05 nov Oops! A lesson on embarrassing stories
If you are suffering from Novemberitis and need a comical interlude or just an idea for a lesson, here’s an integrated-skills lesson plan for B2 learners. The topic is embarrassing stories and students will read about it to get in the topic, listen to a celebrity telling her own stories and talk throughout. The main point here is to get them to speak a lot, of course, but also to learn and practice (both in listening and in speaking) the structure of a personal story.
1. Lead-in 3′ (WG*): Show students the three pictures from this Daily Mail article (https://bit.ly/embarrassing-stories – N.B.: If the page appears blank, it may be due to your ad block.) and ask what they have in common. Elicit embarrassing moments/feeling embarrassed. You might need to work on the difference between being embarrassed and being ashamed.
2. Scanning/ Pre-teaching vocabulary 5′ (Ind): Ask students to go over the list quickly just to match the pictures to the situations below.
THE MOST COMMON RED-FACED MOMENTS
- Forgetting someone’s name when introducing them
- Tripping over in public
- Getting someone’s name wrong
- Getting food stains or splashes on your top
- Waving at someone and they don’t see you
- Getting food stuck in your teeth
- Thinking someone’s waving at you when they are not
- Being late
- Forgetting where you parked
- Burping accidentally
- Getting lost
- Having sweat patches
- Snorting while laughing
- Flies/ trouser zip being undone
- Swallowing food the wrong way
(Answer key: 12, 6, 2)
3. Vocabulary 6′ (WG): Elicit the meaning of “red-faced” and any other expressions you think they might not know (e.g. burping, snorting, flies/zip being undone, and swallowing). Use stock photos and mime to help clarify. You may also need to work on the difference between situations 5 and 7.
4. Speaking 10′ (PW>GW): Pair students up to choose the 3 most embarrassing moments in their opinion, then group two pairs together to decide on the worst situation for all of them.
5. Debriefing and expanding 6′ (WG): Elicit groups’ chosen situations and ask whether there are any situations on the list that they wouldn’t consider embarrassing at all. Draw attention to the fact that the list was published in a UK newspaper: what would they scrap off the list to make it more representative of what makes Brazilians embarrassed? Would they add anything?
6. Pre-listening (WG) 3′: Show students a picture of Jennifer Lawrence and elicit what they know about her. Ask them whether they think she ever feels embarrassed (they might remember her tripping over when she won an Oscar or you can show a picture).
7. Listening for gist (Ind>PW) 8′: Tell students they will listen to Jennifer talking about embarrassing moments in her life. Ask them to tick the three situations from the text she mentions. Pair check and class check (Key: 2, 3, 14). (Video: https://bit.ly/embarrassing_lawrence1 From 01:21 to 05:02)
8. Listening for detail (PW) 10′: Say you’re going to play the last story again (https://bit.ly/embarrassing_lawrence2 From 03:46 to 05:02) and ask them to answer these questions in pairs. Class check.
a) Where was she? A: In a restaurant in Paris.
b) What was she wearing? A: A designer dress with a zip and no shoes (she was barefoot).
c) Who did she see? A: Francis Ford Coppola, the man who directed ‘The Godfather’.
d) What did she decide to do when she saw that person? A: Go talk to him.
e) What did she realize when she walked away? A: She realized her zip was undone and her whole back was showing.
9. Post-listening (PW) 4′: Ask students to discuss how they’d feel in her shoes (or in her dress, rather) and whether something similar has ever happened to them. (Mind, depending on how comfortable they feel in the group, they might not share.)
10. Post-listening /Presentation 15′ (WG):
You may wish to draw attention to her use of “be like” to introduce (internal) dialogue and how that can be used for reported speech: “I was like, ‘You’re unbelievable!’”/”And I was like, ‘This is Elizabeth Taylor’ and she was like, ‘No, it’s not.’” / “And I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is Francis Ford Coppola!’” /”And finally I was like, I HAVE TO, or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.” /”I noticed I was barefoot, but I was like, ‘Mmm, maybe, they probably won’t notice.’”
She also uses “like” as a discourse marker: “And so I was in like one of those cool Tom Ford dresses with the zip and everything.”/“But I like introduced myself.”
Most importantly, you can ask whether they share embarrassing stories and who with, so you can introduce the importance of personal stories for forging closer relationships. Then you can work on the narrative structure of embarrassing stories. By comparing and contrasting the two stories she tells, you can show how they follow a similar pattern*:
A- abstracting/summarizing (to make people interested, she starts with “There are these two humiliating stories that are my most embarrassing moments and that I never talk about.”/”There are these two social situations… Second, because I really really want to plow through this and get them over with.”);
B- orientation (where she was, why she was there, what she was doing or wearing; the characters in the story);
C- the complicating action (the sequence of events: kept talking to the person and thinking the person was Elizabeth Taylor; noticed she was barefoot, walked to the table to introduce herself);
D- the resolution/result (in her cases, the realization that the person wasn’t Elizabeth Taylor and that her dress was unzipped);
E- coda/end and evaluation (she says she sprinted in the first case and she repeats what went on in the second case, and in a way reinforces how embarrassing this was. She also makes evaluative comments throughout).
N.B.: You can get to this stage of the lesson by making slips with the steps of her stories, having two groups order them on the board side by side (Story 1 and 2) and then asking the whole group what the point of each part is.
11. Speaking 20′ (GW>WG): Ask students to prepare to tell the whole group an embarrassing story. They can draw ideas from their experiences or from the text at the beginning of the class, but they should try to follow the pattern of a good story. After that, the groups take turns telling their stories to the whole class and they vote on the funniest/most embarrassing/most serious.
12. Follow-up 2′: As follow-up homework, you can ask them to either write an email or record a short video retelling an embarrassing story they heard somewhere or one they’ve gone through, if they feel comfortable doing so.
*Interaction patterns: Ind – individual; PW – pair work; GW – group work; WG – whole group.
**The structure of personal stories has been described by linguists since Labov (1972). You can read about it in the following book:
Herman, D., Jahn, M., Ryan, M-L. (2005). Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. Abington: Routledge.