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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
How have you changed the way you buy food in the last 10 years?
The Video: PBS Hot Mess Food vs. Climate Change
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