Political Correctness

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868 – 1956), in The Friends of Voltaire
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This free ESL lesson plan on political correctness has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Political correctness, apparently, has gone mad! You can’t say what you want to anymore for risk of offending someone – and there will always be someone who gets offended by everything these days. So the story goes. But what is political correctness? Originally, it was a term meant to describe a way to communicate that took into account the sensitivities of traditionally marginalised groups in society. These days, it has become a source of tension as it has been accused of a way to censor views and opinions from certain political perspectives. Essentially, it relates to the debate around free speech. A long line of comedians, from Rowan Atkinson to Ricky Gervais, have defended people’s rights to offend other people. As John Stuart Mill said, if you are not harming anyone, you should be free to do and say what you want. Is there harm in offending others? In this ESL lesson plan on political correctness, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the meaning of political correctness and how this affects society.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for National Freedom of Speech Week, which takes place in the United States in October. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.

PRE-CLASS ACTIVITIES

Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

BBC | Cancel culture could wipe out comedy

The article takes a look at the current debate over whether people should have the right to offend. On the one hand, some people say being offensive, or talking about taboo subjects, is at the root of all comedy. Others say that comedians with outdated or unacceptable views are not being cancelled, but simply being weeded out as their audience dwindles. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. The questions for the video are styled in a way similar to an exam like the IELTS.

The video for this class is a called “Is There an Alternative to Political Correctness?” by The School of Life which discusses how people are made to feel guilty for their thoughts by political correctness, and asks whether it wouldn’t be better for us simply to act politely to other people.

IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES

The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including whether we should always avoid offending people, whether political correctness is being used as a form of censorship, and whether anyone should ever be fired from their job for the beliefs they hold.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with political correctness such as triggered, snowflake and woke. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about political correctness. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as whether people from the past should be judged according to the attitudes of the present, whether it is acceptable to take statues down, and what might be considered politically incorrect in the future.

HOMEWORK

After the class, students will write about their opinion of political correctness. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.

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