How exactly does gender work?

Books have been written about it, alcohol-based dinners never go without it, and more recently, we are digging into what defines it.  Put simply, what are the differences between men and women? This TED talk by biologist Karissa Sanbonmatsu really got my attention. First of all because she presents some of the new discoveries from epigenetics and research in DNA that explain the differences between men and women from a biological perspective. Gotta love science. This lesson is filled with tons of scientific vocabulary to describe how DNA works to create gender differences.

However, here is the twist, Sanbonmatsu, a transgender scientist, also talks about the challenges she faced through her struggle with her own identity. This content is layered and complex. On one hand the objective is to help science-based students become more verbal with DNA related vocabulary–an important corner stone topic for biologists. But beyond that, the speaker pulls in the social challenges of the “old boys club” that exists in the scientific community as well as the very misunderstood transgenderism.

Pre discussion

  • What are some of the theories you have heard about the differences between men and women?
  • Do you think there are differences?
  • What does it mean to be transgender?

The Video: The Biology of Gender

There are really two aspects in this video mashed up together. 1) Sanbonmatsu shares the science of gender. 2) Sanbonmatsu talks about the reactions of her scientific community towards transgenderism.

I would first untangle each aspect.

  • What does the latest research tell us about gender?
  • What is the behaviour of our DNA?
  • How is Sanbonmatsu contributing to a society of tolerance inclusion?
  • Why does Sanbonmatsu expose the scientific community as being especially hard on her choices?
  • Do you think there are other social circles where transgenderism is more difficult?
  • What about less difficult?

I leave you with that for the weekend…have a good one.

Mel

13 resources for ice-breaker questions

Need a good question to break the ice? I got you covered.

I’m sure you have experienced it. First day of ESL class, you plan an icebreaker activity, launch the question and you get the dreaded silent stares. What do you do, let them stew with the question and stand your ground, or come up with a follow-up question? Do you let them see you sweat, or pretend that that is what you wanted because you want them to think? “Please, please kind extroverted student somewhere out there in the crowd, get me out of this.”

Icebreaker activities always make me nervous. It’s often the first class, you don’t know your group, the chemistry is not established, you may not know their level and they are usually a bit shy. However, they are in an English second language class to develop their language skills, so it’s my job to warm them up and find some interesting questions that can inspire conversation.

I collect icebreakers like some people collect jewelry or stamps. I am always looking for creative, thought-provoking, not too deep, not too personal questions that people enjoy answering.

To me, it’s reminiscent of a high school dance where everyone is waiting for that great song that gets people on the dance floor. You can let loose and get lost in the crowd. Thus in my ESL class, I am a DJ of questions. When one doesn’t get the party going, I have plenty of others.

For your party…I mean class…needs, here are my best sources.

ICEBREAKERS

Is too much choice making us unhappy?

Level: B2, C1Language focus: modal auxiliaries, expressing opinions, questions
Exercise: Discussion questions in the postMedia: video

As a parent, I find I am sometimes in a sad little loop of not feeling good enough, looking for parenting advice, then trying that advice and being exhausted by the amount of energy it takes to be that good version of myself and returning to square one.

One example of this is the choice paradox. Many parenting books will tell you it’s a good practice to give your children choices rather than always dictating. Like when kids are picky eaters, give them a choice of vegetables. Or when they put up a fuss to get their winter clothes on, give them a choice of mittens, scarves and hats. The premise is that children resist because they need to have freedom (or the illusion of it). If you have tried this parenting method, you know that it will only take you so far before you are exhausted and your kids figure out that the options don’t really interest them.

Retail and marketing also leverage this concept as a key selling point. Seemingly attractive retailers are often those who offer choices, variety and options. But is this making our lives easier or more complicated? Are we making ourselves exhausted with the number of choices and like our children coming to the conclusion that many options just don’t interest us that much? Barry Schwartz’s Ted Talk questions whether we, like our children, are just under the illusion of freedom when in reality we are simply more confused and eventually disengaged.

Warm up

I suggest you start the lesson by torturing your students with these Would you Rather statements. Perhaps pair them up and have them discuss their choices. Then, mix it up a bit and ask the other person to choose for you. Did you like letting someone choose? Did you agree?

The video: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

I suggest you watch this in small snippets and do short Tell Backs along the way.

What concepts stand out in Schwartz’s talk?

What are the advantages of choice?

What are the two negative effects?

Why do we need experts?

What do you think Schwartz is telling us with the way he is dressed?

What are some of the events in his life that led to this conclusion?

Can you think of events in your life where you would have preferred to have less choice?

What are questions you have that you would prefer someone make a decision for you?

Talk about a choice you made that may have been ‘not good enough’ . What consequences did it have on your life?

What’s the weather today?

I love talking about the weather. It is the easiest way to initiate a conversation with a stranger or acquaintance if you need to break the silence. Great for elevator rides, spontaneous waiting time and warm repartee.

It is also a ubiquitous element that can have multiple impacts on our lives. Indeed a rainy day, bright sun, or a snowstorm will change how we dress, the meals we eat, the activities we plan and perhaps how we get to work. Personally, I check the weather every morning because I take my bike to work–even in winter.

Moreover, I find weather phenomena fascinating. Tsunamis, earthquakes,  tornadoes, nature has a way of reminding us who is really in control. Beautiful, powerful, terrifying the planet is a person. She breathes, she aches and she speaks. Are we listening?

This particular discussion lesson goes from general to scientific to silly. The objective is to elicit the vocabulary around a familiar topic and add a level of complexity with either the science behind weather or weather-related expressions. I just couldn’t choose, so I put everything.

Pre discussion

  • What are the different types of weather or climate you can name?
  • What affects the weather?
  • How does the weather make you feel? When it rains, when it is sunny, when the snow falls…
  • Do you use the weather forecast to plan activities?
  • What activities do you do in spring, summer, fall and winter?
  • What are the seasons like in your country?

Option 1: The Video: The Science of Weather

  • Divide the video into 2 or 3 segments and do a Tell Back  of the main themes and words
  • How do meteorologists sort through information, identify trends, and make predictions?
  • Why do they often get it wrong?
  • Why is it important to predict the weather?

Option 2: Weather idioms

For this, I made a handout and some flashcards. They are on Teachers Pay Teachers TPT. Click to go see.

So many possibilities…I may I might

I am an avid visualizer. I love hypothetical dreaming. I test out lessons, see possible problems, and think of fun ways to connect the classroom to reality. It’s like a constant mini-movie up there. I don’t just visualize lessons, I play out conversations, memories, happy places etc…

Our ability to hypothesize and weigh possibilities is probably one of the most fascinating traits of humankind. With that deep and philosophical introduction, I would like to point you in the direction of this recent find: esllounge.com. It is a great site full of teaching resources definitely worth perusing.

For today, I am linking a nice little conversation exercise that is meant to get participants to use ‘may’ and ‘might’. Of course, if it doesn’t go in that direction, it ok too. At the very least, it should encourage hypothetical discussions.

Click on the image to go to the site

How do you ask for a raise?

  • Level: B1, B2, C1
  • Discussion questions in the post
  • Language focus: personal caracteristics, money, work tasks
  • Media: video

Life changes. And more specifically, it gets more expensive. Yet sometimes it can take time for your employer to catch up. So how can you tackle the prickly question of asking for a raise? Barbara Corcoran gives some rather poignant insights on how to orchestrate this discussion. I think it makes for a great ESL discussion. Not to mention a more generalized reflection on gender differences in the workplace.

Adding Value

I often hear the term adding value in corporate settings. It’s often thrown around to mean anything from doing good work to offering innovative thinking. Basically, to be able to show you add value to your job, you need to have a good bank of things you do (actions) and ways that you behave (personal qualities).  After watching Corcoran’s video, I invite you and your students to make this list using these vocabulary resources.

Courage

In the end, asking for a raise takes a great amount of courage. What are your risking when you ask? Your job security, your comfort zone, exposing that you are unhappy with your work conditions (which could prompt your employer to find someone else) and being told ‘no’. What are you risking when you don’t ask? Feeling underpaid, undervalued, feeling like you are working just as hard for less in the case of salaries not adjusting to the cost of living. If you feel you are due for a raise, it is the ultimate Catch 22. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Warm Up

  • MindMap the words related to money, raise, and reasons why we need more money?
  • Make a pro/cons list of asking for a raise.
  • Do you have any good advice or stories about asking for a raise?

The Video: Barbara Corcoran Explains How to Ask for a Raise

  • What are the steps you need to take to set up the meeting?
  • What are some of the differences between men and women when asking for raises?
  • If you are timid (and Corcoran says “woman,” but I think this applies to anyone who is timid) what should you do to overcome this?
  • What are Corcoran’s recommendations on how to use an outside offer to initiate a positive discussion about compensation?
  • What are her parting ideas about loyalty?

Have a great class!

Mel

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?

Amy Cuddy: Can my body language affect my mood?

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.

Teachers note: 

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:

Pre discussion

  • Some vocabulary:
    • posture
    • body language
    • non-verbal behaviour
    • power dynamics
    • power and dominance
    • assertive
    • optimistic
    • hormone
    • 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?

For more on this topic see Body Language Mistakes

Bitmoji Image

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 see what I see?

  • Level: A1, A2, B1, B2
  • Handout: on TPT
  • Media: Video
  • Language focus: action verbs, causal linking words

Do you like independent films? I think it’s a good habit to break away from mainstream films and explore some of the messages in indie films. Often I find myself conditioned by an expectation of a happy ending. I even find myself expecting it in my life. When it doesn’t it feels odd.

Movies Shape our Psyche

Does the dedicated athlete always take home the gold? Does the couple always live happily ever after? Does the cancer fighter always beat the sickness? Does the lost dog always find its way home? In movies, often yes, but in real life not so much. Do you think we feel more cheated of these defeats because we have developed a distortion of reality?

The Eye of the Beholder

Here are a couple of short thought-provoking wordless animations that you can use to elicit some discussion. You can start by identifying all the action verbs. When I taught it, students saw different things. It was rather personal. 

Then, if your students like introspective analysis, there is an opportunity to talk about the symbolism in the videos. In my experience, this sort of thing can either prompt a great philosophical discussion or fall flat. It really depends on the people you are working with.

Lesson Notes

Handout on TPT

The films are wordless, so you can use them with basic level students and stick to identifying the action verbs included in the handout. If you are working with a higher level, then you could ask them to note when the actions occur. Or better yet why the character does the action. And for the higher levels, you can go deeper and explore character motivation, how failure can create opportunity and how we cope with hardship. It’s a pretty elastic lesson.

Warm-up

  • Make a Mind Map of all the action verbs you know

ECIRAVA from Daisuke Kaneko on Vimeo.

SOAR: An Animated Short from Alyce Tzue on Vimeo.

Discussion

  • Pretend you have to describe this video to someone who can’t see, make a list of all the actions in this video?
  • What is the problem (s) in this story?
  • What is the difference between one side of the mirror and the other?
  • Which side do you think the man is likely to be happier?
  • What does the main character do to overcome the problems?
  • What are some of the emotions you can identify throughout the video?
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