By Shahram Sharif, via Flickr

A designer Lessons ESL lesson plan developed by George Chilton

This plan focuses on linking phrases, creating narrative and vocabulary describing relationships with people.  Use the lesson plan and adapt as you see fit. It could work as a follow up, or complement, to The Friendship Graph, by Neil.

This is a skeleton of a lesson – the aim is to set up a context and frame for your students to produce language. The key to capitalising on their production is to note down and then recycle the emergent language in your next class, reinforcing the language chunks, vocabulary and grammar that have come up during the lesson.

Level: Pre-intermediate, intermediate +

Lesson Aims

  • To create a narrative using images
  • Vocabulary building / categorising
  • Homework – writing a biography


  • Print images, or set up for projection, prior to class.
  • Optionally produce a list of character creation questions (see stage two).

As the class is very materials light (a few images, possibly a hand-out) – it could even be done off the cuff – just ask the students to draw characters, or to find their characters online using a computer, mobile device, etc.

Cover Image: By Shahram Sharif, via Flickr

Stage One –15 minutes.

Start off simply – write the word “friend” on the board. Put the students in small groups and have them agree on a definition of the word. They should begin their sentence with “A friend is…”

For example:

A friend is someone you trust, you can rely on, who will take care of you, and who you can have fun with.

After they have finished, go around the class and have each group share their definition. Do some on the spot correction where necessary. Write new vocabulary or useful language up on the board. Discuss the differences or similarities between the groups and see if you can come to a final definition together on the board.

Stage Two


Next, have students brainstorm vocabulary and ideas related to the concept of friend as a whole class. Write their ideas on the board, for example:

Friend, buddy, pal, mate, companion, associate, colleague, partner, lover, enemy, opponent, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, classmate, colleague,  roommate,  sidekick, soul mate

Get the students to categorise the words, grouping them by familiarity. See table:

Husband Mate Associate Enemy
Wife Pal Colleague Opponent
Lover Friend Roommate (arguable) Nemesis
 Partner Buddy Classmate
.Soul mate Sidekick

Or – For weaker groups

Have students look at the following word cloud. They should categorise each word according to the degree of friendship / type of relationship. If you wish, you can also create a similar word cloud on

Created on

 Stage Three – 15 minutes

You should now split your students into an even number of small groups. The ideal size would be two or three students per group. Name half the groups A and the other half B.

You are going to give each group a photograph of a person; the A students will have one character, and the B students will have another. They are going to create a character based on their image–deciding on a number of personality traits, and personal details.

Show the students the following pictures (Note: If teaching younger teens, and depending on your group, it might be wise to use pictures of younger characters as a base):

Group A Picture

By Thomas Hawk, Via Flickr

Group B Picture

By, Via Flickr

If the students find themselves…uninspired…by the photographs  you could do one of several things:

  1. Drop the pictures, have them search on their phones for a new person.
  2. Have them draw a character
  3. Play to their interests –ask them if the character is a sports star, a musician, a competitive eater, an actor? …or whatever might be more personal to the students in your particular group.

Hand picture A and B to the corresponding groups. Give the following (or similar) questions as a hand-out (or write them on the board, if you like to punish yourself):

  • Briefly Describe their appearance
  • What is the character’s name?
  • How old are they?
  • What was their first job?
  • When did he/ she first leave home?
  • Where to they live?
  • What do they do?
  • Do they have children? (When was their first child born?)
  • What’s their favourite food?
  • Where would they most like to visit?
  • Write three adjectives to describe their personality
  • What makes this person happy / angry / sad?

–Add, take away or modify the questions above as you see fit.

Students should also come up with at least 3 major life events for their character (getting married, leaving the country, having a child, being promoted, etc.)

You will need to monitor them  quite carefully during this stage. Make sure to take notes for error correction later on– and if you notice recurring questions – stop the activity and bring the students’ attention to the language point in question.

Give the groups 10-15 minutes to create their character, based on the photo they have been given and questions. Tell them that the more in-depth the character is, the better. Be sure to tell them that the questions you’ve provided are only a guideline and they can be more creative with their characters if they would like to be.

Afterwards, use your notes to error correct, bring in good language from other groups and answer any burning questions they may have.

Stage Four – Character Presentation and Story Development – 10 – 15 minutes

Go around the groups and have them each summarise the character they’ve created, including any major life events they have come up with. They should also show the picture as they present, so the rest of the class can get a fuller picture. Afterwards, compare answers as a group – which characters were the most different? Were any surprisingly similar? You should write up any further useful vocabulary/phrases on the board. Error correct as the need arises.

Stage Five – Character Timelines – 20 minutes

Now put A groups and B groups together. The new, larger, groups now have two very distinct characters. Tell the students that the characters know each other very well, and that they have some kind of relationship – it could be personal, professional, they could be married, be enemies.

Whatever the relationship may be, explain that the characters have a long history together and that their task is to work together to come up with a timeline, documenting ten (or fewer if you’re running out of time) years of their relationship, including the big events.

You can use the following questions as prompts, if necessary:

  • How and when did they meet?
  • Do they like each other now?
  • What was the defining moment in their relationship?
  • How did the major life events affect the other person?
  • What do they love/hate about each other?
  • If they could change one thing about the other person, what would it be?

Optionally, in order  to revisit the language in stage one (categorising relationship words) – have the students include how the characters’ relationship developed overtime – with headings on the timeline, e.g. associate, colleague, friend, best friend, husband, enemy…

As always, monitor the groups and guide their language production.

To sum up, you can have the groups present their timelines to the class, making sure every student speaks, or  see homework/class extension activity below.

Homework/ in class extension:

Students should write up their notes in the form of a biography – for one of the characters they created in class.

Useful phrases for timelines

They first met, the first impression,

Then, consequently, afterwards, meanwhile, following this

Other ideas – Hot Seat

This is pretty typical in TEFL, because it’s a good way to practise question and answer scenarios.

Put the Students new A / B pairs. Have each student come up with five questions to ask their partner about their character.  Give the Students 3 minutes each to be in a hot seat, with their partner asking the prepared questions, with follow-up questions.

 Online Timeline Creator

If you have the resources, you might like to give your students the chance to create their character timelines online.

Check out the following: – simple text-based timelines – can add images

As always, this is a lesson skeleton, with lots of maneuverability and alternatives. Please commet on what worked, what didn’t, how you changed it. All feedback is good!

Creative Commons Licence
Designer Lessons by George Chilton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.