My class of pre-intermediate learners have recently been introduced to the present perfect tense. Last night, I figured the class was comfortable enough with its general concept and form to be introduced to that old ELT favourite: Find Someone Who…
I was in a rush, and had unthinkingly photocopied the Find Someone Who…cards from the Teacher’s Book. Had I been better prepared, a more thorough examination of the cards would have revealed their unsuitability for my teaching context. My learners are, in the main, economic migrants to Shetland. Most of them work in poorly paid jobs, and many of them have escaped financial hardship in their own countries. It is therefore, inappropriate (as well as linguistically unproductive) to have a class full of such learners circulating asking questions such as “Have you ever been to Australia?”, “Have you ever flown in a balloon?”, “Have you ever had an adventure holiday?” These questions grate with me: not only do they mistakenly assume a global standard of living which is out of reach of the vast majority of the world’s population; they also perpetuate the myth that the pursuit of costly leisure activities somehow renders a person more interesting to talk to. (In my own experience, the opposite is often true.)
Yet Find Someone Who..., when it works well, is a really good activity. It gets the learners out of their seats and circulating, and when the questions are appropriate, it generates communication and interesting new language. This is not something we wish to deprive our learners of, so how can we make this work?
One simple solution would be to devise our own Find Someone Who…questions based on our knowledge of the class and individual learners' experience. Better still, ask the learners to devise their own questions based on any theme which may be of interest to them. This has the added bonus of recycling topic vocabulary. So, for example, we could have questions on the theme of illness: “Have you ever had chicken pox? Have you ever stayed in hospital overnight?” or love “Have you ever been on a blind date?” “Have you ever fallen in love at first sight?” or food: “Have you ever cooked a meal for more than five people?” “Have you ever cooked a meal outside?” “Have you ever had a cooking disaster?”
Not only will learners be more interested in questions they have devised themselves, it also saves you, the teacher, the chore of cutting out endless strips of paper and the guilt of not finding the time to laminate them for next time. As a teacher training Find someone who... might go: "Have you ever furtively thrown lots of crumpled little bits of cut out paper in the bin at the end of a lesson?" Yes? Shame on you!