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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 3; Issue 4; July 2001

Lesson outlines

It's all your Fault!

Chris Sion
secondary and adult

Level: Intermediate
Time: 30 minutes
Language Functions: Blaming and accusing; making conditional statements; reporting
Materials: None

In Class

  1. Discuss briefly with the class how we often blame each other quite unfairly for a whole range of reasons and then brainstorm language associated with blaming, for example:
    • It's your fault!
    • Now look what you've done!
    • If it hadn't been for you it would never have happened.
    • Of course I'm not blaming you!
    • Don't mind me!
    • What's the matter with you?
    • Can't you ever do anything right?
    • Don't blame me!

Point out that intonation and body language are an integral part of blaming somebody for something. It's not only what you say, it's how you say it.

  1. Tell the students to work in pairs and then report back to the class. Their task is to think of as many unpleasant and negative incidents as they can. Collect the examples on the board in note form. The range should extend from simple everyday incidents to "cosmic" disasters, for example:

    • lost my bus ticket
    • plague sweeps through Europe
    • Kennedy assassinated
    • car wouldn't start
    • gained five kilos
    • Great Fire of London
    • Second World War
    • knocking over bottle of wine
    • washing machine broken
    • Concorde disaster

Bear in mind that in a class of mixed nationalities there may be considerable disagreement about what constitutes a negative example and about who was responsible for what in modern history. Choose the political examples carefully: It is often better to play safe than to bring unexpressed resentment out into the open. If there are tensions in your class, I suggest you restrict yourself to trivial examples and only move on to discuss deeper issues if and when you are sure the students are ready to.

  1. Now tell the students you are going to give them the chance to practise blaming each other. They should take turns to blame each other for having been responsible for the incidents on the board and should add whichever other ones they please. Tell them to try to remember what they were blamed for so they can report back to the class later. They should build up a conversation, which should be amusing and completely irrational, but avoiding genuine confrontation. It might go something like this:

    A: It's your fault I lost my wallet!

    B: How can you say it was my fault? I told you not to keep it in your back pocket. Anyway, if it hadn't been for you I wouldn't have got a parking ticket.

    A: Don't blame me for that. I didn't even want to take the car.

    B: Nothing's ever your fault. Are you saying you had nothing to do with the storm yesterday?

    A: That was your fault. You took your umbrella. Can't you ever do anything right?

  2. Tell the students to report back on what they were blamed for. How did they feel about the accusations?
  3. Divide the class into pairs and tell them to discuss the following points:

    • Are you a "chronic blamer"?
    • Do you know anyone who frequently blames other people unreasonably?
    • Have you ever been blamed for something you didn't do?
    • Who is usually blamed for what in your family?
    • Who is the scapegoat where you work or at your school?
    • Do you ever blame yourself unfairly for things that are actually beyond your control?

  4. Finish off by telling the students to keep an ear open for instances of people unreasonably blaming each other. Families and rival political parties probably provide the best starting points. At a later lesson, don't forget to ask them what they have noticed.

Note: I should like to point out that this entire activity is my wife's fault.

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