What are your thoughts on Omicron breakthrough infections?

Great ESL lesson to explore the information about breakthrough infections and on Omicron.

  • Level: B2, C1, C2
  • Activity: True/False handout on TPT (0.99$)
  • Language focus: emotions vocabulary, science, health
  • Media: video

What are your thoughts on Omicron? Are you frustrated that despite all your efforts, people (maybe even you) have gotten sick? Are you afraid of the next variant? Are you vaccinated, boosted and wondering why you bothered? Or do you see Omicron as the beginning of the end of a pandemic that has changed us in so many ways we still can see the forest for the trees? Perhaps you see Omicron as a blessing, a harbinger of better times yet to come.

All of the Above

If I am being totally honest, I feel all those things. I am vaccinated, boosted, wear my mask everywhere I go, wash my hands obsessively and analyze every sneeze, cough and sniffle with scientific discipline. I am a goody-goody who did everything public health officials recommended. Do I regret it? No, absolutely not? Do I sometimes wonder if it was too much? Yes, sometimes.

Give me the Facts…Again

That is why I really appreciated, Jo Hanson’s video Here’s What I Learned from Getting COVID. The host of PBS’s It’s Ok to be Smart is pro-vaccine, pro-mask, pro-anything-that-will-protect-the-population (see Masks vs. Corrona, lesson), and got COVID anyway. He candidly shares his frustration. Still, without defending or trying to convince, he diligently gives a fact-based explanation of why this happened and why it is still important to do everything in our power to stop the spread.

Warm-up

  • Elicit people’s thoughts on Omicron: is it a blessing or a threat
  • How does this new variant make them feel? Helpless, no big deal, ready for another wave, discouraged, scared.
  • What do we know about the virus?
  • (I would stay away from a pro or against discussion on vaccines if I were you)
  • Go through the statements on the handout and make predictions of the answers
Handout on TPT 0.99$

The video: It’s Ok to be Smart– Here’s What I Learned from Getting COVID

Discussion

  • You can use the handout to talk about the various points made in Jo’s talk
  • What do you think are the key ‘take-aways’ on vaccines, the severity of Omicron, what attitude we should adopt to stay safe AND stay sane?

Amy Cuddy: Can my body language affect my mood?

Can my body language affect my mood? Your body language may not only affect how people perceive you, but it may also have an impact on your brain chemistry. Watch Amy Cuddy’s famous TED talk (I suggest you break it down into smaller parts and do short Tell Backs) to find out just how profound the way we carry ourselves changes our outlook.

Teachers note: 

Cuddy speaks fast, but the vocabulary is relatively repetitive and she uses a lot of non-visuals. I would encourage you to preface this video with a bit about the Whole Language Approach. Tell them that they don’t have to understand everything. Review some of the meta-tools they have to achieve comprehension: non-verbal language, guessing from context. It may be frustrating for adults not to understand everything, but I feel it is important to expose them to first language material to prepare them for real life conversations with native speakers. Thus the more they get used to (by that I mean get used to not understanding everything) quick talking native speakers the more they will likely take their English out and use it.

Also you can add subtitles and slow the video down a bit with these features:

Pre discussion

  • Some vocabulary:
    • posture
    • body language
    • non verbal behaviour
    • power dynamics
    • power and dominance
    • assertive
    • optimistic
    • hormone
    • fake it t’ill you make it
  • What kind of body language makes a good impression? 
  • How important do you think body language is in communication

*You could cut the video at about 14:00 where Cuddy describes the study that supports her findings. Unless you find that interesting (which it is) it might be a little detached from the general point.

The Video: TED Amy Cudy Your body language may shape who you are

What is the most important element that Cuddy is highlighting?

Why is it important to be “body aware”?

What will happen if you change your body language the way Cuddy suggests?

What can you conclude about the impacts of posture on our outlook on life?

For more on this topic see Body Language Mistakes

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What is your comfort food?

What is your comfort food? I dare you to NOT think of the answer. Too late? I bet your favourite dish is already in your mind. Maybe you are even seeing a memory or a person attached to this dish. Is it something your mother made when you were sick? Something you eat at Christmas? Is it sweet or salty?

Healthy…probably not

Chances are your comfort food is not too healthy. Right? Generally speaking, comfort foods are hardy, starchy and fatty. All great words that describe food. And that is exactly what you will find in this Insider Food video featuring 20 different people from 20 different cultures describing their comfort food.

But it makes me happy

Food makes people happy, conjures memories, and heals us when we are sick or sad and is often the heart of most celebrations. It is also a super fun thing to talk about. It ties in food, feelings, events and people, thus a nice integrated vocabulary exercise. The perfect Whole Language exercise.

While you listen

This video is chalk-a-block full of vocabulary, so I made a Google docs handout available through Teachers Pay Teachers to help collect the essential ideas. Or you can try this cool interactive worksheet. Of course, if you are working with more advanced students, you might want to ditch the handout and just let the students note what they can. Rember you can turn the CC on and slow down the video.

Google Docs Handout

Pre Discussion

  • Just to get the food words flowing, do a Mind Map
  • What is your comfort food?
  • Why?

The Video: 20 Comfort Foods From around the world

Discussion

  • Which story did you find the most interesting?
  • Which dish have you tried?
  • Which dish would you like to try?
  • What do most of the dishes have in common?
  • What were some of the reasons the dishes were considered comforting?

Do you talk to strangers?

Do you talk to strangers? Maybe we should.

Did your mother tell you not to talk to strangers? Mine did. Was that really good advice? Of course, we don’t want to compromise the safety of our children and we are not all be social butterflies. We have our personalities and our boundaries and it is important to respect ourselves in that way.

How to break isolation

But isn’t there something alarmist, maybe even cold, about stranger danger? Are we encouraging isolation, apathy, disengagement, fear, tribalism? Even though it is natural to gravitate toward people who have familiar ideas and beliefs, could we be missing something in those who are different from us?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Talking to Strangers” he exposes how opening ourselves up to others has a lot to teach us. But it is not all touchy-feely shiny happy people communing. Talking to strangers can be very destabilizing and may even reveal or confirm that there are some twisted people out there. Not everyone is truthful and not everyone is empathetic. But some are, and by closing ourselves off for fear of landing on a bad one, we are pruning our outlook and our own empathy.

Talking to strangers is the key to more peace

Justin Trudeau’s keynote address to the NYU graduates takes this notion to the next level. He calls us out on our hidden biases, our fears, our tribalism. He wants to inspire us to have courage and get to know those who make us uncomfortable, get to know those who don’t resemble us and get to know those who don’t think like us. For him, and perhaps for Gladwell as well, talking to strangers is the path to world peace…no less.

Warm up

  • What do you think talking to strangers can achieve?
  • Why is it so difficult for us?

The Video: Justin Trudeau Diversity doesn’t have to be a weakness!

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the main messages that stuck with you?
  • What does Trudeau mean when he talks about ‘tribalism’?
  • What does he mean when he says “win the argument”?
  • What can we do to know the good strangers from the bad strangers? Are there tools, tricks?
  • Do you think Trudeau is being naïve? In what way?
  • What are some of the ‘juicy’ words and expressions? Make a list and see if you can put them in other sentences.

Why do new years resolutions fail?

  • Level: B1, B2, C1
  • Exercise: Comprehension questions included int he post
  • Language focus: past tense, future tense, behaviours, habits, modals
  • Media: Video

I know, I know…it’s a cliché to talk about new year’s resolutions in January, but I think it still makes for a good introspective discussion. And if you angle it right, you are creating a great natural context to use the past and futur tense.

Did you know that January comes from the Roman God Janus. He had two faces: one facing back to reflect on the past and one facing forward to think about the future. Watch this PBS video snippet about why new years resolutions fail (3.22 min.).

Warm up

  • Get the brain juices going with this questions: what was the wackiest resolution you have ever taken? e.g. exercise twice a day, quit drinking red wine forever, get a pet, etc. If you need some inspiration, check out this list. 63 Funny New Year’s Resolution
  • Then make some predictions: What are some of the features of new years goals that make them difficult to achieve?

The Video: PBS Learning Media Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

It is a relatively short presentation so depending on the level of you students you could watch the whole thing or cut it up.

Video Comprehension Questions

  • First do a Tell Back of the video and write down all the key vocabulary and concepts.
  • Why do resolutions fail?
  • What are the “psychological traps” that make resolutions difficult?
  • Why can making resolutions be bad for us?
  • How can we make “smart” resolutions? In other words, what are the features of good resolutions?
  • What do you think about the presenters’ t-shirt (I threw that in just for fun)

General Discussion

  • What are some of the things to did last year that surprised you?
  • What obstacles did you overcome?
  • What were some changes that happened in you life?
  • What were some good books you read?
  • What were some good deeds you did?
  • What are some things you would like to do this year?
  • Are there any changes you would like to make?
  • Anything you would like to learn?
  • What are your personal or professional goals?

If you want to do something a little different, you could also have students do a quick mind map of the year and talk about it after they get a few ideas down.

Have a great lesson!

I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for supporting eslconversationlessons.com and wish you a great year full of fruitful discussions. Discussion is the tie that bind us together and breaks isolation, depression and puts our ideas in the collective. Mélanie

Masks vs. Coronavirus

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.

The misconceptions

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.

The discomfort

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.

Lesson Handout

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.

You can download the full hand-out on TPT for 1$

Warm up

  • 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

Discussion

  • 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?

How do know when to choose between what your heart says and what your mind says?

How do know when to choose between what your heart wants and what your mind says? ESL conversation lesson.

  • Language focus: action verbs, parts of the body
  • Media: video

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.’

Teamwork People!

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.

Warm up

  • Mind Map these two words: reason and emotion
  • When do you use reason and when do you use emotion
  • For intermediate students: try to remember a time in your life when either reason or emotion guided your decision. What did you learn?

The Video: Inner Workings by Jorge Tenorio

Discussion

Use this handout (0.99$ on TPT) to teach and classify information

Where did you go on vacation?

Where did you go on vacation?

A simple question to start off the new eslcoversationlesson.com season. Of course, not everyone goes on vacation, but usually, the summertime presents opportunities for special visits, adventures, road trips and vacations. I love my vacations. My family and I look forward to them all year. And then, when they are over, we talk about them all year.

There is so much more that happens other than the vacation. No television (less of it anyway), we spend our days together, we eat special food, do activities we have never done before–It is a total break in the routine.

Hiking in Vermont

That’s why this week’s theme will be devoted to summer, vacations and routine-breakers.

Warm up

Do a quick Mind Map of the vocabulary associated with vacations.

The Discussion

My colleague Larry Pitts has an absolutely fabulous site chalked full of open-ended questions. I think this is the perfect place to start our vacation discussion.

Click on the image to go to the site.

The next posts will feature a video or perhaps an article, but for today, the good ol’ Q&A will do the trick.

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Is failure always bad?

Is failure always a bad thing? I think we all know the answer to that. However, whether consciously or unconsciously, the fear of failure might be telling us a lot about who we are and how we can turn that fear into a constructive element in our lives.  If you are in the mood for an introspective discussion, watch author Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talk about what failure has done for her.

As I listened to Gilbert’s talk, I found myself sifting through my memories for failures that became life-altering moments. It also reminded me of the discomfort of realizing that I had made a mistake, and how sometimes I failed at failing. That is to say, I didn’t reflect, I didn’t change. Instead, I filled those moments away never to think about them again.

But now that I am a mother, I witness how my children deal with failure and mistakes. It’s not always fun to watch them squirm and even harder to help them realize what went wrong and how to move forward. To soften the lesson, I find myself digging into my past only to find a treasure trove of my own embarrassments, imperfections and hurts (some caused and some received). I use these to tell them about my own mistakes–to model how being honest with yourself and others might be uncomfortable, but full of great learning experiences. In some respects, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, if you can stomach the process of listening to it.

Do a tell back of the main points in Gilbert’s presentation.

Are there elements in Gilbert’s presentation that relate to your life?

Do you have successes and failures that have marked your life?

How have your successes and failures defined your path? In other words, where might you be today if things were different?

Do you have an activity that you love more than anything that transcends the need to succeed or the fear of failure?

Can kindness make you happy?

  • Level: A1, A2, B1
  • Handout: free Google docs
  • Language focus: modal auxiliaries, daily actions, action verbs
  • Media: video

Can kindness make you happy? Altruism was a hotly debated topic in my philosophy classes. For instance, if we do something nice, and it makes us happy, are we doing it for ourselves or for others? This question put my thoughts in a bit of an impossible loop, so I would tune out and focus on the symbiotic relationship between acts of kindness and our own personal happiness. In other words, if it makes the other person happy and it makes me happy too, then who cares about the rest…it’s win win.

So what are the things you do for others that bring light into your life? What could you do? Aryasb Feiz’s animated short “Mr. Indifferent”, deals with this very topic. As I was watching the wordless video, the first thought that came to me is what a great way to practice modal auxiliaries.

There is very little first language video material that can work in a lower level ESL class, so I like to use these animated short to concentrate on the actions. The authenticity of the video usually motivates the students to talk–with whatever words they have. Authenticity is magic.

That is what this lesson provides. I included a little printable handout to help note down some of the key vocabulary.

Pre discussion

  • What do you do for other people that makes you happy?
  • Do you volunteer?
  • What could you do?

The video: Mr. Indifferent by Aryasb Feiz’s

Discussion Questions

  • Use the handout to help collect some words and expressions.
  • What is it about kindness that makes us happy?
  • Why do we forget, or chose not to bother?
  • What are some small, no money required, acts kindness we could do to brighten our lives?

Let me know how the discussions turn out.