Personalization: From ‘I’ to ‘you’ to ‘we’

In the two previous posts in this series looking at personalization in the classroom, I focused on the individual learner and how teachers and materials can make the language and topics of the classroom relevant to him or her. However, personalization isn’t just about making sentences using the words ‘I, me and my’! A large part of our personal lives involves our relationship to the people around us – our family and friends, peers at school or colleagues at work. Finding out and talking about the lives of others in relation to our own life is also a key part of personalization in the classroom. In this post I’ll outline three types of personalization activities which are based on the idea of learning about others and learning from others.

‘Finding out’ activities

We can ask students to say something personal about themselves with new language but real communication starts to happen in the classroom once students ask each other questions about their lives. The extract below from a course book demonstrates how this might work in a lesson.



[From Life Second Edition Pre-Intermediate, available 2018]

Having looked at the use of past tenses, Exercise 10 asks students to prepare questions to ask their partner either using the prompts given or they can create their own (personal) questions to ask. Next in 11, they take turns to interview each other using their questions and answering with authentic personal responses. Finally, working with a new partner in Exercise 12, they report what they discovered about the other person. This kind of three-part structure can help to practise a range of language structures and it also extends the basic idea of personalization beyond just talking about yourself into talking about the people around you.

‘Making connections’ activities

Finding out about another person is one thing but finding out what you have in common with them is something else. Making connections and finding ‘commonalities’ is something that is used a lot in any profession where the skill of networking is required (such as sales) but it’s also a useful life skill in general; the idea being that in a conversation you share something personal about yourself and the other person responds and as a result you find things you have in common. Classroom activities that encourage this kind of conversation are particularly generative and intrinsically motivating. Here’s an example of simple type of ‘making connections’ activity in which students talk about last weekend.

Work in pairs. Tell each other about your weekend and try to find things that you both did.

For example:

– have a meal with the rest of your family

– watch the same TV program

– stay in bed until the same time of day

– meet up with friends and go out somewhere

– do some exercise

Afterwards, report back to the class and say which things you both did.

The task requires students to make personal statements, ask each other questions, and it’s driven by the need to find things they have in common.

‘Show and tell’ activities

This third type of activity asks students to share something more personal with the rest of the class. You ask students to bring an object (or song or poem etc) into class which means something special to them and they give a short presentation about it. There are some challenges associated with this type of ‘show and tell’ activity. Students can find presenting in English in front of their peers daunting at first. They are also presenting something which may have great personal meaning so this is what might be regarded as ‘deeper personalization’ (see previous post for more on this). So introduce the task at a stage in the course where the class has had time to develop a team spirit with mutual respect for one another.

To help with this kind of activity, I recently developed some video materials in which different people present a personal object which is meaningful to them. Here is an extract from the materials showing a woman from Russia presenting a dress handed down from her mother.

[Video taken from Life Second Edition Elementary, available 2018]

Show your students this kind of video and identify the three-part structure of the presentation: (1) she introduces the dress (2) explains how it came to her (3) why it’s important to her. She also uses past tenses as well useful phrases such as ‘This is my…’, ‘It’s very important to me because…’ For homework, ask your students to choose their own object from the past and prepare a similar presentation. It’s a great way to bring personalization into the classroom both in terms of students talking about themselves but also finding out more about the people around them.

We would love to hear from you. Let us know how any of these personalization activities go in your classroom.

Be sure to tune into John Hughes’ webinar called Personalization in an Impersonal World on November 21st. Register here!

The second edition of John Hughes’ best selling coursebook Life will be available in 2018. For more information on Life, please contact your local sales representative.

Author: John Hughes

John Hughes is a teacher, teacher trainer and course book author. He currently combines a variety of roles including part-time teaching, running online training courses, and lecturing on ELT methodology at Oxford University. He is an author of many National Geographic Learning titles including Life, a six-level general English course, Spotlight on First, Practical Grammar, Total Business, Success with BEC Vantage, and Aspire. He lives near Oxford, United Kingdom.


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