Language focus: emotions vocabulary, science, health
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.
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
The video: It’s Ok to be Smart– Here’s What I Learned from Getting COVID
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?
Language focus: adjectives, descriptors, personal traits
Media: interactive quiz (reading)
How would you describe yourself? Tell us about you? Why hire you rather than someone else? Could you tell the class a few things about yourself? From job interviews to cocktail parties, this question can crop up in so many places. Yet whether I ask it or answer it, it always seems to create a moment dead air that can be a little awkward.
Being in the Spotlight
Even if it’s a pretty basic question, it does require that you expose yourself. And if you don’t want to expose yourself, well that kind of exposes you anyway. In other words, if you answer you have to say stuff, and if you don’t, well that says something too. That challenge basically boils down to the whole introvert, extrovert, ambivert dimension (see the lesson for more on that).
I Need More Word-Thingies
The second challenge in answering is of course vocabulary–which is what makes it a great ESL conversation lesson. This question will inevitably trigger the need for adjectives and descriptors. Once you have used up the garden variety, “I’m a hard-working person”, “I am perseverant” (because most language learners are), “I am sensitive”, even a native speaker may be at a loss for something to say. Or the opposite might happen, so many things start tumbling out of your mouth, you don’t know what to choose and when to stop.
A Little Preparation and Practice Never Hurt
I’m not saying we should prepare a one-size-fits-all speech that we learn by heart and recite anytime we are asked…that would be weird. But full disclosure, I myself have put some thought into this question and I do sometimes practice in my head…yep. I even have a first day of class version, a job interview version and a small talk version.
Hungry for Words
If you are hungry for words, one of my students recommended this great psycho-quiz called 16 Personalities. I use it in a job searching workshop to train students to answer the famed “tell me about yourself” interview question. The site is super well done, full of varied adjectives and descriptors and the questions are succinct, thought-provoking and fairly simple.
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.
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:
non verbal behaviour
power and dominance
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?
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
Exercise: Comprehension questions included int he post
Language focus: past tense, future tense, behaviours, habits, modals
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.).
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)
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
Now that is a loaded question if I ever did blog one. Admittedly gender difference always creates discussion. But not always the discussions I like to facilitate. In fact, I usually stay away from overly simplistic comparisons, especially when they pit the two most basic attributes of humanity. However, when I watched Reshma Saujani’s TED talk, I instantly wanted to talk about it.
Can it be true? And what if it is?
Saujani hammers a societal observation that had me searching all my memories as a young girl. Do we teach our boys to be brave and our girls to be perfect? And the follow-up question: how has this shaped our society? Said differently, how has this impacted our job market, our political paradigms, technological progress, social and familial priorities…the list goes on.
CTRL Z please!
Saunjani strikes a particularly sensitive chord when she describes some of the anecdotes from her coding school for girls. She describes a girl sitting in front of her blank coding screen, feeling like she is just not good enough to compose code that will work. But when you do CTRLZ (undo) to go back a few keystrokes, she finds pages full of code that was deleted that simply “wasn’t good enough”.
Mind Map some of the biases we have about girls and boys (e.g. girls and creative and boys are good at math, boys are more physical, etc.)
The Video: Teach girls bravery, not perfection by Reshma Saujani
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?
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.
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.
That’s why this week’s theme will be devoted to summer, vacations and routine-breakers.
Do a quick Mind Map of the vocabulary associated with vacations.
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.
The next posts will feature a video or perhaps an article, but for today, the good ol’ Q&A will do the trick.