Teaching English podcast: How can we teach difficult or taboo subjects?

Download the third episode, activity booklet, show notes and transcript from series 2 of our podcast 'British Council Teaching English'.

British Council: TeachingEnglish - series 2 overview

In our second series of this ten-part podcast series from the British Council, we try and provide solutions to some of the key questions being asked by English teachers around the world. Each episode explores a specific topic through interviews, a focus on recent developments and reports on British Council initiatives in English language teaching.

For each episode, an activity booklet, practical show notes and transcripts in English and Arabic are available to download at the bottom of the page.

Episode 3: How can we teach difficult or taboo subjects?

Teachers often ask to what extent they should be responsible for teaching challenging material in the classroom, for example topics such as sex, sexuality, racism, politics, religion and economic inequality. Given that in most teaching situations, teachers will have to teach difficult issues at some point, it is important to think about the best way to do this, in order to minimise any problems or embarrassment, and to maximise learning for the students.

In our interview, we talk to Rose Aylett, who tells us all about PARSNIPs, and suggests many innovative ways in which these issues can be managed in the classroom.

And in the field report, we go to Cardiff, in Wales, to hear about how the not-for-profit Oasis Centre discuss these issues with their refugee and asylum seeker clients.

Show notes

Each episode contains downloadable show notes. These include the following:

  • Ideas for how you could use the podcast in your teaching
  • Detailed notes with extra information about the contents of the episode
  • Useful links

Using this podcast for lessons or training 

  • You can download a transcript of the episode from the podcast homepage. To help you and your learners with preparation and language analysis, all words at the B2, C1 and C2 CEFR level have been highlighted.
  • There is an ‘activity booklet’ for this episode, which contains activities you can use in your classroom. The activities focus on speaking, listening, grammar and language. They are available in both pdf and in editable PowerPoint format, in case you wish to edit them to make them more relevant for your specific classroom.

How to listen or subscribe to the podcast

You can listen and subscribe to the podcast in the following ways:


  • Episode 3 audio file
  • Episode 3 Show notes
  • Episode 3 activity pack
  • Episode 3 Transcript

Production team

  • Hosts: We'am Hamdan and Chris Sowton
  • Producer: Elizabeth Dyer
  • Executive producer: Kris Dyer 
  • Arabic language consultant: Sawsan Abu Qare
Youtube Video


Submitted by Anna Rozanska on Fri, 01/27/2023 - 11:21

I was wondering how to tackle the PARSNIP issues with my A-level students, as I believe they are important and also, I sense they are interested in some of these at least. The standard curriculum topics (shopping, fashion, food and diet, travel, films and entertainment industry, sports, illness and health advice, living in a city vs. living in the country, environment) become boring at the end of secondary school. They've been discussed a dozen of times over the school years and there's ofen nothing more to be said. I think tackling a controversial topic might actually spark more interest in students and having a real discussion could be more beneficial for developing their language skills and vocabulary than rehearsing the familiar topics one more time. This podcast encouraged me to try it out in real life. We're starting winter break right now, but I'm bound to have a "PARSNIP" lesson with my late teens next term.

Submitted by Cath McLellan on Mon, 01/30/2023 - 15:36

In reply to by Anna Rozanska

Hi Anna

I agree that many older teenage students are interested in these topics, and often find them more engaging than the standard curriculum topics. They can lead to some very interesting discussions (and language!) Hope you get to try out some of these topics, and let us know how you get on.


TeachingEnglish team

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