Can’t remember how I came across the article in the first place, but as soon as I saw that a newspaper had photographed ordinary people and then asked other people what their impressions of the photographs were, I knew I had a lesson plan here. I originally ran this in my discussion club and it went very well. It’s a great way to practice talking about people.
- Practice describing a person’s face, body and character
- Discuss first impressions and how accurate they are
- First Impressions Cleveland Magazine.com, Sept. 2008
- First Impression Comments which were taken from the alt text of the images in the Cleveland Magazine article.
Print out the pictures from the article and the descriptions at the bottom. Later you will give each student one picture each and you want at least two students to have the same picture, so you’ll need at least two copies of the pictures.
Note that the article features pictures of people and then comments by some of those people on each other. I have compiled the comments to make it easier for you. Otherwise you have to go through and type up all the alt text on the images. Also note that the last comment is by Person Z on his own picture one week later.
You’ll want to print one copy of the comments for yourself. Print another copy for the students without the information about who is commenting on whom, and cut each comment out separately.
There are a number of ways to introduce the theme of first impressions and appearances. Pick one, or do all of them in a row depending on how much time you have!
1) Write the proverb/advertising tag line, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” on the board and ask what it means. When you’ve established the meaning, ask if they think it’s true.
2) Ask students how much they can tell about a person by their appearance. For lower-level or less talkative students you might put a list on the board with different characteristics such as age, marital status, job, education, economic status, hobbies, personality. Ask students which of those they could definitely tell by looking at someone, which they could maybe tell, and which they could never know just by appearance.
If you’re very brave (and students don’t know a lot about you), ask students to judge you by your appearance. How old do they think you are and so on.
3) Review how to talk about appearances. Get some pictures of different people (or even use the pictures from the article) and ask students to describe them physically. It will help them with the main part of the lesson if you activate vocabulary like long hair, dark hair, tall, short, wrinkles, big, muscular, skinny. I have an advanced lesson plan on describing appearances which you can use as a lesson before this one.
4) Tell them the following story: “You are on the bus. A woman is sitting in a seat with two children. She is sitting very still and not looking at anyone. Her two children are making a lot of noise and running around the bus annoying people. The mother isn’t doing anything.”
Ask students what they would think of the woman in this situation. Likely they will say that she is a bad mother, or she is selfish and rude.
Now tell them, “What if asked the woman to make her children behave and she said that her husband had died recently and she was sorry that she wasn’t paying more attention to her children. Would that change your impression of her?”
5) Ask the students when making a good first impression is important. Again, for lower-level students you might give them a few concrete examples of situations such as: a job interview, a big party, a first date, a meeting with business partners, shopping at the store.
Introduce the activity by explaining that a magazine in the US decided to put a photographer in a public place and photograph people. Those people then had to give their first impressions of someone else’s photo. At the same time, others commented on their photos.
Note: You could have a brief discussion here about whether or not the students would like to participate in such a project or not. Or you could save that for the end.
Now show the students one of the pictures from the article (I find that pictures B, D, or L are good to start with because they are fairly neutral). Ask them what their impressions of this person are. Again for lower level students you may want to prompt them at first with yes/no or short answer questions: Is he/she rich or poor? Is he/she nice? What is he/she doing? Where is he/she going? What kind of job does he/she have?
Then read them the description of the person from the end of the article. Ask if they are surprised at all and if they had a different idea of the person, why it might be that they got it wrong. You can also read them the comments other people made about the picture and ask why other people seemed to think that.
Now give each student a picture that has a comment about it from someone else on the First Impression Comments sheet (A, B, D, F, G, K, L, N, Q, T, Z). Make sure that at least two students have the same picture. So for a class of six, you could give two students picture A, two students picture B, and two students picture D.
Give them a few minutes to think about the person in the picture and decide what they think of him or her.
Then let them find the person who has the same picture as they do. Give them time to discuss their first impressions and try to come to an agreement as a pair. During this time, you can circulate to make sure that they really are discussing and trying to make some good guesses. Some students have a tendency to say, “I can’t say anything about this guy,” and stop talking.
Now give each pair the cut out comments that were made about their person. without the identifying information. See if they can match which comments were about their person.
Finally, give them (or tell them) the information from the bottom of the article about their person. Give them some time to discuss whether or not their impression was right, and why they got the right or wrong idea about this person.
Note: You can also run the discussion part by breaking them into small groups and handing each group a set of pictures (5-10 per group is probably enough). Let them discuss their impressions as a group, then give them the comments and let them try to match the comments to the person. Finally give them the correct information jumbled up and let them again try to match the correct information to the pictures.
Bring the class back together and give them the answers (which comments go with which person, which biographical information goes with which person).
Ask them if it was easy or difficult to make guesses about people they have never met. Ask them to discuss what factors they looked at. Facial expression, clothes, body, hair?
This lesson can lead to a lot of different discussions. Any of the warm-up discussions could turn into a longer discussion about appearance and whether it is important or not. Or whether it is right or wrong to judge people based on your first impression of them.
You can also ask students what they notice about people first when they meet them for the first time. Or what they think other people notice about them.
You could have students talk or write about a time when their first impression of someone was wrong. For example, ask them to write about their first impression of you (or a good friend or classmate) and what they think of you now.
While I was writing down this post, I also stumbled on Mike Harrison’s film star impersonations activity. The video shows a comedian doing quick impersonations of famous people and there are a lot of good activity ideas there.
You could tie that in to this lesson by playing the video for students silently without any introduction. Ask them to guess what is going on. Once you’ve established that he is doing impersonations of other people, play it again without sound and pause at each impression. Ask them to discuss their first impression of the famous people he is impersonating. Then either watch it again with the sound or tell them who is being impersonated and see if that changes their opinion.