Asking questions is an integral part of conversation. When I prepare an ESL lesson, I can spend quite a lot of time composing just the right question. Not too hard, not too easy, avoid yes, no and add some nice vocabulary words to feed the answer. In fact, the art of asking questions is a bit of a passion of mine. You can even consult my Questions by Cognitive Skillpage to see just how scientific I can get to achieve the perfect question.
But enough about me! What about the students? How are they at asking questions? The wh-words are such an important cornerstone in ESL development. But I find that simply exposing the 5 w’s is too simplistic and not very conversational. I got inspired by a great lesson that uses photos and question starters to practice questions. I liked it because it was open enough to allow for variety but controlled enough to feed the students with the structure and words to provide opportunity for success. So I made one of my own with Google Slides.
It’s just so easy. I don’t have to interrupt anyone, I can write while I’m in the moment, I don’t have to hold anything in my memory, I don’t even have to wait my turn to talk. When the thought appears, I can just shoot a message off and my counterpart can react when it is convenient for them. In some case, with my more talkative friends (and family members) a digital message is the only way I can get a word in edgewise.
Plus, I can re-read, check my tone or make sure I didn’t word anything in an insensitive way. I can edit. Digital communication allows me to put forth my best self. Great stuff…right?
Sherry Turkle is not so sure. Her TED talk Connected but Alone? takes a good hard look at what digital communication may be doing to us. We have all heard that technology may be making us more isolated, so beyond this statement, just how it is doing that? Turkle gets right under the hood of our communication habits and puts forth some thought provoking concepts that definitely gave me pause.
This lesson is definitely for more advanced students. I did this with a mixed class of high level and lower level students and the lower level were a bit lost. However, I still recommend using first language material as much as you can to get their ears and minds used to native speaking. Once they get over focusing on what they don’t understand and focus on what they do, they will increase their ability to get into the English speaking community.
Let’s hypothesize…Why do you think Turkle thinks texting and emailing is making us more isolated?
Make a pros and cons list for digital communication
What is the difference between isolation and solitude?
What is the difference between friendship and companionship?
The Video: TED Sherry Turkle: Connected but Alone?
There is a ton of stuff to talk about here. And rather than try to Tell Back everything Turkle says (although you are free to do that), I would jump right into the discussion with some of the following key ideas:
“We want to customize our lives and control where we put our attention”
“We are getting used to being alone…together”
“We are compromising companionship for friendship”
“We have an illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship”
“We can’t get enough of each other, at a distance, in amounts we can control”
“We use technology to manage our relationships in ways we can comfortably control”
Technology is satisfying 3 basic fantasies:
We can put our attention where we want it to be
We will always be hear
We will never be alone
“Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved”
“I share therefore I am”
“Connection is creating isolation”
“We need to cultivate the capacity for solitude”
“We need to build a self-aware relationship with technology”
And I could go on and on pulling quotes from this video. Turkle is articulate, astute and a fantastic social analyst.
I am ready to admit that I am getting caught in the fray of convenience, but short of stopping (which is not going to happen) Turkle has helped me see where I might be more self-aware.
I hope you enjoy talking about this as much as me and my students.
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?
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?
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 some simple like utensils?
Stop the video on some of the pictures and compare:
Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert? You probably already know the answer, but wouldn’t you like to check? Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant shares his psycho-quiz on the TED site, which for us ESL practitioners can be transformed into a fantastic interactive reading exercise. I would suggest you pair up your students and ask them to quiz each other rather than simply have them do it individually.
But before jumping into the exercise I want to tell you why I snagged on this question in the first place. Yes, I like to psycho-analyze stuff with absolutely no authority to do so. And yes I love to use frameworks and patterns to help me understand the world better. But more than that, when it comes to spotting an introvert or extrovert or even knowing myself, I think I have it all wrong.
I recently watched a TED talk given by Brian Little which asks “Who are you really: the puzzle of personality,” in which he presents his framework for classifying personality traits. When he got to the extravert/introvert category, his explanation really puzzled me. According to him, I would be a total introvert. Me? I know right! Based on Little’s examples of the behaviours of each of these personalities, I would sway more on the reclusive quiet side.
Are you intrigued yet? So let me link each resource: first the TED quiz and then the TED talk. Let’s see you and your students change perspective…
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
What are some of the things you love and hate that demonstrate your personality?
The Quiz: Quiz: Are you an extrovert, introvert or ambivert? by Adam Grant
TED talk: Who are you really? The puzzle of personality?
What are the elements in Little’s framework?
Why do you think ‘kindness’ is not part of it?
Do you agree with his descriptions of introverts and extroverts?
Who do you know that fits those descriptions?
What are the advantages/disadvantages of introverts and extroverts?
Do you follow anyone on any social media channels?
One of the newest trends in social marketing is using”influencers” to promote new products. Influencers, as described by the CBC podcast included in this post, are people who have an ‘organic’ following on social media channels like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or Linkedin. They are people, like you and me, who have gathered an audience of followers because of their ideas.
I guess you could say that it’s not unlike having a hero or a mentor or a model, but I think it is slightly different because they can be anyone and everyone and have complete strangers follow them.
I would like to preface this lesson by saying that the podcast is geared toward a more business English discussion on marketing and sales. But I think it can also feed a more general discussion about the place of social media in our lives as well as critical media literacy. It’s up to you to angle it the way it can work best for you.
Do you have an “influencer”? In other words, someone you trust for wisdom and advice.
Do you follow any social media groups or people?
The podcast uses a lot of business vocabulary, so if you are using this post for a more general discussion, you could skip the listen portion an go right to the questions. Otherwise listen to the podcast (11 min.) to flesh out some of the main ideas and key vocabulary.
What are some of the features of an influencer?
What are some of the dangers of using an influencer to endorse a product?
Why use an influencer instead of traditional advertising?
How do you know that a source or influencer is reliable?
Are you looking for language activities for your kids? Perhaps even an activity that could get them out of your hair for a bit (not judging). In these unprecedented times of social distancing, keeping your kids busy or better yet, engaged is challenging to say the least.
Generally speaking, eslconversation.ca is a site devoted to ESL materials for adults. However, being a mother of young kids myself, I feel compelled to share what I am doing with my own girls.
Because I too worry that they get complacent. I too worry that their brains turn to mush. And I too need a break from being the hourly ringmaster. But there is no way that my conscience will let me plug them into a video game or television. So what do to?
Easy Comic Maker: by Mélanie L. Sisley
If you have other sites or apps, let me know. I would be more than happy to make a video and share it.
Ever play the game Guess Who? You know the one where you and your partner have a bunch of tiles representing different people and you have to ask yes/no questions to guess which person your partner has in mind.
I love that game for beginner ESL. Only it costs a lot of money to buy one for each pair of students. So I created a modified version of this in a PowerPoint. The presentation also includes a couple of introductory exercises to practice the vocabulary of the different parts of the face.
I placed the fully downloadable presentation on Teachers Pay Teachers. At $2.99, it will save you some precious prep time. Get it here: Parts of the Face
Are you ready for a vacation, but don’t know where to go? Have I got a fantastic tool for you. The Washington Post offers this wild vacation planner tool. All you have to do is answer their questions and the computer will generate the top vacation spots based on your answers.
Is that not an awesome ESL exercise! I was beyond tickled when I stumbled on this gem of a website. Not only is it super useful for the common mortal, but it is also a fantastic speaking, reading and conversation exercise.
The questions are interesting and the options are funny. You may need to help the students with some of the jokes and figurative language, but once they understand that they don’t really have to understand everything verbatim, they should have a good time.
The articles are well written, perhaps a little challenging at times, but include many pictures.
How I would Teach This
Get students in pairs. One person asks the questions and the other answers
Let the computer generate the results
Ask each student to choose an article, even if they are not the traveller. Each read and then do a Tell Back on the content.