“The past is always tense, the future perfect.” – Zadie Smith

lesson time: adaptable up to 60min, number of students: two or more, level: Intermediate – Advanced


For those of you who may know my style of lesson, I typically like starting with a quote and getting student feedback on what the author meant and if they agree or not. If you don’t like the one above here are two more that can get you started, otherwise skip this step.

“When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?”- Chuck Palahniuk,

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

We’ve never lived during a time like the present one we are in at the moment. It raises a whole bunch of questions about the way our society functions when thinking about hygiene, health, social distancing, risk, relationships and social interactions as well as plans(personal or business), monitoring of civilians(by government) and describing trends in the business and the economy. All these topics are open for debate and discussion during such times.

This lesson idea is a combination of others I have prepared on their own but have brought here together to fit the topic. The links above are other lessons ideas on building relationships, language for describing trends and how to practice the art of small talk. Additionally, you can combine this topic with the language for describing change lesson I created which is so relevant here.


social distancing:

greetings, kisses on the cheek, handshakes, high fives, hugs, chest bumping, hand gestures, personal space

health and hygiene:

hand washing, cleanliness, sanitizer, disinfectant, soap, lather, gloves, masks, immune to/immunity, prone to, contagious, infect, transmit, diagnose/diagnosis, boost (immunity)


adjectives describing risk: slight, great, minuscule, considerable, potential, immediate, high, remote, serious, negligible, significant, imminent, substantial, terrible, tremendous

verbs with risk: anticipate, calculate, eliminate, encounter, estimate, evaluate, face, foresee, gauge, identify, measure, minimize, prioritize, reduce, weigh up

Note: with verbs you can ask students to categorize the words into synonyms for PREDICT/MEET/ASSESS/MANAGE. With adjectives you can remove some of the letter from each word(2-3) and ask them to complete them. With adjectives it’s worth pointing out to students that many of these can collocate with CHANGES/DAMAGE/DANGER/THREAT as well.

Here’s video explain the vocabulary and topic if you need some guidance:

Talking about risk


Verbs: to build up, to break off, cement, cultivate, cut off, damage, develop, disrupt, encourage, establish, foster, improve, jeopardize, maintain, promote, restore, resume, sever, sour, strengthen, undermine

Adjectives: amicable, close, cool, excellent, friendly, stormy, strained

Note: Ask students to divide the verbs into POSITIVE and NEGATIVE meanings

Here’s a video I’ve made explaining the vocabulary and the topic lesson if you need some guidance.

Here’s another video I’ve made for teachers who might need guidance using this topic in a lesson:

Describing trends:

plummet, plunge, soar, tumble, leap, shoot up, slump, pick up, volatile, significant/substantial increase/decrease, slight or gradual drop/fall, go up/go down,steady, sharp, dramatic


arrange, organize, prepare, work out, devise, schedule, set up, draft, envision, foresee, expect, map out, go according to plan, plan goes up in smoke, aims, objectives, goals, targets

You can use spidergrams or wordclouds to brainstorm the words with students. Depending on the level you can pick and choose which words to cover. It is crucial that teachers involve students in the brainstorming of the words as much as possible. You can eliminate some of the letters in the words and ask students to complete the exercise to find all the words.


You can start by brainstorming the area of vocabulary you choose from the above options. Once you’ve done this and have the words on the board then there is time for pairwork/groupwork speaking, discussion and debate(highlight how we express our OPINIONS and write them on the board(FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE)). Change the pairs/groups frequently and make sure you get feedback from the class by asking individual students to report(GRAMMAR point) what was agreed on or disagreed on. It would help to have follow up questions based on the feedback.

Here are questions you can use(GROUPED BY TOPIC):

  1. How has the pandemic affected the way we greet each other? How is this different in different cultures, is there a generational difference?
  2. How easy/difficult is it to practice social distancing for you? Do you think it will affect the way we interact with people in the future? how?
  3. How has social distancing affected your relationships with friends, neighbors, colleagues or when in public? give examples
  4. What are the best things to do to stay healthy and boost your immunity? (sleep, vitamin C, social distancing, medicine etc.)
  5. How would you describe the affect the pandemic/lockdown and social distancing has had on relationships and why? amicable/excellent/cool/strained/stormy/friendly/close?
  6. How can we maintain/develop/resume our relationships with people during the pandemic and/or lockdown?
  7. How has the pandemic jeopardized/ undermined/ soured relationships? give examples and explain
  8. Are online tools effective in fostering/promoting/building up relationships with people? What are the difficulties and/or drawbacks?
  9. Does social distancing sour/undermine relationships? how? what can be done? explain
  10. What’s been the hardest life-change during this time? How can we arrange/prepare/devise/schedule/work out our plans during the lockdown in our personal lives and/or professional? What should our aims/objectives/goals be? give examples.
  11. Think about these topics: unemployment, price of goods, demand for specific goods(grocery items, hygienic items, alcohol, cigarettes etc), demand for specific services(cleaning, accommodation, dancing, insurance, travel, education, online learning/teaching etc.)
  12. Describe the trends related to the topics above, how fast are they changing and in what direction? Why is this happening, is it fear? lack of availability, uncertainty? justify your reasons.
  13. Describe the risks of infection or infecting others associated with these activities and say why:
  • Going to the supermarket
  • Going out with family for a coffee or drink
  • Going out with friends for a coffee or drink
  • Going out to eat/ordering food
  • Walking in public places
  • Using public transport (bus,metro,train)
  • Taking a Taxi, Uber, Bolt
  • Playing a sport or Training for a sport
  • Going to the shopping center
  • Exercising at the fitness center/gym
  • Walking along the beach/ in a park with others around
  1. What risks are ordinary people in society facing presently? and in the future? how serious are they? (joblessness, drop in earnings, financial uncertainty in general, poor health, healthcare costs etc.)

More on describing trends

It’s worth noting that this topic can be easily expanded by providing some graphs, visual stats and/or infographics. Depending on your class’ needs you can choose what is appropriate but this additional input helps students use the vocabulary, especially if you make it relevant to their country and the situation. Ideas for this (healthcare costs, unemployment benefits, insurance costs, consumer spending, price of gas, medicine, taxes, job loss etc.) You can find an entire lesson plan I’ve created here.

More advanced topics

If you have advanced (C1) or proficiency (C2) level students you can introduce similar vocabulary but ask more advanced questions in which they will need to justify their opinions to answer. This can be useful not only for any exam preparation courses like IELTS, or advanced Cambridge exam but also for business professionals you might teach for fluency.

  1. Some nations/governments have chosen to openly face the pandemic and allow widespread reporting while others have chosen a more conservative approach with releasing information to the public. Which approach in your opinion is more justified? Justify your answer with examples
  2. Are nations and governments to blame for not being prepared for such a pandemic? What can be done in future to prevent such a pandemic from occurring?
  3. What will be some of the consequences of this pandemic event? Think of societal(security & monitoring) changes, political(EU breaking up, populism), and economical.
  4. There is  speculation that security and monitoring of civilians by governments and potentially big corporations might begin to take hold. Is this a positive response or one that people should be worried about? why? explain. (using speculation)
  5. Will the enormous drop in air pollution from the lack of economic activity encourage world leaders and nations to take more serious action to protect the environment in the future? (future forms and conditionals)
  6. What kind of social groups will be immune to the economic recession? why? Who is most vulnerable?
  7. Governments have chosen different approaches to tackling the pandemic, with some taking immediate drastic action, while others more measured responses. Which in your opinion has been the better reaction(think of complete lockdown vs partial quarantine)?

Need more lesson ideas? Check these out. Want teacher tips and more practical lesson topic ideas? Sign up for the ‘Freshen Up Fridays’ newsletter and you’ll get much more.

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