Why do we lie? Notice that I didn’t ask if is lying wrong, or whether you consider honesty important–because in both cases, I’m pretty sure you would agree that the answer is “yes, but…” or “yes, except…”. We all lie, a bit, or a lot. The more interesting question is why.
Consider the extremes. Do you remember the comedy Liar Liarwith Jim Carry? In it Carry plays the role of Fletcher Reede, a pathelogical liar who ends up being cursed to tell the truth–all the time. Ugly hairdo, need to lose a couple pounds, bad breath, it all comes flying out of Reede’s mouth and needless to say it gets him into a lot of trouble. But it is also very restorative. It urges Reede to express more vulnerable feelings and gain more trust and loyalty.
So let’s try to unpack the issue. Keeping famous movies as a template, let’s say lying can fall into different categories: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In the Good category, birthday surprises, and hurtful opinions, in the Bad category, making up excuses to miss work or homework, and the Ugly category could contain breaking the law, dark secrets etc.
The point is, how and when we lie can generate an interesting reflection.
Language focus: personal caracteristics, money, work tasks
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.
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.
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.
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?
Language focus: rooms in the house, household items, comparatives and superlatives
When you go to someone’s house, what do you look at? Oh yes, we all do it. Maybe you like to check out the kitchen or take a peek in the bedrooms, or maybe you check how clean the toilet is.
As humans, we all have a natural curiosity about how others live. Sometimes we judge, but I think we are also just curious. Sometimes it can be as ordinary as comparing the toothpaste other people use.
Researcher Anna Rosling Rönnlund takes this curiosity to a new level. In her TED talk, Rönnlund presents her massive sociological photographic database. It contains over 40,000 photos of everyday objects, like cutlery, toys, stoves and yes, toilets. So if you wonder what a toothbrush looks like in Burkina Fasso, or you want to see what distinguishes low-income families and very high-income families, this visual database unlocks huge truths in tiny mundane objects. For a voyeur like me, it provides hours of fascinating revelations.
But Rönnlund’s intentions reach far beyond curiosity. She explains that the power of visual data is about helping us better understand the world we live in and perhaps re-align some of our misguided beliefs
And aside from a fantastic eye-opening experience, the talk and the tool makes for great ESL material to practice the language of comparisons. Take a look-see…
When you go to someone’s house, what do you like to look at? Why?
What is the most important room in a home?
The Talk: See how the rest of the world lives, organized by income by Anna Rosling Rönnlund
Why did Rönnlund take pictures of peoples’ homes?
What can we learn about something simple like cutlery?
Stop the video on some of the pictures and compare:
Language focus: adjectives, descriptors, personal traits
Media: interactive quiz (reading)
How would you describe yourself? Tell us about you? Why hire you rather than someone else? Could you tell the class a few things about yourself? From job interviews to cocktail parties, this question can crop up in so many places. Yet whether I ask it or answer it, it always seems to create a moment dead air that can be a little awkward.
Being in the Spotlight
Even if it’s a pretty basic question, it does require that you expose yourself. And if you don’t want to expose yourself, well that kind of exposes you anyway. In other words, if you answer you have to say stuff, and if you don’t, well that says something too. That challenge basically boils down to the whole introvert, extrovert, ambivert dimension (see the lesson for more on that).
I Need More Word-Thingies
The second challenge in answering is of course vocabulary–which is what makes it a great ESL conversation lesson. This question will inevitably trigger the need for adjectives and descriptors. Once you have used up the garden variety, “I’m a hard-working person”, “I am perseverant” (because most language learners are), “I am sensitive”, even a native speaker may be at a loss for something to say. Or the opposite might happen, so many things start tumbling out of your mouth, you don’t know what to choose and when to stop.
A Little Preparation and Practice Never Hurt
I’m not saying we should prepare a one-size-fits-all speech that we learn by heart and recite anytime we are asked…that would be weird. But full disclosure, I myself have put some thought into this question and I do sometimes practice in my head…yep. I even have a first day of class version, a job interview version and a small talk version.
Hungry for Words
If you are hungry for words, one of my students recommended this great psycho-quiz called 16 Personalities. I use it in a job searching workshop to train students to answer the famed “tell me about yourself” interview question. The site is super well done, full of varied adjectives and descriptors and the questions are succinct, thought-provoking and fairly simple.
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:
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?
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 available through Teachers Pay Teachers 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.
Now that is a loaded question if I ever did blog one. Admittedly gender difference always creates discussion. But not always the discussions I like to facilitate. In fact, I usually stay away from overly simplistic comparisons, especially when they pit the two most basic attributes of humanity. However, when I watched Reshma Saujani’s TED talk, I instantly wanted to talk about it.
Can it be true? And what if it is?
Saujani hammers a societal observation that had me searching all my memories as a young girl. Do we teach our boys to be brave and our girls to be perfect? And the follow-up question: how has this shaped our society? Said differently, how has this impacted our job market, our political paradigms, technological progress, social and familial priorities…the list goes on.
CTRL Z please!
Saunjani strikes a particularly sensitive chord when she describes some of the anecdotes from her coding school for girls. She describes a girl sitting in front of her blank coding screen, feeling like she is just not good enough to compose code that will work. But when you do CTRLZ (undo) to go back a few keystrokes, she finds pages full of code that was deleted that simply “wasn’t good enough”.
Mind Map some of the biases we have about girls and boys (e.g. girls and creative and boys are good at math, boys are more physical, etc.)
The Video: Teach girls bravery, not perfection by Reshma Saujani
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?