Then and Now – Describing Past Habits (LS-EU-290)

Teaching grammar is an important aspect of foreign language learning. Traditional foreign language textbooks often focus on controlled drills, placing too much emphasis on the form instead of on the meaning. However, students learn best from a meaningful context they are able to connect to their own personal experience.

In this learning scenario, I have decided to use Europeana Collections to teach a grammatical structure used for discussing past habits (the expression used to). I have chosen a collection of photographs of the 19th century London as a prompt for a comparison between life in the past and present, hoping this would catch students’ attention and encourage some interesting discussions.

Time allocation

I decided to implement this scenario during a double lesson to allow enough time for all the activities.

Feedback on the learning activities

The lead-in activity worked well as an attention-grabber, immediately exposing the students to the target structure.

In the main activity, the students appreciated the use of authentic sources and most of them approached the task with great enthusiasm. They especially enjoyed the fact that this activity allowed them to use the skills of careful observation and allowed for a free exchange of ideas with their peers.

However, I now feel I have not given grouping enough consideration and I advise teachers to plan the grouping carefully and group students of mixed abilities to encourage equal participation(1). It is also important for the teacher to keep the time and instruct students when to move to the next photo station to make effective use of time. I noticed some of my students were not taking notes and I had to remind them that this was important.

Next, in the whole-class sharing stage, I focused on students’ attention to one photo at a time asking for their feedback. I feel this was a successful speaking activity where students used the target structure and we had some interesting comparisons between life in the past and the present. I concluded the discussion by asking the students how many of them would prefer to live in 19th century London as opposed to now. I got some insightful replies which showed that students did consider the different aspects of life in the past.

Finally, I concluded the lesson with a writing task where I gave the student a choice between two written assignments. As I teach a mixed-ability class, I find it important to differentiate writing tasks and allow able students to opt for the more challenging variant.

Final remarks

Although this scenario allows for the use of tablets and QR codes, I had limited resources so I printed the photos and posted them around the classroom. This required students to stand up while taking notes which might not be the best option for some students.

Using QR codes would allow students to scan the links and view Europeana resources directly on their tablets so they could carry them around to their workstations. I believe this would allow for greater flexibility and incorporate digital learning so I would highly recommend using tablets if they are available.

(1) For more information: University of Waterloo, Centre for Teaching Excellence. (2019). Implementing Group Work in the Classroom [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Would you like to know more about this learning scenario? You can download it below:

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? Why don’t you explore the related learning scenario?

CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana Collections and provided by the Wellcome Collection.

Leave a Reply

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial