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?
Language focus: environment, action verbs, household items
Can you live a zero-waste life? I know I can’t…not yet anyway. But every year I try to incorporate a new environmentally friendly practice. For example, I switched my paper napkins for cloth napkins. I also buy at least 10% of my clothes at second hand shops. Also, I collect and bring all my styrofoam to a community drop off point.
It may not be a huge contribution to reducing my environmental footprint, but it’s something. I know we should and could be doing so much more. And I know that the degradation of our planet is alarming and overwhelming. But I also have to take care of my emotional well being. Thus, carrying the responsibility of saving the planet is pretty heavy. I try to not be too hard on myself about doing more and I try not to judge what everyone else is doing.
That said, I do like to hear what other people are doing to reduce waste and be better global citizens. Sometimes, there are practical things. Things that are not drastic or super time-consuming. Sometimes all I need are some ideas. Here is where Lauren Singer’s TED talk comes in handy.
Singer is an absolute champion at transforming her daily habits into zero waste practices. You heard that right…she produces no garbage at all. How does she do it? You’ll have to listen to her talk to find out.
What do you do to reduce waste?
What would you like to do, but feel that it is too much energy or too time-consuming?
The Talk: Why I live a zero-waste life by Lauren Singer
What inspired Singer to lead a zero-waste life?
Make a list of all the things Singer does to eliminate waste
What are some of the things Singer does that you could do?
What are some of things Singer does that you find too time consuming or complicated?
Do you think we are doing enough to reduce our environmental footprint?
What are some of the more important things we could do to reduce waste?
Language focus: action verbs, causal linking words
Do you like independent films? I think it’s a good habit to break away from mainstream films and explore some of the messages in indie films. Often I find myself conditioned by an expectation of a happy ending. I even find myself expecting it in my life. When it doesn’t it feels odd.
Movies Shape our Psyche
Does the dedicated athlete always take home the gold? Does the couple always live happily ever after? Does the cancer fighter always beat the sickness? Does the lost dog always find its way home? In movies, often yes, but in real life not so much. Do you think we feel more cheated of these defeats because we have developed a distortion of reality?
The Eye of the Beholder
Here are a couple of short thought-provoking wordless animations that you can use to elicit some discussion. You can start by identifying all the action verbs. When I taught it, students saw different things. It was rather personal.
Then, if your students like introspective analysis, there is an opportunity to talk about the symbolism in the videos. In my experience, this sort of thing can either prompt a great philosophical discussion or fall flat. It really depends on the people you are working with.
The films are wordless, so you can use them with basic level students and stick to identifying the action verbs included in the handout. If you are working with a higher level, then you could ask them to note when the actions occur. Or better yet why the character does the action. And for the higher levels, you can go deeper and explore character motivation, how failure can create opportunity and how we cope with hardship. It’s a pretty elastic lesson.
Celeste Headlee, a trained opera singer turned radio show host, has some rather interesting insight to share about the difference between a job and a mission. She also has a lot to say about how we get stuck focusing on our education and job expectations. But if you think she gives the same old spiel about finding your passion, being brave and embracing your true calling, you would be wrong. She knows we all have mortgages, rent, food, and stuff to pay for. Moreover, she also knows that finding your passion is complicated, changing, and doesn’t always match the needs of the market. Thankfully, she is not going to tell you to quit your job or sit at the top of a mountain to meditate.
Practical vs. Ideal
This is the third post on this series on jobs and careers. So far we have gone through some basic vocabulary and explored what jobs are out there and then saw some fun ways to go about choosing. In this post, we will take a more analytical approach and explore the skills connected to jobs. We are going to exercise our mental flexibility and examine the components of various jobs or fields and see how they can apply to other jobs and fields.
What do you think is the difference between a job and a mission?
How many job-related skills can you name? e.g. if you are a teacher, that means you have skills in public speaking, pedagogical design, presentation design, audience analysis, planning, leadership etc.
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?
Language focus: beliefs, superstitions, conspiracy theories, fake news, disinformation.
Why do we believe weird things?
Fake news, misinformation, disinformation, these concepts are all over the media. We all know it’s out there, but how can we tell what is true and what is fake? First, let’s play a game…
True or False
Salt makes water boil quicker.
You should never swim right after you eat
Some people are more right-brain thinkers and others more left-brain thinkers.
Toilets flush differently in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere.
Einstein failed math.
Humans and dinosaurs co-existed
Vaccines cause autism.
You need to wait 24 hours to file a missing person’s report.
We use only 10% of our brain.
Most of our body heat leaves through our heads.
You should never wake a sleepwalker.
Bats are blind.
Alcohol keeps you warm.
Sugar creates hyper children.
Your hair and nails keep growing after you die.
Slaves built the pyramids in Egypt.
In case you use this to generate discussion with your class, I won’t give you the answers. You could invite your students to check for themselves at Readers Digest.
It’s your brain’s fault
Famous debunker and Skeptic.com’s editor-in-chief Michael Shermer gives us a bit of insight into how our brain is wired to makes us believe weird things. He explains and demonstrates how things like priming and cognitive bias are natural neurological predispositions that lead us to faulty conclusions. This discussion utilizes vocabulary in both pure science and psychology to demonstrate, in very cool ways, how media can create what I will term “information blind spots.”
***Caution! I did this lesson with a high intermediate student and they were overwhelmed with Shermer’s speed. I would recommend slowing the video down and using this True/False handout to explain and explore some of the vocabulary and concepts in the video. Have your students read through the statements and make predictions about the possible answers. Then have your students watch the video to confirm or correct their original impressions.
Go through the handout and predict which statements are true or false.
The Video: Why People Believe Weird Things
What makes us believe weird things…make a Mind Map of all the elements you hear?
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.