Bug Out Bag!

Bug Out Bags are big business – particularly in The USA. If you’ve not heard of them before, here’s what Wikipedia has to say…

  • A Bug-Out Bag is a portable kit that normally contains the items one would require to survive for seventy-two hours when evacuating from a disaster, however some kits are designed to last longer periods of time than just 72 hours. The focus is on evacuation, rather than long-term survival, distinguishing the bug-out bag from a survival kit, a boating or aviation emergency kit, or a fixed-site disaster supplies kit.

Many TEFL coursebooks have some sort of survival task, with students choosing their top items to take with them. I made a few adaptations in order to give students an audience and a task with a meaningful, real-life outcome.

I was very sad to hear about two recent earthquakes in the south of Japan, and immediately concerned for my friend Caroline who lives there. Thankfully, she was well away from any damage, but chatting about it afterwards she told me the quakes reminded her that she wasn’t at all prepared for a potential disaster.

I have a class of 10-11 year olds who have recently been corresponding with Caroline and learning about Japanese culture, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for a real-life task-based class.

Set up 

I asked the students if they’d heard anything in the news about the earthquakes and reminded them of my friend in Japan. I told them about my conversation with Caroline and what she said about being underprepared.

I showed them a picture of a Bug Out Bag and elicited what it might be. Then I gave them the definition above and checked that everyone understood what it was. In small groups, I got them to pool some ideas of what to put in the bag and then they wrote them on the board (drew basic images) and compared ideas with other groups.

Tip: This is a great opportunity to deal with emergent language!

I also fed in some other items that I thought might be useful using images and a video… What would you choose???


The task

Once the group has brainstormed plenty of vocabulary, it’s time to decide what to put in the bag. Here’s where the teacher needs to control interaction and set boundaries, and this will most probably depend on how your group works together. Mine, for example, enjoy debate but are very stubborn and it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to get everyone to decide on one list.

Instead, each student made a list of their top 10 items, and a short note of why they’d chosen each one. When we’d done this, we debated as a class with me acting as an arbitrator, playing devil’s advocate and making sure everyone got a chance to have their say.

Tip: This is a good point to focus on or feed in a language point if you have one. For example…

  • Conditional structures: “If we take the flare gun, we can….”, ” We won’t be able to survive for long unless we take the…”
  • Discussion language: “Good idea!”, “That’s a crazy idea!”, “Just listen for a second!”
  • Suggesting language: “Why don’t we…”, “How about we…”, “Surely we should…”


The outcome

Each student wrote a short letter to Caroline with their advice on what she should put in her Bug Out Bag (you could of course have students do this collaboratively). I took some pictures and sent them off via Whatsapp. Hopefully we’ll get a reply soon!



This type of task-based activity lends itself to lots of different situations, all with the same basic structure…

  • You’re stranded in the desert! What do you salvage from your wrecked plane?
  • There’s a zombie apocalypse! What do you need to survive?
  • You’re going on a group camping trip! Who’s going to take what?

Experiment with it and let me know how it goes!


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