Posted 30/4/11
The text from this clip is the main ingredient of this lesson plan which addresses listening/reading skills and register – perhaps suitable for exam preparation classes. The video itself is not an essential part of the activity although it can be.
  • Language level: Intermediate (B1) +
  • Learner type: Teens; Adults
  • Time: 60 – 90 minutes
  • Activity: Listening; Writing
  • Topic: Housework; Listening & reading strategies
  • Language: Describing a process; Register (formal vs. informal)
  • Materials: Worksheet
Washing clothes pdf [downloaded 3922 times]

Lesson plan outline

  1. Write the following items on the board:
    • Different groups
    • Somewhere else
    • Lack of facilities
    • Complications
    • Mistake
    • Appropriate places
  2. Tell students that these words and phrases have come from a scientific text. Ask students if they can guess what the text is about.
  3. Tell students that you are going to read the text to them and they have to work out what it is about. Slowly read out the following text:
  4. The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient, depending on how much there is to do.

    If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step. Otherwise you are pretty well set.

    It is important not to overdo things – that is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run, this might not seem important, but complications can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive as well.

    After the procedure is completed, one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then they can be put into their appropriate places.

    Eventually they’ll be used once more and the whole cycle will have to be repeated. However, that is a part of life. So how do you do yours?

  5. Your students will probably stare at you blankly. Ask them if they would like to hear the text again. If so, read it a second time, again without telling them what it is about. Clarify any unknown language and write it on the board as you go along.
  6. Ask students for their answers. Alternatively, ask them to write down their answers without shouting them out. Read the text a third and even a fourth time if necessary. This is an exercise in intensive listening.
  7. If students are still unable to identify the topic, play hangman with the following grid:
  8. The text is about _  _  _  _  _  _  _        _  _  _  _  _  _  _

    (Answer = washing clothes)

  9. Ask students why the activity is so difficult. Tell them that there are at least three reasons and do your best to elicit and discuss them:
  10. I Lexis: Words, expressions and lexis that are associated with washing clothes have been avoided. This makes it very difficult to infer information.

    II Register: Listeners are told that the text comes from a scientific paper and the register of some of the language is formal (procedure, sufficient, lack of facilities, complications can arise). We probably wouldn’t expect such a text to be about the trivial topic of washing clothes. This is misleading.

    III No schema activation: Students were not told beforehand what the text is about. This is a very unnatural way of doing things. Usually in life, we are given an initial framework within which we can place the information that follows.

  11. Give out copies of the Worksheet (contained in the PDF download) and ask students to complete task 1.
  12. Let students share and compare their ideas before going over the answers (contained in the PDF download).
  13. Ask students to do the second task on the Worksheet. – to rewrite the text in informal English so that it sounds more natural.
  14. Let students compare their texts and allow them to make any changes to what they have written.
  15. Read out the informal version of the text below. Read it as many times as your students want. Let students compare it with their own versions and discuss choices.
The procedure is actually quite simple. First you sort your laundry into different piles, for example, whites, colours and delicates. Of course, one pile might be enough. It depends on how much there is to do.

If you have to go to a laundrette because you don’t have a washing machine at home, then that is the next step.

Don’t put all of your laundry in the same machine. In the short run, this might not seem important. But if you mix your loads, you could end up with pink shirts that are supposed to be white. Mistakes like these can be expensive.

When you have finished, sort your clean clothes into different piles again – underwear, T-shirts, socks, for example – and put them back in your wardrobe or drawers.

Eventually they’ll be used once more and the whole cycle will have to be repeated. However, that is a part of life.

Variations and Follow ups

  • Brainstorm language related to washing clothes (laundry, laundry basket, washing machine, laundrette, whites and colours, detergent, conditioner, washing instructions, spin, hang, dry, iron, washing line, clothes pegs, etc.)
  • Draw students’ attention back to the question: So how do you do yours? Ask them to write a detailed description of their relationship with laundry. If they claim not to do their own, they can still write about who does it, how often, details of the household system, reasons for avoiding it, etc.
  • Ask students to prepare housework questionnaires for each other.
  • Ask students to write about other household processes and procedures (washing up, making breakfast, cleaning the bathroom, etc). Encourage them to use scaffolding language from the washing clothes text.


The text in this activity is taken from the following paper:

Bransford, J.D., & Johnson, M.K. (1972). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 717-726.

Image references

Images taken from Wikimedia commons:

Posted 30/4/11

8 Responses to Washing clothes

  1. James Taylor says:

    What I really like about this activity is how it doesn’t spoonfeed the students, and builds their curiosity. I think it could also be used as a process writing activity, showing the learners how important it is to add specific and interesting language to their writing.

  2. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hey James
    Thanks for dropping by.
    Good idea about using the text for a process writing activity. I wonder if it would be too mundane a task for students to write about other household chores. Any ideas to spice it up? Prince William and Kate Middleton describing who takes care of their laundry while on their honeymoon perhaps?
    Sorry :-(

  3. Stephen says:

    Hi Jamie,

    I haven’t used this yet, but I think it will be great as part of a teacher training course to show teachers how to introduce language, reading texts and listening activities.

    Great find.


  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Stephen
    I used the washing clothes text and compared it to the lyrics of Roxanne (another Lessonstream activity: to demonstrate how we infer info. The lyrics of Roxanne do not explicity state that she is a prostitute. However we use our knowledge of the world to deduce it from key ideas in the text (put on the red lights; walk the streets for money; etc). The washing clothes text on the other hand has been written to obscure any language that would give the game away. I have had to deal with these topics when preparing students for exams.
    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  5. ania says:

    brilliant lesson! i must say when first had a look at the cover – “washing clothes” – i was a bit skeptical, thinking to myself “wonder how my blasé bunch react when i tell them we’re going to talk about laundry!”. however, when i saw the actual lesson and the video accompanying it, i knew that was it! it worked really well, and the group i did it with is really hard to please, so thank youuu! :)

  6. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Ania
    Yes it sounds mundane but it is a pretty good topic especially when students have no idea what it is about! Bybthe way, did you ever see this TED talk:
    Jamie :)

  7. C. Dechant says:

    This is just the lesson I have been searching for. It is such a clever idea and I congratulate you on it. I would, however, like to suggest including “topic sentences” in part III No schema activation.
    Thanks so much.

  8. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Carla
    Glad you found what you were looking for!
    Yes – a good idea to add topic sentences to the list. Thanks for that.
    Jamie :)