the board. This can be done with lines to signify a word & pictures - these help them remember when recounting the story.

This above story is a 'logic problem' - there is a 'logical' explanation to the story. This makes the narrative build much more interesting. When you have finished the story the students ask you 'yes' or 'no' type questions to discover the explanation to the story.

Narrative building can be used to introduce a theme, as a link between stages or as an isolated activity. You have to keep it snappy with both the eliciting & the drilling in order to keep everyone's attention.

If you don't know the answer to the story above you're probably wondering about the explanation.

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