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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
Experience is a funny thing. When we don’t have it, we don’t always know it. We are in a state of “blissful ignorance.” What is blissful about ignorance you ask? Well mainly that we can go around judging things with a feeling of superiority and mastery.
Let’s consider a concrete example…
Ever stroll through the aisles of the supermarket, quietly contemplating dinner plans and peacefully reading labels only to be violently yanked out of your reverie by a screaming child? You know what I am talking about: the epic supermarket toddler meltdown. Oh yes, they cry they scream, either they want out, they want in. For goodness sake, what do they want?
I admit it, I judged the parents of those children. But now that I am a mother, I too have been the mother of a screaming toddler. Sometimes I reflect on how my perspective has changed and I feel guilty about my un-empathetic superior thoughts I had about those parents.
This lesson features a funny video about how non-parents see parents. I like the video because it is repetitive enough that students may be able to get the humour. As you may know, understanding humour in a foreign language is rather challenging, so any time I find something that can make people laugh, I like to use it.
But I feel the discussion lies beyond the video. I think it’s about how experience changes us. And how sometimes that very experience can have us looking as crazy as the people on the video.
Rather than have a pre-discussion as a warm up, I would use the video to get prime the participants’ thoughts.
The Video: What Parenting Sounds Like to Non-Parents
Can you think of a ‘before and after’ situation where experience made you change your perspective?
What events in your life (e.g. becoming a parent, changing jobs, moving to a foreign country) have changed the way you think about things?
Can you remember a scene in your life that made you look as crazy and the people in the video?
If you were going to make a video like this one, what would the topic be?