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[The importance of using puppies and kittens in class]

Patrick Fagan was walking down the street one day when he saw a homeless person selling ‘The Big Issue’. As he himself says (‘#Hooked’ – p. 40), on such occasions, he almost invariably walks past. On that day however, he did not. Not only that, he bought the issue (£ 2.50), gave the man a £10 note and told him to keep the change! Why?

The answer was simple: Bob. Bob is the lovely ginger cat you see here, and he proved just irresistible. Here is the full story (ibid – p. 41): James Bowen was a homeless drug addict who decided to kick the habit, moved into assisted housing and started selling ‘The Big Issue’. One day, he discovered that a cute ginger cat had found its way into the house. He looked after it and the cat took to following him around. James named him Bob.

James also did some busking and he discovered that with Bob by his side, people would stop to listen, they would talk to him, interact with the cat – and give more money. At some point, a friend suggested that perhaps James should write a book about himself and Bob. James did. The book sold 2 million copies in the UK alone! So successful was the book that it was made into a movie! (Check out the trailer below).

You may say: ‘OK – what does all this have to do with ELT?’ Well, don’t you want your students to be engaged? Don’t you want them to wax lyrical about your lessons? Cute attracts. Cute is memorable. Cute presses all the right buttons. There is a reason why puppies and kittens feature so prominently in ads – we love them! Cat videos generated 1.6 billion views on YouTube (and that was in 2012!); the cat channel mugumogu has 750,000 subscribers… I could go on and on…

So how can we use the power of cute in class? Here are three ideas (I am sure you can come up with many more):

  • Play this fantastic ad up to 0:34; get students to write what happens next, then play the rest of it ( https://bit.ly/3aIbXV4 ).

  • Get students to practice listening, by playing the ‘Dear Kitten’ ad. You can find the clip and a worksheet here ( https://bit.ly/2Q8NWwV ).
  • Ask students to prepare a presentation about their own pets – complete with pictures and videos.

Speaking about that last idea, one of my students is a lovely lady from Kazakhstan.  We have always had a good working relationship, but it had always been somewhat formal. Recently however, I happened to mention pets and she started telling me about her lovely puppy, Jason. That was it – she would not stop talking! Our lessons have never been the same since… 😊

The Moral: Use cute in class. Advertisers know what they are doing.