Growing Older: complete lesson plan

Level: strong intermediate to advanced.
Ages: older teens and adults.
Type: listening and reading for key information; talking about growing older.
Skills: reading; writing; speaking; listening.
Language focus: vocabulary related to ageing and to psychological experimentation.

Note: I’ve found the core listening and reading tasks below really help simplify the process of locating key information in a text which, by following these instructions, my students have usually accomplished far more easily than if they were just asked to do so in an FCE or IELTS paper, for example. It may well be worth discussing with your students how they can use what they do here to help make their reading in and listening to English more efficient in general.

Materials: copies of the photo page and article here, one copy of each per student and one for yourself.

Preparation: scan through the article (linked to above) if you have time.


  1. Give out the photo sheets, one per student, and ask them to look at the photos and write some English words the pictures make them think of, just on their own.
  2. Divide your board so you have a column or two for useful language and a larger, empty area in the centre. After a few minutes, put your students into groups of four or five and ask them to compare what they wrote, then get feedback from the class, boarding useful language in the thinner column and encouraging your students to write it down. (Note: one of the photos is actually of Sir Karl Popper, an extremely distinguished philosopher. If this comes up in your conversation, great – you can get your student(s) to tell you what they know about him; if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it!)
  3. Explain that you have an article related to these photos. Ask your students if they can guess what the text will be about.
  4. Tell your students you’re going to dictate some numbers from the article, and ask them to write these down. Dictate the following (twice if necessary):
    • 1979
    • 70s and 80s
    • a week of reminiscence
    • one group
    • 1950s
    • twenty years before
    • one man
    • 30 years after
    • 1979
  5. Pair your students and ask them to discuss what they think the story of the article is. Allow a few minutes, then get some feedback. Again, board any useful language you encounter (make another column on the other side of the empty space, if required).
  6. Tell your students you’re going to read the article aloud. Ask them to listen for the numbers you dictated and write any notes about what these numbers mean. Elicit that you’ll read the text at a natural pace.
  7. After reading the text aloud, pair your students and ask them to share their notes. Then put them in new pairs and ask them to share again, so they get more information.
  8. If necessary, arrange your students into new pairs and read the text aloud one more time, again asking each pair to compare their notes when you’ve finished.
  9. Give out the article, one per pair, and ask your students to scan it for the numbers: did they note all the key information about the numbers? This would be a good time to discuss some of the more difficult vocabulary in the article – at least, that relating to the main points the students come up with. Again, encourage your students to highlight this language.
  10. In their pairs, ask your students to turn over the article and work together to write a short (one or two paragraph) summary of what they remember. Invite them to use some of the vocabulary on the board.
  11. As your students work on their summary, circulate, monitor and help with language. Ask early finishers what they thought of the article in general, which parts they remember most easily and which parts surprised them the most (or why they were unsurprised by the article). As more pairs finish, you can extend this into a class discussion.
  12. Finally, work with your students to create a class summary of the text (without looking at it again), which you can board as you go – this time, in the large, empty area in the middle of your board – eliciting corrections and changes as necessary. Your students could check the text one last time to make sure they haven’t missed out any key information.

Acknowledgements: the idea of asking students to listen for specific numbers in the text comes from Teaching Unplugged by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury, and from New English File Advanced, by Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig. I first came across the idea of asking students to work in two separate pairs to compare notes following a listening task in Humanising Your Coursebook by Mario Rinvolucri (the first part of which you can now download for free via the link above – look in the right sidebar). Thanks also to Jason Renshaw, whose Materials Design Masterclass series made me at least attempt to make my handouts look nice.

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