Moral Dilemmas speaking activity

The aim of this speaking activity is for students to discuss what they would do facing different moral dilemmas. It promotes student creativity, teamwork, and allows for revising/consolidating using second conditional and language of speculation. Suitable for levels intermediate – advanced, adults and older teenagers.

The Task

Students work in pairs or small groups discussing each moral dilemma from the list. You might distribute the handouts, or project the worksheet on the whiteboard. It is a good idea to hold a whole-class discussion at the end of the activity to compare different choices and solutions your students have come up with. You might also try to rank the problems in order of difficulty.

This activity is a good opportunity to practice second conditional, modal verbs for speculation (may, could, must, can’t), cohesive devices (moreover, although, however), and different ways of agreeing and disagreeing. The latter might be particularly useful for students preparing for their FCE and CAE exams. For more discussion activities see Parental Decisions or Big Life Decisions.

Personal Experience

I prepared this activity together with my teenage FCE students who were tasked with brainstorming/researching problems that could fall into the category of “moral dilemmas”. This class worked great in terms of engaging the students and getting them to talk. What turned out to be a challenge was stopping students from resorting to L1 in order to get their point across (which often happens when the discussion gets heated). I was glad to see my students using target language (agree/disagree) with confidence and we ended up with some great examples of good language on the board (“I don’t think I could ever do it”, “If I were in this situation, it would not be an easy choice”, “Although it seems like an obvious decision, it is not”, “I have no idea what I would do”).




  1. I am not crazy about referring to one person as ‘they’. Grammatically it’s wrong although I hear it a lot. I would never use it myself however. I would like to see moral dilemmas that do not involve death. A lot of immigrant students have seen too much killing and death…such as my African students. How about a dilemma where an office employee sees his co-worker stealing. Or you see your good friend’s husband or wife kissing another person romantically. Or you are pretty sure that your niece is doing drugs. Do you tell your brother that his daughter is likely doing drugs? You pull out of your driveway and bump into your neighbour’s parked car and leave a dent. There are no witnesses. You are cash strapped. Do you tell your neighbour? Your pit bull attacks the neighbour’s German Shepherd. You are the only witness. If you tell the neighbour, he could have your dog put down. Do you tell him? You are in charge of a group of 15 year old teenagers on a field trip to NYC for 4 days. You catch a boy and girl sleeping together in bed. When you arrive back in Montreal, the mother of the girl asks you if her daughter behaved herself on the trip. What do you answer? You live in an apartment. You open your door to see your neighbour kicking and slapping her kid violently. What do you do? You have studied hard for an exam. You are writing the exam when you notice the person sitting next to you has answers written on his hands and is cheating. What do you do? You are working in a store and your coworker is stealing from the till. She admits it to you but says that she has no plans to stop. What do you do?

    • Hi Robin,
      Thank you for commenting. As using “they” when referring to a single person is now widely accepted in both reading and writing I didn’t see any problem using it in this activity. I understand your preference, though.
      As for the type of dilemmas, the ones I provided were collected with a particular group of students in mind (a group I taught at a time) so surely it doesn’t have to be suitable for every teaching context and every student group. Thank you very much for providing a list of interesting ideas for discussion, I hope other teachers see them fitting for their classrooms as well.

    • It’s not grammatically wrong. It’s called ‘Singular They’ and its usage is well defined by the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

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