Category Archives: activities

Hilarious passive-aggressive notes and ways to use them in teaching English

The Poke (“time well wasted”) posted this collection of hilarious passive-aggressive office notes:

Passive Aggressive Office Notes That Are So Good You Can’t Even Be Mad

There’s so much you can do with posts like this.

  • Vocabulary
    • Ask students which vocabulary items they managed to guess from context.
    • Identify the source of humour in the notes with homophones (date, check, spoil, alarm).
    • Highlight vocabulary items by asking students to find them after being given definitions.
    • Draw attention to useful phrases and collocations and follow up with fill-the-gap or other type exercises (suggested phrases: be easily scared, thumbstack, sticky note, a Fortune 500 company, a lemonade stand, trip fuse, in the greater scheme of things, under any circumstances ever).
  • Group or small group discusion; possible discussion questions:
    • What does passive-aggressive mean?
    • Do you know anyone who’s frequently passive-aggressive?
    • Have you ever acted passive-aggressively? When? Why?
    • How do you react when you encounter passive-aggressive behaviour?
  • Writing
    • Students write their own responses to notes of their choice.
    • Students write the (imaginary) background story of a note they choose.
  • Grammar
    • “Grammar police” (somehow I hesitate to use the phrase “grammar nazi” in a teaching context): ask students whether they can spot any language mistakes.
    • Ask students to try and rephrase some of the notes so that they sound nicer (if that’s at all possible – discuss if not; works with advanced students only)

Of course I realise these ideas are far from revolutionary or terribly original; I just decided to include them because I’ve often been asked when sharing similar links how I mean to use them in teaching. I’m sure those who asked are perfectly able to come up with their own suggestions but were probably interested in my take on the issue – so here we go.

Please fee free to use or discard any of the tips above; at the same time, I’d be keen to hear your ideas – please comment below.


Lie to me – a back to school activity

Mallorca beachStudents come to the first English lesson of the new school year expecting the inevitable: the teacher asking them about their summer holidays. Justifiably, they’re bored with it. Here’s a twist to liven up this old routine:


  • Ask your students to get into groups of three or four.
  • Tell them that each group member has to tell their groups a summer story (this is where they will immediately start moaning and groaning, or worse, falling asleep, so don’t follow my example and get to the point quickly) which is either hard to believe but true or one which is completely made up but believable. The idea is that they have to trick their groups into believing a false story or make them doubt a true story. The only restriction is that the whole of the story has to be true or made up, not only certain elements or parts.
  • Group members are prompted to ask questions to try and establish the veracity of the stories.
  • Then group members declare whether they think the story was true or made up.
  • Students get points in two ways: when they’re the storyteller, they get one point for each deceived listener (that is, a group member who indentified a story incorrectly) and as listeners they get one point for each story they identify correctly.
  • Next, groups decide on the “best” story within their individual groups – the one which they think is the most likely to deceive students in the other groups when they present their chosen story to the whole class. They can even coach the student who will represent their group and refine their story to make it more believable or unbelievable.
  • The best story chosen in each group is presented to the whole class.
  • Again, all students from the other groups can ask questions before deciding whether the story is true or made up.


  • While the points system adds a competitive element to the activity, you can skip it if you think your students might not be comfortable with it.
  • You can allow false stories to be false only in certain elements – then the challenge is that listeners have to find which element is made up.