Utopia & Dystopia

“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”

Anthony Burgess (1917 – 1993), from A Clockwork Orange
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This free ESL lesson plan on utopia and dystopia 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.

Everyone has their version of the perfect world. And all ideologies claim their beliefs will lead to this promised land. Unfortunately, all too often, what might be considered a perfect world for some would be a nightmare for others. Despite the advancements humans have made over the centuries, we still don’t know if we are headed towards a kind of utopia in the future, or whether the science fictions writers will be proved correct, and we end up in some kind of dystopia. In this ESL lesson plan on utopia and dystopia, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as countries that could be considered utopias or dystopias today, and whether the world is headed towards a utopian or dystopian future.

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


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):

Britannica | 10 Devastating Dystopias

The article looks at some of the most famous dystopias from fiction including A Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Time Machine. Bizarrely, they somehow managed to miss of the greatest dystopian novel of all time, George Orwell’s 1984. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. 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. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “How to Recognise a Dystopia” by TED Ed which looks at a number of fictional dystopias so we are able to recognise one when we see it.


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 how the students’ perfect would be, what fictional utopias they can think of, and whether or not a utopia might be a bit boring.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with utopia and dystopia such as totalitarian, rule with an iron fist and to live in cloud cuckoo land. 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 dystopias. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as how their nightmare world would be, books or movies that depict dystopias, and whether human nature is naturally inclined to utopias or dystopias.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of utopias and dystopias. 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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3 thoughts on “Utopia & Dystopia”

  1. The lessons themselves are great, but I have to say that even for my advanced students tedtalk videos are to long and to dull (I teach in Thailand, I have to replace your videos with something snappier and then change the questions. I notice all these videos have the same soothing american voice in them as well .. as in soothing students to sleep which is what they do to me as well … just an observation I wonder how many other people are just skipping the video part completely or putting something else in there. I’m not knocking the content which is identical to linguahouse more or less but slightly better written like you actually worked for them before or something.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. It’s a fair point – what works for my students doesn’t necessarily work for all. I’d always recommend adapting any resource to tailor it to your own students. As you’ll have seen, I have a template for my lesson plans including the video section. For that reason, I have to find videos that are of a certain length and contain sufficient information to extract 12 listening comprehension questions, and I’ve found TED Ed videos (amongst others) accommodates this well for me. If I were able to dedicate myself full time to this website (which is just my personal site), I’d definitely follow your lead and try to have more unique/interesting/tailored video activities for each topic (contrasting utopian and dystopian TV shows is an excellent idea!)

  2. I was in fact looking for some video to contrast the TV show fallout or silo with some utopian tv show but might need to make something special in this case. Students respond to popular media more than tedtalk unless they are business people

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