This activity has been inspired by one of Robert Fulghum´s short stories from his book Maybe (Maybe Not). The story starts as follows:
and finishes with:
This activity follows the story.
First, we explain to students that the session will start with a short story which will be read to them. It is no need to read the whole story - only essential paragraphs (or if the language level of the groups is lower, we can paraphrase the story using simpler vocabulary and sentence structure). The reading should not be longer than 3-4 minutes.
After the story has been read, we suggest we do the same: We ask students to “take out their wallets (and purses and any equivalents of the money + other essentials holders) and place them on the table”.
Then, we ask students to take everything out, spread it on the desk in front of them and go through the items in a few minutes.
Finally, we ask students to say a few words (two sentences) about themselves based on what they have found – one idea related to something they would call “typical for them” and one idea based on something that has surprised them (something they did not expect to find, if there is such a thing).
This activity can be really great, however, there are five basic issues we, teachers, should be aware of:
1) There is always someone who does not have a wallet (either with them or simply does not use any) – in that case, we can ask them to take their diary or mobile and look at the entries or text messages, photos, phone numbers or anything else and base their introduction on that.
2) This activity takes usually longer than what is expected because (and I am always surprised it really works the same way as in the story) students are more than willing to talk. They usually want to comment on different things they have found or realised.
3) Students can react emotionally, such as go through the papers they have in their wallet and throw them all into the dustbin or bursting out in laughter because they simply recalled something really funny.
4) Students can sometimes get unexpectedly open, e.g. a male student commented once on a condom in his wallet saying: “This probably suggests, I am always ready.”, or a female student commented on her contraceptive pills saying: “This means, I do not want to have kids, just yet, I guess.” This means that we should try and make sure we can provide a safe and freindly environment where students can say whatever they want if they want to.
There can also be students of the opposite position – who do not want to share anything (it happens rearly), and there is no need to force them to share their privacy. Such a student can introduce themselves in a traditional manner.
5) Students can find objects of all types (from paper clips and coin jettons to scales or amulets) in their wallets and ask for “what this is called in English”, so, we have to be ready for that as well.
The great advantage of this activity is that students often remember a lot about their peers and that is why we can sometimes refer back to certain personal items or stories during the course, which can make the atmosphere in the group more personal.