The Internet TESL Journal

The Love Clinic: Using Advice Columns in the Classroom

Richard Humphries
rick [at]
Kansai Gaidai College


The purpose of this activity is to improve students' reading and speaking (i.e. clarifying, relating a problem, offering advice, etc.) skills, and to offer an arena for cross- or intercultural exploration and to achieve this in an entertaining forum. The procedure has been used in mostly in college classes (occasionally in company classes and community center ones) and has always been enjoyed by the participants.



high-beginner/lower intermediate and up


Many newspapers in English speaking countries carry advice columns that deal with problems of love, growing up, etiquette, relationships, and so on (AKA as "Agony Aunt" columns in the UK). Readers of American columns are certainly familiar with "Ann Landers", "Ask Miss Manners" and others of this genre. Although the advice, reflecting changing social mores, does vary over time, it cannot be denied that such columns are culturally loaded and offer an interesting type of material to use for cultural exploration and discussion.

Although most any type of advice column would have served the purpose, I was able to obtain some samples (if dated somewhat from 1983) from a Kenyan newspaper column entitled "Ask Zesi", which I use in class. The questions asked, and the advice offered betray hints that in Kenyan society at that time, polygamy occurred and that couples would sometimes have children before determining whether to proceed with marriage.


1. Reading For Comprehension/Reaction Follow-up

2. Student Love Clinic


After a short break the second part of this activity was embarked upon. Clinics were set up in the classroom using the desks and chairs available. Each clinic was composed of one chair with a desk-behind which the "doctor" would sit-and six or seven chairs set around the desk in a semi-circle. These chairs were for the patients. This activity could therefore be adapted to any size class, with large ones presenting no problem at all.



Students appeared to enjoy the activity immensely, especially the "Love Clinic" and if anything, it was difficult to get them to stop. The types of "love problems" that they came up with were occasionally commonplace, and perhaps even reflected upon their real experiences (e.g. There is a handsome/beautiful student whom I like but I am too shy to approach, etc.). More often than not, they vied to come up with truly, in their eyes, bizarre problems such as (by one young lady) "I am deeply in love with my younger brother". Perhaps the strangest "problem" came from one college girl this year, who had previously been very quiet during the semester, but seemed to come alive during the activity. She said, "My husband and I have been married for two months and we have a six-month old child. I went to the store to do some food shopping. The store was closed so I came back early. When I got home, I found my husband in bed with his mother. Love Doctor, what should I do?"

At the end of class there is sometimes a discussion about the activity and whether such problems as they have mentioned are commonplace in Japan and whether these problems are publicly aired.

I generally use about 90 minutes for this activity, with equal parts for the reading/reacting and love clinic sections. It could be adjusted to run a shorter time but the students seem to enjoy it, particularly the "love clinic".

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. III, No. 2, February 1997