Post navigation

Back to the Future

Posted on June 24, 2013 by kierandonaghy

marita and coty

This EFL lesson plan is designed around a photo project called Back to the Future by Irina Werning and a short film about the project by Jamie Jessett. Students describe a cherished photo, compare photos old photos and recreated photos, watch a short film and write an email.



I would ask all teachers who use Film English to consider buying my book Film in Action as the royalties which I receive from sales help to keep the website completely free.



Language level: Intermediate (B1) – Upper Intermediate (B2)

Learner type: Teens and adults

Time: 90 minutes

Activity: Describing a favourite photo, comparing photos, watching a short film, and writing

Topic: Old photos, memories and emotions

Language: Comparatives, vocabulary to describe photos, emotions and memories

Materials: Photos and a short film

Downloadable materials: back to the future lesson instructions     back to the future photos


Support Film English

Film English remains ad-free and takes many hours a month to research and write, and hundreds of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy or value in it, please consider supporting Film English with a monthly subscription, or by contributing a one-off payment.

Monthly subscription

One-off payment


Step 1

Show students a photo of yourself which was taken at least 10 years ago and which is important to you. Describe the photo, tell students how you were feeling when the photo was taken, what emotions it brings to mind when you look at it now and why it is important to you.


Step 2

At the end of the class ask students to bring a photo of themselves to the next class which was taken at least 10 years before and which is important to them.


Step 3

In the next class each student has to describe their photo to their partner, explain how they were feeling when the photo was taken, what emotions it brings to mind when they look at it now and why the photo is important to them.


Step 4

Now put your students into small groups, show them these photos and ask them to discuss the following questions.

How are the photos similar?

How are the photos different?

How did the second photo come to be taken?

How do the photos make you feel?

andy baby

sue london

ian london

morita sisters

diego baby

carli pregnant


Step 5

After 10 minutes get feedback from the groups.


Step 6

Tell your students that they are going to watch a short film which shows how the photos came to be recreated. As they watch the film they should answer the following questions:

Who is the photographer?

How did the project start?

Show the film


Step 7

Get feedback from students (answers: the photographer is Irina Werning, and the project started when she began taking looking at old photos of family and friends and then creating them).


Step 8

Tell your students they are going to watch the film a second time and as they watch they should answer the following questions:

How did the project get bigger?

Answer: people found her photos on the Internet, she invited people to create their photos and go back to the future, and people contacted her to create their old photos.

How many pictures does she work on at a time?

Answer: 10

What sort of a budget does she have for her project?

Answer: she has a very limited budget.




Ask students to imagine that they have just seen this post on Irina Verning’s Facebook page:


I am looking for people with old pictures who might want to participate in my project. Spread the word. Please email to:


Tell them that they should imagine that they want to recreate one of their old cherished photos and that they should think of what they have to do to recreate it as accurately as possible. They should think about location, clothes, hair, make-up, accessories etc.  They should send an email to Irina Werning telling her about the photo, why it’s important to them and making suggestions about how to recreate the photo.


I hope you enjoy this English language lesson.

Support Film English

Film English remains ad-free and takes many hours a month to research and write, and hundreds of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy or value in it, please consider supporting Film English with a monthly subscription, or by contributing a one-off payment.

Monthly subscription

One-off payment


24 thoughts on “Back to the Future

  1. I like the way you choose materials: it is not the material that is suitable for your lesson development, but the opposite. you find something that is really interesting, beyond the language learning, and then you find the way to make it the chance for learning and practicing language! fantastic!

  2. This great!! Thank you sooo much for sharing your efforts, your ideas, your creativity. Thanks!!

  3. Another great lesson. I did this with one of my students today and transcribed a small part of the video. I went through this section because my student struggles with the past continuous and past perfect, and there are two great examples used here. I also loved introduced the verb – stumble upon.

    I’ll put the part I transcribed here in case anyone else finds it useful.

    0.42: “I was sitting one day in February in my apartment, and I got hundreds of emails in an hour. And, I thought, “What’s going on?” Basically, people were telling me that they had stumbled upon my work.”

    Also, as a follow up (or warm up), you can have a discussion about taking photos. I asked if she (my student) takes enough photos, what would make her take more photos, and if she likes looking at photos of herself.

  4. thank you for sharing your work. I find it most interesting I hope I can adapt it to my classroom and see how it goes.

  5. Thanks for sharing your great activities, Kieran. They are so interesting!

    Kind regards,


  6. Dear Kieran,

    This lesson is another “keeper” for use with my classes!

    I am so very grateful for all of your work and how your lessons can be built into other areas to enrich the material I use for my adult students.

    I would really like to make a donation. Can you find a way to link the payment page to an English-language version? Haven’t found that possibility!

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Maura,
      Thanks a lot for your kind comments about the site; it’s great to know you find the lessons so useful. I hadn’t realised the Donate instructions were in Spanish, I’ve changed them to English 🙂
      All the best,

  7. Hey Kieran,
    Thanks for creating all these great lessons! You have made my life easier with engaging material. I plan on using this lesson again!
    There is a somewhat recent story with video(link below) about a gym teach who wore the same outfit in his yearbook photo for 40 years! I think it works well with this lesson to discuss clothing from the seventies. Thanks again!

    • Hi Keith,

      Thanks for commenting and for your kind words. I might well add the link to the video about the teacher as it fits in really well with the theme of the lesson.

      All the best,


  8. Thanks for this, Kieran. I’m gonna try it. I do wish, however, that the video had subtitles. What with the background music louder than the voice and her unusual accent or that she wasn’t vocalising well – not sure which – I doubt my students will understand anything! I’m relying on the images, so I’ll have to think of different comprehension questions.

    • In order to avoid the problem with the audio(accent, etc…) I played it through once to see how much my students got (and they surprised me!). Then I played it again, stopping at parts to clarify what they were hearing.It was an intermediate level, but they were able to answer all the comprehension questions during the second go. They also loved creating their own e-mails to Irina to participate in the project (which was the practise they needed anyway!).

      • Hi Maura,
        Thanks for letting me know how the lesson went. I tsounds like the students really enjoyed it. great suff!
        All the best,

    • Hi Chiew,

      Thanks a lot for commenting. If you think your students aren’t going to understand the words you could write out the transcript or ask questions which relate to visual elements.

      All the best,


  9. Hey Kieran,thanks for this creative lesson and the amazing ways you make to learn English easily.Just a little thing about the quality of sound make it hard for me to follow,(or maybe because i’m not good at listening 🙂

  10. You Know what? I`ve done a similar project, also called and based on Irina`s pics Back to the future!!! It`s greatt to find you!