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Teaching Tips 200

Supermarket Etiquette

When shopping one of the things that contantly amazes me is the time people spend getting their money out to pay. They`ve  been queuing up, waiting to pay, but when asked to actually pay, it seems to take them by surprise & those behind have to spend even more time in the queue while they dig around looking for their money. Where do they think they are?

I came across an article in the Guardian last week about shopping etiquette. Here it is with a teaching procedure below:

Supermarket etiquette: a guide to modern manners
This week Sainsbury's apologised for an employee who refused to serve a customer until she stopped talking on her mobile. But what is acceptable behaviour when you're out shopping?

How does one navigate the modern social minefield of the supermarket?

The story of a Sainsbury's employee who refused to serve a customer until she got off her mobile phone illustrates the complexity of supermarket etiquette: talking on your phone at the checkout is both unacceptable and allowable. Sainsbury's has no policy against it, so in this case both customer and employee were wrong. How does one navigate this modern social minefield? The following primer may help:

1. A trip to the supermarket is an out-of-body consumer experience, best attacked alone and with your brain on standby. That's why it's OK to ignore people you know or, if need be, to hide from them. This is actually a courtesy, so don't be offended when someone does it to you.

2. If you must chat with a neighbour or acquaintance, keep it brief and don't stop moving forward. If you're standing still, you're in the way.

3. It's fine to accept a free sample of some horrible new cordial, or a bit of cheese on a stick, but bear in mind that the person handing them out does not value your opinion. He's just there to stop you taking too many.

4. It's important to say "Thank you," when the person ahead of you in the queue places a divider on the belt between your shopping and hers, but eye contact is by no means mandatory. You're shopping, not speed-dating.

5. There is nothing arch in the way the robotic female voice at the self-checkout bay keeps saying: "Approval needed." She doesn't care how much wine you're buying, so don't talk back.

6. Occasionally an exotic or unfamiliar item will confuse a new checkout employee. You may choose to see this as an opportunity to indulge in some quiet middle-class self-loathing, but the person behind you – me – is in a hurry. Under the circumstances it's OK to say: "It's fennel."

7. No matter how many times you've been asked it, it is not acceptable to answer the question with the words: "No I do not have a ***** Nectar card."

And some from the comments section below the article

8. When you are in the checkout queue, get your wallet/purse out. You know you are going to need it. It is not good form after you have the total to go fishing around in your handbag for it

9. Do not fill up the conveyor belt with 300 items, suddenly realise you've forgotten something and disappear for about 20 minutes before returning with another trolley-load of stuff.

10. Do not pretend you haven't seen the 'baskets only' sign and unload your trolley on that checkout.

11. Do not phone, text or listen to music on your headphones when someone is serving you. How would you feel if they said 'Hold on a minute, I'm just finishing off this game of Angry Birds'?

A simple procedure:

For lower levels, you could rewrite the points to make it more manageable.

1. Lead in to the topic - ask the students when they last went shopping & what they bought. Tell them about a negative shopping experience you`ve had. For example you bought loads of things in the supermarket only to find at the checkout that you had forgotten to take any money with you.  

2. Students in pairs chat about their own negative shopping experiences.

3. Set up the pre-reading task - tell stds to imagine they have been asked by a supermarket to draw up a list of shopping etiquette. Give an example - Don`t block up the aisles chatting to friends.

4. Students chat - monitor.

6. Feedback - elicit some ideas & write 4 points on the board.

7. Set up the extensive reading task - students read quickly to see if the 4 points are mentioned in the list.

8. Students read > compare ideas with a partner.

9. Feedback - elicit answers.

10. Set up the more intensive task - students decide on the three most important points from the list.

11. Students read > compare ideas with a partner.

12. Feedback - elicit the three ideas chosen & why >  same in the students` countries.

13. Language focus - choose vocab from the text to suit.

14. Roleplay - cards:

Cashier in the supermarket - you are fed up with all the rude customers you`ve had today. And now there`s this customer on the phone treating you like a servant. Refuse to serve her/him until s/he has turned off the phone & is more polite.

Customer - you are  busy person & get phone calls all the time. You have to answer your phone wherever you are. You wish the cashier would hurry up.  

The Independent newspaper has also picked up on the story:

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The best medicine

It is International Joke Day on July 1st, a good excuse to bring a little more humour into the classroom so here's a warmer for your lessons.

Jokes are difficult in another language so to be sure all understand them, the ones below are children's jokes. You should get a smile anyway, as well as few groans - but as long as there is a reaction, I'm sure it'll be an enjoyable activity. The students might then come out with their own jokes. There are lots of joke sites on the net so hunt around if you need some different ones.

Here are some jokes, followed by some ideas on using them:

What do you call a boomerang that doesn't work?

A stick


What's the difference between an elephant & a strawberry?

The strawberry is red.


How can you tell that there is an elephant in your sandwich?

When it's too heavy to lift.


What do you call a camel with three humps?



Why couldn't the skeleton go to the dance?

Because he had no body to go with.


Why was 6 frightened of 7?

Because 7 8 9.


If the red house is on the right side and if the blue house is on the left side where's the white house?

Washington DC


When is a car not a car?

When it turns into a garage.


Where do you find a two legged dog?

Where you left him.


How do you get four elephants into a car?

Two in the front & two in the back.


Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side.


Why do birds fly south in winter?

Because it's too far to walk.

The warmer:

Start off by telling a few jokes to the class & introduce some of the lexical field - to tell a joke, punchline, only joking, an in-joke, a practical joke, humour etc - depending on level. You could discuss whether they are good at telling jokes - I can never remember them myself.

a. The most natural way would be to give each student a joke, make sure they understand them, & they mingle & tell each other their jokes.

b. Alternatively, you could separate the jokes, the first & second lines, hand out a different first & second line to each student & they have to mingle & find the punchline for the first line joke that they have.

c. Or give out the jokes all jumbled up & the students, in pairs, match them up.

At the end, get the students into small groups & they decide on the best & worst jokes. You could also look at the type of jokes above & discuss whether there are equivalents in the students' languages. You could move into a translation activity.

Humour & laughter in the classroom has a lot to do with your attitude to the event. If you expect & promote an enjoyable experience, combined with spontaneous communication from the students & yourself, then there are clearly more openings for humour.

For an excellent very practical book, 'Laughing Matters - Humour in the classroom' by Peter Medgyes (CUP, 2002)

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Filling In

Here are a couple of ideas to improve spoken production at lower levels by incorporating the mother tongue:

Here`s an idea from Sarn Rich. On his summer courses, or any course you're teaching, it's sometimes difficult to get your students to talk to each other in English outside of the classroom. This is especially true when the students are in their home country or there is a predominance of one nationality in the class. They naturally use their mother tongue for talking to fellow nationals.

While he was teaching in the UK Sarn got his students to write down a list of conversational fillers & expressions that they use in their own language. Then he got them to translate them into English. Examples of such language: well..., you see, you know, I didn't catch that, do you see what I mean?, I'm not sure about that, for example, really?, etc.

The students then had to use these English fillers when talking in their own language to someone of their own nationality. It was put to them as a game - to see who could do it - & it did catch on. The students realised that it was a step in the right direction & as it was posed as a game, the self-consciousness was lessened.

If they can speak to each other in English then all the better but this is a halfway house. Try it out!


 You must have seen your lower level adult learners or your younger learners struggle to express sophisticated ideas with simple language & end up being very frustrated. Here is one way of helping with this problem.

Imagine an area crops up that the students really want to talk about & it is inevitable that they are going to use their native language to do it. Stop them & introduce a series of vocabulary items in English that will come up in the conversation. Then let them get on with the conversation in their own language but with the proviso that they use the vocabulary, replacing their native words with the English ones.

It doesn't have to be an area that crops up, you could plan an activity around this. With your teenagers you could be looking at an area such as Harry Potter & the discussion stage could let them use their own language with the English vocabulary within it.

After the activity, from your notes on the language they used in their native language, look at a couple of areas & how they could say them in English.

This then recognises the need & allows for an expression of sophisticated ideas but also attempts to incorporate some English at the same time.

This then recognises the need & allows for an expression of sophisticated ideas but also attempts to incorporate some English at the same time. Clearly this would only work with monolingual
groups & it is preferable if they do use English rather than their mother tongues but when the occasion arises try it out.

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