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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 2; Issue 6; November 2000

Lesson outlines


By Silvia Scarpa de Lareo
Liceo Jean Piaget
Montevideo, Uruguay
South America


Every teacher is constantly searching for effective ways to reach his students. This is undoubtedly a great challenge, especially if students are teenagers with varied interests and an eagerness to experience original, creative ways of learning every minute. Facilitating memorable learning instances has always been our goal as teachers, no matter how long one has been in the field or what methodologies one has experimented with. In recent years, content-based instruction has become one of the answers to this quest for high-quality education. In addition, educating in values contributes to the enhancement of any educational program seeking an integral formation of the whole person. Therefore, I have tried to find ways of integrating these two aspects into my teaching. The following is an example of how I developed a thematic unit around the topic of friendship, in order to celebrate Friendship Day with my teenage students last August.

In the first place, this topic was chosen because it was purposeful. It was something real, relevant to students´ lives. Not only because of the upcoming Friendship Day, but also because of the role of friendship in teenagers´ lives. Secondly, the language I was to teach – character adjectives – and the type of writing task I was focusing on – descriptive composition – would match perfectly with the topic of friends. Moreover, since friends are so important in any person´s life, many songs, stories, poems and other types of authentic materials can be easily found by the teacher and also provided by the students themselves. The following is a description of the unit and a retelling of how each step was approached and what the outcomes were.


I gave the students 20 words that describe people.

  • The vocabulary activity used at the beginning of the unit was intended to assess students´ known vocabulary regarding character adjectives as well as to clarify unfamiliar terms and provide more related words students wanted to know. This table, however, is really versatile and can be easily adapted to other assessment purposes.



After each student has marked his answers individually, students share their answers and try to find out the unknown meanings from their peers. If necessary, teacher clarifies at the end. Out of the 20 items in the original list, students only needed the teacher´s assistance in two cases. That is to say, everybody was able to find someone to explain the unknown words to him or her. I was really pleased with this result and with the whole process, which involved a lot of purposeful cooperation and interaction. This activity, which I have used several times, is effective in promoting students´ autonomy.

  • The next activity was intended to keep activating vocabulary, and especially to encourage students to include those new adjectives in the game. "I love my love..." is played orally with students sitting in a circle. The initial letter may be chosen by either the teacher or any of the players, or else it can be drawn from a pile of letter cards. Each player says, "I love my love with a/n (A) because he/she is so...(assertive)". Each player has a turn until they run out of adjectives; then, a new letter is chosen.


  • This is a prediction activity in which students join words about a given topic, activating not only vocabulary on the topic but also ideas. Each group is given a grid called Predictogram. This is a rectangle with its diagonal lines traced. At the center is the word FRIEND(SHIP); at each right angle is a word related to the topic, e.g. TRAITS, SUPPORT, SHARE, ENJOY, etc. Students are instructed to join two or more of those words - those joined by each of the lines in the rectangle- into sentences. Example: A friend is someone who offers you support no matter what. Friends are people with whom you can share good moments.

  • Cooperative reading – using cutouts from different magazine articles- helped students compare their ideas with those of teenagers from other countries. Students formed groups of three-four. The grouping technique consisted in matching synonyms (I used some of the character adjectives we had been working with). Each group member was given a paragraph to read, which was about a youngster´s idea of friendship and what to look for in a friend. Then, it was each student´s turn to share with the group. Afterwards, students compared and contrasted those teenagers´ ideas about friendship with their own, especially with those expressed in the predictogram.

  • Role play: roommates. The teacher asked whether it was easy or difficult to find those traits in a person. It was pointed out that in the group, students knew each other very well and some were very close friends since they were very little. However, how would students like to live with their friends? What kind of problems would they have to face?
    Students paired up according to role cards, on which each pair member was instructed to have a conversation with someone looking for a roommate in order to decide whether to become roommates or not. I prefer to give my students some scaffolding before role playing. Thus, prepared participation was implemented in order to allow each partner to brainstorm the questions / answers to discuss during the interview. Some key concepts to discuss were elicited and listed on the board: habits, hobbies, likes, dislikes, expenses, household chores, to name a few. Some pairs shared their conversations at the end, and everybody shared their conclusions. Most of the students concluded they would be willing to try and live together with their friends, and they made very keen contributions concerning the negotiation involved in terms of household duties, for example. Furthermore, we devoted a few minutes to share what students had discovered about themselves through this activity. Some of them expressed their surprise at discovering things they were not aware they valued so much. This was certainly a rich instance.

  • Values clarification activity: roommates. Students worked in groups of four, rank-ordering the characters of a text about four roommates´ problems. In this passage, characters and actions were controversial, negative and harmful, thus leading students to discuss and analyze each of them by applying their own scale of values. The debriefing at the end of the activity was very enriching, and students´ feedback on the activity was really positive, as it allowed them to express their own opinions, comparing and contrasting them with other points of view. It was also challenging to try to answer what they would do in the same situation.

  • Song: "That´s what friends are for". I used this song as a listening activity with three tasks for students to complete as they were listening. There were some lines to order, some corrections to make and some blanks to fill in.

  • Quick write: I asked students to think about their closest friend and write about him or her, concentrating not on the physical but on the personal traits. Then, some volunteers shared what they had written and the key words were elicited and written on the board.

  • Game: "If my friend were..." This is an all-time favorite, usually associated with practice of conditional clauses. Though this was not my aim, I chose this game to focus on the students´ feelings and emotions about their best friends. So, we had a round of questions such as "If your friend were a/n (book, animal, color, etc.), what ...would he /she be?" The very last question was "If your friend were a song,..." and this was answered by almost all the group members.

    I took advantage of the game as a transition to introduce two songs I had selected. So, I announced we were going to work with two songs.
    The first task was to match a list of objects with the adjectives students associated with them. I wrote on the board the lists below:

    Park bench quiet
    Bookends lively
    Bottle of wine shiny
    Garden gregarious

    After this was shared, we listened to the first song, "Old Friends", by Simon and Garfunkel, and discussed the tone of the song, the view of friendship expressed in it and how the song made students feel.

    After this, we did the same with the Beatles´ "When I´m sixty-four". The answers and feelings were completely different, since this song conveys a more positive view of being "old friends". When consulted about which song students would rather sing, they all chose the second one.

  • The writing asignment that went with this unit was a descriptive composition about one of the following topics:
    * Describe the person who has helped you most in your life
    * Describe the person you admire the most.
    * Describe the person who has influenced you more than anyone else.
    With the vocabulary activities and the brief writing tasks done prior to this assignment, students counted on enough elements to help them along the way.

  • Another assignment was a survey in which each student had to ask five people outside the group about the qualities they looked for in a friend. The results of the survey were shared the following class, by listing the favorite traits on the board. A chart was made to show the survey results and was kept on the bulletin board for the rest of the time devoted to this unit.

  • Another nice, quick warm-up activity I used was this game called "Words within a word". Example: FRIENDSHIP
    friends – fire – fried – find – fine – fin – fed – fish – fern – fresh – red - rein – rid – rip – rind – rinse - ripe – ride – rhine – rise – I – in – if – is – end – nerd - dip – den – dish – sin – sip – send – sir – she – shed - shine – ship – hi - his – hid – hide – hip – he – her – heir - hind – hire – hen – pie – pin – pier – pen – spider – spin – pend – pine – per ...

  • To round-up the unit, I chose an episode from the American series "Friends", which was seen and discussed in class. Besides its motivational value and its worth as authentic material, the video also introduced very valuable cultural information, worth pointing out and discussing.

  • But the "grand finale" of this unit was, without any doubt, the Invisible Friend activity we organized. It was agreed that presents had to be hand- or home-made. The results were amazing: from bookmarks to greeting cards, from cassette recordings to paintings, from cakes to picture frames, there was a wide variety of gifts; we all enjoyed receiving and giving those presents and trying to guess our "invisible friend´s" identity.


This was one of the most gratifying units I have ever had to teach. First, the topic itself gave me great pleasure, as did the activities I was planning. Then, my motivation increased as I was getting feedback from my students through the different lesson stages. Finally, the whole success of this work is due to the involvement we all put in. Each one of us was able to participate actively in the different activities proposed. Moreover, our participation was meaningful to our own lives. The purpose of integrating content-based instruction with the work on values which we so much advocate was accomplished. I felt rewarded and motivated to keep on exploring similar ways of "teaching and reaching"...

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