#IATEFL2018: Making PARSNIPs palatable by Rose Aylett

Here are my notes from this very interesting and thought-provoking session I attended yesterday.


PARSNIPs are left out of classroom practice because of:

  • institutional policies
  • local culture
  • lack of materials
  • fear of Ss reactions

However, they are important and Ss often need the language to talk about these issues. So why boycott them?

How to approach PARSNIPs

Some essential ingredients to deal with them:

  • help Ss understand politically correct/incorrect language
  • equip them with adequate functional language (giving and exchanging opinions)
  • help them develop useful sub-skills (hedging, polite interruption)

Furthermore, Ss need to develop non language-related skills such as:

  • empathy
  • critical thinking
  • intercultural awareness

Practical ideas for teachers

  • focus on the LANGUAGE rather than on topic (make it a language lesson rather than a topic lesson)
  • develop empathy through activities such as:
    • radical listening: really listen to what the other person is saying, without any interruption only backchanneling
    • human angle: who picked the beans who went into my coffee this morning? –> think about the person behind an object: who picked the beans, what’s their life like? How do they feel today…?
    • shoe swap: see one side of a debate/issue, role-play two actors in an issue, describe how you’re feeling in 1st person (e.g. Arianna Grande concert: first read texts about the facts, then role-play situation)

How can I use PARSNIPs in the classroom?

  • Experiment with these topics including them in only one part of the lesson or one specific activity. This will give you try them out before committing to a full lesson. The disadvantage can be that you touch on them too superficially.
  • Centre your whole lesson around them. This will give you an opportunity for deeper understanding of the topic, but can be risky if you don’t know Ss reaction or don’t know your class very well
  • On the spot, responding to Ss interests if and when they bring up a topic in class or show interest on it


  • some books (Taboos and Issues, Instant Discussions)
  • create your own materials! 🙂 Possibly from authentic texts –> work on assumptions of texts, reading/writing skills
    • sourcing materials: websites, social media, art, festivals, literature…

Dealing with difficult students

What happens when a S makes a difficult statement or shows bigotry?:

  • aknowledge the contribution (don’t rush on)
  • challenge the statement, not the person!
  • if you can, exploit the statement for language purpose
  • encourage a plurality of perspectives
  • use real-life examples
  • have realistic expectations (this is not about changing Ss minds!)
  • prepare to have your own opinion challenged!


  • face your fear
  • be proactive, not reactive!
  • move from sides to mains
  • play the devil’s advocate

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