Would you rather text than talk?

Would you rather text or email than talk?

It’s just so easy. I don’t have to interrupt anyone, I can write while I’m in the moment, I don’t have to hold anything in my memory, I don’t even have to wait my turn to talk. When the thought appears, I can just shoot a message off and my counterpart can react when it is convenient for them. In some cases, with my more talkative friends (and family members) a digital message is the only way I can get a word in edgewise.

Plus, I can re-read, check my tone or make sure I didn’t word anything in an insensitive way. I can edit. Digital communication allows me to put forth my best self. Great stuff…right?

Sherry Turkle is not so sure. Her TED talk Connected but Alone? takes a good hard look at what digital communication may be doing to us. We have all heard that technology may be making us more isolated, so beyond this statement, just how it is doing that? Turkle gets right under the hood of our communication habits and puts forth some thought-provoking concepts that definitely gave me pause.

This lesson is definitely for more advanced students. I did this with a mixed class of high-level and lower-level students and the lower level were a bit lost. However, I still recommend using first language material as much as you can to get their ears and minds used to native speaking. Once they get over focusing on what they don’t understand and focus on what they do, they will increase their ability to get into the English-speaking community.

Pre discussion

  • Let’s hypothesize…Why do you think Turkle thinks texting and emailing are making us more isolated?
  • Make a pros and cons list for digital communication
  • What is the difference between isolation and solitude?
  • What is the difference between friendship and companionship?

The Video: TED Sherry Turkle: Connected but Alone?

There is a ton of stuff to talk about here. And rather than try to Tell Back everything Turkle says (although you are free to do that), I would jump right into the discussion with some of the following key ideas:

  • “We want to customize our lives and control where we put our attention”
  • “We are getting used to being alone…together”
  • “We are compromising companionship for friendship”
  • “We have an illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship”
  • “We can’t get enough of each other, at a distance, in amounts we can control”
  • “We use technology to manage our relationships in ways we can comfortably control”
  • Technology is satisfying 3 basic fantasies:
    • We can put our attention where we want it to be
    • We will always be hear
    • We will never be alone
  • “Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved”
  • “I share therefore I am”
  • “Connection is creating isolation”
  • “We need to cultivate the capacity for solitude”
  • “We need to build a self-aware relationship with technology”

And I could go on and on pulling quotes from this video. Turkle is articulate, astute and a fantastic social analyst.

I am ready to admit that I am getting caught in the fray of convenience, but short of stopping (which is not going to happen) Turkle has helped me see where I might be more self-aware.

I hope you enjoy talking about this as much as me and my students.

Bitmoji Image

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?

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 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

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?

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 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?
3
0
2
0
1