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This Is Your Life

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So this activity is all about getting your students to write obituaries for each other. OK, I know that sounds a little depressing but please bear with me and give it a go as it is a really nice, communicative, combined skills lesson and you can end up with some really interesting, and even touching stories. I have found it works really well with teenagers and young adults that still have their whole lives full of dreams and ambitions ahead of them. It is also a good way to practise the past simple tense (and for more advanced learners the other past narrative tenses).

(Please see the end of this post for a variation to avoid the ‘death’ part if you are worried about this!)

Aim: For the students to write imaginary obituaries for each other, and in the process read a real obituary and interview a classmate. They will also practise the use of the past simple (and possibly other past tenses).

Level: B1+ (particularly teenagers and young adults)

Task:

1. Ask the class what happens when a famous person dies (you may get suggestions of it is on the news, people take flowers to where they died, etc). Elicit what you might find in a newspaper, eg an article about the person’s life and death. You can introduce the word ‘obituary’ at this point if you like but it is not really necessary.

2. Ask for some ideas for the type of information you might find in an obituary. You might get something like the following: where they were born, their schooling, their family, when and how they became famous, their biggest achievements, how they died. Put any ideas on the board.

3. Give the students an obituary to read of a person that they will have heard of. The length and complexity will depend on the level of your class, and you could adapt a text if you like. Here are a couple of examples that would work well: Steve Jobs or Neil Armstrong. Ask them to identify the type of information included (is it the same as their ideas? Is there anything else?) add any other types of information to the list on the board. Also ask the class to identify the tenses used.

4. Ask the class to form pairs. Tell them it is many years in the future and they have all now become very famous. Unfortunately they have also just died! Explain that the need to interview their partner to find out information about their life until now (born, family, etc) and they should also find out something about their likes and talents so they can imagine what they will become famous for.

5. After they have found out the information they need from their partner they should make notes about the future under the categories you have on the board.

6. Set a word limit appropriate to your class and the level of the students and a time limit for writing and ask them to write their partners life story.

7. When they have finished they should swap and read what has been written about them and you can then discuss the things they liked about their imaginary life and the things they hope don’t come true.

Variation: If you are worried about the ‘death’ (!) part of the obituary (or if you wanted to do the lesson with younger learners and are worried about their parents’ view on them writing an obituary) you can easily adapt this. Instead of describing it as an obituary, just say they are all old and famous and are having an article written about their amazing life for a magazine. This way you can miss out any references to dying!! Just find a biography of a famous person who is still alive for the reading section and ask the students for ideas of things you might find in a biography of a person’s life.

(I’m sure I’ve adapted this idea from somewhere so if anyone knows where the original idea comes from please let me know so I can acknowledge it.)

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