Lesson idea: the youngest person ever…

We recently looked at an article in English in Mind about a child genius. She was the youngest black female ever to get a place at an American university. I created a few activities based on information in the text which went down ok, but it was the follow-up task that was really successful.

youngest ever

Before class I prepared 16 slips of paper, each with a ‘claim to fame’ written on it. Each started with ‘you were the youngest person ever…’, for example:

  • You were the youngest person ever to grow a beard longer than 2 metres, aged 15
  • You were the youngest person ever to sing with One Direction, aged 10
  • You were the youngest person ever to complete a solo skydive, when you were 5!
  • Etc.

My classes are normally organised into four different groups of four students.

I gave each student one slip of paper, and allowed a few minutes for them to make some notes, think of their story and the facts around it, etc. Then students had 10 minutes to mingle and listen to each other tell their crazy stories. They always started off by asking their partner:

‘So what’s your claim to fame?’ / ‘so what’s special about you’?

Students had to remember as much information as possible about each of their classmates’ stories. They returned to their groups and told the people on their table who had the most interesting story. I did a brief class feedback but didn’t want students to share too much information.

Then came the fun part!

When I distributed the slips, I knew which team had each paper, as I handed them out in order:

Group 1 (four students)

  • You were the youngest person ever to grow a beard longer than 2 metres, aged just 15
  • You were the youngest person ever to sing with One Direction, aged 10
  • You were the youngest person ever to complete a solo skydive, when you were only 5!
  • You were the youngest person ever to get a degree from a Thai university, aged 11

Group 2 (four students)

  • You were the youngest person ever to survive a Great White Shark attack, aged 8!
  • Etc
  • Etc
  • Etc

This meant that I knew which stories each group should have heard. I knew the basic information that would be shared (i.e. what happened to the person, and how old they were), meaning I could quiz each group to test their listening skills. When monitoring, I sometimes heard students repeating additional information in their stories to different students, so I jotted this down as an extra fact. To finish the activity and add a competitive element, I then did a quick quiz. I asked Group 2, 3 and 4 a question about somebody in Group 1 (e.g. Who grew a long beard when they were 15, and how long was it?), and used mini-whiteboards to feedback answers. I continued with questions about each group for about 5 minutes. The students loved this part of the activity, and it proved that they’d been listening to each other.

Some tips if you want to try this yourself:

  • You must remember which student has which story, or at least which group does. Otherwise you might end up asking groups a question about their own team mates. Bring a print out of all the stories with you so you know who has what, and make sure you distribute the slips of paper in a clear order (group 1 first, then group 2, etc)
  • The first time I did the task, students tended to mingle in big groups, despite my rules stating otherwise! I found that putting students into dialogue lines worked better. See my blog post on classroom organisation for a visual of that set up. Make sure there’s at least one (ideally two) students from each group in each line though.
  • You could provide students with a table to help them record and remember information. However I tried this and it was a little cumbersome.

This was a great task for allowing students a bit of creativity, and to practise multiple skills. Let me know if you try it out, or any ways you think the activity could be adapted. Cheers.

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