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“A man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.”
— Euripides (485-406 B.C.E.), ancient Greek playwright
Why use consumer product reviews as a teaching tool? How does this exercise benefit English language learners? Which skillsets are strengthened as a result?
The giving and receiving of gifts has become a central feature of Christmas, Hanukkah, winter solstice and New Year celebrations. We live – for worse or for better – in a consumer age, and English language learners around the world share in this winter shopping spree. Product reviews allow them to talk about their gift selections and holiday gifts. Plus, being a savvy consumer remains a critical adult life skill.
“You are what you have”
Teaching high school students possess many challenges, beginning with capturing and holding their interest. Personally, I have found teaching slightly older undergraduate students far more satisfying – and far easier. However, thanks to this practical exercise, I have had considerable success in university writing programs, college ESL programs, and even short term IEP summer programs. Product reviews have always been a hit!
Many ESL students, especially young, wealthy college students have also – literally – bought into the odd belief that “you are what you have”. Therefore, these experienced consumers often love to share their “insights” about consumer products; it speaks to their lifestyles, passions, and curiosity. Between Amazon reviews and the advent of apps like Yelp, it’s also never been easier for students to share their experiences and perceptions with authentic audiences beyond the English classroom.
As an ESL teacher, I use consumer product reviews to identify critical thinking skills and teach the difference between fact and opinion. The assignment lends itself to reviewing key concepts like “details matter” and “numbers add precision” while introducing hedging language. You can also review the grammar of comparatives and superlatives. Of course, engaging student interests also leads to better classroom discussions and more use of authentic language.
Giving a Product Review
Here is both my short assignment sheet and a product review worksheet for ESL students.
You have probably bought thousands of items as a consumer – and likely considered thousands more. You can’t buy everything, selecting only the products that best fit you and your lifestyle.
Choose a single product and prepare to give a brief product review. Your product review should include:
- a description of the product
- the way the product is used
- the cost of the product
- a comparison with other, similar products
- a recommendation to buy or not buy the product
- a reason for your recommendation
- a rating on a scale of 1-5
Product Review Worksheet
You can also design a very simple presentation form so everyone can provide peer feedback. This way, students receive written feedback on their product reviews from both you (the teacher) and their classmates. If possible, I also suggest videotaping the student reviews and posting them on a class website for both self and peer reviews.
Finally, I also encourage students to visit Consumer Reports and other websites to collect product information for reviews– and consider submitting their own on Amazon listings of their favorite products. Seeing their reviews circulated online or in print – in English – often gives students additional motivation to give a quality consumer review!
Do you let your English students write and deliver product reviews in class? How has it impacted their critical thinking skills? Which products had the best reviews? Worst? Share with us!