The Loneliest Man in the Universe lesson plan

This lesson plan was created as a part of a challenge by a colleague of mine, Milada Krajewska, and presented at the 3rd European Congress of the Polish Association for Standards in Language Education PASE on 13th May 2017. The lesson was designed with C1 students in mind and takes roughly 60 minutes to complete.

Before the lesson

In order to learn more about the story, I strongly suggest reading this article.

The Task

In this lesson, students learn about Michael Collins, the astronaut who was dubbed “the loneliest man in the universe”. Students unravel the mystery of “the forgotten astronaut” while watching a video and completing two listening tasks. Collins’ story also serves as a basis for discussion about the importance and implications of becoming a household name, getting recognition for one’s achievements, and possible advantages of staying away from the spotlight.

What we learn about Collins’ time in space creates a perfect context to introduce, practice or revise such grammar points as unreal past and ways to express hypothetical meaning.

The lesson plan comes with a reading homework assignment. It was designed with C1 students in mind and takes roughly 60 minutes to complete.

Step 1: Create the intrigue and introduce the hero (slides 2-6)

In this part of the lesson, students guess who would need to carry various items in the pockets of their work clothes. You are likely to hear such answers as “a police officer”, “a detective”, “a spy”, or even “a teacher” 🙂 The aim of this stage is to make students curious about the lesson and introduce the hero: an astronaut.

Step 2: Introduce the topic and see how much your students know about it (slides 7-12)

Play a short quiz with your students to see how much they remember about the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission. You might play the quiz in teams or a whole class. It helps to revise or explain some information before getting to the next part of the lesson.

Step 3: Watch the video and meet the loneliest man in the universe (slides 13-14)

Tell your students that they are about to unravel the mystery posed in the title of the lesson.

Listening #1: Play the part of the video (00;00 -02;50) and ask your students to answer 4 questions:

1. Who was the loneliest man in the universe? (Michale Collins, the pilot of the Apollo 11 command module)

2. Why did he earn this nickname? (Because the orbited the Moon all by himself during the mission)

3. What does the number 21 stand for? (The number of hours he was in the space alone orbiting the Moon)

4. What does the number 48 stand for? (The number of minutes he was cut off from all contact with the world each time he orbited the Moon)

Listening #2: In order to make sure your students really understood the story, play the part of the video one more time and ask them to answer some more detailed questions (worksheet)

Step 4: Grammar: unreal past, hypothetical meaning (slide 15)

The story of Michael Collins provides a perfect context for some unreal past grammar practice.

Ask your students to imagine what was going through Collins’ head when he was in space all by himself. Tell them to use the words from the box to make the sentences.

This activity is effective in either revising or introducing the idea of unreal past and hypothetical meaning. Your students will have a pretty clear context to work with and might come up with such sentences as:

  • I wish I were on the Moon with them and not stuck here!


  • It’s time they came back, I am so bored here by myself.


  • I wish I hadn’t become a pilot! I wouldn’t have to be sitting here all by myself.


  • It’s time I thought about retirement…


  • I’d rather this command module had more space or something interesting to do.


  • Suppose the didn’t come back, I’d have to fly home by myself!


  • I wish I had brought some crossword puzzles here with me.

Step 5: Listening part 2 – Finish the story (slide 16)

In order to satisfy your students’ curiosity about Michael Collins’ post-Apollo 11 life, watch the video until the end and answer two more questions. You might share some extra facts with your students (found in the article) concerning Collins’ quitting NASA, going into finance, having a successful marriage (as the only one from the crew!).

Step 6: Discussion (slides 17-20)

Learning more about Collins’ life gives your students a broader view of the issues discussed in this part of the lesson plan. See what they think about the importance of fame, getting validation for accomplishments or staying shaded from the glare of publicity (the vocabulary in bold was taken from the article linked above).

Step 7: Homework (worksheet)

I designed this homework for my CAE students so it is modelled after one of the exam reading tasks. It might be interesting for students who’d like to learn more details about this story.

Personal Experience

I chose to use this story in my lesson because it features an unlikely hero and a surprising plot twist. I suspected my students might be into it and I was right. They were genuinely curious about Michael Collins as most of them have never heard about him before. Merely watching and discussing the video makes for a lively class but I wanted to squeeze as much language practice out of it as possible so I chose to include some grammar in the lesson plan. The lesson is, nevertheless, complete even without it.

My favourite thing about this class is that the story really captivates the students and first make them sympathise with Collins (aww, poor guy!) and then root for him and admire him. His is a great example to provoke the discussion which comes afterwards and really makes students think about how any why we tend to admire certain people or overlook their achievements.

To see some more lesson plans suitable for advanced students take a look here, here, and here.


The video


The Loneliest Man In the Universe Worksheet


  1. The lesson is wonderful! I’ve seen the presentation during the congress and I was waiting for this post 🙂 Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    • Thank for coming to the live session and I hope you are going to enjoy this lesson! 🙂

  2. This is superb! Not only the topic itself is interesting, but the overall (visual) presentation is gripping and highly motivating. Great work and thank you so much for sharing this. Cheers! : )

  3. Fantastic lesson, I used it on B2 and C1 students… was very well received! Thank you!

  4. Did this in my online class the other day, but also tied in modals of speculation/deduction as that what we were learning about in the unit and it worked really well!! Thanks for sharing all the wonderful resources. Helped me as I was in a pinch last week and lacking creativity 🙂

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