Irritable Concall Syndrome | A structured-sharing activity





Like most of my Ss, my meetings usually happen over the phone. So, when I saw the first of these strips, I knew my Ss would find it as amusing and close to home as I did. Here’s a 30 minute activity for reviewing common issues that hamper productivity on a conference call as well as addressing these problems using some formulaic language.  You might want to follow it up with a conference call simulation.


Printouts of these Dilbert comic strips for each group.


Make enough copies of the comic strips for each group of three or four Ss. Blank cards (I recycled old unused certificates by cutting them into four pieces and stapling two together with the blank sides facing out).


  • If your Ss are unfamiliar with Dilbert, you might want to preface it by showing them a brief animated sample from Youtube and pointing out the satirical humour that Scott Adams uses to lampoon modern corporate life.
  • Divide Ss into groups of four and distribute the comic strips to each group.
  • Ask the groups to think about the conference call irritants that underlie the humour in each of these comic strips and discuss whether they have experienced something similar on their own calls.
    • Strip 1: Background noise, not being on mute
    • Strip 2: Low turnout, compulsively being on mute
    • Strip 3: Technical problems, poor planning, bad acoustics
    • Strip 4: Multitasking, not paying attention
  • Now ask Ss to think of at least seven other irritants or problems or issues commonly faced on conference calls. Distributes cards and ask Ss to write each irritant legibly on a separate card.
  • Collect all the cards and shuffle them.
  • Redistribute them, handing out seven to each group.
  • Ask Ss to read the problem and come up with a (here’s the hard part) communication or language solution to the issue. For example, if the problem is background noise,  you might say to your concall attendees “Could you please put yourself on mute if you’re not speaking? or “Could I ask everyone except the speaker to go on mute?” 
  • Collect all the cards and shuffle them again. Redistribute them.
  • Now ask Ss to look through the responses and consider on a scale of 1 to 5 how polite they are and appropriate in a business situation which may involve managers, clients and other key stakeholders. If they rate anything less than four, ask them to tweak the response to make it sound more professional, while also correcting any language errors.
  • Have Ss share the concall irritants along with the suggested responses.

The lady in the stole | An insta-reading activity


No one reads is the old complaint and yet everyone is constantly reading on social media. I’ve been listening to folks like Shelly Terrell talk about leveraging social media for writing and reading activities and not really been doing anything about it. So here’s an attempt. I’ve been following a journalist named Anushree Fadnavis on Instagram for a while. She takes intriguing pictures on Bombay’s infamous suburban trains, mostly in the women’s compartments. And there are always short and often compelling stories that accompany these pictures. While the language isn’t perfect, it’s most certainly authentic. This is a reading activity based on one of her insta-stories that moved me


In class, you’ll need to display the photo from Instagram which can be accessed using this link. If you don’t have a connected classroom, you may need to take a screenshot beforehand. If your Ss are on Instagram, you might consider getting them to go directly to the photo on the app. Anushree’s Instagram username is anushree_fadnavis. Or you could share the link through a mobile chat app like Whatsapp.


You’ll need copies of the story that accompanies the picture if Ss can’t access it on their phones.


  • Display the picture. Alternatively, ask Ss to access the photo on Instagram without scrolling down to read the caption.
  • Get Ss to work in small groups to come up with as many predictions as they can around the words who, where, when, what and why.


  • Give Ss the hashtags (#traindiaries #train #Mumbai #mumbaidiaries #dailylife #dailylifeindia #everydaymumbai) that accompany the image and ask them to refine their predictions.
  • Facilitate a whole class discussion on Ss’ predictions.
  • Ask Ss why they think the woman in the picture has covered her face with a stole.
  • Distribute the story and ask Ss to quickly find out why the woman has covered her face.


  • Ask them to read the story again and find three things that will stay them for a long time because they found it shocking or disturbing or moving.
  • Get Ss to share these three items with a partner and consider whether their perception of Kavita changed after reading about what happened to her.
  • Ask Ss to close their eyes and imagine that they are on the train with Kavita and follow her as she goes from compartment to compartment, hawking her wares.
    • What is she selling?
    • Does she say anything to the passengers?
    • How do the passengers treat her?
    • Does anyone talk to her?
  • Ask Ss to write down their observations in the form of an Instagram diary entry with hashtags. Encourage them to read the original story again as they do this.
  • As homework, ask Ss to find out if there any social media campaigns they can join to support the victims of acid attacks. Incidentally, Sapna Bhavnani has started a safe space for acid victim attacks in Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) called Sheroes’ Hangout and has a book donation drive on Instagram.