Advice column activity

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The following is a communicative or interactive activity for lower to intermediate levels; it was originally designed for first-year college students in a general English course. Teachers can have students write out and/or verbally give advice in pairs or groups, and follow-up class sharing or discussion can be done. This is designed particularly for:

  • Modal verbs, e.g., for advice, suggestion, necessity
  • Pragmatic hedges or softeners, e.g.,. "maybe you could..."
  • Hypothetical or conditional sentences

Advice column

Work with a partner to decide what kind of advice you would give to the person in this situation.


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I'm a parent with two young children. I've always believed that spanking children is a good way to discipline children and control their behavior. But I've heard several friends of mine and some psychologists say that spanking children is harmful, teaches them violent behavior, and even is abusive. What do you think?

— Parent in Pittsburgh


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I'm a college student. I'm lonely and would like to get a boyfriend. But my acne is so bad, and my face is always covered with lots of big pimples. Whenever I try to ask guys to go out with me, they reject me. I just know that they don't like me because I'm so ugly. What can I do??

— Lonely in Lexington


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

There's this really strange guy in one of my college classes. During class he always looks at me. Whenever I see him outside of class, he gives me a stupid smile and tries to talk to me. Sometimes he even follows me after class. I know he likes me, but he does this so often. It makes me feel nervous, even scared.

— Followed in Philadelphia


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I'm a grad student, and I have a really terrible advisor. He always gives me too much work to do. I don't have any time to see my friends or do anything fun, because I have spend all my time in the lab working for him. But there aren't many other advisors in my department; if I want to work on the things that I like, I have to work under him.

— Overworked in Ontario


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

There's this woman in my class at college who is always trying to ask me out. She's kind of cute, though she has an acne problem. But she has really bad breath. I like her and I know we have some similar interests. I would be interested in going out with her, but her breath is so bad. I can't just tell her about her breath problem — that might hurt her feelings. But someone needs to tell her about her problem. What should I do?

— Confused in Kentucky


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I have a new neighbor. I don't know him, but he seems pretty strange. He has a camel, which he always keeps in front of his house. The camel is always making noises, even at night. It attacks my dog. And it spits at me whenever I walk by his house. I've complained to this neighbor, but he ignores me. What should I do?

— Irritated in Illinois


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I've been married for seven years now. After we got married, my wife started arguing with me all the time, then she became aggressive toward me, and later she started beating me. Now whenever I come home from work, she starts an argument, and beats me with a broom, or with pots and pans. What should I do?

— Beaten in Birmingham


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I am an alien from a far-away planet, and I've lived in the US for four years. People always make fun of me because I'm different. They make fun of my English. I feel frustrated and stupid because I can't communicate well. I have few friends here. I want to go back home, but I can't go back, because my planet is too far away. What in the world can I do?

— Depressed in Detroit


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I'm a graduate student, and I seem to have a problem with coffee. I drink a lot of it. First it was a couple of coffees at home every morning. Then I also started drinking coffee from the vending machines at school. Then coffee shops. Then decaf at night. My daytime drinking went from the coffee-of-the-day at the coffee shop to espresso, to double and triple espressos. Now I'm drinking coffee at least ten times a day. I'm always nervous. But I can't stop it, because if I don't drink enough, I feel tired or irritable, and I can't concentrate. What do you think I should do?

– Caffeinated on Campus


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I just moved into a new house with my wife and my pet camel. My camel is a beautiful animal, clean, well-behaved, and dependable. I ride him everywhere. But for some reason, my neighbor hates camels. She always shouts at my camel, throws things at him, and complains to me angrily about him. So my camel is depressed, and won't eat anymore. What can I do about this awful neighbor?

— Angry in Illinois


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

I have a problem with my dog. You see, my dog is a talking dog. Most people would think it would be great to have a talking dog. But not this dog. At night when I'm trying to sleep, he's talking on the phone all night, or singing Bon Jovi songs. When I want to watch X-Files, he insists on watching CNN together and talking about the news. He corrects my English grammar. When I take him for a walk, he insults strangers who are nearby, and they think that I'm insulting them. This dog is driving me crazy. I've tried talking to him, asking him nicely, explaining things to him, as well as scolding and punishing him. But he never changes. What can I do about him?

– Losing patience in Louisiana


Dear Ms. Know-It-All:

Whenever I'm working at the office, the woman next to me is always talking. She talks to herself all the time while she's working. It's annoying enough that she bothers us like this. But she also tries to talk to me while I'm busy. Many times I have to concentrate on my work at the computer. Suddenly she starts trying to talk to me about trivial or stupid things. She says that she's lonely and has to talk to herself and others. But it interferes with my work. It not only bothers me, but everyone else. We try ignoring her and asking her not to talk, but she just won't shut up. What can we do about her?

– Annoyed in Alabama