What happens to our returns?

Lesson plan overview

This ESL lesson is dedicated to the topic of returning products, especially online purchases, and what happens to the items we return. It is relevant all year round, but the holiday season in particular is the source of a big part of these returns. This lesson can serve both as a Business English and General English lesson as it tackles topics like online shopping, sustainability, consumerism, and logistics. You can combine it with the following video-based lessons: “Black Friday”, “Have a sustainable Christmas”, “Christmas marketing“, “Can you trust online reviews?”, “The business of St. Valentine’s Day“, as well as the worksheets “Phrasal verbs: shopping”, “Phrasal verbs: sales and selling“, and “Idioms: Black Friday (shopping)”.

Speaking: The lesson starts with a few conversation questions related to online shopping, holiday shopping and returning products. Then, students are given a list of factors they consider before making an online purchase, and are asked to put them in order of importance (e.g. competitive price, high customer reviews, fast and free shipping, reliable delivery, generous return policy).

Reading and speaking: Students take a look at different reasons why people might return the items they’ve bought online, and discuss whether they think this is a legitimate or a fraudulent/unethical reason, as well as which of the situations they’ve been in.

Speaking and vocabulary: Next, students brainstorm categories of products that are most likely to be returned, what customers might be eligible to receive when they return a product, and what might happen to the returned product. After that they take a look at different options and put them into the correct category.

Listening: Students watch a video called Return days: How does it impact the environment?, and answer 6 questions. After that they take a look at statistics related to online returns.

Speaking: the last 2 activities are focused on speaking: First, students engage in a post-listening discussion, and finally they discuss the pros and cons of 4 ideas of how to reduce online returns.

To revise the key vocabulary from this lesson, you can use the printable conversation cards.

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Teacher’s lesson plan

Student’s worksheet

Student’s interactive PDF

Conversation cards PDF

Pre-class activities

To send the pre-class activities to your students, copy the link below.


Vocabulary matching


The first time you watch the video, pay special attention to the correct pronunciation of the following words:

In fact, about 30 percent of items purchased online are sent back compared to just 10 percent of products bought in person at a brick and mortar store.
And those are hobbled by the supply chain crisis, too, and plagued by worker shortages, pushing the cost of a return up seven percent this year alone.
And as shoppers bear the hidden costs of returns, an estimated 5.8 billion tons of return packaging will wind up at landfills, generating a sobering 16 million tons of carbon dioxide.
How do you make it a little less environmentally damaging?

Comprehension questions

In-class activities

Teacher’s lesson plan
Student’s worksheet

Conversation cards PDF

Student’s interactive PDF

Additional resources

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