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Life Stories

“The Eccentric International Student’s Guide to Birthday Parties”

This lesson is designed to build your critical-thinking skills in English as you read, listen, and answer different types of comprehension and discussion questions.

Pre-Listening Activities for Teachers

Although these questions are related to classroom instruction, independent learners can reflect on the ideas and topic to prepare for the listening portion of the lesson.

  1. Prediction: Ask students to look at the title and the provided summary of the story. In pairs or small groups, have them discuss and make predictions about what they think the story will be about, focusing on possible unusual activities at a birthday party.
  2. Vocabulary Building: Provide a list of vocabulary words from the story, such as “quirky,” “eccentric,” “exotic,” “tentatively,” and “pungent.” Have students work individually or in pairs to brainstorm definitions and examples of these words and share their findings with the class.
  3. Discussion Starter: Pose a question related to the story’s theme, such as “Do you enjoy trying new and unusual things? Why or why not?” Have students discuss their opinions and experiences in pairs or small groups, encouraging them to provide reasons and examples to support their viewpoints.
  4. Culture Exploration: Assign students to research a specific country mentioned in the story (e.g., the origin of salsa music or the cultural significance of durian fruit). In pairs or small groups, students can present their findings to the class, sharing interesting facts about the country’s culture and traditions.
  5. Anticipation: Provide a set of statements related to the story, such as “The guests will enjoy the unusual foods” or “The games at the party will be challenging.” In pairs or small groups, students discuss whether they agree or disagree with the statements and explain their reasoning. This activity helps activate their prior knowledge and generates curiosity before listening to the story.


Listen and read the story and answer the questions.


A language activity at Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab.

It was the birthday of Alex, a quirky and eccentric international student studying in a small college far from home. Alex was known for his love of weird and unusual things, and his birthday party was no exception.

To celebrate his special day, Alex invited a group of his fellow international students from all over the world. The room was decorated with flashing lights and crazy-looking posters, and music was playing loudly in the background.

As the guests arrived, they were greeted by Alex wearing a giant inflatable elephant costume. He also had prepared a series of eccentric games and activities for the party, such as a “blindfolded food tasting” game and a “human knot” challenge.

But the real highlight of the party was the food. Alex had found a range of unusual and exotic foods from all over the world, including fried crickets, durian fruit, and fermented shark meat.

The guests were initially hesitant to try the unusual foods, but Alex was insistent. “Come on, guys, it’s my birthday! Give them a try!” he exclaimed.

As the guests tentatively took a bite of the fried crickets, they were surprised to find they weren’t actually that bad. 

In fact, they were surprisingly tasty. The durian fruit, on the other hand, was a different story. The strong smell was enough to make most people gag, and only a brave few managed to actually eat it.The fermented shark meat was the ultimate test of bravery. It had a strong, pungent odor that filled the room, and most people couldn’t even bring themselves to try it.

Despite the unusual foods, everyone was having a great time playing games and laughing together.

As the party drew to a close, Alex thanked his friends for making his birthday so special and promised to host an even more bizarre party next year.

Comprehension Questions: Self-Grading Quiz

Comprehension Questions in Text Format

1. What kind of atmosphere did Alex want to create for their birthday party?
A. A formal and serious atmosphere
B. A wild and crazy atmosphere
C. A calm and peaceful atmosphere
D. An intellectual and academic atmosphere

2. Why did Alex choose to invite fellow international students to the party?
A. They didn’t have any local friends.
B. They wanted to expose their friends to new cultures.
C. They only felt comfortable with people from their own culture.
D. They wanted to impress their friends with their knowledge of different cultures.

3. What was the guests’ initial reaction to the unusual foods?
A. They were excited to try them.
B. They were disgusted by them.
C. They refused to try them.
D. They were hesitant and unsure.

4. Why did Alex promise to host an even more bizarre party next year?
A. To impress their friends
B. To challenge themselves and their friends
C. To make people uncomfortable
D. To show off their wealth

5. What can you infer about Alex’s personality based on the story?
A. They are shy and introverted.
B. They are serious and studious.
C. They are outgoing and eccentric.
D. They are rude and obnoxious.


1. Answer: B. A wild and crazy atmosphere
Explanation: The story mentions that Alex was known for their love of weird and unusual things, and their birthday party was described as having neon lights, funky posters, and salsa music playing. These elements suggest a lively and energetic atmosphere, indicating that Alex wanted a wild and crazy party.

2. Answer: B. They wanted to expose their friends to new cultures
Explanation: The story mentions that Alex invited fellow international students from all over the world to the party. This suggests that Alex wanted to create an environment where people from different cultures could come together and experience new things, indicating a desire to expose their friends to different cultures.

3.  Answer: D. They were hesitant and unsure
Explanation: The story mentions that the guests were initially hesitant to try the unusual foods prepared by Alex. This indicates that their reaction was uncertain and cautious, suggesting they were unsure about trying something out of their comfort zone.

4. Answer: B. To challenge themselves and their friends
Explanation: The story mentions that Alex promised to host an even more bizarre party next year. This implies that Alex wants to push the boundaries and create a more challenging and unconventional experience for themselves and their friends, indicating a desire for personal and collective growth.

5. Answer: C. They are outgoing and eccentric
Explanation: The story portrays Alex as an international student who loves weird and unusual things, wears an inflatable elephant costume, and prepares unusual foods for their birthday party. These traits indicate that Alex is outgoing, meaning they are sociable and comfortable in unconventional situations, and eccentric, suggesting a distinctive and unconventional personality.

Discussion Questions

Easy (Recall and Comprehend):

  1. Have you ever been to a birthday party? What did you do there?
  2. Do you like trying new foods? What is your favorite food to eat?

Intermediate (Analyze and Interpret):

  1. How do you think trying new and unusual things can help us grow as individuals?
  2. In your opinion, why do you think it’s important to celebrate birthdays? What does it signify?

Intermediate (Analyze and Interpret):

  1. How do you think cultural experiences, such as trying different foods, can contribute to our understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures?
  2. In what ways do you think Alex’s eccentricity and love for unusual things influenced the atmosphere and dynamics of the party?
  3. Reflecting on the story, can you think of any personal experiences where you stepped out of your comfort zone and tried something new? How did it impact you?

    Class Activities

    These post-listening activities add visual (seeing), auditory (listening), kinesthetic (moving), and tactile (touching) elements to engage students in meaningful ways based on their learning styles.

    1. Visual Activity:
    Ask students to create a collage or a poster representing the eccentric birthday party described in the story. They can use images, colors, and text to capture the atmosphere, decorations, and unusual foods. Encourage creativity and provide an opportunity for students to visually express their understanding of the story.

    2. Writing Activity:
    Have students write a descriptive paragraph or short story about their ideal birthday party. They can incorporate elements from the story, such as unusual foods, funky decorations, or unique activities. Encourage them to use vivid language and descriptive details to bring their imaginary party to life.

    3. Kinesthetic Activity:
    Organize a mini “cultural fair” where students set up booths representing different countries mentioned in the story. Each booth can showcase traditional food samples, cultural artifacts, and brief presentations about the country’s customs and traditions. Students can take turns exploring the fair, asking questions, and engaging in hands-on activities.

    4. Auditory Activity:
    Arrange a class discussion where students share their favorite parts of the story and their reactions to the eccentric birthday party. Encourage active listening and respectful dialogue, allowing students to express their opinions, share personal anecdotes, and engage in meaningful conversations related to the themes explored in the story.

    5. Collaborative Activity:
    Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a different aspect of the story, such as the unusual foods, the decorations, or the games. In their groups, students can collaborate to create a presentation or skit that showcases their assigned element. Encourage teamwork, creativity, and effective communication as they work together to bring their part of the story to life.

    Language Game

    Here’s a possible classroom language game based on the story and topic:

    Title: “Stand Out and Be Proud”

    Objective: To encourage students to embrace their individuality and feel confident expressing themselves through clothing choices.

    Materials: A list of adjectives describing different clothing styles, such as “casual,” “elegant,” “edgy,” “quirky,” “vintage,” etc. (one per student), a bag or container to hold the adjectives, a timer.


    1. Divide the class into pairs or small groups.

    2. Explain to the students that they will take turns drawing an adjective from the bag and describing a clothing item or style that fits that adjective.

    3. The other student(s) in the group must then try to guess what the item/style is, based on the description given.

    4. The student who guessed correctly gets to keep the adjective and earns a point for their team. If nobody guesses correctly within 30 seconds, the adjective goes back in the bag and nobody earns a point.

    5. Continue playing until all adjectives have been drawn and described.

    6. At the end of the game, the student or team with the most points is declared the winner.

    Extension: After the game, have a class discussion about the importance of embracing individuality and expressing oneself through clothing choices. Ask students to share examples of times when they felt proud to stand out or be different, and how it made them feel. Encourage them to keep being true to themselves and expressing their unique personalities and styles.

    Different AI technologies, including ChatGPT and an AI voice generator, were used in a collaborative way to prepare the content for this lesson.
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