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.

5 of the most interesting talking points…

ESL and EFL discussion on what questions lead to great conversations.

  • Level: A2-B1-B2-C1
  • Handout: on TPT for 0.99$$
  • Language focus: questions, preferences, past tense, present tense
  • Media: article

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.

I made a little true/false handout to go with it on Teacher Pay Teachers (0.99$)

What, why, which, how, and all the other question words

  • Level: A1, A2, B1
  • Handout: Google slides prompts. Free on TPT
  • Media: none
  • 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 Skill page 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.

You can download the exercise for free from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Here are a few screen shots:

What body language should you avoid?

  • Media: article
  • 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.

7-38-55

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.

Lesson Notes

Handout on TPT for 0.99$

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.

Discussion Questions

  • 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?

For more on this topic see Body Language and the Brain 

Can you live a zero-waste life?

  • Level: A2, B1, B2
  • Discussion questions: in the post
  • Media: Video
  • 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.

Warm-up

  • 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

Discussion Questions

  • 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?

How do you poach an egg?

  • Level: A1-A2
  • Handout on TPT
  • Media: Video
  • Language focus: food, verbs, cooking, imperative

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.

It’s Authentic

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!

Teaching Notes

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.

Handout on TPT

Warm UP

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

Discussion Questions

  • 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.

What is your daily routine?

  • Media: Video
  • Language focus: Routines, Verbs

What is your daily routine?

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.

Lesson Notes

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.

Handout on TPT

Pre discussion

  • 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

Discussion

  • 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?

What’s the weather today?

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.

Pre discussion

  • 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.

handout
flashcards

Do you believe in luck?

  • Level: A1, A2, B1, B2
  • Handout: Free on TPT
  • Media: Video
  • Language focus: emotions, actions, comparisons

Do you believe in luck?

I once introduced one of my girlfriend’s to a boy that seemed to be a good match for her. When I asked if things had worked out, she said no. She said he was nice, but he did not seem to have luck. She said it as if ‘luck’ was something you could be born with.

Is luck something you are born with?

That was such a strange way of looking at luck. It made me realize that this idea can be seen in so many different ways depending on your culture, your beliefs and perhaps your superstitions.

On the one hand, it can open up discussions on gratefulness, positivity and recognizing all the things in our lives that make us feel lucky…our children, our health, various aspects of our lives that make us happy.

Luck and Culture

But luck can also be explored culturally. For instance, in Japanese mythology, the Seven Gods of Luck are believed to have the power to grant luck. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, also have gods or figures that are believed to bestow luck. I suppose this means that you can believe in luck like you would believe in god. Or that if you are unlucky, it may be because you don’t deserve luck.

In this wordless animated short by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon called Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou, yet another facet of luck is explored. Jinxy is a walking disaster. Every step he takes is laced with misfortune. He is nervous and unhappy all the time. Conversely, Lou is so lucky she seems bored and unchallenged. I will let you watch to see what happens when the two meet.

Lesson Notes

Warm up

Free on TPT

When I taught this lesson, I used this template to collect the answers. Feel free to use it too. It is a free handout on Teacher Pay Teachers. I included the results of our discussion in case you need some ideas to prime your discussion.

  • Do you think you are lucky?
  • What makes you feel lucky?
  • Does your culture have any beliefs or superstitions about luck?

The Video: Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon

Discussion Questions

  • What actions or events in the movie make the girl (Lou) lucky?
  • What actions or events make the boy (Jinxy) unlucky?
  • Why do you think Jinxy is so unlucky? Is there anything in his attitude?
  • Why do you think Lou is so lucky?
  • What happens when they meet?
  • Why does Lou seem unhappy about being lucky?
  • Do you have any examples in your life where luck was important?
  • Would you be happy if you were as lucky as Lou?

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.

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 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 for landing on a bad one, we are pruning our outlook and our own empathy.

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.