It’s another one of what the Spanish would call a “noticia insólita” (which means unusual news, but it sounds better in Spanish!): the atheist advertising campaign on London buses that is spreading to other cities. This is one of those things that just can’t be ignored. As soon as I saw the video on the news and the reactions it was provoking I started getting ideas on how it could be used to spark discussion in class. Six ideas, actually.
1. Play “Guess the word”. Write on the board the following: There’s probably no ______. Now stop worrying and enjoy your _____. Ask students to suggest different words that could go in the slots. At the end, once the words have been guessed or you tell them ask them what they think of the quote. Then explain the backstory.
2. Focus on word order. Give the following words jumbled up in two groups. no there’s God probably / stop enjoy and worrying life now your. Ask the students to form two grammatically correct sentences. Accept all grammatically correct sentences. Then ask them what they think of the quote. Explain the backstory, or give it to them to read.
3. Teach adverbs. Use the sample sentence to focus on adverbs like probably (sometimes called adverbs of certainty). The others are certainly, definitely (watch the spelling on that one!), undoubtedly (there is no doubtedly), surely, possibly. Worth mentioning that they usually come in the mid-position in the sentence. You could use the slogan as one of your sample sentences, and ask students to speculate why the authors used “probably”. Could also lead to a talk about the other way we express certainty in English, through modal verbs (e.g. There’s might not be a God.) Interesting to follow this up with the slogan writer’s reason for including “probably”.
4. Read reactions. If you go to one of the news sites running this story they will almost certainly have a comment section at the bottom of it. Collect a few of the reactions to the story – a balance of in favour and against reactions. Put them on a worksheet and distribute this to the students. They first identify the position of the writer, then discuss which ideas they agree with.
5. Have a general class on world religions. By this I don’t mean a discussion on whether or not God exists, but perhaps more of a reading class on different world religions – matching different facts to different religions for example.
6. Have a discussion on advertising. Use this ad as a starting point for a discussion on advertising. Areas you could make questions for would be: where can/shouldn’t people be allowed to advertise? what are some of the best ads the students have seen? and the worst? is this ad suitable? are religious ads suitable?
WARNING: using the atheist bus in class could be controversial and perhaps even illegal, depending where you are teaching. I leave it up to you to decide whether or not it’s appropriate. Even if you think it is, it is potentially a hot topic. I’ve written stuff on using hot topics in class with Scott Thornbury, you can read some tips here.