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 ESL lesson plan for april

The Woman Who Slept for Thirty Years

Open-ended Task-based Learning:


April's lesson was inspired by a reading exercise I came across on another good ESL site: Frankie's ESL Worksheets. While doing the exercise from that site, I realized that the article he selected would also provide excellent material for a good open-ended task-based discussion activity.


Essentially the lesson goes like this: every student is given a fact about Mrs. Annie Shapiro. They share information with other students and try to come up with a theory of what happened to Mrs. Shapiro. In the story, she went into a coma for 30 years, but I purposefully left out any information that was a dead give away. I actually don't care if they come up with the coma theory or not, and, in fact, I don't even care if the original story is true. It's the process, not the end result that matters.



Important: DO NOT TELL THEM THIS IS ABOUT A WOMEN WHO SLEPT FOR THIRTY YEARS UNTIL THE END OF PART I. In fact don't even tell them it's a true story until near the end.

This is an information gap activity where students are all given a piece of the puzzle and then must have a short discussion with each of the other students to exchange information. There are two versions of the puzzle clues: One comes from an online news article and the other is a simplified version that I wrote for beginning or younger learners.  I have used the advanced version for intermediate university classes and the simplified version for teaching middle school second grade.

Activity I:

First the teacher should read the article before class about the woman who slept for thirty years (in actual fact it doesn't matter if you read it, but it might be more interesting to do the class). Print off a set of clues using either the advanced clues or the simplified clues.  Cut up the clues. 

In class, give every student one or two clues. Have the students memorize the contents of their clues and then take the clues away. If a student forgets part of their clue or misunderstands some part of the clue, it doesn't matter. This is an open-ended activity where process is more important than outcome. They must construct a theory to explain the facts they gather in class.

Now explain to the students that these clues are about a woman named Mrs. Shapiro. Tell the students that their object is to figure out what happened. Students interview each other in pairs and when they are finished with their first partner, they go on to the next partner and so on until everybody has interviewed everybody else. (There are about ten clues so you might want to make copies if you have more than ten students or give some students two clues if you have less).

When they are finished the interviewing process, have them write down their theories. Some theories I have heard in class are time machine, frozen for thirty years, accident, deserted island, space travel, asleep, mummification, and ghosts. Again, it doesn't matter which theory so long as an explanation is given. Now -and this is optional-tell them that the story is true. Ask them if this changes their theory in any way (it eliminates some things like time machines etc).

Finally, reveal the true story and go over the clues one by one and explain how they fit into the story. (This is a good chance to get some raw input from the teacher and since they've already done the exercise, it should be good comprehensible input.)

Activity II:

Now, in groups have them go over the Imagine You Slept for Thirty Years worksheet. They imagine what it would be like if they slept for thirty years. They discuss the most important historical, sociological, and technological changes of the last thirty years.

Finally, you may wish to go over to Frankie's ESL worksheets and do his reading activity as a supplement.


Mrs. Shapiro suddenly woke up and said, "I want to watch TV."


She cried when she saw her face was wrinkled.


She had never heard of the personal computers.


Most of Mrs. Shapiro's friends were dead.



Did she take a time machine?


Was she put in a deep freeze?


Is she a ghost?


Was she on a deserted island?


Did she travel in space?