A designer Lessons ESL lesson plan developed by Neil McMillan

I’d always liked the fancily animated graphical information on news and election programmes in the UK, so I was intrigued to discover just how big a phenomenon infographics are becoming on the internet. A quick search on google or pinterest reveals endless amounts of instantly appealing, varied and dynamic visual data, just waiting to brighten up your classroom and stimulate discussion on contemporary issues – as well as practise specific academic, business and exam-related tasks. I’ve sketched out 5 lessons, utilising a variety of infographics, the first of which has just been classroom tested and deals with the impact of social media on news reporting.

Lesson: That’s Old News

Level: Strong intermediate / Trinity GESE Grade 7 and up (B2+)

Age group: later teens and adults

Topic: news and social media; any recent news stories

Skills focus: discussion / conversation; writing a pros/cons essay

Language focus: speculating, showing certainty/uncertainty, highlighting advantages/disadvantages, making comparisons, reporting and reacting to news, contrasting, clarifying, developing an argument – if you are teaching towards Trinity GESE, this should give you a variety of options for grades 7-10.

Time: 60-90m, more if the writing extension is done

Materials required: digital projector to show images (the infographic itself, reproduced below, is of an awkward size for printing); an internet connection if the images are not saved beforehand; some scraps of paper

Social Media: The New News Source
Courtesy of: Schools.com

Stage 1

Keep the above infographic hidden for now, and board some of the ‘eight news stories that broke via the social media’ (or show images thereof). I chose the 2011 British Royal Wedding, the attacks on Bahrain protesters, the deaths of Whitney Houston and Bin Laden, the Hudson river plane crash and the Egyptian uprising. Ask the students to recall details of the stories and speculate what they might have in common, and work on improving the language which emerges.

Possible answers / speculation patterns

They’re definitely all from recent years

They were probably all quite famous internationally

Death can’t be the connection – no one died at the Royal Wedding!

Maybe they all ‘broke’ first on social media?

Reveal or confirm this last answer by displaying the relevant part of the infographic (roughly in the middle). Check they understand the meaning of ‘break’ in relation to news.

to break (bad) news

to follow breaking news/stories

Stage 2

Mute the projector and wipe the board clean. Show the following images (which you can click to expand into a slideshow) – these are in fact the sources of the above stories. Invite comment and questions. You can find links to the original posts, and some additional info you could discuss with your students, below the gallery.

We are all Khaled Said – the Facebook page set up in tribute to a young man murdered by the police. It became the focal point for the organisation of the Egyptian protests.

Whitney Houston tweet – the first of several tweets which emerged before the official press announcement of Houston’s death. Interestingly, or allegedly so, it mentions the bathtub, a detail later denied.

Osama Bin Laden live tweet coverage – Sohaib Athar was sitting at his computer in Abottabad when he heard the sound of a helicopter. Little did he know that he was commenting live on one of the most dramatic events of 2011.

Bahrain massacre youtube footage – not a graphic clip of violence but absolutely brutal nonetheless. Consider carefully whether to show the actual clip to your group.

Hudson river plane crash – the first of many tweets which reported this remarkable crash-landing.

Royal engagement announcement – my, how the British Royals have moved with the times …

Some vocab to notice

the tub



a giant window-shaking bang

Stage 3 – optional – personalisation & focus on comparisons

Ask the students to consider the following questions:

How many people in your country, as a %, have heard breaking stories via social media? Can you guess?

How many times a week do you look at news online?

From the radio, the TV, social media and the newspapers, where do most people get their news? Put them in order.

Within the social media, which do you use most for news: Twitter, Facebook or YouTube?

Again, in the answers students will be guessing, so encourage the continued use of the speculative phrases. Then display the stats from the infographic which show the use of social media as a news source in the USA. The students can start making comparisons with their own answers. You could give sentence frames such as:

50% of Americans get breaking news via social media, but I think it’s less/more here

TV News is still the top news source over there, and/but it’s probably the same/less/more here

Twitter is the 2nd top news source in social media, but I use it more / less /never use it

I get my news online more than/less than/around three times a week!

Stage 4

Ask the Ss to think of other significant news stories and where they heard them first. My group commented that they had heard, variously, of the Spanish 15M movement, the story of Argentina’s expropriation of the Spanish oil company Repsol, and that day’s biggest story, the resignation of Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, via social media networks.

Now ask them to tell each other about one of the stories. Give the following starter:

Have you heard about __________? I just saw it on the news/online/in the paper ….

Really? No …. / Oh, that’s interesting / awful / ridiculous …

As they are speaking, note down how well they are using discourse markers for reporting, clarifying, being honest, contrasting etc. Ask them to write down a rough version of the short dialogue they just had, or put it on one side of the board. Then I chose to highlight the following, all highly frequent in spoken British English:

it’s/they’re saying that …. apparently/ it seems that … / to be honest, honestly … / mind you, … / in fact …

After boarding these (on the other side) and labeling clearly, with examples, the best way to check understanding is to get them to insert into the dialogue they’ve just written. My Ss then came up with (I’ve smoothed the rough edges):

Have you heard about Pep Guardiola’s resignation? I saw it on Facebook this morning!

Yeah, it’s really sad! Mind you, it wasn’t a big surprise for me.

Yeah, apparently he’s really tired. They’re saying that he wants to spend more time with his family.

Well, to be honest, I don’t blame him!

As they read through this you can focus on pronunciation: sentence stress, intonation  and connected speech could all be dealt with here according to needs, with lots of drilling.

I then give out scraps of paper for the Ss to write down some of the key discourse markers – especially the ones they are not accustomed to. They should then start describing a new story, grabbing the phrases as they use them. You can encourage competitiveness by making this rule: the person who grabs the most phrases is the winner. This might increase their desire to use the target language and grab it back off each other.

With changes of partner and an enthusiastic group, this can go on for some time. Be sure to feedback on the content of the students’ conversations as well as any errors.

Extension 1 – process writing a pros/cons discursive essay

Simply ask the Ss to brainstorm the pros and cons of social media as a news source. Having done this, they can compare with the infographic pros and cons.

Key vocab

to get the scoop

to be in harm’s way


to disseminate a story

Brainstorm an introductory paragraph with your class, perhaps using some stats from the infographic. Then assign different groups to write a pros paragraph, a cons one and a conclusion. This time, the discourse markers focused on will be much more formal.

One advantage is … A second … A further …

In contrast, … On the other hand, …. However, ….

Clearly, … It can be argued that …

To sum up …

Copy the various paragraphs together then give it back to the students to correct and redraft.

Extension 2

Combine with this great lesson from teflgeek which makes use of the Guardian’s open journalism campaign. The modern version of the Three Little Pigs features examples of social media interacting with traditional media and could provoke further debate on the future roles of both.

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Designer Lessons by George Chilton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.