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Mystery Objects

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This is a really simple yet effective writing lesson. There is nothing like some unusual objects to spark your students’ imagination!

Aim: For students to write a short story inspired by an object (and to have the opportunity to review question forms).

Level: A2+

Preparation: Before class you need to prepare a bag of unusual or interesting objects. The picture above is of objects I found in a quick look around my house that would be suitable to use. Good objects are keys, jewellery, old coins, ornaments (non-breakable!), etc  – nothing too valuable or precious to you just in case they get damaged. You need at least one object per student, plus one to use as an example.

Task:

1. Ask a student to choose an object out of the bag (without looking!). Use this as the example object. Ask the student what the object is (depending on what it is this may be easy or may be a guessing game!) and for some words or phrases to describe it. Write up any interesting vocabulary that comes up.

2. Pass the bag around class and ask each student to choose an object (without looking in the bag).

3. Put the students into small groups and ask them to describe the objects. Note any interesting vocabulary on the board, and also any obvious words that aren’t mentioned. When they have finished discussing ask them which of the words on the board they think relate to which objects.

4. Write the following words on the board in a list going down: What, Who, Where, When, Why, How. Ask the students how they could complete questions about the objects that start with these words.  You could do this as a whole class activity, in their groups or individually. You might get slightly different answers, but you will probably end up with something like this:

– What is the object?

– Who does it belong to?/ Who owns it?

– Where did they get it?

– When did they get it?

– Why do they have it?/Why is it important to them?

– How do they feel about it?/How did they get it?

(If problems come up with question formation this would be a good opportunity to review the structure, and you might also want to discuss why some of the questions are in the past, some in the present)

5. Ask the students to discuss these questions in their groups, and to use their imaginations! If any of them are struggling with ideas for their object you can allow them to swap with another student, or choose a different object if you have enough.

6. Finally, ask them to write a short story that features their object. They could focus on one or all of the questions they have discussed before (eg. a story about how the person got the object), or the story could be more about the person they imagined owning the object with the object only having a small role. Alternatively, you could ask your class to write a story that features all of the objects in their group (more challenging but potentially more interesting!). Another idea would be a collaborative story where the first person writes the start of a story featuring their object, someone else writes the next part and has to include their object, etc. This is best set as a homework task using a wiki or blog. As a low tech option, one person could write it one night for homework, then pass to the next person the next day, etc and you could follow-up with editing all together in a future class (does mean you need reliable students though!)

7. When the stories are finished, as always, it is nice to display them in class, publish on a class blog or wiki, or simply get them to read them to their groups.

Newspaper Picture Articles

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(Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/)

This is an old-favourite lesson of mine which always works well with teenagers or adults, from intermediate to advanced levels. It is a great collaborative writing activity and can work well if you have been studying newspaper language, reported speech or narrative tenses.

Aims: For groups of students to devise a newspaper story based on random pictures.

Level: B1+

Preparation: You will need to prepare several pictures (enough for 4 per every 3 students as a minimum). The best pictures are ones cut out of newspapers, the more unusual the better, and I try to avoid pictures of anyone famous. You could also use pictures from magazines, or find some on a site such as eltpics. I tend to cut good photos out of newspapers as and when I find them and keep them in a plastic wallet (and you’ll be surprised about all the uses you might find for them!)

Task:

1. Put your students into groups, 3 is the best number I find.

2. Lie the pictures face down on a table and ask one member of each group to come and choose 4 pictures at random.

3. Tell the students that the 4 pictures they have were all in a newspaper to illustrate 1 story. Ask them to try and think of a story that would connect all the stories. Give them plenty of time to discuss and come up with ideas.

4. Ask them to nominate one student to write or type the story out. Make sure all the students are involved in this stage, you could even suggest they take it in turns to write. For lower levels, what they produce will often be more like a story but for higher levels try and encourage them to write it more in the style of a newspaper article (ie. clear time, date, factual information, quotes from important people). You may want to set a word limit here too.

5. When they have finished the story, ask all the students in the group to re-read it and check for any errors.

6. Ask the groups to think of a headline for the story. Elicit what features headlines normally have (eg. use present tenses, sensational language, omission of articles/verbs, using only key words)

7. At this stage you might want to ask the students to read their articles to the class (make sure if one student has done most of the writing they don’t also read) while showing the pictures that inspired them, or you could make posters to display in class, or you could scan pictures in and put on a class blog or wiki.

(This is another one of those lessons that I got from somewhere but I have used for so many years I no longer remember where it was from originally. If anyone knows, please let me know so I can reference it – thank you!)

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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