Fake news, misinformation, disinformation, these concepts are all over the media. We all know it’s out there, but how can we tell what is true and what is fake? First, let’s play a game…
True or False
Salt makes water boil quicker.
You should never swim right after you eat
Some people are more right-brain thinkers and others more left-brain thinkers.
Toilets flush differently in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere.
Einstein failed math.
Humans and dinosaurs co-existed
Vaccines cause autism.
You need to wait 24 hours to file a missing person’s report.
We use only 10% of our brain.
Most of our body heat leaves through our heads.
You should never wake a sleepwalker.
Bats are blind.
Alcohol keeps you warm.
Sugar creates hyper children.
Your hair and nails keep growing after you die.
Slaves built the pyramids in Egypt.
In case you use this to generate discussion with your class, I won’t give you the answers. You could invite your students to check for themselves at Readers Digest.
It’s your brain’s fault
Famous debunker and Skeptic.com’s editor-in-chief Michael Shermer gives us a bit of insight into how our brain is wired to makes us believe weird things. He explains and demonstrates how things like priming and cognitive bias are natural neurological predispositions that lead us to faulty conclusions. This discussion utilizes vocabulary in both pure science and psychology to demonstrate, in very cool ways, how media can create what I will term “information blind spots.”
***Caution! I did this lesson with a high intermediate student and they were overwhelmed with Shermer’s speed. I would recommend slowing the video down and using this True/False handout to explain and explore some of the vocabulary and concepts in the video. Have your students read through the statements and make predictions about the possible answers. Then have your students watch the video to confirm or correct their original impressions.
Go through the handout and predict which statements are true or false.
The Video: Why People Believe Weird Things
What makes us believe weird things…make a Mind Map of all the elements you hear?
I love talking about the weather. It is the single most easy way to initiate a conversation with a stranger or acquaintance if you need to break the silence. Great for elevator rides, spontaneous waiting time and warm repartee.
This particular discussion lesson goes from general to scientific to silly. The objective is to elicit the vocabulary around a familiar topic and add a level of complexity with either the science behind weather or weather-related expressions. I just couldn’t choose, so I put both.
What are the different types of weather or climate you can name?
What affects the weather?
Do you use the weather forecast to plan activities?
What activities do you do in spring, summer, fall and winter?
What are the seasons like in your country?
Option 1: The Video: The Science of Weather
Divide the video into 2 or 3 segments and do a Tell Back of the main themes and words
How do meteorologists sort through information, identify trends, and make predictions?
Why do they often get it wrong?
Why is it important to predict the weather?
Option 2: Weather idioms
For this, I made a handout and some flashcards. They are on Teachers Pay Teachers TPT. Click to go see.
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.
Is luck something you are 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.
Luck and Culture
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 facet 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.
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.
I recently read the book The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. In the book, the main character visits a library in a parallel dimension where each book represents one of her possible lives…should she have made different choices. The journey takes us into multiple different versions of this character, Nora Seed. She is a rock star, a mother, a glaciologist, an Olympic swimmer, a philosophy professor and the list goes on. In each life, Seed has the luxury of measuring the level of happiness and fulfillment the different paths procure her.
It is the classic “what if”, question. Of course, it got me thinking of my own life. Then, instead of delving into regretted choices or getting depressed about what could have been, I thought of this TED talk by Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days. Since we cannot travel into parallel universes to see what could have been, Cutts’ idea is the next best thing.
Parallel Lives for 30 Days
We have all heard it before, we must step out of our comfort zone to grow…right? Cutt’s takes this to the next level with his self-imposed 30-day challenge. What I like about Cutt’s talk, is it gives a more tangible objective to this idea of trying new things. It may not be as profound as the Midnight Library, but it’s a start. After all, what’s 30 days?
What new thing would you like to try but haven’t yet?
What does it mean to “step out of your comfort zone”?
What are the benefits of doing new things? Any disadvantages?
What are the benefits of sticking with what you know? Any disadvantages?
The Video: Try something new for 30 days
Why does Matt think this is a good idea?
What did it change in his life?
What areas of our lives could we apply this to? Make a Mind Map…
Do you have any spontaneous ideas that you might like to try for 30 days?
Are you looking for language activities for your kids? Perhaps even an activity that could get them out of your hair for a bit (not judging). In these unprecedented times of social distancing, keeping your kids busy or better yet, engaged is challenging to say the least.
Generally speaking, eslconversation.ca is a site devoted to ESL materials for adults. However, being a mother of young kids myself, I feel compelled to share what I am doing with my own girls.
Because I too worry that they get complacent. I too worry that their brains turn to mush. And I too need a break from being the hourly ringmaster. But there is no way that my conscience will let me plug them into a video game or television. So what do to?
Easy Comic Maker: by Mélanie L. Sisley
If you have other sites or apps, let me know. I would be more than happy to make a video and share it.
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?
Feel like going to the movies? As art imitates life, movies are a great way to take you out of your reality and plunge you into someone else’s. Let’s go take a look at the Rotten Tomatoes reviews to see what picks our fancy.
The site features both trailers and written reviews. It’s up to you how you want to fuel the vocabulary for this lesson.
What are some of your favourite movies?
What genre do you like most?
The site: Rotten Tomatoes
Scan the titles and have participants pick one and say why (other than “it looks interesting”)
Go to the description, at the bottom, and do a quick Tell Back of the summary, pulling out key vocabulary.
Watch the trailer. Make a list of actions you see.
Describe the characters. What makes them interesting.