Tips on Tips: Using Online Advice Columns

One readily available source of authentic material for the classroom is Dear Abby or any other advice column you can find online or off. Dear Abby has been a longtime favorite among Americans because the situations featured are either familiar or at least believable and understandable. The advice given is based on common sense and the need to respect ourselves and others. Most situations would be appropriate to discuss in an adult ESL classroom.

  1. Read and discuss. This is probably the most straightforward approach to an advice column. Read the problem. Predict the proposed solution. Read the solution. Express agreement or disagreement.
  2. Seek advice. Before showing the actual letter asking for advice, tell students that they are going to help a friend compose such a letter. On the board, summarize the main points and provide key phrases used in the actual letter. In pairs, students can compse a “Dear Abby” letter of their own. They can read their letters to the class and discuss the merits of each composition. As a class, read the original letter and allow for comparisons. Finally, read the advice and discuss possible alternatives.
  3. Give advice. Test students’ listening comprehension. Read the sender’s letter aloud. Students may take notes. Pose a few questions to check their understanding. In pairs, have students compose a response offering at least one concrete piece of advice. Provide prompts such as you ought to, why don’t you, etc.
  4. Imagine the follow-up. Read and discuss the situation and the advice offered. In pairs or small groups, have students imagine that the sender followed through with the advice. They can imagine a peaceful resolution, or they can pretend the problem escalated. Their imaginings can take the form of a dialog, which lends itself to dramatic reading.

Interesting topics recently featured:

  • Who’s Calling in Richmond, KY (7-26-10) – Advice on phone etiquette
  • Just Wondering in the Bay Area (7-26-10)- Advice on proper mourning period for a widower/ widow
  • Pulling My Hair Out (7-16-10) – Advice on parents saving money for their children
  • Nice Guy in New Jersey (7-12-10) – Advice on turning down romantic advances

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