Conversation Topic: Mars One

mars-one-colony-astronauts-2

This is a conversation activity in which students discuss human achievements and the Mars One colonisation project. Either split the class into small groups (3-4) or for smaller groups have a class discussion. You can download the handout here.

Introduction

  • How many amazing physical achievements (climbing Everest, walking to the South Pole etc.) can you think of?
  • Which achievement was the most impressive?
  • What’s the most physically difficult thing you’ve ever done? (climb a mountain, run a marathon etc.)
  • Are there any you would like to try in the future?
  • Are there any you wish you had tried in the past?
  • Are the world’s best athletes present at the Olympic Games?
  • What type of athletes or sportsmen/women do you think deserve the most respect?
  • What do you think of ‘extreme’ sports (bungee jumping, tightrope walking…)?
  • What do you think is the most impressive human achievement? (not necessarily physical, could be scientific/technological/medical for example the moon landings)

Mars One

  • How much do you know about Mars? Share your knowledge with your group.
  • Are you interested in astronomy and the science of space travel?
  • Do you have any memories of important achievements in space travel?
  • Have you heard of the Mars One project? Share your knowledge with your group BEFORE READING THE DESCRIPTION BELOW.

Mars One is a privately funded project which intends to establish a human colony on Mars by 2025. They plan to send an unmanned spacecraft to the planet in 2018 followed by equipment and supplies over the following 6 years. They are currently accepting applications to be part of the first 4-man crew that will take off in 2024 on a one-way 7 month trip to the red planet. Once the colony is established 4 people will be sent every 2 years.

  • What do you think of the project? Is it realistic?
  • The project is currently accepting applicants to be part of the 4 man crew that will leave in 2024. What kind of people do you think they are looking for?
  • Would you be interested in participating? Why? Why not?
  • What kind of people do you think would apply for the project?
  • If you were running the project what tests would you do on the applicants to check if they are suitable?
  • What are the biggest problems the people could encounter on the 7 month journey to Mars? And when they land?
  • How would you feel if a member of your family wanted to apply for the project?
  • Do you know anyone who you think would like to apply?
  • Why do you think people would apply to be part of the project?
  • Imagine you have been selected to be part of the first crew. You are allowed to take 1 item of hand luggage (standard budget airline size) of personal belongings. What would you take and why?

The Spanish Timetable: Reading and Speaking Activity

siesta

 

This is a reading and speaking activity based around an article from the New York Times about possible changes to the Spanish working say timetable. The original article is quite long so I have edited it down a bit, it should be suitable for B2/FCE upwards. Here is a link to the edited version and the discussion questions:

Spain time article

Start by asking students to tell the class about their average day with specific focus on the times at which they get up, eat, go to work, go to bed etc. Ask them if they follow the typical Spanish timetable outlined in the introduction to the article. Do they eat late? Do they have a siesta?

Once they have shared their different schedules set the class a time limit depending on their level to quickly read the article and underline any unfamiliar vocabulary. This could include:

To hunker down – to meet up/get together

a boon – a bonus

a lag – a delay

Go over the new vocabulary on the board, then either split the class into small groups and give out the discussion questions or hold a whole-class discussion. Below are the discussion questions from the hand out:

What’s your initial reaction to the article?

Do you agree with any of the opinions stated? Which ones?

Describe your daily routine; does it follow the “Spanish” timetable?

What are the advantages/disadvantages of both the Spanish and the “European” timetable?

How difficult would you find it to adjust to a new timetable?

Do you think changing the timetable would affect the country’s culture?

Do you think most people would find it easy of difficult to adjust to a new timetable?

Do you think the current system helps people be efficient?

 

When you have finished the questions you could organise a class debate for/against the idea of changing the Spanish timetable to be more in line with the rest of Europe. Sometimes when organising debate teams it’s a good idea to force your students to argue for a point that they don’t actually agree with. Debate structure should be as follows:

  • Each team presents their argument (3 uninterrupted minutes per team)  – the other team must remain silent but can take notes for the rebuttals later
  • Rebuttals (10 minutes) – Teams can attack the opposition’s arguments based on statements made in the presentation of their argument.
  • Result – Teacher can decide which team has the most coherent argument.

You may find my activity on language of agreement/disagreement useful for the debate.

Picture Description Lesson Plan

graph-descrip-policeman-Col

This is a fun lesson plan in which students work in pairs describing and drawing pictures. It will be useful for students preparing for Cambridge exam speaking activities.

You will need this handout: Pics for describing

Put the following picture on the board and hand out other copies to the class:

tower bridge

Ask students what they can see in the picture.

What’s in the background?

What’s in the foreground?

Go through the following vocabulary on the board:

In the background/foreground we can see…………..

On the left/right

At the top/bottom

He’s wearing……………..

He’s facing left/right/the camera

He looks happy/sad/ etc.

Prepositions: Next to/beside, above, below, in front of, behind.

Now tell students that you are going to describe a picture and they have to draw it. Tell them to draw quickly, also remind them about perspective (things in the foreground appear bigger than in the background)

Describe the following picture to them:

woman running

Try to give as much detail as possible. Collect in the pictures and stick them to the board and then show the real photo. Invite students to comment on the differences and vote for the one they think is most accurate.

Now put students in pairs, tell them that one person is going to describe and the other is going to draw. Have them position themselves so that the describer is facing the board so that he/she can see the vocabulary and the other should be facing them. Be careful that the different pairs are spaced out so that they cannot see each other’s pictures. Give them 5 minutes to describe and draw. Once the 5 minutes are up collect in the pictures and invite comments and votes again. Have students swap roles and repeat as many times as you like. There are several pictures in the handout with different degrees of difficulty.

Follow up activity:

For FCE or CAE students use the pictures for a practice run of the speaking part 2, in which students must compare and contrast two pictures for 1 minute.

Age Restrictions Conversation Topic

age-restriction-13593874

 

This is a conversation topic lesson plan for adults and mature teens about the subject of the current age restrictions for films, video games and music. You will need this handout.

Put students into small groups of 3-4 and give each a copy of the handout. Start by answering the first question yourself in front of the class; give them a brief summary of the last film you watched, any shocking scenes is contained and what the age restriction was. Then encourage them to ask and answer the questions in their groups.

When all groups have finished have them feedback to the rest of the class, encourage the groups to retell the information they have learned about their group members, for example:

“Carlos said that Jurassic Park had given him terrible nightmares.”

“Montse said that she didn’t think anybody followed the age restriction rules.”

Then have the students turn the paper over and discuss part two, in which the groups must discuss appropriate age limits for different movie/TV content, afterwards they will discuss the effect theses things could have on impressionable children. Have students feedback to the class as before.

Here is the handout in full:

Part 1

  1. What was the last film you saw at the cinema/on TV/DVD/on the internet?
  2. Briefly describe the film to your group.
  3. What was the age limit?
  4. Did the film contain any shocking scenes?
  5. What’s the scariest/most shocking film/TV show you’ve ever seen?
  6. Do you remember any specific films or TV shows that had a big effect on you when you were younger? Did any films give you nightmares?
  7. What’s your opinion of the current system for age limits on films? (U, PG, 12A etc.)
  8. Do you think people follow the system?
  9. If you have children do you let them watch films with a higher age limit than their age?
  10. Did these limits exist when you were a child?
  11. Did your parents let you watch films with a higher age limit than your age?
  12. Do you know the rules for what can and can’t be shown on TV? Do TV stations edit/censor parts of films when they are on TV? (For example in the UK violent films or films containing nudity can only be shown after the ”watershed” (9pm)

Part 2

Look at the following list. In your groups discuss each item and think about an age limit for each one. Also think about the effect each one could have on young children. Share any experiences you have.

Images of:

  • people using drugs
  • songs with explicit lyrics
  • scenes of people smoking
  • kissing
  • blood
  • news containing images of dead people
  • shooting
  • nudity
  1. How have films/TV shows changed during your lifetime? Do they contain more or less of the things in the list?
  2. What changes would you make to censorship laws/age restrictions if you were in government?
  3. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that children are not exposed to things they shouldn’t see? Parents? Government?
  4. What effect do you think violent films, TV shows and videogames have on children and people in general?
  5. Can you think of specific examples of games/shows/films that cross the line? (that are too violent)

Family Expressions Conversation Class

Family clip art

This is a short activity in which students learn some expressions about family and use them in a short discussion.

Have students try to complete the expresions below in pairs.

Complete the expressions:

  1. A family t_______
  2. B______ is thicker than w________
  3. L______ father l_______ son
  4. To take a_______ somebody (to inherit characteristics from a parent)
  5. Like two p_____ in a p______ (very similar)
  6. Like c_______ and c_______ (very different)
  7. Go to a family g_____ – t________ / g_________
  8. A father f__________

Key:

  1. tree
  2. blood, water
  3. like, like
  4. after
  5. peas, pod
  6. chalk, cheese
  7. get-together / gathering
  8. figure

Go through the expressions as a class, then but students in small groups to discuss the following discussion questions:

Discussion questions:

  1. Does your family have a family tree? Have you ever looked at it? Do you know your family’s origins? Do you have any famous ancestors?
  2. Do you agree that blood is thicker than water? How important is family to you? How important is family in your country? Do you think it’s more important than in other countries?
  3. Who do you take after? Your mother or father? In appearance? Personality? Are there any specific hereditary characteristics in your family?
  4. Do you have any family members or friends who are like two peas in a pod? Or any who are like chalk and cheese?
  5. How often do you go to family get-togethers / gatherings? When was the last time? Do you enjoy them? Do you have any annoying relatives?
  6. How important is it for a child to have a father figure? Or a mother figure? How do you think a lack of either can affect children?

Giving Advice

advice

This is a conversation class to practice different forms of giving advice for B1 – B2 students.

Put on the board:

You should quit smoking

You ought to quit smoking

You had better quit smoking

Put students in small groups and tell them to think about the difference between the 3 sentences. Then have them share their ideas.

should and ought to are basically synonyms although ought to is generally more formal, they are used for giving advice: It would be a good idea if you quit smoking.

had better has a slightly different meaning; it implies that if the advice is not followed something bad could happen. In this context maybe the speaker could be a doctor warning a patient about the results of a recent test.

In this way had better can also be used to threaten:

1: Hey! Where’s that money you owe me?

2: I’ll pay you on Monday.

1: You had better.

Here had better contains the implication of violence.

The grammatical form is as follows:

subject + should / ought to / had better + bare infinitive (infinitive without to)

The negatives are as follows:

You shouldn’t smoke.

You ought not to smoke.

You had better not smoke.

To warm the students up present them with a simple problem that you have, for example: I want to get fit / It’s my partner’s birthday, what should I buy them?

Have the students give advice for these situations.

Then tell students that there are other ways of giving advice, try and elicit the following conditionals:

If I were you, I would / n’t………….

If I were in your shoes, I would / n’t…………

Then give out the following situations for advise, have the first student read out the situation as if it was a genuine personal problem, other students then give them advice. After each situations ask the discussion questions listed below the situations.

  1. I have a friend who is really tight-fisted. Every time that we go out for a drink or a meal he says he hasn’t got any money or he mysteriously disappears to the toilet when the bill arrives. At first we thought “poor John he never has any money”, but he works 6 days a week so he must have some money. What should we do?
  2. My best friend is always flirting with my girlfriend. He always pays her lots of compliments like “Wow! You look fantastic tonight!” Also when we go to parties he often asks her to dance. It’s making me really angry. What should I do?
  3. I share a flat with a friend and she keeps borrowing my things without asking. At first it was just little things like books and DVDs but now she’s started borrowing my clothes and when I want to wear my favourite dress for example, I find it on her bedroom floor unwashed! What should I do?
  4. I have invited 20 people over for a big dinner party, they are arriving in 20 minutes. I was going to cook a big roast turkey but I put the oven temperature too high and it burned! The dinner is ruined! What should I do?

Discussion Questions

Discussion questions for first situation:

  • Do you have any tight-fisted friends?
  • What do they do?
  • What is the custom when it comes to paying the bill in your country?
  • Have you ever had an argument over a restaurant bill?

Second

  • Who has a problem in this situation?
  • Is the speaker right to feel angry?
  • Who is to blame for the anger?
  • Have you or any of your friends ever been in this situation?
  • Are you a jealous person?

Third

  • Have you ever been in a situation like this?
  • Do you lend things to friends? Why? Why not?
  • Do you borrow things from friends? Why? Why not?
  • Have you ever lived in a shared house? What problems did you encounter?

Fourth

  • Have you ever been in this situation?
  • What did you do?
  • What was the worst meal you ever cooked?

Another game to practice this is the following:

Send one student out of the classroom. All the other students have to think of an imaginary problem that he / she has. Invite the student to come back in and sit at the front of the class. The student must guess what their problem is based on the advice they receive from their classmates.

If your students aren’t very imaginative you can use these situations:

  1. I have two VIP tickets to see Barcelona vs Real Madrid on the same night as my mother in law’s 50th birthday party.
  2. I found a wallet in the street with €2000 in it.
  3. I am a great chef, I want to open 300 restaurants and get rich but I have no money.
  4. I got very drunk at the office Christmas party and kissed my boss.
  5. My best friend’s ex girlfriend wants to go on a date with me.
  6. I am the manager of a big company. I have a vacancy for a salesman and my son wants the job, but he has no experience.
  7. I saw my best friend’s girlfriend kiss another man.

Class discussion about advice

Afterwards discuss the following questions about advice as a class:

  1. Who do you go to for advice?
  2. Do they give good advice? Why? Why not?
  3. Who comes to you for advice?
  4. Do you give good advice?
  5. Do you follow your friend’s advice?
  6. What’s the best / worst advice you’ve ever received?
  7. Does advice help? Or do most people ignore it?
  8. Sometimes advice can make you less decisive. Do you agree?
  9. Do you think some people are too proud to ask for advice?

Reality TV Conversation Class

reality-tv

This is a conversation class for higher levels (high B2 +) the main reason for the level specification is that uses clips from the UK version of the reality show “Wife Swap” which lower levels might find difficult to follow. Then again, you never know, it might be a good challenge.

Brainstorm reality TV shows

Have your students brainstorm all the reality TV shows they have in their country. Encourage students to describe the formats of the shows. If you have a mixed nationality group encourage the students to compare reality shows from their different respective countries.

Discussion

Either put students in small groups (3-4) or discuss the following questions as a class:

  1. How long do you spend in front of the TV on an average day?
  2. What shows do you watch?
  3. What your favourite / least favourite shows?
  4. What are the most popular shows on TV at the moment? Are any of them reality shows?
  5. Do you watch any reality shows? Which ones?
  6. Why are they entertaining?
  7. Would you ever go on a reality show? Why? Why not? If so which one?
  8. What about talent shows like “The X Factor” or “American Idol”?

Have students report back to the rest of class.

Write “Wife Swap” on the board. Tell students that it is the name of a reality show in the UK and the US. Have them guess the format of the show from the name (two wives swap families for a week, each has to live the others life; do their job, look after their kids etc), then ask them the following:

  • Do you have this show in your country?
  • Do / Did you watch it? If you did would you watch it?
  • What do you think would be some entertaining swaps? Brainstorm entertaining swaps with reasons.

Tell students that they are going to watch part of an episode of wife swap, first you need to pre-teach some expressions that will help them understand the clip. Put the following expressions and vocab on the board and have students try to guess the meanings.

  1. a country pile – a big country house / mansion
  2. to go to the dogs – to deteriorate / get into a bad state. Old people in England often say: “This country has gone to the dogs.”
  3. I can’t hack it – I can’t bear it / I can’t cope with it / I can’t tolerate it
  4. council house – a house given to a poor family by the state
  5. to do jackshit – to do nothing
  6. to be on benefits – to be receiving financial help from the state; unemployment money for example
  7. to be stuck in a rut – expression meaning to be in a boring lifestyle that never changes
  8. to roam – to walk / move with no fixed objective
  9. a hoover – a vacuum cleaner
  10. a man / woman of leisure – a person who spends all their time doing things they enjoy, usually a rich person.
  11. a hooker – a prostitute
  12. to see eye to eye – to agree
  13. slack / slovenly – lazy
  14. give him an inch and he’ll take a mile – expression meaning that someone will exploit you / take advantage of you if you give them the opportunity

Show students video of part 1 of wife swap UK until 00:38 (this is just the introduction of the two participating families)

Put them in groups and have them make predictions about what sort of problems and conflicts the two families are going to have and also to make comparisons between the two families. Students report back to class.

Now show students the whole of part 1, it’s about 10 minutes. Before showing them tell them to listen out for the expressions you have pre-taught then go through them afterwards. Students report back the context of each one of the pieces of vocabulary.

Ask students what they thought of the show:

  1. Was it entertaining?
  2. Do you want to know what happens next?
  3. Which family did you prefer?
  4. Which family would you prefer to spend a week living with?

Homework

Students watch the rest of the episode for homework and make notes on what problems the two wives encountered. In the next class students can report and discuss this. If you are preparing your students for a Cambridge exam (FCE, CAE, CPE) you can have them write a review of the show as this format often comes up in part 2 of the writing paper of these exams. A review task type idea could be:

An English language television magazine has asked for readers to send in their reviews of the first episode of wife swap. Reviews should:

  • Give a brief description of the show
  • Comment on the shows entertainment value
  • Say if the writer would recommend the show to other viewers.
  • If they would recommend it, who would they recommend it to?

FCE word limit – 120-180

CAE – 220-260

CPE – 280-320

Let me know how it goes in the comment, especially if you try it with FCE levels.

Perspolis Journal: Chapter 6, The Party

persepolis pic

Discussion Questions:

  1. What happens in this chapter?
  2. How does the country change after the Shah leaves?
  3. How can you explain Marji’s actions in wanting to torture Ramin?
  4. What’s the biggest public celebration you can remember?
  5. What were you celebrating?
  6. How did you celebrate?
  7. What type of impact do you think this type of revolutionary change has on people?