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.
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
Then, explore the Would you Rather scenarios included in the document.
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 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
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.
Who is an entrepreneur? As you may have noticed from its odd pronunciation, the word comes from the French–it means someone who takes something on by him or herself. In French, entreprendre means to endeavour. So perhaps its meaning could be clarified if we re-coined the term as an endeavouror.
Sounds more bold and courageous, no? It certainly takes a bit of bravado to be an entrepreneur. But what else does it take? A fantastic idea, a super talent, money, time? All of those things?
If you have business students who are endeavouring (ha) to develop their business vocabulary, this Crash Course on entrepreneurship is a great place to start. The presenter goes through all the basics: what it is, who is likely to identify as such, what are the advantages, what are the disadvantages. All this with a cheeky style that kept me entertained for the full 10 min. The narrator is a fast talker, so I would suggest turning the CC on and slowing the video down. Also, please feel free to use this note-taking handout.
Do a word association Mind Map with the word ‘entrepreneur’
Have you ever tried to start a business or a side-gig?
The Video: Who Even In An Entrepreneur by Crash Course
Do another word association Mind Map and compare it with the first.
What are some examples of entrepreneurship? In other words, what examples of ideas, products and business does the presenter give to help illustrate what an entrepreneur is?
Who is not an entrepreneur?
What does the presenter say about failure?
What is the “gig-economy”?
Steady employment can be fulfilling because…
Entrepreneurship can be fulfilling because…
What are some of your thoughts on entrepreneurship? Do you see yourself in this description? Why or why not?
Personally, I wanted to be a teacher, a veterinarian, a filmmaker, a programmer, a social worker and then a teacher again. The prospect of choosing one single thing was super hard for me. But choose I did, and I never felt entirely happy doing what I was doing.
Is it possible that we don’t have one true calling? That we have more than one talent? One gift? That is the question that Emilie Wapnick asks her TED audience. She is a self-proclaimed “multipotentialite” which is to say, she has many potential careers and gifts.
I must say I got a little emotional watching this talk. I too am someone who has been constantly looking for my one true thing. Wapnick’s premise of the multipotentialite is a very freeing concept that really got my students thinking and talking (and using lots of job and skills related vocabulary).
Today I am a teacher who programs games, uses film and the web to build materials. Many of my students have alternative learning profiles like dyslexia and executive processing issues. I am considered an informal dog whisperer and on the weekends, I go horseback riding with my two daughters. So, somehow my multi-potentials came to fruition. How about you? When you compare what you wanted to do to and what you chose, did you find room for everything or did you concentrate on a few of your interests?
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
If it changed, why did it change?
Have you changed your areas of interest as you grew older?
Why is it ok for children to have many career paths, but adults must choose one?
The Video: Ted why some of us don’t have one true calling by Emilie Wapnick
Post Video Discussion
You can use this handout to help the students focus their attention on certain areas of the talk. Remember, you can slow the video down and add subtitles if it helps. First, do a Tell Back.
Do you see yourself in Emilie’s concept of mulitipotentialite?
What is the problem of the “narrowly focused life”?
What are some of the problems Emilie encountered (4:00)?
What are the multipotentialite’s “superpowers” (6:30)?
What are the advantages of exploring all our interests?
How are those skills relevant in today’s job market?
The art of asking the perfect question is my own personal Mona Lisa. It is the element in my practice that I am always improving and perfecting. In fact, I even made a little video about some of the cognitive elements involved in questions.
Let go of perfection
Crafting a perfect question takes audience intuition, subject knowledge and most of all genuine curiosity about the result. But getting it right can be a mix of experience, trial and error and just plain luck. Jump in with something you find interesting and see where it takes you.
Have my questions bombed? Oh yes. Have I had the uncomfortably long blank stare? Yep. I have even been asked why on earth I would ask such a boring question. Ouch.
Most of all, when you are ‘on’ and right in the middle of a lesson, you need a certain amount of preparation, as well as have enough spontaneity to roll with the group if they want to go another way.
listen for patterns
It is the simplest yet the most powerful tool to see how articulate and fluid your students are. If you can, try to set an intention for what you listen for. Perhaps you can focus on speaking patterns like verbs, or use of modals, or vocabulary from previous lessons. If you notice mistakes, try to pick the most prevalent pattern and then give it some attention. Or perhaps you notice that the students are incorporating a bunch of previously learned vocabulary–make sure you point it out and praise them.
Question Tag-You’re it!
During the COVID confinement, I taught an online conversation course with about 10 students at a time. To allow everyone to speak, we played a game I called “question-tag”.
Students choose a question from the list and ask another classmate. Then that classmate is “it” and chooses the next question and classmate. Simple concept, but it puts the control in the students’ hands and adds just a touch of suspense to keep people engaged.
Want to play…You can use these 7 types of icebreakers to get going. The questions are meant as a corporate team-building exercise. Thus they are authentic and funny. Let me know how it turns out.
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.
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.
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 facette 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.
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 event in the movie make the girl (Lou) luck?
What actions or event 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?
Would you be happy if you were as lucky as Lou?
When I taught this lesson, I used this template to collect the answers. Feel free to use it too. I included the results of our discussion in case you need some ideas to prime your discussion.
Let me know in the comments section how it turns out for you.
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.