Recounting past events: talk about your unpleasant experiences
Level: high intermediate to advanced students who are old enough to have tasted bitter aspects of life. Most people realize that life isn’t a rose garden quite quickly so I don’t think that would be an issue for most students. Targeted for small classes of 12 people, although this can work in larger groups.
Objective: Develop the ability to recount past events with fluency and organization.
Interim objective: get used to using past perfect. Recounting past events lends itself well to past perfect / past perfect continuous, since past tense will be the base tense throughout and past perfect is basically past of the past. (So it’d be like using past tense when you’re talking about present event)
This activity spans over roughly 5 hours, or four lessons.
Preparation / presentation:
1. Tell the students you want them to talk to each other about unpleasant experiences they’ve had, situations in which they’ve been treated unfairly, a tight spot they’ve gotten into and had hard time getting out of, or simply instances that drove them up the wall. You give them some examples of such situations: you got a phone bill that popped your eyes, ordered something over the internet and never received it, got into a fight with some random guy on the street, your professor insulted your intelligence, you were giving your friends a ride and you got into an accident, etc etc.
2. Then you give them your recount of such an event to give them an idea how it’s done. (you were trying to study at the library and some people kept talking and you got annoyed and you told them to keep down and they got really confrontational and you went downstairs and called security on them or something)
3. Break them into groups of three and actually have them talk about their experiences. That would end the first lesson.
4. The second day. Ask students about the difficulties they faced when giving verbal account of what happened before. Spark a class discussion on strategies to face such challenges.
5. This is where you want to introduce past perfect and past perfect continuous. You have to make a smooth transition so you’re still on the topic of difficulties in talking about past events. Say something like: Now, one of the difficulties you might have faced when giving someone a verbal account of past events is that you’re already talking mostly in past tense, and when you want to go further back past, you find it difficult because you’re already using past tense most of the time: how do you indicate past of the past? This is when past perfect and past perfect continuous comes in handy… OK maybe that wasn’t the smooth transition I intended, but you get the drift.
6. You explain how past perfect and past perfect continuous work and how they could be used in recounting past events. Draw a timeline, use examples, do whatever you have to do to make sure students understand the concept.
7. Have them write down what they’re going to say. Encourage them to use the past perfect and past perfect continuous forms when necessary. Collect them at the end of the class. This concludes the second lesson. You’ll have to provide some grammatical corrections and give them suggestions to improve their overall storytelling and hand them back to the students on the next lesson.
8. The third lesson. Tell the students they are going to tell their stories before the class on the next lesson, but that they are not allowed to read off of their writings. Hand back their writings, address some common errors in class and give some tips to increase fluency when presenting before the class. Address any further questions students may have. End of the third lesson.
9. On the fourth and the last lesson, they tell their bitter, unpleasant, hate-filled event of their past.
Dealing with learner errors: The reason I had students to hand in their writings midway through the activity is to address their errors and actually make it worthwhile. Students are not likely to go over the corrections once the activity is done and graded. By dedicating the entire lesson 3 for addressing errors and questions, students have a chance to really incorporate the corrections into their final outcome.
Follow-up activity: Discuss ways to describe the object of your hatred without using the f-word. Example words: Knob, dumbass, dou___bag, jerk, retard, whack, dick, etc.
Evaluation: Grade both their writings and the oral presentation. Check for fluency, whether ideas flow together, and whether the content stays focused and not veer off to something irrelevant.