Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

In a collaborative planning meeting today, we came up with a plan for a speaking lesson based around a single activity from Speakout Intermediate called ‘My life in film’. The image below is taken from the 1st edition, and we were working with the 2nd edition.

A film strip with five boxes: Early days, then, later, a big decision, now

The groups we were planning for have a mix of ages from 16 to 60+, so we thought of a tweak to level the playing field and make sure everybody was starting from the same point. Here’s how the lesson goes:

Guided visualisation

Students close their eyes, and the teacher says something along these lines, pausing at appropriate points for students to think:

You’re 80 years old and you’re in an old people’s home. Look around you. What can you see? How do you feel right now? Go out of the room and down the corridor. Where are you going? Who is walking past you? Where are you going?

It’s time for lunch. What are you eating? What can you smell? What can you hear?

You get some visitors. Who are they? How do you know them? How long have you known them for? What do you talk about? How do you feel about their visit?

After a suitable pause, students tell a partner what they experienced in the old people’s home. As feedback, elicit a couple of general impressions from the visualisation – don’t ask students to repeat whole chunks of what they experienced, as the pace will probably drop and others won’t be particularly interested.

Setting up the situation

Tell students that a film director has come to the old people’s home. They want to choose somebody’s story to turn into a film.

Display the film strip from Speakout and elicit ideas for how to complete it for you (the teacher) – demonstrate just taking notes.

Planning time

Give students about 5 minutes to make notes in their own film strips, including asking you for extra vocabulary. They can be as true or as creative as they like.

Getting into role

As a class, brainstorm one or two ideas of questions/comments directors could use to find out more from the old people in the home and to respond to the stories they hear. For example: ‘That can’t be true!’ ‘What happened after that?’ Students think of more ideas in pairs. As feedback, get them to (simultaneously) write the ideas on the board or use something like mentimeter to submit them electronically.

Pitching ideas

Arrange students into a ladder, with two lines of chairs facing each other. One line will be the directors, the other the old people.

The old people have 3-5 minutes to talk about their lives, while the directors listen and ask questions to find out more.

After each turn, directors move along one seat. The old people stay seated as it’s harder for them to be mobile!

The teacher sits either beyond one row or at the end of the ladder and takes notes on what they are – we are using this activity as a speaking assessment, and this gives the teacher lots of chances/time to listen to the students.

Making a choice

The directors listen to three old people, then choose the person whose story they’d most like to film and write their name on a piece of paper in secret.

Directors and old people switch roles and the pitches and choice stages are repeated.

Off to Hollywood!

Students discuss in new pairs which stories they particularly enjoyed listening to and why. Meanwhile, the teacher looks at all of the names, then declares whose stories will be filmed as a way of feeding back on the content of what the students have said.

For language feedback, the teacher can share some of the great language they heard, and/or highlight some problem areas for students to work on.

If you try this activity out, I’d love to know whether your students get into it. It’s always fun to plan things like this, but I don’t get to use them myself very often!

Comments on: "Hollywood meets an old people’s home" (5)

  1. Andriy Ruzhynskiy said:

    Hi Sandy. Thank you for sharing the activity! In fact, the stories ss make can be about anything, right? I was wondering why you chose the topic of old people’s home. I have a feeling that this topic might be too culture-sensitive in some contexts. What do you think?


    • Hi Andriy,
      Thanks for your comment. The students in our adult classes range from 16 to 60+, so doing this activity as is would result in potentially very large discrepancies in what the students could talk about. By getting them all to imagine they’re 80, they can be creative or stick to the facts of their lives so far as they choose. The visualisation is a way of making that imaginative leap more ‘real’ for them, though it could be dropped.
      I’m interested to know where you think it might be culturally sensitive – would that be the case where you are? I can see how for some people it might trigger memories, but no more so than anything about family for example.
      How would you go about adapting the activity for your students?


      • Andriy Ruzhynskiy said:

        The activity itself is totally fine, Sandy! I would not adapt it as I do not see any reason for that. The only thing I would think about is the topic. I am not sure that older people’s house is always a ‘positive place’ to stay. Some people do not like this idea at all. Do you see what I mean? Why not ask them to describe their life in a dream house or their ideal day?


  2. Monica Mosley said:

    This worked really well with two of L5 classes, made up of a mixture of adults and teenagers. Sudents who are usually reluctant to participate successfully got involved in the guided visualisation.
    When students were role playing as a film director and an old person they really got into it and used their imagination the conversations were extended, interactive and they all used English the whole time, no one went off topic or reverted to their first language. It was a great lesson and the roleplay allowed students to have fun but also challenge themselves.


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