The aim of this activity is to provide students with a context to revise present, past, and perfect tenses. I planned it with my teenage students in mind and the inspiration came from this article. It might be executed as a speaking or writing activity. Suitable for levels intermediate and higher.
Start by showing your students two pictures of Stoney Emshwiller side by side, as featured here. One shows him as an 18-year-old, the other is his current photo at the age of 56. Ask your students what they think these two men have in common. They will hopefully be able to guess it is the same exact person in two different points in his life.
At this point, you might either summarise the idea of Emshwiller’s project yourself or let your students read the short article on the website. If you choose the second option, make sure not to reveal the photos that follow the text.
Find out what your students think about this project. Does it sound like an interesting idea? Why would anybody decide to do it?
Ask your students:
What kind of questions do you think the 18-year-old Stoney asked his future self?
You might narrow it down to several categories: personal life, professional life, and trivia.
Students take some time to come up with 3-5 questions. They work alone or in pairs. Elicit some examples from your students and, if necessary, provide them with some actual questions that Emshwiller asked:
- Are you rich?
- Are you married?
- Are you a superstar?
Work on a sample answer to one of the questions together. Ask your students to provide some background information, no yes/no answers allowed. Look at a variety of grammar tenses that would be suitable here: Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect, Present Perfect etc. Point out that the choice of grammar depends on how old the future self is (the older the interviewee, the more narrative tenses are likely to occur).
This is a good moment to see which tenses your students struggle with or aren’t sure about. It will help you monitor the activity and suggest corrections later.
Tell your students to imagine they are starting a similar project and want to interview their future selves. First, they need to decide how old their future self is and write down questions. Ask them to write questions about something that really interests them about their future lives. Students work individually.
Step 6: If you choose to use it as a writing activity
- students come up with around 4 questions;
- they choose 2 to answer in writing in class;
- allow ample time to complete the activity and try to monitor it closely;
- ask a volunteer to share one question with the group and then ask the group to speculate about the student’s answer. After that, the student might share their actual answer with the class or, at least, say whether their guess was more or less right;
- try to get each student share their 1 or 2 questions with the group. Volunteers might read out their complete answers to chosen questions;
- ask your students what they thought about the questions asked in the interviews and choose the most interesting one;
- discuss which students came up with the most interesting life story;
Step 6: If you choose to use it as a speaking activity
- students write down their questions on separate pieces of paper;
- collect the questions and put them in a container;
- sit or stand in a circle, students draw questions at random and answer accordingly;
- once you are out of questions, try to choose the most interesting questions / the person with the most interesting life together;
OR (for bigger groups)
- divide your students into smaller groups or pairs;
- collect the questions and divide them among the groups/pairs;
- students interview each other;
- once they are finished, try to choose the most interesting questions / the person with the most interesting life together;
Show your students the video to give them the feel of what the project is all about.
So far, I have tried this activity with two small groups of teenagers (once as a speaking exercise, the other time to work on writing). Both times, we had a lot of fun and it was sometimes difficult to keep them focused on their grammar. I was glad to see them really moved and interested in Emshwiller’s project. They managed to come up with some brilliant and fun questions (one of my favourite was “How is your English now?“)
I feel this idea has a lot of potential and might inspire a number of various classroom activities. I chose it to tackle what my students have been struggling with the most: correct use of grammar tenses. Looking at one’s (long and glamorous) life seems like a great opportunity to employ a number of different tenses and practice what might seem basic (but never is!) i.e. irregular verbs, Past Simple vs Past Continuous, the word order in questions (Are you … / Do you … / Did you … etc.) or using Wh- questions.