B2/C1 – What’s the best seat on the plane?

By now pretty much everyone has been on a plane at least once in their lives. The feeling of booking the perfect seat based on our preferences is essential. Everyone can also relate to sitting on the plane and waiting impatiently to finish the boarding announcement, hoping that we will get to have a free seat (or maybe even a row) next to us. This reading and speaking class looks into the perfect airline seat and lets students choose the less of many evils to be their long-haul flight companion

Allow students to slowly transition from the spring into the summer with this fun, travel-inspired lesson plan for upper-intermediate/advanced students. This class focuses on developing speaking skills based on authentic material by Anthony Cherkas written for Business Class Experts. Scroll down to the end of the post to download the lesson plan and the worksheet with the adapted article for free.

Start the class by looking at the seat map of a plane and ask students to discuss their perfect seat. If you feel as passionate about the topic as I do, you can also provide your opinion. I believe that there is no better airline seat than a window seat. Yes, I’m a plane sleeper! Ask students to justify their choices by saying what they usually do and how they behave on planes.

Image from Seat Guru

Tell to pay attention to the seats marked on the seat map. Students work in pairs and think of the best places for the six types of travellers: a sleeper, a scared flyer, a family, someone afraid of turbulence, someone tall and someone with a quick connection. Gather some answers and reasons for each answer. Give students about 3 minutes to read the article and see if their predictions were correct.

The text isn’t too challenging, but some vocabulary items may require explanation (e.g. a long-haul flight, a bulkhead row, to recline, long-limbed, etc.) However, it shouldn’t hinder the overall understanding of the text.

Finish the text by discussing whether students agree with certain seats being better than others for a specific group of people. Would they consider the advice given in the article and implement it on their next travel?

Move to the speaking part of the class by discussing different types of travellers. Have they ever sat next to a traveller? What is the ideal passenger to have on their side? Read the typical FCE B2 speaking part 3 exam task and look at the five options, each representing a less than ideal travel companion. Students work in pairs and discuss the characteristics of each traveller (or group of travellers) and think about how they may behave on a plane. Once they have a list of advantages and disadvantages of each passenger, they need to decide which traveller would be the best to sit next to on a long-haul flight.

Proceed by asking standard opinion-based speaking part 4 questions related to air travel and the travellers discussed in the previous part. For example, Is it better to fly alone or with family/friends? Some people believe that flying is the quickest way of travelling. What do you think? Is it beneficial for airline companies to operate near-empty planes? Why?

What’s your ideal airline seat? Are you a sleeper or a hard-working businessperson? Do you agree with the points included in the article?

The science of attraction – C1 listening

February is such a cold month associated with such a warm day! In this class, let’s talk about the truth behind physical attraction to another person while following the audio version of a TED-Ed video. The video talks about the science of attraction and explains all the fuzzy, gooey feelings we may get when meeting someone new.

So it happened. I fell into a rabbit hole of TED-Ed videos! After basing an A2+ lesson plan on the Chinese Zodiac, I started wondering if I can find something to show to my students on Valentine’s Day. Initially, I wanted to do a scientific class explaining how the heart works – a young learners lesson plan. But then I found a video called The science of attraction and got hooked almost right away.

This year my main focus is on C1 Cambridge exam preparation. That’s why I thought I should turn this TED-Ed video into a CAE listening part 2 task. Scroll to the end of this post to get the lesson plan and the presentation (with answers) for free!

Start the class by writing in the middle of the board – Why are we attracted to certain people and not others? Give a minute to think about different reasons and take five answers from different students. Write them around the question, so that it resembles the speaking part 3 exam task. Divide students into pairs and give them 2 minutes to discuss and decide which of these options is the most probable and why. If you teach 1:1 or have a bit weaker group, you can present them with the diagram below to discuss. Collect answers and provide feedback.

Divide students into groups or pairs and ask them to think about the five main components of attraction. If you want to make it a bit easier or ensure that the answers don’t repeat from the lead-in, you can say that they are all related to the human body. Once everyone has their predicted answers, play the audio of the TED-Ed video. I would recommend NOT showing the video, as it contains a lot of visuals that will give away the answers right away and may be more distracting rather than useful. Play the whole video and check the answers. The answers are eyes (sight), nose (smell), ears (hearing), touch and taste.

Now would be the best time to go over any new words that students heard while listening for gist. If you think that none of the words should impede the understanding of listening for detail, you can move on to the next part.

If it’s the first time doing this type of exercise, you can explain that it is based on CAE – listening part 2, in which students need to listen to a longer recording and fill out the gaps with the missing words. Tell them that they should write between one to three words, and any misspelt words will not count to their point count. They should write what they hear – not synonyms!

Proceed by reading a short text with nine gaps. Give students about 40 seconds to read the text and then play the recording one more time. Students write down the answer and compare them with each other. In case of any issues, play the recording one last time, just like in the exam. Alternatively, you can show the video with the transcript for better understanding.

Follow up the video/recording with a short discussion. Do your students agree with the notion that attraction is purely biological? What about people falling in love over the internet? What does love mean to them?

Click the links below to download the files for free.

Valentine’s Day-themed C1 speaking

There are only a few days left until Valentine’s Day. Why not take a breather from exam preparation, and talk about something that all teens and young adults love – love. If you want to talk about romance and everything related, have a look at this no preparation Cambridge C1 exam speaking practice.

One of my favourite things to do is themed speaking exams. In my continuously growing series, you can find Halloween – B2 and Christmas – B1Finally, the time has come to give some fun to advanced students.

Just like any other Cambridge speaking exam, the one for CAE students is made of four parts – talking about personal details, picture comparison, discussion on a random topic and opinion-based questions. This lesson consists of the examiner’s speaking guide (I followed the steps given in the C1 Sample Papers 1) and a presentation that can be used in online and hybrid lessons.

I like to follow the steps of the speaking exam, but at the same time, keep it quite relaxed. If you want to keep it more formal, you can start this exam by asking students about their names and where they live. Even though in the actual exam students don’t need to spell anything, I normally start this task by giving them eight new advanced words. It’s a good way to introduce topic related words while refreshing the alphabet. The new words are: betrothed, courtship, devotion, embrace, heartthrob, smitten, yearning and woo. Students should be familiar with some of them. Finish this part by asking about Valentine’s Day experience and how people normally celebrate this day in their countries.

In part 2, candidates need to compare two out of three pictures and answer two questions in one minute. Of course, since it’s a special day, you may want to allow them to practise their fluency and natural speaking, instead of focusing on the time limit. The first set of pictures shows people celebrating Valentine’s Day in three different ways, having a romantic dinner, going hiking and going to a couple’s massage (a SPA day). Candidate A discusses why the people might be celebrating Valentine’s Day in these ways and how they might be feeling. The second set of pictures shows people receiving Valentine’s Day gifts, an engagement ring, flowers and chocolates, and breakfast in bed. Candidate B talks about why the people might choose to give such presents and how they may bring happiness to the gift receivers.

Now it’s time for students to talk to each other. Ask a question why do people may choose to decide not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, surrounded by five prompt answers: public display of affection (PDA), celebrating love every day, religion, consumerism, too expensive. Give two minutes to discuss the option and then ask students to decide which of these reasons is the most significant to them.

Finish speaking exam with opinion-based questions on Valentine’s Day. I tried to keep the questions as light-hearted as possible. After all, you want to have fun and not stress your students or create any conflict!

Since the topic of love and relationships can be quite controversial and intrusive, I think that choosing to do this class will depend on the country and its culture. I teach in Spain where discussing relationships isn’t problematic. Another thing is to keep it age-appropriate. I would suggest this lesson for teenagers and young adults – minimum 15 years old. Younger students may find it annoying, not relevant and intrusive. Remember that the main objective of this class is for students to have a day off, so if they choose not to answer a question (especially from Part 1), should be understood.

Click below to download the examiner’s notes and the C1 speaking presentation.

Cambridge CAE – Writing Part 2 (review)

Do you know of anyone who has changed the world for the better? Someone who has positively impacted society? Using a free CAE writing exam, we will discuss the topic and teach advanced students how to write a successful review. All while following the writing assessment criteria.

The other day, I was preparing an advanced lesson plan for one of my General English students. I usually look for inspiration all around and often go to my all-time favourite coursebook – English File C1.1 by Oxford Publishing. One of the units deals with book and film reviews and gives a wide range of vocabulary that can be used to describe them. That’s when I felt inspired to use this class and adapt it to my CAE student – a passionate acting student, interested in art, literature and films.

I want her to be engaged in the topic and at the same time, I want her to learn how to answer each part of the Cambridge exam successfully. That’s why I headed to the Cambridge English website and downloaded their free C1 Advanced Handbook for Teachers, which offers free exams and explanations for successful writing exams. I’m always up for using free official resources and adapting them to my class. I feel like this is the most insightful and reliable source you can find.

The lesson plan and the presentation with all the links needed to complete the class are available to download for free at the end of the post!

The lesson starts by showing posters of six impactful films and asking students about the people shown in the pictures and what they may have in common. I tried to include some classics (Schindler’s List), some oldies (Gorillas in the Mist) and some new films (Hidden Figures). All of them are quite well-known, and your students should have seen at least a few of them. The common factor is that they tell stories of people who had a positive impact on society. If your students watched some of those films, you can elicit examples of the ways in which they impacted society. Ask if they know of anyone else, famous or not, who also made/is making a difference in the world.

Show a picture of Audrey Hepburn and ask if anyone knows who she is. As the picture from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the most iconic in the world, your students should be familiar, at least with her image. Say that you’re going to watch a short video on Audrey Hepburn. Ask to predict who she was: Audrey Hepburn – an international m__________ s__________, f__________ i__________ and h___________. Watch the first 20 seconds of the video, Audrey Hepburn – International Superstar, Fashion Icon, & Humanitarian by Biography, and elicit the answers (movie star, fashion icon and humanitarian).

Read eight questions about Audrey Hepburn and watch the whole video (you can turn on the subtitles if necessary). Students answer the questions with short answers. Did they know about the humanitarian side of Audrey Hepburn? Were they surprised? Ask if the video convinced them to read a biography about Audrey Hepburn’s life.

Read a book review (you can find it in the C1 Advanced Handbook for Teachers, page 45). Ask if this review convinced them to read the book. Do they think that it’s a good review? What would they change about it? The most common answer will be the lack of paragraphs and many spelling errors. Students divide it into four paragraphs (introduction, point 1, point 2, recommendation) and correct any errors they can find.

After reading the review, say that this is a piece of writing based on a real Cambridge exam task. Ask to predict two main points of the exam task. Show the exam task and see how close they were to the real answer.

Present the writing assessment scale and explain how it works. The maximum number of points students may get in each part is 20 points – 5 points for content, 5 points for communicative achievement, 5 points for organisation and 5 points for language. Students read the answer one more time and score it out of 20. Check and discuss their answers. Compare their scores to the one given by the Cambridge examiner. Are they surprised by any of the comments? Not only does this task explain any doubts about the scoring system, but it also shows how strict or lenient the examiners are. Remind them about the importance of having clear answers, as examiners read tens of identical pieces of writing, and clear organisation will be reflected in their final score.

Set the homework task. Students think about the film or book that focused on a person who made an important contribution to society. Brainstorm some ideas and if you have enough time, students may plan their answers and present them to you and the rest of the class.

Click below to download the lesson plan and the presentation.

Your year in preview

Let’s forget about the past and start looking into the future! In my time teaching, I’ve taught the New Year’s resolutions class one too many times! That’s why I decided to switch it up just a notch. This year I dove into 2022 predictions about the world. I mean, the world is so unstable right now that it’s so interesting seeing what your students think may happen in 2022.

My last post was a short B1 lesson plan on happiness vs months fluctuation – Your year in review. This post is about the world predictions for 2022. Due to the difficult nature of this topic, this class is designed for older C1+ students.

Since most of my classes are done online, I decided to prepare lessons in this format. At the end of the blog post, you can download the lesson plan, the presentation (with the answers) and the jigsaw reading (divided into Student A, Student B, Student C and Student D).

In a true ESL teacher fashion, I scoured the internet to find the perfect and, of course, reputable article on 2022 predictions. That’s when I found The ideas and arguments that will define the next 12 months by the Washington Post. What drew my attention was that the article is divided into a bunch of shorter extracts, each centred around a different topic. Out of so many of them, I picked out four:

  • Climate change will keep getting worse. Our response won’t cut it.
  • The art world will learn to love the blockchain.
  • Fancy restaurants and casual chains will thrive. The places in between won’t.
  • The economy will see uncomfortable – but not crisis-level – inflation.

I decided to go with those because they had one thing in common – a title in Future Simple. I don’t think it’s necessary to revise Future Simple with a group of advanced students, but there are times when it may be useful to briefly go over the tense for uncertain future and predictions.

The class starts by discussing our 2021 predictions (personal or global) and checking if they came true. Since the lesson deals with rather impersonal topics, I wanted to allow the students to talk about themselves first. It’s also a good way of checking their mental state at the end of this tough year and whether they think that 2022 will be better (or worse!) in any way.

After the initial discussion, look at the four pictures associated with the four reading topics and predict their themes or headlines! Once you finish this part, show the actual headlines and quickly match them with the pictures. If you notice that students had some problems using Future Simple in the initial discussion, now would be a good time to analyse the titles and go over the uses and structure of this tense. However, since it is a class for advanced learners, this most likely will be optional.

That is when the fun starts! The texts are quite complex, long and with many complicated words that it is essential to divide the students into smaller groups or pairs. In this way, students can read texts together, analyse any vocabulary and answer eight questions. Don’t forget to mention that all students need to write their short answers as they will be needed in the next part! Mix the students, so that Students A are with Students B, and Students C are with Students D. Students use their notes to tell each other about their texts. Make sure that they don’t just read the answers and actually try to tell a story.

Here’s the twist. It has always bothered me that learners want to do their tasks as quickly as possible and then get into hibernation mode (= look at each other and stop listening). That’s why once everyone is done telling each other about their texts, put them one more time in their original pairs. Give each pair a set of questions about the texts they were just told about and ask them to answer them from memory! I guarantee that students will feel immediately awake, but will have fun by inventing the answers.

The last part of this reading and listening task is to retell other students the story they were told about by going over the answers. The students who originally read the predictions, correct any misunderstandings and errors. Finish with a general discussion on said topics and elicit their opinions. Do they agree or disagree with the headlines? What will happen in 2022? Do they have any predictions for their countries?

As always, click the links below to download the files!

Where do babies come from? – question forms

The other day, I was preparing a C1 level lesson plan on question forms. It’s an exam preparation group, so we follow a coursebook. As always, I started the preparation by checking the approach in the teacher’s book and as always, I decided to put a spin on it. I ended up thinking of a class that starts with a revision of the question word order and rising/falling intonation, followed by question forms.

I started my preparation process by thinking of random or shocking questions that I could ask my students. As I was thinking about the first crucial question, it hit me. Why don’t I ask them the most commonly asked questions by children? They are quite random, at times funny, but most of the time they are head-scratchers. I opened the class by asking Where do babies come from? and Why is the sky blue? It’s a Friday evening class, and I needed to get their attention immediately. Of course, you need to be careful with the question choice as I know that asking about certain things may create an uncomfortable situation. I teach in Spain, and the culture here is quite free. I can get away with talking about unusual and at times inappropriate topics in any 16+ years-old class.

All you need for this class is a lesson plan and a PowerPoint presentation that can be used for both online and in-person classes.

The original lesson plan, suggested by the book, didn’t mention the question word order or the question intonation. I decided to quickly go over these rules, as even though my students are quite good, they make mistakes now and then. In Spain, questions are made by keeping a statement word order and adding an inflection at the end of the sentence. It is quite common to hear this tendency during any English speaking task, for example You like chocolate?

After the opening questions, I asked my students who may ask such tough questions. I proceeded by telling them about the internet survey from April 2020 by nypost, which focused on the most commonly asked difficult questions by children. I told them to think about six other questions that may appear in the survey. Once they finished their discussion, we compared their answers with the actual answers.

I continued by looking at two question types – one with and the other without a question word – and analysing the word order. We also went over other wh- question words. As a revision, students thought of some more questions that we used to complete the table. I asked them to explain the rules and then showed my presentation to help them remember this information. Since it was only a revision, I didn’t spend too much time on it.

Instead, I moved on to the rising and falling intonation in questions. It’s another common Spanish speakers problem. In Spanish, questions are made by rising inflection at the end of a sentence. I proceeded by showing a Y/N question (Do you like chocolate?) and said it in two ways, with a rising and falling intonation. Then I asked a wh- question (Where are you from?) and did the same thing. Students had no problems identifying the correct intonation, but they weren’t sure why it happens. I quickly explained the rules, so they can be more confident about their pronunciation and intonation in the speaking exam. We finished this part by modelling and drilling the intonations.

I finished this revision part by going back to the slide with the eight toughest children questions. I asked my students to rank them from the most difficult (1) to the easiest (8). Once students decided on the order, I revealed the answers, and we tried answering some of the questions!

Then I decided to go back to the book and focused on the question forms (the actual objective of this class). This particular part focused on Angelina Jolie and her rainbow family. I segued into this by asking them What is a rainbow family? (= a multicultural family). There were some wild guesses, but eventually, some of the students were able to define that term. It led to an interesting discussion about who and what may be classified as a rainbow family. Since the conversation was flowing and students were genuinely into it, I decided to get off topic and search for a proper meaning of a rainbow family just to clarify any doubts.

As we were all looking at the picture of Angelina Jolie and her children, I decided to ask them a set of questions using different question forms. I wanted to move to the teaching part as seamlessly as possible, and it worked quite well. It allowed my students to realise that they are familiar with different question forms and that their understanding is quite advanced. You can see all the questions mentioned below.

Once we finished talking about Jolie’s rainbow family, I asked them to decide on the type of question form used in each question. That was probably the hardest part, as some of the forms were not too straightforward. I let them work in small groups and brainstorm to clear any doubts. After the activity, I showed them the answers and explained the politeness and word order of indirect questions, the use and structure of question tags, and the use of question words as the question subject/object.

We proceeded with the grammar practice given in the book. However, since I’m planning on using the same lesson plan with my other C1 level students who don’t follow the book, I thought of two exercises that could be done instead. The first exercise is ordering the words to form questions. The second exercise is thinking about six different questions (total) for the classmates. This freer writing activity will give you a chance to monitor their understanding of the topic. The lesson ends with students answering the questions.

Do you always follow the coursebook and the teacher’s book, or do you like to venture, too? How would you approach this type of class? Let me know!

Click the links below to download the lesson plan and the ppt for free!

The problem with Halloween

It is my last post of October, and even though I had fun with all my themed lessons, a few questions stood out to me. What if I don’t like teaching themed classes? What if I don’t like teaching Halloween? To all those questions I say – fair enough. You shouldn’t teach anything that doesn’t bring you joy. If you are not excited about the topic, neither are your students.

If you work on your own, you have a choice to avoid any type of themed lessons. You don’t need to celebrate any local or British/American holiday. However, if you work at an academy, then from time to time, you’ll be asked to prepare a themed class (whether you like it or not!). Remember that you are still in charge of lesson preparation, so be creative and spin the topic in your favour! PS. This class was heavily inspired by the Teaching with Tracey’s IG post.

This is a B2+ lesson plan that focuses on reading supported with expressing and responding to opinions. You can download all the files at the end of the post for free. I hope it will spark some creativity and not much controversy in your classroom!

Start the class by asking about students’ experience with Halloween. In some countries, it has become popular recently. The chances are that some of your adult students don’t have any memories or sentiment on this holiday (I’m one of them!). You can ask them to share their opinions on this holiday, and if they have children, ask if they allow them to go trick-or-treating. Maybe they have been to some Halloween parties and got dressed up. If yes, what were their costumes?

While you are on the topic of Halloween costumes, show some outfits taken from the Insider – 15 offensive Halloween costumes that you shouldn’t wear. Just yet, don’t mention the problem behind those outfits. Instead, casually chat about them and ask if the students like them, which one is their (least) favourite and if they would ever wear any of those costumes. Once you finish the first part of this discussion, you can mention that these outfits may be a bit problematic. If your students haven’t mentioned the way, in which the costumes are controversial, you may play a snippet of a Bo Burnham song – Problematic (0:52-1:10). I wouldn’t focus on the whole song, as it talks about the cancel culture, which is a whole other class. Instead, focus on the following lyrics:

I'm problematic (He's a problem)
When I was 17, on Halloween, I dressed up as Aladdin (He's a problem)
I did not darken my skin
But still, it feels weird in hindsight

If your students haven’t guessed the theme of the outfits, this verse should help them figure it out. That would be a good moment to explain the meaning of in hindsight and introduce the phrase cultural appropriation.

Move on to the main part of the class – the reading of an article by Alessandra Malito A lot of really bad things are more likely to happen on Halloween. I divided this article into two parts – the problems and the solutions. Firstly, divide the students into pairs or groups and ask them to discuss any other problems that may occur on Halloween. If they struggle with thinking of any other issues, you can help by giving main topics, such as crime, theft, accident, etc. Then let your students read the first part and check if any of their ideas are mentioned in the text. Ask them to read the text again, this time paying attention to the details and answering multiple-choice questions. Proceed with the vocabulary task – matching the words with their definitions, for example, perilous and deductible.

Go to the reading part 2. Before you ask your students to read the text, ask them to work in groups and discuss different ways in which they can stay safe or protect others on Halloween. Read part two and check if your ideas are similar to the ones mentioned in the text. Explain any new words and move to the last part of the class.

Since the class is hand-picking problems in a relatively harmless holiday, ask the students to complain about other topics related to Halloween. You can illustrate it by giving an example.

Put one minute on the clock and start by saying: Don’t get me started on…candy. Proceed by complaining about it in the most ridiculous way, for example, Who needs it? You get so much of it, and all it does is damage your teeth! Pointless! Hand out topics to your students. With weaker groups, you may want to give them some time to prepare their answers. Other topic suggestions are candy, Halloween, costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkins, parties, etc.

That’s my idea of going against the typical Halloween lesson! Click and download all the files below.

You can do it before or right after Halloween to check on your students and their non-problematic costumes. Did you celebrate Halloween in your class? If yes, what did you do?

A bad date – teaching using anecdotes

Last year, for the first time ever I was given the opportunity to teach C1 level students. This year half of my students are of this level, which gives me a lot of chances of developing my way of teaching and revising advanced grammar.

Even though teaching advanced students comes with many challenges, it feels quite rewarding and allows me to “spread my wings” and let my imagination run wild when it comes to lead-ins and storytelling. One of my C1 level groups follows the newest edition of Open World by Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment (2020). One of the first topics is the use of past tenses in anecdotes. Initially, I enjoyed the lead-in suggested in the teacher’s book, but after some thinking, I decided to put a personal spin on it.

I’m a huge believer in sharing my personal stories and life events to enhance the teaching experience. I think that it builds a stronger bond between the teacher and students and helps the students open up. I try to create a safe space and let everyone know that they can feel comfortable talking to me about anything.

So here goes nothing! Let me share my anecdote with you, how I used it on this particular occasion and my post-class reflection. In the end, I came up with three additional ways in which this anecdote could be improved to make my next class more engaging and educational.

I started by eliciting one obvious thing about me – I wear glasses every day. My students know about it as they’ve never seen me without them. Then I proceeded by telling them that it wasn’t always the case…

What you need to know about me before I start, is that a few years ago I didn’t use to wear glasses because I was afraid that it would make me look unattractive. Let me tell you a story about the time I went on a date and…spoilers alert – it didn’t go well.

I had met this guy a week prior when one of my friends had called me and asked if he could come over with a friend for a drink. I had been living in a house with a big terrace – a perfect location to meet up for a casual drink. They had come over, we had had some drinks. It was late in the evening so I couldn’t see them well, but the conversation had been flowing and I’d clicked with this new guy. We had exchanged phone numbers and decided to meet up again later.

I was getting ready for the date and talking to my flatmate. “I haven’t been on a date in forever! I’m so nervous.” She gave me a pep talk and reassured me that it was going to be just fine. I asked her one more time if I should wear my glasses and she told me that it was going to ruin the whole outfit. I agreed and left the house.

As I was approaching the cinema, I squinted and saw a blurry figure holding flowers in a distance. I hadn’t expected any romantic gestures, but sure, people are different. I waved at him and he waved back at me – it must have been him. As I was getting closer and the image was getting clearer, I realized that this wasn’t the face that I remembered. This guy was missing a tooth in the front! I thought to myself, “Was I that intoxicated when I met him?”. I was sure that I would have remembered this small detail.

I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to do nothing. “Just go with it and then ghost him”, I thought to myself. To my surprise, he smiled at me and said, “I’ve been waiting for you!” He gave me the bouquet and went in for a hug. As we were hugging, I heard someone behind me clearing the throat and then felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw the guy I had met at my house. To my relief, he had all his teeth and it was just one big misunderstanding.

Regardless, the date went poorly. We met up one more time and stopped talking to each other altogether. Maybe the date with the toothless guy would have been more successful. Ever since then, I’ve been wearing glasses religiously.

Unfortunately, it is a true story that I enhanced just a little bit to make it more engaging and valuable for my students. First of all, I used all the language that I wanted to revise. Since it is a story for advanced students, I want to focus on the use of past tenses. The story includes Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect Simple, Past Perfect Continuous, used to (contrasted with Present Simple to talk about past and present habits), Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous. I used the last two tenses in a direct speech to keep their original form. Additionally, I wanted to include some extra vocabulary such as pep talk, to ghost or to do something religiously, as well as the language used to emphasise the disability caused by the lack of glasses (e.g. squinted).

My story was followed by the drawing as seen above. My classes were online, so I used a digital whiteboard to draw the events on a timeline. I’m more skilled at drawing on paper than on a touchpad. After some post-class thinking, I redid it with some pictures to make the anecdote stand out a little bit more.

After the class came the reflection time. I had some immediate thoughts in class but decided to proceed with the original plan. In total, I came up with four different ways in which this story could be used to introduce and teach past tenses.

Option #1

Just start the class by telling the story and letting your students immerse themselves in it. It’s beneficial as it feels more like a friendly talk and not a part of the class. One of my students was so into the story that she kept interjecting short phrases (Oh my God! No way?! Really?! What did you do?!), and we ended up having a follow-up questions session. Once you finish the story, ask your students to help you retell it and plot it on a timeline. Make sure that you put them in the correct order and write short sentences proving their order. That was the approach I took, and even though it worked well, in hindsight, I think next time I get to tell the story, I will use a different method – more grammar centred with a clear follow-up task.

Option #2

Hand out the timeline with events already written down or with pictures instead of words. Ask your students to work in pairs and discuss what happened. Students can tell the story using different tenses. Then you can tell the complete story and see if your students got it right.

Option #3

Give main events from the story in the infinitive or past form and ask to put them in order. Tell the story and check if they were able to predict the order of events. Draw the timeline and emphasize the order and the use of past tenses. Here are examples of sentences that could be used in this activity:

  • go on a date
  • get ready
  • meet a boy through a mutual friend
  • see a blurry figure of a person
  • get a phone call from a friend
  • hug a man
  • feel a tap on a shoulder
  • not wearing glasses
  • receive flowers
  • exchange phone numbers
  • approach the cinema

Option #4

Either give a written version of the story or tell it like before. Students listen and put the events in the correct order on a timeline. I think that this is my favourite method, which I’ll gladly try out next time I have a chance. In my opinion, it tests the understanding of tenses and will let you check the knowledge gaps that you need to address and focus on in your class.

We ended this part of the class with some grammar practice exercises and oral practice. I gave a few minutes of thinking time for the students to prepare their anecdotes and share them with the rest of the group. This activity could be expanded again by listening and timeline plotting. In bigger groups, you can try telling the story to one student and play Chinese whisper to see how the story changes.

How would you improve this activity? How do you introduce and teach past tenses? Let me know!