Yes or no? The Indy Ref for ESOL learners



Anyone over the age of sixteen who is resident in Scotland can vote in September’s referendum on the future of their country.

Yet a couple of months ago, when I broached the subject with my ESOL learners, many of them were unaware they had the right to vote. Others knew they could vote, but were not planning to. Some felt there was “no point” or that, as foreign nationals, they did not have the right to “interfere” in such an important decision.

I disagree. I think that, as ESOL tutors, we should take every opportunity to gently encourage our learners to use their vote and voice in this referendum. As people who enrich our cultural and social life, contribute to our taxes and meet our nation’s skills shortages they have more than earned the right to shape the country’s future too.

If you’ve been following the debate you will realise its complexities. Every day we are bombarded with wordy economic and political arguments by both campaigns on television, newspapers and social media. These arguments are not just economically complex: they are often linguistically tricky too. I have spoken to many L1 English speakers who admit they are sometimes “at a bit of a loss” to know where they are. As in any political campaign, both sides use emotive language and scare- mongering techniques, with both sides, for example, being accused of negative campaigning.

The Scottish referendum is not only a fantastic opportunity to engage your learners in political debate; it also brings with it a wealth of language learning opportunities. It should not (and I’m sure this goes without saying!) be used as an opportunity to indoctrinate learners with your own political beliefs though!

Here is a referendum focused discussion activity you might like to try with your ESOL learners.

  • Central to the debate is the question of Scottish identity versus British identity. The subject of national identity can be a great starting point for class discussion. Here’s how I went about doing this:
  • Draw a Venn diagram on your board and divide the class into two groups.



  • Ask one half of the class to brainstorm words and phrases they associate with “being British”. Ask the other half of the class to do the same for “being Scottish”.
  • Now bring the two groups together. Learners should read out their suggestions, and as a class you should decide with belong in the “being British” part of the diagram, which in the “being Scottish” and which ones overlap.
  • Using the information in the diagram ask learners to write sentences about “being Scottish” and “being British” and use these sentences as the starting point for a debate.
  • Prompt your learners with questions like: Do your sentences tell you anything? What is a national stereotype? Do you think your sentences are national stereotypes? What is nationalism? Is nationalism positive or negative, in your opinion?

I’m hoping to do a few lessons on this subject over the coming weeks – if you know of any good activities on this subject I’d love to hear from you!

* Of course, it helps a lot if, like me, you haven’t yet made up your mind!

photo credit: <a href=””>Cath in Dorset</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

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One Response to Yes or no? The Indy Ref for ESOL learners

  1. ‘Topical Talk – Scottish Referendum’ A new ETG speaking/reading resource that helps students to find out about the Referendum for independence – taking place September 18 2014. Will Scotland become independent?

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