The Alligator River story

alligator-439890_960_720Earlier today I gave my students a version of the well-known story below.  The story is an example of a moral/ethical dilemma.


There lived a woman named Abigail who was in love with a man named Gregory. Gregory lived on the shore of a river. Abigail lived on the opposite shore of the same river. The river that separated the two lovers was teeming with dangerous alligators. Abigail wanted to cross the river to be with Gregory. Unfortunately, the bridge had been washed out by a heavy flood the previous week. So she went to ask Sinbad, a riverboat captain, to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would consent to go to bed with him prior to the voyage. She promptly refused and went to a friend named Ivan to explain her plight. Ivan did not want to get involved at all in the situation. Abigail felt her only alternative was to accept Sinbad’s terms. Sinbad fulfilled his promise to Abigail and delivered her into the arms of Gregory.

When Abigail told Gregory about her amorous escapade in order to cross the river, Gregory cast her aside with disdain. Heartsick and rejected, Abigail turned to Slug with her tale of woe. Slug, feeling compassion for Abigail, sought out Gregory and beat him brutally. Abigail was overjoyed at the sight of Gregory getting his due. As the sun set on the horizon, people heard Abigail laughing at Gregory.

This is what we did with it:

Students read the story silently. Then I read the story out loud and sketched a plot diagram on the board. After reading, I paired the students up and asked them to rank the five characters in the story beginning with the one they considered the least offensive and ending with the one they found most morally repulsive. I asked them to briefly note the reasons as to why they had ranked them in that order. Then I put two pairs together to work in a group of four. At this point, we had three groups. They presented their original orders within the group but they could rearrange them so that each member of the group was happy. Finally, we sat in a semi-circle and all the class had to agree on one, definite order.

6 pairs >>> 3 groups of 4 >>> class 

Before the discussion started, I put some functional language on the board which I asked the students to use as much as possible:

  • I think/believe/assume/suppose/conclude
  • In my view/opinion
  • From my point of view/viewpoint
  • As I see it
  • On the one hand/on the other hand
  • However
  • Having said that

Some of my random observations – ranked from the most scandalous to the most encouraging:

  1. We ran out of time (after 45 minutes) so I had to wind the activity up by making some of the final decisions. This, however, finally appeased some who hadn’t previously fully agreed with the group’s choice (“You see? I told you that Abigail is the worst of them all!”)
  2. Ss didn’t use much of the functional language. I had to tap on the board demonstratively a couple of times to indicate that the language should be used. Not that it helped a lot.
  3. Ss were so involved in the activity at times that they even used expressions such as Shut up!  I added a few phrases to teach them how to interrupt someone politely.
  4. They disagreed a lot within pairs/groups.
  5. Each pair/group came up with a totally different order.
  6. The students were still discussing the topic upon leaving the classroom.
  7. The students kept still in their places until the very last minute of the lesson (not usual on a Friday).
  8. The board was full of useful language.
  9. Ss loved the activity and were fully emerged in the task.
  10. I loved the activity and was fully emerged too.



In the following lesson, I projected the table below, which I had originally created for my own purposes. Having witnessed the heated debate, I wanted to find a rational solution to the dilemma myself. Later it occurred to me that it would be a nice way of summarizing a rather challenging topic with the class. Also, I felt that since moral dilemmas have no correct/right answers/solutions (and this one provoked a lot of disagreement among the students), it might be good to look at the same issue once again while staying cool-headed and rational. Anyway, another heated debate arose again but it turned out that most students hadn’t changed their mind at all. Hopefully, some new vocabulary was learned (cowardice, compassion, selfishness, detriment).


About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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