ESL Activity: Speaking Of Stereotypes

/ B2, C1, Reading Training, Speaking and Conversation, Teachers

This ESL activity starts with a reading comprehension task and expands the topic of stereotypes into a wider conversation.


Level:  B1+;
Age: adults;
Group size: any;
Aim: to enable students to express their point of view on national stereotypes;
Skill: reading into speaking;
Grammar: -;
Vocabulary: stereotypes;
Length: 30+;
Preparation time: none;
Material: websites linked to this page.

INTRODUCTION: Why to speak about stereotypes?

In my coordinator years, I saw many teachers coming back to the staff room red in their face with anger: One of my students stood up and told me that Americans are fat! (worked-out American teacher vs obese Italian boy); My students agreed that Italians are the most stylish and fashionable people. They were sitting in jeans, T-shirt and trainers in front of me! (fashion-aware Londoner vs her little stylish teen class); etc. How many times have we heard that Brits cannot cook (I apologize on behalf of our students to all those fantastic chefs Great Britain has given to the world) or that Americans are stupid (but with world-famous universities and research centers). Time to answer back…


At higher levels, students need to be able to discuss ideas, listen to new points of view and agree, disagree, accept or negotiate them. Unlike other delicate areas such as religion or politics, national stereotypes could be a useful topic to train them how to do so. Here’s what I did:

My B2-C1 student is about to leave for a three-month scholarship and is preparing to be able to chat and small-talk about his country (Italy). He is well able to speak about topics that are related to his studies and research, he often finds it difficult to speak about every-day issues. He also needs to be ready for all the stereotypes people around the world think of Italian men. Here’s the website I used in my lesson: 10 myths the unmask on the Italian man… or not.

The post gives a list of 10 stereotypes and a judgement whether they are true or false – according to the blogger.
First, I printed this WORKSHEET with the first 9 points (the 10th was not really commented) and cut them in 20 pieces, separating the judgement and it’s comment (True/False). At the beginning of the lesson, I presented the 10 opinions and asked my student to comment.
Then I asked him to match the True/False comments to the statements.
Finally, he wrote a reader’s comment to express his point of view on the points.
You can also expand this activity to write another similar post about another nationality. All this even more fun, if you are keeping a class blog (ever tried?). Careful, they might answer back!


Another very useful source of discussion can be traveller blogs describing our students’ hometown. About 6 years ago, I worked with two lovely British teachers, who were also enthusiastic travellers and kept a blog on their trips and journeys. Here are their four posts about Palermo:
January 2013
March 2013
May 2013
July 2013

Since students are emotionally highly involved, a very rich and constructive class discussion is guaranteed with any high-level English class in Palermo after reading these posts.

So, any time you ask your students what they think about your country and culture, prepare something about what other people think about theirs.



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