This task focuses on sharing personal experiences, a category Willis (1996) includes in her taxonomy of task types; unlike other types, there is no problem to solve, no information or opinion gap to close, simply the (sometimes bittersweet!) pleasure of reminiscing about happy times, something we tend to do frequently – perhaps more so than ever right now. I’ve found it be one that many adult learners find highly engaging, and it is scalable in terms of level, assuming the right support is provided and we are not too ambitious in our expectations of what our learners can do. The material provided is for B1-B2 but see the notes at the end for lower levels.
The task as described below is a “focused task” – that is, “designed to provide opportunities for communicating some specific linguistic feature” (Ellis and Shintani, 2014) – in this case, language that lends itself to conveying nostalgia and in particular structures for past habit (past simple, used to, would – again, as appropriate to the level of the learners). Even with a focused task, the task itself rather than specific forms should lead the lesson: the pre-task prep and the initial task cycle should concern itself with learners expressing what they want to express in their own words (with individualised support from the teacher while monitoring). You can then decide if the post-task language focus should head in a particular direction, and whether, when the task is repeated, learners should try to incorporate new features that have become salient to them.
1. Elicit nostalgia and the chunks to feel nostalgic about / to reminisce about…from the learners. The terms you elicit or provide are not key as long as the context of “looking back at happy times” is established.
2. Brainstorm topics we typically feel nostalgic about onto the board. After one or two examples to demonstrate, learners can think of e.g. 3-5 more topics in pairs / breakout rooms. This is likely to be topics such as holidays when we were younger, school / university, friends from the past, Xmas and other celebrations, places we lived, hobbies we had when younger, and so on.
3. Tell the learners that everyone is individually going to recall a period of time they feel nostalgic about. Ask each learner to choose a topic from the list – one that they are happy to share with the others in the class.
4. Explain that they are going to share their experiences of this time but before doing so they should note some key words to help them when they share. They should write a list of 10-15 key words and phrases which they can refer to when sharing their nostalgia story e.g. summer holidays, go to the beach, swim in the sea, have barbecues, play games, visit friends etc. See the handout linked at the bottom for a template.
5. Give the learners 5 minutes or so to note their key words. Play some appropriate music if you feel it would help generate ideas or put them in the mood: perhaps something instrumental, mellow and evocative (I often play this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXqaCogALv4). Make it clear you are available to help with any language the learners feel they need to express their ideas. As they note ideas, circulate and help.
1. When they have finished taking notes, ask the learners to work in pairs / breakout rooms of A and B (you can make this groups of 3 or 4 if you’d end with too many rooms to manage).
2. A first tells their story; B should listen and think of questions to ask, for extra information – something they are curious to learn more about. This can be while A is talking or at the end when A has finished recalling the nostalgia story; whichever feels more natural and appropriate for your group.
3. This is then repeated, with B telling their story and A asking questions. Allow each learner about 5 minutes to tell their story and answer questions. Monitor their output discreetly as you move from room to room: take notes for the subsequent language focus but also make yourself available when learners struggle to express an idea, search for a word, or would benefit from a recast.
4. Move back into the main room. Ask each learner to report the content of their partner’s story: anything they had in common; something particularly interesting, and so on. Share content you heard while monitoring, and ask follow-up questions yourself, encouraging learners to elaborate on intriguing points you picked out.
Post-Task Language Focus / Input:
(note that the ideas below are a guideline for using Nostalgia Story as a focused task; I think it can work very well as such, but you don’t have to limit yourself in this way – in fact, there may be good reason not to: cast your net wide, and help with any language areas that have come up.)
1. Tell the learners you now intend to share a time you feel nostalgic about. They should listen, and with their partner, decide on follow-up questions to ask you when you have finished. See the example, B in the linked material; this is one of several I use depending on level and learner interests. Try to read the nostalgia story in an unscripted, natural but understandable way. You may feel it is important to pre-teach one or two blocking items: fine, though I’d advise against this dominating proceedings, particularly with lower level learners.
2. After you tell the story, encourage the learners ask further questions about your experiences.
3. Give out a transcript of your story (again, see B for an example). Ask the learners to look through and identify different verb forms used for the past. Allow them the freedom to query any language they are curious about.
4. Focus the learners on sentences you used in your story that reveal different structures for past habit, e.g.:
· We used to live in a city called Kobe
· Every morning we’d travel to school by bus
5. Clarify the rules of use / form of the structures; revise what they know and help them understand the precise rules for new structures (e.g. past simple for past habits, states and single events; used to for past habits and states; would for past habits but not states / stative meaning. This can get even more complex and discourse-oriented at higher levels).
6. If it feels appropriate, provide some controlled practice to help learners cement the difference between the new forms. This could involve the learners choosing between forms in a number of sentences based on the rules just covered e.g. we used to / would have a summer house by the lake; I remember once we used to play / played a show for the school. One other way to provide practice is to give the learners the key phrases from your nostalgia story, and ask them to reconstruct it.
1. Before they repeat the task, ask the learners to look back at their noted key words and reflect on the grammar they used when they first told the story. Ask: did you only or mostly use the past simple? Could you use used to / would at certain points? Where? Give them a minute or two to decide where they could “upgrade” the forms they used. In the linked sample handout, there is a column to the right of the original note-taking column in A that can be used to for this.
2. Tell them they are going to tell their story again, but this time with a new partner. Regroup the class into new breakout rooms so all learners have a new partner.
3. They then repeat steps 2-4 from the original task. If your learners appear to be very engaged by the task, you can build in multiple short repetitions by using by allocating a new partner – keep a note of who has been working together in breakout rooms, as this can be tricky to remember.
Although the procedure above, and sample material, are for B1-B2, it can work with A2. The trick is to scaffold appropriately. Suggestions:
– let the learners hear your example story both before and after they tell theirs. If you tell yours before they do the task, focus them on the content rather than particular forms at this stage;
– in pre-task step 5, give learners a template with guiding questions if it helps them structure their story e.g. where were you? How old were you? How often did you do this? What is one very happy thing you remember? They make notes after each question;
– don’t make your own story too long, or grammatically / lexically complex – and don’t expect wonderful fluent long turns from the learners: just encourage them to express what they can, and help / recast if they are struggling;
– board some possible questions / frames to facilitate the Q and A in Task steps 2 and 3 e.g. how often did you….? How did you feel when…? Did you often / usually…?