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?

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.

How are you feeling?

Can you describe what emotions you are experiencing right now? This is the question Tiffany Watt Smith asks her TED audience to sensitize them on how easy or how hard it is to put words on our emotions. This is a fantastic presentation to conjure the vocabulary of emotions and an esl psychology lesson.

Do you think words can really describe how we feel? If you watched the movie Inside Out, or are knowledgeable about the scientific litterature on emotions, you may have heard that emotions have been broken down into 6 basic forms: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise. The first time I read this, I found it hugely oversimplified. I just couldn’t relate my own personal experience with this.  Yet, these basic emotions seem to be the baseline for emotional researchers.

Smith challenges this simple view of emotional language. She looks across different languages and cultures to show the complexity and diversity of the words used to describe how we are feeling. She even suggests that the very existence of these words may allow us to feel things that people in other cultures don’t. She exposes a compelling and thought provoking-idea that words can shape how we feel. Before you start, be sure to download the Google docs included in this post. It has a preliminary list of emotions vocabulary words.

Warm-up

  • What emotion words do you know?
  • Do you think you are good at talking about how you feel?

The Video: TED The History of Human Emotion Discussion by Tiffany Watt Smith

I would break this presentation down into a series of snippets and begin by doing Tell Backs of each segment.  In fact, if you have more basic students, I would stop at the 6 min mark and center a discussion on the vocabulary of emotions. However, for more advanced learners, I would go through the presentation as it digs much deeper into the topic of the history of emotions and maybe very engaging for higher-level discussions.

 

Questions 

  • What emotions does Smith talk about?
  • Can you give some examples of the emotional language of other cultures?
  • What stuck with you in Smith’s presentation?
  • Do you have words in your native language that describe feelings that don’t exist in English?
  • How are emotions viewed in your culture? Do you talk about them, or not?
  • What, according to you, is emotional intelligence?
  • Use the emotional definer wheel and say which are positive and which are negative

Want to download this lesson?

Get the Google Docs version for free

Do you want to climb a mountain?

I am an amateur rock climber…very amateur. It’s not for everyone, I know. But what is interesting about rock climbing is it puts you smack in the middle of a discussion between your “afraid-self” and your “courageous-self”.  Alex Honnold, famed for climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes, candidly talks about this discussion and how he talked his “afraid-self” into trusting his abilities.

Is fear always something to conquer?

There is a fine line between fear as the voice of a wise consultant and the voice of an insecure mother. In other words, sometimes fear is something you should conquer and sometimes it’s something you should heed.  Sadly, some fantastic athletes have died by choosing wrong.

Alex Honnold the Humble Hero

I am sharing this TED talk more because I am fascinated by Honnold’s composure, discipline and wisdom. What’s more, I think his experience creates an interesting context for a very different type of discussion about fear.

Pre discussion

  • Have you ever done anything that made you afraid?
  • How did you overcome your fear?
  • What are risks worth taking?

The Video: TED with Alex Honnold

  • What are all the elements that Honnold does to prepare for this feat (do a Mind Map)?
  • What did he do to overcome his fears?
  • Why was he not satisfied after he completed his climb?
  • What are the elements that go into “mastery”?
  • Do you master anything?

What have I learned from soap operas?

What have I learned from soap operas? Honestly, nothing. Except, there was one particularly boring summer, I was a teenager, no friends close by, and no motivation to get off the basement sofa. I got sucked into the soap opera vortex. There I learnt that I could spend an entire summer on a 5-foot sofa. I was addicted to the brain-numbing entertainment–the very thing I warn my children against. The whole summer…in the basement…me, the cycling, camping, hiking outdoor enthusiast that I am. Yep, that was one teenage phase that I am not really proud of.

Beyond the frivolous entertainment

But Kate Adams, assistant casting director at the Emmy-winning soap opera “As the World Turns,” puts a different spin on things. Funny, thought-provoking and vulnerable, she relates some of the crazier themes in soaps to her own life. In fact, I felt rather touched by her story (and a little less judgmental of my summer in the basement).

Give us something to talk about

Whether you are or were a soap opera aficionado, Adams’ “life lessons” will give you an interesting angle to reflect and discuss how these lessons could relate to your life. Warning: I don’t think your students will understand the references Adams makes. Still, I’m sure they will get the gist of the lessons and may even have some soap opera/telenovela memories of their own to share. You may even be surprised to find that many of us had a “soap opera” phase in our lives.

I made a handout for the lesson on TPT for $0.99 (teachers pay teachers), but I have also put the main discussion questions in this post.

Warm-up

  • Do you follow some sort of soap opera or series on television?
  • What do you like about it?

The video: Kate Adams 4 Larger than Life Lessons from Soap Operas

Discussion Questions

  • What are the 4 lessons?
  • Which of Kate Adams’ lessons do you think is the most important? Why?
  • What are some of the life lessons you carry with you when times get tough?
  • Do you have any life stories that show how you applied these lessons?

Oh…and this is too fun not to share: soap operas from around the world.

What matters most in life?

What matters most in life? A nice juicy esl discussion question that is maybe not so easy to answer. Or is it?

The main categories

We could start by exploring the large categories: money, family, health, happiness. Or we could get introspective and think of what, specifically, matters to us. Is it our children’s happiness, staying healthy, leading a full life, paying off our mortgage? It is one of those big questions that can deep and introspective or stay superficial and vague.

Feelings…nothing more than feelings

That’s why I like Denis Prager’s, from PragerU, exploration. He grabs this question with a very pragmatic point of view that leaves everyone, the vague and the introspective, with something to think about. One disclaimer though…the views expressed by the PragerU organization may differ from those of eslconversationlesson.com. Still, Prager’s presentation is impartial and practical, thus I think it useful to prompt an intelligent debate on the subject.

So then what?

In this esl lesson, we go from a general discussion of our values, to then take a twisty turn into social dilemmas which put our values to the test. Whether you use the handout or not, make sure you take a look at the dilemma scenarios at the end of the document.

Warm up

  • Mind Map some of the things you and your students find important
  • In this list: money, family, health and happiness, which matter most to you?

The video: What Matters Most in Life?, by PragerU

Discussion

Use this document to collect some of the main ideas in the video and explore some “would you rather scenarios

Google slides document

Or if you prefer to just go right to the questions, here they are

In your opinion are the following statements true or false?

  • Money makes you happy
  • Love makes you happy
  • Good values make you happy

Why does Prager say that what matters most in life is our values?

Would you rather

  • Would you rather lose the ability to read or lose the ability to speak?
  • Would you rather be in jail for a year or lose a year off your life?
  • Would you rather have an easy job working for someone else or work for yourself but work incredibly hard?
  • Would you rather always be 10 minutes late or always be 20 minutes early?
  • For more: Would you Rather

Thanks you to all the Facebook teachers who helped me create this lesson.

What kind of music improves your mood?

Ever get in the car and suddenly a tune comes on that just takes you right out of your thoughts and makes you break into song? Or perhaps you drift into fantasy land and pump out an awesome guitare solo…leaving you to feel like a master of skill…powerful. Or perhaps you can remember cueing up a classic breakup song and let yourself cry all your tears after a separation.

Yes music can do all that. In fact some studies have shown that music can have profound effects on your brain chemistry and your overall well being.

In this article by Thrive Global Mayo Osin, looks at how music can impact your mood.

Pre discussion

  • What kind of music do you like?
  • What music puts you in a good mood?
  • What music puts you in a bad mood?

The article: The Science of How Music Affects Your Productivity

  • Do a Mind Map of all the elements and words associated to music, mental health and productivity.
  • What kind of music enhances productivity? What music reduces productivity? Why?
  • What are the differences between introverted and extraverted people with regards to music and memory?
  • What types of music should you listen to?