Times Have ChangedGerard Counihan
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Level: For upper intermediate and advanced levels.
Some intellectual writers recently spoke wistfully of the war years in Europe, saying that the people then were perhaps "better" than their contemporary counterparts (you and I) because of having had to live through a war, with the trauma and misery which the latter entails. They spoke of a sense of void reigning among modern youth and society in general, saying that we are more concerned, for example, with football and insurance policies, than with the real meaning of life.
Obviously enough, you don't start off the class by making a sweeping statement on the above ideas (I did, and the students of the first class were left speechless, a traumatic experience in conversation class!). I went on to tackle the class in the following way; write down these two headings, one on the left of a page, the other on the right:
- People before
- People nowadays
Then get the students to compare and contrast the people/society before with what is like nowadays. Look for simple statements about the past/people in the past. If the students are a bit slow to contribute, give them a few stereotypical comments on the past. Age is no excuse, for everybody has some idea on life years ago, from their grandparents or from films they have seen. Here are some of the statements they made in my classes (don't show the students until they have produced their ideas):
- People in the past watched less TV.
- People nowadays prefer TV to talking.
- They lived from day to day.
- They are always thinking of the future.
- They appreciated the small things.
- They are very materialistic.
- They made more sacrifices.
- They are more selfish.
- They had more babies.
- They have very few.
- They lived more in the street.
- They cannot wait to get home.
- They died more often from illnesses.
- They live longer.
- They took less medicine.
- They have tablets for all.
- They complained less.
- They never stop.
- They worried about staying alive, surviving.
- They worry about football, cars, and jobs.
- They had less expectations.
- They have too many?
- There was more solidarity.
- They are individualistic.
- They were more spiritual.
- They have no time for that.
- They were constantly challenged by life.
- They have it easy.
- They called it "hard work".
- They call it "stress".
Start off a debate on your students' comments.
Now, show the students' opinions. Many of the above statements can be challenged. For example, people before had no televisions so it is little wonder they spoke more. For example, what is "living from day to day?" What are the differences between those who lived through a war and those who did not? For example: the former valued life more; they feared for their life; they lived for their children; they were hungry, and did not waste or throw away food; they did not throw away old things ... So, were they better people?
An offshoot activity could be the following: What achievements or experiences will you have to talk about when you are older, say 75? What stories will you tell your grandchildren? If this is too abstract, get the students to remember stories, anecdotes and so on that they were told by their grandparents. Or, what do the elderly talk about in general, nowadays? What do children talk about at and after school?
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 1, January 1999