14. Edutopia

“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – BF Skinner

“All I learnt at school was how to bend not break the rules.” – Madness

Education is derived from the Latin educare – to lead out – but all too often it seems more like a process of content being drummed in! We’ve probably all looked back at some point in our careers and wondered about the relevance of the subjects that we studied at school. Did they prepare us to develop useful knowledge and skills later in life, or were some of them are kind of academic cul-de-sac? This task gets learners to listen to the opinion of a teacher and a headmaster; then students go on to consider which subjects and skills would be most valuable in a 21st-century curriculum.


  1. Begin by asking students about their school days – do they have happy memories of this time? Were school days “the best days of your lives” – or were you dying to leave? Dictate or project on a slide some questions like the following:
    1. Which subjects were your favourites?
    1. Which were the most useful to you after you left school?
    1. Are there any subjects that were not interesting or relevant to study, and why?

If you have time, students could discuss their answers to these questions in breakout rooms.

  • Back in the main room, collect some feedback on the discussion; now would be a good time to focus on the vocabulary of academic study, including the stress on the penultimate syllable in words ending with –ology and –ography.
  • Elicit/teach curriculum and skills. Briefly, ask the students whether they think that any different subjects could be on the curriculum nowadays – ones more suitable for the 21st century.  Tell students that they are going to listen first to a teacher embarking on his secondary school career (Chris) and a Headmaster (Alan) of many years’ experience talk about this topic. Which subject areas are mentioned and is there any overlap between the two speakers? If you need to play the audio more times, stronger students could decide if they agree with the opinions of the speakers or not.  Then have feedback in the main room. 
Chris (a teacher)
Alan (a headmaster)

The students can then go on to compare the teachers’ views with those of a school pupil. Ari, who is 16 and goes to school in Canada, recorded a short essay for us:

Ari (a school pupil)

Alternatively, here is one blogger’s idea of suitable subjects, which students could read and comment on:


Main Task (See worksheet): 

  1. Tell the students they are part of a focus group which is going to help the Ministry of Education design an ideal curriculum for the 21st Century. (The main task is organised along the lines of a “pyramid discussion”, and if you would like to follow this, you’ll have to intervene between Steps 3 and 4 here to give fresh instructions.)
  2. First, the students should use the worksheet to record their suggestions for which subjects – either traditional ones or more modern ones like digital literacy – should be on the curriculum. Allow students some time to think about their chosen subjects, and their reasons for including them. This is an individual stage.
  3. Now, in pairs in separate breakout rooms, they should compare their ideas with their partner, and decide together which are the subjects to prioritise.  Set a time-limit for this. Return to the main room to instruct Step 4.
  4. Students will now do a similar task in larger groups (depending on numbers). Following the pyramid discussion format, combine two of the pairs from Step 3 into a breakout room of 4 students. Tighten the parameters of the task, for example by asking groups to prioritise three subjects. Ask each group to appoint a spokesperson who will report back – this can also be done via the chatbox. Set a time-limit.
  5. Now conduct feedback in the main room, where you will agree an ideal curriculum, based on the students’ ideas. One option is asking the class to vote on the suggestions.

Follow-up / extension:

For the second part of the task, tell students that traditional examinations are now going to be replaced by different, more practical ways of testing the skills. For example, for digital literacy, students would have to design and write a podcast, integrated with another subject which would provide the content. Encourage the students to be as inventive as they like. Teenage learners could design their ideal school timetables and vote on the one that is the most balanced / appealing / fun. 

Language Focus: grammar

Modality: would, mightX would help to develop….; Y would be useful for ____ing

Modal auxiliaries + perfect infinitive for counterfactuals: That would’ve been useful for me, I could’ve done X, I might have gone on to study Y

Comparatives: more important than, not as useful as….

Present tenses (and adverbs) to describe the school system / necessary present day skills: people very rarely X nowadays; X is changing in that….

Future forms: people are going to need to…; I don’t think Y will be that important in ten years.


To begin with, the lexis of the different academic subjects, including characteristic stress patterns for – ology, – graphy, -ics, -ery;

Stating your opinion and reacting – The thing is, Seriously? I know, right?; I’ve found X + evaluative adj (useful).

Collocations with skills – e.g. essential/21st Century/practical/ life skills; improve your skills in X, lack the skill to do sth; 

Collocations with knowledge – e.g. useful, technical knowledge; lack the knowledge to, a lot of knowledge about X, a good knowledge of Y. 

Specific educational lexis e.g. Curriculum/subject areas, meet the required standard, final examinations, go on to University.