The Bullet or the Ballot Lesson Plan

The Bullet or the Ballot Lesson Plan

Craig Wherlock (Greece) shares a lesson plan he uses to encourage students to think critically about the civil rights movement.


The Bullet or the Ballot was the name of a political speech American civil rights activist and Muslim minister, Malcolm X delivered in 1964. In it he set out the choices he believes Black Americans had in dealing with the racism they faced in the United States. Malcolm Xs beliefs were the polar opposite of those set out by fellow minister Martin Luther King, who advocated peaceful non-violent opposition to racism.

An ambitious lesson plan

This is a classroom lesson plan I have used several times over the years, and it has produced incredible results in terms of generating language use and heightened interest from English language learners I teach. It is aimed at those with a confident grasp of English, preferably B2 and above, or indeed you could use it in a social studies class. It is ambitious in its scope, but I believe if you ask a lot of your students then they can far exceed your expectations. However, with less-advanced students, the teacher is going to have to provide a lot more support in terms of helping them prepare suitable language and with explaining the social and historical context of the times and situation.

The entire lesson will require at least 2-3 meetings of 45 minutes each, and access to the Internet, either at home or in the classroom.

Lesson plan steps

1 Ask students to write down or research what revolutions/rebellions have taken place in their country over the last 100 years, this can set for individual homework prior to the lesson or done via internet in groups if they have access at school. In Greece, this is a tall order considering the country’s turbulent history during most of the 20th and 21st century.

2 Students compare their information with other groups or individuals and report back to you.

3 Now ask them if drastic social change ever comes about completely peacefully. Once again, they discuss this in groups and emphasise the fact that you want concrete examples to support their ideas. Ideally, this would involve access to the Internet in class.

4 Explain to students that they are going to see a trailer for the 1988 movie, Mississippi Burning, and ask them to write down;

What kind of film is it?

Where is it set?

When is it set?

What is the basic plot?

5 Student watch the trailer and write down what would they have done if they had been born Black American in the community depicted.

6 Students discuss their answers with each other.

7 Now, explain to the students who Martin Luther King and Malcom X were. Most likely, the names will be unknown to younger students and so ask them to do a quick five-minute search on Google. Make sure they understand that both of the men were Black leaders who lived and campaigned in the same era as Mississippi Burning was set (the early 60s), yet both had very different ideas about how the Afro-American community should deal with racism.

8 Divide the class into two groups and give them links to either Malcolm Xs “The Ballot or the Bullet” (speech transcript and audio) or the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King (transcript here, audio here). Both texts present a challenge to learners, due to their linguistic sophistication and the fact that it belongs to an era that may be unknown to your students. It is not necessary for them to understand everything, but rather get the general idea of the speakers. This is best done over the course of a whole lesson in which students work in groups and are allowed to help each other.

9 Alternatively, for homework, students listen to the speeches and write down what each leader thinks should be done to improve the situation of their community and why. You might need to check on students’ ideas to ensure they got the gist of the speeches.

10 Now explain to students that they are now either Martin Luther King or Malcolm X and they have to debate what is the best way to deal with the problems Black Americans face in the society shown in the Mississippi Burning trailer. Students should use the ideas in the speeches to support their ideas.

11 Organise a class debate about which speaker had the best ideas on dealing with racism. This will form the basis of a essay, which students can plan in the lesson in groups and then at home individually.

12 Answer an essay question.

“Malcolm X or Martin Luther King: who would you have followed if you had been a Black American in the 1960’s?”

Pick a cause and fight for it!

Pick a cause and fight for it!

Margarita Kosior (Greece) shows us how she has introduced the topic of companion animal welfare into English language classrooms all over the world.


“Pick a cause and fight for it,” I once heard from a like-minded colleague, and this sentence has been my motto ever since. True, we cannot do everything, but we can all do something for at least that one cause we decide to support with all our might.

My cause

The fate of stray animals has always been close to my heart. In 2014 I adopted my cat, Cookie, and in 2016, my dog, Mocha. Since then, I have been looking for ways to make a difference and bring a change for stray animals, not only in Greece, where I am based, but all over the world. I always have dog food and cat food in my car, but I never thought this was enough. I have found homes and families for a number of stray animals, but this does not sound like the ultimate solution either. I have cried and I have worried, but issues of animal neglect, abuse and abandonment require more powerful means than despair, pity and distress.

I am an English teacher and education is my secret weapon; and that’s the weapon I decided to use to communicate my cause and my passion to teachers and learners of English all over the world.

The power of storytelling and education

I believe in the power of storytelling and the power of education to bring a big change, and an English language classroom is the right place for this change to happen. As students are working on their English and developing their 21st century skills, they are also shaping attitudes and beliefs in ways which bring hope for a better future for all living creatures on this planet. And that exactly is the purpose of the Tales of strays campaign, which I created to introduce the topic of companion animal welfare into English language classrooms all over the world. ELT professionals can support the campaign and fight for companion animals and their rights in three ways: through storytelling, materials writing and teaching.


The campaign started with a picture book (Toby to the rescue) — a story which I wrote and my then ten-year-old daughter Evita illustrated. It tells the story of Toby, a stray dog who lives under a tree in the park. He doesn’t have friends, and he doesn’t even have a name. When one day Toby meets Little Nick, who is taking a walk in the park with his mum, the lives of the dog and the boy change forever. Of course, Mum is always there to give precious advice about what responsibilities are involved in keeping a companion animal.

The second story, Mae to the rescue, is a more recent addition to the series and to the campaign. In this story, a girl named Lucy has some important shopping to do, so she goes to the shopping mall with her mum. Suddenly, when she loses sight of her mum in a crowd of shoppers, the little girl panics and starts crying. That’s when she meets Mae, a stray dog who offers her help. They become very good friends, but then it’s time to say goodbye …

Tales of strays, therefore, is a book series about how lives change when a child meets a stray. The books can be used either as bedtime stories, or as educational tools raising awareness and empowering the youngest people on earth. In either case, they can be accompanied by a number of free activities and resources available on my website. The stories will appeal to both very young and a bit older readers, thanks to engaging plots, dialogues written in the form of rhyming chants, and beautiful illustrations made by a child.

I have personally taken the Tales of strays picture books to storytelling sessions at preschools and schools in Greece and also abroad (e.g. Serbia, Argentina, and Kazakhstan), and have been amazed by the level of student motivation and engagement during those sessions, and also by the children’s innate capacity to empathise with animals lacking love, care and devotion they deserve.

Materials writing

Every year, Tales of strays supporters and friends celebrate World Stray Animals Day (4 April) with a publication. The first publication, The human-animal bond and what it enTALES, released in 2020, is a compilation of 11 lesson plans written by educators and materials writers from all over the world. The title of the second publication (2021) is ELT for companion animals and it contains another 11 contributions. Since the release of the two compilations, teachers in various countries have used those lesson plans in their classrooms to introduce students to the issue of companion animals and our responsibilities towards them, and have talked about the plight of stray dogs and cats. We’ve seen some amazing projects — posters, pictures, reflections, videos, poems, and more — created during and as a follow-up of those lessons.

Teachers who are willing to support the cause through materials writing can consider designing a lesson plan on an issue related to the broader topic of human relationship with companion animals (e.g. responsible dog/cat adoption, understanding dog body language, therapy dogs), teaching values such as compassion, commitment, empathy, etc. The lesson can be designed for an age group and CEFR level of the author’s choice. The author is not expected to directly speak about animal neglect and abuse. Instead, they can choose to highlight the beauty of our relationship with companion animals and nurture positive behaviors towards them, rather than directly condemn negative attitudes. I feel we can have a more powerful effect this way. Any teacher or materials writer willing to participate can send a message to ta***********@ma*************.com to express interest in contributing. Every year, compilations are uploaded to — the place which I currently use for Tales of strays related activities — and made freely available to anyone who would like to spread awareness of the problem of stray companion animals worldwide.


No matter how creative and engaging the materials in the Tales of strays compilations are, they would not make much of a difference in the world if it were not for the inspiring teachers willing to bring the topic of companion animals, their well-being, but also their frequent neglect and abandonment into lessons.

In order to become an official Tales of strays supporter, throughout the academic year, the teacher or school needs to commit to delivering at least four lessons of their choice from the existing compilations (The human-animal bond and what it enTALEs and/or ELT for companion animals) or to suggest their own ideas or projects and work on them with their students. Since the campaign can only grow if we get the word out there, teachers try to support the cause on social media by posting samples of their students’ work and their reflections. This way, we can get more teachers and students involved, and make an even bigger impact.

Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The Tales of strays campaign, based on its three pillars of storytelling, materials writing and teaching, and aiming to change our attitudes towards companion animals, can only take us forward.

More information about the campaign can be found on my website or on our Facebook page.

Storytelling for a cause

Storytelling for a cause

Efi Tzouri (Greece) introduces storytelling activities she has used in her teaching with the Hands Up project and with refugee children in Greece


This article is based on my experience as a volunteer with The Hands Up Project, as well as an educator working with refugee children in Greece.

Establish a safe environment

First and foremost, what is essential is to allow space for feeling and establishing a safe environment for teaching, by designing lessons with sensitivity and consideration. We should always give the opportunity to learners to use the language they have been learning through interaction and group work, and value learners experiences in the classroom. It is effective to design tasks that follow simple instruction, introduce one thing at a time and involve a lot of practice either through repetition (especially for the younger learners) or through role play and communicative activities. Also, it is very significant to provide help and support when it is needed, to make sure that everyone is engaged in the activities and can participate easily and naturally in communication.

Sharing experiences through storytelling

Storytelling has been an integral part of communication and accompanies our daily lives. The emergence of technologies has generated a re-orientation of the ordinary, or traditional storytelling, by giving opportunities to narrators to share personal experiences by using digital and multi-modal elements, like videos and pictures, as well as music, both in a face to face or in an online environment.

Storytelling is a form of art which not only has the power to motivate learners and engage them in the language learning process, but also to provide them with opportunities to cultivate life skills like creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. Learners are introduced to new concepts and material, they are given the chance to develop their ideas in an organized manner and discover meaningful ways to apply their knowledge. Language learning is turned into an experiential process by adding a dynamic pedagogical value to the utilization of Storytelling.

Foster self-expression and self-awareness

Creative activities based on storytelling aim at fostering self-expression and self-awareness by providing the opportunity to young learners to introduce themselves to others, to talk about their preferences and to create space for feeling and openness. Additionally, a bridge between personal and school life can be built establishing a safe environment for teaching.

One of my favourite storytelling activities is built upon personal objects that learners are asked to choose and bring to class. It is important to mention that I selected this activity as an ideal one because for me it empowers creativity and imagination, and also it develops trust and space for interaction and communication.

The activity can be divided into two parts. The first part can turn into a guessing game. In class, all objects could be put in a box and learners should be encouraged to find out which object belongs to whom. If the lesson is online learners can be instructed not to reveal their object, so that the other participants could guess what kind of item it is by asking questions about size, colour, material, or use. In the second part, students are asked to write a story about their personal objects (who gave it to them and why, or why they bought it, why it is their favourite, what makes it valuable or important to them, what it reminds them of, where it was bought, etc.). A great outcome is to encourage learners to share their stories by either reading them or acting them out.

Storytelling enhances learning

Storytelling not only embeds the power to enhance learning through experience but most importantly gives an active voice to learners to share their thoughts and to express their feelings, hence to develop a dynamic personality in a classroom environment. Personal stories are reflected upon narratives, and learners are given the chance for self-representation and self-expression. Live narration holds the power to throw light on diversity and cultural identities and personal storytelling can turn a typical narration to active participation by inviting the audience to become engaged and to identify with the characters or the situation.

Storytelling gives kids wings to fly by their hearts and their minds to tell their story and celebrate their glory. It is where those kids belong now and where they want to be in the future

– Haneen Khaled The Hands Up Project

Introducing Inclusive Practices in Education: A Letter to Colleagues

Introducing Inclusive Practices in Education: A Letter to Colleagues

Angelos Bollas

Angelos Bollas (Greece) gives us advice on teaching about inclusion, equality and diversity


It appears to me that the number of colleagues who are interested in adopting inclusive practices is on the rise. I observe several webinars, conference talks and workshops, as well as informal discussions on social media being dedicated to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Even though this is a great development, it is vital that colleagues be cautious when it comes to receiving advice about such sensitive matters. Indeed, most language teachers around the world are not trained in psychology, sociology, and other sciences relevant to EDI. As such, it becomes easy to follow advice that appears to be sound without critically examining its validity. This letter aims to help colleagues develop their criticality with regards to EDI-related materials, practices, and sources.

Dear colleagues,

Although colleagues in Academia have long been interested in exploring the issue of inclusion and inclusive practices with attention to gender and sexuality in education, and in English Language Teaching (ELT) in particular, the issue has only recently received wide attention among ELT professionals. It was only a few years ago that the first relevant talk (concurrent event) at IATEFL took place and, since then, we have observed a plethora of conference presentations, publications for teachers and learners, webinars, and other modes of information/knowledge sharing addressing this topic.

Even though one should not but welcome such developments in our field, it is important to take them with a pinch of salt, as we ought to do with anything that ascends overnight from being a so-called taboo topic to becoming a trend. This short blog post addresses those teachers who are genuinely interested in being inclusive and providing their learners with lessons that allow them to be seen, recognised, and celebrated for being who they are. Its aim is not to put them off from learning more about inclusive practices; quite the contrary, it aims to encourage credible, ongoing, and multidisciplinary education on the subject.

What is ‘credible’ education?

What is being challenged through these few words in this post is the concept of ‘credible’ education. Arguing that credible education is solely university-produced knowledge would make this author (or any other one for that matter) nothing but an elitist who is ignorant of the fact that the working conditions of English language teachers around the world do not allow them to access well-guarded scholarship from journal articles and academic publications. At the same time, it would be ignorant to claim that only those working in academia are capable of producing work that is worthy of attention and consideration.

So, the question should not be so much about what makes the cut to being considered ‘credible’; rather, the question should be what it is that we, practicing teachers, should be on the look-out for when consulting advice with regards to inclusive practices. Below, there is a brief list of what one should be wary of:

Sources that focus too much on the author’s personal experiences.

Although it can be extremely insightful to hear or read about someone’s own experiences with (a lack of) inclusive practices as learner and/or teacher, it is not fruitful to assume that one person’s experience is generalisable and/or that it provides enough evidence to base any teaching or materials design decision on.

Sources that are not based in any form of research.

As discussed earlier, accessing journal articles or academic publications can be very expensive, especially for English language teachers. However, it is not uncommon for professional publications to be based on secondary research, that is, research conducted by others. Such publications can be a very valuable tool for us because they are not based on one person’s beliefs or thoughts. Rather, they are based on research and evidence, which, in turn, allows us to reflect on the applicability of a certain task, idea, or approach to our own learning and teaching context.

Sources that provide you with ready-made lessons (and no framework to help you design your own sources).

Even though ready-made lessons are very useful, especially for busy classroom practitioners, there is a danger that colleagues might end up giving the odd token lesson every now and then. Indeed, while every attempt to address inclusion, or lack of, is a significant one, it should be noted that token lessons can potentially contribute to the stigmatisation of certain identities. It is necessary to adopt a more holistic approach which extends beyond the single odd lesson. As such, it is important that we consult sources that encourage us to develop such an approach and apply it to all materials, the ones we design but also the ones that are publicly available.

Perhaps, at the heart of this post is an attempt to encourage colleagues to engage with the issue of inclusion and inclusive practices in a meaningful manner, to congratulate those who are already involved in this complicated but important mission, and to promote research and evidence-informed approaches.

Best Regards,