20. Relationship Stories

“There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance….”

I’ve always found that the theme of relationships (of all kinds) is one that interests students and unfailingly inspires them to talk – of course, this will depend on cultural factors, and how well the students know each other. This task was dreamt up for a Valentine’s Day in lockdown, but will work well in any season – and like task #19, Captured Scenes, it is based on a long turn.

Note that the introductory pre-task stage and follow-up discussion can both be treated as separate tasks, to be done separately or even instead of the main task. The authentic audio, my interview with Daniil about how he met his wife, is in four parts, and can be used on its own, either before or after the main task. If time is limited, the main part of Daniil’s story is Part 2, How We Met.

Pre-Task (optional): What’s Important To You In A Relationship?
• Students are generally more likely to share personal details about their own lives if you don’t mind doing this too. It’s a good idea to start this off by showing students a photograph of your partner/friend, or simply telling them something about this person in a matter of fact way: do you get on well? Do you argue sometimes? What is it that brings people together in the first place?
• Ask the students to think about a relationship that’s important to them. This could be a relationship with a partner, friend or housemate. What are the most important things in a relationship like this – what do they look for? Use this as a chance to brainstorm ideas, which can be recorded on a Jamboard or else in the chat box.
• On a Jamboard, using a different frame for each room, ask students to retrieve and reflect on the ideas from the previous stage. This sample Jamboard has pre-prepared ideas, but it’s even better if these are generated by the students.

Daniil & Miriam: their story
Tell students that they’re going to listen to (part of) a real relationship story. This extended text is in four parts. Tell students that, at the time when the story happened, Daniil was working as a carpenter in Toronto. As noted earlier, if you don’t have time for all four parts, focus on Part 2. This is a long audio so you may want to set one of the following tasks to accompany it:

  • Provide some key phrases before students listen; they make some predictions about the story based on these.
  • Students sort the key events into chronological order.
  • Students listen for the lucky chances, without which Daniil wouldn’t have met his wife.
Part 1 – The Background 6:00

Listen to Part 1. How did Daniil’s accident eventually lead to his journey to Peru?

Part 2 – How We Met 5:00

Listen to Part 2 and decide if this was love at first sight. What attracted Daniil to Miriam?

Part 3 – The Sequel 4:15

Listen to Part 3. What problem was there? Decide how you think the story will end.

Part 4 – Conclusion 1:30

Listen to Part 4. Were you right?

Keep the feedback fairly brief so that you don’t steal the thunder from the main task. What did the students like about this story? Does Daniil’s and Miriam’s sound like a strong relationship? Why do they think so?

Main task
• Tell students to think about a relationship story that they know. This is generally better when it’s their own relationship/friendship – but it could easily be a story of another couple (or friends) that they know well. Here, choose whether to focus on the whole story, which could be over many years, or how they met that special person; sometimes the early stages of a relationship are the interesting ones to talk about: how the couple reacted to each other in the first instance; when they realised they both liked each other; any hurdles that prevented them getting together. Students can use this worksheet to prepare:

• Tell the students that the aim is to share their story with others in their breakout room, and since this is sharing a personal experience, the others can ask questions if they want to know more about some details or if something is poorly understood.
• Allow some preparation time for students to make notes. If they are telling the story of a relationship over time, they could draw a timeline of key events such as how the couple met, when they decided to move in together and so on.
• Open the breakout rooms (BORs). I have found that getting the timing right for BORs is difficult – you could allow around 3-5 minutes for each turn, depending on how talkative your students are or their level. Obviously, it’s important to monitor and gauge how the groups are going. Every 3-5 minutes, use the broadcast function to remind them to change the main speaker. You can also support the students by working with their language at this stage.
• After the time is up, have feedback in the main room. Which stories were particularly unusual – or heartwarming?


Follow-Up Discussion: Do big changes depend on small chances?
This is a focused mini-task, which inevitably involves unreal conditionals.
• Remind students of Daniil’s story. If you listened to Part One, you can ask if he hadn’t had his accident, would he have met Miriam at all? Why not? Ask them to think of their own stories – what small chances were involved that brought about such big changes in their lives?
• Students can discuss these things and say whether they think they would have met their partner anyway e.g. We were on the same course so probably we’d have run into each other at some point. I’ve found that this can lead to really absorbing discussions on the role of chance – is it true that important things turn on the roll a dice?

“Text Mining”:

Here is the transcript from Part 2 of Daniil’s story. Students could take this home before the lesson, and “mine” it for useful key lexis to talk about relationships e.g. we hung out for a couple of weeks, we separated, go your own way, it was meant to be, a whole bunch of people, get together, have a good time, unbeknownst to me, butterflies, right away, she took it in her stride, this is where X begins, romantic entanglements, sparks flying, there was electricity in the air, you know how things happen, spend (time) together.

Language focus:

As always, the main language to focus on is emergent language – what is it the students want to say to express their own meanings, and is there a chance for you to “upgrade” this – as you monitor or in feedback?

All the narrative tenses can be used / practised in the story. (Encourage students to notice how Daniil sometimes switches naturally to the present tense to make his story more dramatic.)

For the final discussion, the need for modal verbs + the perfect infinitive / unreal conditions / third conditional will inevitably arise. e.g. If I hadn’t met those people, I wouldn’t have travelled to Bolivia.