The Burning House

Today, developed countries are consuming more than ever before. This culture of consumption is often fueled by people’s desire to define themselves by the possessions they amass. The Burning House: What Would You Take? takes a different approach to personal definition. By removing easily replaceable objects and instead focusing on things unique to them, people are able to capture their personalities in a photograph.

— Foster Huntington

I read about this collaborative online project just a few months ago and knew it would make an engaging class activity. Students practise speaking and listening skills while focusing on language used to talk about hypotheses (If my house were on fire, I would…; I could/might…; I wish…; Suppose…; in case…) and develop a wide array of vocabulary related to personal belongings and personality traits. What’s more, this conflict between rationality (what is pratical) and intuition (unveiling our most sentimental side) will reflect the students’ interests and priorities and help to build a positive classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning.

BEFORE THE LESSON

1. Have the students take a picture of ten objects they would take if their house were on fire. You may want to have them e-mail it to you so that you can have the photos ready for the lesson.

2. At home, the students prepare a short oral presentation explaining their choices:


What would you take if your house were on fire? Choose 10 things, put them together, and take a photo. Get ready to explain your picture to the rest of the class:

  • Can you name all the objects you have chosen in English?
  • Why would you take these objects? Make sure you can provide a brief explanation for each of them.


IN CLASS

3. Display each picture and have the group guess who it belongs to. The students then take turns explaining their choices. A lot of new vocabulary will be generated at this point, with each presenter introducing the new words in a natural and meaningful way. Allow for questions at the end of each presentation.

4. Visit the original online project: http://theburninghouse.com/ The students choose one of the pictures and write a paragraph about what they think this person may be like. You may want to brainstorm and/or introduce common adjectives used to describe personality first. Have the students share their work and predictions, and compare each other’s opinions.

5. Discuss: “How much can we tell about a person by looking at these objects?”

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