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 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.

Masks vs. Coronavirus

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.

The misconceptions

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.

The discomfort

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.

Lesson Handout

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.

You can download the full hand-out on TPT for 1$

Warm up

  • 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

Discussion

  • 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?

How do know when to choose between what your heart says and what your mind says?

How do know when to choose between what your heart wants and what your mind says? ESL conversation lesson.

  • Language focus: action verbs, parts of the body
  • Media: video

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.’

Teamwork People!

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.

Warm up

  • Mind Map these two words: reason and emotion
  • When do you use reason and when do you use emotion
  • For intermediate students: try to remember a time in your life when either reason or emotion guided your decision. What did you learn?

The Video: Inner Workings by Jorge Tenorio

Discussion

Use this handout (0.99$ on TPT) to teach and classify information

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?