- Keywords: Writing, past simple tense
- Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
- Preparation time: 20 minutes
- Activity Time: 30 minutes
- Materials: Printouts of diary example, paper, writing instruments
Writing is seldom incorporated into lessons and is often relegated to homework, thereby reducing the opportunities to be communicative. In addition, the kinds of writing tasks that we set learners may not be motivating. This activity not only provides some great in-class writing practice of past simple form, but also offers a fun follow-up guessing activity that helps to develop a sense of audience for the writers. The activity can also easily be adapted for use in online classes
Step 1: Write a short, imaginary diary entry for a person that the students know well. Examples of people that have worked well in the past for me are famous actors, politicians, singers or even fellow teachers. The diary entry should describe a typical day in the person’s life, and students should be able to determine the identity of the person fairly easily by reading it.
Step 2: Print enough copies of the diary entry for each student or copy onto a PPT presentation for display in online classes.
Step 1: As a warm-up, ask students if they write a diary or journal or know anyone who does on a regular basis. Ask learners if they found someone else’s diary, would they be tempted to read it?
Step 2: Either distribute the example diary entry that you have prepared or display it on a PPT slide. Students read the diary entry, then discuss with a partner who they think wrote it. If the class is online, they can type their guesses in the chatbox after a suitable time limit. After they have guessed, the teacher can reveal the identity of the writer.
Step 3: Ask students to imagine a day in the life of a person that they know well and write a short diary entry for that person using the past simple tense. They should give some clues as to the identity of the person without writing the person’s name.
Step 4: Once finished, learners in the classroom can move around the class swapping their mystery person diaries and trying to guess the identity of the celebrities. Online learners can either share their screens in breakout rooms or read their diary entries aloud, thereby adding a listening element to the activity.
Option 1: This activity can be made more suitable for younger learners by changing the writing activity to an animal diary. Students write about a typical day in the life of an animal, then have to guess the animal their peers have described.
Option 2: A similar variation of this idea can be carried out in the form of a fan letter. Students write a fan letter to a celebrity, leaving the celebrity’s name off the letter. Again, peers read the letter and try to guess the identity of the recipient of the letter.
A Mystery Person’s Diary is an easy-to-prepare, fun activity that students find interesting and engaging. Since it serves a communicative purpose, it makes writing more rewarding. A further added benefit is that it also integrates other skills—either reading or listening. It could potentially provide a springboard into further writing activities, such as blog writing or journaling. Finally, since learners are writing for their peers, it supports an emphasis on the importance of writing for a real audience, rather than solely for their teacher.