Is failure always a bad thing? I think we all know the answer to that. However, whether consciously or unconsciously, the fear of failure might be telling us a lot about who we are and how we can turn that fear into a constructive element in our lives. If you are in the mood for an introspective discussion, watch author Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talk about what failure has done for her.
As I listened to Gilbert’s talk, I found myself sifting through my memories for failures that became life-altering moments. It also reminded me of the discomfort of realizing that I had made a mistake, and how sometimes I failed at failing. That is to say, I didn’t reflect, I didn’t change. Instead, I filled those moments away never to think about them again.
But now that I am a mother, I witness how my children deal with failure and mistakes. It’s not always fun to watch them squirm and even harder to help them realize what went wrong and how to move forward. To soften the lesson, I find myself digging into my past only to find a treasure trove of my own embarrassments, imperfections and hurts (some caused and some received). I use these to tell them about my own mistakes–to model how being honest with yourself and others might be uncomfortable, but full of great learning experiences. In some respects, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, if you can stomach the process of listening to it.
Do a tell back of the main points in Gilbert’s presentation.
Are there elements in Gilbert’s presentation that relate to your life?
Do you have successes and failures that have marked your life?
How have your successes and failures defined your path? In other words, where might you be today if things were different?
Do you have an activity that you love more than anything that transcends the need to succeed or the fear of failure?
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.
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.
My daily routine is the backbone of my success. I am nauseatingly disciplined and predictable. Even when I’m on vacation, I still need to do some of the same tasks to start the day on the right foot. For example, whether it’s a normal week, or I’m in the woods camping, I must start the day sitting quietly with a hot latte. Even my children have learned not to disturb me during that time.
Making Peace with my Limits
Clearly, somewhere down the road of my life, I have made my peace with the fact that if I don’t eat well, I feel like crap. If I don’t do enough exercise, my jeans get tighter. If I don’t make lists and prioritize, I feel overwhelmed and stressed. And if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, it all goes to hell.
Discipline and Repetition
Undoubtedly, the secret for me is doing the same things, in the same order, every day. It may sound boring, but it works. I don’t even have to think about it. And if I get that evil voice that says “forget the push-ups, just for this morning”, I really try to ignore it. It’s not that I am overly rigid, but in the grand scheme of things, I know what I need to feel good even if that means that while doing it, I feel like I’m dying.
For this lesson on daily routines, I found a great animated short that really sparks the good vs the bad habits. So not only can you generate the vocabulary of habits, you might get into a debate about why we need our habits and why it is difficult to maintain the good ones and push the bad ones aside.
You can use the accompanying handout ($1.99 on TPT). It includes key vocabulary and answer key. Or you can just watch the video and discuss with the questions included in this post.
What do you do every day?
What do you do every week?
What do you do every year?
What routines make you feel good?
What routines make you feel not so good?
The Video: THE CHOICE by Project Better Self
Make a good and bad list
What are some of the choices you make every day that contribute to your health?
What happens when you make good choices (mentally, physically)?
What are some of your “guilty pleasures”?
Is it possible to be too disciplined?
Do you agree with everything in the video?
If you were to change one thing in the good example, what would it be?
I love talking about the weather. It is the single most easy 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.
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 both.
What are the different types of weather or climate you can name?
What affects the weather?
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.
I once introduced one of my girlfriend’s to a boy that seemed to be a good match for her. When I asked if things had worked out, she said no. She said he was nice, but he did not seem to have luck. She said it as if ‘luck’ was something you could be born with.
Is luck something you are born with?
That was such a strange way of looking at luck. It made me realize that this idea can be seen in so many different ways depending on your culture, your beliefs and perhaps your superstitions.
On the one hand, it can open up discussions on gratefulness, positivity and recognizing all the things in our lives that make us feel lucky…our children, our health, various aspects of our lives that make us happy.
Luck and Culture
But luck can also be explored culturally. For instance, in Japanese mythology, the Seven Gods of Luck are believed to have the power to grant luck. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, also have gods or figures that are believed to bestow luck. I suppose this means that you can believe in luck like you would believe in god. Or that if you are unlucky, it may be because you don’t deserve luck.
In this wordless animated short by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon called Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou, yet another facet of luck is explored. Jinxy is a walking disaster. Every step he takes is laced with misfortune. He is nervous and unhappy all the time. Conversely, Lou is so lucky she seems bored and unchallenged. I will let you watch to see what happens when the two meet.
When I taught this lesson, I used this template to collect the answers. Feel free to use it too. It is a free handout on Teacher Pay Teachers. I included the results of our discussion in case you need some ideas to prime your discussion.
Do you think you are lucky?
What makes you feel lucky?
Does your culture have any beliefs or superstitions about luck?
The Video: Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon
What actions or events in the movie make the girl (Lou) lucky?
What actions or events make the boy (Jinxy) unlucky?
Why do you think Jinxy is so unlucky? Is there anything in his attitude?
Why do you think Lou is so lucky?
What happens when they meet?
Why does Lou seem unhappy about being lucky?
Do you have any examples in your life where luck was important?
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?
Feel like going to the movies? As art imitates life, movies are a great way to take you out of your reality and plunge you into someone else’s. Let’s go take a look at the Rotten Tomatoes reviews to see what picks our fancy.
The site features both trailers and written reviews. It’s up to you how you want to fuel the vocabulary for this lesson.
What are some of your favourite movies?
What genre do you like most?
The site: Rotten Tomatoes
Scan the titles and have participants pick one and say why (other than “it looks interesting”)
Go to the description, at the bottom, and do a quick Tell Back of the summary, pulling out key vocabulary.
Watch the trailer. Make a list of actions you see.
Describe the characters. What makes them interesting.
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?
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.
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.
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
Use this document to collect some of the main ideas in the video and explore some “would you rather scenarios“
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?