The concept of Parsnips in ELT has always intrigued me. These are the things that you’re not supposed to talk about with your classes, the taboo topics that might get you into trouble or which your students might protest at. These are the topics that mainstream coursebooks leave out.
And for a very good reason – coursebooks are market dependent and they rely on economies of scale to make a profit. A coursebook that cannot be used in an entire region of the world because it touches on political issues that might offend ruling regimes means potentially losing money in sales. But this leads to some interesting omissions and to a one size fits all policy that essentially has us teaching to the lowest common cultural denominator. And to what someone once described as “in-flight magazines for the grammatically challenged” (Scott Thornbury I think…?).
Personally, I see no problem in touching on Parsnip topics in the classroom. The acronym stands for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, Pork. I think I’ve probably done lessons on all of these at one point or another and you can find at least two lessons on this blog involving pigs….
The key with anything like this is (a) common sense and (b) sensitivity. If, for example, you happen to be teaching English to the highest cadre of the ruling junta in the benevolent dictatorship of wherever, then a lesson on freedom of speech and the democratic principle might not be advised (although some would argue that it was the perfect opportunity). Equally, if you are teaching a lesson on a topic and notice the students are unusually silent, be prepared to ask them if they would prefer to do something else instead. It is not our job to force our opinions upon our students, but we are not doing our jobs properly if we deny them the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day.
If you do enjoy spicing up your standard ELT menu with the odd root vegetable, then help is at hand in the form of a new e-book: Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone (vol. 1). This ebook is free to download and is available in multiple formats (epub, mobi & pdf) and contains one lesson on each topic from a collection of authors including myself.
Not everything in it might be to your taste and if so, you can do what my children do with their vegetables – push it to the side of your plate and leave it for someone else to deal with! There is, however, enough in there for you to find something you like or to at least start you thinking!
The book has an accompanying blog where you can find some of the ideas from the book as well as a range of shorter ideas to stimulate discussion on the Parsnip topics with your classes: http://imagearies.com/wp-parsnips/.
If you try any of the lessons in the book, do let us know how they go! We’re always keen to get feedback on the ideas! Either leave a comment here or on the Parsnips blog.
Above all – have fun!