Tag: Speaking skills

Discussion & Negotiation: Lost in the Desert

Notes for Teachers

This task is a small-group discussion task which will enable your learners to practise their discussion and negotiation skills in an informal context. The task is adapted from similar activities which are often used in assessment centres when companies are recruiting new employees. Depending on the situation and what language and/or skills you want to focus on, you can either use the task to evaluate their negotiation skills (as is done in the assessment centres), or their use of suitable language for discussions. You may wish to first teach them a few polite discussion / negotiation phrases, both formal and informal, so that they can practice them in this task.

The follow-up discussion questions can be omitted, depending on your focus, but function well as a plenary to the task. Again, the obvious langauge focus would be polite discussion phrases, but you can pre-teach and/or practise other language points as relevant to your course.

Set up the situation for your students: It is lunchtime and you are driving across the desert with friends. You are lost. Suddenly, your truck breaks down and you are stranded. In your group, you must discuss and agree on which items you are going to take from the truck – but you can only take five, because it is too hot to carry any more. Which five things from the list below would you take with you from the truck, and why? How can you use them?

NOTE: each item in the list counts as one item, i.e. “2 bottles of water” = one item to carry.

Remind the students: Although they are worried about being lost, and are very hot because of the desert climate, they are still friends and need to discuss and negotiate politely!

Wilderness - Gwadar
Wilderness – Gwadar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Information for Students

Items in the truck:

25 Euros

2 bottles of water

2 bars of chocolate

a loaded gun

an iPod

2 blankets

3 cans of cola

a hand-held mirror

a kitchen knife

a picnic basket containing bread, cheese & apples

a battery-powered torch & batteries

a map

a box of matches

a can of petrol

a pack of cigarettes

a small first aid kit

… and any parts of the truck you think are useful.

Follow-Up Discussion Questions

What’s the worse environment to be lost in? Why?

 What physiological or psychological problems might you encounter when lost in an extreme environment? How would you handle them?

English: Snow blanketing Snake Valley and Whee...
English: Snow blanketing Snake Valley and Wheeler Peak. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Polite Language Practice


1) Get students to read “Would you be so kind” or a similar text (best done at home) & to make a note of key phrases. The text “Would you be so kind?” can be found here: http://www.karriere.de/service/would-you-be-so-kind-108655

2) In class, brainstorm the phrases they can remember and discuss which are interchangeable, e.g.:
Could you please / Would you be able to please / I’d be grateful if you could…
I’m afraid that  / I’m sorry, but / We regret that..
Sorry to / I apologise for …

3) Also discuss various ways of showing distance to make utterances more polite, e.g.:
past tenses = I was wondering, I wanted to ask..
Maybe / Perhaps,
‘seems’ (e.g. “there seems to be a problem”)
conditionals – would / could (instead of will/want or can)

 4) See how many ways your students know of saying “please” and “thank you” and collect some polite responses to ‘thank you’, e.g.:

You’re welcome  / Not at all  / Don’t mention it  /  (It was) my pleasure

Note: Steps 2, 3, and 4 could be done in smaller groups who then present a poster with their results to the class. It depends on whether your students are likely to have encountered the language before and you simply want to elicit, or whether this is the first time they’ve looked at polite langauge in this much focus. You could also spread these language study sessions over a few lessons and lead up to the role-plays below more slowly.

5) Give the situation role cards (below) to pairs and get them to practise acting out the whole situation, interacting as politely as they can, using the language studies above. You could leave the posters up, or a quick list of phrases on the board so that they can refer to them during their practice role-plays.

If you have a lot of time and / or the students are finished quickly, you can give different pairs a chance to practise different situations

6) As a closing step to the lesson, get some pairs to act out their role play as examples in front of the whole class. Ask the whole class to pay attention to which language items from above they have employed and to use that to give a ‘politeness rating’ (e.g. points out of 10) for the langauge used. If there’s time, you can then discuss ways to make the conversation even more polite. This works best if you’ve been able to record the conversations to re-play and discuss.


Ask your neighbour to turn their music down.
Complain about your meal in a restaurant.
Ask your boss for a pay rise.
In the theatre, someone is sitting in their seat. Ask them to move.
On a plane, someone is sitting in their seat. Ask them to move.
You’ve lost your wallet. Ask a colleague for some money to buy lunch.
Ask a teacher for help with something.
You’re waiting to use a ticket machine. Ask the current user to hurry up.
Ask someone to move their car out of your way.
Ask if you can push into the front of a queue.
Ask for a deadline extension for a piece of work.
Ask to use someone’s mobile phone.
You left your umbrella in a classroom and need to interrupt a lesson to retrieve it. Ask nicely.
You’ve lost your wallet. Ask someone for some money for the bus home.
Complain about the wine in a wine bar.
Complain about the cleanliness of your hotel room.
Your taxi driver seems to be taking the longest route. Ask / complain about this.
You are vegetarian but your friend has cooked steak and chips for you. Explain politely why you can’t eat it.