I recently read the book The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. In the book, the main character visits a library in a parallel dimension where each book represents one of her possible lives…should she have made different choices. The journey takes us into multiple different versions of this character, Nora Seed. She is a rock star, a mother, a glaciologist, an Olympic swimmer, a philosophy professor and the list goes on. In each life, Seed has the luxury of measuring the level of happiness and fulfillment the different paths procure her.
It is the classic “what if”, question. Of course, it got me thinking of my own life. Then, instead of delving into regretted choices or getting depressed about what could have been, I thought of this TED talk by Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days. Since we cannot travel into parallel universes to see what could have been, Cutts’ idea is the next best thing.
Parallel Lives for 30 Days
We have all heard it before, we must step out of our comfort zone to grow…right? Cutt’s takes this to the next level with his self-imposed 30-day challenge. What I like about Cutt’s talk, is it gives a more tangible objective to this idea of trying new things. It may not be as profound as the Midnight Library, but it’s a start. After all, what’s 30 days?
What new thing would you like to try but haven’t yet?
What does it mean to “step out of your comfort zone”?
What are the benefits of doing new things? Any disadvantages?
What are the benefits of sticking with what you know? Any disadvantages?
The Video: Try something new for 30 days
Why does Matt think this is a good idea?
What did it change in his life?
What areas of our lives could we apply this to? Make a Mind Map…
Do you have any spontaneous ideas that you might like to try for 30 days?
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: emotions vocabulary, science, health
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.
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
The video: It’s Ok to be Smart– Here’s What I Learned from Getting COVID
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?
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
It seems counterintuitive that a small piece of cloth can stop a deadly killer. It is even harder to believe that less than a year ago if you walked into a grocery store with a mask you would have probably caused all kinds of suspicious looks and anxiety. For some masks represent a new way to express individuality, for others a necessary nuisance and for others still a political statement. One thing is for sure, during the coronavirus pandemic, carrying (and wearing) masks are as necessary as taking your keys and wallet.
Of course, I’m sure you heard some of the arguments against wearing masks. Notably, masks cause you to breathe in your own germs, or you could poison yourself with your own carbon dioxide. And if you have ever asked yourself, “if my pants can’t contain a fart, how can a mask contain the Coronavirus”, then you are not alone.
In addition to the misinformation about masks, there are discomforts. For those who have to wear a mask all day, they can cause acne, rashes, moisture. For others, it may even feel like you are working harder to breathe. And last but not least, they really fog up your glasses.
We do it because we care
The bottom line is, masks do prevent the spread of germs, and if you need to understand how, I invite you to watch this video from PBS’ It’s OK to be Smart. Coronavirus is invisible, insidious, and in many cases comes without any symptoms at all. Yet for others, it can spell doom within a matter of days. So why not get all the facts about mask-wearing and then wear it loud and proud…because you are part of a together-world.
For this lesson, I prepared a simple true/false handout that you can get on TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) for a dollar (a girl’s gotta eat). What I like to do with my students is read through the statements and have them guess the answers before they watch the video. This way you can explain any difficult vocabulary and get their brains ready for this fast-talking video. The handout includes the answer key. If you don’t want to use the handout, that’s ok too. I’ve included a few warm-up and discussion questions you can use.
What do you think of wearing masks?
What do you find unpleasant about it?
What kind of mask do you wear (does it have designs)?
The video: PBS It’s OK to be Smart: Masks
Cut the video up and do a TellBack of the main points
What are some of the misconceptions about masks and the Coronavirus?
What are some of the weird questions or arguments in the video or that you have heard?
Can you explain why masks help fight the spread of viruses?
Why are some people against masks?
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages?
Language focus: modal auxiliaries, daily actions, action verbs
Can kindness make you happy? Altruism was a hotly debated topic in my philosophy classes. For instance, if we do something nice, and it makes us happy, are we doing it for ourselves or for others? This question put my thoughts in a bit of an impossible loop, so I would tune out and focus on the symbiotic relationship between acts of kindness and our own personal happiness. In other words, if it makes the other person happy and it makes me happy too, then who cares about the rest…it’s win win.
So what are the things you do for others that bring light into your life? What could you do? Aryasb Feiz’s animated short “Mr. Indifferent”, deals with this very topic. As I was watching the wordless video, the first thought that came to me is what a great way to practice modal auxiliaries.
There is very little first language video material that can work in a lower level ESL class, so I like to use these animated short to concentrate on the actions. The authenticity of the video usually motivates the students to talk–with whatever words they have. Authenticity is magic.
That is what this lesson provides. I included a little printable handout to help note down some of the key vocabulary.
What do you do for other people that makes you happy?
Do you volunteer?
What could you do?
The video: Mr. Indifferent by Aryasb Feiz’s
Use the handout to help collect some words and expressions.
What is it about kindness that makes us happy?
Why do we forget, or chose not to bother?
What are some small, no money required, acts kindness we could do to brighten our lives?
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.
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
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?