Birthday Celebrations: a conversation lesson

I turn 35 today and I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate it by talking to my students about birthday traditions and how they like to celebrate their own birthdays.

This is aimed at adult students, particularly because the video from friends makes reference to being 30, but I believe it may interest adolescent students as well.

The vocabulary from the text is not particularly challenging, so you could use this lesson with Intermediate students onwards.

Start the lesson by showing students the pictures below and ask them to discuss the following questions:

  • What do these pictures represent?
  • How are they similar?
  • How are they different?



As a follow-up, ask students to discuss what makes a good birthday party for children/adults. Give them a few minutes to brainstorm it and then open the discussion to the whole group. If cakes and candles don’t come up, make sure to elicit it from students.

Now tell them they are going to watch a short snippet from Friends about birthdays. When using TV series it’s always a good idea to check if students know who the characters are. You can do so by showing them a picture like this an eliciting the characters’ names.

As they watch the snippet, students should pay attention to whether Joey likes birthdays and how he feels about growing older.

Give students a chance to check answers in pairs, then get feedback from the whole group. After that, ask students to tell their partners what they did on their last birthday and if birthdays are something they look forward to (or if they feel like Joey). After a few minutes ask students to report what their partners said to the rest of the group.

To set up the reading, ask students if they know when the tradition of birthday cakes and candles was created. Ask them to guess before reading the text and board students’ suggestions.

Tell them they are going to read an article from a website called The Daily Meal about the origins of birthday traditions. The original article can be found here an my adapted version is below.

Birthdays Cakes and Parties (The Daily Meal)

As a gist task, get students to read the text quickly and discover when the tradition of using cakes and candles was created.

After that, give students more time to read the text to answer these specific information questions.

  • Who first celebrated birthdays?
  • Who created the tradition of celebrating birthdays with cakes and candles?
  • Who first celebrated the birthdays of people?
  • When did birthdays become more common?
  • Who created sweet cakes? When did they become accessible?

Get students to compare answerd and then check with the whole group.

As a follow-up, you may decide to work with the vocabulary from the text. These are the ones that appear in bold in the article.

  • to throw a party
  • rather than
  • eventually
  • to change your mind
  • to come up with
  • be wealthy

Give students a chance to discuss the meanings in pairs and then clarify the expressions. You can use the questions below for some speaking practice.

  • Do you think wealthy people are always arrogant?
  • Do you think you’ll eventually move out of your city?
  • When you go out with friends, do you prefer going to a restaurant rather than a bar?
  • Have you ever thrown a surprise birthday party?
  • Are you good at coming up with excuses when you don’t want to do something?
  • Is it easy to make you change your mind after you decide to do something?

Alternatively you could use the video below where John Green, of The Fault in your Stars fame, talks about birthday traditions from around the world.

I recommend using only the first 12, as the video is a little long. Ask students to decide which tradition is the strangest and if the Brazilian tradition is true.

Thanks for reading

3 thoughts on “Birthday Celebrations: a conversation lesson

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