Let's sell a car...

I get it, I do, that in a lot of cultures this particular picture would be shocking.

So I'm not going to ask the ELT publishers to be so incredibly radical as to include something like this...

Take my hand

But I'm not a book publisher.

I'm an edu-blogger and I live in Germany and I teach adults.

And I like to get my students speaking.

And people here, like everywhere else, are sometimes straight, sometimes gay  and sometimes not anything at all...

- 0 -

But on to the teaching point, shall we?

The other day, I wrote that one of the problems in textbooks lies in having many a pair-work activity and not enough non-even-group activities... and although some of my readers did, quite rightly, point out that you as the teacher can take on the role of one of the people in the activity, I don't actually think this is good all the time - I tend to need to walk around and listen and give feedback on their English.

Yes, of course, sometimes you can get one of the class to help you monitor and feedback on speech, structure but that very much depends on the activity, for that to work, doesn't it?  In fact, to be honest the overall let's stick to an evenness of group sizes bugs me a bit - I just don't see why...  isn't it much more fun when they're not uniformed...

And isn't it better if the language they need to use is repeated several times...

I'll give you an example:

The book I'm currently using... 

(gasp! sometimes I have to and I like this one, gasp! and I can still dogme it, wink!)  
...with my group of intensive automotive students called for one person to sell a car and the other to be buying a car.   A was told he was at an auto fair and B was provided with details of a fictional car, size of the engine, mpg fuel consumption, number of cylinders that sort of thing.  

The standard textbook speaking activity.

But there are three problems with this sort of highly prescriptive activity: one, you really need an even number of students, two it's a bit spoon fed to be giving out random numbers about cars and their costs at random car fairs and it isn't exciting or motivating and finally, three, if you have a large class then they're all going to be talking about the same thing at the same time... and that's sort of naff.

But rather than just moan, I'll tell you how I 

four'd it...

I selected some of my students and asked them to think of the next car they'd most like to buy (in some cases if they could afford it) and then I told them that they were all now, officially, car-salespersons.   I asked them to jot down notes about this car, the one they liked so much - what was so special about it including things like how many miles to the gallon, the type of engine, the style...

While those students were busy working on that... I chose different students to "be:"
i) a modern business woman climbing to the top of her career - what car did she want to buy?
ii) a young husband and wife with no thoughts of children in the near horizon
iii) a gay couple
iv) a father and son
v) an older husband and wife with their live-at-home son, who would be sharing their car
The mini-groups of different sizes then had to work together to decide if they were in agreement regarding what would be the best type of car for their personal circumstances and to talk about preferences of engine,  size, features and general style (lexis we'd covered in the units to date).

c) Lastly the purchasers went around the rooms in circles, talking to each salesperson one by one and deciding to buy.

It was super interactive, personalized, fun, the target language was practiced and repeated and yea, we didn't pretend that the entire world revolves around the two-by-twos.  :)


I love hearing from you!  Have you ever introduced the topic homosexuality into the classroom or simply ever let it slide in?   Have you found ways to get out of the mould of pair-work?

Please add your thoughts if you enjoyed this piece and you feel like there's something you would like to question, add or say about it - don't worry about perfection or agreeing with me: it's always a pleasure to hear from you and know your own opinions. Worried about spamming me? Spam = you haven't read any of the discussion either in the post or by the other comments yet you want to come to my page in order to advertise yourself... (which probably means you won't have read this either :)). Your comment will be removed. Contribution = you've read the post and the discussion which has been added from other educators (or you want to start one off) and you would like to share your own thoughts, opinions, knowledge and experience. And by the way, have you already written about this specific subject or something similar? Do please add your link as I welcome the opportunity to participate in your conversations too! :-)

7 Responses to “Let's sell a car...”

  • Steve Bolton says:
    October 20, 2010

    In Indonesia, and I guess many other parts of the world, students are more likely to be shocked by public displays of affection between a man and a woman!

  • Steve Bolton says:
    October 20, 2010

    On the subject of homosexuality in class, recently my class were conducting an academic seminar around a text about a gay film festival (!) currently being held in Indonesia. The title of the article was "Glad to be gay!" The article talked about the Indonesian public's reaction to the festival and the violent protests it has elicited from religious extremists. During a discussion about the text, one of the students found it convenient to support his arguments by 'coming out' in class! His parents know he is gay, but I'm fairly certain this was news to the other students as it was followed by a momentary silence during which students cast glances at each other, and at me. But I broke the silence and soon we were back into the discussion as if nothing too unusual had happened. Amazingly, a few minutes later another student - one of the seminar presenters - also 'came out', this time provoking quite long and well-meaning laughter. It was a beautiful moment and a welcome contrast to the brutality described in the text we were discussing.

    Do I get good marks for rapport?

    October 20, 2010

    Top marks Steve! I haven't actually had students come out in class and I think that you must be a great teacher to have been able to have created an environment where your student could feel comfortable doing so.

    In my activity, there was initially a bit of giggling -the two students I'd asked to be the gay couple have the same first name but then they got into it completely, creating jobs for themselves - one was a "hairdresser" and the other a well paid fashion designer so they ended up arguing about their budget and the role moved away from the point of being gay to the point of practising the target language which made me quite happy.

    On the one hand, I do recognize that some cultures would never be able to do this sort of activity but on the other, like you said, in Indonesia if there was a picture of a man and women in PDA they'd be offended yet suspect most publishers generally ignore that!

    Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your classroom experience!

  • mattyboy says:
    October 22, 2010

    Help! I'm just beginning to teach a business English class. This is my second year of English teaching, but my first time teaching 'business English'. I'm looking for a recommendation for a good book to use. i'd likely adapt whatever book i'd teach from, but i still would like a book recommendation, and one that focuses especially on business English. Thanks!

  • Nick Jaworski says:
    October 23, 2010

    The homosexuality topic is quite controversial in Turkey. I do a couple lessons that incorporate the topic in various ways. I'll have a few students that get really upset and we'll have to move on. Most of the time though students are pretty understanding and I've seen quite a big push in my classes to be open-minded on the issue.

    Of course, as is usual in Turkey, this relates to non-family. Homosexuality within the family is something else entirely.

    On the 3-person activity thing, good point. However planning 3 person activities has a higher probability of not matching up with the number of students in the class, which is why it's probably so rare. I find it's useful to just work in pairs and have one version of the activity set up that includes a group of 3. As you mentioned, I also like joining in myself or having the odd student out perform a different role in the class.

  • Michelle Morissette says:
    July 03, 2012

    Although I often read your posts, I recently came across this older post of yours and would like to respond to it. I teach ESL in Vancouver, Canada. Although gay marriage is now legal in Canada, my students are immigrants from other countries who have very conservative values. The vast majority of them have a problem with homosexuality and gay marriage. I have an activity that I do with students that has often yielded terrific results. It is both a phrasal verb activity, and a group problem solving activity. It is called Who Will Take Care of Bobby. The premise is that 9 year old Bobby has recently become an orphan and needs to be adopted. Unfortunately, he is has some bad habits. There are three sets of candidates as adoptive parents. All of them are relatives. (That takes care of some issues). The deck is stacked so that the inevitable choice should be this gay married aunt. She and her partner have been together for ten years and have two children of their own. Although the other two sets of relatives have some positive qualities , they are unsuitable for a variety of good reasons.
    The activity calls for each group of students (this could be 3,4 or 5) to become the adoptive agency board who must make a unanimous decision on who will take care of Bobby. I have used this activity many times. Students really struggle with it because they are usually quite homophobic. They often get into fascinating discussions about what makes a good parent, and about why it is better to choose a "bad" parent over a loving homosexual couple,. However, when I remind them that they cannot make the decision as themselves, ONLY as members of an adoption board, they have to come back to the discussion of what is genuinely best for the child and who is best suited to parent him. This then frequently leads them to award Bobby to the homosexual parents.
    This activity often forces my students to step outside their own prejudices and value systems for one of the first times in their lives. A number of my students have actually thanked me for forcing them to think about something in a less emotional and personal way. Sometimes the group comes up with a creative solution such as awarding Bobby to the lesbian mothers as long as he spends a given amount of time each month with the uncles in the other two prospective adoptive couples. This way the need for a "male" role model is satisfied and the students are more willing to go against their own beliefs. I, however, have never suggested this final solution. Students themselves have always come up with it on their own. Although I won't touch a controversial topic such as abortion, I feel that as educators of adult students from different cultures we have a responsibility to deal with touchy subjects that are an accepted reality in the society they have chosen to immigrate to . They may not like it, but it does force them to realize that there are other valid value systems.

    Michelle Morissette


  • Anonymous says:
    August 12, 2013

    @michelle, i wonder how much your students perceived what your expectations were of them and thus to what extent they just responded as much as they could manage in line with what your expecations were of them, in order to be able to be successful in this lesson/your class. i know i would have just gone along with it to get the ordeal over with: it's one thing to discuss an issue neutrally but it's horrible when as a student you sense your teacher abusing their power to lead you to formulate a pre-planned conclusion


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