Sometimes, this question feels like the battle royal of my existence. Not that my heart and mind are always in contradiction, but I honestly can’t always tell the difference between an impulsive desire and a deep wish for change. Can you?
Heart versus Mind
The battle between heart and mind, or need versus want, or emotion versus reason, is as old as it gets. And of course, rational thinking (a.k.a the mind) almost always plays the role of the wiser older sibling who makes informed choices, follows the rules and knows better. Inversely, emotion is the impulsive little sister who lets her heart govern and despite getting into trouble from time to time, seems to live a fuller life.
Watch your head! Pendulum Swing
The ‘heart’ really got its bad reputation during the 18th century, in the age of enlightenment. Many of the prominent thinkers of the time, René Descartes, David Hume, Emmanuel Kant, to name the more known ones, created a strong wave against tendencies towards superstition and irrational beliefs. It was a fundamental shift in how knowledge was qualified (no longer all by divine intervention). Eventually, the enlightenment movement gave birth to the scientific method, which is the foremost method used in research across many disciplines today. It was the antidote to the 18th-century version of ‘fake news.’
Still, as much as I like rational thought, my heart sometimes carries messages that my mind won’t let me have. That is why I really enjoyed famed neuroscientist António Damásio‘s book Descartes’ Error. In it, Damasio argues that rational thought cannot occur without emotional data. In other words, we cannot think rationally without our emotions factoring into the equation. Emotion is part of the information we use to make all decisions, regardless of profession or character.
Let’s Talk About It
Despite the complexity of the issue, this is a great topic to explore with students. To help prime the discussion, I found a great wordless animated short (linked below) that can even help even the more basic level students engage in the discussion. On the first level, it is a great way to mesh two vocabulary elements: parts of the body and action verbs. And on the next level, it may set a nice scene to gets your student’s thoughts on the matter–rational and emotional.
Language focus: questions, preferences, past tense, present tense
It is no secret that I am a talker. What’s more, I love conversation–I devoted a whole website to it, so that should tell me something right? I genuinely enjoy getting to know people. Their stories, their values, what they like and don’t like, their guilty pleasures. Every time I manage to get to a deeper level in a conversation lesson, I am always, touched, grateful and amazed at the variation on a human theme we have.
What I mean to say is that as humans we share quite a few common elements: we eat, we sleep, we have routines, we have dreams, we have hopes, we have worries, we have doubts, we have projects, we have disappointment and we have pride and we have shame. But it is the stories inside those elements that often testify to the infinite variations these elements have in our lives. They create the stories that are our lives. And by stories, I don’t just mean the play-by-play events all strung together, but the inner dialogue we have with ourselves as our lives play out like movies.
It’s not surprising that when I fell on this article 5 Questions the Most Interesting People Will Always Ask in a Conversation, I ate it up. Thus I am sharing it with you, my teacher community. Not only will it make you reflect on your own approach to prompting conversation, but It may also be a great tool to use with a class. Once for the reading comprehension, and then as a discussion launch pad.
Language focus: wh-questions, open-ended questions
Asking questions is an integral part of conversation. When I prepare an ESL lesson, I can spend quite a lot of time composing just the right question. Not too hard, not too easy, avoid yes, no and add some nice vocabulary words to feed the answer. In fact, the art of asking questions is a bit of a passion of mine. You can even consult my Questions by Cognitive Skillpage to see just how scientific I can get to achieve the perfect question.
But enough about me! What about the students? How are they at asking questions? The wh-words are such an important cornerstone in ESL development. But I find that simply exposing the 5 w’s is too simplistic and not very conversational. I got inspired by a great lesson that uses photos and question starters to practice questions. I liked it because it was open enough to allow for variety but controlled enough to feed the students with the structure and words to provide opportunities for success. So I made one of my own with Google Slides.
Language focus: body, should and shouldn’t (modals), emotions
When you speak, do you think of your body language? Or when you listen, do you think of what your face looks like to the person who is talking? If you are a parent, ever wonder why you have to repeat the same things over and over again? When you are barking out orders to your children or spouse, how do you think your tone sounds? I know mine isn’t terribly warm– especially when I get to the fifth time.
Some say that 90% of communication lies outside of the message. Similarly, Albert Mehrabian slices the communication elements even more precisely with his 7-38-55 rule. Mehrabian says that only 7% of the message is the actual spoken words. The rest of our focus is given to tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). Whether or not this is actually true is debated among professionals, but it seems fairly reasonable to think that a big part of our message lies in our demeanour as well as in our message.
My Head Wants to Explode
If it is too much for you to think about your body, your tone and your message all at once you are definitely not alone. In fact, I would argue that concentrating too much on body and voice cues might even make you look fake or inauthentic.
Conversely, I’m sure you have encountered nervous ticks, condescending tones and slouchy postures in others that make it difficult to concentrate on what the person is saying. Therefore, it is fair to think that investing a little “brain juice” toward your outward appearance and tone may have its benefits even if at first it feels unnatural.
This article points out what the author claims to be some of the “worst” body language mistakes professionals make. Again, whether it is true or not is debatable. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth a read and a discussion.
As per the Whole Language Approach, this article is for a first language audience. It should be fine for high intermediate students, but if you attempt it with lower levels, you can use the handout to explore some of the key concepts..
The 11 Worst Body Language Mistakes Professionals Make
An interesting article to get you talking about non-verbal language.
Do you do any of these?
What body language bothers you?
What are some of the things people do that inspire trust?
What are some of the things people do that inspire distrust?
How do you poach an egg? Yes, that is my discussion question for today. Easy right? In my humble experience, poaching an egg is one of the harder cooking skills I have ever had to master.
But aside from the culinary anecdotes, the mmmEnglish YouTube channel prepares cooking lessons with the goal of teaching English. Now I know it goes against the Whole Language Approach to use adapted materials, but I think this video has got all the authenticity features of first language material and is a great resource for beginner ESL material, of which I don’t have a whole lot.
So if you are looking for an authentic way to teach food words or cooking verbs or just a good listening exercise that focuses on process, this is a short, slow, clear and useful video. Especially if you are trying, as I am, to make the perfect poached egg. Bon appétit!
I made a handout to go with the video and put it on Teacher Pay Teachers (0,99$). But if you want to just watch and discuss, you can use the discussion prompts included in this post.
Do a quick Mind Map of all the food words your students know. Perhaps you could also prompt a few cooking verbs.
The Video: How to Poach an Egg by mmmEnglish
What are the ingredients?
What tools are needed?
What are the steps?
Complete these sentences:
The water is perfect when it has small________ but it is not boiling.
The yoke must be _______but not hard.
Toast is just a ________that has be toasted in the ______
______butter on the toast.
Make a list of all the cooking verbs. Can you put them in another sentence?
Now it’s your turn…think of an easy recipe you could share with the class.
My daily routine is the backbone of my success. I am nauseatingly disciplined and predictable. Even when I’m on vacation, I still need to do some of the same tasks to start the day on the right foot. For example, whether it’s a normal week, or I’m in the woods camping, I must start the day sitting quietly with a hot latte. Even my children have learned not to disturb me during that time.
Making Peace with my Limits
Clearly, somewhere down the road of my life, I have made my peace with the fact that if I don’t eat well, I feel like crap. If I don’t do enough exercise, my jeans get tighter. If I don’t make lists and prioritize, I feel overwhelmed and stressed. And if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, it all goes to hell.
Discipline and Repetition
Undoubtedly, the secret for me is doing the same things, in the same order, every day. It may sound boring, but it works. I don’t even have to think about it. And if I get that evil voice that says “forget the push-ups, just for this morning”, I really try to ignore it. It’s not that I am overly rigid, but in the grand scheme of things, I know what I need to feel good even if that means that while doing it, I feel like I’m dying.
For this lesson on daily routines, I found a great animated short that really sparks the good vs the bad habits. So not only can you generate the vocabulary of habits, you might get into a debate about why we need our habits and why it is difficult to maintain the good ones and push the bad ones aside.
You can use the accompanying handout ($1.99 on TPT). It includes key vocabulary and answer key. Or you can just watch the video and discuss with the questions included in this post.
What do you do every day?
What do you do every week?
What do you do every year?
What routines make you feel good?
What routines make you feel not so good?
The Video: THE CHOICE by Project Better Self
Make a good and bad list
What are some of the choices you make every day that contribute to your health?
What happens when you make good choices (mentally, physically)?
What are some of your “guilty pleasures”?
Is it possible to be too disciplined?
Do you agree with everything in the video?
If you were to change one thing in the good example, what would it be?
I love talking about the weather. It is the single most easy way to initiate a conversation with a stranger or acquaintance if you need to break the silence. Great for elevator rides, spontaneous waiting time and warm repartee.
This particular discussion lesson goes from general to scientific to silly. The objective is to elicit the vocabulary around a familiar topic and add a level of complexity with either the science behind weather or weather-related expressions. I just couldn’t choose, so I put both.
What are the different types of weather or climate you can name?
What affects the weather?
Do you use the weather forecast to plan activities?
What activities do you do in spring, summer, fall and winter?
What are the seasons like in your country?
Option 1: The Video: The Science of Weather
Divide the video into 2 or 3 segments and do a Tell Back of the main themes and words
How do meteorologists sort through information, identify trends, and make predictions?
Why do they often get it wrong?
Why is it important to predict the weather?
Option 2: Weather idioms
For this, I made a handout and some flashcards. They are on Teachers Pay Teachers TPT. Click to go see.
I once introduced one of my girlfriend’s to a boy that seemed to be a good match for her. When I asked if things had worked out, she said no. She said he was nice, but he did not seem to have luck. She said it as if ‘luck’ was something you could be born with.
Is luck something you are born with?
That was such a strange way of looking at luck. It made me realize that this idea can be seen in so many different ways depending on your culture, your beliefs and perhaps your superstitions.
On the one hand, it can open up discussions on gratefulness, positivity and recognizing all the things in our lives that make us feel lucky…our children, our health, various aspects of our lives that make us happy.
Luck and Culture
But luck can also be explored culturally. For instance, in Japanese mythology, the Seven Gods of Luck are believed to have the power to grant luck. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, also have gods or figures that are believed to bestow luck. I suppose this means that you can believe in luck like you would believe in god. Or that if you are unlucky, it may be because you don’t deserve luck.
In this wordless animated short by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon called Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou, yet another facet of luck is explored. Jinxy is a walking disaster. Every step he takes is laced with misfortune. He is nervous and unhappy all the time. Conversely, Lou is so lucky she seems bored and unchallenged. I will let you watch to see what happens when the two meet.
When I taught this lesson, I used this template to collect the answers. Feel free to use it too. It is a free handout on Teacher Pay Teachers. I included the results of our discussion in case you need some ideas to prime your discussion.
Do you think you are lucky?
What makes you feel lucky?
Does your culture have any beliefs or superstitions about luck?
The Video: Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon
What actions or events in the movie make the girl (Lou) lucky?
What actions or events make the boy (Jinxy) unlucky?
Why do you think Jinxy is so unlucky? Is there anything in his attitude?
Why do you think Lou is so lucky?
What happens when they meet?
Why does Lou seem unhappy about being lucky?
Do you have any examples in your life where luck was important?
It seems counterintuitive that a small piece of cloth can stop a deadly killer. It is even harder to believe that less than a year ago if you walked into a grocery store with a mask you would have probably caused all kinds of suspicious looks and anxiety. For some masks represent a new way to express individuality, for others a necessary nuisance and for others still a political statement. One thing is for sure, during the coronavirus pandemic, carrying (and wearing) masks are as necessary as taking your keys and wallet.
Of course, I’m sure you heard some of the arguments against wearing masks. Notably, masks cause you to breathe in your own germs, or you could poison yourself with your own carbon dioxide. And if you have ever asked yourself, “if my pants can’t contain a fart, how can a mask contain the Coronavirus”, then you are not alone.
In addition to the misinformation about masks, there are discomforts. For those who have to wear a mask all day, they can cause acne, rashes, moisture. For others, it may even feel like you are working harder to breathe. And last but not least, they really fog up your glasses.
We do it because we care
The bottom line is, masks do prevent the spread of germs, and if you need to understand how, I invite you to watch this video from PBS’ It’s OK to be Smart. Coronavirus is invisible, insidious, and in many cases comes without any symptoms at all. Yet for others, it can spell doom within a matter of days. So why not get all the facts about mask-wearing and then wear it loud and proud…because you are part of a together-world.
For this lesson, I prepared a simple true/false handout that you can get on TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) for a dollar (a girl’s gotta eat). What I like to do with my students is read through the statements and have them guess the answers before they watch the video. This way you can explain any difficult vocabulary and get their brains ready for this fast-talking video. The handout includes the answer key. If you don’t want to use the handout, that’s ok too. I’ve included a few warm-up and discussion questions you can use.
What do you think of wearing masks?
What do you find unpleasant about it?
What kind of mask do you wear (does it have designs)?
The video: PBS It’s OK to be Smart: Masks
Cut the video up and do a TellBack of the main points
What are some of the misconceptions about masks and the Coronavirus?
What are some of the weird questions or arguments in the video or that you have heard?
Can you explain why masks help fight the spread of viruses?
Why are some people against masks?
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages?
What have I learned from soap operas? Honestly, nothing. Except, there was one particularly boring summer, I was a teenager, no friends close by, and no motivation to get off the basement sofa. I got sucked into the soap opera vortex. There I learnt that I could spend an entire summer on a 5-foot sofa. I was addicted to the brain-numbing entertainment–the very thing I warn my children against. The whole summer…in the basement…me, the cycling, camping, hiking outdoor enthusiast that I am. Yep, that was one teenage phase that I am not really proud of.
Beyond the frivolous entertainment
But Kate Adams, assistant casting director at the Emmy-winning soap opera “As the World Turns,” puts a different spin on things. Funny, thought-provoking and vulnerable, she relates some of the crazier themes in soaps to her own life. In fact, I felt rather touched by her story (and a little less judgmental of my summer in the basement).
Give us something to talk about
Whether you are or were a soap opera aficionado, Adams’ “life lessons” will give you an interesting angle to reflect and discuss how these lessons could relate to your life. Warning: I don’t think your students will understand the references Adams makes. Still, I’m sure they will get the gist of the lessons and may even have some soap opera/telenovela memories of their own to share. You may even be surprised to find that many of us had a “soap opera” phase in our lives.