Subversive Teaching – 52

Just another site

Subvert their minds

Welcome to Suversive Teaching 52. This is the support site for 52 – a book of critical, subversive and unconventional activity for language teachers. The authors of this blog are Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings.

We’ll be posting some activity ideas, discussions, images and videos connected to the material we wrote for 52. We hope this provides readers with, at the very least, food for thought.

Bailout – how one teacher used this ad!

Hi everyone
We’ve come out of summer break to share with you all a post we came across via Twitter on The Teacher James’ blog. We really liked the way he exploited the following image, which is activity 32 in our book 52.











We included these images to precisely let teachers decide themselves how best to use them. It was really interesting to see that this teacher’s student thought it was promoting the car companies in the first place and to see the different aspects of language he focused on.

Well, it’s probably best to let you hear it from the horse’s mouth. So please go over to this link and see how a single image can unfurl into a whole subversive lesson! Thanks to TheTeacherJames!

Product placement

This video and teaching idea were submitted to us this past weekend by Phil Wade, a fellow teacher and blogger over at EFL thoughts and reflections. He sent us this video because he thought we’d be interested, and we immediately loved it. We asked him if he would mind 1) us sharing it here and 2) if he could write about how he’d use it.

We’ll let him answer for himself. Phil writes:

The world is not how you think it is. You have been fooled and tricked. Your opinions and choices are not your own. What you do, where you go and what you buy have already been decided for you. Your view of history, the present and the future is controlled and manipulated. You must break free!

Adverts no longer have an impact. Through continued exposure you have become immune so now companies and brands have a better weapon………product placement!

Teaching ideas: Show one of the film clips, ask if it is an advert or a scene in a film and what the differences are. Try it with no sound or no picture and freeze frame. Then ask what it was about and what students noticed. Did they see any products or hear them mentioned?

Was it an essential scene in the film of just a secret advert to promote a product? Did it work on your students?

Watch the whole video and discuss the different examples. Talk about what Coke represents and why. Is it really timeless? Does it epitomize American culture? Which other brands represent cultures or countries and in which time periods?

Is it really “more realistic” to include brands in films? What does that say about our society? How do your students feel about products taking center stage in films and almost becoming main characters?

The AOL/Sleepless in Seattle is particularly interesting as the film is entirely based on a service and is just one big advert. How about the new Bond film which has has been partly financed by product placement? Is the future ‘film advertising’?

Thanks Phil!



This is a video of the dictation text we used in 52, simply called Machine. The speaker is Mario Savio, a political activist from New York who was very active in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960s in California.

This is from his most famous speech was made December 2 1964, sometimes referred to as the “put the bodies on the gears” speech . Here is a transcript below. We suggested a couple of directions this video speech could take the class in our book 52, but how might you use it? Post a comment if you like.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

Revolutionize the can-do statements

Here’s the “indie” book trailer we launched at IATEFL:



Write the following words on the board:

humankind, firefighter, worker, chairperson, police officer, business executive, fisher, homemaker

Check that students understand all these words. Then tell them that these are sometimes called gender-neutral words; that is, they are used to avoid using another word which may be considered sexist. Ask students to suggest what the alternative words might be.

(answers: mankind, fireman, workman, chairman, policeman, businessman, fisherman, housewife)

Dictate or project the following quote from a newspaper style guide:

Our use of language reflects our values, as well as changes in society. Phrases such as career girl or career woman, for example, are outdated (more women have careers than men) and patronising (there is no male equivalent).”*

Do students agree? Do they think these terms are better to use? Could any elements of their own language be considered “sexist”? How and why?

* from the Guardian style guide.


Tired of the Oscar madness? Want a tongue-in-cheek look at the kinds of film that win academy awards? Check out this trailer with your students. It’s actually quite difficult, so I’d use this with advanced level learners only.

What do your learners make of it? Do you think that the spoof is, itself, potentially offensive? If so, how? What does it say about “Hollywood clichés”?

What would you do with this?


Love is in the air, or is it? If you’re tired of doing the usual valentine’s day lesson maybe this year try an “anti-Valentine’s day” text?

We found a whole website of Anti-Valentine’s Day messages. Many are perhaps a little TOO bitter and cynical for our tastes, but we quite liked these two images.


Teaching idea: This one could be good for reviewing adverb -ly forms. Before showing it, ask students to complete the sentence “I love you…” as many different ways as possible with one word (e.g. truly, madly, crazily etc). Then show the image. What is the artist trying to say? Why is “cliché” written in the heart?


Teaching idea: maybe this one could be used as a flash dictation. Show it quickly, then ask students to write down what they remember. It’s also worth examining the use of “like, er, this one” at the end and what it means. Alternatively, write the following “chunks” up on the board in a random order: nothing says – someone else – “you’re special” – like a mass-produced sentiment – written by . Learners have a go at putting this together to form a sentence. Then show the image.

Finally, ask learners: Do people celebrate Valentine’s Day in your country? Is it a traditional holiday? Is it a worthwhile celebration or is it an excuse for people to buy cards, chocolate and gifts? Are “anti-Valentine Day” messages like these only popular with people who aren’t in love (or worse, bitter about love?)

Incidentally, if you have a copy of 52 you may like to try activity #11 Holiday, which is all about the commercialization of holidays such as Valentine’s Day.

Joe Chemo

This was one of the images we included in the book. Here is we would use this in class.

Lindsay writes: I would probably ask students to suggest any famous brand mascots they know (e.g. Ronald MacDonald, the Energizer bunny, the Jolly Green Giant…) I may include certain ones into the list that I remember especially from childhood. At some point I’d ask if they can think of any mascots for particular brands of cigarettes. Depending on the age of the students, things like The Marlboro Man or Joe Camel might come up.

I’d then tell the students I’d found an image of one of these brand mascots, but redone by an artist with the aim of criticizing the brand. I’d show the image and elicit reactions. All sorts of smoking vocabulary might come up here, I might elicit these and do some work on that. I’d be careful not to make this into an attack on smokers per se, but rather focus on how effective this image could be in terms of anti-smoking education. For example, do the students think this would be a good image to put up around a high school?

Finally, I would explain that this anti-smoking mascot is called Joe Chemo. I’d give the following as a dictation, or create a language exercise from it.

Meet Joe Chemo,
a camel who wishes he’d never smoked cigarettes. Joe is having trouble feeling COOL these days, now that he’s lost most of his hair. Worst of all, Joe just realized that he’s been manipulated all his life by tobacco companies. Poor guy — his tobacco IQ never was very high.

I’d say that this text comes from a website called For homework (or in class, if I could project it) I would show the students the site and ask them to take the tobacco IQ test. We’d finish the class with a general brainstorm on what are good and bad ways to educate young people about the risks associated with smoking.

How would you use this image? Post a comment below.