Language focus: rooms in the house, household items, comparatives and superlatives
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…
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
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:
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:
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.
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?
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.
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?