Question of the day

So many possibilities…I may I might

I am an avid visualizer. I love hypothetical dreaming. I test out lessons, see possible problems, and think of fun ways to connect the classroom to reality. It’s like a constant mini-movie up there. I don’t just visualize lessons, I play out conversations, memories, happy places etc…

Our ability to hypothesize and weigh possibilities is probably one of the most fascinating traits of humankind. With that deep and philosophical introduction, I would like to point you in the direction of this recent find: esllounge.com. It is a great site full of teaching resources definitely worth perusing.

For today, I am linking a nice little conversation exercise that is meant to get participants to use ‘may’ and ‘might’. Of course, if it doesn’t go in that direction, it ok too. At the very least, it should encourage hypothetical discussions.

Click on the image to go to the site

How do you ask for a raise?

  • Level: B1, B2, C1
  • Discussion questions in the post
  • Language focus: personal caracteristics, money, work tasks
  • Media: video

Life changes. And more specifically, it gets more expensive. Yet sometimes it can take time for your employer to catch up. So how can you tackle the prickly question of asking for a raise? Barbara Corcoran gives some rather poignant insights on how to orchestrate this discussion. I think it makes for a great ESL discussion. Not to mention a more generalized reflection on gender differences in the workplace.

Adding Value

I often hear the term adding value in corporate settings. It’s often thrown around to mean anything from doing good work to offering innovative thinking. Basically, to be able to show you add value to your job, you need to have a good bank of things you do (actions) and ways that you behave (personal qualities).  After watching Corcoran’s video, I invite you and your students to make this list using these vocabulary resources.

Courage

In the end, asking for a raise takes a great amount of courage. What are your risking when you ask? Your job security, your comfort zone, exposing that you are unhappy with your work conditions (which could prompt your employer to find someone else) and being told ‘no’. What are you risking when you don’t ask? Feeling underpaid, undervalued, feeling like you are working just as hard for less in the case of salaries not adjusting to the cost of living. If you feel you are due for a raise, it is the ultimate Catch 22. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Warm Up

  • MindMap the words related to money, raise, and reasons why we need more money?
  • Make a pro/cons list of asking for a raise.
  • Do you have any good advice or stories about asking for a raise?

The Video: Barbara Corcoran Explains How to Ask for a Raise

  • What are the steps you need to take to set up the meeting?
  • What are some of the differences between men and women when asking for raises?
  • If you are timid (and Corcoran says “woman,” but I think this applies to anyone who is timid) what should you do to overcome this?
  • What are Corcoran’s recommendations on how to use an outside offer to initiate a positive discussion about compensation?
  • What are her parting ideas about loyalty?

Have a great class!

Mel

When you go to someone’s house, what do you look at?

  • Level: A2, B1, B2, C1
  • Discussion questions in the post
  • Comparative and superlative handout 0.99$ on TPT
  • Data collection handout (free)
  • Language focus: rooms in the house, household items, comparatives and superlatives
  • Media: video

When you go to someone’s house, what do you look at? Oh yes, we all do it. Maybe you like to check out the kitchen or take a peek in the bedrooms, or maybe you check how clean the toilet is.

As humans, we all have a natural curiosity about how others live. Sometimes we judge, but I think we are also just curious. Sometimes it can be as ordinary as comparing the toothpaste other people use.

Researcher Anna Rosling Rönnlund takes this curiosity to a new level. In her TED talk, Rönnlund presents her massive sociological photographic database. It contains over 40,000 photos of everyday objects, like cutlery, toys, stoves and yes, toilets. So if you wonder what a toothbrush looks like in Burkina Fasso, or you want to see what distinguishes low-income families and very high-income families, this visual database unlocks huge truths in tiny mundane objects. For a voyeur like me, it provides hours of fascinating revelations.

But Rönnlund’s intentions reach far beyond curiosity. She explains that the power of visual data is about helping us better understand the world we live in and perhaps re-align some of our misguided beliefs

And aside from a fantastic eye-opening experience, the talk and the tool makes for great ESL material to practice the language of comparisons. Take a look-see…

Warm up

  • When you go to someone’s house, what do you like to look at? Why?
  • What is the most important room in a home?

The Talk: See how the rest of the world lives, organized by income by Anna Rosling Rönnlund

Discussion Questions

Data collection handout
  • Why did Rönnlund take pictures of peoples’ homes?
  • What can we learn about something simple like cutlery?
  • Stop the video on some of the pictures and compare:
    • Is there more or less
    • Is it bigger or smaller?
    • Is it simpler or more complicated?
    • Is it tidier or messier?
    • Is it cleaner or dirtier?
    • etc…

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?

How would you describe yourself? Here are 16 Personalities full of juicy descriptor words

  • Level: B2, C1
  • Questions embeded in the activity
  • 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.

Warm-up

  • Read through the personalities with your students
  • Clear up any vocabulary issues
  • Have them predict which personality correcponds to them

Le quiz: 16 Personalities

Discussion

  • What personality are you?
  • Say 5 to 6 descriptor words you don’t usually use, but that you really identify with
  • Are there any aspects of the description that you disagree with?
  • Can you give examples/anecdotes from your life that demonstrate this personality type?

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

Bitmoji Image

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

Why do we teach boys to be brave and girls to be perfect?

  • Language focus: comparisons, hypotheticals
  • Media: video

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”.

Warm Up

  • 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.)
Handout on TPT 0.99$

The Video: Teach girls bravery, not perfection by Reshma Saujani

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