How to Avoid the Hobby Unit Brain Rot | Teaching English Abroad

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The hobby unit death and how I avoid it

Hobby Unit = Die a Little on the Inside

Let’s be real. Teaching ESL certainly isn’t rocket science and I would in fact argue that most of what I teach is not personally engaging to me. Almost every single textbooks has like the same 10 units: family, weather, hobbies, sports, TV, movies, around the city, blah, blah, blah. Then, when you teach that same unit for like the 50th or 100th time, even from different textbooks, it makes you want to die a little bit on the inside. I feel absolutely no joy whatsoever talking about hobbies anymore.

Here are the things that I don’t ever, ever want to hear again because I’ve heard them basically every single week for the past 10 years.

“Me-no hobby.”

“My hobby sleep.”

“I computer game play hobby.”

How can I Make my Life Better?

Anyhoo, what I’m saying is that in order to avoid the hobby unit death, and to make it far less terrible for me personally is to do this activity. Trust me. It’s far, far better to get students going on this than to try to engage the students who say the previous statements, or variations of them. Basically, students have to teach their classmates how to do something, whatever their hobby is. At the very least, it forces them to pick something that’s not sleeping or watching TV.

Here’s how to do the Hobby Unit Activity:

  1. Students choose something they know how to do well and write down 5-8 steps for teaching someone how to do it. I let my lower-level students write sentences and my upper level ones have to only write 1-2 words for each step and then expand upon it when they’re actually speaking.
  2. Put students in groups of 4.
  3. The first person teaches the group how to do their thing.
  4. Each group member must ask 1-2 interesting follow-up questions.
  5. The person “tests” their group to see if they remembered the steps.
  6. The next 3 people follow the same procedure.
  7. I follow-up by asking each group which member had the most interesting hobby.
  8. Then I correct a few mistakes.

Seriously, it’s Stellar

The students don’t hate it. It’s interactive. It’s student-centered to the extreme. It works on listening (and possibly writing). It uses follow-up questions. There’s an element of competition (who can remember the steps).

But, best of all, it just requires me to float around, supervising and not having to interact with students about a topic that I truly never, ever want to talk about in my entire life. I do note a few common errors to talk about at the end of the activity, so my time is not spend totally idle.

Hobby unit brain rot-I know you want to avoid it too. You can, my readers! Don’t despair. Serenity now!

Want even more ESL Teaching Awesome? 

Head straight over to ESL Speaking: Games, Activities and Resources. There’s lots more stuff like this, just far less ranty. Awesome ESL games and activities that will make your lesson planning easier and quicker, guaranteed.


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  1. Kathy

    While I think your ideas for the hobby unit are great, I am a bit surprised at your comment:” let’s be real. Teaching English is not rocket science…”. As a professional teacher currently taking my masters in Teaching English as an Additional Language, I find your comment underscores the skills and knowledge required to teach English as an Additional Language as well as undervaluing students’ rights to receive quality instruction.

  2. Horatio

    Hi Kathy, I think you’re missing the point slightly. Unlike many subjects languages are shockingly repetitive. The curriculum doesn’t change and you will find yourself teaching the same topics 100’s of times. In that sense teaching English is not rocket science. Over those 100’s of times it’s possible that you will make mistakes and you will find that something that worked for one class may not work for another. However eventually you will have repeated your classes so much the classes will become habit-like. You will spot the same cues and respond in the same way and get the same result. These habits will be so ingrained into your subconscious that you will no longer need to actively think about what you are doing. Of course you can have bad habits too. My point however is that you are correct at the beginning and during your masters studies teaching English seems complicated and you will feel the need to analyse every minute detail. However after several years you will no longer need to analyse everything and teaching will have become a habit. This is why it’s so important to mix it up every now and then and keep yourself on your toes. In this sense teaching English is not rocket science.

  3. I’m with Kathy (2 years later). I teach adults in a couple of community college districts in California, but I have taught in Korea. I am a professional and I spend a lot of time planning my lessons even after 17 years of teaching. I can’t imagine teaching the same thing 100s of times. I also can’t imagine teaching something to my students that bores me. Teaching English can be easy, but if it is, it means you’re not putting any work or creativity into it. How are students supposed to be interested if the teacher isn’t? However, I do like the ideas here, so I’m keeping them. btw, I never teach anything about hobbies.

  4. Steve

    I really liked this idea, and your approach to putting them up here, apart from the brain rot, die a little, kind of bitter comments (maybe I’ve just been out of the UK for too long).
    But I have to agree with Kathy and Alex. You do us all a disservice with such a comment about rocket science, and furthermore by trying to argue a point you indicate you are not open to criticism. Even if you do not agree, I’d recommend being grateful for the shared opinion and take some time to think about it.

    Thanks again for the great activity. I also have never touched hobbies since I was told shopping was one of them.

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