Happy holidays! An information exchange activity for multi-generational classes

Julia K. Harper, Ritsumeikan University


Quick guide

  • Keywords: lifelong learning, learner-generated materials, comparing and contrasting expressions
  • Learner English level:High beginner and above
  • Learner maturity:Adults of any age
  • Preparation time: Initially 30 minutes (materials may be re-used)
  • Activity time:One 90-minute class
  • Materials: Vocabulary list, information sheet


Language instructors who work at the many lifelong learning facilities around Japan often teach multi-generational classes, where learners can range in age from 20 to over 80. Since different age groups tend to have different learning styles, goals, interests, and experiences, it can be a challenge to find teaching materials to suit everyone. However, the assorted interests and experiences that adult learners bring with them to the classroom are in themselves a ready source of classroom material (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005). The following information exchange activity pairs learners of different ages to talk about how they celebrated the various Japanese holidays and special days when they were young. It allows them to practice explaining aspects of Japanese culture, to review grammatical structures, and to gain an understanding of the experiences and perspectives of other generations.


Step 1:Choose an approaching holiday or special day, i.e. Children's Day, and prepare a list of related vocabulary for the board. Learners will need advice as to how to explain some holiday-related words, as direct translations are not always possible.

Step 2:Prepare a handout for each learner where they can record information such as "Food I ate" or "Things I did" (see Appendix). Fill out one handout with your own information to use as an example.

Step 3:Ask students to come to class prepared to talk about their childhood memories of the holiday (they could bring photos or mementos).

Step 4:Review the past tense and related expressions, adverbs of frequency, and comparing and contrasting expressions before the day of the activity.


Step 1:Have students fill out the handout in class. Provide help and add extra vocabulary to the list on the board as necessary. Careful preparation ensures better performance in the speaking portion of the activity.

Step 2:Form pairs (pairing learners of different ages) and have them exchange holiday memories.

Step 3:Join pairs to form groups of four and ask each member to introduce the differences and similarities they found between their own memories and those of their partner.

Step 4:Once students can express themselves with confidence, the teacher and class members form a circle. Students should not sit beside their former partners.

Step 5:The learner to one side of the teacher begins by introducing some holiday memories. The teacher then introduces some memories (possibly recent memories if new to Japan) and compares them to those of the learner. The learner to the other side of the teacher then introduces some memories and compares them either to those of the teacher, to those of the first learner to speak, or to both. Continue around the circle with learners introducing and comparing their memories to those of one or more former speakers. The emphasis is on fun, helping each other, and spontaneous discussion rather than on competition.


Memories of school life or past trends can be used in place of holidays and special days. Perspectives on present day life and trends rather than memories can also be exchanged.


Holidays and special days are of interest to people of all ages. This activity allows learners to exchange real information on how these days may be celebrated differently across generations, regions, or households. It also creates a game-like but relaxed atmosphere that does not discourage older learners, who sometimes lack mobility or feel confused by high pressure activities. As well, the activity can be reused each time a holiday appears on the calendar, which promotes the recycling of vocabulary and forms, and helps learners to measure their progress. Happy holidays everyone!


Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2005). The Adult Learner. San Diego: Elsevier.


The appendix for this article is available from the link below.