Language focus: questions, preferences, past tense, present tense
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 recently read the book The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. In the book, the main character visits a library in a parallel dimension where each book represents one of her possible lives…should she have made different choices. The journey takes us into multiple different versions of this character, Nora Seed. She is a rock star, a mother, a glaciologist, an Olympic swimmer, a philosophy professor and the list goes on. In each life, Seed has the luxury of measuring the level of happiness and fulfillment the different paths procure her.
It is the classic “what if”, question. Of course, it got me thinking of my own life. Then, instead of delving into regretted choices or getting depressed about what could have been, I thought of this TED talk by Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days. Since we cannot travel into parallel universes to see what could have been, Cutts’ idea is the next best thing.
Parallel Lives for 30 Days
We have all heard it before, we must step out of our comfort zone to grow…right? Cutt’s takes this to the next level with his self-imposed 30-day challenge. What I like about Cutt’s talk, is it gives a more tangible objective to this idea of trying new things. It may not be as profound as the Midnight Library, but it’s a start. After all, what’s 30 days?
What new thing would you like to try but haven’t yet?
What does it mean to “step out of your comfort zone”?
What are the benefits of doing new things? Any disadvantages?
What are the benefits of sticking with what you know? Any disadvantages?
The Video: Try something new for 30 days
Why does Matt think this is a good idea?
What did it change in his life?
What areas of our lives could we apply this to? Make a Mind Map…
Do you have any spontaneous ideas that you might like to try for 30 days?
The art of asking the perfect question is my own personal Mona Lisa. It is the element in my practice that I am always improving and perfecting. In fact, I even made a little video about some of the cognitive elements involved in questions.
Let go of perfection
Crafting a perfect question takes audience intuition, subject knowledge and most of all genuine curiosity about the result. But getting it right can be a mix of experience, trial and error and just plain luck. Jump in with something you find interesting and see where it takes you.
Have my questions bombed? Oh yes. Have I had the uncomfortably long blank stare? Yep. I have even been asked why on earth I would ask such a boring question. Ouch.
Most of all, when you are ‘on’ and right in the middle of a lesson, you need a certain amount of preparation, as well as have enough spontaneity to roll with the group if they want to go another way.
listen for patterns
It is the simplest yet the most powerful tool to see how articulate and fluid your students are. If you can, try to set an intention for what you listen for. Perhaps you can focus on speaking patterns like verbs, or use of modals, or vocabulary from previous lessons. If you notice mistakes, try to pick the most prevalent pattern and then give it some attention. Or perhaps you notice that the students are incorporating a bunch of previously learned vocabulary–make sure you point it out and praise them.
Question Tag-You’re it!
During the COVID confinement, I taught an online conversation course with about 10 students at a time. To allow everyone to speak, we played a game I called “question-tag”.
Students choose a question from the list and ask another classmate. Then that classmate is “it” and chooses the next question and classmate. Simple concept, but it puts the control in the students’ hands and adds just a touch of suspense to keep people engaged.
Want to play…You can use these 7 types of icebreakers to get going. The questions are meant as a corporate team-building exercise. Thus they are authentic and funny. Let me know how it turns out.
Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert? You probably already know the answer, but wouldn’t you like to check? Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant shares his psycho-quiz on the TED site, which for us ESL practitioners can be transformed into a fantastic interactive reading exercise. I would suggest you pair up your students and ask them to quiz each other rather than simply have them do it individually.
But before jumping into the exercise I want to tell you why I snagged on this question in the first place. Yes, I like to psycho-analyze stuff with absolutely no authority to do so. And yes I love to use frameworks and patterns to help me understand the world better. But more than that, when it comes to spotting an introvert or extrovert or even knowing myself, I think I have it all wrong.
I recently watched a TED talk given by Brian Little which asks “Who are you really: the puzzle of personality,” in which he presents his framework for classifying personality traits. When he got to the extravert/introvert category, his explanation really puzzled me. According to him, I would be a total introvert. Me? I know right! Based on Little’s examples of the behaviours of each of these personalities, I would sway more on the reclusive quiet side.
Are you intrigued yet? So let me link each resource: first the TED quiz and then the TED talk. Let’s see you and your students change perspective…
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
What are some of the things you love and hate that demonstrate your personality?
The Quiz: Quiz: Are you an extrovert, introvert or ambivert? by Adam Grant
TED talk: Who are you really? The puzzle of personality?
What are the elements in Little’s framework?
Why do you think ‘kindness’ is not part of it?
Do you agree with his descriptions of introverts and extroverts?
Who do you know that fits those descriptions?
What are the advantages/disadvantages of introverts and extroverts?
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:
non verbal behaviour
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?
Prepositions can be a bit nebulous to second language learners. Yet they do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to meaning. So in many cases, it’s important to get it right. Here is a very short activity that requires the participants to complete the questions with the correct preposition. BUT after the exercise is complete, you can use the questions for a general discussion…double whammy.
Also, if as a teacher you need to get your head around explaining prepositions, this Khan academy presentation breaks it down a little. This is not material I would use with a student, but I thought it was interesting to freshen up my grammar knowledge and get a bit of the method behind the preposition madness. So to speak.