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 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.
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 may be 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?
Did your mother tell you not to talk to strangers? Mine did. Was that really good advice? Of course, we don’t want to compromise the safety of our children and we are not all be social butterflies. We have our personalities and our boundaries and it is important to respect ourselves in that way.
But isn’t there something alarmist, maybe even cold, about stranger danger? Are we encouraging isolation, apathy, disengagement, fear, tribalism? Even though it is natural to gravitate toward people who have familiar ideas and beliefs, could we be missing something?
In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Talking to Strangers” he exposes how opening ourselves up to others has a lot to teach us. But it is not all touchy-feely shiny happy people communing. Talking to strangers can be very destabilizing and may even reveal or confirm that there are some twisted people out there. Not everyone is truthful and not everyone is empathetic. But some are, and by closing ourselves off for fear for landing on a bad one, we are pruning our outlook and our own empathy.
Justin Trudeau’s keynote address to the NYU graduates takes this notion to the next level. He calls us out on our hidden biases, our fears, our tribalism. He wants to inspire us to have courage and get to know those who make us uncomfortable, get to know those who don’t resemble us and get to know those who don’t think like us. For him, and perhaps for Gladwell as well, talking to strangers is the path to world peace…no less.
What do you think talking to strangers can achieve?
Why is it so difficult for us?
The Video: Justin Trudeau Diversity doesn’t have to be a weakness!
What are some of the main messages that stuck with you?
What does Trudeau mean when he talks about ‘tribalism’?
What does he mean when he says “win the argument”?
What can we do to know the good strangers from the bad strangers? Are there tools, tricks?
Do you think Trudeau is being naïve? In what way?
What are some of the ‘juicy’ words and expressions? Make a list and see if you can put them in other sentences.