Wave your flag

Normally I introduce our guest posters, but on this occasion the post includes a photo and bio at the end :), so there is little for me to add apart from saying it is a genuine pleasure to be able to offer you the ideas below, the timing of which is perfect, and to say THANK YOU to….. Sue Lyon-Jones….

Take a photo and…. cultivate parsnips with it, by Sue Lyon-Jones

Image made with BigHugeLabs Mosaic Maker using photos taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @mrsdkrebs, @aClilToClimb, @sandymillin (x3), @teacherphili, @pysproblem81, @elt_pics (x2) used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”

In the wake of the Diamond Jubilee and the UEFA cup, and with the 204-nation-strong summer Olympics just underway, I thought patriotism might be an interesting topic to explore with students for those amongst us who are brave enough to venture into parsnips territory… parsnips being an acronym for politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms (and/or Israel) and pork, in case you didn’t know 🙂

With that in mind, here are a few ideas that could be used with Intermediate level learners in an unplugged conversation class.

Age group Level

Adults and older teenagers Intermediate +

Lesson Focus

Taking part in group discussions


  • To practise using polite phrases used for expressing agreement and disagreement

  • To listen and respond appropriately to questions

  • To respect turn-taking in group situations

  • To use and understand non-verbal cues

Discussion ideas

  • To explore a range of differing viewpoints about patriotism

  • To encourage students to reflect on and critically examine their personal view of patriotism

  • To consider ways in which patriotism might be regarded as a force for good

  • To discuss ways in which patriotism and/or nationalism can be used to mislead, manipulate or oppress

  • To consider and explore differences between patriotism and nationalism

  • To discuss strategies for guarding against those who seek to misuse patriotism

Important Note

Image from ELTpics by @mkofab

Make sure your students have bonded as a group and you know them really well if you are thinking of using these activities, and proceed with caution if you have asylum seekers or refugees in your class who may have fled from situations where they were being oppressed or victimised by others, in the name of patriotism or nationalism. Even if you think you are on safe ground, I would still recommend checking that all your students were happy to discuss the topic before beginning the lesson, and arrive prepared to do something else instead if needs be.

Pre-task activity 1

Explain to learners that they will be debating a controversial issue in today’s class, to practise taking part in group discussions. Elicit polite expressions and phrases that can be used to interrupt the flow of conversation or express disagreement with someone’s point of view, and get students to write them on the board. Run through turn taking conventions and non-verbal cues that are used to convey information during discussions.

Pre-task activity 2

  • Write or display the sentence ‘What is patriotism?” on the board.

  • Ask learners to discuss the question for a minute or two with another student.

  • Give each learner a post-it note and ask them to make a note of what patriotism means to them.

  • Instruct students not to show their post-it note to anyone yet, and to put it away till later.

Lesson Activities

I prefer to avoid taking a “do this” or “do that” approach to mapping out lesson activities, because I think the most important factor in the equation is the learners, and what works well with one class may be entirely the wrong approach to use with another group of students. The slide show here provides some suggestions that can be adapted to suit most contexts.

I’d probably start off by displaying slide three, and asking learners to discuss it with the person next to them before feeding back to the whole class. As it’s a fairly provocative quote, hopefully this would spark sufficient interest to get the ball rolling; but if not, I’d repeat the process until things clicked.

Image from ELTpics by @amandalanguage

Be prepared for the discussion to head off at a tangent at any point and let it do so, as long as it turns out to be a productive one. Step back, monitor and make a note of any language which emerges and how the learners interact with each other. Play Devil’s advocate to nudge the conversation back on track if it reaches a dead end or starts running out of steam. Make sure you allow enough time at the end of the lesson to run through anything you picked up on that needs clarifying, wrap things up, and give feedback. Encourage students to evaluate the lesson, and reflect on whether they enjoyed it and found it useful.

Post-task activity

Ask learners to look at the post-it note they used for the pre-task activity. Does it still reflect the way they feel about patriotism, or not? Invite them to share what they wrote on their post-it note with the rest of the class compared to how they feel now, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Ideas for follow-up activities that students can do at home between lessons, using technology

  • Encourage students to create their own word clouds about patriotism, using tagxedo.

  • Ask learners to create their own twitter hashtag to crowd source people’s views about patriotism, and feed the results into visibletweets to create an animated presentation.

  • Ask students to blog report of the lesson using posterous or record a summary of it with vocaroo, for the benefit of any learners who may have missed the session.

  • Ask students to create an electronic poster about a patriotic event or aspect of patriotism, using Glogster.

    All images used in this blog are taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics and used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”


Sue Lyon-Jones is a freelance ELT materials developer, ESOL tutor and teaching with ICT consultant based in the UK. She publishes and writes the content for the free English lessons and ELT resources site, ESOL Courses. Her current areas of interest include teaching with web based technologies, interactive materials development, educational games, mobile learning, and Dogme ELT.

Note: This article by Sue Lyon-Jones originally appeared as a guest post on take a photo and… The eltpics ideas site for teachers, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.


7 thoughts on “Wave your flag

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