Getting it off your chest

Mark Rebuck, Nagoya City University


Quick guide

  • Key words:Annoyance ranking, anti-social
  • Learner English level:Lower intermediate through to advanced
  • Learner maturity:High school and above
  • Preparation time:The time it takes to copy the handout
  • Activity time:90 minutes (variable)
  • Materials:A handout similar to the one in Appendix 1


This lesson was born out of my own experience in Japan of frequently feeling annoyed. In it students not only reflect on and express their own feelings, but they also consider what people in another country may find disagreeable. Teachers can gain a revealing insight into the things that raise the blood pressure of their students.


Copy the handout in Appendix 1, or make a similar one.


Step 1:Throw a piece of litter nonchalantly on to the floor and see the reaction of the class. Then ask a student “How do you feel about people who drop litter?”

Step 2:Distribute the handout. Go through the 12 items in the How do you feel about people who... column, explaining vocabulary as necessary.

Step 3:On the board write: 1 = most annoying; 12 = least annoying. Students work alone to rank the items 1~12 in the Annoyance Ranking column.

Step 4:Ask some students what they ranked as number one.

Step 5:Go through phrases A (“It doesn’t really bother me”) through F (“It makes me furious”) on the handout.

Step 6:Write the following exchange on the board:

A: “I’m conducting a survey on things that annoy people. Would you mind if I ask you a question?”

B: “No, (I don’t mind) go ahead.”

A: “How do you feel about people who…”

Give 15-20 minutes for this mingle activity. Students use the dialogue to help them carry out a survey into what their classmates feel about the 12 items. When asked “How do you feel about people who…” the other student responds with one of the phrases fromA~G. The questioner then writes the corresponding letter in the appropriate cell of the How do your classmates feel? column. The same question can be asked to more than one person.

Step 7:On the board write: 1 = most antisocial; 2 = second most; 3= third most. In the last column students mark which of the 12 items they think British people consider to be the three most anti-social.

Step 8:Ask a few students to read out their guesses, and write them on the board.

Step 9: At this point I do a listening comprehension exercise using an authentic recording (BBC radio) of the results of a survey on antisocial behavior in Britain (see Transcript in Appendix 2). Students listen and write down the results, including percentages, in the last column. Unfortunately, the recording is no longer available online, but teachers can read out the transcript, or announce only the results. Alternatively, data from similar surveys in other counties could be used.

Step 10: Compare the actual results with the students’ guesses on the board (see Step 8).

Step 11: Students prepare notes for a short (about one minute) “rant” about something they find annoying. To help start students off, put phrases such as these on the board:

  • One thing that really gets on my nerves is (people talking loudly on the subway).
  • I really hate the way...
  • I find… really annoying.
  • I find it disgusting the way…

The teacher monitors, helping with vocabulary.If a student insists that there is nothing he or she finds annoying (it may occasionally happen), an alternative task could be set, for example, “Write about something you do that possibly annoys others.”

Step 12: Go through the Gatten Ranking (Appendix 1). Choose a few students to read out their rants and explain that their classmates should bang the table one to four times depending on how strongly they agree with the speaker. This step can also be done in small groups.


The fact that there are ongoing campaigns by various transportation bureaus in Japan to discourage antisocial behavior suggests perhaps that a lesson such as this one is particularly relevant. There is surely value, if only cathartic, in providing the communicative resources for expressing one’s feelings about the less pleasant experiences of daily life.

Appendixes 1 and 2 can be viewed below