Can kindness make you happy?

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.

Pre discussion

  • 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

Discussion Questions

  • 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?

Let me know how the discussions turn out.

Can you live a zero-waste life?

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.

Warm-up

  • 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

Discussion Questions

  • 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?

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…

Pre-Discussion

  • 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

Discussion Questions

  • 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:
    • Is there more or less
    • Is it bigger or smaller?
    • Is it simpler or more complicated?
    • Is it tidier or messier?
    • Is it cleaner or dirtier?
    • etc…

Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert?

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…

Pre discussion

  • 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?

Questions

  • 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?

How are you feeling?

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.

Warm-up

  • 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.

Questions 

  • 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?
  • Use the emotional definer wheel and say which are positive and which are negative

Want to download this lesson?

Get the Google Docs version for free

Do you eat…environmentally?

Being environmentally mindful can mean much more than composting your food scraps and recycling packaging. There are hundreds of little gestures that can contribute to making the planet healthier.

How many try to pack litterless lunches? Do you use plastic produce bags for your fruits and vegetables? Do you use reusable shopping bags? And more importantly, do you think that any of this makes a difference in the planet’s health?

And what about the way we buy food. Do you try to buy local? Can you tell which is local from the imported stuff? What do you know about how your food is produced? If you are like me, probably not enough.

If we look at food buying trends, it would appear that we are trying to shop and eat smarter. So what do you think that means? In this PBS Hot Mess feature, they take a look at global food production and why it is so hard to change methods that are depleting the planet of its resources.

About the video: the information is not always easy to follow. It is full of government references (I guess it must be interesting for someone) and they bring up many questions but don’t really get to the answers. Still, I suggest you get through to the end. The conclusion carries many of the main messages and leaves a few concrete things to think about.

Warm-up

  • How have you changed the way you buy food in the last 10 years?

The Video: PBS Hot Mess Food vs. Climate Change

Discussion

  • First, do a global Tell Back of the video…broad strokes.
  • What do they mean by a universal food reference?
  • Does eating more fruit and vegetables help the environment?
  • Why is it hard to change our food habits?

Agree or disagree

  • Adopting a universal reference diet is easy
  • To reduce carbon emissions, all we have to do is eat less meat
  • If people knew more about how food is produced we could change damaging food production practices
  • There is nothing we can to do change food production

How do you poach an egg?

How do you poach an egg? Yes, that is my discussion question for today. Easy right? In my humble experience, poaching an egg is one of the harder cooking skills I have ever had to master.

But aside from the culinary anecdotes, the mmmEnglish YouTube channel prepares cooking lessons with the goal of teaching English. Now I know it goes against the Whole Language Approach to use adapted materials, but I think this video has got all the authenticity features of first language material and is a great resource for beginner ESL material, of which I don’t have a whole lot.

So if you are looking for a good launchpad to teach food words or cooking verbs or just a good listening exercise that focuses on process, this is a short, slow, clear and useful video. Especially if you are trying, as I am, to make the perfect poached egg. Bon appétit!

Warm UP

Do a quick Mind Map of all the food words your students know. Perhaps you could also prompt a few cooking verbs.

The Video: How to Poach an Egg by mmmEnglish

https://youtu.be/bOnmVFww6gc

Discussion Questions

  • What are the ingredients?
  • What tools are needed?
  • What are the steps?
  • Complete these sentences:
    • The water is perfect when it has small________ but it is not boiling.
    • The yoke must be _______but not hard.
    • Toast is just a ________that has be toasted in the ______
    • ______butter on the toast.
  • Make a list of all the cooking verbs. Can you put them in another sentence?

Top 7 Travel Destinations 2019

If you could go anywhere on vacation, no budget, no constraints, where would you go? Erik Conover is a filmmaker and traveler and he has used social media to help him discover new and little know traveling gems.

He challenged his YouTube followers to make suggestions for the most incredible travel destinations. From this list, he charts his course and reports his adventures on his YouTube channel.

The result is a super interesting video of incredible destinations that have definitely made it to my bucket list.

Warm-Up

-What are your top 7 travel destinations and why?

The Video: Top 7 INCREDIBLE Travel Destinations of 2019 by Erik Conover

Questions

Depending on the level of your students, you can either watch the whole thing in one shot or pause it after each country and to a quick Tell Back.

For each destination say:

  • What activities can you do there?
  • What foods can you eat?
  • What discoveries did you make?

Have you been to any of the destinations in the video?

Which destination would you choose?

Which destination would you not choose?

If you could do a job a week, which would they be?

If you could do a job a week, which would they be?

Level: beginner, intermediate and advance

Ever feel like you want to re-invent yourself? Like even though you are an English teacher, you could have also been a baker, or a computer programmer.

In the spirit of practicality, we usually chose one job, study for it and then go do it. But in fact, very few people work in the field they study in and even fewer people are truly happy doing what they do.

That’s why I love this video by Sean Aiken. He finds the question of finding a profession so limiting and stressful, that instead of sitting in the dark and brooding about it, he challenged himself to a different job a week. 52 weeks 52 jobs.

In this post, I am referencing the trailer to the film as a discussion launch pad.

Pre Discussion

  • Mind Map all the different jobs and fields you know
  • If you could choose 5 jobs instead of just one, what would they be?

The Video: On Week Job Trailer

Discussion

  • What is Aiken’s response to finding his passion?
  • What do you think it will led Aiken? What job do you see him doing?
  • Why is he doing this video?
  • Which jobs would you do if you could do a job a week?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy?
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Why do humans treat their pets like human beings?

Why do humans treat their pets like human beings? Yep, I’m guilty of that sometimes. And why wouldn’t I? Sometimes my dog is nicer to me that my children are. This phenomena is called anthropomorphism and there are many reasons we do this.

Somehow the relationship with a pet is a more intuitive and perceptually deeper. Since they don’t have words to tell us what they really think , we use empathy to ‘read’ them. And since animals are very good at picking up our vibes, it feels like they understand us better than our human counter parts.

I think it is normal to appreciate this, but do you think that showering them with treats and love and affection is good for them? It is also normal to want to give our pets a good life, but what should that really look like?

Pre discussion

  • What do pets bring to our lives?
  • How would you describe a healthy pet-owner relationship?
  • Some vocabulary:
    • pampered
    • appealling
    • mischievous
    • bond and bonding
    • alleviate stress
    • Behaviour

Video and Article: New York Times Why Humans Treat Their Dogs Like People

Discussion

  • Do a Mind Map of the main points of the video
  • Who is Tinker Bell?
  • Why does Annie Grossman think anthropomorphizing animals is problematic?
  • What did B.F. Skinner do to help us understand behaviour?
  • Is anthropomorphizing animals a northern hemisphere phenomena? How do you view animals in your culture?

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