Class history activity

Class history activity
I watched a talk by Jill Hadfield recently and she mentioned this activity that I thought was a great idea, so I made a short video about it. It's for practicing the past tense in a meaningful way and building a great classroom dynamic at the same time.

Jill Hadfield is a bit of an ELT legend. Some of the first resources that I used and loved as a novice teacher were her ‘Communication Games’ books and I think that every staffroom I’ve ever worked in has had a copy of them. I went to a talk that she gave at IATEFL this year and she mentioned a few creative activities for the classroom, so, with her permission, I’m going to tell you about one now.

It's from the book Classroom Dynamics OUP 1994 which has got lots of ideas for building rapport in classes – activities that help classes to gel and I think that this is probably even more important online where learners don’t have the same ability to really get to know each other.

It’s to practise the simple past tense and it’s a nice twist on telling each other your personal history.

Jill suggested taking the year the oldest person in the class was born and writing the years from then to the present. The learners then fill in important things that happened in their lives in those years. You could do this really easily with a shared document online (Google docs/ Padlet/ Google Jamboard) They don’t have to fill in something for every year – you could stipulate a minimum of five events, maybe and you end up with a list like this:

1985 Keiko was born
1986 Pedro was born
Annamaria started school
1989 Keiko started school
Pedro’s brother was born
Mohammed began a job as an engineer
1991 Mohammed came to the UK

Obviously, in some years, there will be no events, in others only one, in others quite a few and if there’s a large age gap in the class, it might be easier to have three year periods together.

When they’ve filled in the chart and you have checked the language, you can put them in groups to discuss the events. Give them a model and remind them to ask questions:
  • Keiko, you started school the same year as my brother was born. What was it like?
  • Annamaria, you got married, the year before I did – was it a big wedding?

It’s always been my experience that the thing that learners find it easiest to talk about is themselves and actually the thing they like listening to best are personal stories about other people, so we’re already onto a winner, but I think that this is a great activity because it brings the class a bit closer by helping them to get to know each other and making them realise that they kind of had a shared history, even before they came together.

It’d be great at the beginning of a new class, but I think you could use it to develop the rapport in even a more established class. I hope that your class enjoy it!
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