Using Superstitions for Practicing Cause-Effect Phrases

As we all know, our classes do not provide enough time for students to practice English. Therefore, we hope they will use it outside the classroom whether they live in an English-speaking country or in a so-called EFL environment. Whereas the former option provides many more opportunities for the meaningful use of English beyond the classroom, the latter definitely puts certain constraints on how much the target language will be used.

However, we, teachers, can help our students to use more English outside the classroom by giving them homework assignments that would allow them to interact with other learners and native speakers of English, or consult with Internet resources.

Today, I wanted to share the idea that I used in my beginning writing class for teaching students about cause and effect phrases. You can easily adjust this activity for a speaking or a grammar class, too.

As a homework assignment, the students receive a list of the most common superstitions in the United States (I taught this class in an intensive English program). You can obviously decide whether you want them to discuss American superstitions or ones from a different country.

Their assignment is to talk to a few native speakers about the meaning of those superstitions. If you are teaching in an EFL context, your students can still find someone to talk to (perhaps via email or Facebook) or they can look for this information online. I also encourage the students to have a little conversation about those superstitions, that is, to discuss whether or not the person believes in any of those superstitions and why. After the students collect the meanings of the assigned superstitions, they write two sentences for each superstition: one expressing a cause and the one expressing effect. The objective for this writing task is to have students use cause-effect phrases introduced in class.

For example: You broke a mirror; as a consequence, you will have bad luck. You have bad luck because you broke a mirror. In a speaking class, this task could be a great warm-up for a classroom discussion or another speaking activity.

In a grammar class, you can use this task to practice if-clauses or when-clauses.

Here is the list of the superstitions that I used:

  • Breaking a mirror
  • Walking under a ladder
  • Opening an umbrella in the house
  • Finding a four-leaf clover
  • A black cat’s crossing your path
  • Crossing your fingers
  • Clothes worn inside out
  • The bottom of your feet itch


About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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