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: beliefs, superstitions, conspiracy theories, fake news, disinformation.
Why do we believe weird things?
Fake news, misinformation, disinformation, these concepts are all over the media. We all know it’s out there, but how can we tell what is true and what is fake? First, let’s play a game…
True or False
Salt makes water boil quicker.
You should never swim right after you eat
Some people are more right-brain thinkers and others more left-brain thinkers.
Toilets flush differently in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere.
Einstein failed math.
Humans and dinosaurs co-existed
Vaccines cause autism.
You need to wait 24 hours to file a missing person’s report.
We use only 10% of our brain.
Most of our body heat leaves through our heads.
You should never wake a sleepwalker.
Bats are blind.
Alcohol keeps you warm.
Sugar creates hyper children.
Your hair and nails keep growing after you die.
Slaves built the pyramids in Egypt.
In case you use this to generate discussion with your class, I won’t give you the answers. You could invite your students to check for themselves at Readers Digest.
It’s your brain’s fault
Famous debunker and Skeptic.com’s editor-in-chief Michael Shermer gives us a bit of insight into how our brain is wired to makes us believe weird things. He explains and demonstrates how things like priming and cognitive bias are natural neurological predispositions that lead us to faulty conclusions. This discussion utilizes vocabulary in both pure science and psychology to demonstrate, in very cool ways, how media can create what I will term “information blind spots.”
***Caution! I did this lesson with a high intermediate student and they were overwhelmed with Shermer’s speed. I would recommend slowing the video down and using this True/False handout to explain and explore some of the vocabulary and concepts in the video. Have your students read through the statements and make predictions about the possible answers. Then have your students watch the video to confirm or correct their original impressions.
Go through the handout and predict which statements are true or false.
The Video: Why People Believe Weird Things
What makes us believe weird things…make a Mind Map of all the elements you hear?
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?
First, let’s clarify that a bad habit is a negative behaviour pattern–perhaps one that causes bodily harm. So if your daily glass of wine is not causing you harm then it can stay (yay!)? However, if you drink a whole bottle, text old boyfriends/girlfriends or pass out on the sofa, that may be a different story.
Without being too hard on ourselves, I’m sure we can think of at least one bad habit. Mine…I stress eat. When I get stressed, I feel hungry, crave sweets (I don’t even like sweets) and I’m always looking forward to my next meal.
The creators of ASAP Science YouTube channel look at bad habits from the scientific perspective. They explain why we feel the need to repeat behaviours even when they hurt us. Let this scientific explanation take the guilt out of your bad habits and give you something interesting to talk about with your students.
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?
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?
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.
What is your comfort food? I dare you to NOT think of the answer. Too late? I bet your favourite dish is already in your mind. Maybe you are even seeing a memory or a person attached to this dish. Is it something your mother made when you were sick? Something you eat at Christmas? Is it sweet or salty?
Chances are your comfort food is not too healthy. Right? Generally speaking, comfort foods are hardy, starchy and fatty. All great words that describe food. And that is exactly what you will find in this Insider Food video featuring 20 different people from 20 different cultures describing their comfort food.
But it makes me happy
Food makes people happy, conjures memories, and heals us when we are sick or sad and is often the heart of most celebrations. It is also a super fun thing to talk about. It ties in food, feelings, events and people, thus a nice integrated vocabulary exercise. The perfect Whole Language exercise.
While you listen
This video is chalk-a-block full of vocabulary, so I made a Google docs handout to help collect the essential ideas. Or you can try this cool interactive worksheet. Of course, if you are working with more advanced students, you might want to ditch the handout and just let the students note what they can. Rember you can turn the CC on and slow down the video.