Lesson: The History of Greetings

Lesson: The History of Greetings
Audience: ESL / EFL learners; teenage through adult
Level: Intermediate & Advanced
Time: 45 to 60 minutes
Download Link: Google Doc


Greetings within a culture vary over time. Through this lesson, your students will explore resources to identify and understand how greetings have changed over the past two hundred years. They will also practice Internet research skills.


  • Students will practice their English Language skills, reading and presenting in English, to increase fluency;
  • Students will express thoughts and sentiments that lie outside of their normal conversation range so as to push their language development.
  • Students will utilize English web-based resources written in a variety of styles so as to better acquaint themselves with the language

Activity 1: Brainstorming about the past
Time: 6 minutes

Begin by showing The Strange History of Everyday Greetings and Phrases, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZO7vz82LY4 , to your learners. This should get people talking! What did your learners think?

Brainstorm, on the whiteboard, some English greetings they hear used in their peer group. Write these on a whiteboard. Before moving on, where do they think these greetings originated? When? Jot down these ideas beside each idea.

Activity 2: Unearthing and exploring the past
Time: 30 minutes

In Part A and B, learners will use web-based tools to understand when a term came to be used, and how.

Part A: Searching Time
Time: 10 minutes

Ask each student to pick a greeting from one of those mentioned in the first activity. Direct students to Google’s N-Gram Viewer, which is located at https://books.google.com/ngrams .

The N-Gram viewer is a way to visualize language. The tool searches a variety of historical texts to identify how frequently a word or phrase was used a points in time (years) in the text that was written in that year. Percentages displayed indicate the percent of times it appeared throughout text in that year.

Exercise: Students should look up their word or phrase using Google N-Gram Viewer: https://books.google.com/ngrams

Ask your students to talk about what they have found. Is their greeting new, or old? What do they think was happening in the world when that way of greeting became popular? What drove its popularity? What did people use before that greeting?

Part B: Reading the Books of the Time
Time: 20 minutes

Now, students should dig into the language context in which their term was used. The N-Gram viewer is cool because not only does it show when words were used, it lets a user view the books in which it was used.

Your learners should identify five uses of the word. For each, students should:

  • Write down the sentence (or sentences) associated with each
  • The kind of book (fiction, nonfiction, educational guide, etc)
  • The year
  • If you wish (as an educator), the citation

Activity 4: Report Back
Time: 10 minutes

This section can be led as a whole-class or group experience. Your aim, however you accomplish it, is to engage students in talking about what they have learned, and how it might apply today. As a whole class or a group exercise, students should present their findings, and solicit questions from fellow students. Fellow students, in turn, should each prepare at least one question.

There is, of course, ample room (as an educator) to create in-jokes based on what your learners have found. Enjoy the recap!

Activity 5: Homework – Create a video case study

Let’s finish with some humor! As a take-away or homework activity, your learner(s) may create a short sketch video in which they read-aloud and/or act some of the greetings they have found in books, online.

Kudos goes to the student who finds the earliest reference, and tries (very hard) to act the part.