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Traditions, Interrupted

by Natalie M. Ferguson | 25 Jul 2018
Resource Description: In this activity, students practice interrupting politely as well as story-telling and culture sharing. Students are asked to tell a story about a tradition in their family or culture, and other students are tasked with interrupting politely to ask for clarification or details. This activity always has my class completely attentive and excited to listen and share! It can also be a great "icebreaker" activity to help students learn about each other. 
Audience: Adult, Elementary, University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced, Beginner, Intermediate
Duration: 45-60 minutes
Materials and Technology: Polite Interruption Handout or other reference for polite interrupting phrases. 
Objective(s): Speaking, Listening, Description, Telling a story, Interrupting, Politeness, Cross-Cultural awareness
  • Students will feel confident interrupting in a polite manner.
  • Students will know how to handle being interrupted. ​
  • Students will feel proud to have shared their traditions.
  • Students will learn more about their classmates and teacher. 
Activity Description:
  1. Begin with the handout about "Interrupting Politely". Start with the discussion questions, asking students about their own interrupting habits, the interrupting norms for their cultures (and perhaps compare to your own, if different).
  2. Read through the worksheet with the class, have them read it on their own, or in partners.
    • As an option, you can then have them listen to a conversation in which people interrupt, or introduce a text for them to read aloud with a partner ​and encourage interruptions.​
  3. Now inform the class that you are going to tell them a story about a tradition in your family. Make it personal, if possible, or use a tradition from your culture. Here is my example: "When I was five years old, it was time for me to start kindergarten for the first time. My family took me to a nursery and showed me an area with a lot of small plants. They were trees. My parents told me to choose one of the baby trees. We took the tree home and my parents and I dug a hole to plant the tree, out in the backyard near where our chickens live. We planted the tree and put a plaque with my name on it. My parents told me that the tree represents my education, and as I grew through school, my tree would grow too. My sister also has a "kindergarten tree" in another part of our yard. Now, 20 years later, my tree is huge and strong just like my education."
  4. Now, ask them to review the handout about interrupting. Inform them that you are going to tell your story again, but this time, you want them to interrupt you. You CHALLENGE them to interrupt you! Make sure to emphasize that they should use the polite phrases from the handout.
  5. Tell your story again, perhaps more slowly this time to give them time to think of interruptions. 
  6. Now give them about 5 minutes to write down their own family traditions. 
  7. Ask them to share their traditions with a partner and interrupt each other as they speak. 
  8. As an option, ask a few students to share with the whole class, encouraging everyone to interrupt. 
References: Beare, Kenneth. (2018, June 27). Interrupting in English. Retrieved from
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TESOL Interest Section: English as a Foreign Language, Higher Education, Intensive English Programs, Intercultural Communication, Speech, Pronunciation, and Listening