English at the supermarket: A writing activity to send you shopping

Clara Prado

Have you had problems finding a theme for writing or speaking exercises? Do you have a feeling that you have done it all? Then Clara Prado has the lesson plan for you. Drawing on her 15 years experience as an English language teacher, Clara shares a fun classroom activity to boost the confidence of students of all ages by talking about the English that they already know.

The idea for this lesson is to make your students take a second look at products they know well and use frequently. Using products from the supermarket here in Brazil, I designed a lesson where students had to choose which product was named better, based on the translation of the name.


1. Choose your audience: I worked with adult students, so I chose products I knew they would know. The goal of the activity is for students to realize that they can use words in English that they are already familiar with to boost their vocabulary.

2. Go to the supermarket (or use your normal groceries shop) and look for names and labels of products in English (I had no problem finding them). When you find 2 of the same products with the name in English (for example, 2 different brands of cereals or cleaning products), take a picture.


3. Make a simple presentation on the computer or print your photos to present to the class. Then, tell the class that they are going to see pictures of products that they already know.

4. Show each product 1 at a time. I started with a fabric softener and asked:

  • Do you know this product?
  • What do you think of when you think of this product?
  • Look at the label, the packaging  (and here you can even present the TV ad, if you want). What are they trying to sell you?
  • What do you think the product name means?


I then asked students to write down their guesses and they all had something to do with a ‘good smell’.

5. After revealing the true meaning of the product name focused on softness, the students thought the name was not part of the campaign of the company, that strongly focus on the smell of the softener.

6. After that, present the second brand of the same product and do the same as before. Ask students to pay attention to label and packing, but only this time tell them to write a sentence with the word.

7. Before reviewing their sentences, present the different meaning of the word, if that is the case. For example, could the word be used as a noun and a verb?  Give students time to adjust their sentences, if necessary.

Optional extra

8. After presenting the 3 pairs of products, ask students to choose a pair of products and answer the question: “Which named it better? Give reasons to support your answer.”

Students loved the activity so much that I had to go to the supermarket 1 more time and take additional photos to share with the class! Also, as a result, I feel that they are much more interested in discovering the meaning of words they use in English every day, but don’t really know what they mean.

If you’re interested in getting students speaking confidently inside and outside of the classroom, you might enjoy the live stream of our Let’s Talk Speaking event in which ELT experts discuss safe speaking environments.

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