Mar 142010
I came across a video when I was hunting for material to use with the COO of a chain of Brazilian shopping malls. It proved so intriguing, that now I sometimes show it to other students, if I can find a way to work it in. So here it is - a contribution to the ESL/EFL Carnival of Lessons. If you have any ideas for extending it, please share. It's for upper-intermediate students.


Clicking on the picture of the shopping mall to the right will take you to the video.

(Viewers in the UK  may find they hit a copyright block, but they can find something similar here. UK :

Thanks for that link Laura!)

When your students have watched it, ask the logical question: how did he do it?

Students unfamiliar with Derren Brown may have difficulty believing it’s for real at first. You can assure them it is – or ar least, as I understand it, it really did happen.

OK, onto the dictation task. Explain to your students that they’re going to listen again and find out what he said. Then hand out the text below. Derren said something similar, but not quite the same. Their task is to spot the differences and make a note of them.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Pallisades Mall. We hope that your shopping experience is an uplifting one and I’d like to bring to your attention some very special offers today. Details of our special offers can be found by the elevators, so why not come right on up and see for yourselves. Our special offers will only be available for a short period of time, so all those customers wishing to reach out and grab this exciting opportunity should do so now.

For your reference, here’s what Derren actually said. Embedded (in CAPS) are hidden commands.

We hope that your shopping experience is an UPLIFTING ARM, and I’d like to bring to your PAY ATTENTION some very special offers today. Details of our special offers can be found HANDILY by the ELEVATORS, so why not come RIGHT ARM UP and SEIZE for yourselves. Our special offers will only be available for a short period of time, so all those customers wishing to REACH UP and GRAB this exciting opportunity should do so NOW.

So now your students are looking at what Derren Brown actually said: how do they think he did it?

The answer? Well, goodness knows really, but it seems shopping malls put us into some kind of trance where we become susceptible to subliminal messages. He mentioned at the start that:

  • the recording was prerecorded and played throughout the shopping centre for about half an hour
  • shopping malls are ‘the perfect place’ to find a large number of compliant people

Derren often seems to raise his voice for the embedded commands, and there’s a call to action in his final sentence – so he’s not just telling the shoppers what to do, but also when to do it.

(Sales people may be familiar with that technique.)


For a printable classroom worksheet with some vocabulary help and possible discussion questions, click here.

And if your students want to see more Derren Brown, they’ll find lots more to watch at youtube. For example:

Subliminal advertising      Paying with paper       Winning on a losing ticket Part one and Part two

 Posted by at 9:59 pm

  15 Responses to “A handy dictation”

  1. Great! I just watched the one where hs took a fella’s watch, wallet and house keys off him in the street, just by asking for them… the look on the the poor victims face when he got halfway down the road and realised what had happened is priceless.

    Some rich classroom material, too…. cheers!

  2. Oh thanks Darren. I’d forgotten that wallet video – it’s a gem. The link is here folks:
    Perhaps something for the next time we find ourselves teaching directions or directives?

  3. Excellent stuff, and very handy too as I have a student who last week spent the entire lesson relating everything to NLP, so this is a handy follow-up. It also makes me wonder if we can’t teach people English using the same tricks…

  4. Thanks Sputnik. Good point. Might some of his memorisation techniques, for example, help students (and me too!)?

    Derren Brown seems pretty cagey about NLP, but that might get your student going too.

    This from wikipedia:
    “In response to the accusation that he unfairly claims to be using NLP whenever he performs, Brown writes “The truth is I have never mentioned it”. Brown does have an off-stage curiosity about the system, and discusses it in the larger context of hypnotism and suggestion. In his book “Tricks of the Mind” he mentions that he attended an NLP course with Richard Bandler, co-creator of NLP and mentor of Paul McKenna, but suggests that the rigid systems of body language interpretation employed by NLP are not as reliable as its practitioners imply. He also mentions the NLP concept of eye accessing cues as a technique of “limited use” in his book “Pure Effect”…”

  5. Cheers for that Vicki. If they ever do become standard methods of teaching English, it would certainly make for a whole new dynamic in the classroom, or shopping centre.

  6. Ach, Vicki, I just sat down to do some important work and now I’ve spent the past half hour watching Derren Brown videos. I’ve seen them all before, but they’re still fantastic and what a great idea for a lesson. Perhaps we should include more subliminal messages in our blogs. [buy the books, buy the books] …

  7. Hi Vicki
    Just watched the video a couple of times, and now can’t put my hand back down. What should I do?

  8. Hi Vicki,
    I picked up your tip on this video when you first blipped it somewhere – thank you! – and my students just adored getting to know this magician. We didn’t do any activities, I don’t think, apart from recognizing the “arm” commands and talking things over, so your “same-but-different” dictation will get at some language nuggets we missed. That, to me, is always the challenge, that little added plus. Thanks again 🙂

  9. Oh no Jeremy! Reaching for my fob watch to swing back and forth to GET you BACK on track TO WORK. (We need your books)

  10. Evan- when I count to three and snap my fingers I want you to raise that hand for a high five – best chuckle today buddy!

  11. Thanks Anne! A lovely lesson you posted some time back that I only
    just picked up on was the Google search stories. Great idea – over at this address if you haven’t been there folks:

  12. Vicki,

    Saw your Pecha Kucha at IATEFL 2012 and now just stumbled across this completely by accident – now completely convinced you’re full of great ideas! Would love to be a fly on the wall in your classroom! I’m definitely going to use this video with my students – I bet they’d love it.

    One thing, though – the video link you mentioned doesn’t work in the UK (copyright block). UK viewers can find something similar here though:

    Thanks for sharing the great idea!


  13. Oh Laura, Welcome and great to hear from you!

    I didn’t know that the video link didn’t work in the UK and thanks so much for the link! I’ll add it to the post now!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.