Using Funny English Signs In Class

I was so taken with a long list of funny signs in English which I found during my first term teaching that I brought them at once to my highest level advanced class, handed them out and said “Read this!“ They did. There were a few assorted chuckles, but nowhere near as many as I’d hoped for. Then, most of them looked at me expectantly and said “Okay..?” As in, what’s next?

Well, what was next? Nothing, the way I did it, which is mostly why this activity bombed.

Here are a few tips I now know and can suggest for lists like this:

First, don’t give two full pages like I did; give no more than five or ten signs per group.

Consider typing them up without information on where they were found – the students try to figure out where each one might be found. If they notice that the signs are funny, that’s a bonus; if not, don’t sweat it. That’s later.

After a short check that they have some idea about the meaning (by identifying within reason where they might be found), explain that the first one is funny because it means something other than what its author intended. Can they explain? See if together you can come up with the “right” way to say it.

[ “Entertaining a guest” can have sexual connotations, especially when it is a guest of the opposite sex and in the context of a hotel room. This sign is funny because it sounds like the hotel is suggesting people “do this” in the lobby instead of in their rooms. “Please refrain from inviting guests of the opposite sex up to your room; meet them in the lobby instead” would be better, if not as funny.]

Do another example together and then off they go. Save time and increase individual speaking time by having each student explain to a pair instead of one person at a time explaining to the class.

See some examples of funny signs and a related activity here.