Alphabet of the obsolete: speaking activity

In this activity, students practice expressing and justifying their opinions discussing this brilliant cartoon by John Atkinson. It is a great discussion generator for conversation classes with adult and teenage students. It might come in handy when talking about such topics as technology, change, society or lifestyle.

The Task

First, elicit the word obsolete. I showed my students this visual and asked them what these items have in common: they are old-fashioned, they are not useful, they used to be useful, nobody uses them anymore, other devices have taken their place. They are obsolete.

Once you have established the meaning of this keyword, move to the cartoon. Give your students some time to take a careful look at it, make sure all concepts are clear (Yellowpages, knobs, Jar Jar)

Ask your students to select 5 items they think have truly become obsolete  and 3 items they think shouldn’t be featured in this alphabet. They need to justify their choice. Students take notes individually.

Next, students compare their opinions in small groups. Ask them to negotiate a list of 5 obsolete and 3 non-obsolete items their group can agree with.

Finally, talk to the whole class. Which items were chosen as obsolete most often? Which were more controversial? Which items couldn’t your students agree about with their groups? Are there any items they would add to the list?

Personal Experience

I came across this cartoon by accident on Twitter (thank you, Kamila Linková @kamilaofprague) and I immediately knew I would like to use it with my students. It achieved exactly what I had hoped: provoked discussion and made my students think. I was happy to see some of my less talkative students engaged in this activity and I think it was a good idea to give everybody some alone time to come up with ideas and write them down before moving on to the speaking stage. Our class discussion revealed some surprising opinions: the item from the list many students disagreed about turned out to be…zip code!

My favourite thing about this cartoon is that it is thought-provoking without being too serious or, worst case scenario, a downer. It is playful enough on the surface not to intimidate anybody or make them think they lack general knowledge to participate in the conversation, but, on the other hand, it unlocks a number of more serious topics and it is up to the students how deep they are willing to dig.


  1. Brilliant and inspiring idea! I have come across The Wrong Hands cartoons before – they are amazing but I never thought they could be used with students. I used some of them on my blog fanpage. Thanks for inspiration!

    • Thanks for stopping by! These cartoons are great and I think using them in the classroom depends on the students you teach. I love incorporating things I’ve randomly stumbled upon online in my classes but it’s always a bit of a gamble.

  2. Great ideas! Next week I’m going to discuss technology with adults. I’ve already prepared the article about how different machines and technology have changed the world. I’ll use your findings for sure! It will be a great intro and a kind of warm-up activity. Thanks <3

    • That sounds great! I hope it goes well and your students find this activity interesting.

  3. Hi Gosia, you made it into a truly wonderful task. Will def use. Yet, I deserve no credit, all I did was RT a great picture:-) Have a lovely week. K.

    • A good RT is all it takes 🙂 Let me know how the class goes, so far I’ve used it with several students (groups and individual) and it’s been really interesting.

  4. Used this in one of my PET classes yesterday – was a big hit. Also used another worksheet of yours, on giving opinions/negotiating in order for them to make the lists together, it all coalesced wonderfully. Thanks for everything, as usual.

    • Whoah, Chris, that’s awesome! Were they teens or adults? It’s great to hear these ideas are working out for other teachers too.

      • 13 year olds. It’s good practice for the PET speaking exam, too, so it was perfect. They enjoyed picking the expressions on agreeing/disagreeing/negotiating for themselves – I’ve done it with them three times already, and they’ve already started remembering some without the cards.

  5. Hi, thanks for this great idea for an activity! How long did it take you to do the whole thing with your students?

    • Thank you, Isabelle. The activity can take anywhere between 20 and 40 mins, depending how interested the students are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *