Yesterday I gave my students an interesting lesson that really engaged them and got them using their tenses carefully to produce some good spoken language. It was a biography lesson that looked at the lives of three famous Americans: Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King. (It helps that these men are all really, really popular here in China.)

I began by showing a picture of Steve Jobs and asking my students to note down everything they knew about him in three minutes. Then I had them share their knowledge with the class.

After that, I gave them this mixed up biography and had them piece it together in the correct order. I also taught them the words “chronology” and “chronological.”


  1. Apple’s revolutionary products, which include the iPod, iPhone and iPad, are now seen as dictating the evolution of modern technology.
  2. He died in 2011, following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
  3. Smart but directionless, Jobs experimented with different pursuits before starting Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in 1976.
  4. Jobs left the company in 1985 and returned more than a decade later, after starting another billion-dollar company.
  5. Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco, California, on February 24, 1955, to two University of Wisconsin graduate students who gave him up for adoption.
Answer: 5,3,4,1,2
Then I gave them this timeline and asked them to make their own Jobs biography by picking five or six events and linking them together. The picture contains the present tense, so I reminded them to change it to the appropriate tense – usually past simple.
Next, the students shared their own bios of Steve Jobs, and I gave feedback.
Following this, I showed them a biography of Barack Obama and told them to take notes of interesting or important events, along with the dates.


The students were then challenged to write a simple biography of Barack Obama, focusing again on just five or six key events. I was very careful to correct their misuse of tenses here.

Finally, I showed the students another biography – that of Martin Luther King – and asked them to note down any structural points they found interesting. (I pause the video after the introduction to show that it didn’t just start with “He was born in…” but instead introduced his accomplishments first.) Then the students had to create a biography of someone they found interesting. Hopefully, by this point, you students are able to present key events in a logical order, linked effectively, and with appropriate use of dates.