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?
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 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
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.
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.